Mannix Flynn challenges homeless hub plan for Dublin’s Aungier Street

Councillor says proposal changed after local objections but no notice given

Dublin city councillor Mannix Flynn has been given permission by the High Court to seek to quash a decision to develop a family hub for the homeless off Aungier Street. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times.

Dublin city councillor Mannix Flynn has been given permission by the High Court to seek to quash a decision to develop a family hub for the homeless off Aungier Street. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times.

 

Dublin city councillor Mannix Flynn has been given permission by the High Court to seek to quash a decision to develop a family hub for the homeless off Aungier Street.

The challenge is over the city council’s plan, in partnership with the Peter McVerry Trust, to convert a former tourist hostel at Avalon House on Whitefriar Street into a hub containing 25 individual family units.

The council’s original plan was for an emergency hostel for single people but, the court heard, that was dropped following local opposition and replaced with a family hub proposal.

Cllr Flynn says the council failed to follow legal requirements in proceeding with the plan or to comply with planning legislation. He argues it was done without any form of oversight, planning control or notification to interested parties.

He says the council also failed to comply with its own development plan including a provision that here should not be an over concentration of institutional type facilities in the one area in order not to have a detrimental effect on a community.

There are seven other institutional type facilities within an 800m radius of Avalon House including “Care After Prison” in Aungier Street, the Salvation Army in Longford Street Little and the supervised injection facility at the Merchants Quay food and drug outreach service, he says.

Questions

There were rumours about a homeless hostel proposal during the summer but it was only as a result of questions asked by him that information about the council entering into a lease with the McVerry Trust came into the public domain, he claims. The lease is to be for 20 years at a cost of €2 million per year, he says.

The process adopted by the council and the McVerry Trust “has at all times been characterised by secrecy”, an absence of transparency and a failure to notify interested parties about decisions with a potential impact on their interests and rights, Cllr Flynn says in an affidavit.

The failure to disclose information and properly notify an elected representative for the area was “a peculiar and disturbing feature” of the matter, Cllr Flynn’s lawyer Paul Gallagher SC told the court when seeking leave to bring the challenge.

While Cllr Flynn is concerned about the plight of the homeless, this proposal was without transparency or any notification in circumstances where the facility would place additional demands on local services particularly as there are so many other facilities in the nearby area, counsel said.

A brief meeting of residents and representatives took place at short notice in December with city officials but there was no opportunity to be heard or make submissions, counsel said.

Subsequently, Pat Doyle, chief executive of the McVerry Trust wrote an open letter saying it had been decided to change the original homeless hostel plan to one for a family hub following feedback from the community. He also said the hub service would be delivered with “the minimum impact on people living or working in the local area.”

Abandoned

Mr Gallagher said it was his client’s case the council is obliged to “obey the law like everyone else” and that he got no notice of the proposal in any capacity or that the previous emergency hostel plan had been abandoned.

The plan is “opposed by the overwhelming majority of the business and residential community,” counsel said.

It was also argued that the lack of transparency in making the decision is a breach of fair procedures.

Mr Justice Charles Meenan was satisfied arguable and substantial grounds had been made out to grant leave to bring judicial review.

He said the background to this application was the homeless crisis which is “probably the most serious social crisis facing the authorities”.

While he had not doubt about the commitment of the council, and the McVerry Trust as notice party, to trying to deal with that issue, it does have to be done in accordance with the rights of all those involved which necessarily involves a degree of consultation and the opportunity to make submissions.

The council could argue under planning legislation the decision was necessary to deal urgently with the homeless situation and for that reason he said the case should come back in two weeks time.