Dublin Inquirer Voter Guide

The excellent Dublin Inquirer newspaper have produced a voter guide for the 2024 local elections. They asked their readers to send in the questions they wanted to ask the candidates, and combined all of those questions to identify eight key issues.

Those questions, and my answers, can be seen on the Dublin Inquirer site here.

New library for Drimnagh

Yesterday evening I visited Our Lady’s Hall to see the plans for the new library in Drimnagh. The architect was there to talk me through them – they look great!

The library will be built on the site of the old Ardscoil Eanna, Franshaw House. The house itself will be restored, and a cafe opened on the ground floor. The space in front of and behind Franshaw House will be gardens. (The west of the site, towards Rafters Road, is earmarked for housing, but the plans are not ready yet)

The library will have large children’s and adult sections – a double-height room for the children, a book gallery above for the adults. There is also an events room, a meeting room, and a conference room.

The site gets lower from Crumlin Road to Rafters Lane, so there are ramps at the Rafters Lane entrance for wheelchair/buggy access. Franshaw House itself was not designed for accessibility, and there is no space for a lift, so the first floor of the library will connect to the first floor of the house, making all areas accessible.

So when will it open? The project is going for planning permission in the next few weeks, with the expectation that permission will be granted in the autumn. At that stage, more design work has to be done on the interiors. The council could tender for people to do the work early next year, and then roughly another year to get it built. So it will most likely be early 2026. The good news is that the money has already been set aside by the council, there should be no delays there.

I live just around the corner from Walkinstown library, and it is a great community hub. It fills so many roles – parents bring their kids there, mother and toddler groups meet, school groups come in, students study, community groups hold meetings… it’s hard to overstate the importance of having a place you can spend time, without spending money, all through the day. And it’s full of books! This is going to be a great addition to Drimnagh, I can’t wait until it opens.

Vote YesYes!

We have two referendums coming up in Ireland next month, and it’s important to vote Yes in both of them…

Canvassing for a YesYes vote in Inchicore

At the moment, the constitution says:
In Article 41.1.1° “The State recognises the Family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.”

In Article 41.3.1°

“The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded, and to protect it against attack.”

The family is the fundamental unit of society, and families are based on marriage. But families aren’t all based on marriage. I know, and I’m sure you know, lots of lone-parent families, and lots of families where the parents aren’t married. According to the constitution, they aren’t families and they aren’t important.

So the proposal is two changes: Add this
“The State recognises the Family, whether founded on marriage **or on other durable relationships**, as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.”

Delete this bit:

“The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of Marriage, **on which the Family is founded**, and to protect it against attack.”

Why ‘durable relationships’? Why not add a definition? Because adding precise definitions to the constitution is a really bad idea. You’re guaranteed that after 6 months someone will think of a case that isn’t covered, but if it’s in the constitution we’re stuck.
The Dail can legislate, and the courts are the final arbiter (as with everything else) whether that legislation is compatible with the constitution.

The second referendum concerns these two articles:
Article 41.2.1°

“In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.”

Article 41.2.2°

“The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.”

Both to be deleted, and replaced with
“The State recognises that the provision of care, by members of a family to one another by reason of the bonds that exist among them, gives to Society a support without which the common good cannot be achieved, and shall strive to support such provision.”

Because why are we talking about the life of *women* in the home? Why are we talking about the duties of *mothers*? Do women not have a life outside the home worthy of recognition? Don’t all people have duties in the home? The provision of care, by mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles… is important and valuable, and should be recognised as such whoever carries it out.
The articles about women in the home and duties of mothers have been controversial since the constitution was first written. Women have spent decades trying to get them removed.
This change is backed by the National Womens Council, Family Carers Ireland, and Independent Living Ireland (and the other amendment by Spark, the single parent’s group).
Some people argue that the referendums are not strong enough, that if we reject them we’ll get a chance to vote on better wording. But it has taken endless committees and discussions to get this far. Reject this and no government will touch the issue again for decades. Especially since the loudest No voices are the ones saying they go *too far*, that they undermine marriage and the family and the *special place* of women.
To be blunt, it’s not this or something better. It’s this or nothing.
But this is important! Almost half the babies born in Ireland in 2022 were born outside marriage/civil partnership. Does this mean they were born outside families? Of course not! But that’s what the constitution says.
And are we really going to continue living with sexist language in the constitution about the life of women and duties of mothers in the home? Time to rip out the dead hand of John Charles McQuaid!

Community Recycling

RecycleIT is a social enterprise based in Clondalkin, that collects and recycles electrical, electronic, and metal waste. They provide employment and training, while also reclaiming material that would otherwise go to landfill or incineration.

