Although it is after 4pm on a Saturday afternoon, the clock outside Ballisk House tells passers-by on the Portrane Road in Donabate that it is nine minutes to two.
Until May 2021, the two-storey yellow building served as the coastal town’s credit union. Now, the sign advertising that above the entrance has been removed, leaving exposed the lights that illuminated it at night.
The Progressive Credit Union had bought the building from Fingal County Council in 1995. With the branch closed, it sold it back to the council in March 2022.
Now, after more than a year of discussion about how the space should be used, a spokesperson for Fingal County Council says its architects are finalising plans to modify the property into a fully functioning library.
“We are preparing a brief for the appointment of a contractor for the project, which it is proposed to happen later this year,” they said.
The library is part of a trio of services that local representatives say Donabate needs, also including a primary care centre, and a Garda station.
“We need these facilities and we needed them yesterday,” said Corina Johnston, a local area representative for the Labour Party.
At the moment, Donabate’s public library is in the town’s community centre, which is a 300-metre walk down the Portrane Road.
Moving the library to Ballisk House would lift an enormous amount of pressure off the centre, says Social Democrats Councillor Paul Mulville.
“It’s already very busy, so if it moves over, the centre will have much more space for community, recreational and sporting activities,” he said.
According to a spokesperson for the council, plans for the new library include adult, young adult and children’s areas.
It is also set to have an events and meeting room, informal seating, a lift for the first floor, reading and study desks and self-service kiosks, they say.
Mulville said that while the news is welcome, his main concern now is that the timeline for the refurbishment is less clear than it was.
Now the council is saying the contractors’ brief would be prepared later this year, he says. “In a previous reply, it said that the brief would be done in September, and I’ll be seeking clarity on that when the council resumes.”
Johnston, the Labour representative, says the new library is likely two years away.
“These processes take time, but it is two years now since the credit union has closed and the building is beginning to look a bit run down,” she said.
The new library, Johnston says, is vital for the town. “We have a problem here in Donabate, because we need these new facilities.”
Mulville says the library is the first of three civic pillars that the area seriously needs. The other two, he says, are a Garda station and a primary care centre.
He points to the 2006 local area plan for Donabate, which says consultations were then ongoing between the council and the then Department of Education and Science on the provision of “a campus of educational and recreational facilities”, including a library, adjacent to council-owned lands in Ballisk.
“There was the need for it because the town was rapidly expanding,” he says.
The plan also said that while there is an existing small health care facility in the town’s centre, as Donabate was growing, a HSE primary health care facility was needed.
Johnston, the Labour representative, says she is being contacted by a lot of locals whose elderly parents are looking for healthcare services.
“A number of people’s parents are being diagnosed with dementia, and there are no support services in Donabate,” she says. “You have to leave the peninsula to avail of them.”
A spokesperson for the HSE said it continues to explore options for the delivery of a primary care centre in the Donabate-Portrane area.
They have advertised for this but unsuccessfully, the spokesperson said. “The advertisement sought expressions of interest from the private sector for the provision of primary care centres through the HSE operational lease mechanism.”
Submissions that came in were not viable, they said.
Currently, primary care services are being delivered to both coastal towns through the Swords Community Healthcare Network, they said.
The 2006 local area plan also listed a Garda station, which, Mulville says, would improve local security as the closest station is in Swords.
“Swords station serves Donabate, Portrane and towards Ashbourne,” he said. “It’s a huge area and the station is not up to standard.”
The trouble is, Johnston says, these pieces of infrastructure were excluded from the Donabate Local Area Plan 2016 – 2022. “The council allowed the plan to be ratified with the removal of all these key infrastructural things that we need, the Garda station in particular.”
An Garda Síochána did not respond to queries.
On that Saturday evening, rain stopped and started over Donabate as the local coffee shops began to close up.
A young girl raced down the Portrane Road’s footpath on roller skates, passing the former credit union, with its front gates closed and unruly grass.
Teenagers hung out in the Donabate Town Centre. Some wandered around the SuperValu. Others sat on tiles inside the entrance.
Donabate is a town with a young population, says Johnston, the Labour representative.
As of 2022, its total population was 11,700, she says, 3,200 of whom are under the age of 18. “We’re looking at a situation where 41 percent are under 30.”
There is a development with 432 homes due to begin construction nearby in Ballymastone, she says.
The infrastructure listed in the area plan 17 years ago is urgently needed as the town continues to grow, she says. “We’re going to see a massive population increase in the next 10 years.”