Paving paradise to put up a parking lot
A communal garden that has become a centre for a local community in west Dublin is threatened with destruction by the local Catholic Church, Áine Mannion reports.
The Balgaddy Community Garden was started on derelict land in October 2010. Since then, local volunteers have worked to develop the approximately one acre of land into an oasis of horticultural activity which is utilised by local groups including Tidy Towns, “Sweet Peas”, a wood craft crew and Junior Park Rangers.
At the centre of an estate mostly comprising social housing, in an area with a large number of lone parents and ethnically diverse families, the garden has proven to be a vital local amenity.
According to Lorraine Hennessy, a community activist and founding member of the Balgaddy Working Together group, the garden has become a focal point for the community.
“The community garden was the only place where everybody could come and everybody got to meet each other. It was the first focal point for breaking down the barriers within the community, within the different estates and people from different backgrounds and different interests.”
However since 2013, the garden has been under threat. A letter to residents from the local Pastoral Council of the Catholic Church stated that as part of a drive to fund a new parish centre the land the community garden is on “will be leased on a short term basis to provide much-needed funds.” It is understood locally that the garden is to become a carpark.
In an email to the local People Before Profit Councillor, Ruth Nolan, Fr. Eamon P. Bourke of the local Pastoral Council said: “The parish has provided this land [for the community garden] free of charge for the past four years. The parish has also run the Bush Centre on a shoestring budget without any financial or other support from South Dublin County Council or anywhere else.
“Even though there is no obligation on the parish community to do so, we have provided facilities that are the responsibility of South Dublin County Council. These facilities have been enjoyed by many, many people over the years and are we now to be demonised for such generosity?”
However, this version of events is disputed by residents. By the late 1990s, the few social facilities in the Balgaddy area, amounting to little more than a shop and a phonebox, were gone. The only facility the area had was the Bush Centre, a temporary building used as a crèche, community centre and Roman Catholic church.
We got left behind. The community was left behind.
When plans were developed for the building of an extra 465 houses in the area over five years, an agreement was made between South Dublin County Council (SDCC), the South Lucan Parish, developers and residents that a permanent church would be built and the Bush Centre redeveloped for community facilities.
Despite issues regarding the transfer of land from the council, the Church of the Divine Mercy opened in September 2000. The Bush Centre, which continued to function as a community centre, was not redeveloped.
Lorraine Hennessy says: “We got left behind. The community was left behind. The Church built the Parochial House on land earmarked for community facilities.
“The Church went ahead even though it had a promise to provide something for the community. When any developer goes in there has to be some kind of contribution towards the community, whether it’s a building, an amenity, or cash for a project. The Church had that obligation when they were developing but it was alright for them to overlook that and then accuse the women in our community, to demonise the women.”
Aside from the immediate concern about the demolition of a valued community asset to make way for a carpark, the eviction of the Balgaddy Community Garden raises issues about the nature of community consultation.
Over the last 20 years, members of the Balgaddy community have gone to great lengths to participate in consultation with both SDCC and the Clondalkin, Lucan, Palmerstown and Newcastle Area Partnership. Those who kept seeing each other at these meetings set up the Balgaddy Working Together Group, as an umbrella organisation to bring together the issues faced in the different estates.
Concerns about damp and mould in the new local authority housing were dismissed by SDCC and now the Balgaddy Working Together Group is one of several community organisations bringing a case against the State to the European Court of Human Rights over the impact on residents’ right to housing.
The Group also spent over a decade trying to get SDCC objectives for social amenities implemented. When the lack of green space was raised, SDCC came up with plans for the garden. Members of the group believe this was a method to force them to stop talking about housing standards. Although the Balgaddy Working Together Group was recognised as the developer of the community garden and all funding came through them, the Group now finds itself frozen out of consultation in favour of the Church.
Lorraine Hennessy says that the Church “would much rather provide a pastoral centre as it would serve the purposes of the Church rather than the greater community and would serve the purposes of the parish rather than the immediate community where the parish is built.”
Community activists fear that if a parish centre is built – with a small patch for gardening – SDCC will be able to say it has achieved its Local Development Plan objectives and will never have to develop real community facilities for the area.