Sunday 28 May 2017

Fighting to find space for sports facilities that would save lives in the inner city

Liberties club's struggle to find a pitch highlights lack of services that will deepen social problems

St Kevin’s HC officials JJ O’Mahony and Vincent Hennessy at an underage training session at Templeogue Synge Street’s facility. Photo: David Conachy
St Kevin’s HC officials JJ O’Mahony and Vincent Hennessy at an underage training session at Templeogue Synge Street’s facility. Photo: David Conachy

Aisling Crowe

Setting sun on a September evening bathes in a pink glow the hurling field. Shouts ring out, teenage voices of the players mingle with the baritone instructions of their mentors, the famed clash of the ash can be heard above the throb of the traffic.

It's a normal Wednesday evening for St Kevin's Hurling Club. Two of the club's 15 teams are training while the camogie stars of the future have just finished and their studs crunch the gravel as they walk down the hill, away from the green field that is hemmed in by houses and towards the busy main road. Turn left towards Crumlin or go right to cross the canal and head for home, the South Inner City, the Liberties.

Everywhere you look beyond the grey concrete wall that protects this green field on four sides, houses fill your view. The gates to the field even lie between two houses. Impossibly, it seems, more are being built, if the yellow crane that dominates the eastern sky signifies anything.

On Friday night, Dublin City Council begins its deliberations on the city's next Development Plan, which is due to come into effect in November. If the amendments are adopted, then St Kevin's fear for their future and those of the 400 children and teenagers from the Liberties who must cross the Grand Canal to play sport.

"We have been constantly fighting, looking for grounds for the last 25 years. Why should an area that has taken so much pain be inflicted with more?" asks JJ O'Mahony from St Kevin's. "If Dublin City Council put a fraction of the effort it puts into housing into these children, it would transform their lives."

The Cork native, along with Tommy Daly and Mary Crampton, is part of a three-strong team aimed at securing a home in the Liberties for the club, which was founded in 1902. A site on Donore Avenue, which has lain idle and derelict for more than a decade, has been identified as the perfect location for the multi-purpose sports facilities the club has been battling to get for the last 25 years. St Kevin's is a tenant of Templeogue Synge Street football club and shares their second ground.

The hurlers come from an area that stretches from the Liffey to the Canal and from St James's Hospital in the West to Wexford Street in the east. But the scope of the club is not limited to those loose boundaries, with players coming from Inchicore, Drimnagh and Harold's Cross too.

"There used to be a soccer pitch near St Teresa's Gardens but that was locked up about 15 years ago. I often think of the many lives that could have been saved if it wasn't closed down by the council," O'Mahony ruefully reflects. "There is not one sports pitch in our eight parishes - where more than 50,000 people live - large enough for an organised game of soccer, hurling, rugby, camogie or football. To play a match clubs, children and their parents have to travel out of the area and this is too difficult for them to sustain on a regular basis and almost impossible for a child if they don't have regular support."

There are 10 schools in the area with 2,500 pupils between them, and Paul McManus, a games development officer funded by the GAA and St Kevin's, operates on a daily basis in some of the most restricted spaces any coach has to work in.

"There isn't a blade of grass at the schools. One school, part of their schoolyard is underneath a carpark and another one is only about three or four times the size of this room," says McManus, indicating the square dressing room.

However, in the Draft Development Plan up for discussion in the next week, the Donore Avenue space, the disused soccer pitch has been earmarked for 50 new housing units a part of Phase One of the regeneration of the area. Phase Two requires the refurbishment of 60 existing flats and the third phase will provide more housing, removing the space for a full-size multi-purpose pitch. It is understood that the three sites around St Teresa's Gardens are in the control of NAMA.

Dublin City Council wants to put in 500 houses around Teresa's Gardens, another 500 into Bailey Gibson. If they push this through it is going to be a ticking time bomb for the people of the Liberties. If Minister Simon Coveney is serious about his commitment to sustainability in building housing, then there is no better litmus test than this one, to provide sports facilities for the children of the Liberties.

St Kevin's members have no problem with building affordable housing in an area that has the second highest crime rate in the country, but houses with neither infrastructure, facilities, services nor green spaces are not homes. They are incubators for even worse health and social problems in the coming generations.

Dublin's Lord Mayor Brendan Carr is one of the councillors supporting St Kevin's bid to have a green space saved for sport and recreation in the Liberties.

"They need grounds to play on," says Councillor Carr. "We can't keep asking them to look after our kids and not support them with proper facilities. They have done a lot of good work in the Liberties with no sports facilities. It is so hard to keep kids involved in sport anyway and with the limited facilities available to them it's so much harder. We should provide them with sports facilities in their area instead of forcing them to the outskirts. Here is an opportunity to do something about that.

"The size of ground isn't going to have a massive impact on housing levels in the city but it will have a huge influence on kids in the Liberties. It will give them something solid and steady. The argument is constantly being made that we are building houses all the time but not facilities. Well now we have the chance to do both. I am fully supportive of St Kevin's and I am adamant that there should be a multi-purpose sports facility in the Liberties."

This is about more than some blades of grass or space to play. This is a battle for the future of the Liberties, a fight for the people who live there and those who will be born there.

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