More than sixty architectural firms from Ireland and abroad have entered a competition to transform Smithfield Square in Dublin. But locals are sceptical.

The competition is being run as part of an urban regeneration scheme, known as the Harp Plan. It is aimed at renewing the north inner city in four specific areas west of O’Connell Street: the shopping area at Henry Street, the markets area around Capel Street, Smithfield Square, and the new National Museum at Collins Barracks at Benburb Street.

Smithfield Square has been home to markets for over 300 years. The monthly horse fair attracts the curious onlooker, as well as dealers from all over Dublin, and beyond. This part of the north inner city has unfortunately become run down and neglected over the years, and Dublin Corporation plans to renew and transform it with this architectural competition.  

Dick Gleeson, Deputy Planning Officer with Dublin Corporation, explains, 

...It is long acknowledged to be a tremendous space, but under-exploited, and we’re hoping that the ideas coming from the competition will make it a very dramatic place, and I would envisage that in three or four years time, that Dubliners would be able to get on an LRT, whether in Stephen’s Green or in Tallaght, and enjoy a whole range of activities...in the space here.

Local people would prefer to see something being done to improve the area for those already living there, as projects such as the 235 apartments currently under construction will not benefit them.  

Mary Richards from the Harp Area Residents Association is concerned about the sustainability of such a development in the longer term,

If they were to build something for children in it, that children could play in, even a swimming pool or something.  It’s paying them more to put apartments in it...but it’s not suiting us, the people that live in the area... They’ll take the flats and apartments for a while, they’ll rent them or lease them for a while, and then when they’re ready, they’ll up and off...

The winning design for Smithfield Square will be chosen in the next two weeks. For the first time in such a competition, local residents will be represented on the panel. But they remain sceptical about whether their needs will be accounted for in the overall regeneration of the area.

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 13 June 1997.  The reporter is Emma O’Kelly.