Pro-high car use meeting in Dundrum ends with Gestapo jibe left unchallenged

— Attendees told of “outsiders” making decisions about Dundrum which has been “destroyed”.

Long-read / Comment & Analysis: ‘We support cycling but…’ and ‘bus gates sound nice in theory but…’ and similar types of comments were made by speakers in a meeting last night which was jam-packed with mainly anti-cycling anti-bus priority rhetoric. The meeting also included a sprinkle of climate change denial, and the usual scaremongering and disinformation.

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The meeting was in reaction to the draft Dundrum Local Area Plan 2023 — which is still out for public consultation and is not a finalised plan, unlike what was claimed and implied by many yesterday.

The benefits were hardly mentioned or were mostly shouted down when they were — including more reliable buses, making walking and cycling safer and more attractive, having a more livable area, increased activity, providing greater mobility options, and, of course, planning in a way which is consistent with climate action.

If you changed the references to the local area, the main thrust of the meeting sounded like a residents-against-sustainable transport meeting that could have been held anywhere. The usual claims of plans not being age-friendly, not disabled-friendly, impact the emergency services etc when the underlining wish of most speakers was the status quo of high-traffic-areas.

It’s a fact that our high-traffic-areas are actually not age-friendly, not disabled-friendly, and impact the emergency services. Slip turns — which the organisers repeatedly said they want retained at junctions — may make it easier for elderly drivers but or a death trap for elderly pedestrians.

IMAGE: A poster in the window of a business in the village centre — urban centres in the continuous urban area of Dublin City and Suburbs, especially former villages, still retain the name ‘village’.

The meeting was told Dundrum Village needed to be “saved”, that residents’ associations were “horrified”, and that “Humanity has to come first”. You’d think the place was being levelled, but this was about the possibility of restricting space for cars and reducing the number of car trips.

So, once more it has to be repeated: Literally, nobody is coming to take your car away. And there’s also no “great replacement” plan which involves anybody expecting elderly or disabled people to walk and cycle everywhere or be excluded. The whole point of a consultation is to make plans workable for the widest section of people, but people who want to protect the car-dominated status quo aren’t going to see that.

Speakers were mainly residents’ associations and smaller businesses, but the manager of the Dundrum Town Centre said he supported the meeting. Some speakers talked as if they were underground resistance fighters giving reports of the destruction which has already rocked areas of Dublin.

Breda Cahill, owner of the Centra on the Ballinteer Road made a rather strange comment about the “Irish culture”, how people need to be able to “live and survive” and how “Dundrum should not be sacrificed for nothing”, which got a round of applause from at least some of the crowd.

She also listed out other areas already targeted or “destroyed” as if enemy bombers had flattened or will soon be — Dundrum “is already destroyed”.

Cahill also listed Sandyford, Terenure and Crumlin Village. She then said Rathfarnham village is “shagged”. “They are destroyed” she apparently clarified about all of the locations. But it’s not clear what has happened in most of these places any time recently besides some outdoor dining taking over a very small percentage of car parking spaces in Rathfarnham village or a very small section of bollard-protected cycle lane in Terenure or a very modest pre-Covid public realm scheme in Crumlin.

Other speakers complained of their grievances with changes made to Dún Laoghaire town, and planned changes to Sandymount as if already implemented when it’s held up in a Court case. Some of the attendees might even yearn for the days you could drive down Grafton Street — although that wasn’t said. However, the planned College Green Plaza was claimed to be “madness” when it has a vast amount of public support and is a perfectly normal thing for a city centre.

Dr Ciaran Bent, a GP in Dundrum, kicked off the meeting with the usual trope about cycle lanes being “empty”. Bent was the more sensible face of the meeting, but he or the others involved didn’t bother to intervene when the move to make an area less car-dominated was compared to the Nazi’s secret police.

“I heard the Green Party leader last year, and ‘you know, [he said] ‘We must get people out of their cars’. Do you know what the vision I got from that was? The Gestapo…” said Liam Coughlan.

While there was clapping and laughter from the audience, he continued to joke in poor taste: “…stop you on the road ‘get out of those cars’.” It was as if he was playing out a scenario in his head where the Gestapo were kicking people out of their cars.

There was no clear or serious attempt by other organisers to challenge it.

Given that Holocaust denial is on the rise, it’s worth pointing out that the Gestapo were the secret state police of Nazi Germany and it’s in no way something that a significant number of a crowd of adults should be laughing at. It’s hardly fit for pub talk never mind an apparently serious meeting. The Gestapo helped round Jews and political opponents up and sent them to concentration camps.

Coughlan was a general election candidate for Aontú, and he is still listed as a candidate on their website, but this fact wasn’t mentioned last night. He was presented as the group’s expert. After his Gestapo comment, he talked on, and a fellow organiser then urged people to listen to him to hear how to make a submission.

Coughlan’s profile Aontú’s website lists him as “a civil engineer by profession” having “spent over 25 years working in a senior capacity for the four Dublin Local Authorities”.

Last night he was given more time to speak than councillors combined. He introduced himself as giving a “hopefully objective” point-of-view, but went on to give out about engineering and planning measures more focused on safer roads and sustainable transport as if it was all voodoo. And made out that safety measures were only designed to “clog up” junctions.

