Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Dublin (North Inner City) Development Authority Bill 2018: Second Stage [Private Members]
I thank Deputy Lahart for providing this opportunity for the House to focus its attention on Dublin’s north inner city. I also thank Deputy Curran for his contribution. It is worth bringing this into focus and to review where we have been over the past two years. The issue was known of well before two years ago. We were clear when we sat down with Mr. Kieran Mulvey to make these plans that we are dealing with many years of neglect. It was not just something that happened two years ago. We were also conscious that it would not be addressed or fixed, nor would it be able to give everyone all the opportunities they need, in one or two years. A long-term, sustained investment, kicked off with a focus and with an action-led development, is required. We are conscious of that, as was Kieran Mulvey when he met the various residents and groups. The Taoiseach and the Ministers in the different Departments that were involved knew we were signing up to a long-term commitment. Everyone came to the table with long-term ambition. It was not to be just a quick dip in and dip out. Let us be very clear about that. Thankfully, the stakeholders and Departments and agencies are committed to that in the long term. The focus is being driven by the Taoiseach's office and the commitment was there from the start. I was there from the start, involved in the meetings and with Kieran Mulvey. It is important that we get that recognition.
As Mr. Mulvey noted in his report, Dublin’s North East Inner City - Creating a Brighter Future, the area is not just a physical entity; it is a vibrant community steeped in history and with a wealth of literary connections to Joyce, O’Casey and Behan. The north east inner city is also an area facing many challenges that go back many years. Census data highlight the existence of significant clusters of high deprivation within the area. At the extreme end, there are small areas within the north east inner city containing 80% lone parent households, where up to half of the population have attained primary education only and less than 5% with third level education.
The Mulvey report notes that unemployment levels for males in these areas were double and triple the national average including high dependency on the State for housing at more than 90% in some cases. The misuse of legal and illegal substances poses a daily challenge for young people and adults in the area. Alcohol abuse results in major problems for young people causing them to miss days from school and training centres regularly. Many residents were concerned at the exposure of young children to this behaviour because they can see it daily on the streets in some parts of the area. It was stressed by some community groups that even outside their own community buildings, there is undesirable activity going on. All of this contrasts starkly with the existence of areas of strong business and enterprise, along with affluent residential development.
It is appropriate that we are discussing the north east inner city today, and that we acknowledge the challenges but also the huge potential of the area, including that of its residents, who are parents, senior citizens, students, workers and so on whose priority is to have a safe and vibrant community in which to live and the opportunity to improve their lives and those of their children. During those early meetings and discussions much of the focus was on the opportunity and giving people what they needed to be able to avail of those opportunities. We had a very clear discussion on this. It was not just about providing the opportunities; it was also about helping some of the residents who are not in a position to avail of opportunities to be in a better position to take on board the opportunities and taken them forward. This is about investment in people, in skills and in professional people to work with community groups. It is not just the development of infrastructure.
I again thank Deputy Lahart for bringing the issues of Dublin's north east inner city to the fore. While well-intentioned, however, his Bill does not offer the appropriate vehicle to bring the kind of solutions required in the area and, consequently, I must ask the House to reject it. Deputies may recall that in July 2016, following a spate of gangland murders, the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe and others requested Mr. Kieran Mulvey to report on the challenges facing the communities of north east inner city Dublin, and to recommend specific measures that would support the long-term economic and social regeneration of the area. I stress that it was a long-term commitment. Deputy Kenny was clear that he wanted a long-term commitment and that it was not just a quick fix where we would arrive in with a bit of fanfare and disappear again. The then Taoiseach visited the residents three or four times and he stressed that the Government was stepping up to put in place long-term plans. As Deputy Curran mentioned, we recognise that there had been cutbacks in specific projects and funding for a number of years prior to this. Nobody wanted that. We had to make sure that when we put the money and services back in, that would be done in a reformed and structured way to make a difference and to build on what had happened in the past. We recognised that cuts had happened for all the different reasons before that.
In drafting his report, Mr. Mulvey on behalf of the Government engaged extensively with the local community, including community groups, residents and business interests, as well as with Departments and statutory service providers. Mr. Mulvey's report, which was published in February 2017, reflected the insights he gained from this engagement. He emphasised on many occasions how valuable those insights and engagement were. He commended all the groups, people and residents for giving their time and commitment, and for trusting him with the work he had to do. There had been an issue in trying to build up trust in some cases. Mr. Mulvey was conscious of this as he made his report ready for the Government.
