Thursday 27 October 2016

North inner city's problems hidden in plain view for more than a century

Published 30/05/2016 | 02:30

Independent TD Tony Gregory and Charlie Haughey pictured in 1982 near the Five Lamps in north-inner-city Dublin. Gregory's deal with Haughey secured significant investment in the inner city
Independent TD Tony Gregory and Charlie Haughey pictured in 1982 near the Five Lamps in north-inner-city Dublin. Gregory's deal with Haughey secured significant investment in the inner city

Seán O'Casey's 'The Plough and the Stars' was set in Dublin's north inner city in 1916, when it had the dubious distinction of being the worst slum in Europe.

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One hundred years on, the north inner city has seen a deal of good housing and other developments, but it still knows poverty and poor social conditions. These feed into the drug and crime problems which in turn breed violence and killing and heap pressure on the majority of decent people there who are simply trying to get on with their lives.

Among the great ironies associated with the authorities' failure to deal with the north inner city's problems is that it has long been represented by some of the country's heaviest-hitting politicians of all parties and none. Many of these were national household names in their day, and in many cases their notoriety persists.

Three-times Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is the one who immediately comes to mind, but he is far from alone.

When Ahern's car was stolen in Amiens Street in the mid-1970s, he persuaded local Fianna Fáil to relocate its office away from there to what eventually became St Luke's in Drumcondra.

"The Bert" represented the north inner city for most of his political life. He was and remains a well-known figure on its streets and knew most of the local people.

Among those who preceded him in the earlier decades were Major Vivion de Valera, son of the Fianna Fáil founder, and later there was another Fianna Fáil stalwart, the Tánaiste and would-be party leader George Colley. Labour leader, government minister and popular Lord Mayor of Dublin Frank Cluskey also sat in the Dáil for a time for that area, as did former Fine Gael minister, the late and much-liked Jim Mitchell.

The late Tony Gregory was an Independent TD there from 1982 until his untimely death in January 2009. He was originally known for his refusal to wear a tie - big rebel stuff for those more sedate times.

However, Charlie Haughey bought his support to become Taoiseach with what became known as the "Gregory deal", estimated to cost taxpayers IR£80m (about €100m) in a full year.

The written agreement included commitments to nationalise a 27-acre site in Dublin Port and Clondalkin Paper Mills. A total of £4m was to be allocated to employ 500 extra people in the inner city, while 3,746 jobs were to be created over three years. State funding would be provided to build 440 new houses in the constituency and 1,600 more in the rest of Dublin.

Even those who criticised the Gregory deal as "undemocratic" and the "political tail wagging the dog" acknowledged that major government investment in north inner city Dublin was long overdue. Some of the deal's beneficial effects are visible to this day.

The tradition of high-profile representatives continues. Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald is one of the most effective of the current TDs showing commitment to the people of that stricken area. Paschal Donohoe, newly appointed Public Expenditure Minister, is becoming increasingly well-known and is a rising star of national politics.

This pair frequently overshadow Tony Gregory's successor, Maureen O'Sullivan, which is a pity, as her quiet, professional approach to her work is a breath of fresh air in a sometimes noisy political world.

The point I am making here is very definitely not party political. Nor is it a criticism of any of those top-flight public representatives past or present. A glance at the reporting of events surrounding the current sorry mess tells us that the trio of Dublin Central TDs are in no way lacking in concern or commitment to north inner city Dublin.

The real point is that the capital's north inner city and all its difficulties have been hidden in plain view for more than a century. The problems have been with us since before the foundation of the State, as O'Casey's frequently staged work reminds us.

The nearest many of us get to these streets is on occasional forays to Croke Park or as we head to Dublin Airport from the city centre.

All of us are focusing on them now because seven people have been murdered in an orgy of very public bloodshed.

Many say that the response to these killings had they happened somewhere "posh" would have been more swift and tangible. However, given a fleeting second thought, that is a big part of the issue. Yes, the north inner city badly needs more Garda boots on the ground; yes, an urgent, intelligence-led plan to root out these gangsters is urgently required; but the area needs more than sporadic, albeit welcome, attention paid to its needs.

The young people of those streets need education which speaks to the realities of their daily lives. Education remains key to giving future generations hope, but to get through to people, education needs to be relevant to those for whom it is designed.

The Taoiseach got himself into another spot of bother last week with an unfortunate "mis-speak" about his own inability to stop what is "a murderous dispute" between two families. It is greatly more important now to monitor his follow-on comments, which included a pledge to give all necessary resources to An Garda Síochána to tackle the immediate crisis that is inflicting huge suffering on a community.

However, all of our leaders need to reflect now on a more permanent remedy.

Irish Independent

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