I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Ann Phelan.
Master Plan for the City of Dublin: Motion
That Seanad Éireann calls on the Government to:
- produce a master plan for the city of Dublin, to include provisions for the Dublin transport system, housing development and environmental matters; and
- revisit the Living City Initiative and the commitment to the preservation of Georgian Dublin.
I welcome the Minister of State, although she has specific responsibility for rural economic development, food and the marine, which indicates the priority the Government puts on this particular issue. When I stood up to speak, there was only one other Senator in the House and the Acting Chairman, which also puts it in perspective. However, that does not represent the way people feel in this country.
Dublin is the capital city of Ireland and as such it affects every single citizen in the country. It is a totally parochial place. I invite Members to look at O'Connell Street which is an utter mess. Forty years ago, Jim Mitchell, a former Lord Mayor of Dublin said Dublin had about as much character as a second-hand knacker's yard. If one looks at O'Connell Street now, what does one find on it? Knicker shops, amusement arcades, fast food joints, tatty souvenir shops and derelict sites. This is the principal street in our capital city and it is an absolute reproach. For that reason, I am calling on the Government to establish a commission to oversee the rejuvenation of Dublin. Nothing less will work. The local authorities have proven themselves absolutely powerless and, not only that, they have intervened to prevent central allocation of responsibilities.
In 1986 a Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission was established but under the impetus of Mr. Bertie Ahern, who was on the council at the time, Mr. Charlie Haughey abolished it because it was feared it might detract power from the city council. It is all about politics and power. No one cares about the city of Dublin in and for itself. Virtually every intervention made by Dublin City Council makes it worse, with one exception. I pay tribute to one section of the local authority, namely the cleaning section. The cleaning of O'Connell Street is quite extraordinary because we are a genuinely filthy nation. We are a filthy race of people, but O'Connell Street is kept really clean and wholesome all the time.
Forty years ago Mr. Jim Mitchell made the aforementioned comment about Dublin, 30 years ago we had the Dublin crisis conference and six months ago I raised this matter in this House. A couple of months ago one of the houses on North Frederick Street that I spoke about and have been speaking about for years actually collapsed. That is the degree of attention to detail in Dublin City Council. I went for a walk around with The Irish Times and pointed to the extraordinary profusion of black litter bags with no tags on them. There were up to a dozen such bags on some doorsteps. I received a copy of a report from Dublin City Council which found that there was no litter problem. There is no litter problem; none at all. Sure how would there be a litter problem? A dozen black bags on the front steps of a house does not constitute a litter problem. There is no enforcement whatsoever. People own properties, subdivide them and there is no enforcement in terms of maintenance or anything else. Even in terms of planning there are no restrictions on, for example, putting grotesque plastic fly-out windows on eighteenth century buildings instead of the proper up and down sash windows.
Quite a number of years ago, after a passionate intervention on my part, the former Deputy Albert Reynolds included three and half pages in his budget outlining grants for the restoration of 18th century buildings in the city of Dublin. However, by the time it hit reality, it had been hedged around with so many qualifications by the Department of Finance that only one person took it up. In recent years I have spoken passionately again on this subject at budget time and have persuaded the Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, to do something. He produced the Living City initiative but in its first manifestation, what did it do? It dealt with Limerick and Waterford and deliberately and specifically excluded Dublin. Now we have a new manifestation of it with a limit of 230 sq. m, which deliberately excludes the 18th century core of Georgian buildings in Dublin. Even the smallest Georgian buildings are above that limit.
That this was done deliberately was made clear by a spokesperson for the Department of Finance. A document from the Revenue Commissioners states the floor area of property must be between 38 and 210 sq. m. If the property comprises an apartment contained within a larger building, it is only the floor area which is relevant and not the entire building. The document goes on to refer to dividing up buildings. The Government's plan is to force Dublin's inner city core back into tenements. Is anyone actually thinking this through? The overwhelming majority of Georgian houses will be excluded from the initiative. A departmental spokesperson said that the aim of the initiative is not to create a tax relief for mansion-type properties. We were not excluded from the property tax. People who devoted years of their lives and huge sums of money to restoring these buildings were rewarded by not being excluded but by being hit with the property tax. Now we are hit by this further exclusion such that we cannot make use of the scheme. Georgian houses will only be eligible for inclusion in the scheme if they are subdivided and sold off as apartments. There is a commercial angle also because they always get the little commercial angle in. Effectively, any dodgy modern unit can be incentivised for a capital upgrade for retail or service use anywhere in Dublin city or the other cities within the designated areas. It is extraordinary. This is going directly against the objectives which I put down. I know because I was the initiator of this scheme, but it looks as if the will of the Oireachtas is being deliberately frustrated by some ideologically driven civil servant in the lower ranks of the Civil Service.
A report entitled, The Changing Face of Dublin's Inner City, commissioned by the Dublin Inner City Partnership argues:
...changes in the inner city resulted in ... the closure of facilities such as schools, institutions and community services, and a loss of vitality as the more dynamic members of the population vacated the city centre, either as a result of public policy or natural trends. It also contributed to the decline of the physical fabric of the city, as old industrial sites, institutions and the older housing fabric were left to decay. The deterioration of the physical environment was exacerbated by the blight caused by long-term roads proposals and by inadequate conservation policies or rehabilitation incentives.
There are no incentives at all for people in the inner city. I am calling for the establishment of a commission. In the 18th century there was the Wide Streets Commission which gave us the beautiful buildings we are deliberately and scandalously neglecting. We had a pavements commission. When one looks at pavements all over Dublin, they are an absolute threat to people's lives. I walk quite a lot in Dublin and the pavements are uneven, broken, cracked and part of them are tarmacked. They are a thundering disgrace in a capital city.
There is also a north-south divide. If one looks at Dublin City Council's publication, it refers to the future of the south Dublin core. It does not give a tuppenny toss about the north inner city where there is the best Georgian architecture. The Dublin city development plan 2016 to 2022 asks how we can release the economic potential of Georgian quarters and so on, as set out in the publication which refers to future of the south Dublin core. The Z6 employment zone includes office districts in the city centre, for example, Harcourt Street. Everything relates to the southside. It goes on to refer to Dublin City Council’s aim of identifying and protecting special quarters of the city’s historic features. It talks about the Parnell Square cultural project, which includes proposals to provide a variety of public cultural facilities, including a new public library. That has gone down the drain, but on the south Georgian side the council has a policy approach to stimulate the revitalisation of this part of the city where residential accommodation can again have a common use. As stated in the Irish Independent, as anybody who takes the time to walk around the area stretching from the River Liffey to the North Circular Road in the capital knows, it is a mess of dereliction. If the same were the case in the expanse from the River Liffey to the South Circular Road, there would be uproar. Look at the way shops are treated. Any old rubbish is good enough for the north inner city, but there are controls for the facades, facias and shop fronts of the south inner city. One then has the absence of owner occupiers. Owner-occupiers are being actively and deliberately deterred by the city authorities. That is what a living city means.
I will finish on this point for the time being, but I will speak further when I have an opportunity to reply. In the context of such an ordinary thing as dog dirt, where on the northside will one see pooper scoopers? Where will one see notices about litter? I live in North Great George’s Street. It is quite extraordinary to me to have to wade through mounds of dog crap and not have a single notice or pooper scooper. I have never seen one on the north side of the city; they are all on the south side of the city. It is considered to be targeted enforcement. Dublin City Council has introduced targeted enforcement measures for dog litter offences, including the provision of specific advice and other such blather, but it all relates to the southside. Dog litter signs have been erected, but they are all on the southside.
I have plenty more to say, in particular about traffic arrangements. There are two Luas systems that are not joined, about which I protested at the time. There is no spur to the airport and now we have a third Luas project, with the city in chaos. What they should have done was build an underground and we nearly had it when people lost their nerve under the influence of the environmental correspondent of The Irish Times. We have this mad notion of cyclists. Does anybody make sure those who use the blue bikes wear helmets? I thought it was a legal requirement to wear a helmet. They cycle on the pavements, against the red lights and the wrong way on streets. They are a danger. What about those who legitimately drive their cars? I pay €2,000 car tax a year to be confined in my own little prison on North Great George’s Street.
I will have more to say at the end of the debate.
I thank the Senator for his passionate contribution. I call on Senator Feargal Quinn to second the motion.
I second the motion. The Minister of State is very welcome.
There is an old saying in the theatre that one should not follow children or animals onto the stage. One should also include Senator David Norris. I just love to listen to him speak on anything about which he is passionate and he is passionate about everything on which he speaks. I congratulate him. He is quite right. He lives in North Great George’s Street and what a great job he has done by giving it courage, enthusiasm, commitment and a belief in itself. Life has come into it.
I wish to talk about breathing life into cities as a whole. Senator David Norris’s focus was very much on Georgian Dublin, but there are many good initiatives from which we can learn and about which we can do something. The Living City initiative is a great project to breathe life into some of our beautiful buildings and wider city life. We are luckier in this country than in some others that had their buildings destroyed during wars or were replaced by huge, ugly communist apartment blocks.
