On Cultural Spaces

At a special meeting on Monday night, Dublin city councillors voted through a list of measures seeking, they said, to address the “increasing erosion of cultural life and space” in the city.

Among them: a call to initiate a variation in the city development plan to limit the construction of new hotels, and a review of the plan to see if any further variations could be added to protect and promote nightlife and creative culture in Dublin.

They also voted to write to three ministers to seek meetings to try to push further measures to address the threat to the city’s cultural life and to promote its nightlife, the motion said.

“We’re looking to rebalance the development plan,” said Green Party Councillor Patrick Costello, at the meeting.

The special meeting was called in response to the closure of the Bernard Shaw pub on Richmond Street at the end of next month – but councillors stressed that it was about a wider issue of change in the city.

“As development has taken off again in Dublin we can all see the cranes going up around of us,” said Costello. “But it’s often not easy to see what’s being lost underneath them.”

Student accommodation and hotels are pushing out creative spaces, he said. “Our job as the planning authority and our role as councillors is to protect the city.”

The motion also called on the council to simplify the planning process for putting up murals in the city – a point of discussion for some time.

Councillors also wanted to move ahead with appointing a “night mayor” responsible for the city’s nightlife, and setting up a special committee to look at how to deliver more cultural spaces.

Labour Party Councillor Rebecca Moynihan added an amendment to the original motion. Land the council is thinking of selling should be assessed for possible cultural uses if they’re not suitable for social housing, she said.

John O’Hara, the city’s chief planner, gave a “word of caution” to councillors.

Development plans are driven by affirmative policies, he said. “Any talk about a ban or curtailment of any type of development runs the risk of legal challenge.”

Councillors shouldn’t pass the motion without changing the language, he said. “You have my advice.”

Richard Shakespeare, the council’s head of planning, said that initiating changes to the development plan was a power held by the council’s executive, rather than the councillors, anyway. They’re “not minded” to do that right now, he said.

The amended motion passed. Councillors from across the political spectrum spoke in favour.

Setting the Local Property Tax

Councillors also voted at Monday’s special meeting to set the local property tax for 2020 in the Dublin City Council area the same way it’s been set for the last five years – by cutting it to 15 percent below a base rate.

Councillors have the option of varying it up or down by as much as 15 percent, or just sticking with a base rate.

Chief Executive Owen Keegan had recommended that councillors stick to the base rate – which would have brought in €12 million more for the council to spend.

His report on the financial outlook for the council over the next couple of years noted increases in insurance costs, the potential loss of Irish Water-related rates, increased costs for management fees for social housing, and other ups and downs.

Given these costs on the horizon, Keegan asked councillors not to cut the tax.

Of the 1,630 people who wrote in to this year’s public consultation on what level to set the local property tax at, roughly three-quarters said they wanted it to stay the same as in the past – 15 percent below the base rate.

Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin, People Before Profit and the independent group all advocated for the tax to be lowered by 15 percent.

“It’s a very unfair tax. Dublin people pay much more for their property tax for the home that they live in as opposed to the property tax that is being paid by people who are paying outside the city,” says Fianna Fáil’s Deirdre Heney. (There’s a wider ongoing debate about how the tax is divvied up.)

Councillor Cieran Perry, an independent, said that if the surplus tax collected from an increase in its rate could be ring-fenced, his group might consider the proposal from the Green Party, Labour, and the Social Democrats to keep the tax at the base rate.

The Green Party, Labour and Social Democrats outlined a list of potential programmes that the council could spend the surplus tax on. It included €2 million on a pilot project on collecting waste from kerbs, €500,000 on improved cleaning and litter management, €3 million on refurbishing voids, as well as other projects to tackle climate change and the public domain.

Green Party Councillor Neasa Hourigan said that leaving the tax at the base rate, rather than pushing it down by 15 percent for the year, would have been a small price to pay for better public services – comparing the weekly increase to the price of an apple.

“Now I can forego that apple to buy better things for my community and my neighbours,” said Hourigan.

In the end, 34 councillors voted in favour of cutting the tax by 15 percent, the maximum possible. Nineteen voted against that, and 1 councillor abstained.

The Freedom

Also at Monday’s meeting, Jim Gavin was honoured with the Freedom of the City of Dublin, an honour that is granted as an acknowledgment of the recipient’s contribution to the life of the city.

Gavin managed the Dublin Gaelic football senior team to a historic five All-Ireland championship wins in a row. He also won the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship as a player with Dublin in 1995.

Lord Mayor Paul McAuliffe nominated Gavin – and the award was co-signed by the leaders of the different party groups in the chamber.

Fianna Fáil’s Deirdre Heney was the first to sing Gavin’s praises. “He always thinks about the collective and puts everything down to the players rather than himself,” said Heney.

The only criticism came from Labour Party Councillor Rebecca Moynihan. Unconscious bias was at play, she said.

“It’s a crying shame that this council in 2019 is still much biased against the women in this city, who have made much contribution to city life,” said Moynihan.

Past awardees include John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Mother Teresa.

Perks for freemen or freewomen include being able to graze sheep on St Stephen’s Green, or bring goods through the city’s gates without paying customs duties.

Sean Finnan is a freelance journalist. You can reach him at sfinnan@dublininquirer.com.

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