Fiona Connelly

Labour Party candidate for Kimmage-Rathmines

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

Housing cannot simultaneously be a commodity and a human right. Fundamentally, the current approach, which is to leave it to the private sector alone, isn’t working. It has never worked before, and it can’t work now. Stopping that trend requires a change in national government, but it requires Dublin City Council to step up too.

There is a fundamental problem with public land being partially privatised and used for developers. I have been really encouraged by some of the recent comments of the new CEO of DCC, Richard Shakespeare, who has indicated his desire to see delivery of more council homes. I will be voting and advocating in a way to support that call because housing is the single most frequent issue raised with me. It also has consequences for everything: access to childcare and school places, public health, urban sprawl, access to the jobs market, and our mental health.

However, with the housing crisis as bad as it is, we also cannot allow striving for perfection to allow deals to fall through which mean no one gets housed. Labour councillors put in the work to get concessions when we see these sorts of suboptimal offers on the table. For example, we can secure agreements prohibiting the selling on of a new development to an investor, we can stipulate that a higher proportion of social and affordable homes are built than is provided for in law. Sometimes nuance can get lost in the news coverage of these negotiations. However, voters deserve representatives who will push for more public housing on public land, in the first instance; but where that argument has been lost (for example, where a majority of other parties’ voters have voted to sell off land), Dubliners deserve representatives who will exhaust every avenue to ensure this city gets the best deal possible under those circumstances. I am proud to be running for a Party that will always do that.

Locally, there is also important work underway on the Gulistan site in Rathmines. The council had wanted to sell it off to a private developer but we just could not allow it to be sold off. I am glad to be building on some of the brilliant work of my predecessor, Mary Freehill, to ensure that the site serves the community. While negotiations for an HSE land swap means we won’t simply see this land disposed of, we are not yet at a point where the full complement of a primary-care centre, affordable housing, and community spaces have been delivered. We now have a working group in place and there is a real opportunity for this valuable land to provide new primary care services and housing. I want to continue to build on what Mary Freehill achieved to see the project progress sooner, rather than later. It takes graft and persistence.

Stronger local government is needed. When we see those countries who are good at delivering homes – I am thinking of Germany and Austria as examples – they are places with strong local government. I think all councillors are united in making the call for more powers. However, with more powers come more responsibilities. I find it frustrating that some councillors will use one of the most important powers we have, setting the annual local property tax, to diminish our budget. That has a knock on consequence for parks and street cleaning, but also for housing. More and more people of my generation are finding that we lack the security of owning a home. That is something our parents had, and it is a presumption on which so much is based in Ireland, from the social protection system to the weakness of protections for renters.

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

When it comes to social housing, the answers are clear: we need to see more renovation and refurbishment, without unnecessary disruption of tenants. It is a longstanding issue that we see commitments to do works on social housing, only for there to be long delays. That is just not fair on Dublin City Council tenants who are living with subsidence, mould and other issues. Locally, in conjunction with Ivana Bacik TD, I have become used to getting holding responses when following up on promised and planned works to renovate. Those are debates for the council chamber and I will continue to follow those up.

Upkeep when it comes to individual homes – whether they house HAP or RAS tenants, or someone who is wholly in the private rented sector – can be a less visible issue. Yet, it is still the job of Dublin City Council to ensure that they are kept in reasonable condition. We know that often tenants do not want to make a complaint to the Residential Tenancies Board because they fear reprisal in the form of an eviction notice. That is why a proactive council is so important. There needs to be more inspections but also more enforcement. Figures we obtained in Labour show that in the first three quarters of 2023, Dublin City Council completed 5,449 inspections. Of that number, we saw 2,365 improvement letters issued, but only two prohibition notices served. Ensuring that DCC is chasing up landlords who flout the rules is the very least that renters should be able to expect. In Britain, following the death of a child whose home was left to fall into disrepair, we saw the passage of ‘Awaab’s Law’, which allows all renters in any form of social housing to take legal action for a breach of contract if housing standards fall below a minimum level. With the massive reliance on private landlords through HAP now, that is perhaps something that we should look at introducing here. Clearly enforcement by both DCC and the RTB is too weak.

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

Undoubtedly, there are regular litterers disrupting the streetscape in Dublin. However, the privatisation of waste collection services and urban wildlife like foxes and seagulls undoubtedly also have exacerbated those issues. In fairness, council staff work hard to clean up the streets, but the problem is really pervasive and seems to have become worse, notwithstanding the great contribution of tidy towns organisations and groups like the Friends of the Grand Canal. I would like to see Dublin City Council examine how commercial waste is collected. Working with businesses, I believe that we can find another way of managing waste, which does not involve plastic bags being left outside for hours, only to be pulled apart by foxes and birds. In other jurisdictions, I am aware of systems where all businesses in a particular area would use the same, large containers for collecting waste. Whatever the solution, it needs to be workable so including businessowners is key. Ultimately, they stand to benefit from the areas around their business becoming cleaner and tidier.