We did it ourselves.
Yes, I agree that we did it also, but we have moved a little away from it.
I refer to two unfortunate examples - the ancestral home of the Duke of Wellington in County Meath and the home of Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery - Monty - in Moville, County Donegal. They have gone to rack and ruin. Perhaps in the case of the Duke of Wellington’s house it is too far gone, but a house such as Montgomery’s could be turned into a major tourist attraction. Perhaps we need to think about houses that are in need of restoration and not located just in cities. We need to think about breathing life into our cities in a wider sense and certainly into Dublin. I have called previously for planners to realise Dublin needs to convert some retail or vacant property into housing, a matter on which Senator David Norris touched. That is an important element of what should happen. The Government should remove red tape and ease planning regulations in order that vacant or under-used buildings could be used to address the housing shortage. The council should also consider the reintroduction of the living over the shop scheme to increase the residential use of city centre streets.
I was pleased to read that last week the Institute of Professional Auctioneers and Valuers, IPAV, had stated tax relief could and should be used to convert non-viable commercial buildings into livable ones. The incoming president of IPAV, Mr. Eamon O’Flaherty, said thousands of old grocery stores, butchers', bakers' and other small outlets that had become vacant since the crash might never be used as shops again. He also said such a move would have multiple knock-on effects on the local economy and communities. He further said, “The first to see the lift would be local tradesmen and women, next would be retail outlets and then the schools.” In other words, we could bring life back into the cities by getting people to live there. We should look at this issue.
In countries such as France apartments are located above and around shops in town and city centres and there is life in town centres throughout the day and night. Here, we allow developers to plonk apartment blocks in out of the way locations, with very few or no amenities close to them. We need more footfall in town centres and to have people living above shops. That would change the position to a considerable extent. The fact is that if more professional people lived in towns, they would spend their money there and keep the local economy alive. That should be a fundamental of planning in order that Dublin and other cities would become even more vibrant in the future.
In talking about breathing life into cities we need to think about the role retailers play. The Government should set the conditions in order that Dublin would be home to small, vibrant and original retailers. I was in Dún Laoghaire recently, in the Glasthule area. It is a joy to walk through the area because none of the shops is a chain store. There are all individual shops and there are no vacant shops. They bring life to the place. As Senator David Norris said, one then drives into Dún Laoghaire town centre where the main street, George’s Street, is dead. We can do something about this. We could put life into it, but we must do something. The Government should set the conditions in order that Dublin would be home to small, vibrant and original retailers. When walking around Belfast or Derry, one could be walking around Leeds or Manchester, given that they have been flooded with the same all-conquering UK retailers. Dublin should do everything to avoid becoming a cardboard cut-out of high streets in the United Kingdom. In order to do this, there should be some incentives for very small retailers to set up shops in Dublin. I was in Vienna recently and while walking around the streets there I was amazed to see tiny restaurants seating ten people, speciality record shops and a shop window displaying handmade furniture. It reminded me of Glasthule. The Austrians set the rent at a low fixed rate to allow small and unique businesses to survive. If they paid normal rates, they would not be viable. In Paris every arrondissement or district has its own shopping streets on which one can find an amazing selection of butchers, bakers and fishmongers.
If Dublin was able to foster such a diversity of shops it would attract many more people into the city.
Customers are very attracted by aspirational shopping and we need speciality retailers to fill this gap in the market. Centuries ago, Dublin had a mixture of shops, craftsmen and merchants and we could get back to that concept. The Government should provide a tax rebate to SMEs in this area if they have profits of less than €20,000 per year. If NAMA has properties which have been vacant for over a year these small businesses could avail of these, rent-free, for a certain period to see if their businesses were viable. I believe incentivising small, speciality shops with schemes like the Living City initiative would be a great way of attracting more life into Dublin and avoid this life being transferred somewhere else. This is not a debate to cause a difference of opinion but is intended to move people and to get people thinking. I think Senator David Norris will achieve a great deal and I rely on the Minister to respond appropriately.
I welcome the Minister and thank Senator David Norris. He has always had a passion for the city and we know what he has in North Great George's Street. There is a lot in this motion about Georgian Dublin and the Living City initiative, about Dublin's transport system, housing development and environmental issues. We could take each one on its own and have a full debate about what should be done. The Senator says he feels imprisoned in his house, but I congratulate him on what he has done in the area of preservation. I live on the southside, but I would not mind swapping for North Great George's Street any day.
There is a need for the Government to produce a master plan and we must have an overarching vision for the city and region. In Dublin City Council and all councils in the past much of the planning was developer-led, rather than planning-led. That should not have happened but it did. We fought against a lot of it but some of it was not fought against and that is where planning went wrong. There has been a sea change in planning since this Government came to power.
The chapter on the Dublin city development plan and on shaping the city is very good. It is only a new plan and the consultation process has just finished. It discusses urban form, density, height as part of the shape of the city, the connected city, urban design and, most important, the type of architecture and the preservation of architecture. We fell down on preservation, big time, in years gone by.
We still are.
Yes. A correction is happening.
No, it is not; it is worse.
It is, yes. I am talking about urban space and planning. I take it the motion deals with the inner city, not the outskirts.
Yes, between the canals.
I brought up the issue of the living over the shop scheme. We have seen a doughnut effect in Dublin over the years as people moved out and took the life away from the city and into the suburban areas. It should not have happened, but it did. It should be and is being addressed now in the new city development plan 2016-22, in which there is a new emphasis. One could not possibly read it all but I have read a lot of it, as I have the issues paper that was put together in 2014. Environmental matters and city transport, which are last in Senator David Norris's motion, are very important. I will leave that element to Senator Pat O'Neill.
He is not here.
He is not here, but he probably will be. It is important to consider how we use sustainable energy and new technologies and we are preparing a climate change Bill. We should explore how we can have sustainable energy in buildings and every Government has to take into consideration how Government buildings use sustainable energy and sustainable technologies. Departments and other such buildings should take the lead in this. Smarter travel, sustainable transport and such things are also important. We should revisit the Living City initiative. That was a property tax incentive scheme applying in certain centres of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford as designated by the Minister for Finance. When one wants something done it is good to incentivise people to do it.
Why not do it? Nothing has been done for the north inner city; nothing at all. The existing incentives have been removed.
The development plan of which I speak is just out on display. We are always talking about devolution of functions to local authorities but we must have an overall vision, a master policy. A public consultation has just finished in which people in the city were asked for their views and there is a new plan. Looking at this vision for the future I see a mindset change in the Living City initiative in Dublin city. I hope more will happen.
Before more houses fall down.
Yes. The Living City initiative worked in the past but tax incentives ruined certain areas and there was displacement.
The scheme deliberately excludes Georgian buildings.
One can incentivise bad things, too. One has displacement, incentives, out of town developments and other things which did not work. Intervention sometimes does more harm than good but one has to plan. Housing is an important element. The docklands is a huge area in the city and there was a master plan for the new Dublin docklands, although whether it went far enough or high enough is open to debate. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, has said the docklands have the potential to be the Canary Wharf of Dublin.
Until very recently planners believed it could take ten years or more to develop residential property but now they think it could happen much more quickly and the Government has incentivised them by providing money. In my own south Dublin council area, €37 million was provided recently to kickstart a housing programme to address the shortage of housing resulting from the recovery. The master plan for the docklands emphasised the importance of providing at least three-bedroomed apartments suitable for families. Senator David Norris said we would be providing tenements, but although demographic studies suggest the biggest demand is for smaller, two-bedroomed units, we have to ensure families are catered for in the city. They were not catered for heretofore, but now we are providing for the housing needs of all.
The Senator is over time.
I have not talked about culture and heritage, but I would like to say a little about it because I know it is important to the proposal. However, if I am over time, I will conclude on that point.
Senator David Norris has set the tone for this debate, as has his motion. I compliment Senators Sean D. Barrett and David Norris on tabling the motion. Unless there are some people who are passionate about issues such this and prepared to give leadership in a consistent way, this would fall between two stools.
In the main, the planning code in Ireland has a lot to recommend it. Many planning officials throughout the country are exceptionally diligent in their work, but during the Celtic tiger we saw situations about which one could not really have been happy, whether in towns or in cities. In view of rapid development in cities, particularly Dublin, very often the economic requirements and the opportunities took precedence over good planning.
Senator David Norris cites an exceptionally good case, the main street of Dublin, O'Connell Street. I do not think any of us is overly happy about it. One wonders what visitors to the country think when they are on it. They know about the country's exceptional heritage and the custodial approach we take to it. I would say they are somewhat surprised that we have allowed things to get out of hand to the extent they have.
Why do people take on a pioneering role on an issue such as this? There is no better example than Senator David Norris when it comes to Georgian Dublin. He is not just an advocate, he is also a very proactive campaigner. One of the reasons is that we all like to have an environment that makes us feel good and that we can enjoy to the maximum. It is a sense of pride in ourselves as a people that we want to protect our heritage, architectural, cultural and otherwise. It would be a sad day if we were ever to lose that sense of place and that sense of pride.
