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A new primary health-care centre in Rathmines could be delayed until 2030, Labour Councillor Mary Freehill says.

The centre is included in the plans to redevelop the council’s former Gulistan Depot, a 2.8-acre site that sits behind the town hall and Swan Shopping Centre.

When councillors agreed to transfer the site to the HSE in April 2021 as part of a land swap, a council report set out the expected timeline for the project.

The HSE would have to report to the council nine months after the council approval of the transfer, to lay out the progress made by the appointed design team, say the terms.

The HSE also had to lodge a planning application to develop the centre within 18 months of councillors backing the swap, the report says. “If this does not occur the City Council, at its absolute discretion, may decide to rescind this agreement.”

Freehill says the timeline has been pushed out by the HSE after it failed to meet those deadlines in the agreement.

She put forward a motion at the South East Area Committee meeting on 3 April, calling on the HSE to set up a working group with the council to find ways to speed up the project.

The current health services in the suburb are basic, Freehill says. “We’ve been looking for a primary-care centre in Rathmines for a long time.”

Neither Dublin City Council or the HSE responded when asked why the timeline for the primary-care centre has been pushed back.

The Timelines

In April 2021, the council shared its draft masterplan for the site, which currently consists of a former depot, bring centre and a defunct ESB premises.

As well as the primary-care centre, the plans show a civic space, age-friendly and affordable housing, and a building for community use.

In her motion at the South East Area Committee meeting, Freehill said that Dublin City Council, through a housing agency, will commence construction on housing for older people and families on the site.

The council had planned that all construction would be carried out at the same time, it said. “Construction at a later date would have serious implications for older residents on this site.”

But Dublin City Council hasn’t received the report it was supposed to from the HSE after nine months, laying out progress made by its design team, says Freehill. The HSE also hasn’t yet lodged a planning application.

“[The] HSE is now proposing that a new agreement be entered into to extend these terms until [the second quarter of] 2030,” says Freehill’s motion.

That would mean delaying both when the HSE reports on its design team’s progress and when it would lodge a planning application, Freehill says.

At the meeting, Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey asked other councillors to support the motion to set up a working group, which they did.

A Gap in Local Services

The HSE’s Rathmines Health Centre currently operates out of a unit in the Swan Shopping Centre, said Freehill, after the meeting.

But it is not an adequate service, she said. “There isn’t a primary-care centre functioning in Rathmines with comprehensive services.”

In September 2022, Sawbridge Limited lodged a planning application to demolish the shopping mall’s existing roof, construct a new 111-bedroom hotel and change the use of two retail units to hotel storage and staff facilities.

Dublin City Council refused permission. But Sawbridge Limited appealed that to An Bord Pleanála, with the case due to be decided by 17 April.

Last Thursday evening, Lacey, the Labour councillor, said this appeal has added a great deal of urgency to the Gulistan development.

It means, if construction on the Swan Centre was approved, the Rathmines area is at risk of being left with a gap in its local health services, he says.

“We would see the existing facilities in the Swan Centre going, and that is why we need to ensure that work on the primary care centre begins,” he said.

Impact on Residents

According to the council’s draft masterplan for the Gulistan site from April 2021, the new primary-care centre, located on the northern part of the depot site, would cover 3,500 sqm over about four storeys.

It would operate as a “network centre”, the plans say, with uses to include medical facilities, speech and language services, an older person’s day-care centre and a café facing a plaza.

Elsewhere on the site, an approved housing body is preparing to build 47 one-bedroom and 64 two-bedroom houses for older people and families, Freehill says.

The homes should be built within 36 months of that part of the site being transferred from the council to the approved housing body, the draft masterplan says.

Freehill says that if the primary-care centre is built separately, this could severely impact the quality of life of elderly residents expected to move in.

“It makes an awful lot more sense if they go on at the same time,” she said.

“Can you imagine if senior citizens are moving in, and then 10 years later, all of this machinery is putting up the primary care centre?” said Freehill.

Independent Councillor Mannix Flynn says the Gulistan site is not the right place for a primary-care centre.

“I was in support of a full housing complement on that site, we’re in a housing crisis,” he says. “There is ample opportunity for a centre elsewhere.”

Flynn says the site has been chopped up for the HSE and that the HSE may transfer the land to a developer. “The developer will build out the site and rent it back to the HSE for enormous money.”

According to the draft master plan, if a developer builds on the site and the HSE takes a lease, this would typically last for 25 years after which the HSE would have the option of buying the building back for a nominal fee.

“This is not going to help anybody,” Flynn says. “It’s going to destroy all the chemists in the area. It’s the commercialization of public health, is what’s going on here.”

Michael Lanigan

Michael Lanigan is a freelance journalist who covers arts and culture for Dublin Inquirer. His work also appears in Vice, Totally Dublin, and the Business Post. You can reach him at

Join the Conversation


  1. Thanks for a well reported Article however Mannix Flynn hasn’t got his facts correct. Both at the City Council and HSE Forum it was agreed that the Primary Care Centre would be funded by the Exchequer and will strongly resist a deal with a Developer. We have been trying to get a Primary Care Centre in Rathmines for the past 10 years and HSE have not responded to any other suggested site. Anyway what is wrong with this site? Its beside an excellent public transport network.

  2. Cll. Mannix Flynn may get some facts wrong but he certainly sees the big picture very clearly. Proposing a Primary Care Centre on a backland site was in my estimation a mistake from the very outset. A Primary Care Centre is one of the public buildings of our times. From an urban design perspective a Primary Care Centre should if possible be situated on a main street of the community is serves. No one would have considered locating Rathmines Library or the former Rathmines Town Hall on a backland site. From an access perspective locating a Primary Care Centre on a street within a short walking distance from a bus stop would make more sense.

    Dublin City Council did not engage with the residents of Rathmines prior to publishing its Draft Masterplan for Gulistan Depot Lands in April 2021. The residents who live adjacent to the site who would be hugely affected by traffic to and from the proposed Primary Care Centre were not consulted by the DCC or to my knowledge by their public representatives. DCC displayed images and text describing the residential element of the proposed development in Rathmines Library over four days in late November 2022. Local residents were given twenty four hours notice of the exhibition. DCC officials present at the exhibition stated that the exhibition was preliminary to and preparatory for a public meeting. This was very welcome information. Regrettably, DCC executives have since determined that a public meeting will not be convened at any time soon. The recent disclosure of the HSE’s failure to develop its proposal for a Primary Care Centre on the site gives even more urgency to the necessity for a public meeting.

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