Sunday 23 September 2018

'Every bit of land is just seen as an opportunity to make money' - Dublin GAA in a crisis not of its own making

Dublin clubs are under pressure from urban development
Dublin clubs are under pressure from urban development

Micheál Ó Scannáil

Dublin football has reached its most illustrious height in inter-county history, but some of the county’s oldest and biggest clubs are fighting for their lives.

While Jim Gavin’s men are likely to win a historic fourth successive All-Ireland title this year, the condition of Dublin football may not be all that it seems. Na Fianna is one of the clubs who say that unfettered development in the capital might very well bring about the end of their existence.

Speaking about the proposed development of the Northbound Metrolink, which will occupy Na Fianna’s main playing pitch, their audibly worried chairman, Cormac Ó Donnchú, said that for his club to survive, the project simply can’t go ahead as planned.

“It could quite possibly put an end to the club,” he sighed.

“It's one of the biggest clubs in the country, so there’s huge heart and commitment involved, but you could only see playing numbers going one way and people will stop coming. It could well be the death of the club.”

“People were shocked when the news broke about what the emerging preferred route was,” he added.

“We wouldn’t have access to our pitch for six to twelve years and it would take another three years to reinstate the pitch to what it was. You’re now talking the best part of 20 years.

“That means that the facilities would be lost to a complete generation of Na Fianna members and the damage would be irreparable. You wouldn’t get any of those young people back.”

As the population of Dublin increases, so too does the need for infrastructure. This is simple logic. What is not simple logic however, is taking away facilities from GAA clubs in the county, which are already in short supply.

This problem, of urban growth in Dublin enveloping GAA clubs, first came to light with Na Fianna’s struggle, but since then, several other clubs have become unsure of their future.

Fingallians, whose main pitch is already to be torn open for underground piping, are living in fear of the Metrolink development also affecting them further.

Tyrrelstown GAA also feel disenfranchised having had their land acquired by NAMA, who will look to sell it for a profit.

Kevins hurling and camogie club, founded in 1903 find themselves in the position of potentially losing their only playing area. Their pitches, in Dolphin Park, Crumlin, will be developed into dressing rooms and a clubhouse for Templeogue Synge Street GAA club, who own the land.

A study carried out by a UCD professor found that of the 93 Dublin clubs examined, Kevins had access to the least green space, even before this proposed development is carried out.

Chairman Vincent Hennessy said that the club, which is one of the last remaining strongholds of hurling in the inner city, have no animosity towards Templeogue but expressed their disappointment with the situation in which they find themselves.

“We've played in that field for 40 years and the club is bigger now than it ever has been in its history,” he said.

“If you build a family and you have a family home, as it’s growing you don't make the house smaller, because your family won’t function. So that's what’s going to happen to us.

“It is the only pitch we have access to. We come from south inner city and between the Grand Canal and the River Liffey there isn't one pitch. Our only access to a playing pitch is Dolphin Park.”

Templeogue Synge Street responded to the problem that their development may pose on Kevins. A statement from the club said that the hurling club will still be welcome to play on their land, after the development which they see necessary is complete.

“In our plans, we are factoring in the needs of all those who currently use the site including Kevin’s hurling club, St Clare’s School, Bun Scoile Synge St, Synge St Secondary School, Griffith Barracks, Francis St CBS, Scoil Treasa Naofa, St Catherine’s NS, Presentation Primary & Secondary Schools Warrenmount etc. 

“We enjoy a very good working relationship with Kevin’s and all the schools and we want to see that continue into the future. We do not anticipate any change to Kevin’s and the schools abilities to use the site in future years.

“We look forward to an exciting future.”

Speaking to the clubs involved, it is clear that they all feel frustrated and let down. Who do they turn to? The GAA don’t own the land in a lot of cases and have no say regarding their use. The pitches supplied to teams by the County or City Councils are to fulfil their fixtures only and training is not permitted on them, while the government, in their infrastructure development planning, seems to have overlooked the importance of the clubs to their respective communities.

While the Fingal County Council are in the process of developing new pitches for Tyrellstown GAA club, they could be evicted from their current pitch, which is owned by NAMA, before their future venue is available to them.

John Geraghty, secretary for the club, thinks that more effort needs to be made to sustain the Tyrrelstown community, with the GAA club at the forefront. 

“Going from one contract to another, our position is that the Fingal County Council are developing pitches, but they keep pushing out the dates,” he said.

“I think development could be done in collaboration with organisations who are stakeholders in a community, like the GAA, in terms of ‘how do we provide facilities in this community for the children’ before landing, like in our case, 7,500 people here with no facilities.

“The area is up here on its own and there's very little in it in terms of activities for young people. At the moment, we’re the only outdoor sports club providing somewhere for children to devote their energies rather than just being out on the streets.

“If you look around Tyrrelstown, nearly half of the commercial units are empty, so it makes no sense. There's no thought being given to how to sustain communities. Every bit of land is just seen as an opportunity to make money for someone.”

Fingal County Council, whose jurisdiction includes Na Fianna, Fingallians and Tyrellstown, said that it is a priority for them to supply sports clubs with playing fields.

A representative of the Council, Bernie Kelly, admitted that they do not have the resources available to ensure that all of the GAA clubs in its district have a suitable area to train.

“Playing pitches are provided in council public open space and are let to clubs to allow them fulfil their playing fixtures. Training is not permitted on pitches and clubs readily sign up to this condition.

“There are a limited number of pitches in the county and the council do everything possible to ensure that pitch allocation is done fairly, whilst acknowledging, we cannot meet the demand for playing pitches for clubs across all the codes. This includes the GAA club in Tyrellstown.”

Fingallians are facing a similar problem, with plans already made by Irish Water set to see their main pitch dug up for an underground pipe to be laid, but the North Dublin club are also “living in dread” that the Metrolink will affect them like it will Na Fianna.

Club PRO Paul Gormley said that the fear is something Fingallians have lived with for a number of years, but all construction aside, Dublin clubs are struggling for space as it is.

“The metro was meant to be coming out to Swords 15 years ago, so the worry is something that we have lived with for a long long time,” he said.

“Everything is at the absolute limit at the moment. When we sit down with Fingal County Council every year, the first thing on the agenda is, ‘we need more pitches’.”

While they are already under pressure, Gormley is more positive than the rest, and said that the other clubs are taking the wrong road with their impassioned pleas against the proposed plans.

“One or two clubs have gone the wrong way about looking for a solution.They probably think they’ve gone the right way,” he said.

“Communication is the key and the reason the Na Fianna thing blew up is that communication was really poor.There are two ways you can go. You can give the ‘poor us’ story or you can try to figure something out.

“You have a better chance if you are engaging with the people that are making the decisions constructively, instead of going and shouting your mouth off. It’s just like anything in life. If you have a problem you sit down and you try to come up with a solution. There’s nothing else you can do.”

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