Phoenix Park plan raises doubts on Government’s ability to act on climate change, says campaigners

— 72% supported “reduce commuter through traffic”, but plan is watered down.
— Motorists rat running in the park need “just transition” says OPW Minister.
— Minister Ryan welcomes plan, but local Green Party representations disagree.

A plan which continues to allow car commuters to drive through almost all gates and roads the Phoenix Park in Dublin raises doubts of Government’s ability to implement climate action on decarbonising transport, campaigners have said.

Two Dublin 15-based members of Government — Tánaiste Leo Varadkar (FG) and Minister of State for Sport and the Gaeltacht Jack Chambers (FF) — openly pushed for the OPW’s plans for restrictions on driving through the park to be watered down.

Local Green Party representatives have broadly derided the plan, but the party leader Minister Eamon Ryan made a point of expressing his happiness with the plan. 

Many politicians arguing against any rat running restrictions have deliberately muddled the issue of car access and car commuting through the park.

“I have listened to the feedback” Minister of State at the OPW, Patrick O’Donovan, said yesterday. But the plan by the Office of Public Works, which manages the park, was seen as mild before it went to public consultation. Now it has been further watered down.

The claim from the Minister that he has listened is despite the revised plan moving further away a reduction of car commuters using the park — which was supported by 72% of the 2,200 respondents to the public consultation.

A plan to stop motorists rat running on North Road, which is the back road behind the President’s residence and the Zoo, has been dropped in favour of a one-way system on part of the road in the direction favouring city-centre-bound commuters. Extra parking is promised as part of this mesure.

Similar measures to stop through traffic on the Upper Glen Road in the west of the park are “subject to further study”, and at Knockmaroon Gate is subject to “further data collection and traffic modelling”.

A plan to make Ashtown Gate — which is viewed as dangerous for walking and cycling — one-way to give space for people walking and cycling has been “deferred”.

Even a “pilot study” bus service linking the park to Heuston and Broombridge Stations would only start in “Q1 2022, subject to funding”. A 30km/h speed limit for the park is also promised, however, it is unclear how long this will take to make as a legally enforceable speed limit and what enforcement measures — if any — will be taken.

Campaigners have claimed that the move to put only very light restrictions on cars in the park “bears all the hallmarks” of political interference.

Last year, sources told that Minister O’Donovan, went against advice from officials at the OPW and forced them to open the side gates of the park. Transparency group Right to Know later confirmed this with a Freedom of Information request — a text message from a senior OPW official to Minister O’Donovan’s private secretary said: “As directed, the gates will reopen from tomorrow morning…”.

On RTE Radio 1 last July, Minister O’Donovan seemed to contradict this, he said: “The decision was made after discussion within the the Office of Public Works in relation to a number of issues really…”.

Separately in the same interview, he went onto justify his actions by stating: “…whether we like it or not, for an awful lot of people it is a commuter route. It’s a commuter route from Longford, from Westmeath, from Meath, from parts of Dublin.”

Yesterday, Minister O’Donovan, in a radio interview on RTE Radio 1, admitted he did intervene against OPW officials last year, he said that car commuters using the park as a rat run needed a “just transition”, and said he was concerned about affect of traffic building up around the park. When questioned by RTÉ presenter Claire Byrne on him having to data to back up his claims, he said that “if you talk to residents”.

The remarks for a need for a “just transition” for rat running motorists was derided on social media but the fact is there is nothing which amounts to just transition for car—based commuters in the five-plan and there is no substantial measures in the plan which will restrict commuter traffic in that timeframe.

Minister O’Donovan‘s remarks on “just transition” yesterday came on the back of another planned-blunder last week when he compared less grass cutting — for biodiversity reasons — in his home area of Limerick to being like “the Serengeti”. According to the Limerick Leader, he claimed that bees now have more room than anything else.

Campaigners seeking sustainable transport and a livable city said that politicians refusing to even restrict commuter car use of a park does not bode well for climate action.

“We’re in a climate crisis and our politicians can’t even take the responsible decision to reduce car usage in the Phoenix Park? Are these the politicians who are going to guide us to a zero-carbon society?,” said the Dublin Cycling Campaign.

The campaign said: “This decision to maintain car dominance within the Phoenix Park bears all the hallmarks of political interference. The majority supported the removal of through-traffic from the park, but Tánaiste Leo Varadkar got his way for his constituency. Good boy [Minister for State for the OPW] Patrick O’Donovan.”

Dublin Commuter Coalition, a sustainable transport campaign group, said: “Despite majority support for reducing cars in the Phoenix Park, Patrick O’Donovan ​has unveiled a significantly scaled back plan which prioritises cars over people in the park. What was the point in the public consultation then?”

The group said: “An enormous number of car journeys made in Dublin are unnecessary or could be made by sustainable means. Saying there are 10 million car journeys in the Phoenix Park and therefore we must accommodate them is an admission that you’re not taking climate action seriously.”

ALSO READ: Minister Ryan backs watered down mobility plan for Phoenix Park

IMAGE: Most people cycling avoid the cycle lane near the main entrance to the park because it has been left in a state of disrepair for over a decade.

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