The council should start working with the Clontarf Swimming Club to find a way for the public to gain access to the Clontarf baths, councillors decided at a meeting of their North Central Area Committee last week.
“People were of the opinion that a fabulous facility like the Clontarf baths would be accessible for people to use,” said Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Heney.
At the moment, people looking to access the baths must register through Clontarf Swimming Club. And members are welcome to swim in the baths only when the club is hosting events there.
This was not what residents expected when the planning permission was granted, says Green Party Councillor Donna Cooney – who had the motion on the agenda criticising the lack of public access which also said she could “confirm that access for the public has only been for once a year for 2 hours on an invitation-only basis from Swim Ireland”.
Independent Councillor John Lyons agrees about the planning. “The commercial element to the restaurant was supposed to be incidental to the Clontarf baths, that’s the substantive issue here,” Lyons says.
But John Downey, council planning enforcement manager, reviewed the issue and concluded that The Baths at Clontarf was fulfilling the requirements of its planning permission, said Heney – quoting from a council report at the meeting.
The council granted the project planning permission subject to three conditions. These conditions were followed by the statement: “Reason: To ensure that the restaurant/café bar remains subsidiary to the main use of the site for swimming”.
That statement was the council explaining why it had required the three conditions – it wasn’t in itself a condition, Downey said. And while conditions are enforceable, reasons for conditions are not, he said.
Heney, the Fianna Fáil councillor, said councillors thought they’d solved the issue last year.
She thought if people joined the Clontarf Swimming Club, then “they would be able to book in and come along to have public access”, she said.
But this is not the case. The restaurant does not operate the baths for customers.
It’s all about insurance, says David Cullen, the majority owner of The Baths at Clontarf.
“Before we first opened the facility we were trying to get liability insurance and not one single insurer would even give us a quote,” Cullen says.
Even if The Baths could get insurance and operate the swimming facility by themselves, Cullen reckons the cost would be far too high for the average punter.
The Baths at Clontarf website says, “For all swimming enquiries and to sign up in The Baths, please contact Clontarf Swimming Club directly.”
The Clontarf Swimming Club, which operates through Swim Ireland, hosts events in the baths. They organise their own lifeguards – and insurance – for these events.
At the council meeting last week, North Central Area Manager Coilin O’Reilly proposed that the council engage with Clontarf Swimming Club and see if they can increase public access through the club somehow.
Councillors backed the proposal. “I fully intend to communicate with Swim Ireland and hopefully with the owners of the restaurant and see what we can do to bring about some kind of positive solution,” said Heney.
[UPDATE: This article was updated on 30 October at 12:35pm to insert details of Green Party Councillor Donna Cooney’s motion at the meeting and to link to the motion.]