Senator David Norris refers in the motion to the Living City initiative which was first announced in October 2012. Almost three years on it has not been implemented. One of the main reasons for this was the stalling of European aid. That was the marker put down at the time. The constraints now being put on the initiative are absolutely huge because it is quite clear that Georgian buildings will not benefit from the initiative because it will be about inner city development in areas where there are high rates of unemployment. When constraints are applied to a living city initiative, it certainly does not augur well for the future. It should be borne in mind that we have had living city initiatives in the past, of which there was not a great take-up and they did not succeed as a result. I have grave doubts that this initiative will succeed, through no fault of the Government. Progress has been made in all other cities in Ireland. Negotiations with the Revenue Commissioners are at a very advanced stage on what will qualify for the tax exemption. However, it seems that things will move at a very slow pace, particularly if the bottom line is profit, as will be the case when one is talking about working on buildings and those who will invest in this work. They will look at the bottom line on the balance sheet which will decide what progress will be made. The motion moves outside that box, which is a good idea. It asks not Dublin City Council but also the Government to come up with a master plan.
The first reaction of any government is to state the matter is within the remit of the local authority. One third of the population of Ireland is in Dublin which is not like any of the other cities. It requires exceptional radical attention in the areas being discussed. It behoves the Government, with all of our support in adding in any way we can to the debate in a positive way, to take on board the spirit of the motion. If not, there will still be people campaigning but without resources and legislative back-up. People who campaign are very often seen as marginal. Some of us showed the same passion when discussing the issue of Moore Street not so long ago. We were arguing in the context of its historical significance. We went the extra mile in arguing a development of Moore Street could have huge economic value. I would say the very same about Georgian Dublin, even though that is not the main reason which is motivating us to make a case here today. However, it is an important one because, after all, if it is a tourist attraction, if it is high on people's list of places to visit, we are talking about a financial investment. If we want to argue what it might cost to do what is being requested, we should look at the money that would be generated. I will go one step further - I do not want to be defeatist in any way - and say if we do not do it, we will be the poorer for it as a people. We will also be the poorer for it economically because our heritage will be gradually eroded and downgraded such that, eventually, people will ask how did we let it happen. We know full well that what helped us to succeed in the past in tourism was that we focused on that which made us different. We focused on our exclusive heritage, not something one could get in New York, Paris or anyplace else. What motivates Senators David Norris, Sean D. Barrett and Feargal Quinn is what is unique to us. The worst thing that can happen is that in years to come we will be crying that we did not do it. The issue is now on the agenda and I hope the motion will be passed if the Government enters into a partnership with us in what we are trying to achieve.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan. It is always a pleasure to have her in the House and I thank her for attending to respond to the debate. I commend Senators David Norris and Feargal Quinn for proposing and seconding the motion which provides a very good opportunity for the House to debate this important issue of the Living City initiative, in the context of Dublin in particular, in a collegiate and constructive manner. Both Senators spoke with immense eloquence about the necessity to preserve Dublin and ensure it remained a living city and the need to strengthen and support the Living City initiative. However, I take issue with Senator David Norris on one point - I know that he will appreciate that I must do so - to defend the cycling community in Dublin.
I defend cyclists, but they have to behave properly.
I know that the Senator defends them. I behave properly and agree entirely with him that it is important that cyclists behave properly. The wearing of helmets is not compulsory. There is conflicting evidence on the merits of wearing a helmet by adult cyclists, but it should be compulsory for child cyclists.
What about cyclists breaking red lights?
I wear a helmet.
One of the really important success stories in the regeneration of central Dublin in recent years has been the dublinbikes initiative which was originated by my colleague, Labour Party councillor Andrew Montague. It has gone from strength to strength and the number of bikes is expanding. There has been a great increase in the number of people cycling. I refer to initiatives such as the provision of cycle paths along the canals.
To deal more generally with the idea of preserving the city centre, as a resident of Victorian Dublin, I care passionately about ensuring the heritage of Georgian Dublin is preserved. I am raising a family in Dublin 8, between the canals in Portobello, which is a wonderful inner city community. It is a mixed residential community. Senator Feargal Quinn talked eloquently about small retail units in Glasthule. Such units are also to be found in Portobello.
It is on the southside.
In the south inner city between the canals. I previously lived in Georgian Dublin, in a rented flat in Herbert Place in Dublin 2.
That is on the southside.
It is on the southside, but I spent a lot of time on the northside, too, as the Senator will be glad to hear. There are some wonderful Georgian streets. The best in Ireland is Henrietta Street which, sadly, is in a terrible state of disrepair. The Kings Inns has managed to preserve the building on Henrietta Street, but it is very sad to see the condition some of the other houses are in. What Dublin City Council and the Government are trying to address in the Living City initiative is the key problem of the lack of residential properties, residences and people living above shops, as Senator Feargal Quinn said, as a result of which many areas such as Mountjoy Square can be dead at night. That is what the initiative seeks to tackle.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú fairly pointed to the difficulties in seeking EU clearance. The Living City initiative was first proposed in 2012 as part of a scheme of property tax incentives to be applied in certain special regeneration areas and to be piloted in Limerick and Waterford. This, therefore, is not just about Dublin, but the centre of Dublin is a key area.
The Irish Georgian Society has pointed out that demand for residential property is high in Dublin and the stock of residential properties is low. The situation is different in Limerick and Waterford, where there are smaller residential communities.
As I pointed out earlier, the Living City initiative is utterly useless as far as Georgian buildings are concerned.
I will move on to address the specific issue of the delays in EU clearance and the restrictions placed on the scheme as a result of EU requirements. A number of Senators correctly identified difficulties in the implementation of the Living City initiative, particularly in light of the resurgence of the commercial property market in inner-city Dublin. Dublin City Council's original hope that the initiative would bring more life back to the Georgian areas of Dublin 2, especially in the evenings, will be thwarted by the market because Georgian properties on the southside are again attracting interest for commercial use. The Irish Georgian Society made a constructive submission on the Living City initiative in respect of the north inner city which stressed the need to ensure the initiative supports the proposals made by the Mountjoy Square society on the preservation of the north Georgian core, specifically, electoral districts Mountjoy B and Rotunda A. Some of our finest 18th century architectural heritage is located on these streets, but they are facing serious decay and dereliction compared with the parts of the south inner city which also contain fine Georgian buildings. A strong case can be made for specific preservation policies for the north Georgian core. The Seanad recently debated proposals for Moore Street, including the development of a commemorative centre. Moore Street should be part of the redevelopment and preservation of the north Georgian core. The Irish Georgian Society fully supports the Living City initiative because of if its immense potential.
It does not support the initiative. It was intensely critical of it, as was the Dublin Civic Trust. These organisations argue that it will not benefit a single Georgian building.
Please allow Senator Ivana Bacik to speak without interruption. Senator David Norris will have an opportunity to make concluding remarks.
With respect to Senator David Norris, the society has expressed its support for the initiative, having also raised a number of aspects which it thinks could be improved. We are all concerned to ensure the initiative enhances the living communities in inner city areas in Dublin and other cities throughout Ireland, as well as helping to preserve our built and architectural heritage.
In regard to a master plan for the city of Dublin, a Labour Party councillor, Dermot Lacey, has been outspoken on the need for a mayor for Dublin city. It is time we revived that idea. Until we have that sort of joined-up thinking across Dublin's local authorities, the various initiatives will not work as well as they could. There are, for example, difficulties with traffic planning for the cross-city Luas project. I fully support Senator David Norris's call for joined-up thinking and a Dublin city mayor who would take responsibility for developing a master plan for Dublin.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan. This is my first time to have the privilege of contributing to a debate with her in this House.
In regard to Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú's comments, if I saw a planning officer, I would run and take cover, probably under a duvet in a bedsit he or she had planned. I spend some time in a different guise travelling around the country from Donegal to Cork and Dublin to Mayo. It gets worse as I go through the cities, towns and villages of Ireland. The entrance to Galway is a massive example of what should not be done to a city. One must plough through complete awfulness to get to the heart of Galway. Instead of extending its heart outwards, Galway closed it down to an industrialised entrance. We have completely destroyed our cities, towns and villages. The Senator spoke about what is exceptional to us. What is exceptional to us is the big hammer we took to Georgian Dublin and its architecture. It was people like Senator David Norris, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, Marian Finucane and others from the school of architecture in UCD who kept the city alive. Senator David Norris is believable when he speaks on this subject because his own history is one of keeping Georgian Dublin alive. He was a lone voice in keeping it alive. One need only look at 35 North Great George's Street and the seat of Joyce to see what he managed to preserve in the face of the hammer outside the door. He managed to preserve that building by linking it to Joyce, and the entire street is now an icon. He is the most qualified, passionate and informed commentator on this subject.
