Council Briefs: Council May Vote Again on White-Water Rafting, and More

On White-Water Rafting

Plans to build a white-water rafting facility in the Docklands could come back to councillors again for another vote if the costs increase more, says the council’s chief executive officer, Owen Keegan.

Dublin City Council went out to tender for the project earlier this month, he said. “If the cost is higher than we indicated in the capital programme, we will bring it back.” (It says €21.9 million in that, which includes a new council Docklands office.)

That means councillors could vote for a third time on the project, which would see the concrete pit at George’s Dock filled with water and transformed into a white-water rafting and canoeing course.

In December 2019, councillors voted to 37 to 19 (with 3 abstaining) to approve the plans. Later that month, they voted on a motion to rescind the decision, but a majority rejected that move.

The price tag has already gone from an estimated €12 million to an estimated €25 million, said Sinn Féin Councillor Janice Boylan. (It’s unclear where the €25 million estimate is from.)

There are “serious questions raised by locals” about the project, she said.

The council’s past plan was to pay for the estimated €21.9 million cost of the project with €5.9 million in development levies, €4 million in borrowing, €4 million from the capital reserve, and €8 million in grants.

The Capital Programme 2020–2022 says: “To date no grant aid has been approved for this project”.

Fine Gael Councillor Danny Byrne asked Keegan whether the plans for the whitewater rafting facility had been turned down for funding, how many times the plan was rejected, and why.

Said Keegan: “The application for sports capital [funding] was unsuccessful because we didn’t score highly enough on the criteria set down by the department at the time.”

The council can try to apply to the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media for that sports funding again though, said Keegan.

Research and a Reckoning

Researchers are going to go through Dublin City Council’s archives to uncover what they can about the role of its predecessor body, Dublin Corporation, in supporting and working with mother and baby homes.

“We are currently looking into what involvement we had,” said Lord Mayor Hazel Chu, at the February monthly meeting of the full council on Monday night.

“It is a scandal and nothing short of that, it is an outrage,” said Chu, a Green Party councillor, of the homes.

“The state, the institutions and all those involved did irreparable damage to those who had no choice and were pressured into those homes,” she said.

Among the mother and baby homes in the Dublin City Council area – where unmarried mothers were sent to have babies and in some cases were forced to give them up for adoption – was St Patrick’s Mother and Baby Home on the Navan Road, which was in operation until the 1980s, said Chu.

Local authorities funded those institutions, until Dublin Corporation transferred records to the Dublin Health Authority in the 1960s, said Chu.

The council doesn’t have records of which files or documents it transferred, she said. But it does have other documents: ledgers of printed minutes and reports for the period.

Restrictions due to Covid-19 have meant the council hasn’t accessed those documents yet, but it plans to.

“For years these institutions operated under a cloak of secrecy,” said Chu. “I want to assure the public … that we will be completely transparent about what the research uncovers.”

She apologised to all those who suffered because of these institutions. “I beg for your forgiveness, we have no excuse,” she said. “All we can do now is to learn from our failings and work to make sure that nothing like this happens again.”

Vaccinating Firefighters

Councillors said they were concerned about delays in vaccinating firefighter-paramedics, who, because of their work, are at higher risk of being infected with Covid-19.

Chief Fire Officer Dennis Keeley said the issue “has caused a lot of angst”.

Of the 650 firefighter-paramedics in the city, 240 have had first doses of the Pfizer vaccine and are set to get second shots on Friday and Saturday this week, he said.

“We had a schedule for the completion of the vaccination of all our staff,” said Keeley, but due to national and international shortages of vaccines that roll-out has been delayed.

Doses were diverted to healthcare workers and people living in nursing homes, and, while “prioritisation of care homes is fully understandable”, he said, “We are obviously disappointed at the slow pace.”

Several councillors said they were worried about staff morale in the Dublin Fire Brigade, and possible strike action.

Councillors wondered if other healthcare workers, with lower priority, were getting in ahead of fire fighters. “Have Dublin Fire Brigade officers been leap-frogged over and others lower in the pyramid got the vaccine?” asked Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan.

That is not the case, said Keeley.

There are almost 150,000 healthcare workers in Ireland and 90,000 of those have not yet been vaccinated, he said.

The delay isn’t just an issue for firefighters, he said. “This is across healthcare.”

Firefighter-paramedics are counted as healthcare workers and the HSE aims to give all healthcare workers their first shot by the end of February and their second by the end of March, he said.

Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland said she had just got a text to say that SIPTU, the trade union, is not planning strike action over the issue of vaccination.

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