Fine Gael’s Housing Minister Allows High Rise Flats on the Chivers’ Factory Site, Coolock

By John Lyons

The Fine Gael pro-developer planning system in action: we on Dublin City Council rezoned the old Chivers’ factory site in Coolock from industrial to residential in October 2017 on the advice of the following assessment from DCC’s planners:

‘It is acknowledged that this unit has been vacant for a significant period of time and that the site may not have future potential as an industrial factory type unit. Give the location of the site, particular adjacent to the Santry River and conservation area, and current access off a residential street, a residential redevelopment of the site is considered appropriate in principle.’

Myself and all other North Central area councillors rezoned the land to allow for residential development but we were promised affordable housing and sensible density: 350 affordable units at reasonable heights.

The developer briefed local councillors and held meetings in the local community to inform people of their plans: 350 units at appropriate heights of no more than five storeys.

Fine Gael, however, made two significant changes to the planning system during this time, namely the fast-tracking Strategic Housing Development process which facilitates developers building more than 100 units by-passing the local authority as the planning authority and going straight to An Bord Plenala, which leaves no room for appeal once a planning decision has been reached.

Fine Gael have allowed the former Chiver’s Factory, Coolock, to become the location of ten-floor high rises

The second change to the planning system was the issuing of new departmental guidelines on building heights, released in December 2018 which totally ripped up our City Development Plan regulations on heights and opened the door to developers to lodge planning applications involving outrageous new heights, like the one at the Chivers’ site.

When we were presented with the proposal, the idea was that the developer would build four apartment blocks, none of which would be more than five stories high. Now, the developers, Platinum, have announced that the maximum height of the apartment blocks will be ten stories high. This has come about as a result of the Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy, removing height restrictions on plans, rendering our efforts to ensure a sustainable and reasonable development meaningless.

The efforts of Independent Left Councillor John Lyons along with others on DCC have been rendered meaningless by the Fine Gael Minister for Housing.

It is a very poor planning decision, allowing blocks of apartments eight and nine storeys high in a low-rise residential area.

Yet the only recourse available to anyone not happy with the decision is a judicial review in the courts, which can only challenge how the decision was reached and can costs tens of thousands of euros.

Fine Gael is quite clearly allowing Dublin to be shaped by the interests of private capital, and to hell with the communities.

Irish state prefers funding middle class hockey pitches over working class sports facilities

By John Lyons

Glin Sports Centre during the European schools championship. Family and friends gather to watch to matches.
Glin Sports Centre Coolock, during the European schools boxing championship.

I was in the Glin Sports Centre in Coolock on 11 August to watch the fantastic young boxer from Kilmore, Ava Henry, fight in the final of a European Championship in Georgia.

Ava is an incredibly talented young person, hardworking and dedicated too. She won the silver medal although we all thought she had won the fight.

An amazing achievement for a twelve-year-old, who will only get better. An All Ireland champion boxer who today became a European silver medalist. Fantastic.

The tremendous success generally by Ireland’s young boxers and the enthusiasm and inspiration that brings to their peers is evidence that even modest amounts of state investment in sports goes a long way. What a shame though, that our ‘independents’ in government go along with the way that Fine Gael favour middle and upper-class kids when it comes to these investments.

Remember this?

Wesley hockey pitch
Shane Ross gives €150,000 to a fee-paying school in his constituency

Last year, not only did Shane Ross give Wesley, a fee-paying school in his constituency, €150,000, he did the same for Loreto Beaufort, another elitist school. This at a time when many state schools don’t even have a sports area. How often do we see schoolkids playing on the tarmac of car parks?

Wesley College, by the way, has two resurfaced hockey pitches, along with two cricket pitches, one for soccer, four for rugby, two more basketball courts and for indoor sports: a gymn and a major hall.

As I said at the time of an upsurge in local gangland killings in Coolock: “We need a task-force established that will be responsible for monitoring the work of the various government departments, state agencies and community groups that have a role to play in tackling the many problems faced by people in the area.” And part of that solution is to invest at least as heavily in the facilities for working class kids as the state does for the rich.

Councillor John Lyons on an Independent Left Canvass in Darndale

By John Lyons

Independent Left were canvassing in Darndale today (31 July 2019). A great community but one faced with a couple of particularly difficult issues.

I’ve promised to work with people in the times ahead to ensure that the community is a safe and peaceful place for everyone living, working, struggling in the area.

Great to see the new fishing club up in the park, a positive end to the canvass.

Check out my video report.

