O'Devaney Gardens - Keep The Vultures Out

Republican community activist Rowan Clarke recently attended a meeting and left deeply disappointed. He writes:

Minister Coveney Demands O'Devaney Gardens Be Sold To Private Developers And Sinn Fein Are Leading The Charge To See It Happens

Meeting To Decide Future Of O'Devaney Gardens

I am just back from a meeting in Stoneybatter, regarding what I can only describe as some sort of 'testing the waters' deal being presented by current Minister of Housing Simon Coveney.

A deal that was very stealthily put to a select number of Dublin City Councillors yesterday regarding O'Devaney Gardens and plans for its future. The meeting was arranged for remaining residents of the O'Devaney Gardens complex, assorted resident groups from the locale and local people interested in the issue. 

I was invited along by a local councillor given I’m from the Dublin 7 area and have had difficulty with housing the last number of years. A small number of local residents from O'Devaney were present, a number of assorted representatives from varying neighbourhood associations such as Arbour Hill residents, Montpellier residents, North Circular residents etc and three local councillors, Janice Boylan (SF), Cieran Perry (Ind) and Eilis Ryan (WP).

The meeting was chaired by a lady in charge of the North West Inner Training and Development Project, in whose building the meeting was held. The theme of the meeting was the 'new deal' being offered to O'Devaney Residents as opposed to previous deal which no-one can dispute was a hugely better option.

Background To O'Devaney Gardens Estate

For those of you who have never heard of O'Devaney Gardens, I will give you a brief description.

It is a council-owned flat complex (with a very small number of houses) located off the Phoenix Park end of the North Circular Road, in the Dublin 7 area.

It was built during the Sean Lemass era as a quick fix for a worsening Inner City housing crisis during the 1950s; the logic was, put all those in need of homes into flats and all will be grand. Of course there was no effort on the State or Dublin Corporation's behalf to install any sort of infrastructure within the burgeoning community: no amenities, no facilities, nothing, and like the faith which befell alot of social housing projects.

O'Devaney gained a reputation as a place associated with chronic anti-social problems, unemployment, drug abuse and joyriding. This was a reputation the decent salt of the earth residents of the flats who made up the majority didn't deserve, as despite their neighbourhood's ills, they managed to create a vibrant community and strong spirit of working class neighbourly values among themselves.

In recent years, O'Devaney fell into a state of disrepair and neglect. Despite the residents attempts to maintain a community, there’s no doubt this was hard to do with the place being in such a state of ruination. The State as per usual sat on their laurels and ignored the issue.

During the boom years the Regeneration project came along. Its purpose was to rejuvenate council areas that were on their last legs and make them liveable for the folk residing in them. Ballymun, Fatima and even parts of Limerick were on the list, so was O'Devaney. The State in its infinite wisdom tasked the renewal, building and demolition work with private developers and big building contractors, yano, real trustworthy folk!

The developers promised the O'Devaney residents a Utopia, big promises were made and all the residents had to do was leave their homes and allow the builders and developers come in and mow them down. And so it went, bit by bit, O'Devaney residents left the place of their birth, their community and put things in the hands of the developers who with haste knocked down the majority of the flat blocks in the complex. Then guess what? - the developers, builders, state and council broke their promises and pulled out of the project, shattering the dreams of the residents, who just wanted to remain in the area in which they were born and reared and continue with their sense of community. The residents were scattered all over the area, beleaguered and broken; only few remained in the last few flat blocks.

The Situation Today

Flash forward to today. The residents in O'Devaney sit in limbo, those pushed elsewhere dying to return home to the vibrant development they were promised. The previous deal, in a motion brought forward by the Workers Party and passed by the majority present at the meeting six weeks ago (including Sinn Fein) would have entailed 50% social housing and 50% affordable housing, approx. 480 units, built by a developer naturally but under Council control, all the amenities and features such as playground, green space etc. promised during development would also be looked at.

Not a bad deal considering the dire housing climate and how badly O'Devaney has been treated up to now. But to the Fine Gael/Endapendent Government, this was no good. A housing development with no input from speculators and private investors???? Sure we can't have that!

Secret Meetings

Anyhow, it has transpired that yesterday (06/09/2016) a secretive meeting took place -  although Sinn Fein dispute it was secretive - between Housing Minister Coveney and a select number of councillors, in which Minister Coveney made the case that his Government and DCC would not be entertaining the motion passed six weeks ago regarding O'Devaney.

He explained he was putting an offer on the table (although there are no guarantees or assurances or plans in place), that O'Devaney should let the developers, investors and speculators in and they will get a few left over crumbs from the table.

What's on offer now is 50% private-owned, 25% affordable housing although under the control of private owners so ultimately 70% privately owned and the last 30% would be social housing, of which at a guess first choice will go the residents still living in O'Devaney although this is not clear.

Oh yeah and say 'bye 'bye to all the amenities and facilities promised during regeneration.

Playground gone!

Green Space cut drastically!

Community Centres etc. gone!

The attitude conveyed was 'ya’s live beside the Phoenix Park let your kids play there'!

It is clear that the councillors cherry picked were ones who would agree with Coveney's miserable scheme. Surprisingly, although not to some, Sinn Fein were very happy to accept this offer and pledged support. They were the dominant and driving force at this meeting which makes sense as they are the largest group on DCC as they love to keep reminding us.

