Saturday 16 December 2017

Public amenities go under as banks drain the coffers

Carol Hunt worries that the proposed closure of three Dublin community pools may just be the beginning of the loss of public services

Did you know that Dublin is the European Capital of Sport for 2010? No, me neither. Or at least not until last week when I was dropping off a lucky relative at the airport and I saw a sign, stating just that. It was hard to ignore -- or believe. So, in case it was a joke left over from April Fool's Day, I looked it and yep, officially at least, we are the European Capital of Sport this year.

At a ceremony to celebrate this honour held in March at Dublin Castle, Lord Mayor Councillor Emer Costello said, "I love walking and swimming and I hope to use the opportunity to use the European Capitals of Sport year to take up new activities."

I hope she's not planning on using her local pool to keep up her swimming in. Because, after August, the much loved "baths" at Sean McDermott Street, along with public pools in Crumlin and Coolock, will be closed down due to lack of funds.

I have to confess a special gra for my local baths at Sean McDermott Street. During both my pregnancies I swam there in an effort to keep in some sort of shape.

Today I still see crocodile lines of local school kids skipping along in lines of two, plastic bags containing their togs hanging from their arms, as they head to the pool for their weekly swimming lessons.

Not for much longer, kiddies.

You see, someone has to start paying for all the billions being chucked into the likes of Anglo-Irish Bank, and, as the masters of the universe don't seem to be in a mood to hand over any dough, who will be first in line to suffer for their sins?

Why, you and all your little friends of course. I mean, at the end of the day, how much clout do children in inner city Dublin have? Answers on a postcard to the City Council please.

If the children get obese due to lack of exercise, or drown if they fall into the canal, it's their own little fault: sure, isn't there a big sea they can swim in for free?

The locals, quite naturally, are up in arms at the proposed closure that seems to fly in the face of all expensive government advice on water safety and exercise for kids. As one neighbour put it, "Every year the Irish Water Safety Association spends vast sums of money advertising safe swimming and telling the public to go to their local swimming pool to enquire about swimming lessons. Where are these people going to enquire? And in an area that has practically no other amenities?"

Another said, "Even in the 'boom' years most people in the locality couldn't afford private gym fees, and in the present climate many who could afford them no longer can. Does it not seem logical that this public amenity will now be of even more importance?"

Ah, logic. And government planning. God forbid that the twain should ever meet.

To be fair, in a report released last September it was asserted that the three pools due to be closed were in poor condition and that ongoing maintenance was high. (The locals suspect they were deliberately allowed to get run-down).

The report continued, "There are serious pressures being faced by the city council and there are no funds available for refurbishments, serious maintenance or replacement of plant."

See? There are "no funds". Get used to that phrase. You're going to be hearing it a lot in the next while.

All the local councillors that I contacted in relation to the closure of the Sean McDermott pool seem united, regardless of political loyalties, against the move. All of them have ideas for keeping the pool open. And why wouldn't they? They see at first hand the benefit of this amenity to the community.

Cllr Emer Costello said, "The provision of good community sporting activities is essential for this community. The Government should reinstate its programme of funding swimming pools or provide us with alternative sources of funding to keep the pool open."

Nial Ring (Independent) worryingly insists that the financial case presented to the councillors was "flawed and misrepresented".

He said, "While the city council gives €60,000 to privately run swimming pools, it [then] attempts to deprive those most in need of such facilities."

Claire O'Regan (Labour) made the point that the pool was a "safe space in which children, many of whom do not have gardens, can enjoy themselves by engaging in a structured and beneficial pastime".

Cllr Ray McAdam (Fine Gael) added, "Why are working-class families being penalised when the associates of Fianna Fail in the banks, the Dublin Docklands Authority, and others, are being bailed out?"

Why indeed? Is the proposed closure of these community pools just the beginning of the wipe-out of our public services?

On April 1, the good-looking Brian said that the economy could cope with the extra burden on public finances imposed by the Anglo bailout.

Well, April fool to us! I dare -- no, actually, I double dare -- the minister to come stand outside the pool on Sean McDermott Street (or Crumlin, or Coolock) and repeat that statement -- without being accompanied by heavy security.

What he must have meant was that we could "cope" with it if we stopped thinking about the country as any sort of civilised society and just looked on it as a glorified property development company. A bit like the USSR when it behaved like one big army -- all its cash went to the military while the country crumbled; all ours will go to bailing out financial institutions. The Russians were paranoid about security. Our lot are paranoid about "banks failing".

Can't we be patriotic about it? So what if local amenities close? Or if schools don't have enough teachers or hospitals don't have beds? So what if you stroll down to your local post office/library/police station/dole office/primary school and discover that they've had to shut down due to "lack of funds". Or if you wait patiently hour after hour for a bus that now only comes once a day, or a train that keeps

breaking down because there's no money for maintenance?

Won't it be worth it in 10 or 20 years' time when the same old board of Anglo-Irish and friends can once again afford to award themselves great big bonuses for profits earned by lending insane amounts of money to developers? (Primarily building gated communities to protect the wealthy against uncivilised hordes of poverty-stricken anarchists.)

When our houses are once again worth what we paid for them? (Despite the fact that all surrounding social infrastructure will lie in decayed ruin.)

When Seanie Fitz and David Drumm et al return triumphant in a gold-plated helicopter to inform us that -- hallelujah -- the madness can resume? Won't it be worth it?

Sunday Independent

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