Claire Byrne

Green Party candidate for South East Inner City

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

As a Dublin City Councillor, I am fully committed to addressing the pressing housing needs of our city with a pragmatic approach to deliver safe, sustainable homes and communities. While progress is being made with approximately 12,000 homes in the pipeline, we need a much greater sense of urgency in moving from conception to delivery.

I think Cost Rental is going to be a game changer.  This means constructing affordable rental properties on public land, and only charging the cost of construction, therefore removing the profit motive, and lowering rents. There are currently over 3000 cost rental units in progress, and they will ensure affordability and rental stability for our residents.

The Adaptative Reuse Scheme is also a good initiative. Dublin City Council have recently acquired a building on Fitzwilliam Quay that will provide 17 social and affordable homes. We need to do a full audit of vacant and underused office space to make more homes available through this scheme.

We need to build more public housing on public land. We don’t have a huge amount of available land in the South East Inner City but good infill development works well, such as the social units on New Street in Dublin 8. I have also been calling for a masterplan for Ship Street Little / Werberg Street to look at how we can provide housing here. It’s a sensitive site from a heritage perspective but with clever design we could build homes here in this prime city centre location. 

In my area, the Glass Bottle site will deliver 900 social and affordable homes. The challenge here is high costs of the units so I have been working with my colleagues in Government to secure supports to make the affordable homes affordable. It is incredibly frustrating that something that was agreed back in 2018 is still not in place but I hope to have a resolution on this soon. 

We need to urgently and radically reform the ‘Living above the Shop Scheme’ to make it easier to renovate those properties and bring them back into use.

We also need to stop prioritising hotels over homes. I secured a new policy in the latest City Development Plan that effectively limits new hotel developments in favour of housing and a few hotel applications have recently been rejected on that basis.  Additionally, I will work to crackdown on illegal full-time AirBnBs, reclaiming vital housing stock. We need to stop building a city for tourists and make Dublin a city for living.

Planning is a big barrier too though. We need to speed things up – there are too many decision gates in delivering housing and that needs to change. We also need to fully resource and staff the relevant offices.

I am also committed to improving homeless services and expanding temporary emergency accommodation options to provide immediate support to those in need. Local authorities should play a central role in coordinating these services, ensuring that individuals facing homelessness have access to support systems close to their communities.

I will always work towards a housing strategy that meets the needs of everyone while building sustainable communities. 

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

Ensuring good-quality standards for housing, especially regarding warmth and energy efficiency, is essential to creating healthy and sustainable communities.

Ramping up retrofitting is the solution to this. Insulation, more efficient boilers, installing heat pumps, better windows - all of this helps with dealing with damp and improves air quality, so it makes homes nicer, healthier as well as cheaper to run, which then saves the Council money too. It’s a win-win for everyone.

For our own social housing in particular there has been a steady roll out of retroffiting social houses over the last number of years. However, our flat complexes are the real challenges.  In the South East Inner City we have significant retrofit and regeneration projects for Pearse House and Glovers Court, where they are also adding capacity and providing more homes. These are real flag ship projects and will provide a blue print for other flat complexes across the city. Digital Twinning exercises carried out on Dominic Street have proven that retrofitting and regeneration are far more carbon efficient than demolition so this is the route we need to take from a climate perspective too.  It’s also a quicker way to deliver more quality homes available.

We need to elevate the living standards across the board for everyone. In social housing, this means supporting a significant increase in maintenance budgets and expanding direct labour and apprenticeships within Dublin City Council, so we can undertake essential renovations, repairs, and upgrades to social housing quickly and to a high standard. Not reducing property tax each year would help fund these essential works.

For the private rented sector, the retrofit grants and loans are available to landlords, but we need to push the uptake on this more. Croi Conaithe now extends to second properties that will be rented so this is a real opportunity to bring good quality private and rented homes back into the market while also tackling vacancy and dereliction.

I want to commit more resources for the council's private rental inspection team, reinforcing their ability to enforce minimum standards and safeguard tenant rights. By prioritising regular inspections, we can hold landlords accountable and uphold the rights of all renters. Additionally, the tenant-in-situ scheme, which empowers the council to purchase homes from at-risk private tenants, remains a crucial tool in preventing evictions and ensuring housing security.

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

The presence of litter, waste and dog poo really bring the city down for everyone. Its hard to have pride in a place that looks dirty. By enhancing street cleaning services citywide, we can maintain cleanliness and enhance the overall quality of life for residents.

In this year’s Council budget, the Green Party fought for an additional 100 street cleaning staff for the city centre. We need to build on that and extend that staff expansion to across the wider city and residential areas.

The new Deposit Return Scheme will help to reduce litter on our streets and in our water ways, but people also need to take personal responsibility and clean up after themselves too. The city council needs to provide the infrastructure to make it easier for people to dispose of their waste properly, including more public recycling and compost bins. Ultimately, I would love to see shared and underground bins for the city but I think it’s important that we continue to act on other solutions in the meantime. Leveraging recently enacted CCTV powers to apprehend illegal dumpers in problematic areas is a proactive step in preserving our environment.

