A string of high-profile drugs-related shootings followed by a safari-like visit by then Taoiseach Enda Kenny brought the spotlight to the north-east inner city’s problems.
The taoiseach pledged to use millions of euro to bury the roots of poverty and drugs-related violence in this area, just beyond the edge of one of the capital’s shiniest districts.
For months, the man appointed to find solutions to the neighbourhood’s problems toiled, and then he released a report with his recommendations earlier this year.
Now the spotlight has drifted away and Kenny’s tenure at the top has ended, but the process continues: someone was last month appointed chair of the board that’s to oversee the report’s implementation – and, with it, the regeneration of the area.
However, a coalition of north-east inner-city community groups that is engaged in the process and represented on the board has expressed concerns about the plans for the area.
There isn’t enough of a focus on addressing the housing crisis in the area, or on meeting the needs of the new communities that play such a big role in the area. And, in general, the report’s recommendations don’t go far enough to really solve the area’s problems, they say.
More, Better Housing
The plan for the regeneration of the north-east inner city is based on a report by the former head of the Workplace Relations Committee, Kieran Mulvey, which was published in February.
But critics say that despite the scale of the housing and homeless crisis in the inner city, the report contains no provisions for affordable housing.
Its only recommendation for housing is that Dublin City Council work to create a “good social mix” by addressing “the high proportion of social supported tenants through public and private accommodation”.
In Ballymun, the council has attempted to do that by banning those moving into homes in the area from claiming rent supplement.
Social Democrats Councillor Gary Gannon said he would be ready to oppose any moves that would force out long-standing communities.
“If this regeneration is about […] bringing in fancy new apartments and taking away rent allowance like they did in Ballymun, we will be opposing that every step of the way,” he said.
Michael Stone, who has recently been appointed chair of the implementation board for the regeneration, is adamant that it will not mean gentrification for the north-east inner city.
“Certainly not under my watch. That will not happen,” says Stone, who is former president of the Construction Industry Federation.
“I can only speak for this implementation board and what we are doing … It will be done for the locals, with the local interests at heart, and I’m happy to be bench-marked on that,” he said.
Regenerate or Gentrify?
Workers’ Party Councillor Éilis Ryan also says that the regeneration should be about what the community needs – and she says that is affordable housing.
There are generations of families living together in overcrowded conditions, she says.
When the North Inner City Community Coalition (NICCC) – which represents the majority of community groups in the area – came up with their submission for Mulvey on what their neighbourhood needs, they identified homelessness as an issue and the need for accommodation as one of the biggest issues in the north inner city.
Trina O’Connor, spokesperson for the NICCC, says the group is engaging with the implementation of the Mulvey report, but that the report doesn’t go far enough to have the desired impact.
“The question is what is the government’s plan for the north-east inner city?” says O’Connor. “If you look at the east end of London, they gentrified the area and they moved the indigenous people out … or they were priced out of the market.”
The Mulvey report also suggested rebranding the area, and this proposal “went down like a lead balloon” says O’Connor. “What we need to do is change the narrative that exists, this whole labelling thing that goes on.”
Renaming areas is part of the gentrification process, and would be opposed by community representatives, she says.
“There are extremely hardworking people in this area and we want this to be a go-to area and not a no-go area, because we are all proud of where we come from,” she says.
Some Dublin city councillors say that the lack of a mention of housing is because it wasn’t really what the Mulvey report was commissioned to look at.
While housing is a huge issue, the report was commissioned to look at social services, says Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam.
“I don’t buy this whole thing of gentrification. There is wonderful communities living in the north inner city and those families deserve the same services as other families living across the country,” he said.
There are social-housing projects about to get underway on site in the north inner city, he says – at St Mary’s Mansions on Railway Street and Croke Villas in Ballybough. (Both sites are existing social housing blocks that will be demolished and rebuilt.)
Dublin City Council has used compulsory purchase orders to acquire a number of derelict properties to convert to social housing, too, he says: “There is a huge amount of work already underway with respect of housing projects in the inner city.”
There are recommendations in the Mulvey report that go beyond housing.
