Council Briefs: Getting Legal Advice on the O’Devaney Deal, Backing Away from the Artane Band, and a Firefighter Shortage

Legal Advice on O’Devaney

Councillors are going to seek independent legal advice about the planned development on land the council owns at O’Devaney Gardens in Stoneybatter, they agreed at their September monthly council meeting, on Monday.

In 2019, Dublin City Councillors voted to transfer the land to the developer Bartra to build 768 homes, a mix of social, affordable and private homes.

The vote was a contentious one. There has for years been a campaign by some members of the public and of political parties to push the council to stop selling land to private developers, and to build housing itself.

The coalition that took over running Dublin City Council after the May 2019 local election – Fianna Fáil, the Greens, the Labour Party and the Social Democrats – all signed onto a pledge to do that, with caveats.

Their “Dublin Agreement”, said they had agreed among themselves not to vote to sell off public land to developers, unless the financial benefit to the council outweighed the social and economic benefit of having social housing and other public uses on the site.

A few months later, in November, most members of those parties on the council voted to transfer the O’Devaney Gardens land to Bartra – while protestors who had stormed into the well of the council chambers shouted “Homes for need, not for greed!” and “Shame on you!”.

Then, earlier in 2021, Bartra applied for planning permission for 1,047 homes, upping the height and density of the proposed development. An Bord Pleanála granted permission in September.

On Monday, independent councillors John Lyons, Cieran Perry and Sophie Nicoullaud – who all voted against transferring the land to Bartra during that dramatic meeting in 2019 – put forward a motion calling on the council’s chief executive, Owen Keegan, to write to the developer asking it to comply with the original deal or to hand back the land to the council.

Under Section 15 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, the council should take all steps within its powers to deliver the objectives of its city development plan, says the motion.

The city development planis the council’s blueprint for how the city should grow. It says that in residential area, beside houses, buildings shouldn’t top five storeys. National guidelines, though, override that and allow for much higher buildings. At its highest point, the development at O’Devaney Gardens would be 14 storeys.

The council’s CEO is legally obliged to uphold the city development plan so he should write to Bartra and request that it return the site to the council, says the motion.

On Tuesday, Perry said councillors were given confidential legal advice by the council’s law agent which indicated the issues raised in the motion were planning matters. But councillors aren’t disputing An Bord Pleanála’s right to make planning decisions, he says.

The dispute is with Bartra, for significantly changing the plans on which the transfer of land was based, he said. “We have disposed the land to them and I believe they are not adhering to the agreement we assented to.”

Keegan, the council’s chief executive, has allowed a development to go ahead on council-owned land that contains heights and density that breach the council’s development plan, says Perry. “The manager is obliged as head of the planning authority to defend our development plan,” he says.

At the meeting, Keegan said he is not in breach of his obligations.

A council spokesperson said that the council welcomes the extra homes on the site, which includes more social and affordable homes than originally agreed.

“The developer submitted a Planning Application in full conformity with all City Council and National Planning Policies and Regulations,” says the spokesperson. “This included national policy on densities”

The original density in the tender could have been deemed by Bord Pleanala as not being in conformity with national regulations if it had been submitted, he says.

Councillors can seek independent legal advice but it will delay the delivery of housing, said Keegan at the meeting. “I’m very keen to move ahead with a major housing development.”

Councillors voted in favour of seeking independent legal advice, with 37 voting for and 22 against. Perry agreed to defer the motion to ask Keegan to write to Batra asking for the land back, while they wait for that legal advice.

Keegan said the protocol committee – a group of councillors who meet to talk about rules – will draw up the terms of reference for that advice.

The chair of the protocol committee, together with the lord mayor, will select a barrister to provide councillors with independent legal advice on the issue, he said.

Ending Mayoral Patronage

A majority of councillors voted to end the Lord Mayor’s patronage of the Artane School of Music, following a campaign by independent Councillor Mannix Flynn, who is a survivor of the Artane Industrial School.

