All posts by Editor1

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The Deteriorating Quality of Dublin’s Air

There is now a noticeable difference in the quality of air as you walk the streets of Dublin. Sufferers of asthma can testify to that. Our trees are being felled at a worrying rate, and I am concerned how many more trees will disappear if the BusConnects project gets its way. We are simply not doing enough to tackle poor air quality and climate change.

Ten times more people are killed by air pollution than by road accidents in the EU. Four people die in Ireland every day from the effects of air pollution, according to the Clean Air Alliance. This amounts to some 1,150 premature deaths in Ireland attributable to air pollution. The United Nations has called the failure of Governments across the world to ensure their citizens breathe clean air “a violation of the rights to life, health and well-being.” We must not accept the failure of our own Government to act to ensure clean air to its citizens.

Air pollution is a major threat to our health, with 400,000 premature deaths per year across the EU. Heart disease and stroke are the most common reasons for premature death attributable to air pollution, but air pollution also leads to reduced lung function, respiratory infections and aggravated asthma, particularly in children. The current rental crisis and the mould and bacteria in poor rental accommodation is adding to the increasing numbers and severity of asthma. Recent evidence also suggests that air pollution affects the central nervous system, linking to increased levels of anxiety.

The Government can not continue to be all talk and almost no action in tackling the pollution in our air. It is killing us and our children. The Minister for Climate Action and Environment advised me himself that up to 6 June this year, there had been 98 breaches of the daily air pollution limits recorded in the State. Sixty-five of those were in Dublin, including four in Blanchardstown, two in the Phoenix Park and twelve in Ringsend. There were also eleven in Enniscorthy. What does the Government propose to do about all this? Not enough is the answer. Publishing a hundred item list of things to do out by 2040 is not enough. I want to see action in the here and now, to help relieve the people who are currently suffering, especially our young children.

What we really need is a Clean Air Strategy to set out bold steps to clean up our air. The number one priority should be to ban smoky coal. I urge the Minister for Climate Action and Environment to have courage and to take on the coal companies that are polluting our towns. We should not allow it in this day and age. We should also green our cities and villages, by planting trees and ivy and growing back our hedgerows. The later are being ripped up all over the country under the Government’s laissez faire agricultural policy. All of the European and UK research has shown that planting more trees and hedgerows, even in very polluted locations in towns and villages, has a massive improving effect on air quality.

We also need to begin mapping out the worst affected areas around the country. This will give us a greater understanding of the pollution levels we face. I call on the Minister to take these steps, and more, to tackle of our dirty air problems. Many of the actions needed would not be expensive at all. In fact, over a period of five to ten years, I have no doubt that improving our air quality will save the State a considerable amount. The Health Service Executive is well over budget. The Government has lost control of their finances. So why not act now to clean up our air and reduce the incidence of disease caused by dirty air.

Makhlouf Appointment Should Be Suspended

Following the announcement of an investigation into the actions of Gabriel Makhlouf while serving as Treasury Secretary in New Zealand, Labour Finance Spokesperson Joan Burton TD has called for the appointment of Mr Makhlouf to the position of Governor of the Central Bank to be suspended pending the results of that investigation.

Deputy Burton said:

“I believe now that the Minister should suspend this appointment pending the results of the investigation in New Zealand.

“The Governor of the Central Bank must be above reproach. Integrity and transparency have not always been at the heart of national financial management in Ireland, and we all know what happened to our economy as a result. Following the collapse of our economy, public trust in financial institutions and the state bodies which govern them collapsed as well.

“It took the best part of a decade to get our economy and public confidence back on track. We cannot jeopardise that confidence by appointing someone under investigation in another country. Minster Donohoe must now suspend the appointment of Mr Makhlouf until the full findings of the investigation in New Zealand are published.”

Update on Pelletstown ETNS

I recently questioned the Department for Education about the progress of the new school building for Pelletstown Educate Together National School.

It is vital that the new school building is built in a timely manner, and that the school will not be broken up and the students shipped around the city when the lease of their temporary site ends in January 2020. I will be taking this issue up directly with the Minister for Education next week in the Dáil, and will continue to push to ensure the school has a permanent building as soon as possible.

Responding to my written question, the Minister replied:

“Despite requests from my Department, the Landlord involved did not want to extend the lease so that the school to which the Deputy refers could remain on their land past the current academic year 2018/2019.  They had required my Department to confirm that the school would vacate the property at end June 2019.   Clearly, my Department could not give such confirmation as alternative interim accommodation for the school was not available in the current area.  My Department had much engagement with the Landlord in relation to extending the leasing arrangement at this property.  In this regard my Department had requested the Landlord’s consent to extending the lease to 31st August, 2020 to facilitate the school remaining in interim accommodation at this location until the end of the 2019/2020 school year by which time the permanent accommodation for the school would be ready. Unfortunately it was not possible to get the Landlord’s agreement to this lease extension. Following protracted negotiations with the Landlord, agreement was reached for the school to remain in interim accommodation at its current location until the end of January 2020.  The Landlord has indicated that it is not possible to extend the lease beyond this date.

