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OPW defends about-turn decision that reopens Phoenix Park to cars

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phoenix park

phoenix park

phoenix park

Office of Public Works junior minister Patrick O'Donovan has defended the decision to reopen the Phoenix Park to cars.

However, he said that in the long term he would like it restored to its original purpose as purely for culture and recreation.

Mr O'Donovan committed to a public consultation on the long-term management of the park, which he said would take into account the views of users and neighbours.

He said if there were measures that could reasonably be taken in the short term, such as designated car-free periods, he was open to those ideas too.

Mr O'Donovan was responding to criticism after the sudden reopening yesterday of all but one of the park's perimeter gates, which were closed because of Covid-19 restrictions, leaving access only to pedestrians and cyclists.

The OPW indicated last month that the closure would continue after positive reaction from members of the public, but that position was reversed on Thursday.

Mr O'Donovan said the gates were reopened to relieve growing pressure on surrounding neighbourhoods and the urban villages of Chapelizod and Castleknock, which were being used as alternative routes.

"The park has been described as the lungs of the city, which is true, but it has also become an artery of the city," he said.

He added that planning decisions in the city had "explicitly or inexplicitly" relied on the park as a thoroughfare, and it could not be closed without knock-on effects for surrounding areas.

Strangled

"Traffic volumes are growing again, and with more of the restrictions being lifted and schools due back at the end of August, shutting off the Phoenix Park means other areas becoming strangled," he said.

"I would love to see a situation where the park is what it was originally intended to be, which was for recreation, leisure and culture.

"I want to get to a situation where I can reduce the traffic volumes, and I'm committed to working with people on that, but it has to be in a managed way, it has to be in a consultative way and it has to take cognisance of all the people who have interests there."

Cycling groups reacted with dismay to the decision, and Green TD Neasa Hourigan described it as "a disappointing backward step".

She demanded transparency over who or what had influenced the minister to make the U-turn.

Mr O'Donovan said he had received many different views on the closure.

"Local communities weren't consulted when the gates were closed," he said.

"In a national emergency, that was the right thing to do, but as we come out of the emergency, those people need to be heard.

"I know there are a lot of people very angry, and I accept that, but I know there are a lot of people who say it's the right thing to do."

He said that in the medium to long term, all ideas would be considered.