Ray Cunningham

Green Party candidate for Ballyfermot-Drimnagh

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

The shortage of housing is something I see every day when I call to people’s houses - adults living with their parents into their twenties and thirties, sometimes with their own kids, or in precarious rented housing. People feel like their lives are on hold, that they can’t move forward with anything until they have the security of their own place, where they know they won’t be evicted because their landlord wants to sell. And the shortage of housing means people are forced to pay huge amounts in rent, so even with good jobs they can’t save for their own places.

Cost rental housing - where the rent is below the private market rate, and you have security of tenure - is an important part of the solution. It makes housing affordable for people who earn too much for social housing. We just started building cost-rental in the last few years, and every development is heavily oversubscribed.

We need to build a lot more, so everyone has a cheaper, more secure alternative to the private rental market. It makes much more sense than subsidising private landlords with HAP, or giving grants to developers or buyers to make private purchases cheaper. If we are paying for housing, we should own what we’re paying for.

There’s a bottleneck at the moment in building homes like this, because most public housing is being built and managed through non-profit housing associations and AHBs, rather than directly by the council. On the whole, they are doing a good job, but they have to borrow money to build, and many associations can’t take on any more debt. The state should provide direct funding to allow them to build.

We have to build a lot more, but we have to make sure that we build in the right places, and provide the amenities to support this new housing. All around the country we can see housing built far from shops and schools, so people are completely dependent on cars in their daily life. In Dublin, we should be building close to good public transport links, like the Luas, Metrolink, or bus corridors. But we have to build the support systems for this housing at the same time, rather than trying to add it later.

At the moment, Dublin City Council and South Dublin County Council are planning the City Edge project, tens of thousands of homes to be built around the Long Mile Road and Kylemore Road on former industrial estates. This could be a great project, on the Luas and near the proposed Kylemore Road DART+ South West station.

So far, the planners are making all the right noises about providing shopping centres and parks and other facilities in the development. As councillors, we will have to make sure that these are all ready when people move in, so people can build a community where they live, not just a roof over their heads.

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

One of the big successes in improving conditions in social housing has been retrofitting. Thousands of Dublin homes have had external insulation fitted, or other energy improvements, making the houses warmer and healthier and cheaper to heat, but there are still thousands more to go. We have to make sure this funding continues, and prioritise the homes in most need of work.

(New social housing is built to a high energy standard, the energy efficiency is built in)

In the private sector, the core problem is the shortage of housing. Landlords can get away with all sorts of bad behaviour, overcharging for substandard accommodation, looking for payments in cash, because people are worried that if they complain, they will get evicted. Even if you know your landlord is breaking the law, what do you do if you have nowhere else to go?

We can fund more housing inspections and enforcement, and support organisations like Threshold who do great work helping renters, but the most important thing we can do is provide better alternatives. The private sector isn’t going to build enough housing to solve this problem, they won’t build enough to lower prices. But the council, directly or through housing bodies, can build affordable and secure housing in the numbers we need to make a difference.

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

This comes up a lot, and the crazy thing is that almost everybody who mentions dog poo is apologetic about it, they’ll say “I know you probably have more important things to worry about, but could you do something about all the dog poo?”

But clean streets are a basic thing to get right. If you live on a street with trees, that are clean, that are well-maintained, you’ll feel good about where you live. If you walk down the road and you are dodging dog poo and litter, you’ll think nobody - not your neighbours, not the council - has any respect for the area.

The primary responsibility for dog poo is with dog owners. If you have a dog, you clean up after it, that’s your job. But one reason why people don’t bother, or they drop litter on the street, is that they see the street is already dirty. If the path is already a mess, one more bit won’t make a difference, if it is clean, people are more likely to keep it clean. And that is up to the council - provide more bins, sweep the streets more often, clean up illegal dumping quickly. I’m in a litter-pick group in Walkinstown, and we do as much as we can to keep the place clean, but volunteer groups like ours should be an added extra, the council has to do most of the work.

One of the factors feeding into the litter problem is the privatization of the bin services. The council is taking litter bins off the streets, instead of adding more, because some people use them for their household rubbish. All that happens, though, is that people dump their rubbish somewhere else - in laneways or even into other people’s gardens. A single bin service, that everyone is signed up to, would help solve this. It would also stop the waste of having multiple bin companies that each have to have their own trucks and drive down the same streets to collect rubbish from different houses.

Most councillors agree that the council has to take back control of bin collections, and there was a committee in the outgoing council that looked at how to do this. Unfortunately, the legal situation is that we need national legislation to allow the council to either run the bin service itself, or contract with a single company to do all of Dublin.

What would you do to help tackle vacancy and dereliction?

It’s enormously frustrating to see buildings sitting vacant, and falling into dereliction. There are people desperate for homes, while houses lie empty all around us. When businesses are empty, they drag down the whole area - an empty shopfront means that a service isn’t being provided. People have to travel to get something they should be able to get locally.

We can do our best to tackle vacancy and dereliction by chasing down individual properties, but it takes a long time to track down the owner of a vacant house and get them to bring it back on the market. The council also doesn’t have the money to put in compulsory purchase orders on hundreds of empty properties, renovate them, and manage them or sell them. We have to make it expensive to sit on sites, so that owners will either bring them back into use or sell them to someone who can.