“My Department is examining alternative interim accommodation options for re-locating the school pending delivery of its permanent school building.

“The site acquisition process for the school is now complete. A planning application for the permanent accommodation for the school was lodged in January 2019. A request for additional information received from the local authority was responded to on 26 April 2019 and a decision is awaited.  The timeframe for delivery of the school will be dependent on the grant of planning permission.

“Officials in my Department will continue to keep the school authority updated on progress.”

Photo of Phoenix Park

Submission on the ‘Draft Phoenix Park Visitor Experience Strategic Review’

The OPW, Failte Ireland and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, have commissioned a review of the ‘visitor experience’ of the Phoenix Park. The ‘Draft Phoenix Park Visitor Experience Strategic Review’ sets out 29 recommendations and changes to the Park. I believe it is important for all those that value the Phoenix Park, to engage with the review and inform the OPW of observations or suggestions that may have on these proposals.

As part of the public engagement process, I have submitted a letter to the OPW outlining the issues I have with the draft review. This can be read as follows:

Ms. Cathy Mahon,

OPW,

Heritage Services,

Dublin Castle,

Dublin 2

D02 V240

To Whom It May Concern,

The Phoenix Park lies adjacent to a large part of the Dublin West constituency which I represent in Dáil Éireann. My constituents in Ashtown, Castleknock, Blanchardstown and Navan Road regard the Park as a precious amenity and they are very vigilant about development proposals such as those contained in the current Strategic Review. I also live nearby, as indeed I have done for most of my life. I visit the Park often and accordingly I have both a huge personal and political interest in its amenities.

1. At the outset, I have to object to the extraordinarily brief time allocated for the public consultation and the limited opportunity for local committees and residents to fully view a document of such length and importance.

2. Even at this stage I urge that a series of town hall type meetings be convened with the consultants in attendance to fully explain the suggestions made in the document. The availability of the entire document online is no substitute for discussion and is not an adequate form of consultation.

3. I suggest that copies of this document be placed in libraries and community centres in the areas surrounding the park. This would give the public an opportunity to look at it in detail. Further I suggest that the authors of the study meet and consult the public, residents’ associations and others who are interested in the Park. The engineers involved in BusConnects, which was initially a computer desk-based survey, would confirm that the consultations which have been held in that instance have helped them to understand local geography and topography in a way that cannot be done from a desk in a consultant’s office.

4. A number of initiatives are already underway in the Park which have wide support. One of these is the rehabilitation of the Magazine Fort, and another is the competition announced by the OPW to design a pedestrian/cycle link to the National War Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge.

5. In my view, these should proceed as soon as possible as they would undoubtedly be of immense value in their own right and deserve adequate funding to enable completion.

6. I do not think that a spate of studies and reviews should be an excuse for delaying these important projects which have an intrinsic and long accepted justification irrespective of more general Park development plan.

7. I may add that I doubt if there would be much public support for any proposal to develop a large restaurant type outlet adjacent to the Fort. A modest café is one thing but a large outlet would not at all be in keeping with the commemorative environment of the Fort.

8. I have some serious misgivings at the repeated emphasis on retail facilities in the document as part of the visitor experience. Of course, there is scope to increase the capacity of the cafes at the visitor centre and elsewhere but that should not be expanded to include large scale retail and catering facilities that would seriously change the character of the Park in a manner that would undermine its primary purpose and would be entirely contrary to the maintenance of the sense of peace and tranquillity that people love about the Park.

9. I have considerable reservations about the inclusion of Fáilte Ireland as a designated stakeholder. Of course, it is right and proper that tourism interests be consulted and their suggestions examined with respect. That is quite different to having the status of stakeholder with an elevated sense of control and veto. Young tourists and international students flock to the Park at present and clearly love the experience. A change to the Park’s existing character could well undermine the very thing that attracts them.

10. I support the notion of a train stop in or adjacent to the Park on the recently reopened line from Kildare. That would offer a convenient mode of transport from the City to the Park for many visitors and families. The proximity of the train stop to the Zoo would be an added bonus and offer an alternative to the use of cars.

