At a meeting of Dublin City Council’s arts committee on Monday, council Senior Executive Officer Jim Beggan had some explaining to do.
Councillors wanted to know why they hadn’t been consulted about price rises for the Passport for Leisure scheme.
Introduced in 2007, it allows people over 55 to get discounts on sports and leisure activities. It has been heavily subsidised by the council, so it costs the council approximately €250,000 a year, said Beggan.
“In an attempt to put the scheme on what I would consider a reasonable footing, there was a proposal that the price structure would be revisited and established at approximately 50 percent of the full price,” he said.
So, at the start of this year, that approximately 50-percent increase came into effect.
In the past, for example, if somebody over 55 visited one of the council’s swimming pools, under the Passport for Leisure scheme, they would have paid €11 per month. After the rise, they would pay €15 per month, said Beggan.
A motion at Monday’s meeting suggested scaling back the increase to more like 25 percent than 50 percent. Visiting the council’s swimming pools would cost only €13 a month, not the new price of €15.
The motion, put forward by Green Party Councillor Ciarán Cuffe, was agreed by the committee. It’ll now go to the full council for approval.
Some councillors took issue with any price increase to begin with, and greater umbrage at the lack of consultation.
Independent Councillor Vincent Jackson, Labour Councillor Mary Freehill and People Before Profit Councillor John Lyons all spoke against the rise.
“This is unconscionable,” said Lyons. “I don’t think we should be making it more difficult for that age group.”
Sinn Fein Councillor Greg Kelly wanted answers. “Who decided this? Why didn’t it come to the council?” he asked.
The Fate of Shaw’s Birthplace
Last June, councillors agreed a motion put forward by Labour Councillor Mary Freehill.
Ownership of Nobel Prize-winning author George Bernard Shaw’s birthplace, at 33 Synge Street, should be turned over to Dublin City Council from Failte Ireland, the motion said.
Shaw’s birthplace was a museum up until 2012. It closed, though, due to low visitor numbers. At Monday’s arts committee meeting, Freehill wanted to know what had become of her motion, and how things were coming along.
“I’m very keen to know what progress has been made,” she said. “It’s a national disgrace that George Bernard Shaw’s house is empty and probably running into dereliction because it’s not being heated, it’s not being opened.”
Freehill said that officials at Failte Ireland are “dragging their feet” on the matte,r and that unless there was actual progress to report on, then a meeting should be set up with a senior member of Failte Ireland.
In the end, councillors agreed that a report on Shaw’s birthplace and its possible ownership transfer be brought to the next meeting of the committee.
Housing in Scribblestown
At Tuesday’s Northwest Area committee meeting, Fianna Fáil Councillor David Costello put forward a motion voicing opposition to any plans to make a project at Scribblestown in Finglas 100-percent social housing. The development is expected to create 70 homes.
Councillors said they are concerned about it being 100-percent social housing, if that is the plan, and how that decision was reached. “I think 100-percent social housing there is not the thing to do,” said Costello. “I do think we should be asking the Minister [for Housing] to rethink it.”
There was cross-party support for this. “There isn’t an awful lot of services down in South Finglas,” said independent Councillor Teresa Keegan. She suggested it might work if it were a development for the elderly.
Independent Councillor Cieran Perry said he would support 100-percent public housing, as he understands it – meaning a mixed-income development delivered by the state. But not 100-percent social housing.
In a response to a Dáil question from Social Democrats TD Roisin Shorthall, Minister for Housing Simon Coveney had said that the Scribblestown area is 15-percent social housing at the moment.
In the meeting on Tuesday, though, Costello questioned that metric. “It doesn’t take into account the deprivation,” he said.
Many councillors at the Northwest Area committee meeting also pointed to a spike in people dumping rubbish in the area over Christmas this year, and put forward ideas about what to do about it.
Fianna Fáil’s Paul McAuliffe suggested a targeted leaflet drop. Sinn Féin’s Noeleen Reilly asked whether they should invest in some night-vision cameras. Her party colleague, Cathleen Carney Boud, said they should look at waiver schemes to help those who might have little choice. “Some people simply cannot pay,” she said.
At the moment, the tools that the council has at its disposal aren’t working, said John Twamley, a public realm officer with Dublin City Council. It’s hard even to issue fines at the moment. “The by-laws have been worn down in the court so much,” he said.
The council is looking at possible new approaches to dumping in the area.