Tuesday, 12 February 2019
Ceisteanna - Questions
Urban Renewal Schemes
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.
The Mulvey report, Dublin North East Inner City - Creating a Brighter Future, which was commissioned by Government was published in February 2017 and contained an outline plan for the social and economic regeneration of Dublin's north inner city area.
In June 2017, Michael Stone was appointed by Government as independent chair of the north east inner city programme implementation board. Members of the board include representatives from relevant Departments and Government agencies, business and the local community.
The board is assisted in its work by five subgroups: tackling crime and drugs; education, training and employment; creating an integrated system of social services; improving the physical landscape; and addiction treatment and rehabilitation services.
The board and its subgroups continue to meet on a monthly basis to oversee and progress the implementation of the 54 actions set out in the Mulvey report.
Officials from my Department work closely with the board, the subgroups and the dedicated programme office. The chairman of the board reports to an oversight group of senior officials chaired by the Secretary General of my Department. This group meets regularly and held its most recent meeting yesterday. This structure ensures strong and active participation by all relevant Departments and Government agencies and deals with any structural barriers or issues highlighted by the board.
Cabinet committee B, which I chair, provides the requisite ministerial oversight of the initiative, and receives regular updates on recent progress and implementation of the Mulvey report actions.
I last met the chair of the board at the launch of the P-TECH initiative in Larkin community college on 16 November 2018.
The board recently published its 2018 annual progress report. Notable achievements highlighted in the report include: 50 new staff funded and recruited to enhance service delivery in childcare, youth work, elder care and physical environmental projects; the completion of refurbishment works on the Lourdes daycare centre; commencement of enabling works to Fitzgibbon Street Garda station; 51 new gardaí assigned to the area since last April; and the development of the P-TECH initiative in three second level schools in the area to link industry and education through mentorships and internships.
The Government is committed to supporting and investing in the north east inner city community, and ensuring that Michael Stone and the board have the necessary resources to achieve their targets and fulfil their ambition. To this end, the Government has made available €6.5 million in funding for the initiative in 2019.
Showing the ambition for 2019, the board intends to place an emphasis on ensuring that the longer-term interventions required to make a fundamental and transformational change to the area are initiated and implemented.
Central to the board’s aims for 2019 are initiatives to improve assistance for families affected by addiction issues and drug-related intimidation; to build on relationships with local businesses and employers to create sustainable employment; and continued efforts to improve the physical and built environment to make the north east inner city a better place to live and work.
Notwithstanding the very good work being undertaken as part of the north east inner city initiative, there are big problems in the north east inner city as we all know, similar to the issues in my area that need to be addressed. There has been a big increase in illegal dumping in the area since the disastrous privatisation of bin collections. Antisocial behaviour is on the rise and gangs are openly selling drugs on street corners.
There is also a major problem, not just in the inner city but in many other areas, of quad bikes and scramblers being illegally driven around housing estates and green areas. I was disappointed that a Bill I introduced to regulate these vehicles was voted down by the Government and by Fianna Fáil. Residents are living in fear and there does not appear to be strong Garda visibility. We have raised this lack of visibility with the Garda and the Minister for Justice and Equality, which is a consequence of there being 54 fewer gardaí in the north-central area compared with the position a decade ago. This must be corrected.
Given the lack of affordable and social housing in the city, there is a growing trend of two and three generations of a family sharing a single overcrowded home. This is having a very negative impact on people's physical and mental health and on children's education and social development. It is a big contributory factor to many of the problems of the north inner city. We must get to grips with the massive housing shortage across the area and right across Dublin.
There are lots of abandoned historic buildings in the inner city, which are major eyesores for residents and visitors alike. They include Aldborough House and the former Magdalen laundry site on Sean MacDermott Street. There is a lack of imagination and political will to develop these buildings for the local community as opposed to simply serving the interests of private developers.
While the work of the north east inner city group is very welcome, serious issues arise concerning the level of resources required and more importantly, about the lack of a coherent national local development agenda. There is nowhere in the world where a once-off report and the ongoing implementation of that report has delivered sustained regeneration. What works is a systematic and ongoing process of local engagement, shared planning between State agencies and ongoing planning.
Last month, Deputy Curran asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, why the Government is refusing to adopt an approach of systematically targeting concentrated disadvantage. There has been a huge drop-off in the kind of co-ordinated approach that existed a decade ago. The reply that Deputy Curran received was an example of a Government which is mainly focused on the number of projects Ministers can announce, rather than on having a real impact. The approach is to distribute funding in a much broader way, devolving some to the local authorities but most into the hands of the Minister. This has led directly to a reduction in the funding being given to the communities most in need. The joint planning approach of State services in disadvantaged communities has been pushed to the side as well. The spirit of the revitalising areas by planning, investment and development, RAPID, programme has been well and truly buried.
I ask the Taoiseach to commission a short report on the impact of moving from a development approach focused on the most disadvantaged communities to one which is far more scattered. Does the Taoiseach agree that the approach in the north inner city that he was praising should be followed elsewhere? Before Christmas, the Taoiseach promised to examine the issue of the increased politicisation of grants in a range of areas such as the arts, community development and research. I ask him to outline the results of that examination.