For litterers, the solution has to lie in better enforcement and more roles appointed, such as park wardens. In the Oireachtas, the Labour Party – and Labour Senator Mark Wall, in particular – did great work in seeing legislation passed to allow for local authorities to better use CCTV footage to identify those repeat offenders when it comes to fly tipping, littering and dumping, and to facilitate prosecution, where appropriate. It is unfortunate but a small number of people can spoil our neighbourhoods for us all. Across the country, we estimate that local authorities are wasting an average of €90 million per year on clean ups. Aside from being an insult to tidy towns and community leaders who work so hard to preserve the environment, there are so many better ways that money could be spent on proactive initiatives. I am thinking of new cycle lanes, creation of more community spaces and events, housing, etc.

In terms of bin collection, Labour has long supported Dublin City Council taking back control. The current state of affairs is causing real issues for residents and I regularly hear complaints about this. Remunicipalising collection of waste is something which should receive attention. That role should never have been removed from the Council and we see now how many complexities are associated with bringing it back. I understand that doing so may require legislation from the Oireachtas to avoid legal challenge by existing private operators. It is a real shame but Dublin city councillors need to take a lead in keeping this on the agenda. That is something I will continue to prioritise.

What would you do to help tackle vacancy and dereliction?

Labour has been working really hard on tackling vacancy and dereliction, in particular of residential buildings. Government policy on vacancy and dereliction is clearly not working; the evidence is plain to see around Dublin. My postman has told me of the 100s of empty buildings he passes on his shift – that is only a snapshot of the true scale of the problem. In my ward, ironically, there are buildings covered in cladding for as long as I can remember beside the Construction Industry Federation.

Vacancy and dereliction not only provide communities of much needed housing, they also exacerbate antisocial behaviour and make our streets less safe. It is a lot more expensive and arduous to bring a building back into use after it has fallen into dereliction, rather than just keeping it in use. So, it is worth spending a bit of money to save money too. Despite there no longer being staffing shortages of vacancy officers in Dublin City Council, clearly things are not working. Lots needs to be done at a national level, such as increasing the vacant homes tax and resourcing local authorities. But there is work we can do on Dublin City Council too.

One power that Dublin City Council has is its compulsory purchase powers. I would like to see those used more. Although the process is long, it has the dual benefit of reducing vacancy and increasing our stock of public land to deliver on things like public housing and green spaces.

Moreover, Dublin city councillors need to offer local leadership to use the mechanisms which are already in place. There are fewer than 200 units currently on Dublin City Council’s vacant and derelict sites registers for the entire Dublin City Council area – that is a fiction, clearly. So, why don’t we use what’s already in existence to change that? In 2023, I hosted a public meeting on the topic of vacancy and dereliction, alongside Ivana Bacik TD and Cllr Dermot Lacey.

In addition to discussing what policy changes are needed, we used that meeting to establish a local campaign, whereby we leveraged the enormous local knowledge out there to add sites to the vacancy and dereliction registers. Everybody knows the empty sites within their own areas. Thus, we reached out to different neighbourhoods, extending an invitation to them to submit to us those empty buildings. We then collated those results and started submitting them to the council. Small actions like this empowers Dubliners to feel like they are making a change, and it also delivers the tangible result of bringing that vacancy to the attention of the council so that it can see those sites brought back into use.

Finally, there needs to be a fightback by councillors against the cutting of funds for conversion of vacant and derelict sites by the Department of Housing. We know that construction costs have gone up. Yet, often when new funding is announced by the Minister, it is a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Last year, the finance committee learned that the department of Housing had, once again, cut funding for those projects. The department used to fund the council’s conversion of these ‘voids’ to the tune of 65% of the total cost. That dropped down to 25%, and then to 20% last year. The end result of that is that the council will refurbish fewer sites than it did before – at a time when the housing crisis is getting worse. Dublin city councillors need to fight back against this – I want to continue to be a part of that fight.

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

I have already spoken about the need for better transport infrastructure and for the need to end the scourge of dereliction – both of those can play a huge role in improving safety and people’s perception of safety.

However, there is also the elephant in the room which is policing. No one wants to see Dublin overpoliced. However, the presence of community gardaí can vastly improve matters. I am inundated with queries about crime from all around my area – people having bicycles stolen from their front gardens, problems with violence and intimidation in public parks. One of the really important fora we have as Councillors to feed in localised spikes in criminal activities is the Joint Policing Committee (run by Dublin City Council), where public representatives can meet with local Garda representatives.

Unfortunately, there have been moved by the Department of Justice to get rid of these meetings, replacing them with a much broader ‘community safety partnership’ system. These would include just seven councillors. This cannot go ahead; we cannot see more power taken away from Councillors, who are democratically elected to represent their areas and the people living in them. There’s no doubt that there may be more efficient ways to run things but local democracy is vital, and Councillors must retain a strong voice so that we can convey the needs of our constituents to the powers that be.

