The Constitution Hill flat complex in Dublin 7 is a victim of unfortunate geography, by the narrowest of margins. I say that because, while it’s got the D7 postcode – and all the fashionable connotations that brings – it’s just the wrong side of its gentrified cousins in Phibsborough, Stoneybatter and Smithfield. It’s effectively 3 blocks of urban isolation that have for many years been forgotten, if you’re being kind, and ignored, if you’re being honest.
There are just over 100 flats spread across the three blocks in Conso. Within that there are of course a lot of young children & teenagers. Remarkably enough, young children & teenagers enjoy playing, exploring their environment, being creative & building friendships together that will live into old age. These things are the very essence of youth. As you read this, the likelihood is that you grew up doing all of the above & your mind now wanders back to those carefree days – remember when your Ma nearly butchered you for kicking the ball against the front door, or the elation you felt at being the first kid in the playground to conquer the fuck out of the monkey bars?
Now contrast those memories to the daily reality that exists for young people in these flats. Unlike many other complexes in the inner-city, there’s no playground. There’s no football pitch either; the only ‘facility’ is a shed roof being used as one, a shed that dips right onto a busy road into the City Centre. The stairwells are accessible to anyone – and are a place where many heroin users have sought retreat in recent months. (This is not a slight at the users, to be clear – it’s just another example of why safe injection centres are so badly needed in the City).
When the Luas CrossCity works and DIT’s grandiose redevelopment of Grangegorman began, the residents here might have expected a long-awaited & much needed upturn in fortunes. A playground, secure access. Nothing fancy. It’s a reasonable expectation when you look at the numbers: E500million being spent on Grangegorman, E386million on the LUAS. What they got instead, however, were plans to close the only exit/entry point in the complex and re-open one that has been closed for 10 years. It’s been closed for that long with good reason – it’s completely unsafe – yet, the residents here had zero consultation or communication from anyone. Nothing was offered in the way of improving the complex and its surrounds.
The expectation, presumably, from Dublin City Council was that their cohorts would fire ahead unopposed with their plans. After all, this community would surely be voiceless after so many years of neglect.
That’s not how it panned out.
On Tuesday morning, the young people of Constitution Hill were outside the building site before the sun had even risen, at 6am. They were joined by parents & allies including local Councillor Gary Gannon & other community activists, and together, they took a stand. Their instruction to the builders was clear: No work will be done here until our concerns are addressed and dealt with. TheJournal.ie were the first to pick the story up, following by the Evening Herald. The following day, the demonstration continued and this attracted RTÉ to film a report for their 9PM news bulletin. At the end of day 2 and, probably terrified by the scale of the media coverage, the developers offered a meeting with the community where a positive outcome was promised. This meeting takes place tomorrow.
If these promises are not fulfilled, the fight will continue, and any support will be hugely appreciated. Please follow the #ConstitutionRising hashtag on Twitter. There’s also an event page on Facebook of the same name.
Most importantly, though, whatever happens next, a very loud statement has been made.
No matter how much this community of people has been neglected, no matter how bruised their spirit may have been, they were never broken. These kids and their positive action should serve as an inspiration to all of us – when you stand up and fight your corner, it frightens the powers that be. They don’t want nor expect it but it forces them into compromise.
The voiceless in Conso have found a voice. Let’s see who’s next to pick up the mic.