That Dáil Éireann having approved and passed the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission Act, 1986, calls on the Government to implement the Act immediately.
For many years various bodies, organisations and individuals have bemoaned the continuous rundown of the centre of our capital city. There have been calls on various public bodies to take action to redress that seemingly relentless process whereby the centre of Dublin became tawdrier and more run-down. However, it was not until last year that the Government addressed themselves to the problem in a particular way and that the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission Bill was introduced. The purpose of the Bill was to establish a single function authority for a finite lifetime of three years which would assume all the powers and the responsibilities of the local authority, Dublin Corporation, and the responsibilities of the Dublin Transportation Authority as well as a number of responsibilities of the Garda Síochána. They were to address, in a co-ordinated way, the variety of problems of the central core of Dublin. They were assigned responsibility for the area running from the top of Grafton Street, through Westmoreland Street to the Parnell Monument at the end of O'Connell Street, together with a number of smaller streets converging on that central spine.
The Government announced their commitment to allocate a budget of £10 million over the three year lifetime of the commission as well as a subvention from Dublin Corporation representing the amount which the corporation would otherwise have spent on the maintenance of that area. It was felt necessary to establish the commission because, as I already said, of the run-down nature of the centre of Dublin and the clutter of street furniture which was not in keeping with the demands of the area. Regrettably, street furniture is often poorly maintained because flagstones in O'Connell Street are broken, removed and replaced by ugly and ill-fitting tarmacadam. There is a proliferation of litter and dirt and tawdry plastic signs adorn the frontage of many otherwise architecturally pleasing buildings. This has happened to such an extent that one can only reflect on the degree of architectural vandalism which was allowed to take place over a succession of years and which has blighted the centre of our capital city.
Very high levels of traffic are funnelled through and, in many cases, virtually directed to flow through O'Connell Street, that single most important artery, with virtually no consideration given to the needs of pedestrians. We felt that the way in which this might best be addressed was by the establishment of a single function authority which would be given all the responsibilities for the central spine of Dublin city so that they could identify and build on what was best in the area. We wanted to provide the area with matching, tasteful street furniture and to ensure that the architectural features of buildings would be highlighted. We also wanted to ensure that advertising not in keeping with the general character of the street and which is very often in place without planning permission would be removed. Indeed even in cases where such permission had been granted but where the commission felt the displays not to be in keeping with the area the commission should have power to seek their removal on foot of compensation.
The commission were also charged with building new features in the streets, especially in O'Connell Street. They were charged with the task of making the pedestrian predominant instead of traffic being king. They were to carry out extensive planting of shrubs and flowers made up of different colours for every season in the year. They were to consider the question of maximising the areas which could be pedestrianised in a permanent way. This was to apply to Grafton Street on a 24 hour, seven day week basis, instead of the stop-start position which has existed for so many years. They were to encourage the restortion and cleaning of facades of buildings, to identify and develop the importance of the central mall in O'Connell Street which was the original intention of its architect. They were to encourage the absolute concept of security for the pedestrian in that central area by having an increased Garda presence and a number of Garda kiosks. In short, they were to endeavour to restore to the centre of Dublin some of the grandeur which rightfully belonged to it in the past and which, unfortunately, it cannot claim today. Yet, the essence of that grandeur, the scale of the buildings and the streets means that the essentials of that style and grandeur are still present.
It was felt that establishing a single function authority whose sole purpose would be to identify all that was best, to concentrate on what was best and to remove which was worst, would add to the original design and lead to a centre of our capital city of which we could all be justifiably proud. As I said, the commission were given a finite lifetime of three years so that they could address their collective mind to the task in hand and, having identified the need, would then get on with the job.
There were a number of reasons for choosing a three year period. It meant that the responsibility for continuing maintenance of the central area would revert to Dublin Corporation during the lifetime of the present elected corporation. It also meant that the second of the three years of the commission's existence would coincide with the celebration in Dublin of the city's millenium. Indeed, one could hardly speculate on a more appropriate time to commence this work than to have had a substantial amount carried out in time to have the centre of Dublin, as the proud capital celebrates its millenium, looking its best. It should be designed in such a way as to maximise the usage and enjoyment for the individual pedestrian in the central area.
The proposal to establish the commission was, it is fair to say, widely and warmly welcomed not just, to my surprise, by Dublin but by people from every part of the country. One thing it brought home to me very forcefully as we went along discussing this proposal was that, while Dubliners feel that the centre of Dublin represents a very special place for them, so too do most people from virtually every other part of the country. For them the capital city represents a very special place and is identified with Ireland in a special way. Consequently, the appearance, maintenance and upkeep of the central part of the capital city is a very important aspect for people from all parts of the country. Therefore, the concept of trying to have central Dublin appear at its best appeals to all of those who have the interest of Dublin and of the country at heart.
