Ballymun Regeneration documentary explores legacy of State neglect

A new documentary drawing from more than 400 hours of footage uncovered from a local archive is a powerful exploration of the legacy of State neglect, writes Brian O’Flynn.

Ballymun Regeneration documentary explores legacy of State neglect

A new documentary drawing from more than 400 hours of footage uncovered from a local archive is a powerful exploration of the legacy of State neglect, writes Brian O’Flynn.

Entitled ‘The 4th Act’, the documentary examines the Ballymun Regeneration Project, and will be aired at 11pm on TV3 tomorrow (Friday) evening.

The Bread & Circus film funded by the Irish Film Board, Dublin City Council and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, has been in production in Ballymun for over three years and reveals the highly ideological processes that guided the regeneration.

The Regeneration project has largely passed out of the public consciousness, no longer considered newsworthy, but this 75-minute exploration of a legacy of state neglect reminds us why it is still relevant.

The upcoming TV3 documentary examines how the state originally left the Ballymun flats without amenities or community support, which exacerbated devastating drug problems and anti-social behaviour in the community. The community, remarkably, pulled together to fend off these social spectres. We see brief flashes of the graffitied slogans on the flat walls (“HEROIN OUT”) and are told of the community patrols (The Drug Watch) that were set up, where residents policed the flats themselves to prevent dealing.

In one shocking police interview included in the documentary, an officer shrugs off this appalling dereliction of duty on the part of the guards, saying “Our attitude is, if they can police their blocks to the point where they can get rid of drugs, we see their future as excellent.”

The Regeneration project was supposed to bring new hope to Ballymun - maybe the state would finally stop brushing their needs under the rug, and give them the support they had always asked for but been left to scrape together on their own.

In the film, old footage is shown of a resident being asked about her fears with the regeneration. She remarked at the time: “I have no fears! You can only improve Ballymun. We’ve never even had a cinema. You’d have a nervous breakdown if you thought this wasn’t gonna be better.”

Sadly, as the documentary shows, her words proved prescient. The Regeneration produced a new Ballymun that is as stagnant, as under-served and as ignored by the state, as it has always been. Just like Grenfell Tower, the problems with the project started with “accidents” - in 2007, pyrite, a mineral which causes structural defects, was discovered in the foundations of some of the new Ballymun residences, and the removal resulted in millions of euros of unforeseen costs. Of course this wasn’t the state’s fault. But the way these problems coalesced to result in a finished project that left its residents utterly deprived once again, is surely the responsibility of nobody else but the state that once left the very same residents to fight off a heroin epidemic single-handedly.

The McDonagh Tower, Ballymun during a controlled implosion bringing the tower block down as part of the Ballymun Regeneration project in 2005. Picture: RollingNews.ie
The McDonagh Tower, Ballymun during a controlled implosion bringing the tower block down as part of the Ballymun Regeneration project in 2005. Picture: RollingNews.ie

The documentary reveals how the state had official plans to entice the middle class into Ballymun to make it a more mixed-income area. The film uncovers a research paper carried out at the time by ‘Breaking Ground’, the cultural wing of the regeneration project. The document states that “in order to attract the private sector into Ballymun, the area must pertain to values of the professional classes”.

It goes on to say that the designated 'percent for art scheme' funding can achieve this aim through “the education of a social group in line with ruling-class thinking."

As the film’s director, Turlough Kelly, puts it: “Assumptions were made about the type of people living in Ballymun, and the type of people they would have to become. There was a very definite attempt to undermine and replace the structures of local solidarity that had kept the community afloat through decades of challenges and hardship".

Attempts to entice the middle class into Ballymun failed. It seems the government lost interest in Ballymun when it realised it would remain a firmly working class area.

This upcoming TV3 documentary is a must-see. We would do well to learn from it, and what it reveals about the Irish state’s attitude to the working class. The documentary’s lessons echo into 2018, where the aftermath of Grenfell Tower and the continuing neglect of the people of Ballymun resonate across the water. The most recent, half-hearted attempts at further development in Ballymun consist of planning approval being given for a Lidl and student accommodation.

*The 4th Act will be screened on TV3, Friday March 30th at 11pm*

Brian O’Flynn is a working class culture writer and student of Trinity College Dublin. He has been featured in such international publications as the Guardian, the Independent, and VICE.

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