Update from Wicklow Council Meeting 4th September 2023
Three significant items dominated this month’s Council meeting and resulted in significant debate and discussions, they were ‘Disposal Notices’ for two sites at Baltinglass and Dunlavin, and a presentation from Wicklow Comhairle na nÓg on their work to date and their recent report on ‘Youth attitudes towards drugs’.
As always, I will attempt to give an overview of the discussions. I will outline the facts and indicated as clearly as possible where I am expressing a view. The disposal notice discussions were challenging, with differing opinions and heated exchanges. I respect that the elected officials are individuals and that we have different views, I also respect the fact that in my role to date I have never been instructed by my party to vote in a particular way and that I have been allowed to express my own views.
As part of the Country’s humanitarian response to the Ukrainian Crisis, the Government is rolling out Rapid Build Housing, also know as modular homes to provide short term accommodation to 2,800 Ukrainians, in four-person family units, at several sites across Ireland. Two sites identified by Wicklow County Council were in Baltinglass and Dunlavin.
· Baltinglass would see 38 modular homes, to house 152 people fleeing from war.
· Dunlavin would see 30 modular homes, to house 120 people fleeing from war.
Both sites were proposed to have roads, footpaths, street lighting, community facilities, including green spaces, fully in line with national guidance. They would be developed to be energy efficient and durable, and sites would be developed in a way that would enhance the local area. The management and maintenance of sites and homes would also be included.
As part of any new location, the Department of Education would plan for extra school places needed and alternative arrangements would be made to bring children living in these homes to schools close by where the school in the area is at capacity. In addition to the Department of Health along with the HSE would plan for additional health services requirements.
It was planned that these modular homes would be available in 2024.
Those fleeing the war in Ukrainian are not permitted to applying to go on the Councils social housing list. Sites identified must not be part of the Council’s currently building plan for those already on the housing waiting list. A site in Rathdrum was initially considered but as it then formed part of the Councils plan for housing for those on the waiting list, it was removed from being considered.
A Disposal Notice is a process where the Council presents to the Councillors a proposal where it relates to Council owned land. The Councillors have control over land that is proposed to be sold or leased for any significant period of time, as such it is up to the Councillors to vote for or against any ‘Disposal Notice’. On Monday two disposal notices, one for the site in Baltinglass and one for the site in Dunlavin were presented to the Councillors for consideration.
These items were discussed for a significant proportion of the Council meeting, nearly all Councillors in attendance spoke on the matter, some on more than one occasion. The matter had been brought before the Baltinglass Municipal District Councillors previously which would be normal practice.
Issues raised at the meeting included.
Some Councillors raised concern that the site identified in Baltinglass had be earmarked for a basketball court and as such providing such homes would mean that this community facility could not go ahead. The Chief Executive advised that this site was not listed in the recent development plan for a basketball court but was listed as industrial, however this did include such a facility. Additional she advised that the development of a basketball court was not part of the current capital programme however she was agreeable to putting it on the capital programme for the future.
Concern was raised by some Councillors that the process of choosing the site was not fit for purpose and that other sites were not considered. Some Councillors stated that due to this they would not support the disposal notice.
Some Councillors stated that there was a lack of facilities in Dunlavin to support additional people coming to the area and that as such they would not support the disposal notice. They stated that none of the local services ad been contacted to date about additional supports that would be needed.
Some Councillors stated that the accommodation should be for Irish people and Ukrainians, some stated that it should be for Irish only.
Some Councillors stated that the proposals were an emergency response to an emergency situation and as such that would be supporting the disposals fully.
Some Councillors disagreed with those objecting stating that the arguments for a lack of facilities in Dunlavin were not valid as voting against supporting those fleeing from war would not change any lack of facilities, and as such saw both issues as separate items.
Some Councillors stated that objecting to the disposals as there was a feeling of a lack of consultation was unfair to those who would benefit from such accommodation.
Some Councillors felt that the proposals were not ideal, however felt that there would be no site in the County that would be ideal and that in their view proposals to put people up in tents at Electric Picnic was inhumane and that any alternative would be a more humanitarian approach.
I voted in favour of both disposal notices. My career to date has been in housing and I continue to work in the sector. I have seen first hand the importance of having a safe place to lie your head at night. The housing crisis in Ireland is significant and I spend every day working to try and play my part in addressing it, however these homes are coming in as an emergency initiative and are not impacting on our Counties programme of housing. I, like others have worked closely with those fleeing war. The impact of trauma of these individuals and families will stay with them for many years to come, supporting the disposal notices is in my view recognising this and supporting the need for these families to have a safe place. The disposal notices were for 3 years only, any future extension would have to come back to the chamber for consideration, none of us know where things will be in three years’ time. Planning, securing funding and development of a basketball court in Baltinglass could take at least 2 years to be completed and the Chief Executive has already provided a commitment on this matter. The necessary supports for the families going into these homes would be put in place, such provisions are not yet there as the proposals are at an initial stage however I have seen the funding and supports put in place elsewhere and am confident that they would come to fruition. A lack of discussions with local services at this very initial stage is not an indication that supports would not come in, rather a practical approach as having such discussions before a Disposal Notice has passed would be assuming that it would be approved and as such inappropriate.
At a vote at the Council Chamber on Monday both proposals were rejected.
For the disposal notice – 9 votes
Against the disposal notice – 19 votes
Abstain (present but did not vote) – 0 votes.
Absent (not in the Chamber at time of voting) – 4 Councillors
For the disposal notice – 12 votes
Against the disposal notice – 15 votes
Abstain (present but did not vote) – 0 votes.
Absent (not in the Chamber at time of voting) – 5 Councillors
So, what happens next? These sites have now been rejected and will not come before the Councillors again. The Local Authority may identify alternative sites, but it is not yet known if this will happen.
Wicklow Comhairle na nÓg
The Councillors received a presentation from Comhairle na nÓg on their work to date and their recent report on ‘Youth attitudes towards drugs’. It was refreshing to hear from the Comhairle members on their work, how they involve young people and how they ensure that the youth voice in the County is heard.
Comhairle na nÓg have a representative on one of our Strategic Policy Committee (SPC), Climate and Biodiversity SPC and there were calls for more young people to sit on other SPC’s.
Their recent work on young people’s attitudes to drugs were really interesting and many Councillors in the Chamber highlighted its importance and how it challenged some of their preconceptions of what young people think, again highlighting the importance of hearing the youth voice.
Some of the results in the report were.
70% of young people agree/strongly agree that vaping should be including in drugs awareness and education programmes.
41% agree and 23% strongly agree that money spent of drugs education is money will spent.
38% agree that a young person could get their hands on drugs in County Wicklow within a 24hr period.
50% of young people believe that drug debt is an issue in County Wicklow
47% agree and 23% strongly agree that drugs education in schools should start in Primary Schools
I really appreciate the members of Comhairle not only carrying out this piece of work but also those who participated and who were so honest in their responses. Some of the results are difficult to read but its important that we do. In particular in my work, I have seen the impact of drug intimidation and addiction. These issues are becoming very real regardless of a person’s background, upbringing, area you live in or whether you are considered as succeeding in life or not. All too often shame, and embarrassment is preventing people and families from speaking out and seeking help and support. I will be sharing the Comhairle report with anyone I can and hope that its findings are taken on board. If you would like a copy, please do get in touch.
This report provides highlights of the September Council meeting but is not a full record of all issues discussed. If you require any additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me and I’ll be happy to help.