Caroline Conroy

Green Party candidate for Ballymun-Finglas

How would you help get more housing built in the city – especially social and affordable housing?

There’s so much that needs to be done to make sure that Dublin City Council hits its target of 12,000 new homes, but I’ll start with just two suggestions that will make a significant difference. 

Firstly, we need to ramp up the building of Cost Rental housing. It’s a relatively new form of tenure in Ireland, but it’s already starting to make a difference in making renting a more affordable option for people who don’t qualify for social housing, can’t afford to buy and can’t afford to rent in the private rental sector. The rent you pay is based on the development cost, not the market rent. This is self-financing, but offers cheaper, secure homes. With Cost Rental, rents are at least one quarter less than what you would pay to private landlords, making long term renting a better option, and making it easier for those who want to save to buy their own home. I’m proud that the Green Party kicked off Cost Rental and that, in the coming years, we will build over 2,000 new homes per year at more affordable rents, mostly in Dublin.

Secondly, we need to get a lot better at bringing vacant and derelict homes back into use. Many residents report houses in our communities that could, with a bit of work, be turned into suitable homes. This is something that myself and my Green Councillor colleagues have been fighting hard for over the last five years, and the Council has now started to get much more proactive. We want the Council to add all eligible buildings to the derelict sites register, buy these buildings and restore them into homes and, in some areas, shops. I’ll increase resources for the team in Dublin City Council who tax and purchase vacant and derelict homes, to bring them back into housing or community use.

I’ll also work alongside my colleagues to:

  • Push the Council to develop more social and public housing on public lands and support the Land Development Agency and approved housing bodies to ramp up their work.
  • Report illegal full-time AirBnBs, which deprive the city of much-needed homes.
  • Rezone more suitable land for housing. We did this in the current council term with land in industrial estates and I think we should continue across the wider city.
  • Develop a new plan to develop space above shops for housing - something Dublin hasn’t managed to get right in the past. I think a scheme where the Council takes a more direct role in terms of ownership or design could make it work, learning from some really innovative work in other places like Waterford.
  • Aim more resources at city council apprenticeships in housing maintenance, so that council-owned vacant properties are turned around quicker. Some units sit idle for months or years. We need to step that up.
  • Maintain good-quality standards for housing, particularly in terms of warmth and energy efficiency.

How would you help improve conditions in existing housing, both social and privately rented?

In our constituency over 15,500 people live in homes rented from Dublin City Council or a housing body. This is nearly 28% of the local population and one of the highest proportions in the country. In addition, nearly 8,000 people live in private rented accommodation, comprising nearly 14% of the population. The people who live in them need to be assured that their homes will be maintained and upgraded so that they can last, and serve not just current tenants, but generations to come.

Most of the social housing units were built several decades ago, when insulation standards were low or non-existent. We need to make these homes cosy, to insulate them to the highest modern standards and make it much cheaper for residents to heat them. Dublin City Council has started to roll out a new retrofit programme, but I believe this has to happen a lot faster, so that the social housing estates of Finglas and Ballymun are upgraded using a ‘whole estate’ approach, alongside their neighbours who own their own homes.

I will work with the Council to increase inspections of private rental properties to make sure they’re on the register and in compliance with regulations. I’ll also support changes in regulations on building standards of buy-to-rent apartments. Increasing the stock of Cost Rental homes will also force private landlords to reduce costs and increase value.

What would you do to help make the city feel less dirty, tackling the rubbish and dog poo all over the streets?

I’d get stuck in! In my role as Councillor, I’ve been working closely with Tidy Towns and Residents Groups in Ballymun, Finglas, Glasnevin and Santry to make two things happen: get the Council to focus its efforts on making our streets and roads cleaner, and support community efforts and restore the sense of pride in our local areas. There’s been a flourishing of these efforts, particularly since Covid.

I’ll work hard to build on this, getting more staff and other resources into ‘more road cleaning more often’, and for the emptying of public bins.

