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Pollution in Grand Canal Dock should be sorted out as a high priority, and the dock stocked with fish for anglers, according to a report from the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht – 27 years ago.

Last Wednesday, Dublin City Council officials said that some of the works recommended back in 1994 will be done – the ones to deal with pollution, not to promote fishing.

Most of the pollution flows into the basin courtesy of a storm outflow pipe that discharges untreated wastewater there whenever it rains heavily.

The plan is to extend that pipeline and discharge the water in the Liffey instead, shows a presentation to the council’s environment committee.

Could it be clean enough for people to swim there safely? “That is a key part of the project,” says Green Party Councillor Claire Byrne.

“It will dramatically improve water quality there,” she says, and it also fits in with a push to use the waterways in the city more.

Still, Byrne wants to see modelling of the impact the change could have elsewhere in the city’s waterways, she says.

Promises, Promises

The water at Grand Canal Dock is badly polluted and a possible health hazard for swimmers, says Reg McCabe, public relations officer with the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland, Dublin Branch.

Last year, he flagged test results that showed “high concentrations of pollutants, E. coli and enterococci, suggesting the presence of faecal contamination”, he said.

On Sunday at Grand Canal Dock, groups of people sat in small clusters all around the waterfront, below fluffy clouds and blue skies.

Despite the pollution, in summer the dock often serves as an “unofficial swimming pool for the kids”, says McCabe.

In 1994, a Grand Canal Corridor Study drawn up by consultants said that Dublin Corporation and the Office of Public Works should divert the outflow pipe that runs into the water at the dock to reduce pollution as a high priority.

Once the issues with pollution were sorted, the report recommended that the corporation together with the Central Fisheries Board stock the basin with fish, and then “provide fishing facilities and promote the activity”.

That was just one of a number of reports on the dock, says McCabe. “There have been promises and promises over the years.”

The issue dates back decades.

The Grand Canal Tunnel, which was built in the 1970s, has two sections, “foul and storm”, according to a presentation to councillors on the environment committee last Wednesday.

The “foul” section brings sewerage from the suburbs in the west of the city to the Wastewater Treatment Plant in Ringsend.

The “storm” section, takes overflow from the storm sewers and combined sewers and “carries storm relief flows from the Poddle and Swan Rivers thereby reducing the risk of flooding in those areas”, says the council website. It discharges into the inner basin of Grand Canal Dock.

This stormwater outflow is the main cause of the pollution in the dock, says the council presentation, and so the council’s plan is to extend the underwater pipe to a new discharge point in the Liffey at Sir John Rogerson’s Quay.

This is a joint project between the council and Irish Water. Planning permission should be applied for by the end of 2021, says the council presentation.

Since young people continue to swim in the dock in summertime, the works “should be done as a matter of urgency”, says McCabe.

Checking Elsewhere

Byrne, the Green Party councillor, says the proposal to pipe the stormwater elsewhere was settled on in 2002.

She wonders whether there has been any progress in best practice since then, she says. “Have things not moved on significantly? Is there anything else we should be considering?”

Council officials told her at the meeting that this approach is still in line with international best practice, she says.

The overflow stormwater is untreated but it only flows into the dock during heavy rain. That said, “due to climate change we are having more prolonged periods of heavy rain”, says Byrne.

Council officials told her that full modelling of downstream impacts will be done before the council files a planning application.

“They did say that there will be work upstream as well to deal with stormwater overflow,” she says.

McCabe of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland says he can’t work out why the stormwater was ever discharged into the stagnant water of the dock.

He doesn’t think it is a problem to send it into the Liffey because the tide will wash the overflow out to sea, he says. “You have a current.”

The stormwater could be diverted to Ringsend, but that would be a lot more expensive, he says.

Byrne says she is hopeful that eventually the water quality could improve enough that the Grand Canal Dock would be safe for swimming.

Last June, Máirín Ó Cuireáin, the Dublin Docklands development manager with Waterways Ireland said that even if the water there were pristine, Grand Canal Dock won’t be suitable to be a designated bathing area.

The water is very deep in places with no safe access in and out and there are boats that use the dock too.

Alterations could be made in the future, to make part of it into a pool, but there are no plans for that currently. “Potentially we could look at a model like Copenhagen in the long term,” she said.

In Copenhagen, the city authorities have created bathing areas in the harbour where swimming is allowed.

Laoise Neylon is a reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at

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