Stand up to Racism: Isolate the Far-Right in Ireland

Racism is a tool used by the far-right to divide us

By John Lyons

Across most of Europe, far-right parties have a strong presence, with parties like National Rally in France (formerly the Front National), Matteo Salvini’s League in Italy, Vlaams Belang in Belgium, the anti-Islam Freedom party in Holland and Golden Dawn in Greece. In Ireland, despite several attempts to get a racist project off the ground, the far-right have so far faltered. In part, this is because historically the racist agenda in Ireland has been linked to a very conservative Catholic agenda, which is in retreat from the spirit of our recent times.

It would be a mistake, however, for the left to be complacent. It is clear that the fears of a fragile middle class and the misplaced anger of marginalised working class communities could potentially provide a constituency for an Irish far-right movement.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community offer a version of Islam that rejects terrorism and advocates the separation of mosque and state. They own a mosque on the Old Ballybrit Road, Galway and this has been a focus for racist activity for some years. Early on Monday 29 July, an incident took place that demonstrated the existence of people who would organise a far-right party here and what that would mean for Muslims and other minority groups in Ireland. The Iman’s office was broken into and wrecked, with his family photographs and books scattered onto the street. The attackers were careful to take the security equipment.

Smashed window at the Ahmadiyya mosque, Galway

Understandably, this has, according to M.A. Malik, president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association of Ireland, terrified the local Muslim community.

Two years ago, on 5 June 2017, Just after eleven p.m., while many of their members were inside for prayer, the windows of the same mosque were smashed in by rocks. This attack followed a spate of anti-Muslim graffiti in the city.

The link behind these attacks was made explicit to the Iman, Ibrahim Noonan, who received an anonymous call three months ago in which two far-right groups operating in Ireland were mentioned (along with the name of Tommy Robinson).

Currently, such sinister figures are relatively isolated and after both attacks, a broad swathe of the local community rallied around the Ahmadiyya Community. Galway Anti-Racism Network is an important force for organising the support that exists for Muslims and asylum seekers. And for those wanting to donate to the mosque, there is currently a charity 5k event that you can support.

Iman Ibrahim Noonan, members of the Ahmadiyya community, Galway Anti-Racism Network and others showing support in 2017

In response to the recent attack, on my Facebook page I said:

Last November a hotel earmarked for those seeking international protection was burnt out in Moville Donegal, another in Rooskey Roscommon last January and now an attack on a mosque in Galway.
Hateful crimes each one of them, and the target in each instance were minorities – refugees and a Muslim community – often attacked by mainstream politicians and the far-right right across the world as the source of their particular society’s ills.
Nothing could be further from the truth but hate never lets facts get in the way.
We must condemn every attack, verbal and physical, we must stand with our sisters and brothers against the forces of division, hate and violence.

It was quite incredible but yet somewhat inevitable how quickly my post yesterday in support of those at the receiving end of anti-immigrant and anti-Islam attacks degenerated into a thread of nonsensical, ‘Look After Our Own First’ crap. Admittedly, it was only a handful of Facebook users but enough to distract from the main message of my original post.

To diminish or dismiss the lived realities of people facing attacks because of the colour of their skin, place of origin or religious faith is a kind of violence that can slowly corrupt a society.

The problems people face in the twenty-first century, in Ireland and elsewhere, in securing decent, affordable housing, having a job that pays well and is secure, getting their kids through school, accessing high quality health care when needed, are problems created by a capitalist economic system that benefits a tiny elite and leaves the rest of us fighting over the scraps.

Focusing your anger at austerity and the gross global inequalities in wealth and income on immigrants or Muslims lets the billionaires and millionaires, and their politician flunkies, off the hook.

We need to unite and fight for a better world for all.

Ireland and Palestine: the Destruction of Palestinian Homes Shows Why We Support the Occupied Territories Bill

By Councillor John Lyons

Palestinian children during demonstrations against Palestinian land confiscation.

On Monday 22 July 2019, about a thousand Israeli soldiers and border police entered the village of Sur Baher and set about demolishing buildings in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Wadi al-Hummus. Two families, totalling 17 people, of whom 11 are children, lost their homes.

Ir Amim, is an Israeli NGO that believes there has been an increase in this kind of destruction of homes. Their figures are that Israel demolished 63 Palestinian homes in the first half of 2019, while the same period in 2018 witnessed 37 demolitions.

The EU did make a statement on the matter, making the point that this policy undermined the prospects for a lasting peace.

