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Na Gaeil Óga - Response to Club Executive and members

Updated: May 26

Fáilte roimh Gaeilge

Is maith liom Ghaeilge a labhairt gach seans atá agam. Tá brón orm nach bhfuil chaighdéan Ghaeilge agam chomh ard chun a lán focail oifigiúl a usaid anseo. Ach labhair liom i bpearsanta agus dheanfaidh mé mo dhícheall. So apologies for this response being as Béarla.

This is a response that I hope the club has linked to in its entirety, having formally been given one day's notice to agree to a list of demands, two weeks away from a local election, despite having not been contacted by the club directly in two years about these demands, let alone being asked to a meeting to sit down with the club, go through all the objectives and challenges and look at ways to assist in a meaningful way. Maybe other Councillors were contacted, but as of now I am only aware of Fine Gael elected representatives being contacted.

Commitment to support club

At the outset, I support Na Gaeil Óga in its aims of getting a pitch in Tandy's Lane and finding a suitable pitch in or near Griffeen Valley Park. I have raised issues and tabled queries on behalf of members already and there may be some positive news in the offing if a response I received recently is anything to go by (see photo below). I recognise that the majority of the club's juvenile members are now Lucan based and access to Lucan pitches is a necessity. I also support the concept of an Irish quarter given the large number of Irish speakers in Lucan and the need to encourage the everyday use of the Irish language, not just by those lucky enough to be fluent, but also for those who have a love of the language and want to use it as regularly as they can to the best of their ability. However I will not be arbitrarily signing up to a list of demands that I cannot guarantee can or will be delivered as a whole within a reasonable timeframe (see section "Not engaging in auction politics for votes").

Indications of progress

This response below is to a query I submitted on the 14th of April, BEFORE the current list of demands were circulated. However it was only replied to on Thursday 23rd of May. It states that Na Gaeil Óga "will receive an allocation in their local area" (my highlighting) for the 2024/25 season. I do not know at this stage whether this will be at Tandy's Lane Park, so we will all have to wait for the formal announcement.

Not engaging in auction politics for votes

That said, I will not be simply ticking boxes for the three demands in a desperate attempt to gain or keep votes. I don't believe that the membership will fall for this in any event. But if this loses me votes from some people, so be it. I've done a lot of work over the last five years and am reasonably confident I will be re-elected; if so I hope that the club executive will start engaging in a meaningful way in the next term with all of the 10 Councillors who form the Lucan Palmerstown North Clondalkin Area Committee rather than playing political games.

The issues in making progress on pitch allocation are complex and nuanced and require a co-ordinated, cohesive strategy with everyone working together in unison. I will elaborate later in this article. But the Irish quarter demand is particularly under-developed, wishy-washy and, dare I say it, flippy-floppy (again see specific section below "Irish Quarter Plan lacks detail") and no elected rep would be able to promise with any certainty that this and the three objectives as a whole can be achieved in a short timeframe.

Raising issues on behalf of members

Since February in particular I have been contacted by a number of parents of juvenile players about issues facing the club. Whether this was the beginning of a club strategy or organic, I welcomed the dialogue and have had some good engagement by phone, email and text with these individual members and parents since then, while at all times being totally honest and upfront about the challenges facing the club in achieving its full objectives. I have raised a number of queries on their behalf, querying the policy regarding the sharing of pitches, querying the reasons why SDCC is not allocating space in Griffeen Valley Park and speaking in support of the club at several Council meetings. At no time was an Irish quarter mentioned during these discussions, only Tandy's Lane Park and/or Griffeen Valley Park.

Lack of engagement by office holders in the club

While I welcome the long and detailed chats and correspondence I've been having with members of the club, these discussions were in a vacuum in terms of club strategy. Because as I stated, at no time since the summer of 2022 did anyone holding an official senior position within the club seek to engage with me or to my knowledge most of the Councillors in our local area. The first I heard of the Irish quarter demand, for example, was a few days ago! However this idea has been floating around in Fine Gael circles for at least two years as you will see under the heading "Irish Quarter plan lacks detail".

The last official correspondence received

In July 2022 I received a letter from Daithí de Buitléir headed "Cuireadh chun tacaíochta / Invitation for support - Na Gaeil Óga CLG". He added:

"I am writing to you on behalf of Na Gaeil Óga CLG. We seek your support to ensure that South Dublin County Council grants Na Gaeil Óga exclusive use of a GAA pitch in Lucan for the year 2022/2023."

He went on to ask me to sign a letter of support in this regard.

I replied that I had no problem providing a letter of support but I wasn't sure what improvement this would lead to in of itself. I suggested that seeking a Deputation meeting would be a good way to try and make progress. I provided the links and pointed out that this would allow 45 minutes for the club to put its case forward to officials, with Councillors also present at such a meeting to provide support.

I did not get any feedback to this suggestion, in fact I received no other communication after that.

Tandy's Lane Pitch

I have supported calls for this pitch to go to NGÓ, having previously queried whether it was fit for purpose in terms of size. However it should be ready to allocate when works are completed to improve it shortly, but Councillors do not adjudicate on who gets what pitch; this is the remit of the unelected officials who will decide based on submissions received in the context of a shortage of pitch spaces overall - which they facilitated in not planning properly, supported by certain politicians when we had some influence on the Clonburris SDZ Plan (see "Chance for multiple additional pitches voted down by SF/Lab/SD/PBP"). However the initial signs are promising as per the response shown at the start of this article.

