On Monday evening, their final monthly meeting of the year, Dublin city councillors talked Priory Hall sales, speed limits, and more.
First Batch of Priory Hall Sales
Councillors approved the sale of 43 of the refurbished Priory Hall apartments – and voted against a proposal by Anti-Austerity Alliance Councillor Michael O’Brien to block six of the sales from going ahead.
O’Brien had put forward the motion on the basis that the buyers of six of the former fire-trap apartments were companies. Gaughran Homes Ltd was buying three, Harley Holdings was buying two, and Woodview Trading Ltd was buying one.
As O’Brien saw it, the fact that the buyers were property firms made it doubtful that the apartments would be owner-occupied, rather than rented out.
(Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland tabled an amendment asking council officials to check that the apartments would be owner-occupied, before the sales went ahead. She withdrew that after assurances from the manager that companies had bought them for owner occupiers.)
Most councillors failed to back O’Brien. Sinn Féin’s Míchaél Mac Donncha said he wouldn’t be supporting the motion as there was the prospect that people might finally move into the flat complex.
Fianna Fáil’s Seán Paul Mahon said that even people with names on the list, not property firms, might have brought it as an investment. “Are we saying none of these apartments are allowed to be rented out? If we go down this road, we have to ask everybody on this list what their intention is,” he said.
Some councillors said that the situation raised the question, again, of how the council will ensure that any homes sold by the council in future mixed-tenure schemes actually remain owner-occupied, rather than buy-to-let. “To date, I haven’t heard any concrete rationale as to how they’d go about that,” said Workers’ Party’s Éilis Ryan.
Dublin City Council Chief Executive Owen Keegan said that the council had been given the units under the agreement with the numerous stakeholders that were involved in the Priory Hall debacle. It had to dispose of them, he said – and and at the highest market value.
Keegan warned councillors against any moves to unpick that agreement, as others involved might start to do the same. He did say, though, that the council officials would continue to pursue the idea of more social housing in the second phase of the Priory Hall refurbishment.
Councillors agreed the sales.
Testing, Testing … Poolbeg
Fine Gael Councillor Naoise Ó Muirí, who is head of the council’s environment committee, raised concerns about a perceived snub from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The committee had invited officials from the EPA to come in and talk about the testing process at the Poolbeg waste-to-energy incinerator. The EPA sent back a letter. They can’t come, it said, but they can answer any questions that members of the committee have.
On Monday, Ó Muirí asked the council to support a proposal to compel the EPA officials to come. Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey said the community needed to be reassured that it was going to be safe. Stage agencies were becoming less accountable, he said.
That didn’t seem like a fair assessment to some. Independent Councillor Ruairi McGinley and Green Party Ciarán Cuffe said it might be more complicated than that.
McGinley said the EPA isn’t accountable to Dublin City Council, after all. “They’re national projects, clearly they’re accountable to people at a national level,” he said.
Cuffe said the EPA has a “quasi-judicial role” in its oversight of the incinerator, which might make it complicated to question them in the chamber. “I think it could be a bit like inviting a judge and the defendant to have a chat with you,” he said.
Speed Limits Voted Through
Councillors voted through new by-laws that will see the speed limit on almost all of the city’s roads lowered to 30 km/h. (Some of the main routes around and into the city will continue to have higher limits.)
Head of Transport Dick Brady told councillors that the changes have been put forward in the interests of road safety. “They’re recommended to you in that light,” he said.
Thirty-seven councillors voted for the move, and 8 voted against. There’s a map here showing what areas will be affected and how.
The changes will be implemented in phases, with phase one in place from 31 March, and phase two from 31 May.
The Department of Transport wrote to Dublin City Council to tell it to give due regard to recommendations made by the Automobile Association (AA) – which wanted changes on eight streets.
For seven of them, the AA sought an increase in the speed limit to either 60 km/h, 70 km/h or 80 km/h. On one, it asked for it to be dropped to 30 km/h.
Council engineers checked out those roads, and agreed with the downward speed limit suggestion, but none of the increases.
Make Dublin City Bigger
Fianna Fáil’s David Costello wants Dublin city to be bigger, and put forward a motion on Monday to try to extend its boundary to the M50 on the north side. Other councillors are angling to expand the boundaries of the city council area, too.
As Costello sees it, the current boundary lines are dividing communities in the north of the city, and he’d like to see the council nibble away at part of Fingal. “This is not, as some might have you believe, a land-grab for the sake of it,” he said.
His party colleague Paul McAuliffee agreed, citing “opportunistic development” from Fingal County Council. He, and others, pointed to the Charlestown Shopping Centre as altering the economy of Ballymun and Finglas Village.
It’s an issue that has been raised before, in particular by Sinn Féin’s Anthony Connaghan in September 2015. And it’s something that councillors with constituencies in other fringes of the city would like to see in their areas too.
“Most of these boundaries were made when that was all farmland,” said Independents 4 Change Councillor Pat Dunne, of the boundary in the Crumlin and Walkinstown area.
Dublin City Council Chief Executive Owen Keegan said there’s little political support elsewhere for the idea of Dublin City Council spreading into other areas.
It was discussed in 2011 and nothing seems to have changed, he said. “Members of Fingal County Council are opposed, and the department [of local government] at best is neutral,” said Keegan.
There’s little likelihood of a good outcome and any current cooperation would end if the councils started to disagree over this, he said. Plus, it would mean diverting resources to deal with it.
Despite Keegan’s comments, councillors voted through the motion.