In June 2021, Dublin City Council installed three sets of bollards at the entrance to Clontarf Pier to stop illegal parking.
There’s two rows of four bollards on each side of the pier, where pedestrians walk and run. At the entrance from Clontarf Road, another row of bollards stops cars from turning in.
On Friday, a couple of people wander down the boat ramp to look out at the water in Dublin Bay.
Two cars are parked in the adjoining car park, but none now block the boat ramp.
The bollards were put in because of an uptick in illegal parking, said Karl Mitchell, the council’s north city director of services, in October 2021.
Sea swimmers were parking cars in front of the ramp instead of in the next-door public car park, he said, in response to a motion from Deirdre Heney, a Fianna Fáil councillor.
“It was practically impossible to use the slipway for its intended purpose, the launching of boats and the parking of trailers,” Mitchell said.
But in its quest to stop cars and campervans from blocking the footpath, the council has also made it harder for kayakers to use the waters of Dublin Bay, says Frank Suthcliffe, a kayaker living in Clontarf.
The council hasn’t been clear on how members of the public can drive down to the ramp to unload a boat closer to the water, he says. “It’s basically stopped me using any facility in Dublin to go kayaking.”
A Friendly Atmosphere
Suthcliffe says he has been kayaking at Clontarf Pier since the 1990s. The ramp there is the only one publicly available in the northside of Dublin Bay, he says.
“From what I can tell it’s always been accessible for people to launch boats from or indeed walk down the ramp or any of the jetties,” he says.
“I used to arrive down there when the place was really full with cars but they always kept the access to the ramp clear,” he says.
There was a friendly atmosphere at Clontarf Pier among kayakers, swimmers and boaters, he says. “We weren’t a club, we weren’t an association, but really the whole point of the location, if you think about it.”
Now though, very few people kayak down there, he says. He says it’s because of the bollards.“Nobody can access the place in practical terms.”
Dublin City Council should have worked with locals before installing the bollards last June, he says. “It was literally blocked off without any ceremony, just closed, that’s it.”
John Lyons, an independent councillor, says the council overreacted with the bollards.
A campervan had blocked the ramp for a short time but moved, he says. “There’s no recurring problematic issues regarding that space, it was really used just by people wanting to get on the water.”
A pop-up coffee van parked there once, says Lyons. “And to be honest, that was actually a good thing. It was during Covid, it was nice to actually have somewhere to get coffee.”
Leaving it open seems straightforward, he says. “It wasn’t causing any kind of a hassle.”
A Growing Problem?
Brian Reynolds scoops handfuls of slimy ragworms from a bucket of seawater balanced on a wall near the Clontarf shore. Their legs squirm and twist in his hand, and he chucks them into plastic containers.
It’s Friday and Reynolds has spent the last hour before high tide digging for ragworms on the shore to use as bait for sea bass in Wexford, he says. He gives the fish to his neighbours, he says.
Reynolds used to be able to park a little closer to the pier, he says. But since last June when the bollards went in, he now heaves his container of wet worms to the nearby car park instead.
“I think they were right to put up bollards,” he says, because people in campervans on their holidays had been parking there for days.
Reynolds, tossing ragworms into plastic takeaway boxes, says the bollards have stopped cars parking in the way of people using the footpath and walking onto the pier.
“When the car park was full, people used to park their cars facing the ramp. That’d be in the way of the girls trying to get their prams through,” he says. “That is a good thing.”
The illegal parking blocked ambulances too, says Donna Cooney, a Green Party councillor.
Depending on size, people can carry their boats up to the pier from the car park, she says. “It was supposed to be for dropping off and not parking there.”
Says Heney, the Fianna Fáil councillor: “The slipway is still accessible. It’s not cutting off access to the slipway. It’s cutting off access for cars to park in a space in front of the slipway.”
Getting a Key
At one point, the council had said they would provide information on its website for how people could get a key from the council to unlock the bollards, says Suthcliffe.
“I tried that once and it didn’t work,” he says. The council told him there was a mistake, he says.
There aren’t any signs to let the public know how to get access, he says. “There’s nothing there. You still can’t get in or out. And you wouldn’t be any the wiser.”
In his response to Heney’s motion, Mitchell, the council official, said the Clontarf Yacht and Boat Club, and the coast guard, have keys to unlock and demount the bollards.
“Access for other boat owners can be arranged either through the club or through the Parks Service,” he said.
Light craft like kayaks, canoes and paddleboards can get in through the car park. “Such light craft do not need direct vehicular access to the slipway.”
Suthcliffe says his kayak is too heavy to carry from the car park. “It weighs 40 kilo,” he says. “Mine is transported on a trailer, which is why I needed access in the first place.”
There’s also a bollard in the pathway between the car park and the pier, and a step, he says. “Which actually makes it impossible to walk comfortably through it.”
He’s also not sure if the council workers would be able to be there when the tide is high or be there to close the bollards afterwards, he says.
“That could be very early in the morning or it could be anytime during the day,” he says. “When it goes out, there’s nothing there but sand and mud.”
Clontarf Yacht and Boat Club didn’t get any input into the council’s decision to install the bollards, said Suzanne Collins, the club’s secretary, by email on Saturday.
“As a club, we have the privilege of using the slip but we are very clear that [we] do not own it,” she said.
“This is a shared local resource and as it gets busier it is up to Dublin City Council as the owners to do what they can to protect the health and safety of all who use the space,” she said.
Heney, the Fianna Fáil councillor, says the council should put up signs to tell people how to access the ramp. So if they need to launch from the slipway, they know how, she says.
Suthcliffe now goes kayaking in Howth, a 20-minute drive, he says. He misses the atmosphere, and the easy access, and safer waters, of Clontarf Pier.
Having to request access to the pier wouldn’t be as easy. “I wouldn’t be sure until the day that wind conditions would be safe for me to go. So you’ve taken away the flexibility that otherwise applies.”
In the evening in Clontarf Pier car park, the high tide now soaking up the shore, Reynolds stacks his packed boxes of ragworms into his car.
Not many people canoe here anymore, he says. “They just don’t bother. It’s so tidal. Half the time here, the tide is six hours out here. Low water.”