In the suburbs of Dublin, each Christmas brings a noticeable increase in scramblers and quad bikes.
They buzz in distant fields. They shoot up pathways, endangering pedestrians and riders alike.
There are complaints, and some Dublin city councillors have been listening.
Councillors for the South Central area of the city have passed at least six motions on the issue at meetings of the council and the area’s joint policing committee since June.
But nothing was done last year to curb the use of scramblers or quad bikes.
And early on Christmas morning, 16-year-old independent.ie/irish-news/news/kind-loving-young-lad-killed-in-christmas-bike-tragedy-34314748.html">Warren Kenny died after his new scrambler motorbike collided with another in Cherry Orchard. He was a popular young footballer, and hundreds attended his funeral. His death caused an outcry for new legislation.
Now, residents, local youth groups, councillors and Dublin City Council are coming together to support young people in the area, and to see if they can keep what happened to Kenny from happening to anyone else.
Accidents Waiting to Happen
People Before Profit councillor Bríd Smith has raised the need to tackle the problem time and time again since the summer.
She’s had a number of motions on the issue passed. Some called for a sub group to deal with the issue, others called for obstructions to block the use of quads on certain public spaces.
She has often brought up the problems with scramblers and quads in the Cherry Orchard and Ballyfermot area. She’s used the term “an accident waiting to happen” on more than one occasion.
“It does two things,” she says. “It puts the lives of young people in danger, but it also creates a huge antisocial element in the estates.”
Besides the safety issues that these vehicles pose, council management is concerned about the costs of frequently repairing damage to the area’s green spaces. And residents complain about being kept awake at night because of the noise of the bikes.
Addressing the Problem
The use of these bikes in public spaces is banned under the section three of the Parks and Open Spaces Bye-Laws 2011 and users should have a licence, insurance and road tax, in accordance with the Road Traffic Acts.
As Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe pointed out earlier this month, it is up to Gardaí to enforce these laws.
That’s why, in the past, Smith was pushing for Gardaí to address the problem.
But now she’s changed tack.
“It’s very, very clear that [the Gardaí] aren’t going to stop these young fellas,” she said at last week’s South Central Area Committee meeting.
So at that meeting she put forward a motion calling for the council to give a section of land in Cherry Orchard for a motocross track.
This won’t completely resolve the issue, she says, but she believes that it will be a start.
The idea was welcomed by residents at a meeting in The Bungalow in Cherry Orchard last Thursday, she says. So far, it also has 450 likes on Facebook.
Tried and Tested
This isn’t the first time that the council has explored a sort of can’t-beat-them-join-them approach to neighbourhood scramblers.
In 2010, Dublin City Motocross Club and Dublin City Council opened the city’s first motocross track.
The parks department gave the club a site on Alfie Byrne Road in Clontarf, and stumped up €20,000. Breffni Construction donated the use of the machinery, and labour was given at cost price.
The motivation was the same: local youths were using their scramblers and quads on waste ground and football pitches. Brian Harte, chairman of the club, says the young bikers were unsupervised and often reckless.
So Harte and two other motocross enthusiasts came together to set up the track. “The whole thing was about trying to educate the lads,” he says. “It wasn’t an easy task.”
The council agreed to give the club a designated area if they met a few conditions. So Harte set about putting together reports and finding engineers to do air- and sound-pollution tests.
Finally, the club got a licence from the council and a proper track was put in place for all off-road bikes to use.
More recently, the Mulhuddart Motocross Club opened adjacent to Tolka Valley Park. For years, the land it’s on had been used as an unofficial track for cars and motorbikes, so Fingal County Council gave it to the club.
The council hoped this would become the centre for scramblers in the area and prevent nearby Ladyswell Park from being used for racing as well.
Independent councillor David McGuinness, of Final County Council, advocated for the track, and he says the uptake has been great.
He thinks it’s a model that is likely to be replicated across Dublin, although he adds that there were some noise complaints at first from nearby residents. But they’ve found ways to solve that.
A Safer Option?
McGuinness says the new track has definitely been successful in getting off-road bikes off the tarmac and into the mud, where they belong.
In Clontarf, one of the rules is that bikes can only be used on the track. Members can’t even ride them to get there. “Believe it or not, it worked,” said Harte.
Smith says that if a track is set up in Cherry Orchard, it’s unlikely everyone would become a member. But she says in Clontarf, between 80 and 85 percent of the riders in the area joined up.
And some have become dedicated and skilled. “We had one lad from Cabra racing in the Irish championships and he did very well,” says Harte. The club even managed to get him a sponsor.
Harte also points out that it is more of a thrill to speed around the hills of the track than to scoot through the local park. And if something does go wrong, there’s always a paramedic on site and every rider is insured.
Something Old or Something New?
As Smith sees it, the council shouldn’t have an issue giving over a piece of its vast lands in Cherry Orchard, particularly since developers haven’t shown any interest in them.
Making a track will take some ploughing and digging, she says, and it will give a new use to hundreds of old tyres. “We’ll get young people coming from both Cherry Orchard and Clondalkin,” she says.
But Harte says that rather than setting up another motocross track, it might make more sense to develop the ones we have and find a way to bring in youths from other areas. “I think we need to improve the facilities we have and have the track open on a daily basis if need be,” he says. “The demand is there for it.”
Harte recently ran two pilot schemes with kids from the Life Centre on Pearse Street – a project for early school leavers. They completed courses in first aid, health-and-safety, bike safety and the history of motocross before they got to ride bikes at the track in Clontarf. He is going to propose that Dublin City Council support this scheme for more children.
For the moment, building a new track out in Cherry Orchard is an option that’s still on the table. Dublin City Council’s South Central Area manager, Bruce Phillips, hasn’t ruled it out.
He says he will be speaking with stakeholders and watching presentations over the coming months.
UPDATE: This article was updated on Wed 27 January at 14.34, to make it clearer that the teething issues of noise around the Mulhuddart Motocross Club were later solved.