Molly Quigley, Elizabeth McNamara and Susan Baneham moved into St Bricin’s Park in Stoneybatter when the estate was built. That was 54 years ago.
The community centre on the small estate was always “a hive of activity” back then, says Molly Quigley, wrapped in a pink coat, a scarf, and a purple beret.
It stayed that way down the years. Groups would rustle up meals on wheels there. It hosted birthday parties and a community Christmas dinner each year, says Quigley.
Until three years back, a community group called An Síol ran activities such as bingo, knitting, seat-aerobics and art, says Elizabeth McNamara.
These days, though, the centre – just behind where the neighbours are stood chatting on this recent Friday morning – is locked.
Three years ago, the community centre closed as it, and the senior citizens’ complex to which it is attached, were renovated.
With the works complete, Dublin City Council hosted an event to launch the new building in May 2019. It still hasn’t opened the centre, though.
A council spokesperson said the community centre will be opened in the coming weeks – but it’s a bit of a mystery why, for nine months, it’s been off-limits.
News to Some
With the refurbishment, Dublin City Council brought the whole complex up to “passive house standard”, according to the Dublin City Architects Blog. That means it’s energy-efficient now.
The project has been shortlisted for the Irish Construction Excellence Awards, too.
Last Christmas, Mary Brady – who lives in a refurbished block beside the community centre – said she got a gas bill for two months of heat last Christmas which came to €11.
It was “obviously brilliant”, she says.
The renovated complex with the community centre was launched on 7 May 2019, by independent Councillor Nial Ring, who was lord mayor at the time.
Says Molly Quigley: “It is absolutely gorgeous inside.”
But it never fully opened.
Councillors only learnt that as they canvassed the area in recent weeks, in the run-up to the general election, said independent Councillor Christy Burke, at a recent meeting of the council’s Central Area Committee.
“To my amazement, and I’m sure everybody got it at the doors, this has been lying idle for a year,” Burke said.
He met a visually impaired woman who relied on the community centre as her main social outlet, he said.
She was “crying at the door, I couldn’t handle that”, he said.
At the meeting on 11 February, Burke put forward an emergency motion, which was agreed, calling for the community centre in St Bricin’s Park to be reopened immediately.
“It stinks quite frankly,” said Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam, at the same meeting. “It is a state-of-the-art facility. Why has it been left unopened?”
Labour Councillor Joe Costello rowed in too.
Said Sinn Féin Councillor Janice Boylan: “It’s a crying shame.”
She asked why councillors hadn’t been told about the delay. “It took the general election, for us to be aware that this was happening,” she said.
Why Still Closed?
There are a few different stories on the go about what caused the delay.
Burke, the independent councillor, says he heard there were issues with the ovens in the kitchen. That they didn’t meet HSE standards for the meals on wheels, he says.
He was also told there were issues with the roof, he said.
Residents heard similar things. Local resident Susan Baneham says she has asked the council many questions, and got different answers.
“There was a problem with the roof and then there was this and that and then it just wasn’t followed up,” says Baneham. There might have been a problem with insurance too, she says.
At the Central Area Committee meeting earlier this month, Coilín O’Reilly, the council’s Central Area manager, told councillors he had an answer for them about why the centre had remained closed, “and I’m not going to give it to you”.
“Because it sounds like you have been given a whole load of different reasons before and this is a whole different reason – so it is only going to annoy you,” O’Reilly said.
He said he would investigate the issue fully and then reply to councillors by email.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said: “The kitchen in St Bricin’s is fully HSE compliant. We are not aware of any issue with the roof.”
There was a problem with the lease though, they said. “There was a delay with the negotiation of the lease but this has now been resolved.”
The council expects the community group, An Síol, to start to run activities and meals on wheels from the community centre in the next month, says the spokesperson.
Staff at an Síol said they didn’t wish to comment.
On the phone last Friday, Dublin City Council Community Development Officer Niall Byrnes said they were going to officially hand over keys to two groups in the coming week.
As well as An Síol, some local residents will get keys to use the community centre on evenings and weekends, says Byrnes.
“We believe it is right to give a local residents’ committee the key and let them enjoy it … as long as they are over 49. It is for seniors,” he says.
Keyholders include the local resident Baneham, who said she was delighted the council is trusting them to run the place.
She expects to have a set of keys in her hand this week, she says. “We are all thrilled.”
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