Another thing that I have been working on is a safety audit of my local electoral area. Again, my approach to representing people involves engaging with them, finding out what is causing problems, and then elevating those issues so we can find solutions. People are very forthcoming with their concerns and ideas. Some of that work has manifested in the form of a motion submitted by Labour Councillors on Dublin City Council in February. Focusing on violence against women, it involves a raft of measures to improve safety in the City and, vitally, to support those people who have been targeted or victimised. The motion includes:  

  • Incorporating safety needs in public realm enhancement and the installation of new infrastructure and housing.
  • Incorporating safety of women and others into budgetary decisions on things like public lighting, transport and emergency accommodation.
  • Putting an end to harmful advertising which might perpetuate a culture of violence, particularly against women.
  • Organising educational programmes in our libraries and community buildings.
  • Using JPCs to promote direct and uninterrupted access to specialised, secure and comprehensive support services for victims of gender-based violence, including domestic and sexual violence.
  • Providing sensitivity training to Council staff working in homeless services, first responder services, and in housing management, so that they are equipped to support people through domestic violence situations, female genital mutilation, etc.

  While safety in public remains of huge concern, the reality is that some of the worst violence in our community is suffered in the home. Dublin City Council has a strong role in the provision of refuge space for people fleeing domestic violence. These measures are clearly needed to protect people and I will continue to push for their implementation, now that our Labour motion, proposed by Cllr Alison Gilliland, has been passed.

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

The planning system for new public transport infrastructure can be very protracted. Dublin City Council needs to ensure that communities feel listened to but should also avoid undue delay as well. As a councillor, I would always ensure that Dublin City’s Development Plan would include initiatives that improve public transport infrastructure

Public transport operators should take their responsibility to local communities more seriously. There should be proper upkeep of transport shelters, and they must be accessible for disabled people too. The Ccuncil has a role as well; new bus stops and cycle lanes should be ‘disability proofed’ at a planning stage to ensure that no one’s safety is put at risk, and to ensure that new bus stops and paths can be used by everyone. I would also like to see the Council more stringently insist that waiting stops for public transport should be covered, and should have more seating too. All those tweaks in the planning system would improve accessibility.

Also related to planning is the need for new commercial developments and larger housing developments to also have allocation for better public transport. When it comes to local opposition to some new projects, I think ensuring that those sorts of resources are added, which can be of benefit to everyone, would help to allay some of those concerns.

More generally, improving public transport in Dublin requires honesty and engagement by public representatives. Since joining the council, I have learned that getting projects to completion is aided by engaging with people at an early stage, but also by being truthful to residents about the nature of what is being proposed! As a councillor, keeping people up to date and taking their queries seriously is something that I have always and will continue to do.

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

Residents of Kimmage/Rathmines might have seen me around, cycling on my cargo bike – I do about 50km a week! So, I am all too aware of the need for safer cycling and walking infrastructure.

For cyclists, I favour creating more protected cycle paths, particularly near schools. I would also like to see existing cycle lanes maintained. When the surface falls into disrepair, it can force people to cycle out onto the road, or can cause dangerous falls. Similarly, maintenance of paths is an issue for pedestrians. Potholes and cracks are trip hazards, and the safety risks are even more for people with visual impairments, wheelchair users, those pushing buggies, and so on. I am aware also that overhanging branches and street clutter create risks for those more vulnerable road users too.

When it comes to improving life for pedestrians, I would also like to see more benches and seating areas in Dublin. It seems simple but, often, there is no way to sit down in public without spending money in a private business. We all need to support local cafes and restaurants, but that lack of public seating is patently unfair on older people, disabled people, and people with children.

The Labour Party is very proud of the role of former Lord Mayor Andrew Montague in delivering the Dublin Bikes scheme. Currently, there are no bicycle stations within my area of Kimmage-Rathmines. We have long called for expansion of the scheme, which has been so successful despite the naysayers at the time. Of course, in particular, I would love to see those stations installed in Kimmage-Rathmines!

When installing new cycling infrastructure, we need our more continuous and segregated bike lines for safety, for contra-flow cycle lanes, and for secure cycle stands in our urban villages and near schools.

As a councillor, I have also made countless representations to Dublin City Council and the Gardaí on the need to enforce traffic laws. Often, some of the biggest risks to us all is unsafe driver behaviour which is already prohibited, it’s just that the rules aren’t enforced. Aside from creating more infrastructure like cycle lanes, and supporting new pedestrianisation projects, we need to see the rules and regulations which are already in place prioritised too! There can be no flouting of road traffic laws, especially when we have seen such a tragic increase in fatalities on our roads this year.

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 the far right is really concerning. I joined the Labour Party because of the party’s strong commitment to equality for everyone, regardless of birthplace, sexual orientation, gender, skin colour, or class. The diversity of Irish society is one of our strengths. Yet, there is no doubt that a minority of fringe extremists are trying to exploit people’s anxieties, or to exploit societal problems to make scapegoats of minorities.

On welcoming immigrants, I have been horrified at the recent spate of attacks on migrants, and on buildings rumoured to be earmarked for refugee accommodation. Of course, none of us can forget the horrendous destruction of public property during the riots on 23 November. The scale of the cleanup the following morning by Dublin City Council workers was so impressive, but it shouldn’t have been necessary. It’s so important that we provide shelter to those who come here seeking refuge. As a nation of emigrants, those are our values as Irish people. There isn’t an Irish family in the country without.