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Dublin: 12 °C Tuesday 15 October, 2019
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Court challenge brought against use of Dublin community centre as homeless hostel

Dublin City Council says it is reacting to a “humanitarian crisis”.

Image: Google Maps

A CHALLENGE AGAINST Dublin City Council’s decision allowing a former community centre in the Liberties be used as a hostel for homeless people has opened before the High Court.

The action has been brought by local residents in relation to the former Parish Centre at Carman’s Hall, Francis Street in Dublin 8 which opened before Christmas as an emergency temporary accommodation for rough sleepers with a capacity of 65 beds.

If the residents are successful in the action the hostel run by the Simon Community and the Salvation Army, will face closure. The residents want the building, which is owned by Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, used as a community centre.

The hall, which the residents claim was used as a community centre for many years was closed in 2013 over accessibility and fire safety concerns. The residents claim they have campaigned for over the last three years to have the building used as a community centre.

In their action Carman’s Hall Community Interest Group, Michael Mallin House Residents Association and community worker Elizabeth O’Connor claim DCC’s decision of 28 October last authorising a change of use and refurbishment of the building is unlawful and in breach of the planning laws.

In proceedings against DCC the residents seek an order quashing DCCs decision permitting the change of use.

DCC oppose the action. It says the facility was opened to deal with the “humanitarian crisis” of rough sleepers in Dublin.

Serious situation

Opening the case Declan McGrath SC, appearing with Niall Handy Bl, for the residents said his clients accepted there was a serious homeless situation at present.

The residents have every sympathy with those sleeping rough and had first hand experience of homelessness. However he said there was much anger in the locality over the “underhand way” in which DCC went about converting the Hall, which his clients want used as a community centre, into a homeless accommodation.

DCC were in talks about using Carman’s Hall as accommodation for the homeless as far back as last May.

A lease was signed in September, but the first local people and public representatives for the area knew about it was in late October, “when there were boots on the ground,” when works started on the building, counsel said.

DCC did this because it knew there would be public opposition to the facility, counsel said.

Counsel added that part of their case is the are over saturated with such facilities and services for the homeless. Counsel said it is also part of their case that by not going through the public consultation process in regards to a change of use of the building DCC are in material contravention of the Dublin City development plan.

He said the residents are also concerned about assurances from DCC that the building is to be used as a temporary facility. In other situations such facilities “turned out to be anything but temporary,” counsel said.

Over-saturated

In its statement of opposition DCC, represented by James Connolly SC and Stephen Dodd Bl, rejects claims the change of use amounts to a material contravention of the City Development plan or that the area is over-saturated with facilities for the homeless.

The hall was offered to it as use as accommodation for the homeless was the in May 2016. In a letter to the court the local Parish Priest Fr Martin Dolan said the building was never a “community centre”.

He said It was used primarily used for Catholic members of the Parish of Francis Street and any group they decided to share it with. He said he and the local parish council voted unanimously to lease the property to DCC with “the specific purpose of housing people who are forced to sleep rough on the streets of the city.”

Fr Dolan added that as a Catholic Community they also felt “a moral imperative to fully support this project.”

The action was launched in early December, when the locals secured permission to bring proceedings against DCC when residents secured a stay preventing the hostel from opening.

Following a High Court hearing before Christmas the stay was lifted allowing the hostel to open.

The hearing before Mr Justice Donald Binchy continues.

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Aodhan O Faolain

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