The air is muggy in Rialto last Thursday evening.
It’s 6pm and seven neighbours are, one by one, leaving their respective houses and congregating at the grotto on Rialto Street.
Some stand with arms folded. Others with hands on their hips. People speak rapidly as if they have made the same point many times before and often people roll their eyes when certain words are uttered.
The Four Terraces and Rialto Residents Alliance Group is here to discuss ongoing problems related to the construction of the new children’s hospital on the St James’s Hospital site, just a one-minute walk from where they are standing.
Rita O’Shaughnessy, a Rialto resident of 40 years, is small with light purple hair and speaks with confidence. She has made a point of coming out to talk with the neighbours despite the fact she has her hands full this evening.
“There’s just a level of disrespect from the developer,” she says, before running back into her house to check on her grandchildren.
Tools were put down on the site as Covid-19 put the whole country into lockdown in March.
But on Monday 13 July building work resumed and locals again began to discuss the problems related to the construction in the area as well as new concerns regarding safety measures to protect the local community from a wave of builders and the potential spread of Covid-19.
Back in March residents were asking for the site to be closed down before construction workers were eventually told to leave, says Siobhán Geoghegan.
Geoghegan lives locally and represents the residents at meetings with Dublin City Council, the developers BAM, and the National Paediatric Health Development Board.
“There was a group of us sending emails to TDs, senators, local councillors and to the paediatric hospital board looking for the site to be closed,” says Geoghegan, speaking on the phone last week.
They were doing this because builders were still coming on-site while the rest of the country was on lockdown, she says.
But then suddenly, the site just closed, says Geoghegan.
The site was closed for five months but people were still coming onto the site for maintenance, says Geoghegan.
Since building work resumed on 13 July, Geoghegan is concerned about the number of construction workers “travelling from all over the country to Rialto”, which she says is cause for concern during Covid-19.
“We’ve already had three [building] sites close down in Dublin because of Covid-19,” says Geoghegan.
There were a total of 1,500 workers on site before Covid-19. Now there are about 120 on site and they are increasing that number by 75 workers every Monday, says Sinn Féin Councillor Críona Ní Dhálaigh.
No Room at the Site
Ciara Murray is the last resident to join the group. She lives in a cottage that faces the side of the grotto where the other neighbours are standing.
“In the evening the builders congregate. There have been occasions when there would be 20 or 30 people standing here waiting for a lift home,” she says pointing right outside her house.
This is a concern for Murray, especially when she comes home from work as she finds it hard to keep two-meters away from large groups of people, she says.
There have been a number of incidents of public urination and builders changing their clothes on the street too, Murray says.
Other neighbours present share similar experiences.
On site, the canteen capacity has been reduced which is forcing builders to congregate outside in the residential areas and local shops, says Geoghegan.
People Before Profit Councillor Tina MacVeigh says: “That means that people are leaving the site more regularly to come out for lunches and stuff like that.”
This is further adding to people’s concerns in the area, MacVeigh says.
When contacted, a spokesperson from BAM said that certain Covid-19 restrictions are being monitored and adapted ensure the safety of builders on the site and community members.
“These include reduced numbers, social distancing, one-way systems, provision of PPE, temperature screening, staggered shift times and break times.” she said.
Many of the residents’ concerns were not dealt with during construction before Covid-19.
“We’re fed up with the way that construction workers were parking. They’re blocking people into their homes,” says Geoghegan.
Helena Kennedy has experienced a great amount of difficulty with parking.
She lives a one minute walk from the building site in a cul-de-sac on Rialto Street and builders have been parking on her road since construction began, she says.
Other vehicles can not get in or out because of the builders parking their cars diagonally, she says.
Builders come at four or five in the morning and their cars are jam-packed together right outside residents’ doors, says Ní Dhálaigh.
Back on Rialto Street, Rita O’Shaughnessy is talking with the other residents: “I know they [builders] have to park somewhere but it has to be provided for them,” she says.
In August 2015, the planning application for the new hospital said there would be allocated parking space for the builders, it also stated that it would be up to the contractor to take responsibility for the builders’ travel requirements.
“Construction traffic will not be allowed to park in the area, but will be kept at a holding zone on Davitt Road and called to the site on a ‘just in time’ basis,” says the report.
For all these problems, the residents have not seen any action to get excited about, says Geoghegan.
“Well except for those four plant boxes that were brought in to stop some car parking,” she says.
She points to four green plant boxes that sit in front of the grotto.
“Some of the solutions to this are not rocket science,” says Damian Farrell.
One way to prevent builders gathering at the local shops, where elderly people collect their pensions, is to do an order and delivery system, he says.
“Rather than everyone going down to the shop, why can’t there just be a lunchtime order organised and the business can deliver it to the site,” he says.
To solve the parking issue, residents have been looking for a parking meter to be installed for some time now but by-laws prevented Rialto Street from getting them.
“But Dublin City Council changed these by-laws in late 2019,” says Geoghegan.
However, Geoghegan was told not to expect a meter coming in any time soon.
“I was told that the implementation of this could take up to a year because of the Covid commitments they have,” she says.
This is not the only measure that the local residents are waiting on from the council.
The hospital site sits perpendicular to the top of Rialto Street. The site entrance is located at Linear Park which runs between the site on the surrounding houses along the Luas track.
Currently there is a turnstile that permits one builder in at a time.
Geoghegan has seen builders grouping around the turnstile as they wait for people to pass through and into the site, she says.
Residents have been told by Dublin City Council that the council will publish new designs for the park to address this problem, says Geoghegan.
A spokesperson for DCC said that the council is planning to re-engage with community members in the locale “when the covid situation permits a further public meeting/consultation”.
[This article was updated on 12 August 2020 at 6.37pm to include a response from Dublin City Council on new plans for Linear Park.]