O'Connell Street, the widest street in Europe, is an example of the issues Senator Norris raised. It spills out into all the other areas. It has no beauty, no planning and no ideas. Master plans are useless without imagination and creativity. It is just tired old takeaways and second-rate burger places. I did a programme on O'Connell Street for RTE which required me to walk up and down the street over a period of two or three days. I repeatedly encountered the threat of violence during this period. It is a highly violent street, which is one of the reasons people walk through it as fast as they can. They do not want to stand and stare at the architecture or look around them. They run up and down the street because of the threat of violence.
People speak about sustainable energy. What about sustainable beauty or sustainable artistry? Can we not move that into sustainable energy? The walkways on the River Liffey are disgraceful because no one pays any attention to the once beautiful plants that are now lying dead in their magnificent urns and pots. There also threats of violence because people can do what they like along the boardwalks. One does not look into what Joyce described as the snot green sea but into the grey snot Liffey. Nothing is happening besides the grey snot Liffey. It is completely filthy. The shopfronts are closed, broken and abandoned, and neon signs are everywhere. In one of Senator Mary Ann O'Brien's first contributions in this House, she called for the neon signs to be replaced by proper signage to create architectural unity.
Architecture left with James Gandon. We have no architecture. The spike was designed by a British architect. I cannot see or feel our architecture. Are we afraid of it or do we not have it in ourselves? We have gotten rid of our thatched cottages and built the most appalling de Valera porches. We have done nothing to replace the architecture the British left behind. We pulled down the magnificent Metropole frontage and replaced it with a communist bunker for British Home Stores. Life on O'Connell Street keeps walking because of the threat of violence. People are afraid to stop and stare. We have no ideas. The Luas is not even joined up. We need some sort of metropolitan police and a creative architectural police.
I concur with Senator Feargal Quinn's comments. I suggested to the then city manager, who now works for Irish Water, that we should have the type of pop up shops and restaurants that one saw in London, as well as farmers' markets. I might as well have been speaking to the chandelier above our heads. We are lucky to be debating in this great ballroom with its fine chandelier, but others do not have the pleasure of working in such an environment. If we could start with O'Connell Street, change might filter to other streets.
I do not want to hear about satellite cities and towns around Ireland, because they are anonymous, awful and lack personality.
What we have done is try to impose architecture. The trees used to have a wonderful kind of weeping willow beauty and they masked ugliness but now we have trees cut like squares, pointing to the ugliness and awfulness all over the street. We have not used our imagination or colour at all. It is grey and awful, with a threat of violence and people do not like it. It is an example of what has happened in our towns and villages and at the entrances to our great, beautiful cities. It is a disgrace. In regard to planners, I do not want to see them as I put them in the same category as bankers.
I thank all Senators who have contributed so far and thank Senators David Norris and Sean D. Barrett for raising this important issue.
I assure Senator avid Norris that no snub was intended by sending me in here as Minister of State with responsibility for rural affairs, because my brief charges me with breathing the kind of life the good Senator spoke about into all towns and villages of Ireland. I know what he is speaking about in regard to Dublin and I am very passionate about the towns and villages of Ireland. The good Senator does not have the monopoly on passion.
It is very peculiar to send in a Minister of State with responsibility for rural affairs.
As our capital city, Dublin has grown considerably following the sustained economic growth of recent decades. On the basis of the most recent 2011 census, it now has an overall population of 1.273 million when we include the populations of the four Dublin local authority areas, with over 527,000 of these living in the functional area of Dublin City Council.
In addition to being our national capital, Dublin, with its ongoing growth and expansion, has become a major European and international centre. A large number of multinationals are now located in Dublin, reflecting its attractiveness as a place in which to live and do business. It has become a vibrant location for industry, commerce, education, cultural activities as well as tourism and is a major focus for economic growth within the country.
Section 9 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, requires every planning authority to make a development plan every six years relating to the development of the whole of the functional area of the authority. Section 10 of the Act provides that such development plans shall set out an overall strategy for the proper planning and sustainable development of the area of the development plan and shall consist of a written statement and a plan or plans indicating the development objectives of the area in question.
These objectives are required to encompass objectives relating to a range of issues including the zoning of land or particular areas of land for particular purposes, residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, recreational or mixed use, in line with the proper planning and sustainable development of the area in question; the provision or facilitation of the provision of infrastructure, including transport, energy and communications; facilities, including water supplies and waste water services, waste recovery and disposal facilities and other ancillary facilities and services; environmental compliance requirements required by EU directives; the preservation of the character of the landscape of the area; the protection of structures of special architectural, historical and archaeological interest; and the development and renewal of areas in need of regeneration.
As the local authority for the city of Dublin area, Dublin City Council is the designated local authority responsible for the development of an integrated plan and strategy for the overall development of the city, in accordance with the requirements of the Planning and Development Act. The Dublin City Council development plan is the primary plan for the development of Dublin city. It specifically includes objectives relating to transport, including integrated transport, housing development and environmental matters, as referred to in the motion tabled by the Senators. Furthermore, the plan is required to be consistent with and have regard to the objectives of the national spatial strategy and the regional planning guidelines, while also taking account of the development plans of the surrounding local authorities, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Fingal County Council and South Dublin County Council. Therefore, it is fair to say the structures are already there for both the development of a strategic plan for Dublin city and for the adoption of a co-ordinated strategic approach by the four Dublin local authorities.
With regard to the Dublin City Council development plan, the most recent of which was adopted in 2011 for the period 2011-17, the strategic vision identified for the future growth and development of the city is based on a number of key principles including the creation of a more compact city where residents can live and work in close proximity, thereby reducing urban sprawl and unsustainable travel patterns; the creation and nurturing of sustainable neighbourhoods close to public transport and a range of community infrastructure in good quality and more intensive mixed use environments; the integration of the Transport 21 programme into the overall layout of the city; the development of resilience to climate change and its impacts, including potential water shortages, more extreme weather conditions and an increased likelihood of coastal and river flooding; the structuring of the city to provide a critical mass to support investment, innovation and the smart economy; the development of a well designed network of streets and open spaces; the preservation of Dublin city's heritage and its unique historic built environment; and the pursuit of a distinctive Dublin brand and identity in the context of promoting Dublin as a world-class city.
The next Dublin city development plan will be in respect of the period 2017-22 and work has already commenced on progressing the development of this plan, with the recent publication of a key issues paper by the city council seeking the views of the public on the future priority issues to be addressed in the new plan. Everybody here has been saying the Government must adopt a plan, but it is city dwellers themselves who must have a say.
We are trying to.
With regard to transport and movement of people, particular emphasis is placed in the development plan on accommodating as much movement as possible by high quality public transport and by walking and cycling. There have been significant advances in this area in recent decades, with the development of the DART line, Luas, bus lanes, cycle lanes and the introduction of the cycle to work and dublinbikes schemes. These have facilitated significant gains in public transport use and in the numbers of people cycling and walking, in line with what one would expect of a modern sustainable city. All of these measures have also influenced significant environmental benefits in terms of reduced vehicle emissions and pollution. It is, therefore, important that this progress is maintained in the future.
The economic growth experienced in recent decades, which unfortunately stalled for a number of years following our economic problems since 2008, but is now beginning to recover, has influenced ongoing steady growth in the population of the city and the surrounding suburbs. This has placed a significant strain on the provision of housing to meet demand. In this regard, it is imperative that the current housing supply shortage situation is addressed and that an appropriate range of housing is provided, taking account of changing household formation patterns. It is imperative that the right mix of housing types is provided to meet the needs of our expanding and changing population.
The Dublin City Council development plan places particular emphasis on the preservation of Dublin city's heritage and its unique historic built environment, an issue that I know is of importance to both Senators David Norris and Sean D. Barrett, but has been especially dear to the heart of Senator Norris, whom I acknowledge has been a leading campaigner for the preservation of Georgian Dublin for many decades.
In this regard, the motion of Senators David Norris and Sean D. Barrett refers specifically to the Living City initiative which was recently launched by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan. This is an urban regeneration incentive scheme which focuses on the regeneration of the historic centres of six cities, providing property tax reliefs in designated special regeneration areas in the centres of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford and my city of Kilkenny, particularly those areas which are most in need of regeneration. It is not a widespread initiative, as it is targeted at those areas that are most in need of attention, but it is aimed at helping to bring life back into the heart of the relevant cities by offering tax relief for qualifying expenditure incurred on the refurbishment or conversion of pre-1915 buildings where certain conditions are met.
Planning for the scheme included a thorough ex ante cost-benefit analysis and recommendations from relevant agencies. There are two elements to the scheme, residential and commercial. The residential element provides for an income tax deduction over ten years for qualifying expenditure incurred on the refurbishment or conversion of a building for use as a dwelling. To qualify under the scheme, the building must have been constructed before 1915. The commercial element of the Living City initiative provides for capital allowances over seven years in respect of qualifying expenditure incurred on the refurbishment or conversion of a property located in a special regeneration area for use for the purpose of retailing goods or the provision of services within the State. The amount of tax relief available under the commercial element of the scheme is capped at €200,000 for any individual project but there is no restriction on applying for both the commercial and residential elements of the initiative.
