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The capital's long-neglected north inner city is a derelict mess

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Senator David Norris's radical call for a new body, similar to the 18th century 'Wide Streets Commission', warrants serious consideration, Shane Coleman writes.

Senator David Norris's radical call for a new body, similar to the 18th century 'Wide Streets Commission', warrants serious consideration, Shane Coleman writes.

Senator David Norris expressed his views on O'Connell Street.

Senator David Norris expressed his views on O'Connell Street.

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Senator David Norris's radical call for a new body, similar to the 18th century 'Wide Streets Commission', warrants serious consideration, Shane Coleman writes.

THANK God for David Norris. His refreshing refusal to "give a s***" if he comes across as a crank for railing against the degradation and blight of Dublin's north inner city might just be the wake-up call needed to shake the authorities out of their lethargy and inertia.

As anybody who takes the time to walk around the area stretching from the Liffey to the North Circular Road of our capital knows, it's a mess of dereliction.

If the same held for the expanse from the Liffey to the South Circular Road, there'd be uproar. But for the long-neglected Northside, with the honourable exception of Senator Norris and one or two others, nobody seems to care.

We should care because this sphere includes the most important street in the country, O'Connell Street, which despite some improvements in recent years still has a massive derelict site and a host of fast food eateries. We should care because the area contains hugely important Georgian and Victorian heritage - Mountjoy Square was once the pre-eminent Georgian address in the city. North Great George's Street and the spectacular, but virtually forgotten, Henrietta Street remain two of the standard bearers for Georgian Dublin.

But most importantly, we should care because we're asking people to live in an environment that is not up to the standard we should demand for all our citizens.

The point will be made that some of those citizens, notably the ones who dump bags of rubbish on the streets, have to take responsibility for the state of the locality. But it is very hard for people to respect and love an area that has clearly been neglected by the powers that be, where no action is taken against derelict sites, rundown virtual slum housing and streets that don't seem to have been cleaned in weeks. The lead comes from the top and in the case of the north inner city, there seems to be little or no lead.

It's certainly not an easy problem to solve. Years of neglect have led to a dominance of multiple occupation housing in the area. The absence of owner-occupiers is never good for the stability and the viability of a street. Inevitably, owners care more about their area than the more transient renters. The absence of a social mix also brings obvious issues.

But the authorities are certainly not powerless to act. A blitz on litter - in the form of street cleaning and zero tolerance for dumping - would be a good place to start. A much tougher and proactive approach from Dublin City Council (DCC) to derelict sites is also required - nothing seems to happen for years to obvious eyesores that drag down the whole area.

The issue of bad landlords utterly failing to maintain the quality of their buildings also needs to be addressed. Mr Norris's radical call for a new body, similar to the 18th century 'Wide Streets Commission', warrants serious consideration. That commission, established 250 years ago with sweeping powers, did so much to shape the city we know today.

DCC is one of the most progressive local authorities in the country but one wonders if it has the capability to tackle the crisis in the north inner city. It has brilliant people, but are all the different departments in the council working together or ploughing their own furrow?

The suspicion is it's the latter. It also lacks the necessary enforcement powers, and possibly the budget, to really get tough in terms of standards in the area.

In the absence of a badly needed elected Dublin mayor, with a real drive to shape and improve the north inner city, a new streets commission may be needed.

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But there are things DCC can do. One of them is applying the same planning standards north and south of the Liffey. It's a small thing but compare and contrast convenience stores on either side of the river. In the south inner city, at the behest of the council, the convenience storefronts and interiors are discreet and tasteful with strict controls on signage and advertising. On the Northside, it's a free for all with plastic signage and no control over window advertising.

You can't blame these stores, it's DCC that has to take responsibility for that.

Whether it's intentional or not, the message coming from DCC is that the two areas aren't of equal importance.

Until that changes, the situation won't improve. The silence in response to Mr Norris's comments at the weekend has been deafening. No word from Environment Minister Alan Kelly. Nothing from Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein or any of the smaller left-wing groupings.

The reality is that few, if any, of those with the ability to bring about change live in the area and many of its residents don't vote. Two factors that make it hard to be optimistic anything will change. Shane Coleman is the presenter of the 'Sunday Show' on Newstalk and a resident of north inner city Dublin


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