At Constitution Hill, a Hard-Won Playground

Last Friday afternoon, Linda Mulloy, Suzanne Scully and others gathered around the new playground at the back of the Constitution Hill flats.

For the 50 or so children who live in the complex there was little on offer until recently.

The old playground at the far end of the flats has been locked up for over a decade. Kids played either inside or on a concrete shed with a makeshift football pitch painted on top.

Now, with swings and sandpit, parents say the kids will no longer grow so restless.

“We had an opening day, it was brilliant, we got loads of sweets, a great party,” says Mulloy.

A Long Campaign

It was in March last year that residents of the Constitution Hill flats took to the streets to protest at how the environment around their homes was making it difficult to live there.

The old play options for the kids at Constitution Hill.

The ongoing Luas Cross City construction had fenced the complex in, and disrupted lives daily. Drug use on stairwells, a lack of security and nowhere for the children to play had left residents feeling neglected by Dublin City Council.

On 2 May, after numerous protests and continued action, the council agreed to build a new playground for the children. It opened, officially, at 5pm on Tuesday 5 August.

But residents say there are still some outstanding problems in the complex. There are rats, and constant drug use, said Mulloy.

Again, she is unhappy with the pace of change from Dublin City Council. (Dublin City Council Press Office had not responded to queries by the time we published this.)

“We want to work with them but we’re disconnected,” said Mulloy. “Now they’ve issues with giving us the safety gates.”

The lower level apartments of each of the three flat complexes remain boarded up and parents have consistently argued for safety gates at the lower entrances to stairwells.

“We have a drug issue and we have a rat issue,” says Mulloy. “It’s just not acceptable. We still have users coming here.”

When construction first began on the Luas Cross City at Constitution Hill, a building behind the now-demolished Maxol petrol station was knocked down.

Inside, there were hundreds of needles, says another parent, Leslie Dyer. “We did argue with them not to knock that house down,” she says. “They found over two thousand needles in there when they did.”

Dyer says that’s why drug use has spilled over into the complex and onto stairwells.

“I witnessed two people banging up into the groin last week,” says Suzanne Scully. “It took someone with a baseball bat from the apartments to go out and chase them off. So there’s violence coming with it, people are getting frustrated.”

It’s the gates, though, that remain the focus.

The new playground.

Next Week? Next Month?

Despite assurances from council officials, Scully and others say getting the gates in place has been stalled time and again.

“When I rang three days ago the last was that a day for next week had come up for the gates, it wasn’t sure, it was sketchy,” says Scully. “So I just said, ‘Who is this contractor, why are they still being given this job?’ and there was no reply.”

(Dublin City Council Press Office hadn’t responded to queries about this by deadline.)

Part of the delay, says Linda Mulloy, might have to do with the long-awaited regeneration of the Constitution Hill flats.

Local Social Democrats Councillor Gary Gannon says he’s been pushing for the gates and still no sign. “Every council meeting I’ve gone to I’ve been told it’ll be about three weeks,” says Gannon. “The next council meeting I’m going to be pulling them up on this.”

At least now, says Scully, the kids have somewhere decent to play but her and the others are willing to head back out to protest should the council renege on the safety gates.

Gannon doesn’t doubt it. “It was a great event [the playground opening],” he says. “It was my first real example, as a city councillor, of people power resulting in real tangible outcomes and there’s a lot to be proud of up there.”

For the residents, relations between them and SISK construction, as well as Luas Cross City, have greatly improved since things first kicked off back in March, they said. Both came to the ribbon cutting.

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Cónal Thomas: Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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