Flynn has said he represents a group of survivors of the institutions, including people who were in the Artane band as children when serious sexual and physical abuse took place. He has called for the band to be reformed for years.

In June he tabled a motion calling for the Lord Mayor to end her patronage of the band and Green Party Councillor Hazel Chu, who then held the role, suggested that a mediation process be arranged between Flynn and the organisers of the band.

In September, Flynn said he was shocked that the current Lord Mayor, Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland, had arranged a number of meetings with the band without telling him.

On Monday night Flynn’s motion called for the Lord Mayor to “withdraw and desist from being patron of the Artane School of Music/Artane Band”.

Flynn addressed the councillors. “If you agree the motion you won’t be hurting any children,” he said.

By contrast, those who were incarcerated in the industrial schools, including Artane, continue to suffer trauma to this day, he said. The marching out of the band, in its original uniform on All Ireland final days, is compounding that trauma each year, he said.

When it came to the vote this time, councillors voted in favour of his motion, with 35 voting for, 20 voting against, and 4 abstaining.

On Tuesday, Flynn said he will continue his campaign. He is tabling another motion to the council’s arts committee, asking it to call on the GAA to stop using the Artane band, which plays on pitch before big matches .

“Anybody in this country who wants to know, already knows the savagery that was inflicted upon children in Ireland’s industrial school complex,” says Flynn, in the new motion.

Some of the boys in the band were raped and assaulted and sent out to march in the band hungry, he says. Today they are traumatised men who cannot understand why the band is still celebrated, he says.

“The question isn’t really why should the GAA stop using a band which has such a dark origin story,” says Flynn. “But rather why they have continued to do so for as long as they have.”

“The children who used to be in the band, and the children who currently are, surely deserve to march under a lighter banner,” he says.

Firefighter Shortages

Councillors called for Dublin Fire Brigade to increase the number of full-time firefighters, saying that the service is at risk due to shortages and is constantly relying on workers doing overtime.

They also called for all firefighters to be trained to tackle high-rise blazes.

Lord Mayor Alison Gilliland, of Labour, and Councillor Daithí Doolan, of Sinn Feín, tabled the motion, which was backed by all political groupings.

Thirty-six new recruits are in training but there are also firefighters retiring this year, so current staff levels may not increase, said Gilliland, reading from the motion.

She called for two new recruit classes to be scheduled immediately “back-to-back.” If that happened it would bring on board all of those on the panel, so a new panel should also be established immediately, she said.

Councillors said it was a miracle that no one has been hurt during the firefighter shortages.

“We have been really lucky that we haven’t had a serious incident that has put lives at risk,” said independent Councillor Noeleen Reilly.

“It is unacceptable for firefighters to have to carry the burden of working overtime,” said Doolan. Fire brigade workers are planning a day of action, he said.

“Dublin City Council recognises the essential need to ensure that all firefighters and officers are fully trained in managing high rise fire and medical emergencies,” says the motion.

Social Democrats Councillor Mary Callaghan said that when she asked if firefighters had all the necessary training and equipment to tackle a blaze that might occur in a high rise building, council managers assured her that they did.

But when she asked the firefighters themselves, they said “categorically that they did not have adequate equipment and workers were not given the time to attend that critical training”, said Callaghan.

Dublin Fire Brigade’s Chief Fire Officer, Dennis Keeley, said that “extensive negotiations and discussions have been going on with the trade unions”. In recent months, complex issues have been resolved, he said.

But the talks broke down recently with one issue remaining, said Keeley. “I’m anxious that we would get back to discussions to find a solution.”

Thirty-six new staff members will start work in January and will be posted throughout the city and 45 more new recruits will start training in February, he says.

In relation to the training and equipment for high-rise fires, he said that four brand-new “appliances” are arriving this week. “We are very much aware of the seriousness of the issue,” said Keeley.

So far new recruits and those recently promoted to fire officer jobs have had the high-rise training programme, he said.

He hopes to sign off on high-rise training for all officers as soon as possible, he said.

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Author:

Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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