The work undertaken by Tidy Town and Residents groups is tremendous. It’s practical, physical work, cleaning up their neighbourhood and keeping it that way. It also helps neighbours get to know each other, building bonds within the community and a sense of pride of place. I’ll continue to work with our invaluable community groups and resident associations to build them, and to encourage more people to come together and form more groups within the area. I’ll redouble my efforts to link them in with the supports available from the Council staff to make sure that they follow up on the issues that the groups raise with me during their clean-ups.

We all own central Dublin, and I’ll also work with my Green Councillor colleagues on Dublin City Council to push for an increase in street cleaning staff for the city centre, going further than the increase that’s coming on stream very soon. It should make a big difference to how we feel when we visit the city centre, along with a greater Garda presence.

Within the Council we set up a working group to look at how to tackle dog poo. After meeting with Councillors from London and even examining ideas like DNA testing, I am convinced that the primary solution is simply additional street cleaning resources. Signage, fines, and enforcement are important, but we need to pay for more staff and keep cleaning.

In addition to the above, I will work with my colleagues and Council management to:

  • Hire community wardens who could work on a variety of issues, including litter fines and prevention.
  • Pedestrianise more parts of the city centre, removing the choking impact that car traffic has on many of our streets.
  • Support the rollout of bag bins and shared bins to reduce the problems caused by unprotected bin bags being torn apart.
  • Use recently enacted CCTV powers to catch dumpers in areas facing regular problems.
  • Bring more nature and trees to concrete-heavy parts of the city.

And while it’s not a power that local government has, I would strongly support national policy that aims to reduce litter in the first place, such as policies to reduce disposable, single-use items which are the primary source of litter in our city.

What would you do to help tackle vacancy and dereliction?

In our constituency, there are many people who desperately need housing and when they look around their own area, or more widely across the city, they see vacant homes and derelict buildings or sites and quite rightly feel aggrieved.

I’ve followed up on queries to speed up work on Council housing that sometimes takes far too long after it is vacated. While we have a system for dealing with derelict sites, where they’re put on a register and subjected to tax or compulsory purchase and eventually they get developed for housing, it seems to take forever. It is clear that the Council’s team who work on it are underpowered and under-resourced. If re-elected, I will push for greater staffing in the Vacant and Derelict Sites Unit, and seek a more legally aggressive approach to such sites.

The same applies to getting the space above shops to be used as housing. We’ve tried this for decades, but I think the Council needs to take a more aggressive approach to getting it done, such as doing the work itself, or providing a financial guarantee to get the work done.

There are other things we can do city-wide, including in the area of taxation. I support measures such as the Vacant Homes Tax and the Residential Zoned Land Tax. By incentivising developers to provide housing through these measures, we can stimulate the supply of much-needed accommodation in our city.

What needs to be done to make the city feel safer?

In short, we need to make policing work better and we need to invest in young people.

Although Councillors don’t have powers to direct the Gardai, I have used my position as Councillor to advocate strongly for a greater Garda presence in particular communities within my constituency and more widely across Dublin. It is unacceptable that many people feel unsafe going about their daily business, whether that be in their own housing estates, in parks, or on the streets of the city centre.

I have been an active member of the Joint Policing Committee of Dublin City Council for the last five years, and currently act as Deputy Chairperson on our local JPC. I work closely with the Gardai, bringing the concerns of residents and businesses to their attention directly. I’ve also brought people together on a few occasions, such as a special meeting I held with concerned residents, Dublin Cycling Campaign and Gardai on how we can work together to fight the scourge of bike theft, and a local public meeting with Community Gardai after a spate of break-ins. I will continue to push for greater resources, and particularly for a much more visible Garda presence on our streets, and look for more innovative ways that communities can help redesign their own neighbourhoods to make them safer. 