This is only fair. A piece of land in the city is valuable because it is in the city - because it is connected to roads and public transport, surrounded by housing and amenities. That land should be used to provide something valuable to the community. You shouldn’t be able to profit by owning a vacant or derelict property and doing nothing with it. We should increase taxes on these properties - and enforce that taxation better - until they are brought back into use.

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

In the short term, we need more visible policing on the streets - and also on public transport. Garda numbers have not kept up with the population of Dublin. People don’t feel that there will be a garda there when they need them, or that they’ll come in time to a call, so they don’t feel safe.

That’s a necessary step in the short term, but the gardai can only deal with problems after they have happened. We can’t throw gardai at the situation and ignore the root causes.

We have a massive problem with drugs in the city, that is at the root of a lot of crime, and our drugs policy is obviously not working. There are kids growing up in parts of the city that don’t see any real opportunities in their lives, and turn to dealing or using drugs, or other anti-social behaviour, because they don’t feel they have anything to lose.

We have to provide more and better supports for kids and families to help them break out of that vicious cycle. We have to start treating drug use as a public health crisis, rather than something we can stamp out with enough policing.

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

If we’re going to get people to switch to using public transport more, it needs to be reliable, it needs to be fast, it needs to be right for the journeys people want to make, and it needs to be safe.

Ghost buses are a huge problem, they make people lose faith in the bus service completely. If a bus is cancelled, that’s a pain, but if a bus is cancelled but still shows up on the realtime sign so you spend ten minutes waiting for it in vain… that’s infuriating. The Transit app is useful, because it also gets information from passengers, so you have more certainty that the bus is actually coming. But Dublin Bus really need to sort themselves out - only show us real buses!

The reason why public transport can be slow is obvious - it gets stuck in traffic. So the solution is obvious too - get other traffic out of the way. The Dublin city transport plan should make a real difference here, making some streets in the core city centre bus-only. The planned BusConnects corridors include more bus lanes and bus gates which should speed up journey times - but we have to start enforcing bus priority effectively.

One of the good things we’ve already seen from BusConnects is that there are now ten bus routes in the city that are running 24 hours a day. That’s great for shift workers in particular. The 90 minute fare, allowing people to switch between bus, Luas, and DART also opens up a lot of journeys. There have been some issues with the changes to bus routes, in places like Chapelizod, so the NTA needs to be open to adding more services where required.

We already talked about improving safety in the city. A lot of people tell me that they feel much safer taking buses, where they can sit near a driver and know they are seen, than on the Luas. Again, there needs to be a more visible garda presence here and on the DART, whether that’s a dedicated unit or just including trams and trains in regular patrols.

These are things that we have to fix, because we have to make public transport work. It’s simply not possible to base transport policy around private cars, they take up too much room. We don’t have enough road space for everyone to drive into the city, let alone park there too, and that’s before we think about the dangers to pedestrians and the air pollution from traffic. Public and active transport is the future of the city.

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

This is an area where we’ve seen real progress in the last few years, because of a strong Green presence on Dublin city council, and a Green transport minister making funds available. There’s been a huge increase in the number and quality of cycle lanes in the last five years, we’ve pedestrianised Capel Street, and made lots of other improvements for walking in the city.

But there is a lot more to do. We have a lot more protected cycle lanes than before, but we were coming from a very bad starting point! We need a proper network of segregated cycle lanes through the city - lanes that you would be happy to let a 12-year old cycle on. They have to be segregated from both motor traffic and from pedestrians. People on bikes shouldn’t have to share space with trucks, and walkers shouldn’t have to share space with cyclists.

The speed limit in most of the city should be 30 km/h - and more importantly, that’s how our roads should be designed. There’s no point in putting up a 30 sign on a road that looks like a motorway. Safe traffic speeds need to be built in to the road.

We should also be putting zebra crossings on most of our minor junctions, in the city and in the suburbs. Push-button crossings are hugely expensive, and the council adds very few each year. Zebra crossings are much cheaper and easier to add, they should be on every side road.

A big worry people have about cycling into the city is that their bike will be stolen. The Drury Street bike park is excellent, we need lots more facilities like it, especially at train stations and other transport hubs. We have to make it easy to use bikes and public transport in the same journey.

I’m standing for election in Ballyfermot-Drimnagh, where there isn’t a Green councillor, and it really shows. I said above that there’d been a lot of new bike lanes added in the last few years - not around here. There are no Dublin Bikes stations, we’re outside the Bleeper area, and only a small part of the constituency is covered by Moby. There are a lot of people here who cycle and want safer routes, a lot of people who would cycle if they could, but nothing has been done for them.

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 think the first thing to say is that this hate is coming from a small number of people. They have gotten louder, and bolder, and more dangerous in recent years, but they are still a tiny minority. The gardai have been taking a hands-off approach to them, and it hasn’t worked. Instead they have become more violent and threatening.

Most people in Dublin remember our history of emigration, we all know people who went to England or America looking for a better life - and they were often young, single men. And most of us remember that when thousands of Irish people went to America in the 1980’s, they were illegal immigrants, overstaying student visas and working on false papers. And I think any of us old enough to remember when it was a crime to be gay recognise the same lines being used today to attack trans people.

I set up the Walkinstown For All group, and have been a supporter of Drimnagh For All and Inchicore For All since they formed. The Inchicore group is doing absolutely amazing work helping to welcome families into their community, setting up buddy systems, helping new arrivals find their way around the neighbourhood… it’s just brilliant. I think that kind of group is more representative of Dublin, and the work that they are doing is really important in integrating people. That’s how we win in the end, by bringing people together.