Tommy Daly of Sporting Liberties should be pleased, but he seems despondent.
Daly represents 31 sporting organisations in the Liberties that have campaigned to get sports facilities in the area – they say they don’t have a single playing pitch between them.
Now Dublin City Council is saying it will get them their full-sized pitch, as part of a master plan for the redevelopment of the St Teresa’s Gardens housing complex.
Those plans include a pitch that is 130 metres by 80 metres, which is big enough for adult GAA matches. All the sports clubs would share it.
But Daly says the council’s plan would leave the sports clubs waiting for years for their pitch, and would then require knocking down 56 homes.
“That is really disingenuous. There is no way that those flats will be knocked in three years’ time,” says Daly. “I don’t see them being knocked or vacated in 15 years’ time either.”
Meanwhile, Dublin City Council Manager Tony Flynn says: “We are very, very committed to providing sporting facilities here.”
In recent months, Sporting Liberties, council management, and city councillors have been practicing their geometry, looking for ways to fit the full-sized pitch into the funny-shaped size, each faction claiming it has the best solution, while the others remain dubious.
At a 17 May council meeting, council management suggested a compromise.
When the master plan for the St Teresa’s Gardens redevelopment was discussed at a council meeting for the local area on 17 May, councillors responded cautiously.
On the site, the remaining tenants have been moved into 56 “consolidated” flats, which refurbished in 2015 at a cost reported by the Irish Times at €50,000 to €80,000 each.
Under the council’s plan for the site, 1,050 homes would be built on the lands, which spread over 11.6 hectares. Residents would move into new homes, the “consolidated” flats would be knocked down, and the full-sized sports pitch would be put in on that newly vacant spot.
At the recent meeting, councillors said they want to see the pitch built soon, and would prefer not to knock down functional social housing. Back in April, councillors on the housing and planning committees also gave the lukewarm welcome to the plan.
Flynn, the council manager, said at the recent meeting that he is trying to balance several competing demands within the city’s development plan.
“If we over subscribe on one, there are failings on the other, such as the permeability,” he said. (That is ensuring that there are sufficient thoroughfares through the site.)
Consultants have advised that the only place the sports pitch will fit is where the consolidated apartments currently stand, Flynn says. But Independents 4 Change Councillor Pat Dunne was unconvinced.
“This is one of the largest sites we have, and once the flats are demolished, it’s a blank canvas,” he said. “To suggest that we can’t put sporting facilities into what is effectively a blank canvas, I don’t readily accept that.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Críona Ní Dhálaigh says she thinks council management is committed to providing sports facilities, but fears that under current plans the local community will have to wait for years.
“The problem is that the pitch is in the last phase. My belief is that they are not going to knock 60 good units in the middle of a housing crisis so it will be long time before they come down,” said Ní Dhálaigh.
Labour Councillor Rebecca Moynihan says she will vote to reject the current plans, and hopes her fellow councillors will back her up. “It’s a way of promising us it is going to happen, without really delivering,” she said by phone on Monday.
There is a clear demand for sporting facilities in the area.
“There are eight parishes in the Liberties and inner city, 50,000 people according to the census … there isn’t one pitch big enough for organised sport in those eight parishes,” says Daly.
As such he says that the multi-purpose facility they are calling for would be booked up seven days a week, and still wouldn’t meet the demand of all the clubs in the area. “It will be inundated with use,” he says.
Currently, all 31 teams have to travel out of the area to access pitches, says Daly. GAA teams travel to Crumlin, and soccer teams go to either the Phoenix Park or Walkinstown, he says.
Many of the children they work with don’t have a lot of parental support, so not being able to walk to the pitch is discouraging young people from getting involved in sports, he says. “I believe if we have a pitch in the locality, the number of children engaging in sports will explode.”
Clubs engaging with young people is one of the most important things that happens in the community, says Moynihan. “There is such a need to be taking young people off the streets and getting them involved in something that has a positive impact on their life,” she says.
People Before Profit Councillor Tina MacVeigh paid tribute to the “spirit of sport and volunteerism” of those involved in organising sports for young people, and said that the council needs to respond to the need being voiced directly from the community.
“Every year that goes by, is another year that kids don’t have any facilities,” she says.
The Right Fit?
There is a dispute between Dublin City Council and Sporting Liberties as to whether a 130-metre by 80-metre pitch can fit on the existing council-owned land at St Teresa’s Gardens, without needing to knock down 56 social-housing units to make room.
The plans laid out by the council include 8 metres of space all the way around the pitch, for run-off and spectator viewing, but Sporting Liberties say they don’t need that.
“We haven’t even asked for a dressing rooms or car parking,” says Daly, “we just want a field where we can engage young people in sport.”
The solution as he sees it is to build a pitch on the Dublin City Council land, mostly where the larger of two derelict Boys’ Brigade soccer pitches are now. This wouldn’t require waiting years to build new social housing, move people out of the old social housing, and knock down the old social housing to make room for the new pitch.
An adult GAA pitch must be 80 metres wide. Sporting Liberties have had an engineer evaluate the site, and their report says it is 83.75 metres at its narrowest, so Daly says the pitch would fit.(Length isn’t an issue, as Dublin City Council owns the land to the south of the pitch.)
Moynihan wants the pitch built with the 8-metre band of space around it, though, and she says the council should negotiate with the private land owners on the neighbouring sites to secure “a sliver” of land to complete the sports campus there – on the old Boys’ Brigade pitch.
“We did it with the Poolbeg site. We negotiated with the receiver on it … it’s not an unusual thing to do, so we can’t understand why, in Teresa’s Gardens, they haven’t done that,” she says.
The so-called Bailey Gibson lands and Player Wills lands are on either side of the site, and both are in receivership.
A spokesperson for the accounting firm Grant Thornton confirmed that it is the receiver for both sites, but didn’t respond to questions as to whether it had been approached by the council or if they would be willing to negotiate to facilitate a sports facility.
At the council’s 17 May local area committee meeting, Sinn Fein Councillor Greg Kelly asked three times whether negotiations with the receivers of those sites had taken place, but he didn’t receive a direct answer.
“Where is the most appropriate place to provide a public facility?” said council manager Tony Flynn, speaking at that meeting. “We think it is on public lands.”
“The other lands are private lands. We are at the discretion of discussions and agreeing with those adjoining land owners”, who “may have a different agenda”, he said.
Sinn Fein’s Ní Dhálaigh says she thinks the management do want a sports campus on the site, but don’t seem to think that its urgent.
She has asked the council management to meet the sports organisations on the site, to thrash out whether the pitch could be accommodated without knocking down the apartment blocks.
Since the area is so short of sports facilities, it is a wonder that the two existing soccer pitches, known as the Boys’ Brigade pitches are not in use.
Daly says the council closed access to them around 2007, in preparation for a previous regeneration that was planned for the area.
He thinks they have been closed for about 10 years, and says that there are “weeds of shoulder height and nearly trees growing there now”, perhaps exaggerating slightly to make his point.
If the existing pitch was brought back to use, the soccer teams could play on it, he says, but it wouldn’t be long enough for GAA.
Flynn, the council manager for the area, suggested building an interim pitch on the Donore Avenue side of the site, next to where the consolidated blocks are now.
A 106-metre by 70-metre pitch could be put in now, he said at the 17 May meeting. And that could be extended once the units are knocked down.
But Daly thinks that the interim pitch, if built, will never be replaced. “The story in ten years’ time is going to be – ‘So you want us to knock 60 homes to turn a soccer pitch into a GAA pitch?’” he says.