Fitzwilliam Square: privately owned by residents

IT has long been a bone of contention – a picturesque city centre park under lock and key, reserved for the pleasure of its few wealthy owners.

But now a new challenge is set to disrupt the status quo at Fitzwilliam Square, south Dublin, which has been at the centre of debate for years over the lack of public access.

Dublin city council officials are to be asked whether or not private enterprises run on the exclusive grounds are liable for the same commercial rates paid by more conventional businesses.

The move follows the announcement that the Movie Magic series, an outdoor film event held last year in nearby Dartmouth Square, has moved to Fitzwilliam Square.

Councillor Dermot Lacey, a long time proponent of open access at the park, said that if money-making events are being run, then those who own the space ought to be investigated for any potential avoidance of rate payments to the city.

It remains unclear what other events, if any, are held there or whether anyone profits from them.

However, during a recent meeting of the council's arts, culture and recreation strategic policy committee, Lacey said: "The continued closure of this park to the general public is a scandal and should not be tolerated. Securing access to the park has been included as an objective in the current and previous city development plans".

The park is run by the Fitzwilliam Square Association (FSA), which has maintained it in the private ownership of residents.

A motion is now to be filed with the council requesting that, on the basis of commercial activity, the FSA's accounts be inspected to see if it should be paying council rates.

The Sunday Tribune understands that no such rates have been paid but the question of whether or not they will be due is at the centre of the move and will not be clear for some time.

It is meant as a warning shot to the FSA, which has, according to Lacey, consistently ignored council approaches to allow public access.

"Essentially I would like to see a space in the middle of the city that should be made available to the public; I actually find it quite repulsive that it is not," he said.

"This is a legacy from another era. There are a lot of offices in the area and a lot of people working in the area and they should be able to avail of it on a summer's day."

In 2004, as part of the Mayday celebrations, a large group of people 'occupied' the park to demonstrate the popular belief that such green spaces should not be exclusive.

Efforts to contact the FSA proved unsuccessful, although sources close to the association said issues of maintenance and security were traditionally behind the park being kept locked.