The proposals when published were welcomed by a variety of bodies, by An Taisce, Dublin Chamber of Commerce, Bord Fáilte, the Dublin Eastern Tourism Organisation, the City Centre Business Association, individual business houses and traders in the area and especially by individuals, as I have said, individuals not just living in Dublin but individuals generally from whatever part of the country.
For some extraordinary reason which I have never been able to fathom, the then Opposition were the only organisation who expressed their opposition to the concept and they manifested that opposition in the most practical way available to a political party — by voting against it. The single organisation, whether business, cultural, tourism or political who opposed the concept of the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission in an outright fashion were the then Opposition, the party who are now in Government. During the long debate in the Houses of the Oireachtas as the Bill passed with difficulty through those Houses I was never able to establish the reason for that opposition. When the Bill was first published in June the Government at the time made every effort and endeavoured to be as accommodating as possible to encourage the Opposition to allow that Bill to become law before the summer recess so that the commission might commence work during last summer. Despite every effort at that time by the Government the Opposition refused outright to allow the Bill time for discussion in the House and intimated that were the Bill to be introduced and discussion to be insisted on by the Government they would withdraw all co-operation in relation to all other measures which needed to be passed before the summer recess. Therefore, for that unidentified and as yet unidentifiable reason to oppose, the establishment of the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission was delayed by over six months. The Bill was eventually introduced into the Seanad in September and into this House in November of last year. During its passage at that time I have to say that it was attacked by speaker after speaker from Fianna Fáil, very many of them Deputies representing the greater Dublin area but eventually Deputies ranging from as far afield as those whose affinity would be more with the Lee than the Liffey. That culminated eventually here in the House in the Opposition party at the time voting against the final passage of the Bill, obviously unsuccessfully because the Bill became law and was put into effect. I could never fathom why the degree and depth of the opposition was so great because in previous times and other circumstances Fianna Fáil had favoured the concept of single function authorities and I would have thought would have continued in their belief that if there is from time to time a problem to be addressed which can be addressed and resolved within a set period of time and where the spotlight needs to be on having the job carried out very carefully, it can often better be done by a single function authority than by asking a multi-discipline, multi-functional authority to carry out that special task in addition to all of their other functions and statutory requirements. That was the attitude adopted by Fianna Fáil in previous years. It took a sharp U-turn last year when the metropolitan streets commission proposal was published. Why I do not know.
That continuing threat by Fianna Fáil over the future of the commission naturally caused a degree of apprehension for many people but I was interested to note immediately post the election result that Deputy Bertie Ahern indicated as Lord Mayor of Dublin that he felt it unlikely that the Government would interfere with the metropolitan streets commission, although he intimated that they might very well decide to change or amend their terms of reference. However about a week later Deputy Raphael Burke indicated, according to the newspapers, that the metropolitan streets commission had been established by the Oireachtas and derived their authority from the Oireachtas and he did not see that there would be any intention on the Government's part of interfering either with the functions of the commission or of the Custom House Dock Authority who had also been established by the previous Government.
I would have thought that that was as it should be because the problem of urban renewal, urban regeneration, the attempt to breathe life back into city centres is now being addressed, and in many instances has been addressed for many years, right across Europe. If there was anything to be said about what we were doing it could only be that the attempt to address this sensitive and important problem was far too belated in this country in comparison with many of our neighbours. The experience of many countries has shown that there is nothing clearer than that if Government do not give great attention and allocate resources to regenerating life in city centres those cities will die. They will become faceless, nameless places, inhabited only from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and will become virtually no-go areas outside normal office hours. Indeed, as time goes on they will become less and less attractive even as office centres as they will by then have already become dead commercial centres. If we want living, viable city centres, of all the cities surely the one we would most want populated, vibrant, active and alive should be the centre of our capital city. Action to address that problem is long overdue.
The metropolitan streets commission have been in existence for something less than two months and their record in that short time means that they have shown by their work and by the imagination they have displayed since their inauguration the enormous potential they have. The streets commission have already met with the traders and business people of the area they cover. They have had discussions with Dublin Corporation and the Dublin Transport Authority and as lately as today we read in the newspapers of some of their proposals regarding the refurbishment and regeneration of O'Connell Street.
