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Empty since 2015: what is happening with Dún Laoghaire’s former ferry terminal?

A promised large co-working hub has been beset by delays, but work is under way

Dún Laoghaire Harbour” is still etched into the glass door and, inside, an old desk is visible. Detritus, abandoned posters and bits of leaves are strewn around like someone left in haste and never returned. A large map display “Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council County Development Plan 2022-2028″, leans against the desk.

The former Dún Laoghaire ferry terminal is a substantial building in a stunning location in the coastal Dublin town, with historic significance and great transport links. But after several hitches in plans for transforming the vacant building, this month saw new disappointment.

Weeks ago, the update to the local council from Quarterdeck, a company hoping since 2022 to open a large co-working hub there, signalled the “initial opening and launch” would be in May 2024. That was, however, dependent on a fire safety certificate being issued in early April. The fire cert application was made in January 2023. The normal period for a fire safety certificate issue is two months, but this routinely takes much longer for complex buildings, as further information is requested.

Councillors and the council executive appeared confident certification was imminent, and the long-delayed project could at last move ahead. But instead this month came news that more work is required before a fire cert can be granted. A council spokeswoman observed that “this is normal with buildings of this size”.


Speaking on Thursday, Hilary Haydon, the accountant behind Quarterdeck, was phlegmatic. “The fire officer has a job to do. It is a complicated project. We’re turning a building that was designed and built as a ferry terminal 30 years ago into, we hope, a vibrant workspace for young, new, emerging companies. There’s a lot of planning, a lot of work. It’s a material change of use. The design is complete, and we’re well advanced on the work.

“Yes, not having the fire certificate is a hindrance. But any developer, any builder in the country, are all facing the same issues and challenges. It’s certainly not incumbent on me to complain. It’s just part of that process. Maybe I’m too philosophical on these things, but I always look to the good. The responsibility of a fire officer, ultimately, is to make sure everybody is healthy and safe. And we certainly want nothing different.”

Quarterdeck’s March update to the council had indicated its new website and marketing would launch last month; on Friday was still a holding page with little information.

This week, Haydon couldn’t be drawn on whether the additional work for certification was minor or substantial, or on any revised timescale for opening. “There’s no simple answer to that question, because even the simplest of things in the current world ... Every time there’s a change in design I have to make sure everybody [on the team] is on board. It’s just part and parcel of what goes with the territory. It’s ultimately a challenging project, there’s no doubt about that. I think when we’re finished the job, people will be very pleased and excited.”

There are inspiring plans in the works generally for Dún Laoghaire harbour’s 50 acres (plus 200 acres of water space). Arrow Architects is due to start work on a harbour master plan in weeks, with public and stakeholder consultation. The harbour is owned by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council (DLRCC) since October 2018, following controversy over Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company’s management of it. A tender has been drafted for a multidisciplinary design team for a National Watersports Campus, upgrading and consolidating facilities, substantially increasing slipway spaces. There’s also an ambitious new tourism strategy.

Meanwhile, the vacant former ferry terminal building was never a thing of beauty, always more functional than fabulous, but since Stena Line pulled its fast ferry service to Holyhead in 2015, the empty building has been a reminder of lost opportunity. And nearly two years after a lease was speedily agreed by DLRCC to allow a rapid start for Quarterdeck’s innovation hub, there’s no clarity on when it will open.

An update requested in January by local councillors details interior work done and planned by Quarterdeck, though none is visible from outside. A large orange sign proclaims “Quarterdeck is coming to Dún Laoghaire in 2023″, but looking past it through the window, the ferry ticketing hall is tatty and unchanged. There’s stonework on one side of the building, a curved canopy-portico and an expansive waterside plaza with wavy-mosaic-seating and an Eamonn O’Doherty sail sculpture. But the bulk of the building is clad in what seem like plastic-covered metal panels, now peeling and contributing to a sense of down-at-heel shoddiness.

Despite the building’s outward appearances of decrepitude and inactivity, Haydon, who is a former president of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Chamber of Commerce, says: “Trust me, we’ve got a huge amount of work done inside, and there’s still a lot to be done. We’ve completed over 20,000 square feet of workspace, and it’s looking magnificent. The ground-floor offices and old Stena Line offices on the first floor are redone. The next phase is the rest of the first floor and the second floor. That’s a big job. That’s in progress at the moment.”

At a special county council meeting on January 29th, councillors Dave Quinn (Social Democrats) and Melisa Halpin (People Before Profit) raised what Quinn called “the thorny issue of the ferry terminal building”, nearly two years after the chamber had approved the lease. In June 2022, “we were given a time frame of three months for tenants to be in situ,” he said. They’ve raised the matter repeatedly in the months and years since, and “it’s really a crying shame that we have such a landmark building remaining vacant, derelict nearly”, a public building of significant importance not being used, which “has simply not been progressed as originally intended”.

Some councillors raised “serious questions” when the lease came up in June 2022, Quinn said, but supported the leaseholder’s ambitions for an enterprise centre. But “question marks over the commercial office market” raised issues regarding the project’s viability, proven by its failure to get off the ground. “It’s simply not good enough” for council monthly management reports to have “the same narrative month-in month-out”, regarding the leaseholder trying to obtain a fire cert. “A fire cert is absolutely essential and it’s incredible to believe the promoter simply hasn’t got the wherewithal in terms of the building contract that’s already been undertaken” to obtain one. He said the project’s viability should be reviewed.