However, we won’t be able to make our streets safer just through policing. As a former youth leader, I am very aware of the risks that face young people throughout Dublin, and how their needs are not being adequately catered for. ‘Youth’ was one of my priority themes for my tenure as Lord Mayor of Dublin, and I want more attention paid to the causes of crime. We need to invest in youth work facilities and groups, and expand the Garda Youth Diversion Programme. We have a duty to provide young people with social outlets and activities to ensure that their lives aren’t lost to chaotic behaviour and crime, and to make sure they can develop and be safe in their own communities. I will continue to work hard for a more youth-friendly city. 

We can also make our communities ‘safer by design’. I will push for a ‘Women and Girl’s Safety Audit’ to be carried out to identify parts of our public spaces that can be made safer. This can be done with better lighting, fewer narrow passageways, and passive surveillance.

Dublin also simply needs to be a nicer place to live, work, do business and visit - particularly in the core city centre. Reducing traffic, widening footpaths, pedestrianising areas, bringing in more nature and activity to the city, improving nightlife, expanding the network of 24 hour buses - these are practical acts of civic pride that will build a nicer, safer city.

We also can’t ignore that much of the safety problems in our city are rooted in addiction. Dublin still has a crushing heroin epidemic, along with a growing crack problem. I have worked closely with local drug and alcohol services, including sitting on Ballymun Drug and Alcohol Task Force, and I will continue to advocate hard for greater resources to be allocated to combat the scourge of drug addiction and dealing that has caused such damage to our young people and our neighbourhoods.

This city must be safe for all our residents. In the last few years, I have been shocked and dismayed with the rise in xenophobic, racist and hate-filled politics. It is really not good enough that so many people feel unsafe, and most particularly people who have come to Dublin from other countries and the LGBTQ+ community. I’ll expand on this in my answers to the last question in this article.

What needs to be done to improve public transport in the city?

We have a significant challenge facing us to fundamentally change how we get around our city. I’m proud that the Green Party in Government have made public transport a priority and funded major projects everywhere, while cutting fares by 20% for adults and 60% for young people. Public transport use grew by 25% last year alone, which shows the value of investment.

As Councillors, we don’t control this directly, but what we do have some say over is the allocation of road space. We need to dedicate more road space to bus lanes - it isn’t right that a bus with 60 people is stuck in traffic behind a car with just one person. I hope that the people of Dublin elect Councillors who will stand up to extreme pressure from the motoring lobby. We need to work productively with the National Transport Authority (NTA) and other bodies who are leading on the delivery to ensure the projects are of maximum benefit to the community. Where there are issues, I will work closely with communities to highlight local concerns and push for improvements in safety for people walking and cycling, for greening our open areas and traffic calming.

We need to see public transport improvements delivered quickly so that we can benefit from more frequent, reliable services. Building on successful campaigning, I will continue to work to improve ‘Bus Connects’, advocating for ‘more buses, more often’ on some critical routes for my constituency, including Route 19 which will replace the existing 11 bus, and for better routes that serve older people and wheelchair users.

I would strongly support the Council using cameras to detect red light breakers and illegal bus lane users, to make public transport flow more smoothly. This will work best with improved provision of disabled parking spaces and commercial loading bays.

Improved accessibility of our buses and trains is also key, so that public transport can be an option for everyone, especially older people, people with disabilities, and those travelling with children in buggies. It is particularly important to have winter maintenance plans in place so that we can prioritise the movement of public transport during extreme weather events rather than focusing on the movement of private cars.

What should be done to make it nicer and safer for people to get around the city on foot and by bike?

I will prioritise investing in making roads safer with lower speed limits, building on the move to 30km/h zones as a default speed in most residential areas, to protect motorists, pedestrians, cyclists, and reduce crashes. I will also push for infrastructural improvements to tackle speeding and ensure that roads are designed to prioritise road safety, particularly that of children and other vulnerable road users. In my experience working with local communities, the best solutions are found when the opinions of local residents are combined with the expertise of road engineers for specific local areas. Having successfully advocated for the introduction of ‘chicane’ systems for traffic management locally, I look forward to this pilot programme being rolled out and, hopefully, being repeated in other residential areas.

