Tuesday, 26 November 2019
Ceisteanna - Questions
Community Enhancement Programme
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.
The Mulvey report, Creating a Brighter Future, was commissioned by the Government and published in February 2017. It contains recommendations for the social and economic regeneration of Dublin's north east inner city, NEIC, area.
In June 2017, the Government appointed an independent chair of the NEIC programme implementation board. Other members of the board include representatives of relevant Departments and agencies, business and the local community. The Government is committed to investing in the north east inner city community and ensuring the programme implementation board has the necessary resources to achieve its targets and fulfil its ambition. To this end, the Government made available €6.5 million in funding for the initiative in 2019. The board and its subgroups meet on a monthly basis to oversee and progress the implementation of the Mulvey report. Officials from my Department work closely with the board, the subgroups and the dedicated programme office based in Sean McDermott Street. The chair of the board reports to an oversight group of senior officials chaired by the Secretary General of my Department. This group ensures strong and active participation by all relevant Departments and agencies and deals with any barriers or issues highlighted by the board. The Cabinet sub-committee on social policy and public services provides political oversight of the NEIC initiative.
To date in 2019, the board has delivered several improvements for the area, including an increased Garda presence backed up by the Garda community support van and a focus on community policing, the commencement of a project focused on drug-related intimidation, the establishment of Ireland's first social inclusion hub in the NEIC and the funding of the homeless case management team and a residential stabilisation programme. Funding was also provided to a career local employment action partnership, LEAP, which backs young jobseekers to achieve work placements and employment. Equipment has been provided to three secondary schools participating in the innovative P-TECH initiative. A research project has been undertaken to identify how social enterprise can be supported and encouraged in the area. Funding has been provided to the local early learning initiative and a programme to secure quality work experience placements for students from the six secondary schools in the NEIC has been launched. Funding has been provided for fast-track counselling for young people funded and assistance provided to a men's health and well-being programme. The green ribbon project rolling out environmental clean-up and litter prevention in partnership with local residents has been commenced and there are comprehensive programmes of NEIC local community events, arts projects, sport and well-being activities. Progress continued on the two main public capital projects in the area, namely, Fitzgibbon Street Garda station and the Rutland Street community hub.
In 2019, €1 million of the €6.5 million budget was allocated to the social employment fund through which 55 posts have been filled in community projects providing childcare, youth services, elder care and environmental services. This responsive and innovative initiative has been widely welcomed within the community.
Progress reports on the NEIC initiative are available on for the years 2017 and 2018. The 2019 NEIC progress report is in preparation and will be published in due course.
Last week or the week before, I asked the Taoiseach for figures on expenditure on the north east inner city to determine how much of the spending is new money rather than existing schemes and projects being provided by central government. How much new money has been provided to existing programmes by central government? The funding announced includes money that was to be spent anyway, as well as money that Dublin City Council and other State agencies reallocated from other community projects. What is not clear is how much of the money being talked about is new money provided by Government and not taken from other projects. I ask the Taoiseach to provide those figures in order that we can properly assess the significance of the investment. He referred to an allocation of €6.5 million in respect of the implementation of the Mulvey report.
Why has housing not been a central focus of the work in the north east inner city? Its omission as a central plank in these initiatives is a serious deficiency.
This is a welcome initiative which brings together various agencies to focus on the needs of the community. If it is making a difference, it should be extended to other areas. Unfortunately, there are communities throughout Dublin and many other parts of the country which must deal with deep disadvantage, poor facilities and crime. It is clear that crime is getting out of control. The rising drugs crisis is making the situation far worse. There was an outbreak of gangland crises in Lucan last week and Coolock at the weekend. Gangland wars in various parts of the city are taking a toll on people's sense of peace and security. These wars are being fuelled by the drugs crisis.
The north east inner city initiative is, effectively, a one-off return to a model which Fine Gael abandoned from 2011 onwards. The Ministers of various states who attended the British-Irish Council two weeks ago came together to state that we need to go back to the tried and trusted model which needs continuous and consistent application. It is an awful pity that it was abandoned in 2011. I refer to the removal of community development as a Cabinet-level responsibility. We have become accustomed to Ministers rolling out marketing campaigns to promote grants which used to operate without fanfare. The decision to remove that responsibility was prompted by the current EU Commissioner for Trade, former Deputy, Phil Hogan, asking how dare a LEADER group or a partnership announce grants. Fine Gael Ministers were fed up with persons other than politicians announcing the allocation of money to initiatives. That is what was behind Fine Gael's abandonment of the model to which I refer. In so doing, it undermined programmes that were working in these communities and that took a multilateral and multidisciplinary approach with local and national involvement.
I listened carefully to the Taoiseach's remarks on the north east inner city initiative. One would think everything is working very well on the ground. He referred to several projects. For example, he stated that work is commencing on Fitzgibbon Street Garda station. How many years has hoarding been up around that station? It has taken years to get it done. When there was an effort and commitment to renovate Leinster House, which is a couple of hundred years old, it was done in jig time. It is clear that such commitment is not present in respect of the north east inner city. That is the belief of the people who live in the area.
Community representatives on the north inner city drug and alcohol task force recently raised serious concerns regarding the lack of a partnership approach to the delivery of the national drugs strategy. I refer to the impending closure of the community participation project, which has played an important role in the objectives of the north east inner city initiative. All of these matters are of serious concern. The problems are not limited to the north inner city. The refusal of State agencies to acknowledge that community participation is crucial to an effective response to the pervasive drugs problem in the north inner city is at the core of many of these issues.
