The loss of Kildare's community buildings

Opinion

Paul O'Meara

Reporter:

Paul O'Meara

Email:

paul@leinsterleader.ie

The loss of Kildare's community buildings

File photo: The former Newbridge Credit Union

Newbridge, you might, say, has been a tad unfortunate with its public infrastructure.

There was the unheated public swimming pool at Ryston, which hadn’t been used for many years before it was officially decommissioned, followed by the closure of the Credit Union building and now the old band hall at Cutlery Road will likely be rebuilt as something else entirely.

To be fair, the swimming pool wouldn’t cut it today. Local authority pools, as such are no more, having been replaced by ultra modern public-private facilities embracing pools, gyms and multidisciplinary fitness classes overseen by expert staff.

And many private leisure enterprises come with indoor pools.

The sale of O Modhrain Hall has nothing to do with the loss of the credit union building; save for the fact that it is now unlikely to be a public facility again.

The loss of the credit union building as a place that could be used by the public was significant.

By definition almost, credit unions are community led, and community based, and people led. And this facility was the finest of its kind anywhere - even if, to put it mildly, there was a whiff of over-the-top ostentation to this creation.

Its closure was linked directly to the demise of Newbridge Credit Union which collapsed in 2013, at a time when the nearest comparative institution, Naas Credit Union, was thriving and encouraging people to borrow.

At the time Newbridge CU was the biggest community based credit union in Ireland.

In its aftermath an action group was formed by some of the Newbridge CU members. They held a few meetings shedding a lot of heat, but little light on why the it collapsed leaving the taxpayer to cough up €54m - an estimate in late 2013 - to sort it out.

Newbridge CU had 32,000 deposit accounts and 7,000 loan accounts. Not all of the loans were for the standard two weeks in Majorca or to meet the ever increasing costs of sending a child to school.

The loss of the building to the community is the most visible reminder of what happened.

According to The Sunday Times the building cost €14m, but at the time the facility closed was valued at €3.9m - a paper loss which would buy or renovate a large swathe of property in the town.

O Modhrain Memorial Hall has a much longer history in the town and is named after Eamonn O Modhrain, who was a figure of some importance in local nationalist history. The historical element to this and the fact that O Modhrain family members still live in the area only accentuates this loss. It’s been sold for €270,000 and may well be developed as something else entirely different.

A campaign has been launched to reverse this, or at a minimum to ensure that the sale price is spent locally.

At a public meeting, attended by some but not all of the elected representatives in Newbridge, there was criticism of the lack of facilities and meeting places for young people in the town, especially of the non-sporting variety. It's a legitimate point, there is much more to life than sport.

Three years ago when Newbridge Credit Union was merged with Permanent TSB it moved out of the building, Sinn Fein councillor Mark Lynch said the building had been taken off the people of Newbridge by the State. He was partly right but the lending policies at Newbridge CU had nothing to do with the State.

It now looks as if Newbridge is to lose another facility, which could possibly (at some expense) have been turned into a community asset.

Residents of Newbridge and Naas are finding time and again that its so much easier to have residential property built, opened, and occupied, than it ever is to have any kind of community facility opened and kept.