Segregated bike lanes will increase cyclist safety and lower the number of accidents on the road. This should be done as part of a network, not just small bits of unconnected lanes, and be safe enough for everyone from young children to pensioners to be able to use with confidence. These cycle lanes should be segregated by a small kerb at the very least – not just a white line. That’s especially important near schools. This work will be politically difficult - it will need the backing of dedicated councillors who strongly believe in the cycling and walking agenda.

I will support “bike parks”, converting a small area in a car park for free, secure bike parking, particularly near transport hubs, as well as “Bike Bunkers” and look forward to supporting residents in getting them installed on their streets over the next few years.

We also need zebra crossings at minor junctions, to provide for pedestrian priority, alongside safer crossing points. I am delighted to have initiated, alongside my Green colleagues on the Zebra Crossing Working Group, a roll out of Zebra Crossings. We’ve worked to secure a reduction in the cost of installing such crossings so that they can be used much more. That, combined with improved and widened footpaths would really improve things for pedestrians - particularly those who need extra time or space. We need to ensure that temporary works do not cut off access to cycleways and footpaths. I will also push for lighting that is “human scale”, directed at footpaths instead of towards carriageways as they often do, leaving our paths in near darkness. Benches are also key to ensure that people who are walking can get a rest.

Many of the lights in our junctions at busy periods heavily prioritise cars - at the expense of people walking. You will see many pedestrians forced to wait for car traffic to pass, which inexplicably enjoys more time. I want junction timing that prioritises disabled people, pedestrians, bikes, public transport - in that order.

I will also champion the introduction of annual car-free days in specific areas, to enable local markets and festivals, supporting communities that want car-free neighbourhoods.

What would you do to help counter the rise of the far right, anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ+ hate, and anti-asylum-seeker arsons?

I passionately believe in the need for all political representatives to take a stand to make Dublin a more welcoming city for ALL, not least our LGBTQ+ community and people who come to our city from other countries. Working with local people, we can reverse this nasty hate-driven trend, bringing out the best in our city.

As Lord Mayor I led efforts among many communities in standing up against thuggish behaviour against asylum seekers throughout Dublin. After some ‘protests’ against migrants in my native Ballymun, I brought together community organisations and public representatives in taking a public leadership stance against the hate-filled and divisive rhetoric. I brought the ‘For All’ groups from throughout Dublin together in the Mansion House, including the newly-formed ‘Ballymun For All’ group, and worked closely with them to grow the movement. 

Having successfully campaigned for greater funding for these efforts, I will continue to focus on making Dublin a more welcoming, inclusive and kind city, given the significant challenges we face as a city and as a country in these difficult times. I welcome the work of LGBTQ+ organisations that have identified specific actions that need to be taken to ensure that they are also protected, and I will work with them so all people from this community can go about their lives without the unwelcome and nasty abuse and attacks that they sometimes encounter.

As Councillors, our formal powers over these areas are limited, but we can use the platform we have to speak up and be counted. Across Europe, we have seen attempts to combat the rise of the far-right and anti-immigrant hate by adopting a more moderate version of their positions – this has inevitably failed and only fed their false and divisive narratives. Rather than adopting the same failed approaches, we need to tackle the issues leading to fears, division and subsequent hatred.

Politicians should not indulge these kinds of disconcerting politics, but rather stand clearly against them. We need greater cooperation and support between Councils and civil society groups working with minorities. I will campaign for extra resourcing in areas with large numbers of Ukrainians and International Protection applicants. I will ensure that the Council has a local migrant integration strategy, including the use of our council buildings to celebrate our diversity, including World Refugee Day.

We also need to address the structural inequalities of our communities, which are an injustice in themselves, but also a breeding ground for discontent. This means improving housing, supporting young people, access to justice for individuals and communities, enhanced school supports, and wraparound supports for everyone impacted by homelessness.