11. I can support the idea of Welcome Centres at different gates as long as the design is done carefully and sensitively. I might suggest that the OPW examine the use of the existing former military building on Parkgate St for this purpose as it is a very fine building. I’m sure suitable alternative office accommodation could be found nearby for the current users.

12. I would like all the Park Gates to be reinstated as soon as possible and should continue to be a feature of all entrances.

13. The proposal to have a Visitor Centre for families with children at the Knockmaroon-Mount Sackville entrance and to refurbish the existing wooden building there is a good idea. I believe its success depends on having a constant staffing presence due to the remote location. A small artisan café could achieve this purpose. Otherwise it will suffer the same fate as the existing deserted pavilion at this spot.

14. Special consideration needs to be given to the Peoples’ Gardens at the Parkgate St entrance. It is a vital component of the Park’s sense of tranquillity. I suggest the restoration of the Rockery as a key element in the Gardens.

15. The Parkgate St entrance is adjacent to the terminus of the 46A bus service which is an important link to the City Centre. The existing but unused toilet blocks there should be demolished and replaced by a modern facility. There is a popular children’s playground there and it is important that consideration be given to supervision and security for the children.

16. I suggest that both the existing playgrounds for children need to be retained and indeed there is a strong case for having additional ones, for example at Knockmaroon.

17. From a tourism point of view the Park and its surrounding areas have strong literary connections, notably to James Joyce. Many years ago, Fiona Shaw gave a memorable performance of TS Eliot’s The Waste Land at the Magazine Fort as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival. I believe such events should be encouraged and promoted in any scheme of activities in the restored Fort.

18. There is scope for using the Park to host a programme of sporting and fitness activities for adjacent schools, notably disadvantaged schools that do not possess their own sports facilities.

Yours Sincerely,

Joan Burton TD

Site for Edmund Rice College

I recently questioned the Department for Education about the progress of the new school building for Edmund Rice College. It is important for the families in the school to know when construction on the new permanent building will commence and when the new building is expected to open. The Minister informed me that the plans to acquire the Phoenix Park Racecourse site are at an advanced stage in the conveyancing process, but that due to commercial sensitivities, he was not in a position to provide further details at this time.

After acquiring the site, the first step in the process will be the application for planning permission, which the Minister said is expected to be lodged by September 2019. Thereafter, the timeframe for delivery of the school will be dependent on the grant of planning permission.

I ensured the Minister understood the importance of getting the new school built in a timely manner, so that the school community can continue to grow. The project when complete will provide for a 1,000 pupil-school, including a 4 classroom Special Needs Unit, and will be a great benefit to our community.

Photo of Joan Burton outside a school

New Secondary School for Blanchardstown

In April 2018, it was announced that there would be a new 800 secondary school to serve the Blanchardstown West and Blanchardstown Village school planning areas. I recently questioned the Minister for Education on whether a site for this new school had been identified and what proposals he had in relation to the patronage of the new school.

The Minister informed me that the patronage process will be open to all patron bodies and prospective patrons, and that parental preferences will be key to decisions in relation to choosing a patron. An Online Patronage Process System (OPPS) has been developed by the Department for Education to provide objective information to all parents which will allow them to make an informed choice about their preferred model of patronage for their child’s education.

The patronage process for new schools is overseen by an external independent advisory group, the New Schools Establishment Group (NSEG). Following their consideration of the Department for Education’s assessment reports, the NSEG submits a report with commendations to the Minister for Education for consideration and final decision. The assessment reports and the NSEG recommendations for all patronage processes are made available on the Department for Education website (www.education.ie).

The patronage process for the new secondary school in Blanchardstown will commence in 2019. Updates in relation to further patronage processes will be announced on the OPPS website and on the Department for Education website.

The Minister also informed me that his Department has identified potential locations for the school and is currently working on an assessment of these. Unfortunately, the Minister would not give an indicative timeline for the new school to be built. He said that the next step was to determine the location and once this was done, the process will advance to the architectural planning stage.

Photo of pouring water out of tap

Lead in Drinking Water

I have been shocked to read recent reports of lead concentration levels well above the legal limit in North Dublin drinking water, including in Cabra, Drumcondra and Phibsborough. Some tests have found lead concentrations nearly fifteen times over the legal limits. This is hugely concerning. Exposure to lead can affect brain development in children, and babies in the womb. It can also cause harm to kidneys and high blood pressure, and is classed as a probable carcinogen. Therefore it is vital that there is immediate redress found to this problem.

I recently asked the Government to set out, in detail, plans to resolve this issue in both the short term and longer term. I was informed that based on current available data, Irish Water estimates that lead pipework exists in approximately 180,000 residential properties in Ireland and that the vast majority of lead pipes are contained within properties built up to and including the 1970s.

