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Will tony Dublin square be opened to the public?

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — A move to have Fitzwilliam Square, the last privately owned city-center enclosed park, opened to the public is being made by Dublin Corporation, the city’s municipal government.

At the moment the square — one of the most prestigious addresses in Dublin — can be used only by residents of the surrounding £2 million houses or the offices that pay a fee to the non-profit-making company that took a 999-year lease on it in the 1960s.

City Manager John Fitzpatrick is making representations to the leaseholders, the Fitzwilliam Square Association, about having the Georgian square opened to everybody after its status was questioned by Labor Councilor Dermot Lacey.

"It is the last of the closed squares in the prime inner-city area between the canals," Lacey said. "We are not trying to deprive anyone of anything, but it is somewhere where people need a bit of greenery and a place to sit down.

"I would like to hear the case for keeping it closed. Maybe there will be a cost with payment of compensation and that would have to be looked at. The first thing to do is open negotiations and that is what is happening."

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Oran Ryan, a lawyer with the Fitzwilliam Square-based practice Atken, Clay and Collins, is a committee member of the association that has overseen the square since the 1960s.

"This was raised many years ago and we had a referendum among our members," he said. "It was heavily defeated, primarily for one reason: security."

Ryan said that even with Fitzwilliam a private square, residents have had problems of people using it as a staging point before breaking into surrounding buildings. There is also concern it might be used by drug addicts and other undesirable elements.

"At the moment people have keys and there is an element of safety, particularly for womenfolk," Ryan said.

Ryan said there are several hundred members of the association.

"There is no particular limit to the size of the membership," he said. "It is open to people in the square and the adjoining streets.

"Those on the square can become full voting members and those in adjoining areas can become associate members with the same rights, except voting."

About two-thirds of the homeowners are members. The cost of membership ranges from £50 a year for one person, to £90 for a family, and £150 for all in a building. The money is used for a part-time gardener and the square’s upkeep.

"It is a front garden for those who live in the area," Ryan said. "It contains grass tennis courts and a Victorian pavilion.

"We have monthly committee meetings and review matters. Any new proposal from the Corporation would have to go to a referendum."

The association had already been planning to raise some concerns with the Corporation about traffic, parking, signage, safety and ensuring that the Georgian heritage of the area is protected.

Dating from the 1790s, the square has always been the private preserve of local people. When the square was completed, the earl of Pembroke’s family took over from the Fitzwilliam estate in 1816.

An act of parliament was passed in London appointing commissioners who were given a 150-year lease. Those commissioners levied a rent on the basis of the size of the frontage of local buildings.

The Pembroke Estate, which still holds the freehold, gave a lease to the current association in the 1960s when the first lease ran out.

The older neighboring Merrion Square had also been private until the Catholic Church abandoned plans to build a cathedral there and it was handed over to the city by Archbishop Dermot Ryan in 1974 for use as a public park.

In the late 18th century, the Fitzwilliam family was eager to develop the south side and to attract people across the Liffey from the then top addresses around Mountjoy and Parnell Squares.

The earl of Kildare led the way in setting up home on the south side, famously remarking, "They will follow me wherever I go." And so it proved.

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