Thursday, 10 October 2019
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Community Development Projects
I am glad to be able to speak about Huntstown community centre in the Dáil a couple of days after the budget. The Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, is standing in for the Minister for Rural and Community Development, who could not be here today, unfortunately. I ask the Minister of State to understand that Huntstown is a very large community in Dublin 15. So far this year, the very successful Huntstown community centre has been used by over 68,000 people, which is a lot of people. I am sure the Minister of State is familiar with community centres in his constituency of Wicklow. Like many public buildings, Huntstown community centre has recently undergone a necessary audit of fire and building checks. This happened after a number of schools in Dublin 15 were found to have serious defect problems. Everyone, including the board of management, the day-to-day management of the centre, the manager of the centre and the manager of the crèche that is run from Huntstown community centre, wants the centre to operate to the highest safety levels. The people of Huntstown and Dublin 15 are entitled to no less.
The report on fire safety, structural safety and structural issues with the building is really concerning. It comes with a price tag of €250,000, which is not that huge in the context of the way the Government spends money. It involves making the building safe in terms of various materials and building practices which were not adhered to when a new addition was added onto the centre some years ago. The centre itself has been operating for almost 20 years. Along with the adjoining school, church and small set of shops, the community centre is the heartbeat of the community. The staff and management of the centre work very hard and are respected by the community for the contribution they make.
I ask the Minister of State and his Fine Gael colleagues, along with those in Fianna Fáil who are supporting them in government, to ensure €250,000 is made available to the community of Huntstown. Facilities like the community crèche are vital for families with young children. Many activities, including after-school events, take place at the centre. Many people drop into the coffee shop each day or each weekend. The traditional activities that are found in a popular community centre, such as dancing and art classes for older people, must be able to continue at Huntstown community centre.
In light of the seriousness of the reports that have been submitted, I have no doubt that the centre will face serious obstacles as it seeks to continue to operate as it operates now. The Government must be able to address this. It is able to help rural areas like the Minister of State's locality through LEADER funds. Some county councils take responsibility for community centres, particularly newer centres or centres in disadvantaged areas. People in Huntstown get up early in the morning in the manner advocated by members of the Government. They work and they contribute to their community centre. They are no less deserving than other communities of Government funding and support to ensure their much-loved community centre is able to continue. I ask the Minister of State to give hope and reassurance to people in Huntstown that the Government will ensure such assistance is provided.
I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, was meant to deputise for the Minister for Rural and Community Development, but she has had to attend to a domestic matter.
The Minister, Deputy Ring, is aware of the situation in Huntstown community centre and knows how important the centre is to the people of Huntstown. Community centres are the cornerstones of many communities around the country. They bring people together in a safe space for social, educational and informational purposes. We need to do everything we can to keep them open and in good condition because they help to tie communities together. Like Deputy Burton and every other Member of the House, I regularly visit community centres in my role as a public representative. It is important that facilities where people gather are safe from a fire safety perspective and safe in every other way. I understand that issues of this nature have arisen at Huntstown community centre. I am informed that the centre is doing everything in its power to address these issues and to work through all the requirements. The importance of ensuring facilities are safe for everyone who uses them cannot be understated.
Community facilities are funded from a range of sources across various Departments and agencies. Some of these supports are provided by the Department of Rural and Community Development. The Department has provided funding of €184,000 to Huntstown community centre in 2019 under the community services programme, which supports more than 400 community organisations to provide local services through a social enterprise model. Funding is provided towards the cost of a manager and a number of other positions. In total, the community services programme is allocating €553,000 to Huntstown community centre from 2018 to the end of 2020. Separately, the Department of Rural and Community Development funds the community enhancement programme, which helps community groups to improve their facilities. In 2018, Huntstown community centre received €3,500 towards building upgrades. The local authority is involved in administering this programme.
I understand that Fingal County Council is aware of the fire safety issues with Huntstown community centre, which is owned by the local community. Officials from the council are arranging to meet the manager of the centre and local councillors to explore the supports that can be offered. I know this type of issue is not confined to Huntstown community centre. Funding sources that are available across the Government can be used to cover issues like this. LEADER funding can be used for facilities outside the five main cities. The rural regeneration and urban regeneration funds are also in place. The community enhancement programme is available for minor works that may be needed. I urge people in the community to use their meeting with the council officials to explore all of the options available to them.
That is a very disappointing response. If this community centre was situated down the country, it would be funded generously for important community activities. The LEADER programme, which was mentioned by the Minister of State, is good for providing such funding. As we know, part of that funding comes from the EU. If this community centre was in a disadvantaged area, the county council would probably take responsibility for funding it. This is a community-owned community centre. It is part of the hub of this large community. There are sources of funding, such as the Dormant Accounts Fund, which the Government can use. I have raised them privately with the Minister. I am rather disappointed that the note from the Minister, as read by the Minister of State, does not mention the Dormant Accounts Fund, which may be used precisely for purposes like this.
I am pleased that officials from the county council are going to meet people from the centre. That is valuable. We are talking about a diverse community with a large number of young people, including children and secondary school students. Approximately 60 languages are spoken by the children who attend the school next door to the community centre. The staff in the centre, led by the manager, go out of their way to make everyone in this vibrant and integrated community feel welcome in the centre. The manager of the crèche goes out of her way to help to look after the young babies and children of the area.
We are talking about a vital community resource and, in capital terms, a relatively small sum of money, €250,000, to address the fire safety and roof issues.
There were storm warnings last weekend. Many of us were afraid, given the nature of the warnings which had been issued and the quality of and problems with the roof, that had the major storm materialised it would have done much more damage than was the case. If this work can be done quickly, money would be saved. I asked the Minister of State to advise the Minister, Deputy Ring, that it is not enough to tell urban communities where people get up early, go to work and pay taxes that if they lived down the country the roof would be funded but because they live in Dublin it cannot be fixed. The dormant account funds can be used to supply funding for the centre.
I will ensure that the Deputy's very persuasive arguments are brought back to the attention of the Minister, in particular the availability of the dormant accounts fund.
I am aware that the rural and urban regeneration funds and community enhancement programme are possible sources of funding. The Minister asked his officials to keep him appraised of the situation, following the engagement between the local authority, councillors and the centre manager. Deputy Burton is obviously more aware of the situation than I am, but the Minister is investigating the best possible measures to fund the centre to ensure it is safe. Everyone accepts that is an imperative.