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Dublin’s Liberties not throwing in towel on sports facilities

Sporting organisations lobby council with plans for land close to Marrowbone Lane

Paul Long (left) and Austin O’Neill, who play for rugby side Liberty Saints on a small patch of grass about the size of two tennis courts at the back of St James’s national school. Photograph: The Irish Times

Sports clubs in the Liberties are running a campaign to secure rare sporting facilities and green space for local children following what they fear is a failed appeal to Dublin City Council.

The south inner city area has a population of 50,000, including 10 primary schools, and rising drug crime but, crucially say campaign organisers Sporting Liberties, a chronic lack of open space.

After years of efforts and a detailed pitch to council officials to transform a local site, they now fear it could be turned instead into a services “super depot” for the city.

“Not a blade of grass has been allocated to these young people,” said Graham Jones of Sporting Liberties, despite what he described as the transformative potential of sport.

The organisation claims the average DCC resident has 70 per cent more access to green space than those in the Liberties. Quoting a council report from 2014, it said the area fell 86 per cent below international recommendations.

“With young people, if they’ve never seen a game of rugby or hurling happening live in front of them they’ll never consider trying it for themselves,” said Tom Magee, president of the local Liberty Saints rugby club which trains local youths on a walled in pitch the size of two tennis courts.

“We need to bring sport in, not bring people out. Trying to field a team without a field is a huge drain on clubs and a lot of the time it’s too much and people just give up.”

Over the last three years, a group of sporting organisations, including GAA, rugby, soccer and boxing, have lobbied the council with detailed plans for the land which lies adjacent to Marrowbone Lane in Dublin 8.

Their proposed campus, outlined by Carson & Crushell Architects, includes an Astroturf pitch, swimming pool, gym, boxing hall and multiuse courts.

It is a vision at odds with the local reality, described by Sporting Liberties as a community “decimated by drugs and crime over many years”, with a green space deficit proving to be a “key factor in creating this untenable situation”.

Eamon Dunphy

This weekend, about 200 children will cram into the nearby Liberty Saints training ground to help launch a campaign supported by Eamon Dunphy, Leinster rugby player Jack McGrath and GAA stars Ger Brennan and Chris Crummey.

The proposed site houses water and waste management facilities. It is zoned for recreational use but city management, at a development plan vote later this month, hope to have this changed to industrial use to facilitate a super depot.

People Before Profit Cllr Tina MacVeigh, whose motion in the draft development plan last year saw the site zoned for leisure purposes, believes unambiguous cross-party support will scupper any plans for a depot. But there is still little traction on securing green space instead.

“People need places where they can come out and have communities, where there are clubs and where there is a sense of identity,” she said.

“If young people have places to go where they feel they can participate and contribute their ideas of course they are more likely to become engaged.”

However, while there is broad political agreement, it is nuanced.

“I am supportive of the aims and objectives of Sporting Liberties but for sporting and recreational facilities we don’t need just one site,” said Labour councillor Rebecca Moynahan.

“There needs to be more than one sporting facility in the inner city.”

In a statement the council said the chief executive would be issuing a report to councillors “containing a detailed response to this and other motions as part of the review of the development plan process. No further comment will be made until the meeting of the council at the end of the month.”