Council Affairs: The back door debacle

Limerick County Council Offices in Dooradoyle.

ON a bleak, dark, and piercing cold morn, where a bowl of gruel wouldn’t have gone amiss to warm the very cockles of your heart, it was the use of a servants entrance that was on one Limerick councillor’s mind.

At last Wednesday’s Newcastle West district meeting, Independent councillor Jerome Scanlan was making enquiries as to the use of the back door.

Cllr Scanlan had a motion on this month’s agenda calling for all council delivered tenancies to have both a front and back door entrance. This, he maintained, is a basic requirement in the 21st Century  — when the most recent homeless figures showed 11,397 people accessing emergency accommodation in Ireland.

He pointed out that the local authority are providing good quality social housing, but that some tenants have to drag bicycles and bins through the front of their ‘umble homes due to the lack of a rear entrance.

This practice he considered “Dickensian”, a relic of a time when “the chamber pot was brought in through the front door”.

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“Have we lost the plot?” he boldly asked the executive.

“Put in a front and back door. This is nonsense. It is 2023,” he bumbled.

Scanlan’s gripe was that many new developments, terraces of three to five houses, will see the homes at either end come complete with a rear entrance, while the piggies in the middle, or the middle poor neighbours, go without.

Cathaoirleach of the Newcastle West Municipal District, Cllr Michael Collins, who works as an auctioneer, tried to talk Scanlan down from his window box.

He told Cllr Scanlan that it was now “common practice” to build homes without side entrances in mid-terraced developments.

The Council were well and truly taken unexpectedly from behind when Fine Gael councillor Liam Galvin rallied in to support Cllr Scanlan, supporting his council colleague’s back door motion.

Cllr Galvin deemed it “ludicrous” that people had to drag bags of coal and blocks in through the front of their homes, leaving mess and soot all over the beige rug.

“The days of a house without a rear entrance is gone. Dragging dirty bits in through the hall, that day is gone.”

The artful Cllr Scanlan believes this is just “common sense”.

The local authority’s Senior Engineer for Housing and Maintenance Brendan Kidney bravely took this one for the team, seeking not to tackle the issue sideways or from any other untoward angle.

“It is council policy to provide own-door access for houses and apartments alike. As with current design policy, individual front and rear door access is provided to all detached, semi-detached, and terraced housing,” Mr Kidney explained.

“However, it is not possible to provide rear-door access from apartment or first floor duplex type units. In accordance with Part B of the Building Regulations, design standards dictated escape through either protected corridors or windows.

“As stated above, in line with Limerick City and County Council policy, we ensure that own front door access is provided to apartments and duplex type units. Rear door access/egress from such units would require additional stairs to the rear of the building, which would impact privacy, site size, and therefore cost of construction, and such abnormal costs would not be covered by the DHLGH (Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage).”

Forget Dickens — instead it might be better for councillors to heed the warning from Greek storyteller Aesop: “Those who enter through the back door can expect to be shown out through the window.”