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Dublin City Council plans to spend around €241 million to build culture, leisure and recreation infrastructure in the city over the next three years.
Comparing the public investment in different areas is complicated by the fact that some big-ticket items – for example, the Parnell Square Cultural Quarter and library – could be considered of benefit to the whole city.
It also isn’t always clear where funding for some of the more general lines in the capital budget, such as “artist workshops” or “public toilets”, will end up landing.
But the figures suggest that the city’s northern areas risk being shorted.
The Central Area is set to get the highest spend per person, while the council plans to spend the least on the North Central Area, an analysis of the council’s current capital budget suggests.
Independent Councillor John Lyons, who represents the North Central Area, says that councillors have flagged concerns for years about an obvious shortfall in playgrounds, community centres, cultural spaces and sports facilities.
Kilmore Celtic FC recently blocked the Oscar Traynor Road, a big thoroughfare near Coolock, to protest a lack of sports facilities locally. “There is huge frustration among the volunteers in the sports clubs,” says Lyons.
Social Democrats Councillor Tara Deacy, whose constituency is in the South-East Area, says the council should use the deprivation index to target resources where they are most needed to redress current imbalances.
“In a community where it is very disadvantaged, should we be looking at increasing the budget in those communities to bring us all up to an equal level?” she says.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council didn’t directly answer questions about how it decides where to target capital funding for recreational amenities in the city.
“Dublin City Council has an ambitious capital programme for the development of infrastructure and assets for our Capital City,” says the spokesperson.
“DCC works to increase and strengthen the public asset base across all areas of Dublin while accessing all available funding opportunities,” they said.
Facts and Figures
Dublin City Council lays out the money it hopes to spend over the next three years on large infrastructure projects in its capital budget for 2023 to 2025.
It relies on grants from central government, development levies and other sources of external funding, like sports grants – so not all the projects outlined there are fully funded. Projects can fall through, or priorities change.
But still, looking at the projects the council is planning provides an insight into its vision for where it hopes to spend.
Top of the list for projects in the capital programme is the Central Area, which covers the stretch of the north inner-city from Ashtown to East Wall.
The council plans to spend €762 per person there, the figures show. (Take out the Parnell Square project and it comes to roughly €340 per person.)
Meanwhile, it plans to spend €588 per person in the South Central Area, which covers the Liberties, Inchicore, Drimnagh, Ballyfermot and Cherry Orchard.
Middle of the list is the South East Area, which covers Sandymount and Ballsbridge across the Harold’s Cross and Crumlin, and gets around €250 per person.
Bottom of the table, meanwhile, are the North Central and North West Areas.
The North West Area, which includes Ballymun and Finglas, gets roughly €176 per person.
The North Central Area, which takes in from Santry across to Coolock and Donaghmede, and Clontarf and Fairview, gets about €131 per person – although 66 percent of this is for the planned discovery centre on Bull Island .
The North Central Area has a population the size of Cork city, says Lyons, the independent councillor.
The area is spread out, geographically, and there is a pronounced shortage of cultural buildings, playgrounds and sports facilities, he says.
Some locals have complained about the poor condition of the sprawling open green spaces there too.
Councillors have called for an audit of community infrastructure, says Lyons, but they don’t have control of the capital budget.
“Every area deserves an appropriate level of funding to meet the needs of that population,” says Lyons.
More money should go to areas that need it, he says, because some areas are “playing catch-up due to years of under-investment”.
Some agreed projects have stalled and cannot go ahead because of funding, he says.
In 2017, the council agreed it would spend €3.4 million on a community centre in Greendale in Kilbarrack, Lyons says.
He has regularly asked for updates since but there is no further information on it. It isn’t included in the current capital programme
Rebalancing the City
Deacy, the Social Democrats councillor, says she has been calling on the council to introduce “poverty-proofing” – a system for looking at each policy decision to ensure it won’t increase poverty in the community.
“My argument would be that when we are talking about budgeting, we poverty-proof the budget so we make sure that the more affluent areas aren’t getting the exact same amount as the more disadvantaged communities,” she says.
In other words, positive discrimination.
If Ballsbridge has significantly more trees than Crumlin, Crumlin should get a bigger budget for trees so that eventually both areas will have similar tree coverage, she says. “So that we can actually bring things up so that we are all equal.”
Likewise in areas with litter blackspots, the clean-up groups might need more support from the council than similar groups in affluent areas, where the problem is less pronounced, she says.
The council should target extra investment in the areas that need it the most, says Deacy, and it can identify them using the deprivation index.
If the budget is the same for an affluent area as a disadvantaged area, the disparity between the two areas will continue, unless steps are taken to redress it, she says.