A lack of recognition was expressed through the unilateral decision of the HSE to withdraw funding for projects that played an important role in supporting drug addiction treatment in the area. The HSE pulled money from community organisations that were doing tremendous work and left them with nothing. These community organisations will vanish overnight. Unfortunately, this is repeated all over the country.
It is particularly acute in places like Dublin's north inner city which has tremendous communities - wonderful people doing their best in the face of major hardship. I have difficulty not with Deputy Micheál Martin, but with others who use the word "gangland". These are not ganglands. There may be gangs there, but the lands that exist there have wonderful people.
We see it in the media and everywhere. It sets a dangerous precedent to say that certain parts of any city have a particular problem. While they may have, the people who live there are not the problem; the problem is a scourge on these communities. We need to spell that out.
The latest withdrawal of HSE funding will result in the loss of community-participation projects and a successful wrap-around project that was established in recognition of the importance of community engagement in addressing issues of addiction. Core to the problem in many of these places is the high level of addiction.
Further to the comments by a range of Deputies during questions on the Order of Business, it is clear that the Government has failed to address the causes of crime. When one looks at the areas of crime and drug abuse not just in Dublin's inner city but across the country, there is a familiar pattern of economic and social disadvantage in the areas that are suffering the greatest problems. There is a feeling of abandonment, starting with the absence of quality public services, such as childcare, genuinely free education and healthcare, combined with a lack of future employment opportunities which often fuels a young person's pathway to involvement with drugs and criminality. There are role models who indicate that is a lucrative, if very destructive, future for them.
The Government constantly talks about full employment and the unemployment rate is less than 5%. However, Dublin city has seven unemployment black spots where up to 32% of people are without a job. What will the Government do differently to break this cycle of disadvantage and unemployment so that we can eradicate these black spots and take away these role models of a destructive future from young people who see very little else available to them?
Will the Taoiseach listen to the very open-hearted appeal from the nine former Ministers with responsibility for drugs policy, to go back to the drugs partnership model and reinvest in it now that the resources are available again because it was a model that worked?
Deputy Micheál Martin asked about the breakdown between new money and reallocated money for the project in Dublin's north-east inner city. I do not know the details of that; I suspect it is a mix of both. I will endeavour to get the figures broken down properly for him.
The Deputy also spoke about housing. Dublin City Council in partnership with various social housing bodies is working to deliver four main housing regeneration schemes in the north-east inner city area. These schemes are at various stages with 228 units to be delivered as part of them. The refurbishment of St. Mary's Mansions flat complex by Clúid Housing at a cost of €21 million will result in 80 units in a mix of one- to four-bedroom apartments. Building works are on schedule and are expected to be completed in quarter 1 of next year. Dublin City Council is working through the scheme of letting priorities to collate applicants with an expression of interest for housing in this area.
A further 72 units will be delivered as part of the Croke Villas redevelopment. It is intended that the majority of works would be completed in 2019. The redevelopment of Croke Villas is now subject to judicial review. The hearing was held in December 2018 and Dublin City Council is awaiting a decision. Units at Nos. 2 to 6 Ballybough Road are at final-fix stage with allocation set for this month. A further 47 apartments in Railway Street are to be delivered by the Circle Voluntary Housing Association. A planning application was lodged but the decision was appealed to An Bord Pleanála with a decision expected this month. Twenty-nine old persons' units are to be delivered by Oaklee Housing. Work on this site is ongoing with an expected handover by the end of this year. Dublin City Council is working through the scheme of letting priorities for this housing development.
A few Deputies mentioned the spate of murders linked to drug gangs in recent weeks. They have caused enormous concern on the ground. People in many communities are worried about their safety. We need to take those concerns very seriously. It is also important to acknowledge that the number of murders, manslaughters and death threats is down by 40% on this time last year. The number of burglaries is also down. The Garda is having significant success in combating these most serious forms of crime.
The Government is committed to reopening Fitzgibbon Street Garda station. The Office of Public Works, OPW, has responsibility for the provision and maintenance of Garda stations. As a result, the refurbishment of the Garda station, like all works in the Garda estate, is being progressed through close co-operation between the OPW and Garda authorities. I am pleased to confirm that enabling works at Fitzgibbon Street have already been completed and the procurement process for the main works is under way. The main refurbishment is expected to take about a year from the point at which construction begins.
It is essential to remember that it is not primarily the opening of Garda stations, but rather the visible presence of gardaí on the streets that reassures the public and deters crime. With the provision of unprecedented Government investment in a Garda budget of €1.88 billion for next year, the Garda Síochána is once again a growing and an expanding organisation. The allocation of resources, including the distribution of personnel, is a matter for the Garda Commissioner under law. Garda deployment in all areas of the country, including in Dublin city centre, has benefited from the increased recruitment, with another 200 to be allocated on Friday.
In the Dublin metropolitan region's north central division, the number of gardaí has increased from 590 at the end of 2015 to 695 at the end of August 2019, representing an 18% increase in the division over the past four years. At the same time the number of Garda civilian staff has increased from 39 to 55. Taken together the increases in gardaí and Garda civilian staff means a very significant increase in the operational policing hours in the Dublin north central division.
Deputy Howlin is absolutely correct in reminding us of the connection between economic and educational disadvantage, and crime, but I do not accept that the Government is failing on it. Unemployment is down by two thirds to below 5%. Even in the black spots it is down significantly. The level of poverty has fallen for four years in a row, with about 100,000 children lifted out of child poverty in the last few years. Deprivation is falling and incomes are rising. There is unprecedented investment in childcare, early childhood education, school education and higher education. More people from non-traditional backgrounds are attending higher education than ever before, but that does not result in lower crime levels in just a few years. The strong economic performance and strong investment in communities needs to continue for a generation or certainly for many years before it is reflected in lower crime levels.