Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Dublin (North Inner City) Development Authority Bill 2018: Second Stage [Private Members]
I thank Deputy Lahart for introducing the legislation. It recognises the decades of social and economic neglect the north inner city of Dublin has endured. Fianna Fáil is no doubt acutely aware of successive Governments' failure to deliver the political and policy decisions necessary to tackle the embedded inequalities in this part of our city. The Deputy’s party leader was a Cabinet member for 20 consecutive years, yet did nothing to address the social and economic challenges of the inner city. In that time, no bright light was shone on the intergenerational poverty, unemployment and blockages to education experienced daily. There was no dogged ongoing commitment to radically changing the outcomes for children and their families. Let us imagine the positive, life-changing interventions that could have been delivered for this community over the course of two decades. The Bill is a welcome albeit belated recognition by the Deputy of his party’s historic failure to grip the declining fortunes of the inner city and hopefully it signals a new and long-term commitment to transforming the lives of those who live there.
There are a number of current projects and challenges within the inner city that need urgent attention. The regeneration of O'Devaney Gardens needs to be completed without any further delays. We have yet to receive a completion date for the Croke Villas project. The Department of Justice and Equality and Dublin City Council have failed to deliver on their commitment to develop an appropriate memorial at the Seán McDermott Street site to the women who survived the Magdalen laundries. This particular failure is truly astounding and gives an insight into the sometimes shallow response by the State when acknowledging the horrific treatment meted out to our most vulnerable women and children, very many of whom came from Dublin's north inner city. Intergenerational unemployment has not been grappled, nor have the systematic flexible approaches and supports required to redirect early school leavers to education and training. While progress has been made at a community policing level, the impact of criminal feuds and low-level crime in the inner city continues to have a deep and detrimental effect on peoples' sense of security and happiness. We regularly hear from individuals and families who simply do not feel safe in their homes, in their blocks of flats or on their streets.
There is a lack of ambition and vision at Government and council management level for the inner city and its long-term success. For me, the refusal of the Government to engage with Dublin City Council to purchase Aldborough House typifies this failure. Visitors to any modern city will see how sites like Aldborough House and Seán McDermott Street’s former Magdalen laundry can be creatively reimagined, often as self-financing cultural and historical sites enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. Why must government at every level and the officials always seek to limit the aspirations for areas like the inner city? Why is an approach of tinkering around the edges always favoured above deep, transformative change? Why have they failed to work together to deliver the radical changes the community has cried out for?
If an authority is to be established, it must never become yet another underperforming quango that fails to deliver for the long term. That is my concern. Sinn Féin will enable the passage of this legislation to the next Stage. However, we do this on the basis that if it is to progress through the House we will submit very significant changes and amendments. As it stands, it is merely a superficial nod to what needs to be done in the inner city, with all due respect. The Bill provides that the authority will deliver social and economic regeneration, and improvements in areas like the physical environment. It is intended that the authority will prepare a strategy for the regeneration of the area and promote investment by statutory bodies. The spirit of these commitments is welcome, although arguably we should not need a new quango to achieve on these standard deliverables if there were a collective political will to do so.
Section 5 of the Bill provides for enabling the authority to dispose of land that is in the ownership of the State on completion of its development, redevelopment, renewal or conservation. This is a significant cause of concern and a provision that we could not accept should the Bill progress through the Oireachtas. As the Deputy knows, this Bill cannot confer such a right on the authority. Even if the Bill could bypass existing legislation that governs the disposal of public land, I would be surprised if his Dublin City Council colleagues would support the Deputy's intention to strip them of their democratic powers in this regard.
This concern is compounded by the Bill’s sidelining of community representation on the authority’s board. This is what puzzles me most. The Bill proposes having six Government officials, three State agency representatives, three business representatives and just three persons from the North Inner City Community Coalition. A glaring omission is the lack of an official from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. Anyone who knows Dublin's north inner city will know those are critical players to have around the table.
As the Deputy is no doubt aware, community leaders have called for the proposed authority to have an independent chair and yet the legislation does not provide for this. The board does not include local elected representatives or experts in the various fields necessary to deliver the transformative public policy needed to address the community’s imbedded challenges. It is worth noting that all of the officials the legislation provides for are already working within the implementation group of the north-east inner city programme.
The legislation also commits to implement the recommendations of Kieran Mulvey’s Dublin North East Inner City report. I am unsure why the Deputy would seek to duplicate this same work which is ongoing.
I am also concerned that the Bill’s limited provisions mirror the Dublin Docklands Development Authority Act, which ended in tears. Given the many failures and shortcomings associated with that project, surely any similar project should reflect the lessons learned from the past mistakes made by the Deputy’s party.
I will work with any and all political representatives and State officials to deliver social and economic regeneration and improvements in the physical environment of Dublin's north inner city. However, my ambition for this community is much greater than that outlined in the Bill. As a Deputy honoured to be elected to represent the constituency, I understand that transformative change is required to ensure that we are the last generation of Deputies to raise the deeply sad and entirely avoidable social and economic inequalities that are written deep into the fabric of Dublin's north inner city.
We must radically decrease the number of early school leavers and address poverty, which is at the root of all of this. Fluidity and flexibility are required in the delivery of all services, in particular health care and the supports necessary to extract people from the grip of drug addiction. The State must support lone parents in their efforts to improve their lot through education, retraining and employment.
Delivery of social and affordable housing to include cost-rental homes must be ramped up. So too must the quality of the homes within existing stock and future developments. The Deputy knows as well as I do that too many public and private tenants are living in homes riddled with damp and mould. They are tenement buildings in 2018. Flats are so small that children have no kitchen table on which to do their homework. This is an abiding theme of mine. It might sound odd on first hearing. These are homes with no kitchen table at which to do homework, have a meal at or have a gathering of the family. What is that all about in 2018? Teenagers and their parents have no privacy. Adult children are sharing bedrooms with their Mam. Homeless families spend months and sometimes years in emergency accommodation.
We must also demand the development of cultural, creative and historic spaces as a staple of any future development projects. Officialdom needs to commit to an indepth and meaningful consultation with the community in all its parts to develop a long-term vision for Dublin's north inner city. That needs to be more than just regeneration packages. Regeneration is an important component, but only a single component of the objective to build a safe, sustainable, vibrant and hopeful community in Dublin's north inner city.
The deliverables from any authority need to be properly resourced. If not, then all of this is just optics. It means real investment in infrastructure, supports and people. It means a real programme to eradicate poverty. If these commitments are not hardwired into the legislation, this will end up being yet another meaningless Bill, delivered by a political party that felt it needed to engage in empty gesture politics in respect of the people I represent in Dublin's north inner city. We can do better than that.
I believe James Connolly put it best and I say this on behalf of my constituents in Dublin's north inner city:
For our demands most moderate are,
We only want the earth.
Crumbs from the table, however well intentioned, however polished the legislative language, are simply not enough. Dublin's inner city needs investment. We need decent housing, decent education, flexibility in how we deliver our services, belief and hope in our people.
We will give the legislation a fair wind and will not block it. However, I am not convinced this is the panacea and I have pointed out some of its design flaws. If political leadership in this Chamber believes that people in Dublin's north inner city, their advocates and community leaders will be appeased or satisfied by gesture politics and continuing sweet rhetoric, they are wrong. We want results. We want decent homes, decent work and a decent chance. That means the Government needs to be prepared not to invest through a quango, but to invest directly in all those things. That is the challenge for all of us.