Michael Pidgeon

Green Party candidate for South West Inner City

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

The housing shortage is the number one issue facing the city - it wrecks lives, forces people out of Dublin, and has knock-on negative effects across every area of city life.

The first and most simple thing I would do as a councillor is not block or oppose new housing applications unless there are major issues. I’ve seen over the past five years that the main power a councillor has is to stop something - it’s much harder to get things going.

So I work from a presumption that new housing plans are good and may need improvement - rather than something to be instinctively opposed to. This may sound obvious or basic, but I am constantly amazed at how many elected officials oppose even reasonable housing plans. I won’t do that - I’ll seek to improve plans rather than stop them.

I would also:

  • Increase resources to the council team who tax and purchase vacant/derelict homes, to bring them back into housing or community use.
  • Push the council to develop more social and public housing on public lands, and support the Land Development Agency and approved housing bodies to develop that out too. Social housing is not only a good thing in itself, but can also prevent gentrification in areas as they grow denser.
  • Work to 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.
  • Support more cost rental housing, where the rent you pay is based on the development cost. This is self-financing, but offers cheaper, secure homes.
  • 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?

I would definitely aim to send more staffing resources to the council’s private rental inspection team, to ensure that minimum standards are being upheld.

But I know from dealing with many cases on this front, many tenants are nervous about reporting problems. That’s because at the core of poor housing conditions is a power imbalance - due to such an acute huge housing shortage, landlords have huge power over tenants. Much like a big employer in a small town, people often have nowhere else to go. This reduces standards and makes it far less likely that tenants can vindicate their rights through legal means, as they may understandably fear eviction.

If we increase the amount of new housing, we weaken the landlord’s power in favour of tenants, which will have a positive impact. The same logic applies to building new cost rental, affordable and social housing: this will raise standards elsewhere too, as tenants will have better alternative options.

At a council level, I would work to:

  • Support regenerations and renovations to improve conditions in our inner-city flat complexes. This is already working well in Dolphin’s Barn, but we need to push for similar schemes in Oliver Bond, Tyrone Place, Basin Lane etc. From what I’ve seen, this takes long-term, consistent pressure from councillors to get it on the agenda and ensure it is done with respect to existing tenants.
  • Increase the direct labour and apprenticeships undertaken in Dublin City Council to renovate, fix and upgrade social housing.
  • Push nationally to maintain the recently increased resources to upgrade the insulation and energy efficiency of social housing.
  • Continue with the tenant-in-situ scheme, where the council purchases homes from private landlords where the tenant is at risk of eviction. I have worked on several cases where this has worked and it has changed people’s lives for the better.

I also think that improving conditions in housing can be done by creating better wider civic facilities, such as parks and playgrounds. Developing new playing pitches at Marrowbone Lane and Teresa’s Gardens would be major political priorities for me locally. We saw during COVID how important they are to city living, and are vital for families to have shared green space, especially if living in apartments or spaces without gardens.

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

Last year, we successfully pushed for an increase in street cleaning staff for the city centre. Once that comes on stream, it should make a big difference - I think we’ll need to continue that staff expansion into the more suburban parts of the city.

We also 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 in practice its impacts have been sadly limited. We just need to pay for more staff and keep cleaning. I consistently spoke against attempts to cut local property tax - funding street cleaning is a big reason why.

Beyond that, I would:

  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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 a housing crisis, there is nothing more galling than a vacant or derelict site in a city. I have reported several such sites to the council - several sites were put on a register and subject to tax or compulsory purchase, which eventually got them developed for housing.

When that system works, it’s brilliant and effective. But it is clear that the council’s team who work on it are underpowered and under-resourced. I would push for greater staffing in the Vacant and Derelict Sites Unit, and seek a more legally aggressive approach to such sites.

As a matter of policy or morality, it is not acceptable to have vacant or derelict sites in our city: we have laws in place to deal with it, and we should put council staff resources behind it.

Separate to that, I would also seek that we vary the city’s development plan to allow for more flexibility in turning unused commercial buildings for housing. Inflexible planning standards are making much of this work non-viable, so we need to provide more wriggle room, while maintaining necessary rules for fire safety and quality of life.

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.

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

In the short run, it’s an on-street police presence. Councillors don’t have direct powers over the police, but we can highlight areas where more resources are needed and consistently advocate for a greater, visible presence.

