Several hundred people took part in a protest in Templemore, Co Tipperary today calling for the local community to be allowed access once again to the swimming pool at the Garda college.
The pool has been used for decades by the local community to learn how to swim and for water safety lessons. It was closed in March 2020 because of the pandemic and has not returned to regular public use since then.
The pool reopened for a short time last March, but closed again in June and has remained closed until next April and only when Garda training needs and energy costs are analysed.
But local people are dismayed and disappointed that a facility long used by the public for leisure and lessons will no long be available. A campaign has been ongoing for several weeks by a group calling itself 'We just want to swim' who have gathered over 500 names on a petition calling for the use of the pool by the public to be reinstated.
The group lead a protest through the town to the gates of the college this afternoon to highlight its campaign. It has also led a strong campaign on social media and has highlighted the issue on local media on both radio and in local newspapers.
Local woman Deirdre Ryan who heads up the campaign to try and get the pool reopened to the public said the local community is "absolutely devastated about the issue and that it flies in the face of history and the legacy of what has been available to the community since 1965".
"We're just asking for one night a week for the pool to be available to children and families to have their swimming lessons. The nearest pools are in Roscrea and Thurles both of which are completely oversubscribed and where classes are full, so those resources are not available to us," she said
The Office of Public Works (OPW) is the property owner, and is the authority which can grant licences to access the pool to schools and community groups through an application process which is managed by the Garda college.
It said the principal use of the pool facility is for the college authorities and while the OPW is consulted, the Garda authorities must take account of issues relating to the efficient use of the property and related running costs in their decisions around the use of the facilities and whether to close the facilities for a period of time.
The Garda Press Office said any decision to reopen the pool will primarily take into consideration demand by gardaí for training within the college and the wider current energy cost implications. When reopened, use of the pool by the local community will be taken into consideration, it said in a statement.
Deirdre Ryan met with Taoiseach Micheál Martin while he was in Co Tipperary yesterday to speak to him about their campaign.
Mr Martin said it was regrettable that this had happened, particularly as it was used extensively by children and young people to learn to swim safely and about water safety.
He said he would work with the various agencies involved to see if can be resolved.