Councillors Vote to Back a Policy to Seek to Ban Bookies at Street Level Citywide, but Council Managers Don’t Heed Them

In November 2021, Dublin City Councillors voted in favour of a motion to seek to prohibit new bookies, gaming arcades and adult shops from opening on the ground floor of buildings across the city.

But that ban did not make it into the latest draft of the next city development plan.

The city development plan lays out a six-year vision for the city, and sets broad priorities and targeted planning policies, including which businesses can go where.

Independent Councillor Damian O’Farrell says he proposed three motions seeking to prohibit betting shops and gaming arcades in the city, all of which were agreed by the full council at a meeting on 9 November 2021.

The draft city development plan restricts those premises in certain areas of the city, but the blanket ban on new ones opening at ground-floor level, or street level was not included.

“We are trying to improve the retail and social interaction offering of our city. Bookmaker shops and gaming arcades add nothing to this aspiration,” says O’Farrell.

He was disappointed to discover that his motion, which was agreed by all councillors, was not included in the plan, he says.

O’Farrell says he no longer trusts the process of drawing up the plan in line with what councillors agree, since last November when councillors discovered that more than 200 sites had been rezoned without their knowledge.

His isn’t a wariness shared by all councillors. Labour Party Councillor Dermot Lacey says that he has faith in the process.

But if it was agreed “it should be included provided it is not in breach of any law”, says Lacey.

Dublin City Council didn’t respond in time for publication to queries submitted on Friday, as to whether any other items agreed by councillors had failed to make it into the plan.

At the Meeting

“All changes agreed by the City Council were incorporated into the draft plan,”says the draft plan.

“The adoption of the plan is a reserved function of the elected members under the Planning and Development Act 2000,” it says.

But O’Farrell says councillors had agreed to ban bookies and gaming arcades on street level throughout the city.

He had put forward three motions at a meeting of the full council on 9 November 2021.

One motion said:“It is the Policy of Dublin City Council to prohibit betting shops, amusement arcades and adult shops from street level premises in our city.”

Two other motions sought to restrict betting shops altogether, including on upper floors, in certain parts of the city, like Grafton Street and Henry Street, or in residential neighbourhoods, near schools or where there is already a concentration of them.

Vincent Jackson, the independent councillor, said at the meeting that, “As an area saturated with bookie shops, eight of them in Ballyfermot, I agree with everything Councillor O’Farrell has said.”

“They destroy the commercial and the retail heart,” said Jackson.

Labour Councillor Declan Meenagh suggested rewording the motion since places like pool halls and bowling alleys could sometimes be called “amusement arcades”.

Maybe it could read “gaming arcades” instead, said Labour Councillor Alison Gililand, the Lord Mayor at the time.

O’Farrell agreed to that and to a suggestion by planner John O’Hara to substitute “prohibit” with “seek to prohibit”.

Gilliland, who was chairing the meeting, read back the final version of the motion: “The motion now reads, ‘it is the policy of Dublin City Council to seek to prohibit betting shops, gaming arcades and adult shops at street level in our city’.”

Councillors had agreed to all three motions.

On Tuesday, Jackson said that there are currently nine bookies in Ballyfermot but when he had raised this in the past with council planners, they told him they can’t refuse permission for them.

“They keep saying they are not precluded in the current guidelines,” says Jackson.

In this working-class area, some people are spending money that they don’t have, which can cause other problems, says Jackson.

His brother was previously addicted to gambling, he says. “You can’t win,” he says. “If you win today you will put it back in tomorrow.”

Bookies provide no positive contribution to the community, says Jackson. “I’ve never seen them sponsor so much as a football,” he says. “And all the money they take out of it.”

Unchanged

When O’Farrell spotted that the citywide ban of gambling facilities at street-level wasn’t included he contacted council managers to highlight the mistake, but they refused to change it, he says.

Emails show that council managers indicated that the original meaning of motion 136 was contained in the new rewording .

In a written response to a formal question, the Chief Executive Owen Keegan says: “All motions after adoption were incorporated into the draft development plan as appropriate with a view to producing a user friendly document.”

The draft city development plan currently says: “To seek to prohibit adult shops, betting shops and gaming arcades in proximity to residential areas, places of public worship and schools and to seek to prevent an excessive concentration of such uses having regard to the existing presence of such retail outlets in an area.”

“In addition the list of retail constrained in Category 1 and Category 2 was extended to

include betting shops, gaming arcades and adult shops,” says Keegan in the response.

Category 1 and 2 streets are the premier shopping streets in the city centre, including Grafton Street and Henry Street.

But, says O’Farrell, that doesn’t include the agreed ban on gambling facilities at street level across the city.

“We are all human and mistakes will happen but there is no acknowledgment by [Dublin City Council] that this is the case and this is extremely frustrating,” says O’Farrell. “I’m being told the agreed draft policy is included when it clearly isn’t.”

Last November, Keegan apologised after O’Farrell and his local area colleagues, Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Heney and Fine Gael Councillor Naoise Ó Muirí, called on the council’s chief executive to provide a list of management’s proposed zoning changes, the reasons for them, and who had proposed them.

Council managers had made substantial changes to how lands were zoned across the city without telling councillors.

Green Party Councillor Donna Cooney had spotted changes too. She asked for a list of them in her area but that request was initially refused.

Keegan apologised at the meeting for the “oversight”, which he said was “a very, very unfortunate development that can’t be defended on any basis”.

O’Farrell says that ever since the rezoning he doesn’t trust that the process will mean that what councillors agree, always ends up into the development plan.

The process of writing the new development plan is time-consuming and complicated, he says and councillors, many of whom have other jobs, have to read hundreds of complicated policies in a short time.

“There is very much a trust element to the process whereby decisions previously made by councillors should appear in the draft plan going forward,” he says. “Unfortunately I have found this not to be the case in respect of my work and have lost trust in the process.”

Lacey, the longtime Labour councillor, says he thinks the council planners have been more responsive this time than during the processes of writing previous city development plans. “They have been more positive and engaging.”

Lacey says it is up to councillors to be aware of controversial rezonings in their areas and that he always goes through the development plan to check that his main agreed points are included. “I don’t think I’ve been surprised in the past.”

If any motion that was agreed was not included, that cannot be defended, he says. “That is clearly wrong.”

Jackson, the longtime independent councillor, says he isn’t at all surprised to hear that what was agreed by councillors hasn’t made it into the plan. “I am 31 years on the council, it doesn’t alway happen that what we want is in the development plan.”

Jackson says that he too wants bookies banned from opening new outlets at street level across the city as was agreed.

Author:

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

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