Seanad debates

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Regeneration Projects

12:00 pm

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to the House.

Photo of Mary FitzpatrickMary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister for coming to the Seanad. Last year, he included the wholesale fruit and vegetable market in Dublin 7 in the more than €121 million allocated funding for urban regeneration in the north inner city of Dublin. We greatly appreciate the funding. I have asked him to update the House on the progress that has been made by Dublin City Council, DCC, in using the funding to reopen the fruit and vegetable market. Please advise the House on how his Department can support DCC to achieve an early re-opening of the market.

As the Minister will be aware, the market is housed in an iconic Victorian building located behind the Four Courts in one of the oldest parts of this city where the streets date back to medieval times. The distance from the Spire to Smithfield is 1 km and, therefore, the market is in the middle of the city and is served by the Luas transport system. In addition, the market is located within walking distance of all of the major attractions in the city centre. The Victorian building is iconic with its facade of red bricks, wrought iron, wood and steel. The building was purpose-built in 1892 by Dublin Corporation to allow local producers to sell their fruit and vegetables to residents and businesses. For generations, and for most of my life, the market bustled with activity and I am sure that the Minister will be aware of that himself. The market is a quintessential and unique Dublin institution with its building, the activity there and the generations of families who traded at the market.

As far back as 2001, DCC came up with a framework to redevelop the market. In 2005, the adjacent fish market was demolished and that has been replaced by a car park. In 2004, when I was elected to the council, I worked with the traders and officials to upgrade the market building by rewiring it, and replacing and repainting the roof. Significant funding went into it at that time but, sadly, since 2019, the site has lain vacant. The council said that it needed vacant possession and the market is lying vacant, which is a shame. One pop-up Chinese New Year festival took place at the venue but otherwise it has been rented out as a builder's yard. The building is now empty and that is shameful. The design of the building is spectacular and, therefore, it has enormous potential to act as a culinary, cultural, commercial and community point in the city centre.I hope that the Minister can advise the House on what progress has been made by Dublin City Council because the latest report from the local authority has indicated it will be another two years. Another two years does not sound like a long time but in the context of more than 20 years already talking about this, it is unacceptable. It is de-motivating for other businesses in the area, for the local community and for the wider city.

I hope the Minister can advise the House on what actions his Department can support Dublin City Council with to reopen it. Ideally, it should be opened, at least on a pilot basis, once a week. It is a huge space. Conservation works could take place in parallel.

I look forward to the Minister's reply.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Acting Chairperson, Senator Boyhan.

I thank Senator Fitzpatrick for her ongoing interest in this issue and, indeed, for tabling this important Commencement matter.

I visited the markets with Senator Fitzpatrick not so long ago. I am acutely aware of them. I visited them when I was much younger when they were a bustling place that was full of life, full of enterprise and an important part of the north inner city.

By way of a little background, the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund is a cornerstone of the Government's response to ensure that right across the country, no less so than here in Dublin, we are providing funding to the local authorities directly to regenerate and rejuvenate areas such as the Victorian fruit and vegetable markets in St. Mary's Lane.

To date, the Government has committed €1.7 billion of Exchequer funding to move forward with projects. I have had the pleasure of seeing in a number of areas right across the country, such as in Kilkenny, Tralee and Limerick, where this funding is already being drawn down and used to deliver significant regeneration works that are driving enterprise in those areas. In Kilkenny, for example, in the Abbey quarter, there will be 450 new jobs in that space. I want to see Dublin City Council, DCC, do the same.

We have allocated to DCC in call 1 approximately €190 million for projects in the north inner city. I have sought an update from Dublin City Council, which informs me that it is developing the preliminary business case for the north inner city concept area 1 project in line with requirements. I am being told I will receive that in the coming weeks. I want that in the coming weeks. The "coming weeks" should be by the end of July. If I need to sit down and meet the city council in this regard with Senator Fitzpatrick, I will certainly do that.

St. Mary's Lane in Dublin 7 is a sub-project of the larger urban regeneration project providing significant investment in the rejuvenation of Dublin's north inner city. With Senator Fitzpatrick's support, and insistence, and rightly so, we allocated €5.625 million specifically for the Victorian fruit and vegetable market sub-project.

I am informed that the local authority has now appointed a conservation specialist who will identify works, methodology and specifications for refurbishment and conservation works because it is an important building. That will ensure the highest standard of protection for the structure. I am being told that this report is also due in the coming weeks. I want to see definitive timelines on this, not ones that are open to interpretation. On completion of the report, the local authority will procure a design team and contractor to complete the conservation works.

I am strongly encouraging Dublin City Council to expedite the process here. It has appointed a conservation specialist. Let us see how quickly that work can be done. There have been previous plans. We do not need to reinvent the wheel on this issue.

I want to see that area of Dublin, in particular, the markets, being a living and working space that is full of life and that will breathe life into that area. I am taking a personal interest in this particular project. With the significant moneys that we have allocated, I want to see those moneys drawn down by DCC and being put to active use, as I am seeing in other parts of the country.

Photo of Mary FitzpatrickMary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire. The Minister's commitment to the north inner city is unquestionable.It is spectacular that since he took office he has dedicated more than €120 million to just this part of the north inner city. Those funds will be used not just for the fruit and vegetable market but for Moore Street, Wolfe Tone Square where DCC has done a fantastic job, Mountjoy Square and the city library we need to see delivered as well. I hear the Minister's frustration and I share it.

Locally people are really at their wit's end because DCC has been bringing forward plans for what to the naked eye is a purpose-built building that is fit for use for more than 20 years. I appreciate the council has given the Minister a commitment that he will get a report within the coming weeks but I would welcome a meeting on-site with the council. I have to believe with the collective will and energy and the resources that have been applied to this we have an opportunity to reopen it early. Maybe it will not be open fully seven days a week but let us aim to have it open at least once a week and start it as a pilot. We have to make people believe DCC is serious about reopening it. At this point, after more than 20 years, there is not that confidence. It hurts me to say this but there is not the confidence DCC is serious about delivering it. We know that is not the case so let us make it real.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I thank the Senator. Just before I call the Minister, I have been to Limerick and have seen it and I look at Covent Garden in London and see the potential, so I thank him for this very detailed response.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach Gníomhach. He is 100% correct. I have been in the buildings with Senator Fitzpatrick and, fortunately, they are in good shape. I remain to be convinced of the level of restoration work required to bring the market back into use. We can look to the English Market in Cork, El Nacional in Barcelona and others. We can see what they add to their areas. I have no doubt whatsoever the fruit and vegetable market will be incredibly popular with people and will be a hub for enterprise but also for community.

Following the Senator's intervention, I am going to seek a more detailed, concise report from DCC with specific dates in it. I will absolutely commit to a meeting on-site with her and senior officials to move this forward because we know what needs to be done here. If we can, even on a temporary basis and provided it does not impinge on the works that need to be done, look at opening it up at various times, I want to see this work start. I am aware there is a process to follow through and commend DCC on the work it has done heretofore but I share the frustration of the Senator and residents of the area. With my Department working with DCC and the Senator we can look to expedite this process.

Following this debate I will write to the city manager to seek a meeting on-site in the coming weeks. I will seek a more concise report with specific timelines on delivery. I do not want to see the opening of the market delayed until 2024, so we need to be able to do everything we can to shorten that timeframe. That is what I want to do. I again thank the Senator for her continued support for this project on behalf of Dublin and residents of the north inner city as well. We will follow up with those meetings in the coming weeks.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I thank the Minister for that comprehensive response and thank the Senator for raising the issue.