Ballymun Degeneration
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by Paddy Haughey

It was obvious from day one that Ballymun Regeneration Ltd. (BRL) would make Ballymun much worse for the people of Ballymun than it was when they first brought their Bulldozers in.

Dublin City Council had failed miserably over the previous 30 years in their responsibilities to the tenants and residents. It was the first time that a local authority had undertaken a project of this magnitude and to think that it was a local authority that had proved their ineptitude over so many years in Ballymun.

I with a number of other residents, organised a public meeting in May 2000 to alert people to the fact that the density of housing had been radically changed from what it stated on the Master plan.

The local forum were sent in to disrupt the meeting and delivered a letter to all in the area accusing our group of scare mongering. We were proved right in our claims. We had checked their application for planning permission in Wood Quay.

The Forums were set up to prevent local tenants and residents from setting up their own representative organizations. To build sustainable houses for the tenants living in the flats, all the public land of Ballymun should have been dedicated to it.

I wrote to Minister Dempsey in the year 2000 not to increase the housing density in Ballymun to prevent the building of a slum area greater than the one we were trying to remove. He indicated that he had full confidence in Ciaran Murray. What a blunder! Evidence for this fact is coming quickly into the public arena and will continue to gain pace. On the 16th December the Sunday Independent published a report on the ongoing saga about the "Santry Cross" private apartments.

Apparently they are quickly beginning to experience problems frighteningly like what happened in the old blocks, which they knocked down and replaced with these. On the 6th January the Sunday Business Post reported on the same story but they mention the fear that is running through the whole of Ballymun Estate. They say "The entire estate has become a development in rapid decline toward slum status. There is no proper system of security for the tenants to protect them from trespass and crime."

The high density of houses,(if there was a fire there is no fire station in Ballymun for a population of 30,000people) the absence of driveways, parks particularly suited to hangouts for junkies, (instead of open green space where the great majority of Ballymun young people who are trying to live decently could play in safety). The junkies are wrecking havoc all over Ballymun, trashing people's homes when they are gone out, wrecking and robbing youth clubs and youth centers and all with impunity, smashing, burning, and robbing cars.

Why did the BRL decide that they had nothing to learn from the 30 years experience of Ballymun's volunteers and community activists? Perhaps they were like some of the old gold prospectors of America; they thought that they had discovered a gold mine in Ballymun and wanted to keep it a secret; but unfortunately for them it was like the pyrite DCC built the Reco on- fool's gold.

Dublin city is a proud city. Ballymun people are a proud people. The hard working people of Dublin with young families flocked out of the tenements in the city in their thousands to live in the flats in Ballymun in the 60's. The new tenants were kept well in the dark regarding the serious drawbacks for families living in high flats. Some of the architects actually tried to oppose these plans but Dublin Corporation wouldn't entertain their Plans for conventional 3 and 4 bedroom houses instead. But doesn't history tend to repeat itself? A number of Ballymun people made this very same suggestion to the BRL when they saw their plans for tenement type houses for the Regeneration. They were given short shrift.

But the Ballymunners of the 60's didn't fail their families and their community. They invested their energy, their time and their money in their families and in providing services for the youth. This new millennium generation who are the beneficiaries of the 60's generation will not be found wanting either in the face of the latest Dublin City Council challenge even though it is even greater than in the 60's. Now there will be no Lift Shafts and Basements. There will be a dearth of football fields and greens.

The Plough Youth Club is one of the few survivors of the Regeneration. It met the BRL on Thursday 13th April 2000 in Stormanstown House along with other Shangan Groups and all were promised accommodation in the Shangan Neighbourhood Centre or in the Plough Youth Club case, adjoined to it. The Plough Youth Club wrote to BRL on the 22nd August 2002. BRL assured the club it would be provided with quality facilities. Instead they have been attempting to strangle the club in a rented room in a prefab. The Plough Youth Club is now continuing to give a valuable service to another generation of young Ballymun people.

Commemoration of Arabian horses and a British Field Marshall rather than the signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic is the choice of BRL Ltd. as a focal point of their new main street. And to think they would put it on the site of the former Thomas McDonagh Tower. I am not surprised because BRL acts as an agent of DCC who then known as Dublin Corporation were responsible as landlords for allowing Ballymun to decline into a slum area. Why DCC was allowed to do the Regeneration of Ballymun with this record behind them deserves an Enquiry as much as any of the issues we hear about daily in Dublin Castle.

But the day of reckoning has come for them probably with the recent release of the Comptroller & Auditor Generals Special Report on Ballymun Regeneration. The Irish Independent published an article on the Special Report Tuesday the 4th of March last and the editor felt compelled to do an editorial report on it in addition to the article. He entitled his report "A terrible waste". He says the original blueprint envisaged the completion of the demolition and rebuilding work by 2006. The estimated cost was €442m. But now the projected completion date has been moved to 2012. And the estimated final bill has more than doubled to €942. He says that when people in positions of authority are confronted on such issues they seldom lack excuses and bland comments and he says that none of those given to the C &AG by BRL even when added together can justify the enormous increase in the cost of the project.

