Wednesday, 25 April 2018
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)
I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 10, inclusive, together.
The actions contained in the Mulvey report for the social and economic regeneration of the north east inner city are being overseen and implemented by the programme implementation board, which meets on a monthly basis. It is chaired by Michael Stone and comprises representatives from the community and business sectors and the key Departments and agencies. My Department remains actively involved with the work of the board and the local programme office.
The chair of the board reports on a regular basis to an oversight group of senior officials chaired by the Secretary General of my Department. This group ensures continued strong and active participation by all the relevant Departments and agencies, and deals with any structural barriers or issues highlighted by the board.
The board is working hard in several areas to ensure we achieve the desired change. During my recent visit to the area I witnessed at first hand the commitment of a wide range of community projects working hard to develop opportunities for the people of the north-east inner city.
I also launched the north-east inner city 2017 progress report when I visited the area with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, on Monday, 26 February. A very positive start has been achieved since June 2017, with solid structures and initial funding measures put in place. The focus now shifts to making the fundamental changes required to transform the area over the long term. Community safety and local jobs are two critical areas.
The assignment of 40 new gardaí to the area earlier this month is a major breakthrough and a positive platform from which to deliver a strong and visible community policing service. The impact of drug addiction is fundamental to the challenges facing the community and is an issue which has been raised by various Deputies.
There is a new national drugs strategy with refreshed priorities and the board is working closely with the local drugs and alcohol task force. The first area of collaboration is on a drugs-related intimidation seminar to be held in Croke Park in late May to bring forward practical solutions to tackle this real problem.
The board continues to work with local employers to maximise employment opportunities for local people. The big win so far has been through the new local construction skills and work experience course, which has been run several times and has delivered about 50 jobs. The board is trying to build on that model and target other areas of high demand. The bigger companies are beginning to come forward with individual job offers and are continuing to engage well on structured work experience programmes in the area, such as CareerLEAP.
Thirty new jobs targeting childcare, youth work and care of the elderly services in the community have recently been advertised. These are being funded under the new pilot social employment fund for the area.
The board is working closely with Dublin City Council to drive forward the programme of works to help improve the look and feel of the area.
The Government will continue to support Michael Stone and the board in this work, which is seeing good collaboration between State services, community projects and local employers.
One of the most striking aspects of the report of the task force is that it involves very little more than the type of planning which was typical before the Government effectively closed down local development efforts in 2011 and 2012. When we meet community groups in the area, as I have, and I again visited there recently, we see there is a need to develop a new national commitment to partnership-based community development. The original drug task forces had a huge impact on many areas. That was not primarily a question of money, although it did involve additional funding. It was a question of whether there was a way to get all the State agencies working together in an integrated manner and positively discriminating in favour of such areas. Past initiatives did have a significant impact, when we consider school completion data or the numbers attending courses for early school leavers and at-risk youth. A community-based approach had a huge and very positive impact on many parts of the city of Dublin.
I am concerned by the fact that responsibility for early school leaving is with Tusla. It should not be there. That happened because of trying to beef up Tusla when the new Department of Children and Youth Affairs was established. The same applies to the National Educational Welfare Board, which is out of the remit of the Department of Education and Skills. Both are integral to education. We need to go back to community-based service planning. When I was in the north-east inner city a month ago I saw that housing is a very big issue which this task force is not dealing with. There is a concern that there is an unwritten, almost unspoken, policy of trying to change the profile of who resides in these areas.
The quality of local housing stock is shocking. I cannot see why there is not a proper, specific housing strategy for this area to provide new local authority houses but also facilitate the refurbishment of the existing stock, which is in a very bad way. It cannot all be about student accommodation and catering for employees who are coming in transiently. The local, as it were, native population must be looked after.
To take up that point, there is considerable local frustration regarding the fact that much of the construction in the area relates to student accommodation. I am not overstating things. I represent the area and know it very well. I am not overstating matters when I say that very many people in the inner city, in the old flats complexes, are living in conditions that are not fit for human habitation; they are slum conditions.
These are the finest of people and the finest of families and it is no reflection on them. They live in flats in which there is no room for a kitchen table or a dining-room table where a child would do his or her obair bhaile or where a family can eat a meal together. It is astonishing. In fact, when Kieran Mulvey was doing the groundwork for what would subsequently be his report, he stated very openly that he was shocked by the conditions in which people were living. This is not a superficial issue. It is not simply a matter of refurbishment, it one of root-and-branch, deep social regeneration. Housing is a big part of that but it is not addressed in this strategy and that is a mistake. It makes a mockery of the objectives of the whole exercise.
There would be no harm in having a seminar on drugs-related intimidation. However, we do not need another seminar. What we actually need is a dedicated resource in the area to deal with these issues. We have held seminars before. The Taoiseach talked on his visit about additional funding for the development of a pilot social employment scheme for the area. Can we have more details on that? Who will it target and for whom will it cater? Who are the scheme's partners from within the community?
