Thursday, 1 October 2015
Topical Issue Debate
Community Development Initiatives
I appreciate the selection of this issue for debate. I am sorry that the line Minister is not here on this occasion. I think anybody in this House knows Dundrum Town Centre. It is the most modern shopping centre and has the largest footfall in the country. It is the subject of a Project Jewel sale by NAMA. There are three entities on the fifth floor of Dundrum Town Centre that provide hugely valuable community services. The first is Dublin South 93.9FM Community Radio, which has been in operation for 30 years. It has a staff of 13, the majority of whom are community employment scheme employees. It broadcasts to a listenership of 12,000, has approximately 1,000 contributors and covers the gamut of life, including community life and services and political discussion. Dundrum Adult Training and Education is another occupant of the fifth floor. It provides 54 classes to approximately 600 learners aged 18 to 90 who have prepaid for the current session from the middle of September so there are financial commitments and commitments in terms of providing classes. Finally, Dundrum Citizens Information Centre answers in the region of 6,000 queries from citizens every year and has been in existence for almost 40 years. President Higgins visited Dundrum Adult Training and Education this year.
On 24 September 2015, letters were received by Dundrum Citizens Information Centre and Dublin South 93.9FM Community Radio telling them they had four weeks to quit. That is uncivil in any developed society, particularly when so many people are involved. If one adds them up, approximately 18,600 people - between listeners to the radio station, people taking classes and citizens coming for information, advice and advocacy services on a range of issues - will be directly affected by what is happening. A total of 25 local volunteers man that high-quality service.
Part of the planning permission for Dundrum Town Centre was that there would be 2,700 sq. m of facilities for a crèche, a performance arts area and areas for community groups. It is the fifth floor of the shopping centre that provides the facilities I am talking about here. It is just not right that in a modern civilised society, firms of solicitors can do this because of a unilateral decision of the town centre management acting on behalf of Crossridge Investments Limited. It is not on. When they asked me what I would do, I said that, first of all, I would not move and, second, I would be there to help them to stage a lock-in if it came to that.
On behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills, I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. By way of background, the Department Of Education and Skills funds further education and training provision through SOLAS. The latter provides funding to the education and training boards, ETBs, through an annual budgetary process for a wide range of further education and training services. The ETBs are autonomous bodies and are responsible for the organisation of provision in their functional areas.
Dundrum Adult Training and Education, DATE, is a voluntary group that was founded in 1984 and has been supported by Dublin and Dún Laoghaire ETB and, prior to the latter's establishment, County Dublin Vocational Education Committee for many years. DATE moved to its current location in Dundrum Town Centre in 2006. The ETB took out the lease of the unit and DATE has operated its services from the centre since. The partnership between DATE and Dublin and Dún Laoghaire ETB, DDLETB, has seen the adult education programme available through DATE grow and develop to meet the needs of those who want to attend day-time adult education classes. In 2014, DATE enrolled 1,990 learners for a range of courses in areas including computers, arts, crafts and languages. Classes are held on a daily basis, mornings and afternoons. In addition to DATE, the Citizens Information Service and a community radio station are tenants in Unit 2, Floor 5, of Dundrum Town Centre. DDLETB leases the unit and the two tenants sublease from the ETB. The tenants do not pay rent for the lease of their accommodation, although they pay the service charges arising. The ETB meets the services charges arising for DATE.
The landlord has recently issued a notice to quit the unit by the end of October. It is understood that an issue has arisen in respect of the lease terms and conditions which the landlord has sought to have addressed. DDLETB has informed the Department that it is in discussions with the landlord to resolve the outstanding matters. The Minister is very anxious that these discussions are concluded quickly to the satisfaction of all parties so that the valuable service provided to learners and other service users continues to operate without interruption.
I acknowledge what the Minister of State says. The important thing here relates to a letter to me from Gerry Ashe, the chair of the board of directors of the Citizens Information Service which deals with 6,000 queries.
I think he summarises it well. His letter stated:
The CIC had previously held a sublease from the Education and Training board who also rent space in the Town Centre, but earlier this year, the Town Centre informed us that they would issue a lease directly to the CIC and its parent company the Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Citizens Information Service. However while we were in negotiation for this lease, the Town Centre decided unilaterally to withdraw the offer of a lease and has demanded immediate vacant possession. We also understand that the ETB has not secured a lease so they are not in a position to offer a sub-lease either.
As I said in my first intervention, we need to put a brake on it all and bang heads together in a civilised and civil way, and then let solicitors articulate in law or in contract what civilised discussion has achieved. Some 18,600 people are affected which is too many people to be affected in a very non-civil and very rude, abrupt and discourteous way. That is the point of the whole thing.
I again thank the Ceann Comhairle for taking the issue.
I note the Deputy's closing comment and the quote from Mr. Ashe. I reiterate that what the Deputy has said is now on the record and I am hopeful that the powers that be in the Department of Education and Skills are listening. Dublin and Dún Laoghaire ETB has informed the Department that it is in discussions with the landlord to resolve the outstanding matters. I hope that the Deputy's intervention today will add to that case.