The Minister for Housing told me that while Irish Water is responsible for the service pipe up to the property boundary; most lead pipes are within the property boundary and are the responsibility of the property owner.  Irish Water has said that it will remove all lead in public supply pipes over the next ten years. They have also put in place an interim water treatment programme to protect consumers from lead exposure while this replacement programme is implemented. A grant scheme is available to assist owners of premises with the costs of replacing lead piping.  The grant is administered by local authorities and information on how to apply for this grant is available at the following link:

https://www.housing.gov.ie/sites/default/files/publications/files/leaflet_-_grant_to_replace_lead_pipes_and_fittings.pdf

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ASD School for Dublin West

Speaking recently in the Dáil, I questioned the Department for Education regarding autism specific education in Dublin 15 & Dublin 7 for children at primary and secondary level.

I asked the Minister about the promises he made regarding an autsim specific school. He had previously agreed that there is a need for special school for children who are severely affected by autism spectrum disorder, ASD. Many of them also have serious behavioural disorders, with the result that children as young as six years of age are being excluded from primary school, which all can agree is nonsensical.

I informed the Minister of the very large public meeting in Tyrrelstown that I recently attended, at which I heard in detail the concerns of parents whose children are affected by ASD. On behalf of these parents, I asked if the Minister had a definite agreement with the Government to launch the special school? When the school will be complete? And if it will open on a temporary basis for the upcoming academic year?

The Minister in his reply said:

“I want to assure the Deputy that concerns regarding a shortage of appropriate school places for next September are being taken very seriously. The National Council for Special education (NCSE) has formally advised me that there is insufficient special school and special class capacity in Dublin 15.

“I wrote to the local parents committee on the 26th April and my Department, the NCSE and the Office of An Taoiseach were represented at a meeting with Parents to discuss this issue on the 29th April. My Department, the NCSE and school patrons are actively engaging to address this issue. As a result of these efforts, three special classes catering for 18 students are on track to open in September 2019.

“In addition, the NCSE met with stakeholders, including education providers, in the Dublin 15 area on 30 April and further engagement with the objective of opening further special classes is ongoing. If existing schools, including special schools, cannot provide the necessary number of places, then other arrangements will be made following any necessary consultation with parents and schools.

“To this end, I can advise that options are currently being examined and scoped out, in relation to establishing additional special school places to cater for the needs of children in Dublin 15.  My Department officials are engaging with patron bodies including Dublin and Dun Laoghaire Education and Training Board with regard to suitable space which may be made available immediately for the purpose of providing the required placements. The NCSE will keep in regular contact with the Parents of the children concerned to advise them of progress and identify placements as they become available.

“A scoping exercise is being carried out to see whether there is additional capacity in any other schools. I acknowledge that far more than 18 students are affected by this issue, as has been publicly articulated at the meetings and elsewhere, as well as privately. I am reaching out publicly today to schools which believe they can provide additional capacity. That is one route which can be pursued, but it is not an overall solution for all of the students concerned, which is why we are seeking a solution in conjunction with the ETB.”

Photo of two Gardaí

Feuding and Violent Gang Activity

Speaking recently in the Dáil, I questioned the Department of Justice over the the recent increase in feuding and violent gang activity in our local community. People have been reeling with shock following incident after incident of gang warfare, linked to the drugs trade, being played out on the streets of different parts of Dublin West. Children are afraid and their parents are afraid for them. In one particular area, parents and teachers are fearful because of two incidents where a gun was fired in front of a primary school and a week or two later, outside a secondary school.

I recently asked the Minister for Justice, how many Community Gardaí were working in our local community, which has a population of over 100,000. There are 13 Community Gardaí, of whom one is a Sergeant. All of the different policing reports suggest that community policing should be at the heart of policing in this country. In an area that is bigger than Limerick city or Waterford city, there are only 13 Community Gardaí. Are we asked to believe this is adequate? Community Gardaí are the backbone of the policing service. They get to know the people. They get to know the kids who may have got into a bit of trouble and who can be deterred away from it. They get to know the families and where the problems are.

Some weeks ago, the Minister committed to addressing the problems of crime in our community. The Taoiseach himself, who also represents the area, pronounced that he was extremely concerned about what was happening on our streets. Absolutely nothing has been done however. We need a Special Crime Task Force, interventions to help young people, and to provide alternatives to crime for teenagers who are being drawn in by the drugs gangs. We also need to help parents who are being levied with drug debts on behalf of their children.

We need to see action from this Government. Fine Gael has always talked of itself as a party which, when in Government, seeks to keep law and order. In certain parts of our community, it is failing dramatically. I really am perplexed as to why the Government is unable to learn the lessons of what happened in the north inner city as a result of the drug feud in that area. It has now allowed a parallel drug feud to explode in another significant area of the city and appears to have absolutely no answer for it.

