Tuesday, 18 May 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I have put down this matter to ask the Minister for Defence if he will make a statement on the use of Defence Forces playing fields in the Dublin 6 and Dublin 6W areas by local sports clubs.
This relates to an ongoing issue which has been the subject of some correspondence between the Minister and me and has been the subject of a motion before Dublin City Council. It relates to the serious lack of playing fields and sports amenities for local children in the Rathmines, Ranelagh and Harold's Cross areas. Councillor Mary Freehill, our local Labour Party councillor, and I have been working for some time to try to secure access to playing fields for local children and their sports clubs because of this serious shortage.
We have requested the Minister for Defence to make available greater access in particular to the playing fields at Cathal Brugha Barracks. These barracks have a playing field on the southern end, which has been well-established as a playing field for many decades. Local sports clubs currently have access, notably Ranelagh Gaels and Portobello GAA. However, the Ranelagh Gaels club, in particular, is growing fast and has large numbers of children. The access is not sufficient.
We are glad to see the significant increase in demand for playing fields in recent years. It is partly due to a welcome rise in the participation of young girls in sport. Ranelagh Gaels projects it will have equal participation between girls and boys by 2023. However, because there are no other publicly owned playing fields in the Rathmines area, the lack of access to facilities is hampering the growth of the clubs and the development of children's sports.I wrote to the Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney, on this matter in April. My colleague, Councillor Mary Freehill, put down a motion at Dublin City Council on 12 April to transfer the pitch to council ownership in order to rezone it as Z9 to preserve, provide and improve recreational amenities, open space and green networks in the area. The transfer would enable the council to invest in the pitch and develop the facilities there as an important public amenity. Unfortunately, the Minister has responded by saying that the fields are used as training fields by the Defence Forces and he is not willing to accede to the request that the aforementioned motion be supported.
I am raising this as a Commencement matter to ask the Minister to commit to providing greater access to the fields for the local clubs. Opening up the grounds could serve local primary and secondary schools as well, including the new Educate Together schools campus on Harold's Cross Road, near the old greyhound stadium site. Those schools, both primary and secondary, are looking for access to playing fields. All children and young people in the area should be enabled, facilitated and encouraged to play sport in recognition of the essential role exercise plays in their development and well-being. We have all become very conscious over the last year or more of the enormous loss to children and young people, not just of school and education through prolonged school closures but also of other development opportunities through the lack of availability of sports training and extra-curricular activities.
According to the Government's own website, the Defence Forces property portfolio consists of approximately 70 sites, with lands comprising approximately 21,000 acres. Clearly Cathal Brugha Barracks is a small part of that but in relative terms in the area, it comprises a large green space that is publicly owned and that should be made available, in an enhanced way, to local clubs. Those clubs really would benefit from the development of facilities there. I also speak here in my capacity as a parent. My own children have played sport there so I am well aware of what is there and I understand the importance of that green space to the local area. It could benefit from greater development and greater access to clubs and local people.