Griffeen Valley Park Pitches

From what I can see over many years, it appears that once a club has been allocated pitches and continues to grow its numbers, it continues to be reallocated the same pitches. The Council has already outlined its opposition to sharing of pitches, unless by mutual agreement and as such it's not likely possible to do do anything to change this policy in the short term. Nor would it be desirable to force it.

So, in the absence of additional pitches being provided, GAA pitches currently operated by Lucan Sarsfields would have to be taken off them or soccer pitches allocated to Beech Park, Ballyowen Celtic etc would need to be taken off them and repurposed as a GAA pitch. This hasn't happened in the past and it's unlikely to happen now. I can't see officials doing this and I can't see any Councillor tabling a specific motion that says force club A to share with club B or take a pitch from club A at a specific location. What is needed is to identify and push for additional pitch space.

Adamstown and Clondalkin Cricket clubs are cases in point. Adamstown started first and was allocated cricket pitches in Corkagh Park, despite its membership hailing from Lucan. Clondalkin Cricket Club was set up afterwards and had to use a pitch in Drimnagh. Adamstown has now been given use of the ground in Airlie Park, but continues to use Clondalkin pitches because its membership has grown.

So I believe it won't be helpful for the club to take the approach of suggesting - largely indirectly so far - that other clubs should give up some of their allocated pitch spaces. People have said that the club only wants fairness - and this is valid - but if the subtext is taking away other club pitches, this may eventually cause some blowback.  What is needed is to find additional pitch space in Griffeen or nearby.

Irish Quarter Plan lacks detail

This is a long term venture and any demand that this be provided any time soon is pie in the sky. I personally believe it's a fundamentally poor club tactic to try and tie in the laudable desire for an Irish language quarter with the separate, albeit related need for pitches close to where an increasing number of members live.

But to address it specifically, it's not the role of South Dublin County Council to develop this in its own right, although it would have a role in facilitating such a venture were an entity set up to progress it. A business plan would need to be drawn up and fundraising would also have to take place in order to apply for grants from various channels. I've seen no such business plan, only a vague demand for a space in Adamstown or Clonburris SDZ areas.

For the record, neither the Clonburris or Adamstown SDZ areas are being reviewed in a public consultation any time soon and as such there is no opportunity to make amendments to the existing planning scheme. In addition, there is no specific local objective for an Irish quarter in the South Dublin County Development Plan 2022-28. The club to my knowledge did not make any submissions for such a quarter, or ask Councillors to do so (at least not me), so there's no reference in the current plan. It's likely to be 2026 at earliest before work begins on the 2028 plan.

Interestingly, despite not having made a submission on the South Dublin Development Plan, Na Gaeil Óga was liaising with Fine Gael Councillors from Fingal and elsewhere in relation to the Fingal County Development Plan with a view to developing an Irish Quarter in Coldblow in north Lucan. This information was obtained from a lobbying directory. One of the Councillors contacted in relation to this was South Dublin Cllr Vicki Casserly based in Lucan, but this plan was not shared with other local Councillors:

There is also the wider question of whether a desirable Irish quarter should be developed by a campaign group and limited company/charity in its own right as opposed to through Na Gaeil Óga. This is a philosophical debate, but there's an argument that says a more inclusive centre would promote everyday use of Irish better and that all sports clubs should be invited to participate in events as Gaeilge.

To move things forward, this needs to from the bottom up, rather than just a concept slotted into a plan. As I mentioned to a couple of people, NGÓ members would no doubt be aware of Áras Chrónáin in Clondalkin, which was developed by Muintir Chrónáin (who founded several schools), this being in essence a community driven Irish speaking cultural centre. It was developed from the ground up. Clondalkin also worked hard to get the town designated as a Líonra Gaeilge, one of a handful nationwide and something I supported when I was Mayor of South Dublin:

So there are many models and many roads to achieving this objective. The first thing would be to scope out what the centre should be used for, what it will likely cost and how much can be raised to ensure matching funding from various agencies. I'm happy to get involved in any discussions.

The elephant in the room...

Chance for multiple additional pitches voted down by SF/Lab/SD/PBP

I tabled, supported by some other Councillors, motions trying to address the deficit in the Clonburris SDZ plan and where we were unfortunately outvoted by SF/Lab/PBP/SD Councillors who accused us of "trying to delay housing".

As a result, some six full size pitch proposals at various locations like off the Newcastle Road, off Griffeen Avenue and off Bawnogue were prevented from going into the approved plan for consideration by An Bord Pleanála. These might have been rejected anyway, but I am just pointing out where Councillors had a role and where a majority made a mess of it, in case these groups come promising to sign pledges and pretend that progress will be easy after the way they voted against additional pitches.

An example of the types of motions I tabled to try and get more amenity spaces including playing pitches in the Clonburris SDZ plan

Commitment going forward

I understand the club has met with Council officials over the last number of years and that from its perspective these meetings have been unsatisfactory. I saw a heatmap before of where members are located and while I do not know to what extend this information was shared with Council officials prior, I believe that redacted estate by estate playing membership information is crucial in helping to make a case regarding pitch space in and around Griffeen Valley Park. If Councillors were armed with such information and an agreed plan worked out via meetings we could have already been raising the need for such a space to be identified and provided. We could also have been working towards what is required for an Irish quarter if these plans were formalised more.

So, going forward, as with before, I am ready and willing to sit down with the club and go through what realistically can and can't be achieved in a one year, five year and ten year timeframe. I think this needs to be done as part of a team of Councillors all working towards the same common goals, acknowledging the limitations of what can be done in terms of voting powers to direct officials. This should also be done in consultation with and possibly in partnership with other clubs so as to maximise the outcome for all in Lucan as there is strength in numbers.

I look forward to such a meeting and I thank any members who have read this far.



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