Oscar Square Park, a triangular patch of green in the Coombe, was locked for decades before locals campaigned for it to be reopened in 2010, and won.
Since then, it has served local families and the growing number of dogs in the neighbourhood — an area with an acknowledged lack of green space.
But a few months back, without notice or consultation, the park’s opening times were shortened, and Dublin City Council withdrew the deal that was in place for a local resident to keep the keys.
Now, all sides are hoping to find a working compromise.
Enjoyment Of All
In some years past, Oscar Square Park — also know to some as the Rosary Park — only opened on Sundays.
Local residents would gather with the priest at the central statue of Our Lady. When they were done, the park would be locked up again.
Andrew Foley has lived near the square for 14 years, and remembers a time when it was never open.
“When we first moved in, this park was just locked,” he says. “What was said was that it was anti-social behaviour late at night. But those times are gone and it’s been back open six or seven years now.”
But after several complaints over the last few months, Dublin City Council decided to change the opening times. Instead of 8:15 am, the park should only be unlocked from 10:00 am.
The council also took the keys back from a local resident who used to open the park in the morning and close it in the evening.
Some residents, like Foley, weren’t happy.
The problem was too many dogs early in the morning, said an email response from the council’s Parks Department, fielded through the press office. “This was causing a noise nuisance in particular and other problems relating to dogs in parks.”
The council had five complaints either by phone or raised with staff working in the square, said the press office.
The change in opening times, without prior notice, was “an easy option” for the council, says Foley. “The people who lost out were people who had to get to work. You saw people no longer coming here.”
“There’s been some negativity, some comments which were very disappointing,” he says. “A lot of people were upset, though, about the key-holder arrangement [being taken away].”
Labour Councillor Rebecca Moynihan thinks the council’s reaction was hasty.
“They were acting on foot of a reasonably small number of complaints,” she says. “There are a couple of residents who want to change the opening hours, but essentially, I think their problem is with dogs.”
This all ties in to the wider issue of a lack of green space in Dublin 8, Moynihan says.
“We have a significant lack of green space,” she says. “We have never been prioritised for green space when we have had a significant amount of building.”
Moynihan says that while not everybody has been happy with more and more dogs in Oscar Square Park, the solution is not to reduce the opening hours. There should be other options.
“Oscar Square shows that,” she says. “You have so many people going in to use this tiny little space because it’s the only space within a reasonable walking distance for them.”
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council’s press office says it is working on the lack of green space in Dublin 8 compared to other parts of the city. The Cork Street park is part of that.
In the interim, with Eamonn Ceannt Park a 28-minute walk away, residents hoping to use Oscar Square Park before work may have to wait.
At a meeting last Thursday, local residents and council officials agreed to bring the opening time forward to 9 am, a halfway house between the new and the old regime.
The key holder has the key back now, too.
It’ll be looked at again in a month to see how it’s going, said a spokesperson from the council’s press office.
Labour’s Moynihan says it’s impossible to guarantee dogs won’t bark first thing in the morning. But 9 am “isn’t an unreasonable time for something like that to happen in a city, at all,” she said.
Foley says, ultimately, the small space is for all. “It is a complaint and they’re right to have an issue,” says Foley. “Dog owners need to do as much as they can to be sympathetic.”
“For the six years it’s been open it’s been a brilliant understanding between dog owners and parents,” he says.
Keeping it open is key. “It’s been a fantastic lifeline for people who, say, live on their own,” he says, “and need this as a social outlet for themselves.”