A new board set up to “implement and co-ordinate supports for the Cherry Orchard community” needs more on-the-ground local representation, two councillors say.

The Cherry Orchard Implementation Board was announced in November, and held its first meeting earlier this month.

“We welcome the establishment of the implementation group,” Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan said on Wednesday 17 May at a meeting of the council’s South Central Area Committee.

“But I was wondering if it’s possible to review the membership and ensure that there’s residents represented on it, that there’s two community service reps, and that there’s elected reps as well,” said Doolan, who represents Ballyfermot-Drimnagh.

“The plan needs to be drafted in full consultation with the community, not a plan drafted on behalf of the community,” he said.

Yes, said People Before Profit Councillor Hazel de Nortúin, “I wish the Cherry Orchard Implementation Board the best and I have no doubt they’re going to u-turn and come back because it’s going to be nothing without the feed-in around the table with the people on the ground.”

“If it’s not going to be delivered right, I’m literally going to be stepping away from it at that stage,” said de Nortúin, who also represents Ballyfermot-Drimnagh.

The board was set up by the Department and Minister of Justice, which decided its initial membership, says its chair, Brendan Foster. “The constitution of the board is a matter for the minister,” he said.

But “these are not people who just landed in … they are people on the ground who are actually working within the Cherry Orchard community”, he said.

Cherry Orchard is one of the most deprived parts of Dublin city, according to the Pobal deprivation index. For years, local councillors and organisations have been calling for more social supports and infrastructure for the area.

The new implementation board is part of the Minister for Justice’s response to a September incident in which several boys used a stolen car to ram a Garda car in Cherry Orchard, while a group of onlookers cheered.

The Board and Its Membership

Foster, the chair of the committee, is a partner at accounting firm Grant Thornton.

“I come from a working-class environment,” he said. “I’m 58 years of age, I was born and reared in Cabra.”

When the government announced the new board in November, Foster was chair of the Cherry Orchard Development Group, which had been created back in 2017 to “drive forward the implementation of” the Making Cherry Orchard Better Area Action Plan.

In April, a government press release said the new implementation board Foster is now chairing “is intended to build and expand on the work of” the old development group he used to chair.

For the new board, “They needed somebody with a bit of experience chairing a board and understanding the intricacies of Dublin City Council, which are the main stakeholder from a capital infrastructure perspective, but also the other stakeholders,” he said.

“I do a lot of work with a whole range of government departments, semi-states, organizations, so I understand the nuances and the subtleties of how the whole system operates,” Foster said.

Church of the Most Holy Sacrament in Cherry Orchard. Credit: Sam Tranum

“Frankly I don’t have time, and I have a full-time job,” he said. “I don’t get anything out of this remuneratively other than, I wanted to kind of offer my services. I was invited by the minister to chair it, so it’s very hard to turn down a request by a minister.”

In addition to Foster, according to a 17 May email from Dublin City Council director of services Derek Kelly, the board is to include Kelly himself and:

  • Finbarr Murphy, a chief superintendent in An Garda Siochána;
  • Grainne O’Sullivan, an area manager with Tusla;
  • Grainne Kelly, Community Health Network 7 manager for the HSE;
  • Concepta De Brun, social inclusion manager for the HSE;
  • Celene Dunne, director of City of Dublin Youth Services;
  • Brendan Goggin, principal of St.Ultan’s primary school;
  • Anne Fitzgerald, CEO of the Ballyfermot Chapelizod Partnership;
  • John Moriarty, director of transformation and knowledge at the City of Dublin Education and Training Board;
  • Ciara O‘Connor, a senior probation officer; and
  • James Curley, director and executive chairman of Astogo Holdings.

“All of the people on the board are people who are actually working in the area,” Foster said, specifically mentioning O’Connor and Goggin as “people on the ground who are actually working in the Cherry Orchard community”.

At last Wednesday’s meeting of the South Central Area Committee, though, councillors said they weren’t satisfied with the composition of the board.

Committee chair Sophie Nicoullaud, an independent councillor representing Ballyfermot-Drimnagh, said she questioned the inclusion of Foster, coming from a private company, and of Curley, “one of the richest people in Ireland”.

“I’m not sure what they can bring to this board,” Nicoullaud said.

In response to a query about this sent to James Curley at Astogo Holdings, Mark Curley, chief operating officer there, said James Curley “grew up in Dublin 10. He attended both Primary and Secondary school in Ballyfermot. He has a close network of family and friends still living in the area.”

“Jim and his companies are supporters of several enterprises and care organisations in the area. Jim has much to bring to the Cherry Orchard Implementation Board,” Mark Curley said.

