According to documents from College Board’s meeting on the 19th of May 2021, two possible locations to temporarily house the Book of Kells interim exhibition were presented and approved as part of the Old Library Redevelopment Project (OLRP). The tentative locations agreed at Board were Library Square and New Square.
However, between June and August of 2021, the Bursar, Chief Operating Officer of the Corporate Service Division and Estates & Facilities of Trinity College Dublin engaged with Dublin City Council (DCC), who allegedly deemed these two locations unsuitable, and proposed the location of College Park instead. To date, no paperwork or correspondence surrounding this decision has been made available for scrutiny.
The idea of College Park as a location, as yet comes with no formal application and extent of the engagement is unclear, but College was ‘guided that planning permission would be unlikely for either location [the Library Square and New Square’. It seems to have been more like a conversation than a formal engagement process with no concrete evidence as to why the originally proposed two locations were unsuitable.
“I have asked the Bursars’ Office for clear data surrounding the decision-making process between College and DCC, but to date I have not received a response,” says TCDGSU President Ms. Giséle Scanlon. Irish Student Left Online, in light of this lack of engagement between College and the TCDGSU, has submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to find out information about how College and the DCC arrived at this suggested new location.
Stakeholders directly impacted by this decision had heard nothing of this change in location for four months until the Estates Policy Committee (EPC) on the 15th of October 2021, at which Ms. Scanlon was the sole dissenter of the proposal, and raised deep concerns about the impact this structure would have on-campus sports, mental health and the well-being of everyone, including those working in the buildings adjacent. The EPC is “a Principal Committee of the Board responsible for the review of policy in the area of the development and operation of the College’s sites” and “the meeting was led to believe that extensive engagement had taken place between the Bursars’ Office and stakeholders, who would be deeply impacted,” she says, “I believe committee members were misled, as there had not been adequate engagement with stakeholders. Our own engagement at the GSU, similar to the SU, consisted of a brief meeting with the Provost”.
Because EPC does not have a representative from on-campus sports clubs or the TCDSU, Ms. Scanlon bore the sole responsibility of representing the student voice, and dissented, because she felt there had not been enough consultation with her members and other clubs across campus.
“It became clear to me that the official slides presented at the EPC did not have the correct pitch sizes. When I left the meeting, as a matter of transparency, I Tweeted my concern and mentioned that I had dissented. Within an hour, DUAFC (football club) expressed surprise that this location was even an option, as the proposed measurements do not cater to football appropriately. I was deeply concerned that neither DUHAC (athletics club) nor DUAFC and the DUCC (cricket club) had not been consulted before the meeting on the 15th. I talked to postgraduates who are members of these clubs and they confirmed that not only had no one spoken to them, but the captains of these clubs had not heard a single thing about College Park as a proposed venue”, she says.
Essentially, Ms. Scanlon’s Tweet about her dissent is the way the wider student body discovered the new proposed location.
Ms. Scanlon isn’t the only one to have voiced feelings of discontent with the new location and the lack of stakeholder engagement. It is reported that trade unions oppose the structure’s location as well, due to it taking away natural light from those working and studying in the neary buildings and libraries.
Mr. Raymond O’Malley, President of DUAFC (football club), said in a written statement to Irish Student Left Online that “The prospect of not having home matches at College Park for up to 4 years is unthinkable for the Club,” adding that “in our opinion, Library Square or New Square would be superior locations and the temporary nature of the proposed structure would ensure no permanent impact on the setting of either square or the adjoining buildings, which are protected structures. Dublin City Council has recently granted a temporary permission for Covid related structures in New Square that were permitted to remain in place for up to 3 years or whenever the covid restrictions ceased, whichever is sooner. In other words, the Council has accepted the principle of a temporary structure at these alternative locations, so their apparent resistance now to this proposal at those locations is inconsistent”.
Ms. Laura Brennan, President of DUHAC (the athletics club), said in a written statement to Irish Student Left Online that while they recognize the importance of the redevelopment project, they “are deeply concerned about the impact the proposal of a temporary structure on College Park would have on student sport and recreation. As a club, this is our main training ground, and we simply cannot afford to lose this facility. We pride ourselves in being an easy and accessible club where recreational runners can train alongside world class athletes and College Park is at the heart of this,” and pushed for alternative locations to be found for the Interim Exhibition.
