There are some stories that just leave you shaking your head in disbelief. With the story of Kevin’s Hurling and Camogie Club in Dublin’s south inner city, disbelief quickly hardens into anger, writes Paul Rouse.
For more years than anyone can remember, Kevin’s has sought a playing field of its own. With no success.
The club is currently the tenant of the Templeogue-Synge Street Club Grounds on the Crumlin Road, but the area it draws many of its underage players from is inside the Grand Canal.
Anybody who knows this area of south inner city Dublin will know the challenge that this involves. Pockets of extreme poverty mean that it is, for example, second only to the north inner city in the number of incarcerations per head of population in the state.
This is an area in which many outstanding people live and work and grow up.
But the generational neglect of south inner city communities and the insidious spread of drugs-fuelled crime and destitution have destroyed family after family.
This is the world into which the men and women who run Kevin’s extend their hands.
They pull children onto fields and give them hurleys.
Perhaps the greatest thing about the club is the mix of people in its ranks.
Some 400 players in 15 teams from nursery up to adult level, all playing hurling and camogie.
There are children here who are the sons and daughters of solicitors and accountants and public servants, of men and women from every county in Ireland, and of New Zealanders and Africans and Asians.
And there are children, too, from families whose lives are a daily struggle in the face of the toughest of circumstances.
Indeed, there is a small library of books to be written about people who have had their lives transformed by playing for Kevin’s.
That, in itself, should see the club swamped with policy-makers and officials who want to help. Almost the opposite has happened.
It appeared that last June the club was finally going to get use of a pitch inside the canal. Dublin City Council voted (by amendment to the draft plan for the area) to zone a part of the old St Teresa’s Gardens site for sporting facilities big enough for a GAA pitch. The initial plan had contained a sporting provision that was simply too small for such a pitch.
There was jubilation. After swimming against the tide for so long the members were ecstatic. The potential to bring hurling deep into the south inner city was exactly what the club considered to be central to its mission.
Crucially, the envisaged pitches would be shared with those who wished to use them for soccer or any other field sport — basically, the new grounds could, with vision and will, become a hub for sport in the area. The sporting facilities would also sit into a wider recreational open space in what would be an unprecedented development in the south inner city.
But then June turned into July and it became apparent that some forces within the council (and in government) were determined that the area now promised to the hurling field should be used instead for housing.
For example, a submission from the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government is clearly opposed to the provision of increased open space and a playing area large enough for a hurling field at the St Teresa’s Gardens site.
A document then produced by the city manager also makes plain the objection of top council officials to the proposal to put a GAA pitch in. The language of this document is stark in the manner in which it objects to the provision of such a pitch.
Instead, it views its own proposals (which include no GAA pitch) as ‘adequate’.
There is something profoundly depressing in this.
As everybody knows, there is a housing supply crisis in Dublin and the council is under enormous pressure to deliver new housing immediately.
This is onerous and presents decision-makers with recurring dilemmas.
But the answer to the housing crisis does not lie in depriving the children of the south inner city of a basic amenity — the type of resource that is taken for granted in every town and village and suburb.
By the way, this is an area where there is currently not even one playing field, where 10 primary schools filled with 2,500 children have not a blade of grass on their property (imagine if such a thing could be said about any country town across Ireland).
Already, Dublin City Council’s own greening strategy demonstrates that the south-west inner city is 86% below the extent of green space deemed appropriate for the size of population.
When it comes down to it, this is actually a perfect opportunity for Dublin City Council to live up to its responsibilities and to create something undeniably positive.
There will be further deliberations on the matter when councillors meet later in September. These meetings will be attended by senior council officials.
Will the councillors hold to their promise — or will they now be swayed by officials to abandon the planned hurling pitch?
When the time to vote comes, it is essential that a clear and unshakeable commitment be given that at least 20% (large enough for a full-size hurling pitch) of the site at issue will be given for sporting facilities for Kevin’s and its prospective partners in soccer, rugby and any other sport.
Indeed, if there were to be visionary strategic thinking and a proper value placed on the lives of the children of the south inner city, this 20% would be just a starting point.
It is worth considering, also, whether the GAA are doing enough at the highest level to deliver for its club.
The former GAA president Nicky Brennan and Dublin County Board chief executive John Costello have been hugely supportive of Kevin’s in their ambitions.
But can it really be said that this is enough? If the GAA can find the money to build stadiums that lie empty for almost every day of every year, can it not do more to help secure a field for those who need it most and who will use it every day?
The solution here is straightforward: Dublin City Council must stand by the decision to provide the space for a GAA pitch and the GAA must make sure that this land becomes a facility of the highest order.
We like to think that hurling has a special place in Irish life and that hurlers have a shared passion which draws them together in some sort of magical bond that transcends class and geography.
But that is a claim that rings more than a little hollow when you know the story of Kevin’s Hurling and Camogie Club.
Ultimately, the treatment of kids from our poorest areas is a scandal in which many are complicit.
It comes down to too many people accepting it is tolerable to allow things sit as they are.
And it also comes down to those with the power to shape the usage of public space understanding — or being made to understand — the importance of doing right by those who live in less fashionable areas.
Nobody is suggesting that hurling — or any other sport — is a simple panacea, but the provision of a place to play is so basic a demand that it seems ludicrous to have to fight this hard to get it.
Are inner-city kids to remain forever treated as second-rate?
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