Photo by Caroline Brady

A huge row erupted four years ago over plans by Dublin City Council to provide flood defences for Clontarf by building a series of earthen embankments and walls, up to 2.75 metres high, along the seafront. And the outcry was so strong that the scheme was dropped.

Now, Clontarf residents and others who drive along the coastal road have been expressing outrage in letters to the Irish Times over the construction of a new wall alongside the Sutton-to-Sandycove (S2S) cycleway, on the basis that it obscures cherished views of Dublin Bay.

Published under the heading “A wall and Dublin Bay”, the letters refer to a “5ft wall” being built along James Larkin Road, opposite Bull Island. “It seems short-sighted to remove such beautiful views right on the doorstep of our capital city,” wrote Ian McMurty, of Sutton, Dublin 13.

Complaining about a lack of consultation, Peter James, of Baldoyle, said it was “an outrage that one of Dublin’s most stunning views is walled up”, while Sophie Spalding, of Raheny, wrote that all they had been told was that work had finally started on the S2S bike path.

The need for coastal defences for Clontarf has become more pressing in recent years after the area was badly hit by an “extreme tidal event” in February 2002 and a less severe one in October 2004. Further such “events” are likely with the onset of climate change.

Several weak points in the existing, fairly rudimentary flood defences allowed a “deluge of water” onto Clontarf Road and flooded a number of properties. As a result, DCC decided that flood-alleviation measures were required to protect this important stretch of coastline.

But the original scheme, estimated at nearly €10 million (including installation of a new water main) had to be dropped due to strenuous opposition from Clontarf Residents Association, which is now involved in discussions with DCC about the future form of the promenade.

One Clontarf resident familiar with the situation, who did not wish to be identified, told Dublin Inquirer that they didn’t want to “sully the waters” by speaking out against the wall now under construction, which was “nowhere near as brutal” as the scheme dropped in 2011.

Councillors for the area are to meet city officials on Monday 26 October to discuss the latest development, which is still in the course of construction. Photographs show that a proposed footpath beside the new wall has yet to be built, and this may take the bare look off it.

Given the opposition being expressed by at least some of their constituents, the councillors should be pressing for a solution that would both fulfill the need for flood defences and preserve views of Dublin Bay for motorists travelling on the coastal road.

Such a solution is not impossible. Indeed, it has already been done in Waterford (see photo), where a toughened glass wall in stainless steel framing was laid all along the quay to protect properties in the area from storm surges in the Suir estuary. And there are clear views right through it.

Given predicted sea-level rise as a result of climate change, there is no doubt that coastal defences in Ireland and elsewhere will have to be reinforced to protect heavily populated areas. So far, however, no plan has been drawn up to deal with precarious places like Dublin Bay.

Some ideas are kicking around, however, including the notion of installing booms in the bay to neutralise storm surges before they can do damage to property along the seafront in areas such as Clontarf and Sandymount, which are most obviously at risk of inundation.

Even Donald Trump is faced with a major headache in trying to protect his Doonbeg golf resort in County Clare from Atlantic surges, such as the nearly 10-metre-high waves that washed over the seafront in nearby Lahinch last winter. The estimated cost of defending it is €10 million.

In many cases, especially where major economic assets (cities, in particular) are not involved, a policy of planned retreat is the only viable option – as they have recognised in East Anglia. That would apply to sparsely populated stretches of vulnerable coastlines.

Clearly, neither Clontarf nor Sandymount can be abandoned in this way. The only issue is how best to protect them from flooding in the context of an overall plan – not merely the building of a wall along a new cycle path that blocks out views of Dublin Bay from the coast road.

We asked DCC’s press office to outline the basis on which a higher wall was being built on the seaward side of James Larkin Road, and whether any consideration was given to adopting the Waterford solution. But there was no response prior to publication.

Frank McDonald is the former environment editor of the Irish Times, and the author of several books, including The Destruction of Dublin (1985), Saving the City (1989), and The Construction of Dublin (2000)....

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