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'Assumptions were made about the type of people living in Ballymun, and the type they should become'

A documentary set to air on TV3 next week showcases how locals in Ballymun feel let down by the regeneration over the past few decades.

Source: WaveUponWave/YouTube

AS PEOPLE FLED tenement houses in Dublin city centre in their droves in the 1960s, Ballymun stepped into the breach to become the country’s first high-rise housing suburb.

Grand plans to solve a housing crisis became plagued with difficulties over the ensuing years with tenants left without many basic amenities and services for many years.

On Good Friday, a documentary will air on TV3 claiming that efforts to subsequently regenerate Ballymun over the years was a “highly ideological process” that sought to subdue any counter-cultural aspects of the area in favour of “ruling class thinking”.

‘Traumatic’ change

Director Turlough Kelly and producer Andrew Keogh had originally set out to make a mini-drama series about Ballymun just prior to the demolition of the last of the iconic block of flats in 2015.

Soon, however, the project quickly changed.

Keogh told TheJournal.ie that the project expanded very quickly once the filmmakers got hold of archive footage from the area where locals were essentially telling the story of the regeneration as it was happening.

He said: “One of the key things is that, in one sense, this physical landscape was about to change beyond all recognition.

The people of Ballymun were told that the problems in their area would be fixed by regeneration. Through this filming process we could see the problems are still there, but that something else had been taken away.

An overwhelming sense of community shone through despite the problems that were present in the area in the 1980s and 1990s, according to the filmmakers. But, as the flats came tumbling done, what they were replaced with didn’t result in wholesale improvements for the people there, they said.

Kelly told TheJournal.ie: “The regeneration was supposed to be giving the people of Ballymun the things they lacked, and a lot of time and money and effort [was made] into selling that concept.”

In the “masterplan” for the Ballymun regeneration in the 1990s, its managing director Ciaran Murray said that people in the area had an “indomitable spirit despite years of neglect, high levels of unemployment and a lack of even the most basic facilities and amenities”.

He added that the strategy proposed an “integrated strategy for the social, economic and physical renewal of the area”.

90394502_90394502 The last tower in Ballymun as it was being demolished in 2015 Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

According to the filmmakers, however, the regeneration focused instead on undoing existing local structures in an attempt to rid the area of the social ills that it had become synonymous with across Ireland.

Kelly said: “Assumptions were made about the type of people living in Ballymun, and the type of people they would have to become.

There was a very definite attempt to undermine and replace the structures of local solidarity that had kept the community afloat through decades of challenges and hardship.

They said that one document that was part of the regeneration, a research paper called Breaking Ground which was the cultural part of the project, sought to reinforce the sense that the community that had built up in Ballymun must be changed to support the regeneration.

The filmmakers said: “The document states that ‘in order to attract the private sector into Ballymun, the area must pertain to values of the professional classes’.

It goes on to say that the designated arts funding can achieve this aim through ‘the education of a social group in line with ruling-class thinking’.

Community spirit’

Kelly, who grew up in the area, explained that – despite issues of crime and drugs that Ballymun was to become synonymous with – these problems were at odds with the sense of community felt by so many area in the area.

“What’s undeniable is the vibrant community sector that was there,” he said. “It’s hard to come to any other conclusion that this was systematically dismantled.”

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In one section of the documentary, a timeline list of roughly 50 to 60 community organisations is gradually whittled down as the official regeneration project progresses throughout the 1990s and 2000s.

Keogh said: “There was a diversity and richness in the community. There was a unique togetherness. But as buildings and the landscape gets changed in a regeneration, something gets lost.”

Kelly added that it was the people of Ballymun themselves who originally drove the calls for regeneration but that the eventual plans were at odds with what those in the community felt was best.

He said: “It was always the biggest sore point for everyone, they felt the community was being misrepresented, a by-word for crime and drugs. That did exist, but it didn’t represent the totality of people’s experiences.

You certainly get that sense of regret, resentment, bitterness. A billion euro was spent on this, and the community ended up with no shopping centre at the end of it. That’s almost an achievement in itself.
Most people in Ballymun would the say the vision ultimately enacted was not the vision Ballymun people had.

The documentary closes with the story of a woman refusing to leave her home of 20 years, as the local authority seeks to tear down the last block of flats in Ballymun.

Kelly called her story almost a “microcosm” of the story of the people of Ballymun.

The woman, unsatisfied that the alternative accommodation that was offered to her was not what had been originally promised, “stuck it out as long as she could”.

“It was deeply eerie,” Kelly said. “Being the last resident in a huge tower block. She was there completely on her own.

She had to deal with anti-social behaviour there, but that place she’d been for so many years was better for her than leaving it for something else. This is where she’d raised her children. But now she had to go. Not to downplay her own experience, but her story is a microcosm for how a lot of people felt what was promised was not really delivered.

The 4th Act will be screened on TV3 on Friday 30 March at 11pm. 

Read: ‘We have waited a long time’: Council plans to demolish Ballymun Shopping Centre

Read: Ballymun Sinn Féin councillor resigns citing ‘orchestrated bullying campaign’ in area

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Sean Murray

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