I note the Senators' comment in their motion that the Living City initiative needs to be revisited. In this regard, the scheme was only launched last month, in May, following a lengthy process involving assessment of compliance with EU state aid rules. I am assured by the Minister of Finance that, as a newly launched scheme, it will be kept under review.
Dublin, as the capital city, continues to grow and expand and now extends well out into the areas of the surrounding local authorities of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Fingal County Council and South Dublin County Council. We already have structured mechanisms in place under the Planning and Development Act for the drawing up of strategic plans setting out the development objectives and vision for the future development of the areas in question.
With regard to Dublin city, as specifically referred to by the Senators, the Dublin City Council development plan is the primary plan for the development of the Dublin city area. While all four Dublin local authorities are responsible for the adoption of development plans for their respective areas, they are also required to take account of one another's plans with a view to adopting an overall co-ordinated and integrated approach for the future development of the greater Dublin area.
The Government is extremely cognisant of the need for enhanced co-ordinated planning for Dublin, especially in the light of the expected continued growth of Dublin and its population. In this connection, new structures are about to be introduced under the Local Government Reform Act 2014 involving the development of regional, spatial and economic strategies with the input of all local authorities in the relevant region. These strategies will in turn be informed by a new national planning framework, as a successor to the national spatial strategy, which will provide a framework for the co-ordination of relevant sectoral policies in a way that will create the conditions for public and private investment to take place, thereby facilitating growth. These arrangements will also influence strategic investment in transport, housing, water services, communications and other infrastructure at all levels - national, regional and local, including in the Dublin area.
Senators David Norris and Sean D. Barrett have raised a very important issue regarding the need for greater emphasis on co-ordinated strategic planning. The focus in their motion is very much on Dublin city. The Government acknowledges the need for a planned strategy for Dublin and has therefore agreed not to oppose the motion. However, the Government is of the view that the new arrangements and structures being put in place for planning at national, regional and local level will deliver on the overall objective of the development of Dublin, as sought by the Senators.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan. While I know where Senator David Norris is coming from, I disagree with him. I know the Minister of State to be very committed, particularly to her brief. Whether it be Kilkenny city or Dublin city, she will bring the same commitment to that role. I have every confidence that what she has said today will go a long way to addressing the concerns the Senator raised.
What I am saying is she has no authority. She is an excellent Minister of State for a different brief, that of rural affairs. This is a city, if the Senator has not noticed.
I live in a city.
The beautiful city of Kilkenny.
I live in a very well planned city.
It is a beautiful city.
Senator Paschal Mooney to continue, without interruption.
My earliest recollection of Dublin was of a vast place, which was not quite as vast as it is now. My late father was a Member of this House in the early 1960s and I travelled with him on many occasions, primarily to visit the amusement arcades on O'Connell Street, which were there even then, and also the cinemas. I especially remember the buzz and life about O'Connell Street. It was like something out of fantasy land for someone coming from a small town. There were all the cinemas with their lights, the street lighting and the advertising lighting. As Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell said, there were wonderfully famous iconic buildings such as the Metropole, the Capitol cinema, in which I saw the first ever Elvis Presley film-----
Poor old Clerys.
-----and Clerys, of course. The first time someone decided to do something about the streetscape of O'Connell Street was the Wide Streets Commission, which went back several hundred years. It did a wonderful job at the time, but it has not been followed through since. Certainly since self-government, we seem to have neglected Dublin. Not only that, we have destroyed it in many places. While I can understand to a degree in the immediate post-colonial period where people were venting their revenge on 800 years of British domination, the strange thing is that seems to have been unique to a post-revolution Ireland. It did not happen in France. After the revolution, the French did not destroy the buildings of the aristocracy. Versailles was a particular example. However, many of our country houses were burnt out.
As a child I remember all the argument about the ESB and the monstrosity it built in Dublin that still stands as a legacy and not one of which one should be proud. I remember some very concerned people at the time who tried to stop that. I understand the ESB has plans to restore it but not quite restore the Georgian streetscape to the same extent as it was before. I am not sure if Senator Norris referred to it in his contribution, most of which I heard. I hope that whatever the ESB proposes, it will do its very best to restore that wonderful Georgian streetscape.
Anybody living and working around this area, as we all are, will notice tourists who stand at the corner of Merrion Square and look up and look down. I am not surprised because it is a tourist attraction in its own right and is unique to this city. In a way it encapsulates the attitude of official Ireland for too long that these things did not matter. I believe that contributed to a mindset that developed over the years about O'Connell Street. It became tacky with its fast food joints. Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell and many others referred to this.
Following the initiative started by Senators David Norris and Sean D. Barrett and ably supported by Senator Feargal Quinn, I sincerely hope that what has been said here will be taken into account.
I appreciate much of what was said and about the fact that things are happening.
There is still a need for some sort of radicalism in terms of what we do to preserve the iconic O'Connell Street. Irrespective of whether people come from small-town Ireland such as Drumshambo or medium-sized Ireland such as Kilkenny city, we empathise with O'Connell Street. We might not necessarily always empathise with Dublin, the Dubs and whatever, in particular the county's dominance of football. At the same time, we empathise with O'Connell Street and people are proud of O'Connell Street. Traditionally, it was a place where country people tended to go, but maybe less so to Henry Street. It was O'Connell Street that people went to and talked about. It was on O'Connell Street and just off it that one shopped for clothes in places such as Guineys, Clerys and Best. Therefore, O'Connell Street looms large in the Irish psyche and for that reason no one would object to a Government, aided by the city council, taking initiatives to restore O'Connell Street to its former glory.
I congratulate Senator David Norris on the motion. One realises that it is a very broad motion when one reads it. I will wait for the new Minister of State to arrive.
Look at the effect the Senator had on the last Minister of State.
I have even sent Senator David Norris out of the House.
The Senator should speak more often.
Senator David Norris has tabled a good motion, but I suggest it should be much broader. I am a Kilkenny man and noted that one of first comments the Senator made in this debate was to criticise that we have a rural Minister and that there were rural Senators in the House. I say to him that we are all Irish people. I am very proud to be an Irish person. I am very proud of my capital city of Dublin. It is a city that we, as a nation, sell to the rest of the world; therefore, it is important we get the Living City initiative right. There is more to Dublin than Georgian Dublin. I admire Senator David Norris's passion for Georgian Dublin. Senator Paschal Mooney mentioned the ESB building and things that we have got wrong.
That building is located in Georgian Dublin.
I said "things that we have got wrong".
They are things we have destroyed.
Let me give an example of buildings situated alongside the castle in Kilkenny city.
The Senator is the second representative from Kilkenny.
There is no comparison. If we had the Kilkenny planners we would not be in the situation we are in.
Can I continue?
We acknowledge that.
There are lovely Georgian buildings located by the castle in Kilkenny city. However, in the early 1970s the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, as it was known then, decided to knock the Georgian buildings and install a redbrick building to house a telephone exchange. Around Kilkenny castle and its vicinity is often used for film sets. When filming calls for Georgian buildings, the set designers must put a false frontage on the redbrick building. I would love to see the building restored to its former Georgian glory. A nice Georgian hotel was knocked in Kilkenny and the KBC Bank building, which previously housed National Irish Bank, was knocked. I agree we got things wrong and planning must be sorted out.
Today's motion is about a living city. What is a living city? Is a living city where people live or is it where people come to work and be entertained?
It is both.
No, that is a mistake. Kilkenny city is nice and compact city and I think we have got things fairly right there.
On a point of order, is this going to be between Kilkenny, because the Senator happens to be from there, and Dublin? I ask the Senator to, please, address the motion. Please leave Kilkenny city out of it as an example. It is a brilliant example, but it is not comparable in this instance.
Senator Pat O'Neill is entitled to make his point.
He is entitled to make a comparison.
I am entitled to make a comparison. Let me mention three streets in Kilkenny where, during the local election, I discovered there were two people living on one street and three living on the other. We are here to talk about Dublin city and people living in Dublin city.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell was lording it in some shebeen located in Wexford which was broadcast on radio last week.
High density is part of the Dublin city plan. Dublin City Council must get its plan. Is it high density? Part of the matter is transport. I agree with the views expressed by Senator David Norris on transport in this city. The bus lanes work well. We have a Luas which should have been joined at the start, but the matter is now being sorted. There is also a place for motorists. We cannot deprive private motorists the right to use the streets of Dublin. We cannot deprive cyclists of their right to use the streets either. There has been an amazing 87% increase in cycling in Dublin city over a seven-year period which proves the initiative has been a great success. However, I would not get on a bike in Dublin city because I would lose my life and someone would definitely knock me off it.
I was knocked off my bike three times on O'Connell Street.
My children cycle.
I have expressed my opinion.
Senator Ivana Bacik is a southside cyclist.
On a point of information, I cycle on both sides of the city.
On a point of order, it is only Senators from Kilkenny who would not last on a bike.
The snobby lot.
