Ian Croft points to the craters in the tarmac opposite the green entrance to Magenta Crescent, on Swords Road, the big artery that runs from Whitehall to Dublin Airport.

Cars flash past, hopping on the bumps.

The potholes often fill with rainwater, Croft says. “Then you don’t see them. If you’re not familiar with the area, then it becomes very difficult.”

It’s tough on cyclists when the potholes are at the edges and middle of the road, he says. He points further up the road, towards a bus stop, where it seems like there are huge slabs ripped from the ground, leaving a strip of bumpy land for two metres.

Imagine veering around a bus at the stop and then hitting a pothole in the middle of the road, says Croft. “Then obviously, there’s several along the road up here as well. It can be difficult.”

Croft, the chairperson of Santry Tidy Towns, says he is trying to raise the alarm about the poor condition of Santry Road, where the potholes are a serious safety hazard for walkers, cyclists and drivers.

It’s not just in this northern strip of the city that road maintenance is an issue, though – but across hundreds of kilometres of its thoroughfares.

In August 2020, a Dublin City Council report said that 223km of the local road network needed structural restoration or road reconstruction. But the council could only fund the road maintenance division to do 14km of repairs a year, it said.

It’s still struggling to maintain and repair roads, but the Department of Housing – which the council is looking to for help with money – doesn’t want to meet them to discuss it further, according to recent correspondence between the department and the council.

Walking, Biking and Driving

Tomasz Filip often has to swerve around potholes as he cycles home from work up the Swords Road, he says.

“During the day, it’s okay to see. But when it’s dark in the evening, it’s very hard to see them,” he says, leaning on the handlebars of his newborn’s pram next to the entrance to the Sandy Hall Industrial Estate.

There are few strips of cycle lanes on Swords Road, which makes it even more of a problem, he says. “It’s dangerous if somebody drives too fast. Road is busy, there is no space.”

Mary Dowling is walking to Omni Shopping Centre. She finds this road pleasant, but the occasional pothole along it and others in Santry makes it harder to walk.

“The potholes, oh, they’re diabolical. They’re disgraceful,” she says.

“You’re walking nice and even, you’re level,” she says, holding out her arms. “But if you step into a pothole but it’s like you’re dropping, you know, you’re going lower. Although some are very deep and others are very shallow, but it’s still like it’s if you’re going to drop.”

Walking is supposed to be enjoyable, she says. “The pothole is like the aliens have invaded, but no one has ever done enough about it.”

Filip says it’s even tricky in a car, because it’s so bumpy. “It depends how you care about your car. If it’s new, you want to drive safely. It’s easy to break something in the car.”

Past the Omni Shopping Centre, Croft looks across the road at two sections of tactile paving around pedestrian crossings at the entrance to Shanowen Road.

Tarmac has been poured across the tactile paving, Croft points out. “Can you imagine having reduced mobility, being visually impaired, here?”

The road between Shanowen Road and Shanrath Road had been repaved and smoothed in the last year, says Croft, but then it was dug into again to fix underground piping.

A strip of newer tarmac after works on Swords Road. Photo by Claudia Dalby.

A strip of extra tarmac now runs along the road, sloping above the original repaved tarmac.

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said on Tuesday that this section of the road was resurfaced in October and September 2020.

It made internal and external utilities aware of the resurfacing works, they said, and no one responded to say they had planned utility work.

In July to August 2021, a utility trench was installed along the resurfaced stretch, the council said. “The utility in question is obliged to carry out the carriageway reinstatement to the standard set out in the national guidelines.”

“The permanent reinstatement of this trench is still outstanding. Road Maintenance Services are currently in discussions with the relevant utility regarding this issue,” they said.

Croft says it feels like obvious mistakes are being made.

“You know these are things we say years ago, like we learn from our mistakes. But it feels like we’re not learning from anything, you know?” he says, shaking his head at the lumpy ground.

He often sends in notifications of the potholes to both Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council, since the councils border one another along the Swords Road.

“If we report that to Fingal, they generally come out and take some action. They’re a little bit quicker than Dublin City Council,” he says.

Dublin City Council’s Road Maintenance Services division repaired 10 potholes along Swords Road in 2020, 12 in 2021 and one so far this year, according to a council spokesperson.

It’s planning to resurface part of Swords Road between Santry Avenue and Magenta Crescent at some point in the next two months, said the spokesperson. Other potholes will be fixed on the Swords Road too, they said.

Whose Money?

Dublin City Council doesn’t get a level of funding for road maintenance that takes into account that it has higher traffic levels than other local authority areas, says Seamas McGrattan, a Sinn Féin councillor.