Those in republican and Left circles are well versed in the duplicitous and turn coat chicanery of the Shinners but it’s unusual to see them so outright in their dalliances with property developer scavengers. This open turn to right wing liberalism on their part is getting ever so prominent lately.

Later in the meeting Cllr. Cieran Perry and Cllr. Eilis Ryan confirmed they were not informed of the meeting with the Minister and claimed 30% of elected councillors were not present nor informed of what was taking place, therefore had no input to what was agreed. At the meeting, a number of residents from local associations spoke. They were articulate, nice folk, well-spoken but from my perspective outright snobby despite some exuding the 'Hipster' persona.

Most, nearly all admitted not originally being from Dublin 7 but they felt because they had bought into the area that it was theirs to mould in their image.And as having social housing nearby has always been a bit of a bug bear and not very appealing to them, they eagerly accepted the Minister's offer although, some did so hesitantly. Two men sat very hushed overseeing proceedings, decked in suits and who I can only describe as giving off the air of barristers or big wig businessmen. They were asked to contribute and they claimed to be North Circular Road residents.

They made no bones about their feelings, they want O'Devaney gone and no social housing put in its place. Not only content with knocking O'Devaney, they expressed a desire to try to curb rental properties because apparently nobody wants to buy next to renters. They are poor people who take drugs and are loud -- no joke, one guy expressed such sentiments.

Gentrification Destroyed The Sense Of Community In Dublin 7

I got to my turn to speak. I brought up gentrification and how it had destroyed the sense of community in Dublin 7 and was forcing natives out of their own area. The lady chairing the event interjected and tried stop me talking as did the Sinn Fein rep. who kept saying your 'you're not from O'Devaney'. I explained that I was born and bred in Dublin 7, 5 minutes from O'Devaney, my family roots in Dublin 7 are even older then O'Devaneys existence in that my relations have lived and continue to live in the general area, Cabra, Stoneybatter, Phibsboro, Broadstone etc, and that I had as much right to speak as anyone else. I got the impression from therein that the proceedings were biased

I continued and explained that despite me being born and bred in the area, since the age of 20 when I moved out of my parents I have been unable to live in Dublin 7, specifically Cabra where my mother lives, because of gentrification. At a time when I could have afforded a house, I had nowhere near enough to afford one in Dublin 7, and now times are tougher and I’m stuck in the rent bubble with my partner and two kids and can't even rent in the place.

I elaborated that property developers swooped into other parts of Dublin 7 over the years, bought up land; investors bought up all the homes of elderly residents who passed and now the majority of Dublin 7 is under the control of landlords or letting agents, and they only want 'young professionals', so locals like me and my family are being priced out of their own area. Most of my friends from D7 no longer remain, they are scattered all over the sterile suburbs and commuter towns outside Dublin. I finished by basically asking the residents not to be conned by this complete con job which will destroy any sense of community they have left and no doubt split families apart.

The O'Devaney women's retort? They are fed up and just want a house and be done with this mess, and you know what? I don't blame them. So do I!

They are a strong hardy bunch and great craic but I can't help feel this select group of residents was handpicked by Sinn Fein to just be there and go along with whatever is put to them; they seemed under the spell of the Sinn Fein rep Janice Boylan who gave assurances throughout about the 'new deal' which I can only describe as bullshit. According to Janice Boylan property developers are great lads altogether and with their help, utopia is still on the cards.

Painting The Deal As Something It's Not

The Sinn Fein rep. did her best to try make this 'new deal' sound acceptable, but it was all the kind of buzzword speak we have come to expect from Sinn Fein. I asked who was present at the closed meeting the previous day and will there be minutes available with a list of who was present, and why were certain councillors excluded.

She claimed she did not have knowledge of anyone being excluded (despite two councillors sitting next to her explaining they were) and was insistent Sinn Fein don't have secret meetings behind closed doors and seemed annoyed that I had asked, again she got tribal about the fact I wasn't an O'Devaney resident.

Cieran Perry and Eilis Ryan did their best to show this 'new deal' as the rubbish it is, with no incentive for the community and certainly not O'Devaney residents; that it was what it clearly says on the tin, handing over Council land traditionally cherished by the natives who thrived there for decades to the vile speculator developer class, who have no regard for the best interests of our general area: that when these units go up, locals will be priced out, not being able to afford even the most modestly priced residence available.

It was clear throughout that Sinn Fein have a grasp over a section of the residents whether they know it or not. They weren't too interested in listening to the pitfalls and inevitable dangers that will transpire. They just want their houses after years of tiring battles to get their community back to its old self. And if Sinn Fein can spearhead a few gaffs here and there, they will give them their due and in turn it adds to the Shinners' profile. Overall an extremely worrying state of affairs.

O'Devaney has become the last bastion of Dublin 7, the one place still free from the ugly process of gentrification; it still has the potential be a vibrant community, with access to education, community initiatives and facilities, with a fair level of social housing but with none of the stigma. It's up to the entire area to rally behind O'Devaney, not just the few left in the flats but all of us, be you Cabra, Montpellier, Stoneybatter, Phibsboro or even an outsider to the area who wants to show solidarity. Sinn Fein can use the 'your not one of us' mantra all they want as a stick to try beat any opposition away. A lot of people won't be standing for this.

Let's keep the vultures out of our neighbourhoods and keep our families together.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Rowan for this substantive piece. Another well read one which lets us know what interests the readership