There has been an 87% increase in the number of people cycling. There has also been a lot of controversy about cyclists and people cycling on blue bikes. If people want to cycle around this city then they must observe the rules of the road, the same as anyone else. Dublin City Council, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government or someone should provide a course to teach cyclists how to behave properly on the roads because motorists, bus drivers and everyone else must observe the rules of the road.
If we want to integrate Dublin city centre, we must tackle the land use issue. There is 67 ha available to Dublin City Council to do something with either for residential or other purposes. Submissions are being taken again for the upcoming development plan for Dublin city. We must look at land use like parking. If one brings cars into the city then one must allow them to be parked. Are we going to allow them to park at a cheap rate? Are we going to charge exorbitant rates to park in our city? Are we going to have a system of stacking cars like in Tokyo and other cities? A stacking system means a car goes into a lift and is raised high up in the sky which is another way of conserving space.
I wish to raise one of the biggest issues. I remember coming to Dublin on the train as a kid and going to matches in Croke Park. At the time the train used to travel from Heuston Station to Connolly Station via a tunnel. A tunnel system is the future for Dublin city transport. We must ensure the Phoenix Park tunnel is upgraded and can be used. The majority of the people who travel to the city use public transport that starts off in suburbia, from Kildare, Meath and so forth. As well as this, people use a light rail system and rail transport is not just about the Luas.
I am very proud of Dublin, city but I want to know how we can improve it. As we are not going back to the Dublin featured by Pete St. John in his song "The Rare Ould Times", we have to build a modern city.
Why not? Change does not necessarily mean progress.
I did not say that. Did I say so?
Yes. There was nothing wrong with the rare old times. At least that time had some quality and decency.
I did not say that. I have said we have to make a modern city, of which we can be proud.
No. The Senator said there was no use going back to the rare old times.
No, I did not say that. I have said it cannot be like Dublin in "The Rare Ould Times" and did not say we should go back to it.
I would have thought the Senator was saying we should go back to it.
I want to know whether we are going to have high density housing and whether a living city is-----
The Senator's time is up.
Is it? I am sorry, but I was interrupted for at least two minutes. To sum up, I agree with the sentiments contained in the motion. A lot of this matter has to be with co-operation between Dublin City Council and central government to get either a commission or something set up. We need that because there are a lot of issues about people coming back to live in the inner city or the main parts of the city. Public transport is another issue. We have a major problem with public transport in this city, especially in the centre of the city.
As I said, we have a city of which we are proud; we have a city that we sell to the world and tourists come to this it. The majority of tourists who come to Ireland stay in Dublin city and do not travel outside it. We would like to see them visit Kilkenny, Cork, Clare, Galway and other places in the country.
Another issue is policing. When one travels to a major capital city one will see a greater presence of police and, therefore, feel safer. The Garda must be seen on the streets. Ee have a problem in Dublin city with tourists and ordinary citizens being accosted by beggars. The matter must be addressed if we are to have a proper city and one of which we are proud.
I welcome the Minister of State for the debate. I say to Senator David Norris that I am here to support him absolutely and completely. I also welcome the motion which was tabled by Senators David Norris, Sean D. Barrett and Feargal Quinn.
Like most people, I embrace contemporary, modern, change, progress and evolution in the country and the capital city. However, I have a huge and massive dislike of sameness, globalisation and, as the French so aptly call it, uniforme. Grafton Street and O'Connell Street, as we know, are full of global names and world-class burger joints, mobile phone shops, headed with plastic signs, and the great unwashed which are the betting shops.
I travel a lot and every city and town in the developed world looks the same. Ever since the ESB, to our everlasting shame, destroyed the unique Fitzwilliam Street in the 1960s, the longest Georgian street in the world, followed quickly by the developers' rape of St. Stephen's Green, concerned citizens are on a continuous red alert in terms of what might be lurking around the corner for our once beautiful and unusual city. What other country would have allowed one of Europe's finest city streets, O'Connell Street, to fall into such degradation? Who cares about the potentially outstanding Mountjoy Square, the love of Senator David Norris's life? Do we let Dublin morph into a mish-mash of a uniform, plain could-be-anywhere provincial city or do we fight to preserve what is left of what was an outstanding capital city and then add architecture of today but with stringent demands on design integrity? At the simplest level, are we brave enough to limit or ban plastic and neon signs, to encourage the few remaining sign painters or even train young people in that art and create jobs? If I had my way, all plastic and neon signs would be banned and only wooden signs would be allowed in the country. I dare not mention Kilkenny, but one only has to look to Adare, Inistioge or Kinsale.
The ESB head office is located on Fitzwilliam Street, once the longest row of Georgian houses in Dublin. The street was sliced in two by a decision of the Government in the early 1960s which allowed for the demolition of part of the row and its replacement with the most hideous modern office block imaginable designed by Sam Stephenson. I am hopeful An Bord Pleanála will make certain to effect a restoration of the Georgian facade on this wretched building. They are in the planning process with 11 parties. Following an oral hearing which has just finished, they are sending out letters to all the parties next week to advise them of a new schedule and the next steps. When I inquired today as to why this no-brainer is taking such a long time to complete, I was advised that it was because of the complexities of the task. I wonder what the cost of this exercise has been to date. For goodness sake, we all agree about Georgian Dublin, it is unique in the world. Why do we not just go ahead and restore the Georgian facade?
If our Government really prioritised our Georgian heritage it would put a strong pillar ministry in place as soon as possible to mirror the National Trust in the United Kingdom. We should leave finance to the Minister for Finance and not expect him to run the OPW also. Deputy Ann Phelan is a wonderful Minister of State. We should put her in charge. We have a mish-mash of the Departments of Environment, Community and Local Government, Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the OPW, which is confusing. Why can we not have this vital area under one pillar ministry, invest some serious money in it, get going and get something done? Anyone who wants to know how the Government feels about heritage needs to look no further than the budget that is allocated to this area, which is an embarrassment.
Our heritage is closely intertwined with our sense of identity and also affirms the historic, cultural and natural inheritance which is shared on the island of Ireland for present and future generations. This ties in with the motion tabled by Senator Marie Louise O'Donnell last week in that it is about our future and it has the ability to vividly convey to visitors and those living in Ireland what it means to be Irish. Our heritage, creative and artistic, is a prevailing physical presence which expresses the essence and heartbeat of our history. Dublin's heritage may be described as a public good in so far as our fellow citizens can derive great pleasure and cultural pride from it. I cannot stress enough the tourism benefits from Dublin's heritage. In 2004, the Government commissioned an Indecon report which found that 40% of employment in tourism depends directly on heritage and a high-quality environment. That figure rises to 70% in rural Ireland.
The war to preserve Georgian Dublin has not yet been won. I spoke recently to a property investor who was alive and well during the boom and who is now back again. He is being beaten time and again at the moment by huge global private equity firms, pension funds and venture capitalists which are buying up buildings all over this city. The Government must do more than put in place a plan that some civil servants and councillors will have charge of. We need to be certain that our heritage, and particularly Dublin's Georgian heritage, is preserved and protected forever. We must put laws in place to ensure that no outsiders, foreign investors or monstrous property developers can ever again do what has been done in this city.
I will turn finally to issues of cost and the Dublin transport system. As a junior infant would ask, why did we not put in an underground system in the first place? Why did we not join the dots and have two train lines that join together? Any idiot could have worked that one out.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey.
I also welcome the Minister of State. We cannot talk about Kilkenny city. As that has been banned, I will not talk about Waterford city either-----
The art of comparison is not necessarily the art of good thought.
-----but I will welcome the Minister of State who hails from that city. It is great to see two Ministers of State in the House from the south east.
I commend the proposers of the motion we are discussing, which is hugely important. What has come across very strongly in all of the contributions so far is the pride that people have in Dublin city. Despite a lot of the obvious problems in the city, which have been very cleverly and clearly articulated by Members, there is a sense of real pride and passion about Dublin city. There is also an ambition for the city and when one is ambitious about something, one wants it to reach its full potential so one raises the bar and pushes the boat out. That is what Senators are trying to do.
We have serious problems in Dublin city. We have problems in a lot of cities and towns across the State and on the island of Ireland, as the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, said. Dublin is unique because it is our capital city. When one looks at the huge amount of wealth that we had during the so-called Celtic tiger years and the enormous sums spent on various projects, one would wonder whether we got value for money. Given the amount of money that was around, did we really make good use of it? What happened during that time was the price of property was pushed up, some people made enormous amounts of money but the core infrastructure of the city improved very little.
For many people Dublin is not a living city but a surviving city; a barely make the rent city; a scrape together the money for the bus city; a city which costs too much and gives too little back in return. The motion asserts that it does not have to be this way. The potential which is obvious to all just needs to be exploited and realised. What we need is a genuine public engagement and progressive planning. I know that some Senators have difficulties with planners, but obviously we need to plan. If we want to have a vibrant city, we must plan. The issue is the type of planning we engage in and who comes first within it. We need a commitment to important basic infrastructure to make the city a decent place in which to live, work and do business. That is what a living city should be.