I set up the first Dog Waste Committee on Dublin City Council to look at solutions to dog poo, although progress has been slow though. The focus has been on signage, awareness campaigns and behavioural research along with trials of ‘Dog Foul Audio Devices’ in popular dog walking areas, which have had some success. But we need to do a lot more. I support the implementation of measures such as installing appropriate numbers of dog waste bins and the trialling of DNA testing.  

But really what we need is more enforcement, more fines to send a signal that its not ok to drop litter and dog waste on the ground. Increasing the number of litter wardens will strengthen enforcement measures.

Using bags for commercial and domestic waste is a real issue and I have been pushing for shared bin storage for many years for businesses and terraced houses who can’t use wheelie bins. Dublin City Beta Project has designed one that will be piloted in the South East Inner City shortly and the ‘bag bin’ scheme that was piloted with businesses in the Drury Street / South William Street area will be rolled out further which will help protect bags from being torn apart by seagulls and foxes.

Coffee Cups are something that we really need to tackle. We currenty dispose of about 200 million coffee cups a year. We need to incentivise reusables as much as possible. Cigarette butts and disposable vapes are a real scourge too and I would either like to see an outight ban on disposable vapes or introduce a deposit return scheme to take them off the streets and out of our water ways.

Public toilets are also critical for cleaner streets. The toilets on Grafton Street and Clonmel Street have been really successful and there are more planned for Merrion Square and Sean Moore Park Playground. But we need much more so that people don’t have to purchase something every time they need to use the toilet. Access to toilet is a basic right.

Graffiti is a big problem too. I have spent many years working to support more street art across the city as a deterrent to graffiti, pushing for more legal walls and making it a much easier, simpler process to create art on public and private buildings.

We ultimately need to reduce waste at the source and move towards a more circular economy and there are clear objectives set out in the new Dublin City Climate Action Plan on how can be more resourceful and reuse and reduce waste. Meeting these objectives will help create a cleaner and healthier environment for all and a city we can be proud of. 

What would you do to help tackle vacancy and dereliction?

Vacant and derelict buildings and sites are a source of real frustration as these sites have so much potential to contribute positively to the community by providing housing, retail, hospitality, creative workplaces or community spaces. They also affect our sense of pride in the city, so we need a much faster, robust system in brining these spaces and buildings back into use.

There is actually a lot going on to tackle this at the moment. The target number of homes eligible for the Vacant Property Refurbishment Grant has doubled.  There is a new Vacant Homes Officer in every Local Authority to identify properties and assist applicants with that.  The Local Authority Home Loan has been expanded to include derelict buildings and the Vacant Homes Tax was doubled to encourage owners of empty homes to sell, refurbish or rent them out. These measures aim to incentivise owners and developers to take action on their sites and properties and provide more homes.

The Croí Cónaithe/ Towns Centres First Scheme is often only considered as a scheme just for rural towns and villages, but it applies to our cities too and is just as important. These grants were recently increased to assist with refurbishing empty properties, and this has been extended to second homes that will be rented long term to bring more homes into the market.

We need to urgently and radically reform the ‘Living above the Shop Scheme’ to make it easier to renovate those properties and bring them back into use, and my Green Party colleagues in Government are working on new legislation to support that.  I think we also need a much more robust and assertive use of Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs).

These are all good schemes that should start having an impact. But again, the delivery is too slow – everything needs to have a much greater sense of urgency. We need to properly resource these initiatives with adequate human and financial resources. I will advocate for increased resources for city council apprenticeships in housing maintenance. By investing in training and development, we can advance the renovation of council-owned vacant properties, increasing housing availability.

Not all vacant land is suitable for housing, so we need to consider alternative uses. Projects like community gardens, pocket parks or artists’ works spaces can regenerate underused spaces and create a sense of belonging and connection within our neighbourhoods. Overall reducing vacancy and dereliction will help breathe more life back into the city and help us have more pride in Dublin. 

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

I’ve lived in the city centre for most of my adult life. I find it relatively safe although the post Covid Dublin is a little edgier. 

We do need more Gardai on the streets as we know this works. Councillors don’t have direct powers over policing, but we can highlight areas where more resources are needed and raise issues through the JPC’s. I also support more investment and the rapid rollout of Community Policing Teams across the city.

I sit on the existing City Centre Task Force which is working to target investment in the right areas and the new task force that the Government have established will hopefully help to improve safety. I am also a member of the Dublin City Council Women’s Committee and my colleague Cllr Darcy Lonergan who chairs this has carried out surveys on womens safety at night, helping to identify the hot spots and find solutions. She also recently held a brilliant forum with people who work in the city at night-time, the Gardai, addiction and homeless services and Dublin City Council on how to improve safety for everyone.

We also now have a new Night Time Advisor for the City, which is something I have been pushing for since I was first elected. They will play a critical part in bringing everyone together – businesses, residents, workers, promoters, the Gardai, Dublin City Council, agencies, NGO’s - to have a real coordinated approach to revitalising our night time economy in a way that works for everyone.

