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By Ciaran Cuffe

Dublin city, particularly as Hayley Farrell notes [p64-65] the north inner city, could do with more parks, and luckily there is space to spare. Apart from the dozens of parcels of derelict land under the control of Dublin City Council there are also many large sites under the control of NAMA, and other bodies. The Law Society controls a significant site beside the Luas on Benburb Street and CIE controls a large site beside the Jervis Centre. These lands could be converted to parks, even on a temporary basis as with the pop-up ‘Granby Park’ that appeared on Dominick Street in the north inner city in 2013.

One of the more suitable sites is a large empty patch of land just off Church Street between Smithfield and the Four Courts. The site of the former Maguire and Paterson match factory has languished derelict for over a decade.  It is over an acre in size, and the Red Line Luas passes by its northern boundary. Tourists on their way to the Generator Hostel and the Jameson Whiskey Corner pause as they go past, and gaze down into the crater.

The factory that occupied the site was demolished in 2002. Since then it has been under the ownership of the Office of Public Works. An archaeological dig in 2009 revealed traces of an old Viking House, but the site has been vacant since the dig occurred.

On a recent visit to the site bulrushes and reeds were growing on the lower end of the site, and buddleia, rushes, grasses and willow trees had colonised the upper levels. A blackbird was perched next to some rubbish and a traffic cone. Even in the space of a few short years the site is developing its own unique ecosystem that could be protected as part of a park proposal. (Note to the OPW – send in the bulldozers to level off the site again, quick!)

An inquiry to the Office of Public Works received a reply from Commissioner John Sydenham who stated:

“The site is being retained by the State for development and is under consideration for the possible location for key institutions of State (sic) in the medium term. To this end I am afraid that we could not consider any other use for the site even on a temporary basis”. To be fair he went on to say that they would consider placing information panels giving details of the archaeological investigations undertaken at the site. They also have removed some of the ugly hoarding that surrounds the site, allowing the public to see what they’re missing in the green chasm beside them.

The beleaguered north inner city is desperate for more parks and space for children to play. This could be an ideal site for sports and leisure. It is big enough to accommodate a five-a-side football pitch or basketball court as well as trees and planting. Instead it has been an eyesore for over a decade. Will it take another ten years before the OPW decide to do something with the site? Ten years ago the OPW said they wanted to build a Land Registry Office on the site. If they really need more office space they could consider using some of the Dublin Institute of Technology buildings that will be vacated arising from the move of the Institute to Grangegorman. It is unacceptable for the OPW to say they are retaining the site for ‘strategic’ purposes. In the north inner city it is strategic to plan to create an environment suitable for families! They should put up or move on and make this oasis available to the local community. Smithfield has only a handkerchief of greenery on it, and is mostly cobblestones.

It always seems to come back to land in Ireland, and both individuals and institutions seem to hang on to it atavistically, even if it lies uselessly derelict for generations.  It is unacceptable that large urban sites are left empty for decades, doubly so in the hands of a public agency.

The board of the OPW under chairperson Claire McGrath as well as Junior Minister Simon Harris should rethink their decision to leave these lands idle. If you’d like to see the area converted to park, even on a temporary basis why not drop a line to info@opw.ie or Simon.Harris@Oireachtas.ie, and perhaps you’d copy your email to me at Ciaran.Cuffe@DublinCity.ie. The campaign for a new park in the North Inner City starts here. •