A living, vibrant city must also mean a city of equals. We must accept the reality that we have a deeply unequal society in this State and that is very evident in Dublin city. One only has to take a ride on the Luas or go into any part of Dublin city centre and one will see the very clear divide in our society. That has an impact on the vibrancy of the city. The job of the Government is to ensure and guarantee rights to the city for all. This means that everyone has access to decent and affordable housing.
A living city requires an efficient and properly funded public transport system and other essential services for all, regardless of their postcode or income.
In the past four years people who make up a large number of the city's inhabitants have had to deal with a dramatic rise in the cost of living. Public transport fares have risen steadily year on year, well above the rate of inflation, due, in particular, to cuts to the PSO levy for Dublin Bus. About 60,000 people depend on bus services in Dublin every day, while thousands more use rail services and others the dublinbikes scheme. These vital transport services must be expanded in line with the principles of equality of access and service. The Government is planning on privatising 100% of bus services in Waterford city, but 10% of Dublin Bus services will be privatised. This could create problems down the road in the provision of public transport services. Privatisation will create a much more obvious and damaging two-tier system which will see poorer and older Dubliners and people with disabilities potentially left without services.
The greatest failure in Dublin is the lack of decent housing. Well over 20,000 people are on the city council's waiting list for social housing. The vast majority are being told that their social housing needs will be met in the private rented sector. This essentially amounts to the privatisation of social housing. In recent years we have seen people being pushed into the private rented sector and rents have soared as a consequence. The Government has put rent caps in place, which means that people are in tears every day of the week because they cannot find properties to rent. This is all because we are not building housing for citizens, although it is quite obvious that we need to do so.
The recent announcement on housing by the Minister of State falls far short of what is required across the State, including Dublin where 100 people are sleeping rough each night. Although I love spending time in Dublin, since I was elected to the Seanad, I have seen a marked increase in the numbers sleeping rough in the capital. The problem is staring us in the face. When a tragedy occurs, we all focus on it and master plans are announced. We are told all sorts of great things will happen, yet as time passes we forget and the memories of the individuals involved fade away. We are then back to normal and the focus is lost.
Homelessness is a real issue which needs to be tackled. To our shame there are almost 1,000 children living in emergency accommodation in cramped hotel rooms or bed and breakfast establishments across Dublin city. The Government's response has been to pray for more private developers to arrive and to build 167 council houses before 2018.
I wanted to say a lot more, but, unfortunately, when we are confined to five or six minutes, there is only so much one can say. I wanted to talk about Georgian Dublin, but I did not get a chance to do so. The arguments have been made very well by the proposers of the motion, whom I commend. I thank the Minister of State for attending the House.
I will be brief as I had not intended to speak until I heard some of the earlier contributions. I commend Senator David Norris and his colleagues for tabling this Private Members' motion. It is quite simple and proposes the production of a master plan for the city of Dublin to include provisions on the Dublin transport system, housing development and environmental matters, as well as revisiting the Living City initiative and the commitment to the preservation of Georgian Dublin. It makes absolute sense and I am glad that the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, has said the Government will not oppose the motion. It would be an insult to do so, not only to Senator David Norris but also the people of the entire country. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey.
Being the capital city, Dublin belongs to us all. I take the opportunity to commend Senator David Norris for his decades-long commitment and dedication to the preservation of Georgian Dublin. Only for him and people of like mind, we would not have it to talk about. I was struck by a number of contributions, including those of Senators Marie-Louise O'Donnell and Paschal Mooney. I have similar recollections to Senator Paschal Mooney's first memories of O'Connell Street, albeit many decades after his.
I thank the Senator.
As a young person from the country, I came to Dublin on the bus with my mother and few friends from the area. The one thing that struck me was the buzz of that huge street. I am sad to say, however, that that has changed. I agree totally with Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell that there is no beauty in it anymore. There is no plan and there do not seem to be ideas. In recent weeks we heard about the closure of that famous store, Clerys, where, as Senator Paschal Mooney said, country and city people came to shop. They also did their shopping in other premises off O'Connell Street. Now, however, they are afraid to walk down it. It is a horrible term which I hate, but there are a lot of the "walking dead" on the street. People are terrified to walk down that thoroughfare which has become the fast food capital of Europe. It is time we woke up and did something about it because the city spreads out from O'Connell Street. If we were to get it right, clean it up and revitalise it, everything else would follow.
I welcome the Living City initiative that was originally announced in October 2012. I regret that it took until a few months ago to get it up and running. However, it is only paying lip service to what is really needed. I was struck by what Senator David Norris said about the late Albert Reynolds in having a budget speech running to three and a half pages. If I recall correctly, when the mandarins in the Department of Finance were finished with them, one premises benefited.
I fear something similar could happen in the case of this initiative.
It is happening already.
That is not good enough. It is time the idea of a directly elected mayor for the capital city was revisited as a matter of urgency. We could make a major start by having a directly elected mayor with a budget to run the city. Not only would it help to protect Georgian Dublin and clean up O'Connell Street, it would also help in getting the city's transport system right, including the provision of cycling lanes. I agree that cycling in Dublin is dangerous, but that is not the cyclists' fault. I do not blame them; I encourage them, but they should have proper cycle lanes to use. The lack of such lanes makes cycling in the city extremely dangerous.
The Luas works are causing chaos. I agree with previous speakers that the two lines should have been joined from the beginning. In addition, they should have been put underground.
If Dublin was a functioning modern city, that is what we should have done. It is time to begin the process of co-ordinating because there are so many Departments involved in this, that and the other. A directly elected mayor with the requisite powers and finances could work on getting the city to operate in the way it should, just like any other major capital city in Europe.
It is time we resourced An Garda Síochána properly in this city in order that it can protect the citizens of this city and the people who visit it. People are being assaulted on a daily basis and hundreds are in fear during the day, not to mention at night time.
I congratulate Senator David Norris on what has been a very interesting debate. I had not intended to speak on it but hopefully we can keep this issue on the boil.
The Minister of State will be delighted to know that his torture is coming to an end as I am now on my feet.
I am not tortured.
I thought the Senator was going to say he was from Kilkenny.
He might be, actually.
I compliment the Minister of State on his forbearance and his willingness to listen.
And his continuing willingness to do it as the Senator is on his feet.
I will begin on a positive note. I have travelled around the country and seen some of the work that has been done by the Office of Public Works. I acknowledge the great work it does. However, there is an issue for the office and that is its budget. Where it has a budget and can maintain properties, particularly State-owned properties and properties of historical importance, it does an excellent job. The Department's heritage card which one can buy for some €40 allows one to visit these marvellous buildings around the country and this is something we should push a lot more because there is a lot about Ireland about which we need to be very proud.
I refer to a comment by the Minister of State's colleague - the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, or is it Deputy Ann Whelan?
The Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan.
The Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan.
The Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, said it was her job to breathe life into the towns and cities around the country. I hope she has a good set of lungs because I have been all over this country and the small towns are dying on their feet. In places like Donegal, parts of Sligo, parts of Mayo, parts of Galway-----
Roscommon, God help us.
I am not one bit sorry for them after last weekend.
These places are dying. I will, however, turn to Dublin which is what this debate is about. I am honoured to speak on this because Senator David Norris has, for as long as I can remember, been furthering the cause of Georgian Dublin. It is a matter of deep regret to me that our capital city's main street has become the burger king hurdy-gurdy of Ireland with slot machines and burger joints. The only decent store on that street that I can recall is Clerys. We have now closed that down and will no doubt open it up in the future as some sort of a franchise selling high-class burgers. We built a fantastic boardwalk along the Liffey. I walked along it once with my daughter and I was accosted every 20 yards by people begging, or by drug addicts or alcoholics on skid row. As Senator Diarmuid Wilson said, we have to resource the police. We have to have gardaí on their feet, on the beat, as it is the only way to solve the problem.
It was a great initiative to bring bicycles into Dublin to rent to cycle across the city. I agree with Senator David Norris that it would be great if people rode them on the road or on cycle tracks. I wait for the day, however, when we hear the first High Court action over injuries received by someone not wearing a helmet on these bikes. The fact that there is no requirement to wear a helmet is a serious issue.
Senator David Norris referred to the north-south divide in Dublin city. Some time ago a friend of mine from the United States visited me. I brought him into this House and he was totally amazed at the architecture and the wonderful buildings, although he did think Leinster House was in a pretty poor state of repair. As one walks across the corridor from the Seanad towards the Dáil the floors are creaking and falling away underneath.
It could do with a new carpet.
It certainly could.
I like the creak - it reminds me of what goes on in here.
As I had to drive my friend to the airport, I drove him from my house in Leopardstown to Dublin Airport through the city. He remarked that once we crossed the Liffey it was like entering a different city. On one occasion he asked me, "Is this Beirut?" That is how poor some of the city is.
I am delighted to have the Luas, which stops outside my front door but I join Senator David Norris in asking what lunatic put the proposal together that left a mile and a half of a gap between the two Luas lines.