Halpin pointed out councillors had voted to give “a lease for 13 years to a private company who were going to do all manner of brilliant things, jobs, money, everything was going to happen within a matter of months. And we were under great pressure to assign it, to get rid of the lease that day in June 2022, because everything was going to move so swiftly.” Nothing has happened since then, or in nearly a decade, she says. “I’m blue in the face talking about this. I don’t go up the main streets without somebody asking me what the hell is happening to the ferry terminal. How can it possibly be left sitting there?”

She originally asked the council to investigate alternative options such as studio space for film companies, who currently regularly use it. “The council is still stuck in this lease that was going to have people [working] in there in September 2022. Then we got every excuse under the sun ... Then in the spring it was going to be any day now. It’s a month away. It’s a month away. It’s a month away. We’re always just one month away. If it wasn’t so bloody tragic it would be a joke, and I just do not think that we’re getting the full story here.”

Some councillors were supportive of Quarterback and others asked whether rent was being paid, or lease terms being met, but DLRCC director of planning and economic development Aidan Blighe pointed out lease arrangements couldn’t be discussed in a public meeting. The upshot was passing Halpin and Quinn’s motion requesting an updated report to councillors at DLRCC’s March meeting. The update circulated to councillors, but neither March nor April’s meetings got to discuss the Quarterdeck update, which has now been superseded by the fire cert delay, seemingly pushing timelines into limbo again.

Quarterdeck’s March update

Quarterdeck’s update indicated work would start this month on first floor co-working offices, in April/May on a car park and fencing, in June on the second floor and in September on the ground-floor offices and event space.

The council acknowledged the project’s slow progress, that construction price inflation since the war in Ukraine was “unprecedented and unforeseeable” and said it would have been unreasonable not to allow Quarterdeck additional time to explore options. In February 2023, councillors had been told build costs had almost doubled to €8 million, which delayed starting renovation.

This week Haydon said the workspace will ultimately accommodate about 550 people. “That’s huge. We’re not looking for a pedestal, this is just about trying to deliver this project.

“We’d be pretty be satisfied once we get the fire certificate that we will have a minimum of 100 desks away straight away. I’m not aware of any of those who expressed an interest saying they’re not interested any longer. A lot of people have said when-when-when, and are very, very interested in coming into this space. Some who expressed interest, they’ve been just absolutely magnificent in terms of patience. I think they get it.

“We’re trying to provide affordable workspace for people. It’s a commercial business, which has to be competitive. We’re certainly not looking at being at the price levels of We Work [the office sharing company] or others.”

Dun Laoghaire's former ferry terminal. Work-in-progress at the former Stena Line offices on the first floor, refurbished for a co-working space. Photos Hilary Haydon

How will he do that, with construction costs doubling? “That’s my problem,” Haydon says, with a laugh. “This is about delivery first. There’s more to this project than just making money. I have a passion for small business, for many, many years. If this can provide the forum, the network, the facilities, the location, the support for smaller, emerging businesses, that’s just going to be fantastic.”

After workspaces are kitted out, later elements will be a food hall, in what was formerly the ferry ticketing hall, and an events space where the baggage hall once was. The food hall will also be open to the public, and the events/exhibition area will also be available for the community. “It’s open to everybody, people will have full access to it.”

DLRCC’s memo for councillors last month says project works are “well under way” and its economic team continues to engage with Quarterdeck “to ensure the conditions of the lease are being adhered to, and to seek remedy to address any noncompliance”.

In late March, when the fire cert appeared confidently expected, Cllr Lorraine Hall (Fine Gael) said: “I think everybody is very frustrated with the pace this project is moving at. I know the construction price inflation was completely unforeseeable, posed major challenges and the council wanted to give them some time to explore their options. At this stage I do think that sufficient time has been given. If the cert is granted as we expect, we want to see the building get into gear very quickly. There is a huge demand for this type of working space generally. It is a big source of frustration, certainly for the councillors, and I’m quite sure for the council [executive] that this hasn’t moved at the pace we wanted it to.”

Haydon says “it’s a difficult world out there. That’s not about blame games. For whatever reason, it just seems to be taking longer to get anything done in Ireland, full stop.”

Haydon concludes: “I know, I’m mad to do this. But, you know, sometimes you have that degree … We’re pretty determined to deliver. There’s lots of challenges. But that’s part of life. If it was easy, everybody could do it.”


A ferry ran between Dún Laoghaire and Holyhead in Wales from 1835, with car ferries at St Michael’s Pier from the mid-1960s, until in February 2015 Stena Line announced the withdrawal of its Dún Laoghaire service.

This left the 7,000sqm terminal building empty; it has been vacant since then, bar occasional events or exhibitions, location filming and council meetings during Covid.

Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company (DLHC), a State commercial company, failed to find another use for the building after Stena left, and there was some controversy over how it managed the harbour. In 2018, plans for a technology campus there collapsed when developer Philip Gannon pulled out, blaming DLHC for failing to secure a foreshore licence to lease the building.

Community campaigners Save Our Seafront, and others including some local politicians, pushed for the harbour to come back into public ownership and DLRCC assumed ownership in October 2018, including the ferry terminal building, significant harbour-related debt and maintenance costs, but also huge potential for the coastal town.

Expressions of interest were sought in 2019 to operate the ferry terminal as a co-working space in line with existing planning permission. Applicants had to supply business plans, bank references and proof of three years’ funding. DLRCC selected the Quarterdeck tender and it was approved at a council meeting on June 13th, 2022 (with 35 councillors in favour; five against.

It was leased to Quarterdeck for at least 13 years, with the €400,000 annual rent starting in year two, and expected to be operating by September 2022.

The plan has had many setbacks in the intervening almost two years, including Quarterdeck supplying “insufficient” details to DLRCC, building costs doubling to €8 million and the lack of a fire certificate.