Reading the Special Report itself gives rise to some disturbing facts such as 532 of the original flats are not going to be replaced; a key objective of the BRL was social mix but most of the private houses are physically separate from the social housing. And although the Special Report doesn't seem to be aware of it the quality and size of the new homes are far from what was promised. In conclusion the selling of too large a proportion of the Ballymun land bank to private investors has resulted in the failure of the regeneration of Ballymun. Brendan Kenny on RTE's Morning Ireland said he would raise money from the sale of land in Moyross, Southill, St. Mary's Park and Ballinacurra Weston for their Regeneration so Limerick beware.

BRL and it's Ballymun Housing Task Force-now Ballymun Neighbourhood Council-will soon be celebrating 10 years into their project. Of course the Comptroller and Auditor General revealed to us last March that it should have been finished 2 years ago and that the complete budget (442 million) was spent with only the job half done. It is to take another 4 years and cost an extra 500 million. But I don't think it is only the taxpayer that is unhappy. The tenants expected ordinary houses but got bed sit type houses lacking driveways and not suitable for families. The expected new up-market shopping centre never happened.

We lost our excellent swimming pool, which was only built after sustained protests in the 1970's. Our football fields were built on and the Plough Youth Club has not been given any meaningful and realistic support in getting a new premises anywhere near the needs of such an effective and large and growing club. Our promised Information Technology Park wasn't delivered. Our losses were gains for private apartments and hotels which already don't seem to be sustainable. These were all segregated from the public areas by location and by not allowing Ballymun residents rent support in them. Most people learn from previous mistakes but those who don't, obviously don't want to.

BCON was established 7 years ago to represent and support the community and voluntary sector. It represents 38 community and voluntary organizations. Everett/Daly found that unlike Fatima and the Docklands the voluntary and community groups in Ballymun have no formal mechanism for contributing to meaningful decision making in the BRL structure. They propose that a Forum composed of BRL, DCC, YDP, and BC0N be set up. They recommend that BCON and the community and voluntary groups it represents should accept that the other three groups will act in good faith. BCON have reported back to us a declared willingness on the part of these groups to accept this Forum. But honestly I cannot see how it could work any better than the neighbourhood Forums which gave no decision making power to the community whatsoever. The Report rightly castigates the decision of BRL for engaging in a one-to-one, confidential manner. This practice has eroded trust both within the community and voluntary sector and between the community and voluntary sector and the local authority. However BRL's contribution to the Irish Times article on 20-07-07; Ciaran Murray's contribution to the Morning Ireland interviews on the E/D Report; BRL's contribution to the article in the Northside People 26-09-07; all show clearly that BRL is not listening.

They continue to assert, despite all the increasing evidence to the contrary, that they are going to meet everybody's needs. The E/D Report is correct when it says that "it is essential that BRL and Dublin City Council both commit themselves to working jointly with the community and voluntary sector" in a partnership arrangement in a spirit of mutual respect. To date despite all their protestations to the contrary they are continuing to act in a completely one-sided way. The Report was released in July and now in October they have not diverted one inch from their absolute control of all the decisions being made for the people of Ballymun. Groups and even families and individuals in flats; Groups in basements and lift shafts haven't been given any say in their future and attempts are being made to shunt them around from one place to another. This is in total disregard for the right of the people of Ballymun to have their rights freedoms and responsibilities protected by the State. And it is completely contrary to the spirit requested in the Everett/Daly Report.

BRL were set up as a limited company by DCC and were handed over the land bank of Ballymun to do with as they pleased. The 3 top men had over a hundred years behind them in the old Dublin Corporation. They labeled Ballymun as a failed community. They claimed that community and voluntary groups had done nothing in over 30 years. The old activists were never going to change they said. There was no way they were going to invest in them. Push them aside and bring a new population into the area. They were going to change the image of Ballymun. These people are an example of power without responsibility.

It led them to see the people of Ballymun not as their benefactors but as their debtors. Anything is good enough for them. They deserve nothing. This attitude was but a continuation of their treatment of the people of Ballymun for the previous 30 years. It was bad enough to build high-rise flats but to neglect them was even worse. The BRL promised to build houses for the people in the flats. They said they would proceed in a methodical and orderly way. They were to be moved one block at a time all the tenants together and when each block was demolished new houses were to be built in its footprints. The opposite was done. The tenants were housed at random causing chaos for the remnant left in each block. The footprints of Pearse, McDonagh, McDermott, and Ceannt have been sold to build profitable apartments, and hotels.

The tenants ended up being housed on the footprints of their own playing fields and green areas. The new Ballymun has all the luxuries and creature comforts while the old Ballymun is confined to an over dense, overcrowded area which is already showing signs of decadence. Areas like this bring out the worst in some young people and the whole area is becoming a seedbed for antisocial behavior. There was to be more space in the houses than in the flats.

The new houses were to be better than the old. There were to be all sorts of social, recreational and youth work premises and facilities. The people of Ballymun even at this late stage should be writing to their Counselors and TD's demanding an enquiry into why the BRL have failed so abysmally.

- Paddy Haughey
The Plough Youth Club

March 2008