And no underground.
The most important highway we need is from here to the airport. One can get into town in 20 minutes or, at most, 40 minutes on the Luas and then one has to spend an hour and a half on a bus getting out to the airport. Who thinks these things up is beyond me.
A vision for the future of the city, or for any local area, should rest with the locally elected representatives, the local councillors in the area.
Yes,there is an election on the way.
The Senator is shrewd.
The Senator will have to retract that.
If there is to be a vision let the vision come from the ground up.
Has the Senator been in touch with councillors lately? He is now giving them planning and architectural permissions.
I support my colleague, Senator Diarmuid Wilson, on the need for an elected mayor in Dublin city who has a budget to do the work required to maintain Dublin city as a capital city of which we should all be proud.
I will conclude on the need for policing, which applies not just to Dublin city as there is now a shortage of police on the ground in every city in Ireland. I am aware there has been serious recruitment in recent times.
I am sure the Senator welcomes it.
We need more recruitment and a greater presence of gardaí on the ground. It is not all bad news, but there are a few little things for the Minister to think about. They might help him along the way.
I pay tribute to my good friend, Senator David Norris, for putting this motion before the House. I can remember, as a young fellow, greatly admiring Senator David Norris's deep knowledge of Georgian Dublin and his superb way of communicating it. My aunt is also an expert on Georgian Dublin and has studied the churches in Dublin, particularly the Jesuit churches. We have a rich city but it has plenty of problems, though not all were created by government, some were created by citizens. We have a serious pollution problem with litter and we need a national conversation on this.
We need to consider how we can educate young people, old people and all citizens to have a civic responsibility and a civic-minded approach, realising that we all have a part to play in the ambassadorial veneer of our city. It is desperate to see the attitude many of our young people and citizens have to dumping rubbish. If one goes down to Temple Bar any night of the week, not just Saturday, one will be shocked to see urinating and rubbish thrown all over the place.
The Government has a significant leadership role to play but society has a role to play as well. It is time we had a national conversation on how we can all play our part in promoting our city. I am sure Senator David Norris would wholeheartedly agree that it is not just the great city of Dublin that needs to be protected and regenerated. Many of our beautiful towns, some of them old garrison towns, some of them towns that supported industry over the years and some of them with wonderful streetscapes and traditional shop-fronts, have the same need. My own town, Ennistymon in County Clare, is regarded as probably the premier town for traditional shop-fronts in the country, in spite of the national debate that rages about two buildings that have no architectural merit and should have been demolished years ago. Looking beyond the traditional shop-fronts, however, one sees many empty units.
The Government has a role to play in bringing forward a town renewal scheme, although absolutely not in the manner of the renewal schemes we saw during the tax incentive years.
Carefully thought out, properly crafted and innovative schemes that encourage people to live and open small businesses in some of these buildings could be useful. It is time for us to have some sort of recovery. I hope it will be a very good one and development will take cognisance of our town centres. It would break one's heart to go into some towns in this country and see branches of Tesco Express on the outskirts of the towns but nothing in the town centres. We do not see that in some of our European neighbours, particularly France and Spain. We see markets and small shops that are thriving. We are all under the European banner. I do not know why we always have to follow the example of England as opposed to following the example of our fellow European citizens in countries like Italy, Spain and France. I know the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Paudie Coffey, is determined to deal with red tape. He has taken the red tape relating to the scheme for building one-off houses by the scruff of the neck and is dealing with it but there is plenty of red tape that we need to look at across Government, particularly in the area of environmental health. It is amazing to go down the main street in San Sebastian. One can go into practically any small pub that might have one toilet cubicle and have some of the most amazing tapas that hands can create, yet in Ireland one needs four or five different forms of toilet before the kitchen is even built and the kitchen nearly has to be bigger than the restaurant. We are totally knotted up in red tape when it comes to food production. People were not dying from food poisoning 40 years ago. Yes, there was a certain amount of it and there must be care but people washing their hands and being careful will achieve the same result as having the swankiest toilet and kitchen facilities, open air doors and non-smoking areas. What good is all of that if a human being does not wash their hands?
It goes back to the point I made at the start. Citizens have to take responsibility also. Small industry is tied up in red tape. We need to unleash some of that red tape. I agree that we should give citizens rights but they should be rights with responsibilities. We all have a part to play. Government is just one stakeholder, every citizen is also a stakeholder.
The motion is an inspired one. I watched the contributions in my office and felt an absolute need to come down and contribute to an important motion.
I thank all of the Senators who took part and the two Ministers of State who attended the debate. They were quite inappropriate in respect of the motion, but I hope they will take back some of what was said here to their colleagues in the Cabinet. I am very gratified that as the Government has decided not to oppose the motion, it goes through. This means it is still an active idea. I believe very strongly that a central government plan is necessary.
Nobody on the Government side took up the points I was making on the Living City initiative and other issues. It was just blank. Georgian houses in Dublin are between 400 and 500 sq m, yet there is a limit of 230 sq m. Mr. Graham Hickey of the Dublin Civic Trust said that "even modest Georgians built in the 1830s and 1840s on streets like Belvedere Place, Nelson Street, Sherrard Street – the very houses that desperately need designation – are in the order of 230-300 sq m." This is in the aftermath of the abolition of the national conservation grant in 2011. The house in North Frederick Street that I mentioned in this House and that collapsed a few weeks ago would be excluded. One would get no help for that. Look at Aldborough House on the northside, which until recently was in the hands of the Government. The lead was ripped off the roof and it is in a state of complete dereliction. The Irish Music Rights Organisation wanted to take it over, but it found that it did not have the money. According to Mr. Hickey, Georgian houses would only be eligible for inclusion in the scheme if they were subdivided and sold off as apartments, in other words, the tenementalisation of Dublin. We have the commercial aspect. Dublin Civic Trust said that "effectively, any dodgy modern unit, shed or otherwise, can be incentivised for a capital upgrade for retail or service use, anywhere in Dublin city, or the other cities, within the designated areas".
Dublin traffic is a complete mess. They should have put in an underground. Now we have this business where the city manager is determined to drive motor cars out of the city. I live in the city. Have I no rights? I appeal to the Minister of State to take this back to his Government colleagues. As is the case in Jerusalem, they should have different coloured number plates for people who live in the inner city who would be allowed to cross through College Green and the other blocked areas. It is absurd to discriminate against people who live in the north inner city.
There is a huge amount of dereliction, particularly on the northside. Dublin City Council is investigating 630 sites that could warrant inclusion. It only has 46. That is how active it is. It is absurd.
Litter is another big mess. It was privatised and companies fight like the Mafia, burning each other's trucks out. There are different dates and times for collections, waste is collected in plastic bags that split and waste is spread all over the street. One experiences the noise from the vehicles when they drive up and down residential streets at all hours of the day and night. There are rehabilitative schemes for drug addicts in the north inner city. I have great compassion for drug addicts but they are all dumped in the north inner city. Practically every week, a new rehabilitative outlet is dumped along Parnell Street. We were lied to in this House about Fitzgibbon Street Garda station. We were told it was closed for rehabilitation. It was closed to be turned into a home for homeless people. Again, I have great sympathy for homeless people but we need a police station. People from around this House have all said that we need the reinvigoration of the police in the inner city. What are they doing? They are closing it down and making it a place for the homeless.
With regard to the Living City initiative, I was the needle point of this, pushing and pushing until I got an agreement from the Minister for Finance. The will of the Oireachtas is frustrated by an anonymous civil servant who said that this is not for mansion taxes. In other words, anything over 230 sq m - anything larger than a three-bedroomed bungalow - will not qualify for this.
Everybody echoed what I said about O'Connell Street - knicker shops, fast food joints, tatty souvenir shops and derelict sites. The Metropole which was a wonderful building was demolished. What do we have in its place? We have British Home Stores; 1916, my eye, we are still a bloody colony. What will happen to the Clerys building? Vulture capitalists from the United States came in and made a profit of €19 million. Shame on Gordon Brothers and shame on the Irish people who are implicit in this. It is a disgrace. I was talking this morning to a man who gave 43 years of service to Clerys but who is out on his arse without a single penny in terms of a pension. I listened yesterday to Alex Findlater, a decent man who had 26 shops across Dublin and a headquarters in O'Connell Street. It was pulled down and an ignorant, barbaric concrete monstrosity put up in its place. He at least took an interest in the welfare and well-being of his employees.
We must leave it at that.
The whole of O'Connell Street is a complete and absolute mess. Dublin City Council will do sweet bugger all about it and all it wants is a little power play. That is why I am saying and I am glad that it is still active that we need a master plan for Dublin. Speakers on all side of the House said "yes". In the 18th century we had the Wide Streets Commission and the Paving Commission and that is what has left us the glories of 18th century architecture. We are the custodians of it, yet we are allowing it to fall down. A master plan which includes traffic, the conservation of buildings, the environment and so on is necessary. That is what the House has joined to support.
When is it proposed to sit again?
At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.