Church sells off The Secret Garden


There has been a Community Training Workshop in the grounds of All Hallows College in Dublin's Drumcondra for the past fifteen years. These workshops provide complimentary education and training to early school - leavers and other educationally and socially disadvantaged people. The Drumcondra workshop takes most of its trainees from the prisons and the probation service. They provide training in organic horticulture, the only facility outside of third level education in the country which provides this training. It is a small workshop with just fourteen training places. As such it is the smallest and most specialised workshop in the country.

The workshop setting is in a beautifully cultivated garden with greenhouses, a pond and a pottery. There is also a vegetable patch and an orchard. Trainees who have a range of difficulties and disadvantages in their lives come to this workshop and are allowed to learn and develop at their own pace in a gentle, open air environmentally friendly space close to the city, and close to the prisons and hostels many of them live in.

However, to the disbelief of the two full-time staff who work here, all this is to end without a single thought or word of consultation with them. Their landlord is the Catholic Church, in the form of All Hallows College which trains priests for the missions! It has sold the land the workshop is on to a private housing developer for a sum somewhere between four and seven million pounds (it depends on who you believe).

The only consultation was a letter the the workshops' management committee informing that the land had been sold. Six weeks later, no-one from All Hallows has bothered to visit the workshop to see what their options are or to try to accommodate their needs. Architects from the developer have already moved in taking photos and doing measurements.

The staff discovered that, when selling, All Hallows described the property as derelict land! This situation raises in a stark way all the issues about church control of property, about the obscene values of capitalism and about the powerlessness of people who work with disadvantaged groups, and about the disadvantaged themselves.

Despite the fact that the workshop has been funded by FAS, and to a much lesser extent the probation service, for the past fifteen years and despite the fact that over three hundred trainees have benefited from the unique training offered by the workshop, when the chips are down all of these state agencies simply wash their hands of the problem and walk away.

There are two full-time and two part-time jobs, fourteen training places and a unique organic garden and green space close to the city at stake here. The workshop also trains environmental groups in permaculture. A campaign has been started to save the workshop and to retain the walled garden. On invest- igation, it turned out that the workshop does not even have a lease on the land, only a licence (which gives no legal rights). Would the education of third level graduates have been left on such an insecure footing for fifteen years by the state bodies responsible?

You can support the Save the Horticulture Workshop Campaign by contacting Mary Millett at 01-8360578 for information about events and activities.

Patricia McCarthy