Policing alone can’t solve the city’s safety problems, however. Some of the most effective work I’ve seen in Dublin is in the community youth diversion projects, which work with people from an early age to provide them stability that they might not otherwise get at home. They provide activities, guidance, social outlets and daily ensure that young people’s lives aren’t lost to chaotic behaviour and crime. I would always ensure that council budgets and work plans support this work - much of which goes unseen.

Dublin also simply needs to be a nicer place to be - 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 was the only local councillor to put in a supportive planning observation for the planned supervised injection centre in Merchant’s Quay - and I’m hopeful we can get finally it running in 2024. I know the issue is controversial, but I strongly support anything that will take addiction off our streets and into a medical environment, where people can be supported out of addiction, rather than just left to inject and overdose on the streets.

Finally, I am really concerned by the rise in xenophobic, racist, hate-filled politics in recent years. This is making the city feel hostile - and understandably migrants, people of colour and the LGBTQ+ community in Dublin feel unsafe. If elected, I’ll use my platform to stand up for a Dublin that is proudly international, welcoming, inclusive and kind. Division, hate and nastiness get us nowhere.

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

The Greens nationally have made public transport a priority. Government funding is flowing for major projects like BusConnects and the Metro, both of which will be game changers for the city. Public transport use grew by 25% last year alone, which shows the value of investment.

Councillors 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 and give buses and the Luas more priority at junctions. It isn’t right that a bus with 60 people is stuck in traffic behind a car with just one person.

That’s why projects like the recently announced City Centre Transport Plan are so important. The Greens strongly back it because it gives people and buses priority in our core city centre - not just more car sprawl. A big issue is the reliability and predictability of buses. In practice, this is often down to buses being caught in traffic, which is why we need to give them their own priority lanes.

I’ve seen how politically difficult it is to take road space away from cars for bus or bike lanes, but I am firmly determined to see it done. If we want more road space for public transport, walking and cycling, we need to elect councillors who will stand up to extreme pressure from the motoring lobby.

I would also 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.

And while it’s not a local government power, I would push to expand the number of 24 hour bus routes (currently ten routes) and advocate for a system where you can pay your fare with a phone or bank card, as elsewhere.

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

Three things: infrastructure, speed limits, and timing.

For infrastructure, I would aim to rapidly roll out zebra crossings at minor junctions across the city. New national rules allow us to do that in a quick, cheap way, and the city council should be jumping at the opportunity to make life safer and easier for pedestrians. That, combined with improved and widened footpaths would really improve things for pedestrians - particularly those who need extra time or space.

The council have recently gone from having just one or two cycling infrastructure staff to over 30. We need to follow through on their work and build a proper network of segregated cycling infrastructure - not just small bits of unconnected lanes. 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.

On top of that infrastructure, we should also roll out bike bunkers for terraced housing, more safe bike parking in town (as on Drury Street), and try to expand the areas covered by Dublin Bikes and stationless bikes.

Benches are also key to ensure that people who are walking can get a rest - I am really surprised how much pressure there is to remove public seating, but I think it’s absolutely necessary for the city.

For speed limits, we had a really disappointing vote in the current council, which rejected plans to reduce most speed limits in Dublin City to 30kph. I would like to revive that plan, fix any problems, and rebuild a political majority in favour of safer, slower car traffic. I would also like to see it enforced by cameras and Gardaí.

Finally, timing. Many of the lights in our junctions at busy periods heavily prioritise cars - at the expense of people walking. Look at the corner of Dame Street and George’s St, or the pedestrian crossings at O’Connell Street Bridge. You will see hundreds of 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.

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 hateful, xenophobic and homophobic politics is really unwelcome development. It’s a go-nowhere ideology, based on imagined grievances and intolerance. It’s not my worldview, nor that of my party, so I will always stand up for a welcoming, inclusive, and kind Dublin.

Politicians should not indulge these kind of politics and stand clearly against them. And, while our formal powers over these areas are limited, councillors can use our platforms to speak up against them. I had a unanimously agreed motion last year about protecting city library staff from homophobic attacks and attempts to destroy LGBTQ+ books - something which we have sadly seen across the country.

We’ve also seen real unity across all parties and none after the Dublin riots on the council, which was very positive and constructive. Similarly, Dubliners have worked together really well in groups like “Inchicore for All”, which has taken practical steps to welcome migrants and people seeking asylum into our communities.

Along with housing, the rise of hateful politics is one of the most worrying challenges facing our city: we should elect people who stand against hate, rather than those who would accommodate or promote it.