WITH THE COLLAPSE of the public/private partnership in 2009 between Dublin City Council and several private developers, residents of Dublin’s Dolphin’s Barn have been left in living conditions far worse than those previous to the proposed regeneration of the area.
For over 20 years Dolphin House has been troubled by severe damp and in more recent years by raw sewage rising up through sinks, baths, toilets and also into washing machines. The effect these conditions are having on the living standards and health of residents is highlighted in a recent survey that found 45 per cent of adults and 42 per cent of children, either has suffered, or is suffering from some form of pulmonary disease.
Sabina Byrne, a mother of four and long-term resident of Dolphin House, describes how her youngest daughter spent her first birthday in hospital with pneumonia and bronchitis and has now developed asthma, a condition which she now shares with her two older brothers.
Negotiations on the proposed regeneration began in 2005 between the Council and local community groups, with the intention of developing a plan that would not only see the complex rebuilt to modern standards, but also to provide education and employment in the area, address social issues and create initiatives around family support.
However, public-private partnerships, the intended method of the Council to regenerate Dolphin’s Barn and 14 other similar areas in Dublin city centre, are essentially commercial ventures whereby the Council invites a private developer to build units on public land, with the developer taking a certain number of these units as payment, and the Council taking the rest for local authority usage. In other words it is property speculation.
In many areas, only the first stage of regeneration – de-tenanting – has been undertaken
Dolphin’s Barn is made up of 436 local authority units, 392 of these make up Dolphin House, with the remaining 44 units making up Dolphin Park which is a block specifically for elderly members of the community. The public-private partnership would have seen 600 housing, commercial and community units being built, with 300 units going to the developers and 300 units to the Council.
The Council’s approach to regeneration is surmised by their mantra of: De-tenant, Destroy and Develop. Had this cycle been completed, it is very likely that the regeneration would have been hailed a success, as is the case with the Fatima Mansions complex. However, Fatima is currently the only area where the process has been completed. In many areas only the first stage, that of de-tenanting, has been undertaken. This has left areas such as O’Devaney Gardens with a community of 98 families where once there were 276 families or St Teresa’s Gardens where there were 340 occupied flats and now 120 of these are unoccupied.
Not only has this mismanagement on the behalf of Dublin City Council broken up communities – the exact opposite of what the regeneration of an area is intended to do – it has also meant that many flats are left empty, while neighbouring flats are occupied. This adds to corrosive damp in the flats, where insufficient insulation has meant that the problem is already widespread.
In late 2009, under the guidance of the Community Action Network (CAN) and community workers, residents of Dolphin’s Barn set up the Rialto Rights in Action Group, and organisation that is taking a Human Rights approach to the community’s plight. What residents are claiming is that the Council and the Irish government are in breach of the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), a convention that Ireland signed up to under the Labour/Fine Gael coalition in 1973. What this means, is that under international law the state is responsible for providing adequate housing that safeguards against damp and health threats, and also to provide and maintain a functioning sewage system.
The Human Rights approach uses a system called the Principle of Progressive Realisation. This system has allowed the residents to monitor and evaluate the States compliance with Human Rights obligations through the tracking of both qualitative and quantitative indicators over a sustained period of time. The evidence gathered from these indicators shows that the State is not fulfilling its responsibility.
This video shows the conditions in which some residents are living:
YouTube video via DCTV/Dolphin House Community Project/CAN.
Eoin Lynch is a writer and film-maker with Tengger Productions.