In February, the Department of Transport announced €597 million in funding for maintaining regional and local roads. Many counties got millions of euros from the pot.

Dublin City Council got €38,000, for training and to help with a pavement conditions survey. Fingal County Council, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and South Dublin County Council got similar amounts.

“There’s no regional roads in Dublin city, but there’s the equivalent of regional roads. But we don’t get that funding,” says McGrattan.

“When you query it, you’re told, oh well you get money through other sources,” he says. “But just because roads aren’t classed as regional roads in Dublin, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get funding.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Transport said that while Dublin City Council doesn’t get funding under the main regional and local road grant programmes, the department is giving substantial funding for sustainable and active travel measures, and BusConnects.

“Dublin City Council have been allocated €52.8m this year as part of an overall allocation of €289m for the provision of walking and cycling infrastructure. The Safe Routes to School Programme is also included within this allocation,” they said.

Potholes on Swords Road. Photo by Claudia Dalby.

In a December 2021 letter to council officials, Dominic Mullaney, a principal advisor for the Department of Transport, said that Dublin City Council is required to self-fund road maintenance from its own resources, and the local property tax.

??Any discussion around future maintenance funding needed to include the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the letter said, given how the local property tax is divvied up in future is an important consideration.

Says McGrattan: “The bottom line is, what they’re giving us isn’t enough. It’ll take us 100 years to fix the roads, with the money they’re giving us.”

Meanwhile, Dublin City Council is going to have to grapple with other budgetary challenges, such as how to cover its own rising energy costs from inflation, says McGrattan.

Dublin city councillors voted in November to approve a €1.13 billion budget for 2022. The budget says it’ll spend a little over €55 million on local and regional road maintenance this year.

“We’re very limited in what we can do to raise money. We rely heavily on government grants,” he says. One tool the council does have though, is the local property tax, he says.

McGrattan said he would be reluctant to raise the local property tax, which makes up around 2 percent of the council’s income.

Every year, Dublin city councillors vote to set the local property tax level, choosing whether to leave it at the base rate, or vary it up or down by 15 percent. For each of the past several years, and in 2022, they have voted to vary it down by the maximum amount, forgoing millions in potential revenue.

McGrattan says he wouldn’t support raising it from that level of 15 percent below the base rate. “Because of the cost of living that’s affecting everyone, I don’t think that’s justified at the minute.”

Getting Around a Table

Since August 2020, Dublin City Council officials have been going back and forth with officials in the Department of Transport, and the Department of Housing, pushing for changes to how road maintenance is funded.

On 29 March, Mary Curran, a senior staff officer in the finance secretariat of Dublin City Council, invited representatives of the Department of Housing to join a meeting with the Department of Transport to discuss the council’s funding for road maintenance.

Fiona Quinn, an assistant secretary in the department’s local government division declined.“Given that the Department does not have a specific role in respect of this funding stream.”

Kathy Quinn, deputy chief executive for Dublin City Council, replied to say that the Department of Housing should attend as its input was needed.

It wasn’t possible for the Department of Housing to supplement roads funding, as it wasn’t within its policy remit, said Fiona Quinn in response. The council should discuss the issue directly with the Department of Transport, she said.

Kathy Quinn responded to request attendance again, because the issue of road maintenance would progress further from information exchange at the meeting. “So as to secure a jointly held more developed understanding of the issue,” she said.

It’s solely a matter for the Department of Transport, said Fiona Quinn in response.

Said Dermot Lacey, a Labour councillor, at a meeting of the council’s Finance Strategic Policy Committee on 19 May: “Congratulations to Kathy Quinn on the robust nature of her, robust but polite, I suppose to say, nature of her correspondence with the Department of Housing in relation to them not attending the meeting.”

McGrattan says the Department of Housing is ignoring the problem. “They’re obviously just trying to bury their heads in the sand and hope this goes away. But it’s an issue that’s not going to go away.”

Councillors want to hear the justification for why the council can’t be given more money, he says. “It’s something we’re going to have to keep pushing because it’s becoming a bigger problem.”

Says McGrattan: “It’s a basic function of any council to keep the roads right. And we just can’t. It’s not a manpower issue, it’s not that they don’t want to do it. It’s a financial problem.”

On Swords Road, Croft is looking down at the cracks in the tarmac and the scattered pieces of debris that have broken off from them.

“It’s repaired in piecemeal, it has been repaired previously, but you know,” he says. “The council doesn’t even come along with the road sweeper.”

Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at claudia@dublininquirer.com.

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