Embracing history is central to future vision of Dublin inner city area
Sean McDermott Street, Buckingham Street, Summerhill area revamp may take 10 years
Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Evan O’Brien after he turned on the Buckingham Street Christmas tree lights recently. Photograph: Eric Luke
If the emerging recommendations to the Ministerial Taskforce on the North East Inner City of Dublin are implemented over the next five to 10 years, an area characterised in recent decades by grinding poverty and social deprivation could be transformed.
Many of the people who live there have to contend with a sense of hopelessness and of being left behind by the rest of society.
This “rest of society”, the people who do not live there, tend not to go there – unless it is to Croke Park or the 3Arena.
But all that could change under draft recommendations presented to Ministers and senior officials.
Instead of derelict sites, graffiti and vandalised buildings with metal sheeting over their windows, think of tree-lined streets with cycle lanes and benches.
Think of public open spaces and refurbished, well-maintained and pleasing-to-the-eye social housing.
Think of clusters of small and medium enterprises, of coffee shops and boutiques.
Think of high-profile, high-visibility community policing centred around a re-opened Fitzgibbon Street Garda station.
And think, also, of the vast wealth and economic power of the companies that line the north bank of the River Liffey – playing a role in creating pathways to employment.
“You cannot have the wealthiest corporate clients in Ireland, and some of them [the wealthiest] in the world, living beside a ghetto of social problems,” says one source who has read the proposals.
The draft recommendations suggest the entire north-east inner city be regenerated through a decade-long, focused programme, which should include a dedicated office in the area concentrating on building employment opportunities locally.
Members of the ministerial taskforce – including Fine Gael TDs Paschal Donohoe, Leo Varadkar, Damien English and Richard Bruton, and Independent TDs Katherine Zappone and Finian McGrath – senior civil servants and Dublin City Council officials were briefed this week on proposals drawn up by Kieran Mulvey, former chairman of the Labour Relations Commission.
He has spent several months examining the area’s problems since he was commissioned by the Government last summer to draw up a report for the taskforce.
According to a source at the briefing, Mr Mulvey said he wants to meet community leaders early in the New Year – “first or second week of January at the latest” – to get their final input before completing his report.
A draft has been given to Taoiseach Enda Kenny who has visited the north-east inner city more than half a dozen times since June, including to turn on the Buckingham Street Christmas tree lights recently.
The draft report, believed to be about 60 pages long, formed the basis of this week’s briefing.
Mulvey’s plan is understood to suggest the entire north-east inner city area be re-imagined through a changed narrative, which includes embracing its largely unrecognised place in Irish history – from its central role in the decade of revolution to the social and literary history tied up with Monto, the Edwardian and early 20th century red light district.
“It is an area of the city that is redolent with history, from Georgian Dublin right up to the War of Independence,” said one source at the briefing.
“But it has suffered in the last 60 years from urban neglect and deprivation, the decrease in employment, the demise of the docks, the dumping of social housing in too high a concentration and that has attracted other problems.”
The final recommendations to the taskforce are likely to include the physical reconstruction of large parts of the area, to include all kinds of greenery, lighting, and new pavements.
“[The area has] the widest streets in Dublin, the greatest boulevards, historically, from the Wide Streets Commission,” said the source.
“It has the second oldest Georgian house in Dublin, Aldborough House – it’s an eyesore and it’s derelict and it has to be restored.
“The whole area has to be re-imaged; a new narrative has to be given to it because it has great history and it has great social history. . . The place has to be physically rebuilt in a lot of areas; the whole streetscape has to be modernised. Derelict buildings are to be reconstructed or demolished.”
The taskforce will consider a number of special projects centred around the old convent and Magdalene laundry on Sean McDermott Street, and the old Rutland Street School.
The planned refurbishment of St Mary’s Mansions, also on Sean McDermott Street – and its future running by social housing association Clúid – will transform what is accepted to be an urban eyesore.
The taskforce was told the area faced half a dozen very specific challenges.
These include drugs and criminality, some related to drugs, some not; poor housing and few employment opportunities; and poor co-ordination of the various State agencies already in the area and the variety of services offered.
Making the area safe for residents – and visitors – is key.
And central to that is the reopening of Fitzgibbon Street Garda station. Residents want it to be the centre, locally, for community policing and drug enforcement.
To this end, Ministers were urged to support the idea of a divisional drugs unit being located there, together with a Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) team and high-visibility foot patrolling.
According to the draft recommendations, the area needs an integrated system of social services, with a greater emphasis on youth services and vulnerable families, more intensive supports for schools and strengthening links between schools and potential providers of employment locally.
The taskforce is expected to examine how the major firms associated with the regenerated docklands – firms such as A&L Goodbody, PwC, the soon-to-move Central Bank and others – can contribute very specifically in the jobs area.
“There has to be a better input both by local employers in the city centre and along the quays.,” said a source at the briefing. “There’s a need for them to make greater commitments beyond social responsibility.
“Nama and others who own a lot of property in the area . . . You have the biggest firms in the world domestically, operating along the banks of the River Liffey and, within 500 meters of the scene of the revolution, and the biggest building site in Ireland, plus the existing docklands buildings, you have pockets of the worst deprivation in the country.”
“There has to be a receptiveness [among the dockland companies] . . . They have to move beyond corporate social responsibility.
“There’s no point funding a festival, or painting a school or giving jerseys to a team or organising a school trip. You have to invest money in jobs and the creation of better infrastructure.
“But the second thing you have to do is bring them into the jobs. Bring them into a traineeship, bring them into a careership.”
Ministers heard that social exclusion and snobbery are also barriers to employment.
“We have to get over two things,” said one. “Number one: the idea that these people are not clever. They are clever. They’re just diverting it in a different direction.
“The second thing is, get over the bias [you have against] a Dublin north inner city accent. It’s their intelligence, their personality [that] you’re buying.”
Among the many messages community activists have given the taskforce, one was clearer than most: no more false promises, no more false dawns.