I have long been interested to know what actually happened in Ballymun – not enough to do extensive research mind you, and one notable sidebar from this thread is that if the were to meet me, his first impression might be to see me as some kind of “Rugby Dad/Newstalk Niall” hybrid, but still I was grateful to him for tweeting this extensive info so I thought I’d share it here. Check out the link at the end to watch the video if the embed isn’t working.
Everything below this line of the post was written or produced by the author in question. JLP
Since Ballymun comes up a lot in discussions of the housing crisis, here’s a thread debunking some of the most persistent myths/misconceptions/lies about the community.
(I made a film about this some years ago, but people were largely indifferent, so this is a capsule summary).
Rugby dads, professional gentrifiers and Newstalk Nialls generally reference Ballymun as a “knee-jerk response” to a housing crisis (mostly false), a utopian project (totally false) and a failed housing model (also false).
The truth is, Ballymun was the Irish state doing what it does “best” – the bare minimum of public provision it can get away with. There was no failure of utopian planning because there was no utopian planning. Promises of cinemas, bowling alleys and amenities were always false.
That said, the blocks themselves were built to a French system and were generally sound, bright and spacious.
Ours had a large living room with private balcony, a large bedroom, two smaller bedrooms, a bathroom with bath and constant hot water, and a decent-sized kitchen.
But it swiftly became apparent that Dublin Corporation (now Dublin City Council) – whose senior officials always resented the fact that the National Building Agency had been entrusted with the lucrative project – had no intention of providing even basic services or maintenance.
In the early years, the community itself plugged this gap. Communal areas were scrupulously maintained by residents. To the best of its ability, an impoverished community stood in for the absent state. It built structures of mutual support and recreation that endured for decades.
Eventually, however, successive economic crises overwhelmed residents. From the 80s onwards, several waves of heroin addiction swept over the area, on the heels of a prescriptions drugs epidemic.
A beleaguered community lost the ability to do the Corpo’s job for it.
While the plethora of community organisations rallied and survived, the area deteriorated physically and economically.
Ballymunners made numerous earnest attempts to engage the state over the heads of the Corpo, which had by now largely abandoned the area to its fate.
These heroic efforts kept the community above water, until, in the late 90s, government finally yielded to pressure and announced a Regeneration project (an earlier attempt in the early 90s having been abandoned at about 10% completion).
This was to be enacted by a new limited company wholly owned by Dublin Corporation – Ballymun Regeneration Limited (BRL).
Inspired by Blairite thinking/models from the UK (and shipping over some of the same personnel), BRL swiftly decided on total demolition of the high rises
It should be explained here that outright gentrification (displacement and replacement of the community by more affluent residents) was off the table for a variety of reasons; chiefly, the fact that the community itself had forced the state’s hand and had to be won over.
While BRL carried out an elaborate pantomime of consultation (within already-defined parameters), its mission became clear:
Since the area couldn’t be gentrified, an attempt would be made to gentrify its people instead.
This would entail the forcible destruction, not just of the physical infrastructure of the community (tower blocks, green spaces, centralised shopping areas, community centres etc), but of all communal experiences of life in Ballymun.
BRL was quite explicit about this. The purpose of the Regeneration was to liquidate the existing community of Ballymun, with its communal forms of solidarity, and to allow residents to be reborn as responsible, market-oriented individual consumers.
The hodge-podge of architectural styles (sidenote: between 1997 and 2014, BRL spent €98.7m on professional fees alone) were all designed to achieve this.
Gone were the sweeping open spaces and the central meeting places that had fostered a community.
In their place – isolated developments that encouraged, and enforced, suspicion and exclusion of all but one’s immediate neighbours.
Ballymun’s vast network of community organisations – from football clubs to legal aid to tenants’ associations – was systematically dismantled.
These relics of non-market community identity (as BRL saw them) were brought under the banner of a BRL-run Neighbourhood Council, which was run into the ground and dissolved within a couple of years.
A tangent before the conclusion – it is shameful that anyone still parrots BRL’s mantra of “mixed income housing”.
The thinking here (explicitly stated in Ballymun) is that well-adjusted middle-class residents act as role models for their feckless working-class neighbours – vile
The Regeneration was, by every metric except BRL’s own, an abject failure. Estimates of its cost vary from €1bn-€2bn.
Ballymun was destroyed – socially, economically and culturally. The private sector investment on which BRL had based its Blairite fantasies never materialised.
The moral of the story:
When you see planners, politicians and pundits warn of “creating new Ballymuns”, always remember that they, and people who think like them, were given 20 years and a blank cheque to “fix” Ballymun according to their own ideology.
They utterly failed.
What really stuck in their craw about Ballymun was not the widespread, visible poverty (after all, these people have created a city strewn with the tents of the homeless), but the forms of solidarity and resistance to market ideology which Ballymunners carved out for themselves.
So yeah, if a politician, planner or developer arrives in your town with a “regeneration masterplan”, run them out of there before it’s too late.