It suggests that community-benefit clauses could be introduced, so that developers would only get planning permission if they provided apprenticeships and internships for local residents. It also suggests that there should be targets for businesses to employ locals.
Stone says he wants to secure “real jobs” for locals, by engaging with employers to find out what skills they need and then offering local people training to match up with those skills requirements.
“We would have almost guaranteed jobs for these people when they come out [of training],” he says.
He wants hard commitments from construction companies to employ locals in any major building projects in the area too, he says. (That’s been a long-running debate.)
He plans to meet with the owners and developers, and tell them: “We want a commitment from you that we are training these young people and you are going to take them on, and if you don’t you won’t get your site moving.”
In its submission, the NICCC group said that the labour-activation programmes need to be realistic. For some, education may be more suitable than employment.
They also want the apprenticeship system overhauled so that people can apply to a college and do an apprenticeship, rather than beg an employer to take them on, as that discriminates against those who don’t have contacts.
O’Connor says that they are now working on an alternative system for apprenticeships in collaboration with Dublin Institute of Technology.
Differences over Policing
Some of the recommendations in the Mulvey report seem to be progressing.
One was that the government should reopen Fitzgibbon Street Garda Station and make it a hub for community policing. More guards should be present in the area too, the report said.
Councillor McAdam of Fine Gael says that the public office is open, but the station requires an €8 million refurbishment. That requires a planning process, which will begin in the next couple of weeks, he thinks.
McAdam says the community policing was going well until last year. “All significant forms of crime were down by double digits,” he says, after the policy was introduced in 2011, but then Garda resources had to be diverted due to the shootings in the area.
Thirty additional gardaí promised to the area by the former taoiseach are supposed to be in place by the end of the year.
O’Connor says that community workers want to see a different type of policing, more “community cohesive policing” with gardaí integrated into the community.
That chimes with some of the Mulvey report, which recommends “a refreshed community engagement model”, along with activities and leadership programmes for young people.
O’Connor, who is a criminologist, says that the Mulvey report doesn’t go far enough to make an impact on the issues it aims to address, like crime.
“We are looking at the more deep-rooted issues that caused the inequality in the first place,” she says. “The division between rich and poor is very stark.”
The reasons people have been murdered in the inner city are complex, says Gannon of the Social Democrats.
“You can’t confront the problems without confronting inequality and poverty throughout the city and throughout the country,” he says.
Tidying up Social Services
In his report, Mulvey also emphasises the need for all the social supports and services in the area to be better coordinated.
That includes things such as a specialist hub for highly vulnerable families, and a speech-and-language programme in primary schools.
A sports development officer has already been appointed, arts and heritage projects will be rolled out, and a new tourist trail developed.
The NICCC had many ideas too, for what was needed.
“Children have to be an area of focus. Our young people deserve to have the same opportunities as any other young people in this nation,” says O’Connor.
NICCC recommended investment in mental-health services, the establishment of a dual-diagnosis service, a review of the drugs courts, suicide intervention and access to medical cards for those from migrant communities on low incomes.
“A lot of things we proposed don’t cost a lot of money, but it is about taking a different approach,” says O’Connor.
Of those living in the area, 42 percent declared their ethnicity as other than “white Irish”, according to the 2011 census. “The new communities are very important in the north-east inner city. We have an opportunity to get this right,” says O’Connor.
Some can’t access education supports because of their immigration status, she said. “We have groups of disenfranchised youths who are not currently able to engage in services,” she said.
NICCC wants specialist language supports for the many children in school for whom English is a second language, she said.
Many of the numerous infrastructure projects listed in the report – from tree planting to addressing dereliction – are already underway.
The implementation board hopes to get businesses in the area to contribute towards its refurbishment too.
The report says they should “explore novel ways of funding such a refurbishment plan”. For example, through a levy on unused land, and contributions from businesses in the IFSC.
Since the establishment of the taskforce, the government has spent €4.7 million in the area.
Of that, €2.7 million has been spent or allocated on physical infrastructure, with an additional €1 million on sports facilities.
A spokesperson for the Taoiseach’s Office said the government is committed to implementing the Mulvey report in full as it is, and is allocating €5 million per year for three years to it.