All of a sudden, it seems, Cabra is losing its Dublin City Council sports officer, who has worked in the community for years, and built up many relationships.
“We are extremely fortunate to have a very active and a very professional sports officer,” says Paul O’Farrell of the Cabra Community Development Project. “She’s an integral part of the community.”
“We were very, very shocked” that she’s being shifted to another area, said O’Farrell. “Apart from the normal programme with young people, our sports officer has gone above and beyond the call, built many personal relationships with boys and girls at risk.”
Dublin City Council has 18 dedicated sports officers posted across its five administrative areas. It’s their job to liaise with communities and help deliver the council’s sports programmes and services in their given area.
But, now, under the Sport and Wellbeing Partnership, established in 2015, some sports officers are being relocated. Local residents and councillors complain that they weren’t warned of the reshuffle, and don’t really understand the rationale for it.
Teresa Weafer, manager of the Spellman Centre in Ringsend, says she was bewildered by the policy shift.
“I was astonished, in light of people coming together in partnership to tackle some of the issues locally,” says Weafer, who has worked with youths at risk and drug issues around the south inner city for 25 years.
Tackling drugs and engaging with the youth of the area was one of Ringsend’s sport officer’s roles. “A lot of different groups, a lot of different leaders came together to try and tackle [these issues],” she says. “Our sports officer would have been instrumental in that.”
Relocating a sports officer, for Ringsend at least, makes no sense, says Weafer. “Taking somebody instrumental and key like that away when we’re in the middle of working a strategic partnership is outrageous,” she says.
Weafer says bringing in a new sports officer might mean going back to square one, building up relationships and work patterns already established. “We don’t have the time,” she says.
In contrast to these concerns, some see the reshuffle of the sports officers as positive, arguing that it will bring fresh energy to different areas.
Some sports officers have been located in their areas for up to 15 years, said Dublin City Council Senior Executive Officer Jim Beggan at Monday’s meeting of the council’s Arts Strategic Policy Committee (SPC).
The move also seems designed to address council managers’ concerns about their lines of control over the sports officers.
“Feedback received over the past year highlighted feelings of disconnection between the Sports Officers and the current management structure,” the council wrote in a reply to a question from Labour Councillor Rebecca Moynihan about the changes.
“To address the issue, a decision was made by senior management to place the Sports Officers under the lines management of the area based Sport & Recreation Centre Managers.”
Under the old system, each sports officer was answerable to just one council official, who would liaise with them. Now they will be answerable directly to their local centre manager.
It’s hoped this change – area-based management – will lead to improved communication, support and “guidance for Sports Officers whilst also enhancing cohesion between the Sports Officers and the facilities”, read the council’s reply to Moynihan.
This transfer of responsibilities took place on 24 April.
Lack of Communication
Since the changes were proposed back in January, both councillors and local communities have taken issue with how the council went about this shift in policy.
“There was absolutely no communication with the community whatsoever,” says O’Farrell, of Cabra Community Development Project. “I can’t understand, on a community level, the rationale for it.”
People Before Profit Alliance Councillor John Lyons says he’s willing to remain patient. “We need to see how the policy works,” he says. “But there was some disquiet expressed in several areas.” And councillors simply were not consulted about the policy shift, he says.
“It seemed to be happening without coming before the [Arts, Culture and Recreation] SPC for discussion,” says Lyons. “The fact of this happening within one department, that policy decisions are made and they’re brought to us, that just isn’t helpful.”
That’s something Sinn Féin councillor Greg Kelly echoes. He says he was told by constituents about the change, and not by council management. “I was contacted by four different sports clubs in the Ballyfermot area,” he said.
The reason for the change – a disconnect between council management and sports officers – is secondary to the ultimate role of a sports officer within the community, Kelly said.
“The communication between the sports officers and the clubs is strong,” he says. “Maybe there’s a justification for one or two [sports officers] being relocated but 10, 15 years relationships? You’ll have to build up those relationships again.”
PBPA’s Lyons says, hopefully, the new system and reshuffle will improve things. “But the sports officers are the gem of Dublin City Council. They’re so engaged in what they do. They’re so active on the ground in the areas,” he says.
“You do need time to build up those relationships and build upon them and deliver trust,” says Lyons. “Those organic links between communities and the city council, I think, are probably best represented by the sports officers actually.”
At Monday’s meeting of the arts committee, Senior Executive Officer Jim Beggan said that council management would be open to independent Councillor Vincent Jackson’s suggestion that a review of the new system be undertaken after six to 12 months.
But, for some, the manner in which both councillors and communities were informed of the change remains a sore point.
“We are not adverse to change in any way shape or form but there has to be two things,” says O’Farrell of Cabra Community Development Project “There’s has to be a consensus within the community and there has to be a rationale, a clear and positive rationale.”