What is more, we are being told that Tusla is proposing to withdraw the limited counselling services it provides in a number of DEIS schools. These services are provided in schools in which children have seen young men with guns about 100 yards from the school gate and Tusla is withdrawing them because they are not part of any Tusla-type medical service. What is going to happen to these children?

The Gardaí are doing their absolute best, but unless the Government commits more resources to Dublin West, the Gardaí will not be able to get on top of the violent gang activity. After questioning the Department of Justice on these issues, the Minister on behalf of the Minister for Justice in his reply said:

“The Minister is very much aware of the impact that this type of criminal activity can have on a community whether in Blanchardstown, Drogheda or elsewhere. It can profoundly affect a whole community and not just those involved. It is simply unacceptable for people to feel threatened when they should feel safe and secure in their locality. As the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, has said, this type of criminal behaviour will not be tolerated.

“Last Thursday, the Minister visited Blanchardstown Garda station and met with two detective inspectors. He was briefed on the ongoing operations including the outcome of a number of searches which have been conducted since the beginning of the year. The Minister has also been informed by An Garda Síochána that a crime prevention and detection initiative, including high-visibility uniformed and armed patrols to disrupt criminal activities, has been put in place by senior Garda management in the Dublin metropolitan region west. This operation is specifically targeting criminality associated with disputes between crime groupings in the region and is being managed and co-ordinated through the incident room established to co-ordinate the related criminal investigations.

“An Garda Síochána has further advised that every opportunity to target the criminal activities of those involved directly in the ongoing dispute is being availed of in order to maintain control of the situation. Local gardaí, both uniformed and plain-clothes, are working with other national units, including the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, the special detective unit and armed support units, as well as security and intelligence branch in Garda headquarters to ensure that all intelligence available is circulated in a timely manner.

“In the last month alone, gardaí in that division have conducted a number of successful operations in the locality. Gardaí investigating an incident of criminal damage by fire to a house in Blanchardstown on Saturday, 4 May have already arrested two males in connection with the incident. A file is now being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions. On Tuesday, 2 April, gardaí responded to a report of shots fired in the vicinity of the community college on Blanchardstown Road North. Gardaí carried out searches in the Corduff area and a man in his 20s was arrested and detained. On Friday, 26 April, gardaí from Blanchardstown, supported by members of the Defence Forces, carried out a search of waste ground and discovered a loaded pistol and silencer. At a separate location they discovered a small quantity of ammunition. Forensic testing was carried out and inquiries are ongoing. On Tuesday, 30 April, a residential premises and wasteland at Sheephill Park, Blanchardstown was searched. During this search a loaded semi-automatic sawn-off shotgun which had been concealed in undergrowth was recovered.

“I take this opportunity to urge anyone that may have information regarding these incidents to contact their local or nearest Garda station or to avail of the Garda confidential line, the telephone number for which is 1800 666 111, as soon as possible. Any information, no matter how small, could be of great assistance to the ongoing Garda inquiries.”

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Local Election Coverage

Article from The Irish Times (4/5/19) on Cabra-Glasnevin Local Election candidate, Declan Meenagh.

Local elections battleground: From dog poo to housing crisis

Politics starts with the local. In 2005, Declan Meenagh got his first taste of on-the-ground campaigning after Dublin City Council turned off audible signals at a number of traffic lights across the city.

Meenagh, who has only 5 per cent vision because of a rare eye condition, campaigned with other members of the blind community and got the decision reversed.

Some 14 years later he is running for a second time as a local election candidate in Cabra-Finglas. Everything he has learned since 2005 has convinced him that politics needs more people like him.

“It’s about having someone with a disability with lived experience on the council, who can clarify what small things need to be changed,” he tells The Irish Times on a wet morning this week in the centre of Cabra.

Running for Labour, Meenagh offers an example: the lack of standardised Braille markings on ATM keypads in Ireland causes confusion. “I can’t even independently use an ATM in this city,” he says. Yet it could be fixed in moments if someone in power decided it should.

Today, Meenagh is one of more than 1,800 people who have either been nominated or declared their intentions to run in the local elections later this month, according to latest estimates.

That is fewer than the 2,038 who ran in 2014. However, nominations remain open until midday on Saturday and the numbers will rise as the final hours and minutes pass.

Often regarded as a bellwether of the national mood, local elections can sometimes give a searing insight into the voters’ mood, offering an early provisional verdict on the future political prospects nationally.

Written by Simon Foy, Irish Times