As Dublin’s white-water rafting proposal seems unlikely to proceed it is time to consider new ideas for this historic part of Dublin. The site was George’s Dock in the Docklands, constructed in 1821 from ashlar stone and a fine example of our maritime engineering heritage. The dock is currently drained, and a modern platform that was used as a venue for cultural and market events has been removed.
Plans for a €25 million white-water rafting facility had been proposed by senior management in Dublin City Council. Amid criticism that the venue would only cater for a niche market, the council indicated it would also be used for the training of emergency personnel involved in river rescues. However, the plans floundered in recent months as the Government indicated that funding would not be forthcoming.
An alternative plan would be to construct an outdoor swimming pool within the dock. The basin measures 100m x 75m and contains ample space to provide an outdoor 50m pool, a children’s pool and additional facilities such as a lawn for sunbathing and picnics in the summer months.
On my monthly trips to Strasbourg in France for plenary meetings of the European Parliament, I regularly swim in the Piscine de Wacken, a swimming complex extensively remodelled at a cost of €10 million in 2012 to become a fantastic pool used by residents and visitors alike. The main attraction is an outdoor heated 50m pool, and it also features a shallow children’s pool for families, and an area where older people take aqua- aerobics classes and others practise synchronised swimming.
"Seaside bathing spots like Clontarf and Sandycove are regularly overwhelmed with visitors, even out of peak season."
All these facilities are open all year, even when temperatures fall below zero and steam rises off the water. It is heated by photovoltaic panels as well as a district heating scheme, and is operated by the city of Strasbourg.
Figures supplied to me by the city indicate that it costs €3 million annually to run, of which €1 million is recouped from admission charges. The €5 entry fee is a fraction of the €50 that might have been charged for entry to the white-water rafting proposal. It attracted 333,551 visitors in 2019, not bad for a city less than half the size of Dublin.
Energy use amounted to six million Kwh, the bulk of which was supplied by the city’s district heating scheme. If a similar scheme were built in George’s Dock it too could benefit from district heating as the pipes for waste heat from the Ringsend waste-to-energy plant have been laid down the North Quays in preparation for commissioning.
In recent years there has been a huge increase in outdoor swimming in Ireland. Books such as Watermarks: Life, Death and Swimming by Lenka Janiurek extoll the benefits of swimming for our mental and physical health. Seaside bathing spots like Clontarf and Sandycove are regularly overwhelmed with visitors, even out of peak season.
There were high hopes for public access when a restaurant was provided at the Clontarf outdoor pool, but despite the building’s €2.5 million refurbishment the unheated outdoor pool is only available to groups which provide their own insurance.
Elsewhere demand exceeds supply. The Sean McDermott Pool has had limited availability to the public due to block bookings, and the Markievicz pool on Townsend Street will be demolished if the Dublin Metro proceeds.
The wonderful Kevin Street pool that was part of the former Dublin Institute of Technology was recently demolished, and it is uncertain when a replacement might be provided at the new TU Dublin campus at Grangegorman.
"As a former city councillor who represented the north inner city on Dublin City Council I have seen the toll that years of neglect have taken on the community."
The Blackrock Baths slowly crumble, though it is hoped that the works on the site of the old Dún Laoghaire Baths will allow access to the sea at Scotsman’s Bay.
Swimming attracts people of all ages and is accessible to almost all, in contrast to white-water rafting. It develops cardiovascular fitness and is the antidote to obesity as it helps maintain a healthy weight, heart and lungs. An online campaign for a George’s Dock lido has attracted almost 5,000 signatures.
As a former city councillor who represented the north inner city on Dublin City Council I have seen the toll that years of neglect have taken on the community. Many of the new jobs and homes in Dublin’s Docklands are out of reach of local people, although public investment has increased in recent years following public pressure after a rise in criminal activity.
Swimming can be a solitary or a team activity, and can be competitive or contemplative. The provision of a pool in George’s Dock could be the catalyst for inclusive regeneration. Dublin has fallen behind by failing to invest in public amenities in recent years. Now is the time to build a state-of-the-art swimming pool that is available to all in the heart of the inner city.