Eddie McDonagh studies a map on his kitchen table in Belcamp, in north Dublin. To his right, an open door to the street outside lets in beams of morning sunshine and the faint sound of passing traffic from the R139.
“This is us,” he says, pointing towards a strip on the map that separates Darndale Park to the west from a green area the size of two football pitches that touches the estates of Moatview Court, Tara Lawns, Northern Close and Belcamp Gardens.
Over roughly twenty years the green area, owned by Dublin City Council, was the site of vast illegal dumping, with big trucks pulling in to unload rubble, and household waste tossed on too. This has left heaps of waste, and area residents have been worried about possible impacts on their health.
On the map, on either side of McDonagh’s and his neighbour’s house, a shade of pink highlights plots proposed for new housing.
The plan identifies an area in the north-eastern corner of Darndale Park for proposed development, and new houses running along the crown of the green area.
It would also see new houses between the Traveller-specific accommodation of Tara Lawns, St Dominick’s Court, Cara Park and Northern Close, which are collectively known as Northern Estates.
This is on the plan marked “Option One”. (It’s unclear what other options might be on the table. Dublin City Council Press Office didn’t respond to a request for those.)
McDonagh received the plans after Dublin City Council expressed an interest in purchasing his and a neighbour’s properties.
“I said I want to know what’s going on here and they sent me out them,” he says, gesturing at the plans on the table.
McDonagh says that he accepted the council’s offer, but the council later reneged on the offer. A spokesperson for the council says that no offer was made to McDonagh or his neighbour Maire Mole for their property.
“No previous offers were made by DCC in relation to any houses in this area,” says a spokesperson for Dublin City Council.
Now McDonagh’s not sure what’s going to happen – whether they’re going to develop new housing either side of him and how much of a say the local community are going to have on the development in the area.
The council says that plans for the area are at a preliminary stage. But so far there has been zero consultation with the local community, says Annette Flanagan, a resident of nearby Moatview Court. “There’s been no consultation with us at all.”
There’s an awful lot of issues that need to be addressed before building can even be considered on the proposed sites, she says.
Like cleaning and testing the illegal landfill and building much-needed social infrastructure for the community, she says.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said it would be talking with the local community and councillors about its plans over the summer.
“Until those discussions are complete, we will not be making any further public comment on these plans,” said the spokesperson.
The plans that McDonagh got haven’t been seen by councillors, says Sinn Féin Councillor Larry O’Toole.
“I’m totally shocked that this hasn’t come before councillors and that some senior officials don’t seem to know about it,” says O’Toole.
There has been no procedure in how the plans have been shared with the community, says O’Toole, and the plans have yet to come before the local area committee.
It’s causing confusion in the local area, he says.
Dublin City Council didn’t respond to queries about why residents have received these unfinalised plans before local councillors, and whether senior officials in the council are aware of them.
They have confirmed that new housing is being considered for the site, which includes nine Traveller-specific homes, they said. The council has been criticised for a lack of progress in providing new homes for Travellers, and in February at a special meeting, councillors said they were committed to changing that.
“ [W]e do not have timescales etc. yet,” said a spokesperson for the council.
The plans also identify a number of existing issues at Northern Estates, including a lack of formal access from sites there to local amenities including schools, churches and neighbourhood centres.
On top of that, there are poor quality green spaces in the Belcamp area, and overcrowding on sites at Tara Lawns and St Dominic’s Court, the report says.
The proposed strategy for the area includes improving access from the R139 by building a new road between Tara Lawns and Northern Close and running it between Moatview Court and Belcamp Gardens, and to improve green spaces.
Thirty more houses are needed at Cara Park, according to the proposals, as well as three more houses at St Dominick’s Court.
O’Toole says he has put in a question to the area manager this month asking the council to outline its plans to regenerate and refurbish empty and derelict sites at Northern Estates.
According to McDonagh, there are severe issues around access to water and electricity at the Traveller accommodation in the Northern Estates.
“All families are entitled to those basics,” says McDonagh. “They’ve water but there might be 20 hooked into one tap.”
These are issues that need to be dealt with first, he says, rather than making plans for more houses where there are severe issues with basic amenities at the halting sites in accessing electricity and water.
Cleaning the Landfill
The plans also cite the issue of substantial illegal dumping on the sites earmarked for development.
For years, residents called for the dumping to stop and the landfill to be cleared, stressed and worried that the landfill might be behind illness in the wider neighbourhood.
Flanagan, the local resident, wants assurances that there are no toxic materials in the landfill that will be disturbed before it is cleaned. Dublin City Council has yet to communicate with them on this issue, she says.
O’Toole, the Sinn Féin councillor, says he asked the council last month to carry out tests there for toxic materials before it was excavated. “I got a very vague answer.”
“A waste characterisation has been carried out using trial nodes to investigate the nature of the waste at the illegal site,” they said, in an email. They didn’t comment on what was found.
Last year, a report released after an FOI request about investigations into the material at the landfill noted sheets of asbestos on the surface of the landfill, though it said that the nature of the waste was non-toxic for people.
In April, in response to a question from Green Party Councillor Janet Horner on when the landfill would be cleaned up, a council official said work is expected to start this autumn.
“The estimated cost is between €5 - €6.5m,” they said. “Various remedial options are being investigated and suitable actions will be taken to secure the site to prevent dumping from reoccurring.”
Dublin City Council didn’t directly respond to queries as to whether building homes on the former dumping area is being considered to prevent dumping from happening again.
“The immediate remediation plans include the removal of the waste and the construction of a wall to prevent further dumping, this work is expected to commence in the coming few months,” says the spokesperson.
The waste removal will be funded through the council’s Waste Management Division, they said.
“We will be working with [the] Housing Department on the site clearance and construction of a wall while the site is awaiting development over the longer term,” they said.
Members of the community are currently organising to set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to hire a barrister to ensure that no building happens in the area without the public being consulted first and their concerns addressed.
Both Flanagan and McDonagh say there is a serious shortage of facilities for young people in the area and would like to see the idle Dublin City Council lands around them used for community amenities like all-weather football pitches, boxing clubs, and a community hall.
“I’d love a club over there where you could have communions at it or 21sts where we could all use it,” says Flanagan. “It’d be brilliant.”