A line of children’s homemade posters hang from the railing outside the Corpus Christi Parish Hall in Drumcondra.
“Don’t Knock Down Our Hall Please”, says a poster with a drawing of a red love heart.
“Save our hall”, says another, with a rainbow.
The parish hall was the local community centre, says Angela Shafer of Friends of Corpus Christi Hall.
It was used for a lot of things before it closed: a Montessori school and after-school, Irish dancing, yoga, ballet, a social group for older ladies, she says.
It was used for physical education by the national school next door too, she says.
The first inkling Shafer got that something was wrong was when her daughter’s Irish dancing classes didn’t resume after the Covid-19 restrictions were lifted. Then she heard that the after-school her children attended was closing too, she says.
The Archdiocese of Dublin owns the hall, but won’t talk to the locals, she says. “We don’t know what is happening with it. We have been completely stonewalled at every turn.”
The Archdiocese of Dublin didn’t respond to questions sent Monday about its plans for the community centre site. But residents say they are suspicious that the site will be somehow redeveloped.
That might be a bit harder, though, if a recently agreed addition to the draft city development plan to protect existing community uses makes it into the final version.
That motion, proposed by Labour Councillor Declan Meenagh, is one of several changes put forward by councillors as communities seek to use the plan, which sets out rules for how the city should develop, to stave off the loss of community spaces.
On a Golf Course
Derek Murtagh says members of the local pitch and putt club in Fairview were stunned when a planning permission application was filed in March that included developing housing on part of their 18-hole golf course.
“We were shocked,” says Murtagh, a club member. “We said, ‘Oh jeepers we are going to lose two holes.’”
The club is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, he says. It wouldn’t be viable with 16 holes because other clubs wouldn’t come to play against them, he says.
Members of the club are mostly older and it is a major contributor to their health and fitness, he says. “It is all down to the fact that they are out playing Friday, Saturday, Sunday.”
Focus Ireland had proposed to build 49 apartments for older people at an adjoining site, which includes an old hall, which Murtagh says used to be a community centre, and a bit of the golf course too.
Local independent Councillor Damien O’Farrell says that two holes of the golf course are privately owned and are currently zoned Z1 residential.
So the way local councillors want to ensure that the green space is protected is by updating the zoning to Z9 for recreational uses.
“We have to future-proof our community spaces,” says O’Farrell. Locals and public representatives have in-depth local knowledge that planners can’t know, he says.
Many industrial estates include hidden boxing clubs and other recreational uses. These are “little jewels of the community”, says O’Farrell and the council should protect them.
The new protections for community spaces included in the development plan should help to protect all community and recreational uses, including the pitch and putt course, says O’Farrell.
Focus Ireland has since withdrawn the planning application.
Murtagh says he hopes that the proposed changes to the zoning will protect the golf course from being built on in the future, but the members are still very worried that part of it is in private ownership.
Elsewhere in the City
In October 2020, an awards-winning martial arts club, with many world-champion fighters, Korean Kickboxing Cabra (KKC), was fighting for survival.
The industrial building the club is based in was scheduled for demolition as the owner had submitted a planning application for 69 new homes.
The council was trying to help find another spot for the club, but since it has a full-size fight ring and gym it needs a lot of space.
As things stand KKC still needs a new home, said Sinn Féin Councillor Séamas McGrattan this week.
A lot of local people submitted objections to the new development because they were concerned about the future of KKC, he said.
Since then the developer has submitted new plans, says McGrattan. “The development is still going ahead,” he says. “So it’s still up in the air.”
Meenagh, the Labour councillor, says that he hopes his motion to the city development plan should work to protect sports clubs in the future.
The draft plan now says: “To also protect existing community use of buildings and land and to avoid removing this community use if there is potential for the use to continue.”
That change won’t take effect until November 2022. But if it makes it into the final text, Meenagh hopes that all community uses will be protected, he says.
“We now have a policy that aims to protect existing community use,” he says. “We need more housing but we also need sustainable communities with halls and spaces for classes, meetings and other community activities.”
Residents would be able to object to developments that threaten their community infrastructure, with reference to the city development plan, he says.
That means that the community use should be catered for in the new development, says Meenagh. “It could force the developers to negotiate with the clubs and organisations that use that space.”
In council-owned premises on Dorset Street, members of the model railway society said in December 2021 that they too feared eviction. Dublin City Council had plans to redevelop the site, which is connected to its flat complex.
“As far as we know we are not moving,” says the society’s chairman, Tony Mirolo, on Tuesday.
The council had committed to accommodate the local boxing club, he says, which shares their building – but that turned out to be too complicated and expensive.
So, as far as Mirolo knows, the council has scrapped its plans to demolish their building and both the boxing club and the model railway society are staying put, he says.
Dublin City Council didn’t respond in time for publication about whether it will do more to accommodate community groups in its own buildings, as a result of the changes to the development plan.
Separating Church and Community
Back in Drumcondra, Shafer and her neighbours are gearing up for a fight.
Soon after they found out that their community centre was closed, they organised a protest outside the archbishop’s palace, she says.
“We have been campaigning ever since to engage meaningfully with the church on bringing the centre back into community use,” she says.
She fears that the archdiocese plans to sell off that site together with many other community-zoned lands that it has said it wants to sell, she says. “It is a real concerted effort to put it into disuse.”
Representatives of the archdiocese have said that there are health and safety issues with the hall. But Shafer says that the local community is willing to fundraise for any necessary works.
“Whether or not people still go to mass, we still need those spaces,” she says. “As a community, we still need to come together and thrive and have spaces to share interests, share skills and make friends.”
The parish hall was zoned Z1 residential. Labour Councillor Declan Meenagh has proposed changing the zoning to Z9 and this was agreed by councillors, he says.
Meenagh also successfully tabled a motion that updated the definition of the 15-minute living city to include community uses.
“Integrate active recreation and physical activity facilities including community centres and halls as part of the 15-minute city,” says the draft development plan.