By Mannix Flynn
In 2009 the then Lord Mayor of Dublin, Eibhlin Byrne, officially opened the new apartment blocks at York Street, Dublin. It was hailed, by some, as a flagship of social housing and regeneration. Before this, York Street housing had magnificent spaces outdoor and indoor – substantial back gardens, ample space in bedrooms and good-floor-to-ceiling heights. Residents had been housed in a dilapidated, though distinguished, Georgian former tenement block with fire-safety issues. Had that block been refurbished and made safe it would have safeguarded the aspirations of an entire community.
Instead, what happened was the perpetration of the architecture of containment and an ‘othering off’ – the erasure of the spirit of York Street apartments. The very concept of these blocks was constrained: by the necessity to sell more than half of York Street at its east end to the plutocratic St Stephen’s Green-anchored Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) for swanky new college facilities.
During the negotiations between the residents and tenants of York Street which began around 2007 Sinn Féin’s Daithi Doolan was the representative in the area. There were other Sinn Féin supporters on the ground, and the community felt confident that they were going to get a good deal, though they might have been suspicious about a college of doctors that had built a car park at York Street some years previously against the wishes of the local people purely for financial reasons, generating large-scale vehicle emissions to the detriment of community health.
The sweetener for the deal was the use of the RCSI sports and community facilities. The rooftop of the RCSI extension was to be in the form of an all-weather pitch and its facilities were to be shared with the entire community in compensation for the lost green space and amenities. However, in fact these amenities were eliminated by stealth as the community interest was subordinated to that of the well-got RCSI. The all-weather pitch was removed through a variation of the plan. And the use of the facilities as a right was eliminated – becoming instead part of an elusive ‘outreach program’ whereby the community got access to the facility only when it was not in use. In partial return the RCSI gave Dublin City Council around €400,000 of community-gain money, whose destination is uncertain, and there will be no messiness of integration with the locals for the men in suits and stethoscopes. All this has eradicated the possibility that the RCSI might ever integrate with the community of York St and Mercer St.
It was tragically clear in 2009 when the new apartments opened that the residents had had no idea that there was to be no all-weather pitch or sports facility for them.
Moreover, as to the new apartments, from the outside all looked well but from the inside there were many concerns: safety of windows, tap-water overheating, much-vaunted roof gardens quickly closed down by Dublin City Council (DCC) as unsafe.
Six years on and the RCSI has another grandiose plan. It is going to build another much bulkier building at York Street with – again – no rooftop facility, this time abetted by newish local Sinn Féin Councillor, Chris Andrews. A recent offer of around €3,000 each in compensation to the residents at York Street has been dwarfed by offers of more than twice that amount made to residents in Cuffe Lane at the rear of York Street who own their own homes and therefore seem to be treated more seriously by all concerned.
The always stuffy but greedy, morally and aesthetically bereft, hawkish and cynical RCSI and the dead hand of Dublin City Council with the naïve support of deal-making local Sinn Féin councillors in 2009 and again in 2015 underpinned the dynamic of the take-out.
The property-playing RCSI, which has over several generations colonised much of the St Stephen’s Green area with characteristic mediocrity is now insisting that all the deals it did with the DCC tenants are confidential. While some of the residents in the area seem to be content, a number are not, as they face in to two years of dawn-to-dusk pile-driving, dust and heavy-machinery movements, and are seeking legal advice.
Sinn Féin’s Chris Andrew’s has been rather coy on the matter in keeping with the ethos of his new party. None of the other local councillors was aware that negotiations were taking place. Many residents now feel they were stampeded into signing the RCSI secret documents, especially when their private neighbours have been paid substantially more than they have and Chris Andrews hadn’t informed them of this.
When I raised the matter at the DCC in a motion that called for a guideline protocol for major compensation for DCC tenants, Andrews came over oddly uncomfortable.
He should have been wholeheartedly in support of this motion, but the truth is that Mr Andrews is busy being in support of the RCSI, illustrating the journey the Shinners have travelled. They have aided and abetted the rape of a vulnerable community and its assets. •