Dr. Iain Morrison, coach at the athletics club, added that “College Park is the heart and soul of our club in DUHAC. [..] [It] is where National Champions and beginners can be observed in training, coaching and developing and our only guaranteed time on grass for most of the athletes. We carefully use the entire perimeter respecting the inside soccer pitch and cricket crease. This will be destroyed by annexing a portion of College Park. Our running area will be massively reduced, to the point that no long intervals could be done without risking injury. We would have to run over cricket and soccer areas recurrently damaging the inside surface and we could not share College park on training nights as we currently do. [..] In the 1990s DUCAC and Trevor West the then Chair fought to stop development on College Park when the College proposed it be sacrificed. This “temporary” structure for 3 years will destroy the grass permanently and College’s record of temporary structures is sadly poor”.
On the 16th of October 2021, DUCAC (representative body for all sports clubs), who have so far shown no willingness to come out against the plan, sent an email to affected sport club captains inviting them to a meeting with DUCAC Chair Mr. Matthew Simons (who ran on a campaign of listening to sports clubs) and Head of Sports and Recreation Ms. Michelle Tanner. The email writes “We will also be providing you with some lunch so please come hungry, ” and essentially issued a gag order on sports clubs, saying that there is a “second meeting [with the Provost]”, until which “we would appreciate [..] that you do not comment to the Press (University Times, Trinity News) about any questions that may be directed to you”.
The EPC feeds into the College Board, at which the final decision is expected to be taken on the 3rd of November 2021 on the location of the Interim Exhibition. A widely-shared petition was launched by Ms. Scanlon in opposition with already over 1,600 signatures at the time of writing, and was backed by independent activist group Students4Change. DUFAC has also come out in support of the petition, with DUHAC and DUCC also voicing their opposition.
Mr. O’Malley also commented on the petition, saying that “College Park needs to be protected for all Clubs and Students and not hijacked for tourists”.
Ms. Aisling Ahern, alumni of the College and former Ladies Harriers Captain wrote that she is “saddened and disappointed that the College would consider the wonderful facility of College Park dispensable. It is absolutely essential as the heart and soul of DUHAC and had contributed endlessly to the fitness, health and happiness of members in Trinity Athletic’s 150 years of existence. […] Knocking the park out of use for 3 years is unacceptable and would damage the long standing culture and tradition of Trinity College Athletics”.
Another student who signed the petition lamented that “greedy developers are even here [in] one of the oldest schools”, echoing sentiments across College that corporatization is slowly destroying third-level educational institutions.
Documents relating to the Exhibition Pavilion also show a proposal to transform New Square into a ‘wellbeing space’ for students and staff, which is understood by some as an attempt to placate student representatives, some of whom, like DUCAC, have so far shown no willingness to oppose the proposed location despite their constituency’s democratic will. It also mentions that the School of Engineering, Provost Linda Doyle’s research area, are interested in using the space, under the heading ‘longer term potential benefits’, which details its possible uses for longer than 3 years.
Neither the College Bursar, the Head of Sports and Recreation nor the DUCAC Chair was available for comment as of the publication of this article. Trinity’s Director of Public Affairs and Communications, Mr. Tom Molloy declined to comment on whether there was engagement from College with the Old Library Redevelopment Steering Committee, a working group of the Library, with regards to the new location of College Park.
In a written statement to the University Times, Trinity Media Relations Ms. Officer Catherine O’Mahony said that “College has made commitments to ensure proper engagements are made throughout the project for impacted clubs and individuals. College is looking to work with the community to ensure the Old Library project proceeds with the support of all stakeholders and for us to minimise the impact of the location for the interim exhibition on sport and recreational activities”.
Update 01/11/2021 21:31: TCDSU President Leah Keogh has confirmed to University Times that they will dissent as well. However, they have not yet shared Ms. Scanlon’s petition.