I think we need to invest more in our young people too. Programmes such as the Garda Youth Diversion Programme and youth work services can help fight the root causes of youth crime. But we also need provide more dedicated spaces for young people to hang out, more activities and social outlets and things to do. 

We can make our city safer by design. Better lighting, quality public space, greenery, lower speed limits, more Gardai, more and safer late night public transport, and a diverse, thriving nighttime economy that has something for everyone of all ages will help re- socialise the city not just at night but make it safer and more welcoming city at any time of the day.

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

Public Transport is essentially the responsibility of the NTA, so we don’t have a lot of power in delivering the big infrastructure projects on the Council. What we do control is our roads and footpaths and how we use them. If we are serious about providing a fast reliable efficient public transport, which bus connects will deliver, we need to free up the road space to support that. Our city centre is literally choking with cars, which is not surprising as it has been fully designed around them. If we are serious about real climate action and protecting our city, this has to change.

For this reason, I support the new transport management plan for the city. I know the people who live in the city have concerns and are nervous about it. That is understandable, change is really hard and I am having a lot of discussions about this on the doors. However, re-routing the 60% of traffic that is simply passing through the city, (not stopping, not spending money) and freeing up space for alternatives like reliable public transport and safer walking and cycling for those who can use those options, will ultimately make the driving experience for those who have to drive in the city centre better. It will also make our air cleaner, the city calmer and safer for everyone.

Things are changing when it comes to public transport. There is more investment. Bus Connects is rolling out and the user numbers on the new routes are significant. Metro is planning for the first time in almost 30 years thanks to having a Green Transport Minister and this will greatly reduce the number of commuters driving into the city. 

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.

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 sort of work would also work best with improved provision of disabled parking spaces and commercial loading bays.

International experience demonstrates that these types of projects are successful and will help us not just reach our climate targets but also make Dublin much more like other European cities – a safer, calmer, nicer city to live, work, play in and to visit. 

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

A city that is more walkable, accessible and safer to cycle is good for people, businesses and the planet. There has never been more funding for walking and cycling and more staff in the Active Travel office so we are starting to see real changes here. The plans are in place, the funding is available, we just need to make sure that these plans are delivered with high quality infrastructure and at pace.

Big projects like the pedestrianisation of College Green, Parliament Street and South William Street (projects I have been pushing for years with some success) will really help to transform the city centre in a positive way. The proposed new cycling network will provide safe, low carbon alternatives for those who can walk and cycle for work or pleasure. This will help to reduce congestion, make our streets calmer and improve our air quality.

We have to tackle bike theft as that is a barrier to people investing in decent bikes so more safe secure storage like Drury Street car park is key and bike theft to be taken as seriously as car theft. I think Bike Bunkers are also really important. I secured funding for the pilot a number of years ago but we need to roll them out across the city urgently.

We also need to make it safer for kids and parents to walk, scoot or cycle to school as about 40% of our peak traffic are people driving to schools less than 1km away.  Calmer streets and roads are also critical. I fully support making roads safer with lower speed limits, with a move to 30km/h zones as a default in towns, to protect motorists, pedestrians, cyclists, and reduce crashes. I will 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.

We need safer crossing points and the prioritisation of pedestrians at key junctions safer crossing points and more zebra crossings at minor junctions. The Green Party have worked to secure a reduction in the cost of installing such crossings and €3m in funding this year 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 also to fix our footpaths properly. We are currently spending more money on trip claims than we do on improving footpaths. I have been pushing for a better system to stop utility companies just dumping tarmac down after their works as a short term fix which is current practice.  This needs to change so we can invest in footpaths that are safe for everyone.

This work is and will be politically difficult - it will need the backing of dedicated councillors who strongly believe in the cycling and walking agenda. But the cities that are thriving across Europe and the rest of the world are the ones that are making these changes. The same can happen here and I believe it will ultimately be a great thing for Dublin making it calmer, cleaner and climate resilient. 

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

The rise of hateful, xenophobic and homophobic politics is a very unwelcome development here and is really concerning. It’s a go-nowhere ideology, based on constructed grievances and intolerance, largely imported from other countries. I believe Ireland is better than this. It’s not my worldview, nor that of my party, and I will always stand up for a welcoming, inclusive, and kind Dublin.

Politicians should not indulge in these kind of politics, but rather stand clearly against them. We need to tackle the issues leading to the fears and subsequent hatred and challenge false and divisive narratives.

While our formal powers over these areas are limited, councillors can use our platforms to speak up against them.  We need greater cooperation and support between Councils and civil society groups working with minorities. I will ensure that all Local Authority Integration Teams (LAITs) are fully staffed and can help to welcome new arrivals into our communities, including extra resourcing in areas with large numbers of Ukrainians and International Protection applicants. Where integration strategies are in place, they have worked really well, and we need to continue to support and invest in that. I will ensure that the council has a has a local migrant integration strategy, including the use 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.

Getting out and voting for candidates who will place inclusion, integration, equality, compassion, humanity and democracy at the heart of the city’s policies is really important in these elections.