The sign by the elevator in the Balbriggan’s Town Hall reception is half covered by a strip of paper, blocking out “Fingal County Council”, whose local offices used to be on the second floor.
Those two rooms are now vacant.
Also upstairs is the Hamilton Room, a community facility. On Tuesday morning, Sonas Outreach – a frontline service for victims of domestic abuse – was hosting a coffee morning in partnership with An Garda Síochána.
A pair of uniformed officers strode through the front entrance, stepping into the elevator, pushing the button for the second floor, beside which someone had fixed another strip of paper, reading “closed”.
The Hamilton Room isn’t used much these days, says Garrett Mullan, the founder of Show Racism the Red Card, who stood as a Social Democrats candidate in the 2019 local election.
Because whereas years ago, locals may have struggled to find a space to meet in Balbriggan, that has changed, he says. “Before, the only place you could have a meeting was in a pub, or someone’s residence.”
“Now, you have a lot more places,” he says. “The Castlelands community centre. The Flemington community centre.”
Both the Hamilton Room, and the two empty council offices, could be put to better use, says Mullan. “This space, in a council-owned building, it could accommodate office space.”
In particular, say Mullan and others, it could be used as office space to bring satellite council services closer to those living in Balbriggan so they don’t have to go across the county to Blanchardstown so often.
Balbriggan’s new town hall sits at the top of the sloping St George’s Square.
It is an extension to the refurbished 1905 Carnegie Free Library on the corner of the square and High Street, which is distinguished by its pointed, round red-brick clock tower.
The new town hall was opened in 2006. The library is on the ground floor and a Citizens Information Centre on the first floor.
Formerly, the second floor was home to the Balbriggan town council, until this was abolished under the Local Government Reform Act of 2014.
Once the town council dissolved in May 2014, that transferred affairs to the county council, said a Fingal County Council spokesperson.
Fingal County Council then operated a pair of offices out of the second floor.
But these council offices were phased out in recent years, says Labour Councillor Brendan Ryan. “I am not sure if there was a formal closing, but rather a gradual withdrawal of services.”
The closure of these offices in the town hall had a devastating impact on the locale, with no direct access to council services, particularly housing services, which are now located in Blanchardstown, Ryan said, in a recent press release.
Having the housing services over in the council’s Blanchardstown offices has been highlighted as an issue since as far back as 2016.
At the time, Fianna Fáil Councillors Darragh Butler, Adrian Henchy and Brian Dennehy asked the council’s chief executive to open a Housing Services Unit in the council’s Swords offices, because residents in Balbriggan and Swords had no direct transport links to Blanchardstown.
Ryan, the Labour councillor, has put this matter to the council’s chief executive more recently too, on 14 September, asking if the council would review any formal decision to close the offices.
Nikki Halleran, senior executive officer of the council’s corporate services, said in her response that its customer care unit is subject to an ongoing review.
“A more in-depth review is currently being considered regarding the services being provided in our buildings,” Halleran said. “Members will be kept informed regarding the outcome of this review in due course.”
The second floor of the Balbriggan town hall just isn’t being used to its full potential, said Mullan. “If people want to have a meeting, they can book it in other community centres and venues around the place.”
Jennifer Mahon, of the Balbriggan Tidy Towns group, says they used it for a sustainability course last year. “It is not a regular thing though. We usually meet in SuperValu’s offices.”
There might be some demand, Mullan says. “But if you want to use the maximum space during the daytime, it might be better suited for office space.”
The council has 1,500 staff, he says. “The Housing Office is important. So I think it’s very unfair for people to be directed towards Blanchardstown, especially if they don’t have a car.”
On Tuesday evening Google Maps said travelling from Balbriggan to Blanchardstown would take 28 minutes by car, or an hour and 39 minutes by bus.
Independent Councillor Tony Murphy says it is only the administrative offices that are situated in Blanchardstown. “People can drop their documents into a local councillor.”
The former council offices in Balbriggan aren’t that substantial in size by themselves, he says. “They are two small offices. You had the town clerk and two secretaries, and then there is a lovely boardroom, which used to be for the town council. But that can be hired out.”
The council does need to find a more appropriate use for these unused spaces, he says. “The Citizens Information bureau is very busy, and I would’ve been arguing for a use for that.
Ciarán Molumby of Islander Architects, a firm situated nearby on Dublin Street, said it would be good if they could have a closer working relationship with Fingal County Council. “The town hall would provide that.”
If a council office was closer, it would make engagement far more convenient, he says. “It could be useful in terms of asking questions, getting clarifications, because the fact their closest offices are in Swords makes that a bit harder.”