As I responded on Facebook:

For decades the state of Israel has been violating the human rights of Palestinians and consistently breaching international law as it does yet it has never faced any serious consequences for its illegal actions so its latest act of brutality was never going to be stopped by the EU “urging” Israel to halt the demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. They just went ahead and did what they do best, destroying the homes and lives of ordinary Palestinian families without fear of sanction.

These incidents help explain why Independent Left give wholehearted support to Senator Francis Black and her Occupied Territories Bill.

The bill seeks to prohibit the import and sale of goods, services and natural resources originating in illegal settlements in occupied territories. Such settlements are illegal under both international humanitarian law and domestic Irish law, and result in human rights violations on the ground. Despite this, Ireland and other EU Member States provide continued economic support through trade in settlement goods.

The legislation has been prepared with the support of Trócaire, Christian-Aid, Amnesty International and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), and applies to settlements in occupied territories where there is clear international legal consensus that they violate international law. The clearest current example is the Israeli occupation and expansion of settlements in the Palestinian ‘West Bank’, which have been repeatedly condemned as illegal by the UN, EU, the International Court of Justice and the Irish Government.

Frances Black speaking at the UN on behalf of her proposal to sanction goods, services and natural resources from the Occupied Territories in Palestine.

Stop Water Privatisation: Round Two

By John Lyons

Right2WaterIreland identify ‘excessive usage charges’ as a tool for the privatisation of water

As Right2Water have recently posted, the announcement on 17 July 2019 by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities that excessive usage charges will be imposed on households that waste water is the beginning of a new battle which will see the government attempt to reintroduce the hated water charges in a new form.

Do they really want to go there again? The people have spoken, marched, boycotted, voted, marched and then marched and boycotted some more.

The Irish establishment, the supposed elite group of middle and upper class professionals and politicians, legal minds and media folk, despised the water movement because it was a great movement of the working class, middle and low income people fighting back and winning.

So they are sore, are coming back at it and are determined not to be dictated to on this issue ever again by the “ordinary people”.

They think the sting has gone out of the issue: yes, the political class paid a price in the local and European elections in 2014 and the general election in 2016, but they now feel that they have recovered and to a certain degree they have.

The Greens did well in the recent local and European elections and they favour water charges; the Labour Party did alright for themselves and they are in favour of water charges; Fianna Fail and Fine Gael had good local and European election results and are most certainly in favour of water charges.

Meanwhile the political parties of the Left and Sinn Fein, those that fought hard opposing the water charges, performed very poorly in the recent elections.

So the establishment think that the people have fallen into a slumber, are ripe for a little bit of “water wasting” propaganda, will accept the introduction of a charge for “excessive usage” and will ultimately see as inevitable the re-introduction of water charges.

They think this is their time, an opportune moment in which to begin a new battle to introduce water charges and ultimately privatise our water.

They are mistaken. Being out of touch with working class communities, they think we will be easily deceived as to the true nature of ‘excess usage charges’. Having underestimated the insight and determination of Irish workers, they will lose this battle. And Independent Left looks forward to playing our part in ensuring this.

Tracker Scandal: Bankers Evade Jail Despite Being Thieves

By John Lyons

When you hear, ‘regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland’, think, ‘given license to do as they please.’

The final report from the Central Bank’s Tracker Mortgage Examination  makes grim reading. The tracker scandal reveals yet again the power of Irish bankers, as not one single individual banker will be held responsible for the decisions they made to rip-off their customers. And when finally forced to admit their wrong-doing, their criminal behaviour, they did their best to minimise the amount of compensation they would have to pay out.

And some consumer affairs organisations claim that the report does not go far enough: that there are still hundreds of families who have not be restored to the correct tracker rates.

Will there be any legal consequences for those individuals in the banks who made the decision to rip-off their customers? It appears not.

And the 99 families who lost their homes through no fault of their own? No amount of money can compensate them for the stress and strain they must have endured.

By the end of May, the banks had paid out €683m in compensation. Overwhelmingly the banks involved in robbing their customers are the big five, 98% of those affected were customers of AIB, Bank of Ireland, KBC Bank Ireland, Permanent TSB and Ulster Bank.

We are talking about at least 40,100 customer accounts affected. And while it might seem that the banks are now contrite, effectively, they have gotten the taxpayer to recompense the victims of their cynical practices, since the State remains a significant owner of AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB. To the €64 billion bailout bill, we can add most of this one.

When you think about the stress of having a bank chase you for additional money that you never calculated on owing, when you think about the relationships that could not cope and especially when you think about the slick way in which these burdens were imposed, totally without justification, then the payouts are in fact low. This is especially the case for the 99 families whose average recompense was €194,000.

