Photo by Louisa McGrath

You can understand the ire of the Dublin city councillors who sat through the council meeting on housing early last week.

No one mentioned to them that the tenders for the next batch of modular-housing — or, as they’re now calling it, “rapid-build” housing — might be cancelled. But the very next day, the councillors would have been able to read in the Irish Times that this had, indeed, happened.

On Monday of this week, with a prompt from Labour councillor Alison Gilliland, council housing chief Dick Brady explained himself.

Council management had cancelled the original modular-homes tender for 131 units because the advert had said that successful applicants had to be in a position to complete the development within 16 calendar weeks, and, in any event, by the 30 June 2016.

But “the council received an insufficient number of applicants who confirmed they would been able to meet that deadline,” Brady said. So council officials cancelled the old tenders and issued new ones with a more generous time frame, he said.

Given the pace at which the project is proceeding, Gilliland put forward an emergency motion that suggested that the reissued tender include not just modular units, but permanent ones, meaning bricks-and-mortar units.

“The key advantage [of modular housing] was the speed of delivery compared to bricks and mortar,” Gilliland said.  But it is becoming apparent that modulars can’t be delivered at the expected speed, she said.

Her motion — which was carried, with 34 councillors voting for, five against and two abstentions — would give more applicants a chance, she said.

When Brady spoke again later in Monday’s meeting, it sounded like council officials were already doing what the motion asked for.

For some time now, there has been confusion over what exactly is being built in Poppintree — on the site where modulars were supposedly going to be built on a fast-track basis to get homeless families housed before Christmas.

Is it modular housing? Is it prefabricated housing? Is it standard timber-frame housing? Is this all just semantics?

Brady says they’re now calling those “rapid-build” units for a reason. The criteria they have used for tenders was speed, he said. When the council put out the tender, it didn’t confine it to modular housing only, Brady said.

“What we said was rapid-build. (…) If somebody can build a brick house, or a block house, or whatever, they can make their application if they can do it in the speed. We’re not cutting out anything. No form of building has been taken out in relation to this,” he said.

Brady later defended the speed at which the Poppintree site has progressed. It wasn’t until the 21 October that the go-ahead was given, and the contractors were on site by 5 December, he said.

“There was an issue in relation to protests which lost somewhere in the order of 11 days-plus, which took us into Christmas,” he said. “We’ve had somewhere in the order of 50 rainy days since then, we’ve had nine storms, and we’re still within 12 weeks or 16 weeks of building these houses. So don’t tell me that’s not fast.”

Brady said he couldn’t confirm the construction costs for the Poppintree site yet. After all, the homes there aren’t finished yet, and there might be negotiation and arbitration over costs.

A Meandering Debate

The debate at Monday’s meeting veered somewhat off topic, and became a series of councillors’ execrations on the slow progress of modular housing, and whether or not they would be temporary, and where families would move on to, given the wider issues in the housing market.

Councillor John Lyons, of the People Before Profit Alliance, channelled TV spin-doctor Malcolm Tucker when he described the situation as an “omnishambles”, saying he’d like to see a return to old-fashioned social-housing construction. (Something, the council often points out that it is doing in parallel with the modular programme.)

Labour councillor Dermot Lacey expanded the debate to bureaucratic blocks and public-procurement policies that stop the council from delivering houses, asking why the council can’t decide its own rules and make its own decisions.

“I do believe that the Department of Environment is the most obstructive, incompetent, inefficient institution in this state. It is hugely responsible for the housing situation in this country,” Lacey said.

Introducing the Tom Clarke Bridge

Also on the agenda was a debate about what to call the the East-Link bridge.

Independent councillor Nial Ring argued that it should be called the Tom Clarke Bridge, after the 1916 leader who was executed for his part in the rebellion.

Several councillors agreed, including independent Christy Burke and Sinn Fein’s Michael MacDonncha. Some, however, took issue.

Ringsend residents hadn’t been consulted properly about the renaming, said Fine Gael councillor Kieran Binchy. David Costello, of Fianna Fail, suggested that Kathleen Clarke be included in the naming of the bridge.

But Lord Mayor Criona Ni Dhalaigh assuring him that the groups working on the proposal, such as the 1916-1921 group, have a separate testimonial for Kathleen Clarke planned.

In the end, Ring’s motion was agreed.

Pulling the Plug on Young Ballymun

Councillors were forceful in their criticism of the impending closure of Young Ballymun, a programme established to improve children’s learning and well-being.

In the past, the project was funded by Atlantic Philanthropies – which has left Ireland – and the Department of Children. Sinn Fein councillor Noeleen Reilly appealed across party lines to keep the centre running.

Closing it “undermines best practice in public policy”, said Fianna Fail’s Paul McAuliffe. Social Democrat councillor Gary Gannon said he finds it “absolutely flabbergasting”.

Gannon said he would rather see the €5 million pledged by the government in February to combat gangland criminals in Dublin pumped back into programmes like Young Ballymun. Such programmes, he says, “stem the causes” of such violence in the first place.

The response? Fine Gael councillor Declan Flanagan requested that a letter be drafted, on the part of councillors, addressed to the next government, to express the concern of the council in relation to the forthcoming closure.

Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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