De Nortúin, the People Before Profit councillor, said she has always favoured including senior decision-makers on the new implementation board.

“It needs to have high stakeholders, like people in positions that can make decisions, directors, CEOs, whatever – and that’s what they have at the minute,” she said.

“But the problem I see that they got wrong is that they don’t have the outreach, on-the-ground organisations that have been dealing with this for years,” she said.

More Local Representation

An April government press release said that “a local community representative” would join the board “in due course”.

It would be hard to choose that local community representative, and they’d need training, said Kelly, the council director of services, at Wednesday’s South Central Area Committee.

“The intention is to have a resident representative on that group, but I believe there’s a level of capacity building that needs to be done in advance of inviting somebody to join,” said Kelly, while stressing he is only a member of the board and not running the show.

“I would hope we would get support through the DRCD [Department of Rural and Community Development] for place-based leadership training,” he said.

At the meeting, Fianna Fáil Councillor Daithí de Róiste questioned this.

“Did I just hear you right to say that there’s issues to have residents on board and that they need to go for training and capacity, but that everybody else who sits on this board is fully qualified to do so?” said de Róiste, who represents Ballyfermot-Drimnagh.

The “place-based leadership training”, said Kelly, is “to try and assist residents in the community to develop their leadership skills to be able to better participate in this sort of forum.”

“I’m not saying they won’t have but they may not always have the necessary skills to be able to engage in that but a lot of very senior people in various organizations,” Kelly said. “So all I’m saying is there may be a need to do some of that. It’s not necessary in every situation.”

As for adding representatives of local groups, Kelly said that might also be possible.

“In relation to the various voluntary or community groups that operate in the area again, I see no reason why that couldn’t happen,” Kelly said. “But again, there’s so many groups in the area. How do you pick one being more worthy than another?”

“The view is that they can engage at the sub-group level and maybe they can almost look at what forming would you call it, a coalition or something like that, where they meet as a group and they select a person or persons to represent them all?” he said.

Says De Nortúin: “We’ve been told that we can feed into this organisation through a sub-group. Is that the ultimate smack of disrespect?”

What Will the Board Do?

The previous organisation he chaired, the Cherry Orchard Development Group, “really lacked the power to really make actionable decisions”, Foster said.

“Funding and resources for the development group were limited,” he said Friday, speaking by phone.

The new Cherry Orchard Implementation Board is, basically, more powerful, he said.

The various arms of the state operate independently of each other, Foster said, so while one arm might decide one thing, another might not agree.

The new Cherry Orchard Implementation Board “has the imprimatur of the government, through the offices of the Department and the Minister of Justice”.

The board has funding for an office, a full-time administrator, and a communication plan, “and we will have funding for specific programmes”, Foster said.

The new board does not come with a giant pot of money, but “there is a commitment on the part of government to make additional funding available for any specific task”, Foster said.

In 2021, the council applied for but didn’t get €30 million in funding for the first phase of Cherry Orchard’s local area plan from the government’s Urban Regeneration and Development Funding, a funding stream for the regeneration of urban areas.

So how long will the board exist and how will Foster know whether it has succeeded, how will that be measured?

It will be around “for a number of years, we don’t have a defined period”, Foster said.

“The measure of success is going to be judged on an action plan that’s established, approved by the board, and gets recognition by the various government departments,” Foster said. “That may sound wish-washy, but that’s the reality.”

Haven’t there been enough plans for Cherry Orchard already? Is what the area needs another plan?

“There’s lots of foundations, if you will,” says Foster. There’s the Making Cherry Orchard Better Plan, and there’s the council’s local area plan, among others. “We’re not going back and reinventing the wheel.”

But “Yeah, I think it needed a plan that really had a little bit more, I don’t want to use the word ‘teeth’, but had a little bit more, kind of, recognition,” he said.

Then what happens when the plan is released, will the implementation board be there monitoring its implementation, making sure everything gets done, cracking the whip?

“First of all, I will not be cracking the whip and anyone that’s not my style,” he said. The plan the board releases “is an agreement among the groups or the representative across the various state agencies, that this is what’s needed”.

“And this will go up the lines through the participants on the board or through you know, government, ultimately,” he said.

“The councillors, the community groups, the people living in Cherry Orchard will be the ultimate arbiters of the success of the plan,” he said. “Or they’ll say, ‘Well, you know, it’s just another talking shop.’”

“There’s a lot of positive activity on the ground in Cherry Orchard, there’s been a lot of success over the years, and I think unfortunately some of the things that happen in Cherry Orchard give the area a bad name,” Foster said.

“There’s huge amounts of wonderful people and it’s just kind of really enhancing not just the image but also the services and the infrastructure is really what we want to achieve,” he said.

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