People who pass the junction of Gardiner Street and Sean McDermott Street and see the magnificent new student accommodation that was built in under two years will find it hard to believe. I could refer to 12 other locations throughout the city where the same is happening. However, I want to ask the Taoiseach why so little progress is being made in respect of taking on young men and women as apprentices and trainees. I have the height of respect for Michael Stone, the chairman of the task force. He has great experience in employing apprentices and a great track record. He is known to people for that. In the context of the Taoiseach's office and its responsibility in the area of oversight, what is causing progress to be so slow? Very shortly, we will not have workers to build houses because we do not have apprentices. On the figures that the Minister for Education and Skills issued recently in respect of the additional carpenters entering training, can the Taoiseach guess what the figure is for the whole of Ireland? It is approximately 1,100. That is a joke.
I know the Taoiseach's background is very much a professional one but people get great careers and businesses out of taking the apprenticeship route. I cannot understand why the task force is not concentrating on this, with the support of the Taoiseach's Department. It will be necessary to put some kind of a rocket under the people who are organising apprenticeships in order that the kids in the area in question, including all the girls who are showing great interest in becoming electricians, get apprenticeships. The demand is there. People like Joe Costello, my former colleague in the north inner city, will tell the Taoiseach that because he has decades of experience of working particularly in education and training in the north inner city.
This is a broad canvas. Quite frankly, an awful lot of good has been done. I want to acknowledge that and the initiatives taken by the Taoiseach's predecessor. There is some transformative work being done. I just want to concentrate on one little aspect of that broad canvas, namely, the area of the national drugs strategy and its implications. I do not think we can actually tackle the really menacing, pervasive, destructive issue of drugs in the context of a tiny area. I spent an evening last week in north-west Dublin at one of the biggest youth clubs in the country. It was highlighted to me that the increased Garda presence in the inner city is actually dislodging some pushers out of the latter and into the area to which I refer. We need to have a joined-up approach in respect of the drugs strategy.
I ask the Taoiseach to also focus on a second issue. There is an enormous amount of groundbreaking, important community work being done in the north inner city and across the State. This needs to be funded in a predictable manner in order that people can make plans on a multi-annual basis. I ask that we collectively decide that this sort of community support not only works but is critical and that we provide whatever resources are needed to support community work and community intervention to ensure that all our citizens get a fair shot.
In respect of community-based development more generally, I think it is worth noting that a lot of that is very much in place. The local drugs task forces, for example, are funded by Government. We also have the reform of the area partnerships. I was very pleased last week to be able to officiate at the relaunch of the Blanchardstown area partnership, the community development partnership that covers my own constituency but now has expanded its remit to cover all of Fingal. It has been renamed Empower in recognition of that fact and it works, of course, in conjunction with the Fingal Leader Partnership and other groups with which the Acting Chairman, Deputy Alan Farrell, will be familiar.
My general sense, and this is just my opinion, is that Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, is the right vehicle for school completion and is getting good results. I am not sure if I agree that something of that nature should be managed on a community development basis. Probably the best way to examine that is to look at school completion rates and see if they have improved since Tusla took over that role.
I do not have those figures in front of me. If, however, we believe in evidence-based policy, probably the best thing for us to do would be to examine those figures.
In terms of student accommodation, I believe that the growth of student accommodation across this city and other cities is very welcome. It brings young people into the area and brings greater diversity into different parts of the city and also frees up accommodation for others. Accommodation that would otherwise be used by people in the private rented market now becomes available. It is welcome that offices and businesses are moving into the north-east inner city area as well. I very much welcome the work that Dublin Port is doing to integrate itself with the north-east inner city. I had the pleasure to visit the port on Friday last and to witness again some of the work that Dublin Port Company is doing to integrate its activities with the surrounding community, which, I think, is very welcome. I want to applaud the company for that. Of course, none of this is being done to the exclusion of new social housing or the refurbishment of existing social housing. There are a number of projects under way in that regard.
When it comes to apprenticeships, I do not have the figures in front of me although I did a couple of days ago. There has been a very significant increase in the number of apprentices in recent years, in the last year or so, and it is very much on an upward trend and will increase into the future as well. Under the leadership of the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, there has been a modernisation of apprenticeships, with new, different types of apprenticeships being added to the more traditional types. I think that is very welcome and it is further evidence that the Government is very supportive of apprenticeships as an educational and career option for young men and women.
I would say that over the past two years we have seen a sea change in Government policy towards apprenticeships. When the Labour Party controlled that Department, the number of apprenticeships was going down and there was not really any innovation or any new apprenticeships brought in-----
All Deputies need do is look at the facts and figures regarding the numbers taking part, the number of people who actually are apprentices and the different types of apprenticeships and then compare the position today with that which obtained two or three years ago.