When infrastructure requires the sacrifice of communities it seems only better-off areas with political connections can stand up to projects, writes Michael Clifford.
There was a call for any engineers to come forward. John Dean, sitting at the top table, let it be known that an engineer would come in really handy. He was speaking to a public meeting in Dublin about the proposal to demolish a public swimming pool and around 80 homes to make way for a new rail link.
“We need an engineer,” he told the meeting. “Anybody who knows an engineer could we get them involved?” A murmur rippled through the gathering. No hands went up. “Or if you know anybody who was involved in other campaigns in the city, in Metrolink or housing,” he said.
Around 60 people had turned up at St Andrew’s Resource Centre in Parnell St. At issue is whether or not State agency is effectively taking the easy option and ploughing through their community, disrupting and depriving them of a much-used amenity.
The proposed Metrolink will require the demolition of the Markievicz swimming pool in Luke St. Seventy apartments in the same complex will also have to go. As will eight townhouses in nearby Townsend St, many of which are occupied by senior citizens.
These homes and the swimming pool have been deemed necessary casualties of progress. But which socio-economic group gets it between the eyes when progress comes calling, and which group has the power to divert progress from their area?
These questions now underpin some of the infrastructural change taking place in Dublin, and will do likewise in other cities in the coming years. One of the organisers of last week’s meeting, Sean de Burca, told the gathering that they were a key stakeholder in the Metrolink project.
“We have to deal with the consequences of it,” he said.
And then he turned to the leisure centre.
“I use the pool and the gym,” he said. “I’ve been living on Pearse St for the last four years, renting here. It’s not a private enterprise. It’s a public celebration. It’s not just about health and fitness, it’s a real social centre. Those kinds of opportunities are quite limited.”
After his contribution there was a presentation of possible alternative routes that would leave homes intact. Throughout the discussion, two names kept popping up, not in rancour, but possibly envy. These were Na Fianna (a GAA club in Glasnevin) and Charlemont, a salubrious enclave in leafy Dublin 6.
When the proposed route for Metrolink — to run from Dublin airport to Sandyford in the south of the city — was announced in March 2018 there was consternation. A station in Charlemont would discommode local people in the Ranelagh area and affect the running of the existing Luas line.
Another station in the ground of Na Fianna would displace the club and impact on two neighbouring schools. Neither community faced evictions from homes, but there would have been considerable disruption.
The reaction was swift. The National Transport Authority came under immediate pressure. In the Dáil, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made the unprecedented move of rubbishing a State agency’s plans. He said the proposed route would cause “enormous damage” to the schools and GAA club in Glasnevin.
“I have to say I am very concerned and I share the concerns of leaders and other deputies, not least the minister for finance about this particular emerging preferred route.”
Paschal Donohue is a member of Na Fianna. South of the city, the good burghers of Ranelagh were apoplectic. The proposal would have entailed road closures necessitating a 1.2km detour as well as disruption to the Luas.
Among the objectors were local TD and Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy and former minister for justice Michael McDowell. Turfing people out of their homes in the inner city was one thing, but this level of disruption in Ranelagh simply couldn’t be tolerated.
The outcome announced last March was a terminating of the metro line at Charlemont, minimising disruption there, and a relocation of the proposed station at Na Fianna. The demolition of the homes in the inner city would, however, remain the “optimum solution”.
The optics are obvious. In better off areas there is political muscle, easy access to professional engineering, legal and financial advice. There is access to money to fund opposition to a State agency’s plans. This translates into power to protect their own immediate interests, irrespective of the greater public good.
That power does not exist in less salubrious areas. At last week’s meeting, it was announced that all local authority and national politicians in the area had been invited. Just two councillors showed up. The level of engagement simply wouldn’t be tolerated in the better-off areas. At one point, organiser John Dean announced a fundraising event.
“It’s costing money, for posters, Freedom of Information requests, planning observations and all that. So we will be having an event in The Flowing Tide pub at 8.30pm on July 19.”
Such events are an integral part of any campaign, but the reality is that the funds available in the better-off areas are a multiple of anything that could hope to be raised here. As such, these areas can be viewed as an easy touch to push through plans.
Some communities possess the power to repel the state from inconveniencing their lifestyle. Others struggle desperately to stop the State’s decreeing that their homes must be sacrificed for the common good. There was no rancour towards the successful campaigns at the meeting last week.
One contributor conceded that the original plan to use Na Fianna’s ground was flawed. Another contributor in the audience announced himself as a member of the group from Charlemont that had successfully campaigned for change.
He offered solidarity and later approached the organisers to give further advice. For the south inner city community in Dublin, the battle continues.
They face stiff odds but there appears to be different strokes for different folks when disruption and displacement in the name of progress are required.