New plans for the former Magdalene Laundry site in Sean McDermott Street were outlined to local councillors yesterday, says Social Democrats Councillor Gary Gannon.
On Tuesday, the plans for the site that council officials presented to councillors included a third-level college, housing for older people, and an appropriate memorial or commemoration, said Gannon.
Council officials are now keen to move the project on and told the local councillors to expect another update in February, says Gannon.
“It is another step along in the journey,” he says. “I will feel amazing when there is some sort of centre built, and the community benefits, and the survivors feel respected.”
A New Campus
As well as a hotel, that plan had included student housing, a supermarket, and a memorial of some sort to the Magdalene women.
Working with Justice for Magdalenes Research, among others, Gannon last year outlined a vision for the Dublin City Council-owned site as a place of commemoration for all who suffered in Magdalene Laundries and other institutions.
Now the plan includes bringing in a third-level institution to open a campus on the site. Perhaps the National College of Ireland, says Justice for Magdalenes Research campaigner Katherine O’Donnell.
The involvement of the National College of Ireland has not yet been confirmed, but they are very interested in the potential of the site as they have outgrown their current location, O’Donnell says.
Robert Ward, marketing director at the National College of Ireland, says expanding to the Sean McDermott Street site is an option.
“The College is exploring multiple possibilities for expansion, including the site on Sean McDermott Street,” Ward said. “As yet, there are no actionable plans and the College is speaking to developers as well as to Dublin City Council.”
Gannon says that bringing a campus into this part of the north inner-city would bring with it life, and could “change the very nature of the area while respecting the people”, he says.
“The north inner-city has one of the lowest progression rates to third level in the country,” says Gannon. “Only 20 percent of people go to university.”
Having a college on Sean McDermott Street might encourage young people from the area to apply to go to third level, he says. It will create real jobs and increase footfall and therefore safety, he says. “It is a living, breathing space.”
Sean McDermott Street “should be the open heart of our city, but it is not, it is totally closed down”, says O’Donnell.
It is a big wide street in an excellent, central location and it should be bustling, she says. The whole area could be reinvigorated by the right type of development. “We need our inner-city to be flourishing,” she says.
In addition to a National College of Ireland campus, the housing, and a memorial, O’Donnell said she’d also like to see space for other related community projects, perhaps including the Dublin Folklore Museum, which is looking for a home.
O’Donnell, the Justice for Magdalenes Research campaigner, together with UCD Dean of Architecture Hugh Campbell, has gathered a group of academics, activists and architects, to explore the most appropriate way to develop the site.
They’re calling it the Open Heart Collective. That’s because “what is needed here is radical intervention that is also delicate”, says O’Donnell. “Like open-heart surgery.”
It includes academics and architects from third-level institutions including Queen’s University Belfast, UCD and NCAD, as well as the National Museum of Ireland, says O’Donnell.
They have funding from the Arts Council to talk to stakeholders, including the local community and, importantly, survivors of the institutions. “In nine months we should be able to show the public very clearly the kinds of things that can be done,” she says.
O’Donnell will also be feeding in the views of Magdalene Laundry survivors, which she collated at the Dublin Honours Magdalenes event in 2018.
“Three very clear voices said I want the whole thing blown up and I want to be there watching it,” she says. But most of the women wanted the site to be used for education, a memorial and social homes, she says.
Dublin City Council has agreed to work with the Open Heart Collective, says Gannon, who has campaigned for a site of conscience at that location.
But he says it should not be up to politicians or the council to decide on what shape the memorial will take. That should be up to the community and the survivors, he says.
“My dream is that people like the Open Heart Collective and the council work together with the community and the survivors …. [to] develop the idea for the memorial,” he says.
A group of 60 architecture students from Queen’s University Belfast started mapping the site on Monday, says O’Donnell.
There should be models and designs to show the public some potential options by the summer, she says.
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