Council Briefs: The George Bernard Shaw House, Bull Island, and More

The Bull Island Centre

At a meeting of their arts committee on Monday, Dublin city councillors heard an update on plans for a new visitors’ centre on Bull Island – there’s still some disagreement on what form the centre should take.

Senior Executive Officer Donncha O’Dulaing gave a presentation on a proposed new UNESCO Discovery Centre in the heart of Bull Island, between the salt marsh and St Anne’s Golf Club. The council has issued a tender for design and planning teams, he said.

He told councillors that construction should start in 2019. The plan lists measures to minimise the impact of construction – with planned parking, an upgrade to the causeway road, a new cycle route, and services to be diverted along the causeway.

Councillor John Lyons of People Before Profit raised concerns from a meeting of the Clontarf Residents’ Association last month about the level of human intervention that would be introduced to the nature reserve by the new centre. He questioned whether there was a need for the new centre, or whether the existing one could be expanded.

Labour Councillor Aine Clancy expressed her support for the new centre and has said that the existing centre is not fit for purpose, but that there is a lot to consider, such as the placement of the car park.

O’Dulaing said the location of the existing centre is an issue, that the new centre would increase public awareness of the biosphere, and that access should be managed appropriately.

George Bernard Shaw House 

Dublin City Council is inching forward with proposals to turn George Bernard Shaw’s birthplace in Portobello into a writers’ residence. (It used to be a museum.)

Once adapted, the house could provide space for either one or two writers in residence, according to a report to councillors on the arts committee’s meeting, from Deputy City Librarian Brendan Teeling.

The City Valuer’s Office has assigned a valuer so the council can start the process of getting the leasehold for the property, the report also says. If it goes ahead, the council plans to put in a new kitchen and bathrooms, and also make smaller changes to things like the plasterwork.

The City Architects division is drawing up a brief at the moment, the report says. Later, the plans should go out for public consultation as part of the planning process.

Labour Party Councillor Mary Freehill raised concerns that the issue of the George Bernard Shaw House has been on the agenda for two years.

“This is supposed to be what we’re doing, but we haven’t managed to get it under the ownership of [the council],” she said.

Who Gets Social Housing?

“I’ve never been at a meeting that has so many moral dilemmas,” said Independents 4 Change Councillor Pat Dunne, midway through last week’s meeting of the council’s housing committee.

Councillors were talking about proposed changes to who gets priority for social housing, including the widely reported suggestion that homeless families should no longer be in the highest-priority band. At the meeting, they decided not to sign off on the changes just yet.

A report by Deputy Chief Executive Brendan Kenny set out the logic of that change, and others.

The council needs to be conscious of the number of families who have been on the list a long time, and are also “moving between rental properties and facing many of the same issues in relation to security of tenure in the private rental market”, the report said.

It wasn’t that homeless families were “gaming the system”, but that the council needed to look at how the allocate scare resources, he said.

So, instead of prioritising homeless families when allocating social housing, the council report suggests continuing to house them in emergency accommodation, in family “hubs”, and in the private-rental sector – with subsidies from the homeless housing assistance payment (HAP). (The Housing First programme wouldn’t change.)

“We’re very conscious of the change and the possible impact of the change,” said another council official at the meeting.

Many councillors raised concerns about the difficulties that people have in trying to find landlords who will take HAP payments.

Sinn Fein’s Daithí Doolan, who is chair of the committee, said he was worried it looks like an attempt to de-prioritise the homeless crisis – and that the reliance on HAP was dangerous; tenancies are insecure and some on HAP tenants have already fallen back into homelessness.

At the same meeting, others discussed whether parents with joint custody of children should each be entitled to an extra room in their council homes, which looks unlikely, and the need to set out clearly what falls under “medical priority”, the provision under which those who are unwell are allowed to progress faster up the social-housing list.

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Zuzia Whelan: Zuzia Whelan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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