Black and white image of different electrical goods

Earlier this year, I arranged with RecycleIT to carry out household collections in Drimnagh. Over 3 weeks, they collected material from over 1000 houses. They collected hoovers, fridges, televisions, and loads of smaller items – over 1200kg altogether. This was junk, cluttering up people’s homes, that will now be recycled. It was a big success, and I plan to organise more of these collections over the coming years.

Picking litter in Walkinstown

The Make Walkinstown Great group started at the end of the pandemic, and has been picking litter regularly since then. We meet every two weeks, alternating between Bunting Road (opposite the Kestrel) and the Green Kitchen.

We pick up huge amounts of plastic bottles and cans – let’s hope the deposit return scheme cuts out most of that. (If not, maybe I’ll be able to go professional as a litter picker!) Next on my hit list would be disposable vapes, I’m amazed how many I find dumped on the street every time, along with their boxes and wrappers.

Community Gardens

This morning I was at the Cherry Orchard Community Garden, for a talk on Planning your Winter Vegetable Growing, organised by Dublin Community Growers.

I’m a terrible gardener. I put in short bursts of activity, then do nothing for weeks. But the amazing thing is, despite my neglect, things still grow. Put a seed in the ground and a few months later you’ll have flowers, or food for your dinner – some of the time anyway.

Twenty young tomato plants in my back garden
Too many tomato plants

Community gardens are a great idea. If you don’t have the space yourself, or don’t know what to do, you can work on a joint project with your neighbours. They’re a great antidote to online life – outdoors, meeting people, working and learning together. And you end up with food, plus a very concrete understanding of your environment. There’s a new community garden opening in Crumlin, in Pearse Park – if you live nearby, maybe see if you can get involved?

Liffey Cycle Route

Liffey Cycle Route protest with the Dublin Cycling Campaign

The Dublin Cycling Campaign recently held their first Liffey Cycle Route protest since early 2020. The route has been proposed, opposed, planned, and sent back to planners, many times over the last ten years. I’ve lost track of all the different drafts that have gone through, and I don’t often cycle along the Liffey, so it was interesting to see how much has changed since the last protest, and where the problems remain.
It was hard to get a good sense of the changes in the group cycle, it was a quiet Sunday morning and we were taking the lane in a lot of places, so I went to google maps to compare the north quays from the park to O’Connell street. (The south quays will have to wait for another time)

Parkgate Street is a big improvement. There used to be a shared bus/bike lane full of parked cars, followed by parking inside the bus lane. Now there is a parking-protected cycle lane.

The fork in the road approaching the Aisling hotel is still a problem, and all the way through the junction with Heuston bridge you are on your own.

Things improve again at the Croppies’ Acre, with narrow, but protected, cycle lanes on both sides of the road.

Wolfe Tone Quay is massively improved – car lane out, two-way protected cycle lane in.

All is good until Ellis Quay, where the cycle lane disappears because, hey, it’s interfering with cars. You don’t mind sharing with left-turning vans, do you?

The painted cycle lane along Arran Quay is now protected, although there are gaps. The weirdest section of the route though, is the change from Arran Quay to Inns Quay. First… why this unprotected stretch, with cars pulling in to park, some of them on the path?

And then, why make cyclists switch to a (very nice, wide, protected) lane on the other side of the road?

Cyclists pretty much have to stop at the junction and wait for the lights to change so they can move to the other side of the road. Why?

(Obviously, this is still a massive improvement on the 2019 murderstrip)

The cycle lane is lovely once you’re on it, and continues all the way down past the Ha’penny Bridge, so a good stretch.

Then it just… stops. And the cars that were on your left, on the other side of bollards, are merging into you, and squeezing past a traffic island. It’s all paint from there to O’Connell Street – work is starting now on Eden Quay so I’ll stop there.

Overall, there is a huge improvement since 2019. (I wonder why?) There are long stretches of good cycle lane that you’d be happy to let anyone cycle on. Private car lanes, and car parking, have been removed in places, and progress is being made. But equally, there are sections where the safety of cyclists is being sacrificed for the convenience of drivers.

The hierarchy of road users is simple – pedestrians and cyclists, then public transport, then private vehicles. But the attitude in both the planning department and sections of the council chamber is that a direct route along the quays for private cars must be preserved at all costs. We’re offered disappearing cycle lanes, or a plan to spend millions on boardwalks to make more space, but not the obvious solution. If there’s no room for bikes, buses, and cars on parts of the quays, then the cars have to go.

