In the North Inner-City, Debate About How to Co-ordinate Change

Eighteen months ago, Kieran Mulvey launched his report on what those in the north-east inner city had told him neighbourhoods need.

Since then, a dedicated task force has been working to put that into practice through the North East Inner City Initiative, a government-backed effort at the “social and economic regeneration of the area”.

But there is still a feeling that more could be done, says former Fianna Fáil TD Mary Fitzpatrick. “The causes of disadvantage, addiction and poverty are not being addressed in a systemic and long-term way.”

Fianna Fáil wants those Mulvey recommendations put on the statute book, and to that end, Fitzpatrick’s colleague John Lahart TD has introduced in the Dáil the Dublin (North Inner-City) Development Authority Bill.

It’s a way to make sure the Mulvey report is implemented no matter how the political climate might change, but also to build on it, says Fitzpatrick.

Some who work in community groups in the area are supportive of the idea of a higher authority focused on changes.

They note, though, that there are challenges in co-ordinating the many organisations that have worked there over the last four decades or longer – and pluses to how hyper-local and deep-rooted they are.

The Bill

As the bill is at the moment, it would set up a body called the Dublin North Inner City Development Authority for 10 years.

The authority would be responsible for social and economic regeneration, improving the area’s physical environment, and implementing the recommendations of the Mulvey report, it says. That would include managing land, including its development or disposal.

The authority’s board would be made up of civil servants from various government departments, the head of Dublin City Council, and also three people from the North Inner City Community Coalition, and three from the local business community.

Under the bill, there would be “a state agency that is actually targeted on a full-time basis with addressing the root causes of deprivation and disadvantage, and championing the opportunity”, says Fianna Fáil’s Fitzpatrick.

There’s a lot of state land or vacant sites for example, she says: O’Devaney Gardens, Dominick Street, Parnell Square, Moore Street, Seville Place, and Mountjoy Square.

“There’s oodles of opportunity that need state supports, commitments, and energy to drive it,” she said. “So the city can be regenerated in a positive way.”

But right now there’s no one agency given ownership or authority to do it, as she sees it. The city council does a bit, the Department of Housing does a bit, and perhaps the Department of Culture does has some remit at times, too.

Community activist Fergus McCabe says he broadly welcomed this idea of putting in place “a longer-term structure” under the proposed bill.

“Aspirationally anyway, the idea of having a more formalised structure seemed to make sense,” says McCabe. “But we need to see details. […] The devil could be in the detail.”

Bringing together the many groups that work in the north-east inner-city would be no mean feat, says  McCabe, who chairs the North Inner City Coalition.

Since 1982, there have been several groups working to a certain extent in their own corners, which some say has led to a fractured approach to dealing with some of the challenges in the area.

Groups on the Ground

When newly elected TD Tony Gregory held the balance of power in February 1982 – and agreed to support Charlie Haughey in exchange for promises for his north inner-city constituency – it encouraged a lot of inner-city locals to become politically involved and push for improvements for their area, says McCabe.

As the years rolled on into the 1990s, more groups came onto the scene to tackle social issues, from drug use to unemployment.

Says Gary Gannon, a local councillor with the Social Democrats: “What we had was this Golden Mile on Buckingham Street, where there are a lot of different projects which depended on your proximity to Tony Gregory.”

“There were loads of projects, but no unified aim,” he says.

McCabe says groups like the Inner City Organisations Network (ICON) were set up and the state considered it in its best interest to work with them. “So the state started funding these groups.”

Drugs and alcohol task forces also entered the mix of those working in the area.

The recently established North Inner City Coalition, which is not state-funded, aims to bring every one of these groups together to better coordinate efforts, says McCabe.

“The coalition has stability as long as the groups want it to survive,” he says. “In a way that gives us a little bit more independence. Rather than relying on the state.”

Gannon says he thinks the inner-city needs a partnership structure, like the Northside Partnership or the Canals Partnership – which advocate for their areas, whether looking for resources or engaging with the statistics, and making sure there are particular projects looking after particular areas of expertise.

“Those sort of things actually work really well,” says Gannon. That’s effectively what the Dublin Inner City Community Cooperative Society is doing.

Smaller Groups

The Dublin Inner City Community Cooperative Society was born after changes in European Union funding streams in 2014, says Chief Executive Officer Noel Wardick.

Smaller groups couldn’t apply for tranches of funding. So 15 long-established inner-city groups banded together into the co-op, which could push for support for them.

Wardick says he supports the proposed Fianna Fáil bill: “Anything that solidifies a government’s commitment to this area, inner-city and urban development, we have to welcome.”

There is a fear, though, that by merging smaller groups under a larger umbrella, they may lose some of the pluses that they have too.

They have hyper-local connections to communities at the moment, says McCabe. That could be lost, depending on how it all works.

“If you get people to participate in a small local area you’ve a much better chance of success,” says McCabe.

In the 1980s, some inner-city locals would volunteer for the area’s summer programme and sports days. “We’d hundreds of people out,” he says.

After they got funding from Dublin Corporation, though, for full-time paid staff to handle it, many no longer cared as much, and there were no longer mothers and dads with their kids turning out to help.

“Even though it became full-time, professional and paid, it didn’t actually work. We’d lost that local connection,” McCabe says.

Wardick agrees. But the coalition that they have going at the moment is a good example of one way to do it, he says. “Could it be done better? No one’s saying we’ve reached the pinnacle of coordination.”

McCabe likens the issue of too many groups to football clubs. “You might say, ‘Why in the name of Christ have we 10 football clubs for this area when we could have one big strong one? That’s an argument.”

It might be an idea to look closely at all the groups, and see where some should be merged and others left as they are, he says.

Gannon of the Social Democrats says the Fianna Fáil plan has some merit – but it hasn’t come up for discussion yet at the council’s local area committee.

“Until something tangible is actually brought to us, and brought to people who are involved in the inner-city […] I think it’s designed to be seen as an election policy,” he says.

“But it needs to be more of a bottom-up approach,” he says. “It’s been dropped from above.”

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Author:

Lois Kapila and Cónal Thomas: Lois Kapila is Dublin Inquirer's managing editor and general assignment reporter. Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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