The problem for the banks, post-2008, is that they had made a mistake with tracker mortgages. For once, the deal favoured the customer. But the customer can’t be allowed to win. ‘Choice’ in the marketplace of mortgages is illusory. It is only a matter of minor variation and in all circumstances, as far as the bankers were concerned, they must be able to squeeze the mortgage holder.

So they broke their own contracts and their own rules and by bullying or by sleight of hand, forced thousands of people off their tracker mortgages.

There are so many lessons in this scandal about how Irish capitalism really works, it is hard to know where to start. But the takeaway is surely this, that when we lift the rock, we can see the insects crawling around. The report might not go far enough but it does allow us to see how the financial elite operate. it has exposed a world that we don’t normally get to see and which is one where the drive for profit is dominant, even if that means theft by people who pose as utterly respectable.

Superb Kilbarrack Murals Launched by Roddy Doyle

A positive welcome to Kilbarrack and Dublin Bay North

By John Lyons

Two superb artistic creations were unveiled in Kilbarrack on 10 July 2019, with Roddy Doyle on hand to add some literary flair to the launch of the two murals.

One of the murals was created by the Reach Out Project, a programme designed for 18-25 year old young adults. These individuals are likely struggling with one of a number of issues relating from a variety of psychosocial pressures. Addiction, mental health conditions and/or people just stuck in a rut are the main people who are the focus of “Reach Out” interventions.

They have created a piece of artwork with the internationally renowned graffiti artist “Solas”. This was facilitated with the support of Laura Larkin from DCC Culture Company and Iarnrod Eireann. It’s been an honour working with an Artist as brilliant as Solas and the young people in the Reach Out project have really enjoyed it: to the point that they were inspired to create and are now finishing their own separate graffiti mural, which was also unveiled on the day. Solas’s art piece celebrates Kilbarrack’s links with Roddy Doyle’s novels and the fictitious “Barrystown” which essentially represents Kilbarrack. It is also an effort to capture the struggle and spirit of those from Kilbarrack who would never give up. In particular we focus on three strong women: Brenda O’Connell, Ann Murnane and Kathleen O’Neill who represented the heartbeat of the community.

Roddy Doyle launches the new Kilbarrack mural

The second art piece completed by the young people celebrates the significant amount of successful people who have originated in the North Bay community of which Kilbarrack is a proud member. The young people felt it was important to highlight the amount of successful people in the mural, who have come from their communities. It was especially important that the mural is placed in the local rail station for a couple of reasons. The first being that the station is often the only feature some people see when commuting through Kilbarrack on the train. The second is that the train station has in the past, been a place of some antisocial activity. The mural is a positive, hope-filled artwork, strategically placed to have a maximum impact for vulnerable people who congregate around the station. But also, to educate others unfamiliar with the area. To visually show that the Kilbarrack community has a strong heritage with a proud and wonderful people residing within the area.

The Reach Out Project is part of Kilbarrack Coast Community Programme. (KCCP). In the 1990s Kilbarrack suffered from social disadvantage with high levels of unemployment and little or no history of young people going into third level education. KCCP was set up in 1997 in response to the “second heroin epidemic”, which was devastating our community. Year on year KCCP has increased the range of services and the numbers using the services e.g. our community counselling service worked with 150 people from the community last year. In 2018 the Health Services Executive conducted an evaluation of our services and concluded that we are an “exemplar Project” and that all our services are delivered to the highest standard.

Over 3,800 children homeless is a scandal.

At the end of April the Department of Housing, Planning & Local Government released its most recent homeless figures. During March 2019 there were over 3,800 children who were homeless and 2,445 adults. This represents a rise on the same period in 2018 and shows that Fine Gael’s promises (and those of their ‘independent’ allies) to make housing the test of the success of the government to have been merely shadow play.

Niamh McDonald, Independent Left candidate for Donaghmede LEA said:

The majority of those children are from one parent families, those parents are mainly women. These figures are not the entire picture, there are women and children in refuges, the hidden homeless, Direct Provision and many on the streets are not counted.
This is a generation suffering and becoming institutionalised due to no fault of their own.
This can be solved but we need to vote out those who refuse to fix the problem FG, FF & Labour.
Some seem to think if your local FF or FG Cllr gets the road fixed or gets your windows done you should vote them back in, this will not create change, everything will just stay the same.
Its up to the people to change it because the establishment currently elected won’t change as it benefits them to much.