Cois Abhann Biodiversity Centre

Last year, as part of the Chapelizod Festival, Éanna Ní Lamhna brought a group on a biodiversity walk along the Liffey. It was a fascinating evening – we didn’t walk very far, because it seemed like every few steps there was something new to talk about, some insects or plants that opened up a whole world of science and folklore.

The crowd eating out of the palm of her hand

Just downstream from where we walked, a new biodiversity centre will be opening soon. Liffey Vale House is being rebuilt, with a classroom, cafe, and toilets, and the grounds will be a mix of gardens and natural wilderness. You can see the plans here (PDF). It should be a great spot to bring kids to learn about biodiversity, and will attract tourists cycling out along the Liffey, or coming from Phoenix Park.

Wonderful Walkinstown

Picking litter with the Make Walkinstown Great group

I’ve lived in Walkinstown with my family for over twenty years, but in some ways it took the pandemic to make me appreciate it properly. We have everything we need in the neighbourhood – parks, a library, and a great range of shops and cafes.

Some of the festival committee, with Lord Mayor Caroline Conroy

Helping to organise the Wonderful Walkinstown Festival was one way for me to give something back to the community. It was great to see how many community groups were there with their stands, and how many local businesses were happy to support us. We’ll be back at the end of August, even bigger and better!

One problem we had on the day was safe access to the park. Lidl and O’Neills on Walkinstown Avenue were kind enough to let people park there for the festival, but there is no pedestrian crossing between there and the park. Families with children were waiting for gaps in the traffic before running across the road – something that happens there every day, not just during the festival.

I’ve requested a pedestrian crossing at this spot – I’m still waiting for a decision from the council. But it’s not just here. Many of the roads in Walkinstown are unsafe because there is too much traffic, and drivers are using residential streets as a shortcut. Between the Long Mile Road and Walkinstown Avenue, between Walkinstown Road and Cromwellsfort Road, between Cromwellsfort Road and Crumlin village, we’ve all seen the cars speeding through, saving them a couple of minutes but making our streets more dangerous.

We need safer streets – in Walkinstown, and all across the city. It should be possible to push a buggy or a wheelchair down the path without being forced onto the road by inconsiderately-parked cars. Everyone should be able to get around their neighbourhood safely, on foot or on a bike. Cleaner, quieter, safer streets are better for everyone.

Rivers and Rain

I was at a meeting in March organised by the Protection of Water Bodies office in Dublin City Council, to discuss two new trials of Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) along the Dodder.

As part of the EU Water Framework Directive, all rivers, lakes, and coastal waters are assessed, and given a grade from High to Bad. A High quality river has clean water, and a healthy ecosystem in and alongside the river. The Dodder is only at Moderate status, and needs to be brought up to at least Good.

When landscape is in a natural state, most rainwater is absorbed by the ground, and makes its way into rivers very slowly.

We’re all familiar with the fact that deforestation leads to flooding – when trees are cut down and the land is cleared, it won’t hold as much water. When it rains, the water flows into the rivers too quickly, causing flooding downstream. In rural areas, we’ve drained wetlands, removing a natural sponge, and water flowing off grasslands often carries nutrients from fertiliser, causing algal growth in rivers and killing fish.

In urban areas, rainwater runs straight off concrete and tarmac into drains. Too much rainwater – and at this stage it doesn’t take much – and the rainwater spills over into the sewage system and washes that into the river. But even ‘pure’ rainwater is carrying rubber particles (from car tyres) and other surface pollutants into the river.

So, the aim of a sustainable drainage system is to slow the movement of rainwater into the rivers, to stop flooding and mixing with sewage, and to filter the water on the way. There are two prototype developments being worked on along the Dodder river, both of which should start construction in late 2023 or early 2024.

All of the rainwater on Eglinton Road flows into a single storm drain, which then flows into the Dodder. At the moment, all of the surfaces on the road are hard – concrete and tarmac – and the water flows right off. The proposal is to install permeable surfaces on the cycle lanes and parking spaces, allowing water to soak into the ground. More soil will be exposed around trees, and there will be new planting, also allowing water to soak in. Some water will still make its way into the storm drain, but at a slower rate, and the plants and soil will filter out some of the particle pollutants.

Milltown Road is closer to the Dodder, and right now rainwater flows directly from the gutters through a drain into the river. The proposal is to direct the water into shallow ditches and basins in the park. Water will collect in these areas during wet weather, soak into the ground and be absorbed by plants. Less water will flow into the river, and the plants will benefit from having water available during dry spells.

Other trials are going ahead on the river Santry (which has worse water quality). These nature-based solutions can then be applied all across Dublin, and help us restore life to our rivers.