DLR County Council Meeting 12th June

June DLR County Council Meeting
Monday 12th June 5pm, County Hall, Dun Laoghaire

Multiple motions were presented and unanimously passed by Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Councillors this week in support of stopping the sale of school lands at Our Lady’s Grove and Clonkeen College. All Councillors were extremely supportive of our campaign, and acknowledged that this was a huge and urgent issue for the entire DLR area and beyond.

One motion asked that a report be prepared on the strength of "the Development Plan to protect the lands of OLG and Clonkeen College and to outline the feasibility, legal, and financial implications of a rezoning from Zone A to F should such an approach be agreed." This report will be presented at the next Council meeting on July 3rd.

One expressed major concerns at the "proposed sale of lands by the Congregation of Christian Brothers to the rear of Clonkeen College and by the Religious Order of Jesus and Mary (RJM) adjacent to Our Lady's Grove Primary and Secondary schools. This Council requests that the Chief Executive prepare a report detailing the location and zoning of every school in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown and outline the current policy and what strength of protection for educational and recreational use is in the current County Development Plan".

The final one stated more broadly: "That this Council agrees to write to the Taoiseach and Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government calling on the Government to review legislation relating to the compulsory purchase of religious lands."

The public gallery was full of Our Lady’s Grove parents (thank you so much for your time), for this extremely long council meeting. The meeting got heated at times and there was some confusion at first on different motions and amendments to motions, but in the end, everyone agreed that all parties needed to work together to get the best possible result. 
Councillors spoke to either OLG or Clonkeen depending on their ward, some spoke to both schools, but everyone was in agreement that every effort should be made to ensure that the lands remain in school usage. You can watch the whole meeting on webcast or here are a few highlights, starting with Councillors in our Dundrum ward:

Cllr Shay Brennan (Fianna Fail) “I can’t believe we even have to have this debate. I am genuinely sickened that in a modern Ireland there even has to be a discussion on how we might prevent school facilities being sacrificed in favour of profits. Worse here, we’re not just talking about one single isolated incident. I know research by our colleagues in the Green Party has shown that 90% of school land in this county is currently zoned as Residential. That means that 9 out of 10 school lands are vulnerable. You may not think it likely that all zoned residential will be sold off but keeping in context the value of land in DLR, its some of the most valuable land in the country, and Its already proved valuable enough to encourage to separate religious orders in the past couple of months to proceed down the route of executing sales.
I’m not denying for one second that there’s a housing crisis in this county. There are many complex reasons why we have a housing shortage in this county; construction cost, land cost, low profit margins, lack of capacity to build, land hoarding, but to the best of my knowledge lack of land to build on is not one of the primary issues. According to a housing report in July 2016 that we debated in this chamber, there are 1581 acres of undeveloped zoned land available for residential development within the county of DLR. That’s enough for 33000 housing units. If this is truly the case and I’ve no reason to believe it isn’t, then why do we need to rush into constructing apartments and houses on our children’s playing fields.”

Cllr Karen Furlong (Green Party) “First of all I’d like to commend the parents of Our Lady’s Grove who are here today. I met them a couple of weeks ago and there and then they started a campaign which has turned out to be phenomenal and it’s got us all here talking about it today.
I don’t think anyone needs to point out the utter stupidity, the wrongheadedness and the unfairness of everything that’s happened. That’s a given. We have a housing crisis, yes, but we don’t need, as Cllr Ward said, we don’t need to solve it by building on every final blade of grass that we have for our children.

The motion we have today, we are asking the council executive to go away and come back to us at the 2nd July meeting with a report on what is possible. Talk to us about the risks. Talk to us about the legal and financial implications. Let us consider them and then let us make a decision. And I for one am not afraid to make a decision with risk as long as it’s informed risk. There are too many people hiding behind, including the Minister for Education, hiding behind; ‘We can’t do this. We can’t intervene.’ We need them now to step in and step up but I want us to lead by example.”

Cllr Pat Hand (Fine Gael) “I think this piece of land is so important for Our Ladys grove. I’m a member of the Dublin Dun Loaghaire Education Training Board so I do see facilities throughout Dublin, and this is what Our Lady’s Grove needs.”

Cllr Brian Murphy (Fine Gael) “With regard to Our Lady’s Grove – this is a vital local amenity, it’s of crucial importance to the quality of life of local residents.”

Cllr Sorcha Nic Cormaic (Sinn Fein) “We’ve a huge responsibility in the case of Our Lady’s Grove, because the land is actually already going through the process of changing ownership but it isn’t just about Clonkeen or Our Ladys Grove. If these sales go through, you’ve developers across the land opening up maps and having a look at institutional zoned land, looking for easy pickings, and trustees of schools and schools themselves will also be looking for opportunities maybe to make money because they’ll follow the example of these sales if they go through. We really have a duty to do everything we can to stop this. I understand how important it is to have this recreational land attached to schools. Once this land is gone, you can never get it back. You can’t create land from nothing. They’re needed now more than they were 40/50 years ago when this land was gifted for educational purposes to these institutions.”

Cllr Barry Saul (Fine Gael) was passionate about protection of open space. He showed three aerial photographs of Our Lady’s Grove in 2009, 2016 and 2017, graphic in explaining the change to the land. “The pictures paint many, many thousands of words and the grass areas will effectively be gone from Our Lady’s Grove unless we take action. I’m not afraid to support rezoning and down-zonings of land to protect the very limited areas of grass left in these schools.”

