Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Dublin (North Inner City) Development Authority Bill 2018: Second Stage [Private Members]
Since a gang war erupted a little over two years ago, the north inner city has unfortunately become the focus of Government attention for all the wrong reasons. I acknowledge that the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, took a personal interest in the area and that this resulted in the Mulvey report and, to this day, increased Government expenditure in the north inner city. He should be commended on that.
This Bill would not be before us but for the persistence of our party colleague from the area, Ms Mary Fitzpatrick, who has advocated for this for a number of years. She is quite clear that there must be a longer-term vision if there is to be a meaningful role in terms of regeneration. It cannot be piecemeal. The development authority would lead a co-ordinated response to the regeneration of the north inner city over a longer period, probably over a decade. Support for the regeneration of the inner city cannot be switched on and off; consistent commitment is required over the medium term. Regeneration must empower the local community and ensure that State bodies and agencies engage fully and meaningfully with the community. The success of the development authority will not be judged by improvement and enhancement of the physical infrastructure alone but also by developing and empowering a confident local community. In the absence of the establishment of a north inner city development authority, Mary Fitzpatrick, Deputy Lahart and I are concerned that the commitment over a period of up to ten years cannot be guaranteed and that the programmes and processes we put in place will be piecemeal and will not be underpinned by buy-in from all the statutory agencies required and a multi-annual budget.
I will refer briefly to some of the main provisions in the Bill. Its objective is to contribute to the regeneration of Dublin's north inner city - the area was outlined by Deputy Lahart - over a timeframe of no more than ten years. The authority, on behalf of the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and Dublin City Council, shall foster the social and economic regeneration of the north inner city, improvements in the physical environment and the implementation, as far as possible, of Mr. Kieran Mulvey's report. The authority will identify bodies, both statutory and otherwise, which may contribute to the regeneration of the area taking account of the strategies of relevant statutory and other bodies operating in the area. It will undertake the preparation of a strategy for regeneration of the area, drawing on State lands, other statutory bodies and investment programmes, and will be responsible for the promotion and implementation of that strategy. The business of the authority will be overseen by a board of directors appointed by the Minister. We are proposing to specify who will be on that board. It would include officials from the Departments of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Education and Skills, Justice and Equality, Housing, Planning and Local Government, Finance and Health, the CEO of Dublin City Council, members of An Garda Síochána and the HSE and members of the local community and business community. The authority will produce and publish an annual report.
I will not go into the further detail of the Bill. Those who are interested can read it. The composition of the board is quite important. We have often established boards and groups in the past but when we look at the record of engagement with the statutory agencies shortly after their establishment various agencies do not attend or commit in the way they are supposed to. The reason for this Bill is the lack of support that has been demonstrated to our disadvantaged communities over an extended period. The situation in the north inner city did not happen overnight. For many people who are living in the north inner city, disadvantage is intergenerational. The programmes that had been in place only partially worked and were insufficient. I will point out some of the deficiencies. By getting the people who are responsible in the various statutory bodies on board with a development authority for the area we can identify the deficiencies and we will have a chance of bringing forward a remedy and solution.
Consider the role of the Garda Síochána in the north inner city and across the disadvantaged areas in Dublin in recent years. While the national units have had significant levels of success, communities across Dublin all say that the community gardaí who interact with them are no longer on the streets in the same numbers. The same applies to divisional drug units. The national units have had significant seizures, but drug units at local level do not appear to be impacting in the way they had previously. People in communities across Dublin, including the north inner city, can identify where drug dealing is taking place.
The funding to the RAPID - revitalising areas by planning, investment and development - programme, which was to be made available to 31 of the most disadvantaged communities in the country, has been abandoned for years. It was reintroduced in recent times with the small funding figure of approximately €60,000 being provided per RAPID area. That is paying lip-service to the programme. The Government knows that. When there is a serious problem it is not €60,000 that is provided but the €5 million that the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, has indicated he is paying this year. That is the level of commitment and investment required. I am concerned that without a development authority the continuation of the multi-annual funding and the underpinning of the programme for the north inner city will not be as they should be.
I acknowledged the impact the former Taoiseach had because the funding flowed from what he did. However, we cannot have funding that is provided at the whim of a Minister or Taoiseach of the day. The community in the north inner city needs a sustained programme with multi-annual funding, and that requires a development authority. The Minister of State is as well aware as I am that one of the scourges in our most disadvantaged communities, including the north inner city as well as parts of the constituency Deputy Lahart and I represent, is drug abuse. It is a blight on all our communities.
For a number of years we had established drug and alcohol task forces. We had empowered them to work on programmes to deal with prevention and to help people who were in recovery. In recent years, while the funding bodies such as the Department of Health and the HSE from whom the task forces received their funding were allocated increases in funding, the drug and alcohol task forces were on the same funding they were on in 2014, which is less than the funding they were on in 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009. I understand the historic reasons and I am aware that there was a recession but as the funding bodies received increases in funding, the task forces did not. I set these issues out to show that if we do not have a combined programme for the north inner city in Dublin, if we do not put a programme in place to endure for a decade, if we are at the whim of programmes being switched on and off, and if we are at the whim of not knowing if funding is one-off or annual, then the objectives we have for Dublin's north inner city will not be addressed. This is the concern.
I understand that the Minister of State and the Government will not support the Bill. I ask him to think about it again for a moment. The is one of the most challenging areas in Dublin. We are trying to see it as an opportunity to be a model. Many of the programmes that are supported by Government would be incorporated into the activities of a national development authority. The difference is that there would be co-ordination. Currently the money is being spent in the north inner city of Dublin programme by programme. It is what the local authority wants or what a Department wants. We need somebody to oversee it. We are open to amendments to the Bill, but I have no doubt that the authority as proposed in the Bill can be the co-ordinating body.
We have known there is a problem for two years and there has been no response. Two years ago, Mary Fitzpatrick clearly set out that the response needed to be co-ordinated. We support her in that. The purpose of the Bill is to provide for the co-ordinated response on the type of investment and support over the next decade. It is not just about financial support; it is also about the type of meaningful buy-in from the statutory agencies. They should attend meetings and provide on the ground they are supposed to do. This can only be achieved through a national development authority. This is about much more than regeneration of houses or the refurbishment and enhancement of the physical environment. It is about empowering a local community and giving them the confidence to look after themselves, having come through some very difficult times.
I urge the Minister of State to reconsider his position and support the Bill, to allow it to advance and to use the north inner city of Dublin as a pilot case that can be shown to work in disadvantaged communities throughout the State.