Life on a wasteland of derelict blocks fallen foul of downturn
It is 15 months since permission for the O’Devaney Gardens project was granted
On the side of every flat block and on corners throughout the estate, there are signs advertising the O’Devaney Gardens regeneration project. At this stage, they are an affront to the remaining residents.
It is almost nine years since the redevelopment proposals were put forward; just under seven since the then housing minister Noel Ahern confirmed the plans for a €180 million regeneration as a public-private partnership (PPP). Dublin City Council now says there is no funding for the project, which has been put on hold.
It is more than six years since developer Bernard McNamara was awarded the contract to redevelop the estate with a mix of social, affordable and private housing, along with shops, community facilities and some offices. It is four years since the PPP agreement fell apart.
Following the collapse of the deals with McNamara, which affected not only O’Devaney Gardens but the regeneration programmes for the flat complexes of Dominick Street and St Michael’s Estate, Dublin City Council developed plans to replace social housing in these estates, with commercial and private development to follow at later when the market recovered.
The plans published by the council in December 2008 proposed starting construction of housing at O’Devaney Gardens in 2011 with the first social houses to be completed by the end of 2012. It is two years since the council submitted plans to An Bord Pleanála for the €32 million project and 15 months since permission was granted. Not a sod has been turned.
Almost all of the 276 flats have been emptied, a process which began when the original regeneration plans were put in place. Demolition of the vacant blocks began in September 2008 after a summer of vandalism and violence culminated in a stand-off with riot police.
Most of the blocks known as “the luxuries” – as they were originally built as private housing in the 1950s but were taken over by the council for social housing soon after construction – have been demolished.
Just 44 flats, known as “the long balconies”, so-called as access to each flat is off a communal balcony, are occupied. The small group of tenants who remain live amid a wasteland of boarded-up derelict blocks.
Few people living in O’Devaney Gardens want to talk. Some say they fear it will affect their chances of a transfer out, others say they don’t see what good talking to reporters has ever done them. Anyone who does talk insists their real name not be used.
“Danny” and “Claire”, both in their mid-30s, were born and raised in O’Devaney Gardens. They are raising their own children in the long balconies.
“This place is a down-and-out horrible kip. That’s a terrible thing to say about the place you grew up, but it’s true,” says Danny.
It is hard to disagree with him. Looking out the back of their ground-floor flat, there is scrubland where there used to be a creche. It was torn down about two years ago. Beside it is a playground, a single toy left in the centre. It is no longer in use, screened off with metal gates.
The view from the front door is of an almost-empty block. Two flats remain occupied on upper floors. The windows and doors of the rest have been covered with metal sheets.
About 20 eight-foot poles are set into the concrete area in between, the washing lines they used to support have been cut away. Seven pairs of runners hang from the phone wires at the end of the block, signalling heroin is for sale.
It wasn’t always like this, Claire says. “We loved living in the flats but since everyone else started leaving it hasn’t been the same. They’ve let them run down. There’s sewage coming up from other flats. It’s the contents of someone else’s toilet coming up your bath. There’s damp on the wall in the kids’ bedroom and the bathroom, the paint on the wall is all bubbles.”
Perhaps the worst thing though is not being able to let the children outside, she says. “The place is all smashed bottles. You can’t let the kids out to play once they get in from school, that’s it. Almost every night the fire brigade is down. There was one day when they were down five times in the one day. People set fire to the bins and they get into the empty flats and set fire to whatever’s there.”
Scenes which resulted in the attendance of riot police in 2008 are now a regular occurrence, Danny says. “You’d want to see this place at the weekend. The police don’t give a damn. There are gangs of people drinking every Friday until Sunday. They don’t even live here. Years ago if it happened the guards would come in and take drink off them but now they don’t bother. You’ve to be your own law.”
Claire now just wants out. “The place had so much going for it. It’s close to town, close to the park, schools, doctors, but you can’t bring up kids here. I don’t want them thinking what happens out there is normal.”
Another neighbour, “Orla”, is suspicious about the council’s intentions. At almost 15 acres, the site is exceptionally large and is in an excellent location. “They want the land. There’s the Phoenix Park, the courts, the barracks. What do you think they’ll do? They’re not going to want to keep all that for tenants. They’ll wait till it’s worth a bit more money then they’ll sell it privately.”