Dún Laoghaire baths will reopen next week as a public amenity after a 17-year campaign but “shockingly” without the pool activists sought.
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett, chairman of the Save Our Seafront group, said campaigners had successfully fought against “mad proposals” including a 19-storey office block and an apartment development.
But when the baths reopen it will be “shockingly, still without the pool we campaigned for. They have left a space for it, but still no pool,” he told the Dáil.
“There will be a swimming jetty, and that it is great, and it is far better than privatisation, but it is extraordinary that after all those years we still will not have the swimming pool.”
The Dún Laoghaire TD was speaking during a debate on a Labour Party Bill to create a Dublin Bay Authority which would have responsibility for protecting the bay.
Introducing the Dublin Bay Bill, Labour leader Ivana Bacik said nine State agencies currently have responsibility for the bay which she said stretched from “the Baily Lighthouse to Sorrento Point”.
She said there was a lack of co-ordination in protecting the bay. “Nowhere is this more evident than in the crumbling dereliction of the old Sandymount and Blackrock baths.”
There is “such a severe lack of facilities for those who want to use the sea or bay in a more meaningful manner, including those who want to swim but who lack really good facilities”.
There were “lidos in London and all sorts of other examples of where much better facilities have been provided and much better use has been made of a city coastline. We should have a lido with public access at George’s Dock for all swimmers.”
These were the types of initiative a new authority with statutory powers could deliver, she said. It would also “promote a radical new vision for the protection and enhancement of the wonderful natural amenity on our doorstep that is Dublin Bay,” she said. “It would establish a statutory Dublin Bay authority charged with preserving the distinctive character of Dublin Bay and protecting its ecology as a coastal resource.”
She stressed that it would particularly “improve the amenity of the bay for sea swimmers, sailors, walkers along the shoreline and all of those who want to use the bay area”.
The Dublin Bay South TD said Dublin Port has a very significant role in the planning and development of the bay area but it should be “just one of the stakeholders charged with a role in deciding on the future of Dublin Bay. It should not be the only one.”
Labour Dublin Bay North TD Aodhán Ó Riordáin highlighted problems in Doldrum Bay in Howth where raw sewage is pumped into the water.
He said Clontarf is an iconic part of Dublin but the swimming facilities “are just not up to scratch” while Fingal County Council has provided good facilities in Portmarnock.
“We must not have a mismatch of authorities, from Fingal County Council to Dublin City Council and others, overseeing this incredible facility,” he said.
Minister for Local Government Darragh O’Brien said the protection of Dublin Bay was vital and he would work with Labour on the Bill which he described as “well intentioned”.
Responding to calls for year-round water testing he said that if they extended the bathing water season into the winter “it increases the potential for adverse results and may unnecessarily put summertime designations in jeopardy”.
He pointed out that “if and when we have large weather events there is potential for water runoff to decrease water quality in the winter months.
“If we extended the bathing season into that period, the calculation of that might actually impact on the summer bathing season as well.”
Mr O’Brien said “this is not a matter of more pollution, it is simply a fact that in the winter there is less sunlight which means less sunlight to kill the bacteria in the water, and a much higher frequency of heavy rainfall events.”
Fianna Fáil Dún Laoghaire TD Cormac Devlin welcomed the Minister’s commitment to “real-time information” about water quality.
He said some people are not aware of the prohibitions that are in place. “Swimmers have to search for that information before they go swimming. Really, the information should be readily available.
“The results of all-year round testing should also be made public for the various bathing areas,” he said.
Sinn Féin Dublin Bay South TD Chris Andrews said Dublin City Council and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council take a much more proactive approach on year-round testing. They could also include “several popular swimming sites that are not designated as bathing locations”.
“My understanding is that there are just two designated bathing areas – Dollymount and Sandymount – and four non-designated – Merrion, Shellybanks, the Half Moon and the North Bull Island Causeway.”
His party colleague Aengus Ó Snodaigh, who grew up on the Sandymount seafront, said that before the promenade was built there, “the contents of the bay used to come into my room every winter”.
The sea “would come over the wall and bring with it the contents of half of the beach, across the road and into the downstairs bedroom”.
He warned that “we must act quickly in terms of wastewater treatment and pollution that is going into the water.
“We have had far too many of what they call ‘brown trout’ floating around in the water,” he said.
Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan told TDs the department had done really good work with companies like Intel on urban wastewater run-off on the Liffey and river Rye in Co Kildare.
“We need to really start embedding those types of policies” to look at water quality across the bay “in a whole catchment approach rather than in isolation”, he said.
He pointed out that the bay was recognised as a UN biosphere reserve in 2015 and said that research is under way to investigate “the feasibility of providing real-time monitoring results”.