Coughlan, after mentioning that he has worked for councils, claimed the plan was “an office job” as if the council staff involved didn’t know Dundrum has a few steep hills and were not aware of its geography.

He joked that you’d need to be as fit as former professional cyclist Stephen Roche to cycle in the area when loads of people — who aren’t as fit as Roche in his prime — already do cycle in the area.

Coughlan is smart enough to know what he’s at — he rips into bus priority measures key to improving bus connections to other parts of the city that the Luas doesn’t serve. Then, after he’s finished with buses, he claims the plan is too focused on walking and cycling, especially focuses on cycling. And then comes up with grandiose plans for Luas “or metro” lines serving Dundrum in all different directions as if such would not have an even greater impact on car traffic.

I mean, an orbital tram line could be a great idea and Dundrum is a possible connecting point, but realistically it would be mostly a surface tram which would impact traffic more than the Green Line does around the village.

The crowd were well able to boo down people — they had done so with a more open conspiracy theorist, and they had done so when Cllr Daniel Dunne (Green) mentioned that people will be dying in Europe this summer because of climate change-induced heatwaves.

Just over a week ago, The Guardian reported on research which found that heatwaves fuelled by the climate crisis last summer killed 61,000 people in Europe. The newspaper said that statistics show that it was the hottest summer on record and brought unusually high mortality rates.

It is a fact that Irish people have higher carbon emissions than most people in countries around the world. Do those in the meeting think there’s no link between our activity and climate change?

But it’s not just the climate that residents who are car-centric are in denial about. Cllr Dunne also got quite a reaction when he mentioned something which should be accepted as a basic fact — that most of the 5,000 workers in Dundrum Town Centre do not drive there. There just isn’t parking available for them to do so.

Cllr Barry Saul (Fine Gael) tried to explain that the plan was only at the stage of it being a draft and it can be amended to be made better. Unlike the Nazi comment, made by Coughlan afterwards without interruption, the organisers kept trying to stop Cllr Saul from making that simple point within his allocated 2 minutes to speak.

He said a plan was needed given all of the development planned for the area.

Cllr Peter O’Brien (Labour) said that while he supports some concerns, he said that the process is a legal one that must go forward and the plan can be made better, which he said councillors have previously done for other local area plans. He also said the plan was more than just about transport.

Cllr Tom Murphy (FF) — who was representing Cllr Shay Brennan — echoed that the plan could be improved.

Cllr Oisín O’Connor (Green) said that he is in Dundrum pretty much every day of the week, usually with his daughter. He was then heavily interrupted when he said he agreed with the plan but, as with most of the other councillors, some in the audience positively clapped when he was finished.

Many people at the meeting likely had different views but — as is common for this kind of meeting — will not speak up once it’s clear that the organisers are pushing in another direction. It’s now up to those and others who want a safer, more attractive and more sustainable future to get in contact with their councillors and also make submissions and save Dundrum from the people who just want to preserve the status quo in a growing area.

People who can hope and even see that a brighter future is possible while providing for everybody from school children to retirees and everybody in between.

4 comments

  1. Thanks for this article. All very disappointing and hard to know where to start with it. Even if the hall was packed with say 200 people (as reported by the Irish Times) and they all wholeheartedly agree with the organisers, that’s a small proportion of the existing LAP population of c 6,500 (3%) or even the future LAP population of 11,500 (1.7%).

    What do the organisers propose as the best way to provide for the transport needs for such a population increase? Leaving climate change aside momentarily, there isn’t space for everyone to carry on driving everywhere in the area.

    Taking just one implication of the car brain involved, what happens to the elderly when they are no longer able to drive? Is their independent mobility just written off since improvements to their safety as pedestrians are subject to such fierce opposition?

    Reply
  2. It does sound like an unofficial public meeting to benefit a local election candidate, using a mildly controversial issue as a lightning rod. Its unfortunate that its receiving such a response.
    I don’t think the process for draft development plans and local area plans are well understood, and indeed the entire local council process – people don’t understand that local councillors propose motions and if they are part of the 50% of the population registered to vote who do not vote in local elections its likely they have even less understanding of the role of a councillor. As I have said to many people who complain about local councils, that perhaps we need to elect more representative councillors (or perhaps actually show up to vote!)
    Ultimately, its certainly true that a degree of hardship can be caused by some well intended efforts to divert movement from vehicular traffic to active travel – certainly diversion of bus services can cause more problems than it solves, but for every elderly pensioner who refuses to go anywhere without a car, there is another pensioner who no longer drives & is dependent on walking and buses. But its also the case that we can no longer simply keep catering for more and more vehicular traffic on an unlimited basis.

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  3. What I always find extremely disappointing is that able bodied people use the elderly as an excuse. If the able bodied walked and cycled as they should, it would clear the space for our elderly and mobility impaired to make their journeys unimpeded. It would clear space for our buses, for our tradespeople who need their vehicles to insulate and upgrade our homes. Similar pushback in Dundrum that we see in Dublin 5 for the Brookwood cycle lane.

    Reply

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