A €15.5 million international-standard handball centre at Croke Park has been handed over to the local community, marking the end of a 30-year dispute over the facility.
A 200-year lease at an annual rent of €1 has this week been signed by the GAA and National Handball and Croke Park Community Centre CLG, a new body representing the community group which operated the old 1970s handball alley.
The board of the new centre is chaired by former taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
The new state-of-the-art 35,000sq ft centre features six handball courts, including a “ show court” that seats up to 650 people. There will also be community facilities, which will accommodate activities hosted in the old centre, including the special needs Rainbow Club, Shika Do martial arts club and dancing classes. There is also a bar, kitchen facilities and a function room.
The development of the new centre was mired in planning and legal disputes for decades.
It will be great to be working with Croke Park and the GAA and not be working against each other
In 1988, the GAA applied to An Bord Pleanála to have the old centre knocked down. However, the application, which was objected to by the Community and Handball Centre, the local organisation which operated the centre, was refused.
The GAA later objected to the sports club bar licence held on the premises by the Community and Handball Centre. The centre lost its licence for a period, but it was later restored.
In 2011, the GAA began legal proceedings to eject the community organisation from the building. In turn, the community group threatened to seek an injunction against the holding of a Take That concert, as Croke Park had already held the three concerts it was permitted to hold a year.
In early 2016, following an inability to resolve the disputes, Mr Ahern agreed to chair a mediation process between the groups. Following lengthy but ultimately successful talks, the community organisation agreed not to block a new application for permission to redevelop the centre. Planning permission was granted in 2017.
Centre manager Fintan Farrelly thanked the GAA for the "very substantial investment in our community and in our national sport of handball".
The facility would bring a “great lift” to the local community he said.
“I also want to thank Bertie Ahern for his work to bring about this resolution. It will be great to be working with Croke Park and the GAA and not be working against each other.”
It is a national asset but also will be a catalyst for the development of Ballybough and the wider area
Earlier this year the newly completed facility was used as a Covid-19 testing centre. This use has now ended and, following a deep clean, it has been handed back to the community organisation.
A director of the centre, Eamon O’Brien, said he hopes handball playing will begin in the coming weeks in line with Covid-19 regulations, and the centre will be granted a new club bar licence in October.
Independent city councillor Nial Ring, also a director, said the facility would be a huge boost for the north inner city. "This fabulous new centre will be the best handball facility in the world. It is a national asset but also will be a catalyst for the development of Ballybough and the wider area."
A GAA spokesman said it would not be commenting publicly until the official launch of the centre.