Greens call for review of decision to reopen Phoenix Park to traffic

Roderic O’Gorman says ‘we cannot go back to business as usual’ as traffic returns to park

Dublin’s Phoenix Park reopened to traffic on Friday after being closed due to Covid-19. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

Dublin’s Phoenix Park reopened to traffic on Friday after being closed due to Covid-19. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

 

Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has led growing calls within the Green Party to review the decision to reopen the Phoenix Park to traffic.

In a statement on Twitter, Mr O’Gorman said he was “surprised”by the decision of the Office of Public Works (OPW) to reopen the gates as representatives had previously told him “that reducing the volume of through traffic and maintaining safe, quiet spaces for pedestrians & cyclist is a key priority for them”.

“The last few months have transformed how we see the Park, and we cannot go back to business as usual.”

Lord Mayor of Dublin and Green Party politician Hazel Chu tweeted on Friday night she would be writing to Minister of State at the OPW Patrick O’Donovan to ask “what steps, advice, consultation was taken to open the Phoenix Park gates again to cars”.

Green Party TD for Dublin Central Neasa Hourigan also expressed disappointment at the OPW’s decision and the manner in which it was announced and called for clarity on how it was reached.

Following the introduction of the 2km travel restrictions in March in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the OPW closed the park gates to traffic with the exception of the Castleknock and Parkgate Street entrances.

These gates remained open to allow the continued use of Chesterfield Avenue as a through-road, and to maintain access for Áras an Uachtaráin, the US ambassador’s residence and Garda headquarters.

Plans to reopen the gates on two occasions in June were halted but on Friday - with just over 12 hours’ notice - the OPW reopened all of the perimeter gates, with the exception of Knockmaroon Gate.

Speaking as the gates reopened on Friday, Ms Hourigan said: “Just a fortnight ago the OPW announced that it would maintain the closure of the peripheral gates to the Phoenix Park in order to facilitate the significant increase in use of the park by walkers and cyclists of all ages in recent months.

“At the end of the working day yesterday it announced that it planned to reopen the perimeter gates. No rationale has been supplied for this complete about-face.

“Every single route in the Phoenix Park now becomes a rat run,” she told RTÉ radio’s Today with Sarah McInerney show on Friday.

Ms Hourigan said that over 7,500 people signed a petition to keep the access into the park in some small way controlled, “and that’s what I’m going to do”.

Speaking on the same programme, Mr O’Donovan defended the decision to reopen the park to traffic.

“I would love to see the Phoenix Park maintained for park use only, but I’m also very conscious of the fact that the western side of Dublin has grown up around the park, and whether we like it or not for an awful lot of people it is a commuter route,” he said.

Mr O’Donovan said the park was a ”thoroughfare” for some commuters driving from Longford, Westmeath, Meath and parts of Dublin.

The decision to reopen the gates was taken, he added, to allow the OPW to monitor traffic congestion on the western side of the park.

“The OPW had actually started this process with traffic management counts...the OPW was trying to count how many actual travel movements are there through the park because we don’t even have that level of data.”