Proposed sale of Tolka Park described as act of ‘cultural vandalism’

Save Tolka Park campaign says stadium should be preserved as community asset

St Patrick’s Athletic fans light up the stand during a cup game at Tolka Park in 2006. Photograph: David Sleator / The Irish Times

St Patrick’s Athletic fans light up the stand during a cup game at Tolka Park in 2006. Photograph: David Sleator / The Irish Times

 

It would be an act of “cultural vandalism” if Dublin City Council was to go ahead with plans to rezone and sell Drumcondra’s Tolka Park stadium to private developers, a community meeting has heard.

The new Save Tolka Park campaign, made up of local residents, football fans and activists, launched counter proposals for a “refurbished, reimagined and community-centred” stadium on Thursday.

Campaign lead and sports broadcaster, Shane Dawson, said the grounds are “at the forefront of the battle” to ensure public land is reserved for public use. The stadium, which dates back to 1924, is “irreplaceable”, and there is potential for it to be an asset to local residents and for future generations, he added.

“It would be cultural vandalism to consign this stadium, with so much community potential, to history,” Mr Dawson said.

Dublin City Council, took control of the ground back in 2016 as part of a deal intended to result in a groundshare at Dalymount Park stadium in Phibsborough between Shelbourne and Bohemians.

Shelbourne have played at Tolka Park for more than 30 years having also had earlier spells there.

The council announced in April that it had been given the green light by the Department of Sport to progress its plans to redevelop Dalymount Park but the project is regarded as being dependent on funding from the rezoning and sale of Tolka Park.

Shelbourne Football Club is due to relocate to the refurbished stadium, which is a 30-minute walk away, in the coming years. The club is not supporting the Save Tolka Park community campaign, but many Shelbourne fans are providing “pretty unanimous support”, according to campaign member John Mernock.

He emphasised that one of the most important aspects of this campaign is the push for the Tolka Park to be more accessible to the community.

Former footballer and sports pundit, Eamon Dunphy, has thrown his weight behind the local campaign, saying he grew up very near to the “iconic” stadium. Tolka Park was an “integral part” of the first 15 years of his life, and he even worked there as a steward at one point, Mr Dunphy said.

While he said he is very conscious of the acute housing need, Mr Dunphy said Tolka Park is “very important for the area” and an amenity that should be preserved.

If the housing or facilities to be built on the land were guaranteed to be social or affordable, he might take a different view, but he said: “As things stand I support the campaign with the fondest of memories and a real understanding of what that ground means to the local community.”

In a pre-recorded message to the meeting, The Irish Times opinion writer Una Mullally stressed the value of public spaces beyond their monetary offerings.

“Dublin has an amenities crisis as well as a housing crisis. We have a public space crisis and a recreational space crisis,” she said.