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Future is bleak for residents of flats

NewsBy Eamon Dillon
Our man visits the flats to speak to residents
Our man visits the flats to speak to residents

SCORCHED, shuttered and covered in graffiti, the empty inner-city flats at O’Devaney Gardens stand as a monument to Ireland’s housing failure.

Ambitious plans for property developers to revamp the complex were crushed by the recession in 2008 and the community has since been dying a slow death.

There are just 19 families left in the blocks as others take up the council offers of homes elsewhere in the city.

Now, their neighbours are the cats and pigeons which have colonised the run-down complex, but they are easy to live with compared to the boozy, drugged-up gangs that arrive at weekends to party around blazing fires.

This was the spot where council officials planned to find emergency accommodation for the homeless. It was suggested a block of the flats could be reopened and used as housing for people in need of a roof over their heads.

That plan has been shelved, while those who still inhabit the dilapidated estate live in limbo – not knowing how long they can stay, or even whether the heating will work.

It’s a far cry from the Celtic Tiger days, when a regeneration project promised residents gleaming new homes in the community they knew.

Local resident and city Councillor Janice Boylan (Sinn Fein) last week invited Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly to come and see for himself the situation for the remaining residents at the complex.

“We have flats boarded up, but families are still living here. We have one woman who went on holidays with her flat locked up, but came back to find a dead cat in her bath,” Cllr Boylan told the Sunday World.

“They reckon it fell from the top flat, down the cistern and then tried to climb back up and died. There’s more cats in the block than there are humans.”

Pointing to one of the blocks that looks derelict, Cllr Boylan said the remaining residents find it next to impossible to get repairs carried out.

“There was a fire up here in the top balcony, but the residents underneath it all had fire damage and water damage. As far as I know they were literally just given a lick of paint and told ‘you are moving anyway’,” she said.

Residents have been living in a property limbo since the regeneration plans stalled after the developer dropped the plans.

“In 2008, when McNamara pulled out, people started realising ‘this is it, we have to start getting out of here’,” she said.

The final straw for many of the residents came in 2012 when the regeneration board was stood down and that’s when “people really knew nothing was going to happen” she added.

“The problem with the plan to move tenants out is that there’s very few alternative properties available for them in the area.

“The people that are here want to be housed out of the flats – but want to be accommodated in the area they were born and bred.

 “The problem is that the remaining houses in the area only become available if someone dies. They don’t come up very often,” she added.

Mark Fitzgerald, a Dublin Bus driver who has lived at O’Devaney Gardens for 27 years, explained nothing suitable for a family with three kids has been offered to him.

“It’s like a demolition site. I have a four-year-old, where is it suitable for her to play around here?” he asked. “Then you have the gangs – the guards were up numerous times with raves.”

Cllr Boylan explained that the city council are trying to buy back some of the houses, but rising prices have made many properties too expensive, while cash buyers are able to close the deal much quicker.

The plan to house homeless at O’Devaney Gardens was scrapped after members of the Dublin City Council voted against it.

Cllr Boylan doubts that minister Alan Kelly wouldn’t have put the idea forward if he’d known how rundown the flats have become.

“If he came down and saw the conditions he might be more inclined to invest more money and try to build houses so the residents can have somewhere to go,” she said.

“This was once a thriving community. I was born and reared here. We had playgrounds and summer projects and that was because the community came
together.”