Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has suggested the Dáil car park could be converted into a “green space in the centre of the city”.
Speaking on Virgin Media’s Tonight programme on Thursday evening, Mr Ryan suggested a nearby multistorey car park on Molesworth Street could accommodate parking spaces by Leinster House used by politicians and staff working there.
“It’s only five minutes walk away and, yeah, I think we should lead by example on that sort of project,” he said.
He said he accepted that some TDs and senators have a need to drive into work. “This won’t work if we do it as pointing at people, shaming people, make people ‘how dare you be the problem’, but, yeah, I’d love to see us make that switch.”
Mr Ryan said the original front of Leinster House had faced on to Merrion Square and that Leinster Lawn, which the car park adjoins, could be expanded on to the car park and could be reintegrated into the public realm, forming an extension of Merrion Square and allowing access from the National Art Gallery and the National History Museum.
“I’d love if you could go from the National Art Gallery and the National History Museum into that front lawn area where the car park is at the minute – I could almost see it as an extension of Merrion Square, that you’d have more green space in the centre of the city, in a very beautiful part of the city,” he said.
Asked if he had broached the topic with his partners in Government, Mr Ryan said: “I’m doing it here and now”.
Charlie Flanagan, Fine Gael TD for Laois-Offaly and former minister, said he didn’t want to be “unduly negative” in reacting to the news but said it was “akin to putting the cart before the horse”.
“A thorough conversation is required with all Oireachtas stakeholders, particularly rural members who for the most part don’t have alternatives to the motorcar and all of whom face increased challenges just getting to work,” Mr Flanagan said.
“Living in Dublin beside the Luas or within an easy bike ride or leisurely stroll is not an option for country members given our constituency mandate.”
Other rural TDs were more direct in their criticism. Michael Ring, the Fine Gael TD for Mayo and a former cabinet minister, attacked Mr Ryan’s idea and criticised the plan to keep thermostats set at 19 degrees this winter. He also criticised the decision of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Green Councillor Caroline Conroy, to cancel the live animal crib at the Mansion House
“I don’t agree with it, we’re sick of the Greens now and we’re sick of their ideas. They didn’t want the crib, but we have to park somewhere. It’s fine for the Dublin TDs… but we need the car park, they’re just going too far, and the time has come where they have to be taken on.”
The car parking spaces, he said, “are there and we need them”, adding that Mr Ryan had a “daft idea” to reduce the temperature in offices in Leinster House which weren’t properly insulated.
“We need our car parking spaces, they can’t even put on the heating for us now in an old building. In the winter time in the offices I’m in we have to put sellotape on the windows to keep the cold out,” he said, adding: “We’re sick of Eamon Ryan and sick of all his heating plans”
“It’s not the way for officials and it’s not the way for ministers up in their cosy offices, we want our car parking spaces.”
“They don’t want people to live in rural Ireland, or in city Ireland, they don’t want people to live at all, and they don’t want Christmas now or anything,” he said.
James O’Connor, Fianna Fáil TD for Cork East and the party’s transport spokesman, said: “To be quite honest, it’s very easy to say that [converting the car park] when you live in the constituency the Dáil is in.
“Like I and others travelling over three hours, two round trips a week to our constituencies, I think Eamon’s suggestion is misplaced.”
Mr O’Connor also criticised the suggestion that car parking could be found in the Molesworth Street car park.
“How much is it going to cost to purchase that car park, presumably over €10 million. It would be an enormous waste of public money. I want to compliment the OPW on the work they’ve done on rewilding on the Merrion Street lawn – there’s been work done there already to reduce the amount of car parking.”
Denis Naughten, the independent TD for Roscommon-Galway, said he regularly takes public transport to Leinster House, said it would be “great in theory” but warned that there needed to be facilities made available for rural TDs.
“I’m someone now who actively tries to use public transport, coming to and from and when I’m in Dublin, but depending on my timetable in Dublin and in the constituency, it may not be possible for me to use public transport,” he said.
“Because we don’t work normal hours, it’s not very practical in terms of using public transport to get to and from our constituencies, and we often don’t go directly to our constituencies.”
“You would need to facilitate parking within the precincts of Leinster House, and I’m talking as someone who actively uses public transport purely because I cannot tolerate sitting in traffic”
Mr Ryan later said that while it was up to the Oireachtas Commission to decide on removing cars from Leinster Lawn, the Green Party had members on the commission and would make that suggestion.
He said his suggestion was that members should be given parking elsewhere. “My suggestion is that, across the road here literally, we have a multi-storey carpark where you’re officially two minutes’ walk away.
“We could maybe create an entrance for the National Gallery or the Natural History Museum into that carpet of front lawn”.
Speaking as he met a group of young climate change protesters outside the Dail, Mr Ryan said the car park at the Kildare Street front of Leinster House could also be turned “into a garden which would be a beautiful space in the centre of the city.”
“If we’re going to make that change in the country, we have to lead by example. And I think that that will make sense,” he said.