The Chairman of the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission indicated that it is their intention that a considerable amount of the work which they plan will be carried out by the middle of next year in order that that work will coincide, as I mentioned earlier, with the Dublin Millennium. For this worthwhile body as they commence their task, with their aim of having an important scheme prepared and of having much of the work put in place by June of next year, with the full support of the various bodies who have an interest in the area, from tourism to business and commercial interests, with the full support of the ordinary individual living in or visiting Dublin, there remains just one cloud, one shadow, one threat over their future and their success. That threat would appear to be the potential vindictiveness of the Government. There is a tradition in Irish politics, a tradition long honoured by a variety of Governments, that whatever is put in place by one Government, and especially whatever is put in place on foot of a statute enacted by the Oireachtas, is not interfered with or removed by that Government's successor. It would be dangerous in the extreme if that tradition were to be broken.
We have examples in neighbouring countries not too far away where in the recent past a variety of industries found themselves either within public ownership or outside of public ownership depending on the ideology of the Government of the day. That is not good for any country or for any industry or grouping. The tradition which has been adhered to for a very long time in this country is one which should be continued.
For the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission to succeed in their task, in their objectives and in what we set out for them in the legislation which was adopted by the Houses of the Oireachtas they require co-operation and support from many different sources. They require co-operation support and goodwill from the traders in the area. They require the same from Dublin Corporation, from the Dublin Transport Authority and from the various other public bodies such as the ESB, Bord Telecom and all the other people who use the streets to deliver their services. The commission require co-operation from the Garda Síochána and from the general public. Most of all for the commission to be successful they require the full co-operation and support of the elected Government. I would have thought that was the least they might expect as they exist on foot of a decision taken by the Oireachtas.
A number of us believed that support might not be as readily forthcoming as the tradition of succession would demand. It is for that reason that this motion was tabled. It is the first motion in Private Members' Time and was tabled as a test. The test has been made. The Government have been tried and have been found wanting by the nature of the amendment they introduced to the motion. We find this amendment totally unacceptable. When we made the decision to establish the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission and to make £10 million available to them over three years, as well as the allocation from Dublin Corporation towards maintenance and running costs, we did that in the full knowledge of the budgetary constraints which apply for this year and which are likely to apply for the ensuing two years. It is fair to say that at the time we made that decision, during 1986, no group of people in the country were better in a position than the Government of the day to understand the budgetary constraints for this year and for 1988 and 1989. Despite those constraints we recognised the importance of the need for the establishment of this commission and for the allocation of a reasonable amount of funding to them.
In that respect we allocated in the Book of Estimates which was published earlier this year a sum of £3.4 million to the commission to be spent in 1987. The commission were established bearing in mind the budgetary constraints and yet we suspected that the support that might be given to them might not be as wholehearted from the incoming Government as it was from the outgoing Government. For that reason the motion was tabled to test the Government and the amendment is the result of the test. The amendment is ominous for the future of the commission. It appears to reiterate the threat that was enunciated during the debates in the Oireachtas and to undermine the work of the commission by indicating the possible removal of that most vital artery from the success of the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission — adequate funding.
As I said, the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission have made clear their objective of having as much as possible in place by the middle of next year to coincide with the Dublin Millennium. If there were to be any attempt now to interfere with their funding for this year or to starve them of funding for 1988, clearly that objective would be impossible to attain. Without in any way seeking to rescind the legislation or to amend it, the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission in the attainment of their objectives effectively can be thwarted if the Government are prepared to be vindictive enough to interfere with the moneys already allocated to them for 1987 or to starve them of cash for next year. I would not have thought that would have been electorally popular. The City Centre Business Association have already indicated that there would be a very violent reaction indeed from those organisations which have welcomed the establishment of the commission were that to be done. Although the reason has not been spelt out in detail it is quite clear from the reception given to this measure from the time it was published to the time of its delayed debate some four or five months later and to the attempt to vote it down in the Dáil, that Fianna Fáil are totally opposed to this measure. One would have to ask again why? One would have to fear again when reading the Government amendment that that opposition, that threat to the future of the commission is once again implicit in that Government amendment. I want to say clearly that the Government had better realise that they will not have the support of this party for any diminution in the allocation of funding for the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission as published in the Book of Estimates for this year. Neither may they expect to have our support for that Estimate for 1988 if it provides less than adequate funding and less than the funding which would bring the commission on target to have delivered to it over the three years of its lifetime the full capital sum of £10 million as was promised.
As I said, there was no group in the country better in a position than we in the springtime of last year, and more lately when we were preparing the Estimtes for this year, to understand the nature and depth of the budgetary constraints upon Government. Yet we felt that the allocation of that £10 million was the minimum which was necessary to make the type of impact which I explained at the outset, an impact which would be not only necessary but long overdue — an impact which even in business or economic terms will have an enormous spin off in beneficial effect upon the commercial life and activity of the centre of Dublin and indeed upon the tourism potential of the city and especially the city centre.
A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I take the opportunity of congratulating you on your appointment.