Without any disrespect to the intention of the Bill, the actions and structures outlined in the Mulvey report accurately reflect the requirements and desires of the community for their social and economic regeneration. Mr. Mulvey spent many months meeting people, as did many of the contributors to the debate who may also live in the area. On behalf of the Government and the Departments, Mr. Mulvey spent time with the residents trying to engage and see exactly what was needed and wanted. He put a shape to that engagement, which was the aim of the project in the first place.
Work is well advanced in implementing the recommendations of the Mulvey report under the oversight of the Department of An Taoiseach. While the Bill specifically seeks the implementation of the recommendations of the 2017 Mulvey report, it should be noted that the report did not recommend the establishment of a statutory authority with prescribed functions. Rather, the introductory recommendation of the report was that an independent executive chair would be appointed and that a team would be put in place to take forward the subsequent recommendations of the report.
An implementation board was established in June 2017 led by an independent chair, Mr. Michael Stone, who was appointed by An Taoiseach. The implementation board includes representatives of An Garda Síochána, Dublin City Council, the Health Service Executive, the Departments of Children and Youth Affairs, Education and Skills, Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Health and the Taoiseach and the local community, including an employer and business representative.
A programme office, with a multidisciplinary team, has also been established. This office, which is headed by the independent chair, is based in the Dublin City Council central area headquarters on Seán MacDermott Street in the heart of the north east inner city.
The programme office oversees a range of communication and community engagement initiatives as well as funding and administration across a number of priority regeneration themes. Given that high level participation from key State bodies is already in place, it is considered that the establishment of a new statutory agency as envisioned by the Bill before us might undermine or even compete with the structures that are already in place and operating effectively in this regard. We were very clear from the start that we did not want that competition. The aim was to bring everybody together. We had the one agenda here and the one driver and it was important that everyone knew who was driving this from the start.
Deputy Lahart’s Bill would see the establishment of a new statutory body which in essence would be a development agency. While the section 4 of the Bill sets out some general intentions for the activity of the new agency, section 5 sets out the primary statutory functions of the proposed authority, including the preparation of detailed proposals and plans for development, redevelopment, renewal or conservation of land, the management of State-owned land for its possible future development, the disposal of State-owned land on completion of its development, etc. This heavy focus on physical redevelopment, land management and land disposal is not necessarily what was sought by the local community and was not the emphasis of the Mulvey report.
The Mulvey report is clear that the primary issues faced in the north-east inner city are social and economic in nature, including policing and crime prevention, tackling crime and drugs, and maximising educational and training opportunities. I emphasise that they should be training opportunities with job potential. There are many young people out there who want new skills development opportunities that could lead on to jobs. Other issues are those of creating local employment opportunities and creating an integrated system of social services. It was more about an investment in people and services. While we know regeneration is required as part of that, we have established the Land Development Agency to work on behalf of the Government with a regeneration role along with local authorities to drive that agenda. We do not need another agency set up alongside that. We need to continue to focus our efforts and resources on addressing these issues within the structures currently in place to ensure the successful community regeneration of this area of our capital city.
I thank Deputy Lahart for again bringing to the attention of the House the issues faced by these communities. While I might not agree with the Bill, I agree with having an ongoing conversation about and a focus on what we are trying to do here. This debate gives us a chance to do that. The Government is committed to the regeneration of this area for the benefit of its residents and visitors. Progress is being made and is already evident in the area. It is vital that there are no more false dawns for this community. Going back to the various meetings we had in the communities, the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, was very clear that he was not there to give false hope or false dawns. He was there to put in place long-term plans with short-term and medium-term gains but with a long-term ambition.
Community engagement and support is vital for the regeneration effort to succeed and the structures that have been put in place will continue to have this at their core. There is no lack of Government commitment when it comes to the regeneration of the north-east inner city. The task force led by the Department of An Taoiseach and the senior officials group chaired by the Secretary General of the Department maintain an ongoing oversight role. Dublin City Council has committed all the necessary resources for the project office. Other key Government bodies are all participating in the implementation board and are assigning resources, including ring-fenced funding as necessary. While I commend Deputy Lahart, it is important to point out the shortcomings of this Bill. The proposed development authority is not what was sought and is not what is required to deliver for the community.