Cllr Ward (Fine Gael) “We have a housing crisis. The answer to the housing crisis is not to take every piece of land that’s actually being usefully used and concrete it over and build houses on it. The reality of what has happened here is it’s essentially brinkmanship on behalf of Orders that owe the State millions of euro and instead of actually dealing with that and selling assets that they could reasonably dispose of, they are involved in a high stakes game of chicken with the Department of Education and we’re stuck in the middle. Now I think it beholds us as Councillors to use whatever powers we have to bring pressure to bare to make sure that what is being proposed, doesn’t happen. In actual fact, I don’t think it will happen because I think, as I say they’re involved in a game of chicken with the Department and they’re hoping that the government will take time to offset these lands against their debts. That’s not on. And it’s not on to play with this important amenity for schools, and there are more than just 2 schools, there will be others. To play with these amenities and use them as pawns in a game of chess with the Department. I think as Councillors, and I would welcome the advise from the managers in this respect, we should do what we have to do and I would like to know if by doing that, we expose ourselves to any liability in that regard.”

Cllr Denis O’Callaghan (Labour) found it appalling and unacceptable. "The attempt to sell off lands essential for the future of the college, essential for the intellectual and physical development of students and young people, begs belief. It would be a disaster if this land were taken from the college. These lands should be in State ownership. Legislation needs to be changed in order to do that. No matter what zoning is on that land, they are still in private ownership and that’s the problem.”

Cllr John Bailey (Fine Gael) expressed his disappointment at receiving a letter from the Christian Brothers just prior to the Council meeting warning them that bids to block a residential development at Clonkeen would have “financial consequences”. He said: “If we reject this motion we reject the future of our children. No child in this county should be sacrificed for a planner, a developer or a speculator and the school land of Clonkeen college will always remain the school land of Clonkeen College.”

Cllr John Kennedy (Fine Gael) “I think it would have been preferable to have a zoning objective in place to safeguard school land in this regard. Other councils I know have more specialized zoning that perhaps we can look at and take elements from for the future. I do think however in a city context we need national legislation to support that if we are looking at a new zoning objective as well so it’s not just entirely on our shoulders but something we should definitely have going forward.”

Cllr Donal Smith (Fianna Fail) “What has happened here is a result of poor government policy, and not just this government but previous governments as well, and they’re failing. There are two aspects of that policy. The first one is to forcefully push the sale of assets to meet redress obligations without due regard to the consequences. And the second aspect is ignoring the iceberg, which is being caused by the aging demographics in religious communities who own so many school grounds and facilities around the country. What is needed here is State intervention. We’re not in communist Russia. The State has to step in, take out its cheque book where necessary and pay for these lands.

I went to Our Lady’s Grove, I had the pleasure as a child playing in those fields and I want every child in the future to have that same pleasure.”

Peter O’Brien (Labour) “Although we express concern over particular sites at Clonkeen and Our Ladys Grove, I’ve a wider concern that this will affect other schools in the county. We’re calling on the executive to come back with a report on all schools in DLR, stating it’s zoning and also what protections lies within the current county development plan, the strength of them, and will this protect them for educational and recreational use. This may be the tip of the iceberg.”

Cllr Melisa Halpin (People Before Profit) “Everybody in this room agrees that the current students should not have to pay for the heinous crimes of the Christian Brothers over the decades, whether they’re in Our Lady’s Grove or Clonkeen or wherever in the country. This is a result of the failure of successive governments to take on the Church… the Michael Woods agreement that let them off. When the Ryan Report came out, why not insist that they continue to pay? Why do they get away with just paying 13% of what they owed. This should have been dealt with by successive Governments and it has been let slip.

Congratulations to the people from both schools who have showered us in emails and looked for us to do something and we support the plans that there are for next months council meeting but the target should now be the minister. We can see what we can do but the target is the Minister, the government, the full government. Not only should you be targeting the whole government and saying use your influence and anybody in this room who has more influence with the current governments than we do, please get onto them and say they cannot do this. Take the lands off them and compulsory purchase orders should be allowed.”

Cllr Patricia Stewart (Fine Gael) spoke to Clonkeen College. “I feel that they acted covertly, they worked against the interests and behind the backs of the schools who actually trusted them and they may have acted within the law to sell this field but I think we should expect better of them. I mean I have my doubts about this motion and where it’s going to go because I think that we should all be addressing the congregation of Christian Brothers directly. They aren’t acknowledging anyone’s letters and they’re not answering phone calls that people are putting in. And I would like to say that there isn’t a person in this country who’d have pursued the Christian brothers to meet their redress obligations by the sale of playing fields. Not one. No one in this country would want that and I think it’s disingenuous of them to suggest that that’s why they’re doing it and that’s exactly what they’re saying, it’s only because of the redress. I feel everyone should be getting at the Christian brothers, they’re the ones who did this, they’re the ones who own it, they’re the perpetrators and they’re the people doing wrong. It’s immoral what they’re doing.”

Cllr Mary Hanafin (Fianna Fail) thinks the solution lies with the Minister of Education. “There’s nothing to stop the Department of Education accepting land in lieu of at least €10 million. They then could use that land for any school but particularly for the new Dun Laoghaire Educate Together School, which they themselves have just sanctioned. This would be ideal for an education campus, where you’d have primary school, secondary school and shared facilities.”

Cllr Ossian Smyth (Green Party) said “Clonkeen College was marked as institutional lands on the 2010 zoning map and in 2016 that’s gone. “It’s never too late to do the right thing. The Christian Brothers will be remembered for what their last action was and it will overshadow everything else. They can fully redeem themselves and obtain forgiveness by doing the right thing at this stage.”

Cllr Cormac Devlin (Fianna Fail) “The loss of any sizeable open space around a school that children require for recreational purposes and for schools to develop and grow should be lamented and should be prevented if we can through whatever means possible.”


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