The People Before Profit local representative in the north inner city, Gillian Brien, who resides in the flats on Constitution Hill, was forced recently to organise a community protest at Dublin City Council offices over rat infestation in the flats and apartments on Constitution Hill, Queen Street, Dorset Street and Upper Dominick Street. A five year old child was bitten by a rat recently. I spoke to Ms Brien this morning and asked her if the protest has had any impact. The council had promised to address the issue but she told me that nothing has happened and that the rat infestation continues. I heard a person who had lived in the tenement houses on Henrietta Street on the radio recently, as part of the centenary celebrations. He was talking about what Dublin was like back then and in terms of the terrible aspects of living in the tenements 100 years ago, the biggest issue was rats. Today, we still have rat infestations and even when the residents of inner city communities protest at Dublin City Council offices, nothing is done. They fear that the failure to address the neglect of their areas is linked to an agenda to drive the local community out and to socially cleanse the inner city. Huge numbers of the Dominick Street and Dorset Street flats are lying empty. Mr. Brendan Kenny from Dublin City Council said recently that there would be no more public housing in the inner city and that all social housing will be in places like Coolock and Ballymun. The fear of the inner city communities is that the neglect is deliberate. They believe their communities are being run down and issues like rat infestation are not being addressed because the agenda is to destroy their communities and to push them out. What is the Taoiseach going to do about that?
The north inner city initiative is one of those projects that has been supported by Members across this House. It was a really important initiative of the Taoiseach's predecessor, Deputy Enda Kenny. However, there are some concerns about the initiative. I speak to former Deputy Joe Costello very regularly about these matters and particularly about the pace of investment. I ask the Taoiseach to confirm that the additional allocation, which brings funding up from €2 million to €5.5 million, that was announced with some fanfare last October will be spent and that the projects earmarked for 2019 will go ahead as planned. When will the community hub in Rutland Street school be up and running? Does the Taoiseach plan to put this initiative on a statutory footing? We have asked about this previously because it would give great reassurance to the local community. Are the plans to develop Aldborough House going ahead? One of the demands of the local community is that local labour would be involved in any refurbishment work on Aldborough House. Has the Government considered that and if not, will it consider it?
I remember having discussions with the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, about the fact that this initiative, if we get it right, could be a model that is replicated in other disadvantaged areas. Has the Government considered expanding this particular initiative to other vulnerable or disadvantaged areas in the country?
I will pick up on a few of the questions that were asked by Deputies. I note the Deputies' comments and will respond to their direct questions. Deputy Ellis asked about the Magdalen laundry site. As Deputies will be aware, Dublin City Council voted against the sale of the former convent and laundry on Sean MacDermott Street. The proposed plans were for the development of a hotel and social housing units for older people on the site. In that context, it is not entirely correct to say that the council has no plans for social housing in the area. The council actually did have plans but they were voted down by the city councillors in this particular instance. Sadly, that is happening more and more all over Dublin. There were also plans for a suitable memorial to the Magdalen women, which would have brought investment and footfall to the area. There are, of course, a lot of understandable sensitivities around the site, given its former use but I am hopeful that the land will be developed for the benefit of the area and the residents, while respecting the difficult history of the location.
Deputy Micheál Martin raised the issue of local community development and I acknowledge that he has raised this issue on many occasions in the past. There are lots of ways to deliver local community development. My constituency has quite a number of pockets of deep disadvantage, as does the Deputy's. Sometimes community development is done through vehicles like local drugs task forces and the DEIS programme in education, which most people will acknowledge has improved education outcomes for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The CLÁR programme for depopulated rural areas is important, as is the use of local community development committees, LCDCs, as a vehicle for the delivery of local community development. It is too soon to judge whether the north east inner city model is one that should be followed and replicated in the future. No one would question the excellent work that has been done by the group in recent years but ultimately any appraisal has to be based on outcomes. We would have to take one or two similar areas around the country and compare the outcomes there with the outcomes in the north east inner city to assess whether all of the good work and investment has actually led to an improvement in measurable outcomes. It will take a couple of years before we can know that for sure. We need to make a distinction between good work and good outcomes because they can be quite different.
In terms of the politicisation of Government grants, I do not accept that criticism. Any grants that are announced by the Government must be applied for and there is an appraisal and evaluation system in operation. Often there is a scoring system too and then the Minister announces the successful grantees. Then a flurry of freedom of information requests are submitted to make sure that there was no political interference in the process and I am assured that it is not the case.
When I was the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport I was very involved, along with the then Minister of State, Deputy Ring, in changing the sports capital programme so that it was less political and had a proper scoring system.
Each county got an amount of money relative to the number of people living in that county rather than where the Minister might be from. Those criteria have been retained for the sports capital grants by subsequent Ministers.
I am sorry to hear about the condition of some of the social housing around Dorset Street, as mentioned by Deputy Boyd Barrett. I know that area well for lots of different reasons. I cannot comment on Dublin City Council's plan but suffice it to say that Dublin City Council is a council that is now very much dominated by left wing political forces. If there is any attempt being made to run down the area, surely they should take some responsibility for-----
On Aldborough House, the last I heard was that the plans for Aldborough House were to develop it for offices as a company headquarters, thus bringing employment into the area.
On the funding, I am advised that for 2019, €6.5 million has been funded through the community enhancement programme, formerly RAPID, and the community facilities scheme. In terms of the ambition for 2019, the board intends to place an emphasis on ensuring that the long-term interventions required to make a fundamental and transformational change to the area are initiated and implemented. Central to the board's aims for 2019 are to assist families affected by addiction and drug related intimidation in particular, to build relationships with local businesses and employers to create sustainable employment and to continue efforts to improve the physical and built environment to make the north east inner city a more attractive place for people to live and also to work.