It is shortly after 10am on Saturday morning, and the smell of chlorine filters through the main reception area of Sean McDermott Street swimming pool in the north inner city.
There are two Shave2000 hairdryers drilled either side of the sliding glass door where visitors pay for their public swim. Inside, three adults and five children swim lengths, the splashes and shouts echoing off the tiles.
A couple in the foyer ask if the pool is open the following day, on a Sunday. It isn’t, they’re told.
Swimming pools in the council’s four leisure centres in Ballymun, Ballyfermot, Finglas, and Townsend Street operate on a membership basis, according to a council spokesperson.
But the stand-alone swimming pools in Crumlin, Coolock, and Sean McDermott Street, which the council also operates, don’t work like that.
Instead, they operate on a pay-as-you-go basis. It’s €4.50 for an adult and €2.20 for under-18s. OAPs swim for free.
And unlike the four leisure centres, members of the public have limited windows when they can walk in and swim.
In Crumlin, the swimming pool opens to the public from 10am to 1:45pm and 3pm to 5:45pm on Saturdays. So, for six and a half hours in total.
In Coolock and on Sean McDermott Street, the swimming pools only open to the public on Saturday mornings from 10am to 1:45pm. On weekdays from Tuesday to Friday, the pools are given over to clubs and schools. They close Mondays.
Local councillors are frustrated by this limited public access.
For Public Use
“You have to say to yourself, ‘What’s the purpose of this pool?'” says Sinn Féin Councillor for Crumlin Ray McHugh. “It’s a public pool. We’re not trying to run it like a business. It’s for public use.”
Back in 2010, the council planned to close its public swimming pools in Coolock, Crumlin and Sean McDermott Street, says McHugh.
These pools, built in the 1970s, had fallen into disrepair.
In the end, though, following local campaigns, the council did a u-turn. It kept its pools open and upgraded both them and its leisure centres in 2014.
But since then, public access to its three stand-alone pools in Coolock, Crumlin and Sean McDermott Street pools has stagnated, says McHugh.
Opening hours are short because of council cost-saving, he says. Lots of constituents would head to Rathmines to swim, because the Crumlin pool isn’t available to them, he says.
(The Swan Leisure Centre in Rathmines is owned – but not directly operated or managed by – the council, according to its spokesperson.)
Last year, councillors for the council’s South Central Area allocated €35,000 from their discretionary fund – an annual pot of money for each area of the city that councillors decide how to spend – to keep the Crumlin swimming pool afloat.
There were 5,958 public swims in Crumlin swimming pool in 2016, says Independents 4 Change Councillor Pat Dunne, citing a council report he was given recently. That’s roughly 100 people each Saturday.
“If it was open on a Sunday I think those figures could be increased,” says Dunne, who headed up a campaign in 2010 to keep the Crumlin swimming pool open.
Dunne says opening hours are too limited.
According to a council spokesperson, in 2017, income from Crumlin swimming pool came in at €29,210; Sean McDermott swimming pool generated €20,848; and Coolock swimming pool generated €36,677.
It’s not immediately clear what is in the 1970s red-brick structure that houses the pool on Sean McDermott Street. “I’d say a lot of people don’t realise it’s there,” says local Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam. “It looks like a silo bunker from the outside.”
Negative perceptions still keep folks away from Sean McDermott Street swimming pool, he says. Even though it was upgraded in 2014.
McAdam says that council officials are reasoning that if demand increases, so too will the opening hours.
He was recently told that the number of public swims here has gone up. But it’s still unclear if that will translate into extra staff and longer opening hours, he says.
Sinn Féin Councillor Janice Boylan says she was told by council officials that it’s a “staffing issue” when she raised the question of public opening hours.
“If it’s open more, more people will use it,” she says. “If we’re serious about opening the pool to the community, we have to open it for longer.”
Seanie Lambe, a community worker with the Inner City Organisations Network (ICON) says the council have done little to promote the pool as a public amenity.
“They’re not trying to get the numbers up,” said Lambe, who campaigned to keep Sean McDermott Street open in 2010.
“And the more the hours are constricted, the more difficult it is for people to go there.”
Alongside its own swimming pools, the council also provides funding support to two private pools: Trinity Sports and Leisure in Donaghmede in Dublin 3, and Marion College in Dublin 4. The council gave €30,000 to each in 2017.
Independents 4 Change’s Dunne says that he raised this as an issue last November. Public access to Marion College’s pool is “vastly better than what the Crumlin swimming pool was offering to the public”, he says.
“How can a privately owned pool with a subsidy of €30,000 open to the public when we can’t do it in our pools?” says Dunne. Especially as councillors added €35,000 from their discretionary fund to help maintain the pool for the community, he says.
The council has the expertise to improve services in its own pools, says Dunne. As he sees it, these should be prioritised over privately run ones.
McHugh also says that council management should pump more resources and money into promoting its three stand-alone pools. That could boost the numbers of people who use it, he said. Limiting opening hours is unlikely to.
Dunne argues that, like many activities, swimming becomes a habit. Unless pools are open consistently “you’re less inclined to keep going”.