From top: Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe in Dublin’s North East Inner City last monthl to meet with local community leaders; Gary Gannon
If Enda Kenny is serious about confronting the challenges of Dublin’s Inner City then he should put an end to the falsity that the Inner City is an exceptional case.
Gary Gannon writes:
Just a little over two weeks ago the Taoiseach announced that €1.6 million would be invested into Dublin’s North Inner City as a consequence of the fact that in the months previous to this announcement, seven men had been killed on the streets of our nation’s capital in an increasingly violent feud between an international drug cartel and a local criminal outfit.
I should be happy.
The commitment of €1.6 million into a community that has throughout the last several decades witnessed considerable economic deprivation will undoubtedly have positive ramifications.
At least that’s the hope anyway but the recent history of the North Inner City has proven that this may not in fact be the case.
It is important to state that I do in no way doubt the earnest intent with which Enda Kenny has sought to implement this Inner City Taskforce.
I have personally attended three meetings with the Taoiseach on the subject and watched with great interest as a multitude of different community groups and interested parties detailed to him the many, primarily budgetary afflictions which have served to impede their work on a daily basis.
While the Taoiseach appeared more than willing to listen he seemed woefully ignorant to the fact that this is not the first time in recent history that the more dramatic manifestations of poverty in the Inner City have culminated in the State promising to readdress decades long indifference with the promise of a large pay-off for all those who had the confidence to pick up a microphone during the tumultuous periods.
The State appears to find a conscience in regards the affairs of the North Inner City once every decade and without question the greatest example of this can be found in the Gregory Deal of February 1982.
That many of the terms agreed between Charles Haughey and the late Independent TD Tony Gregory never actually materialised appear to have done little to hamper the fact that this special agreement for targeted financial investment into the Inner City area has long since furrowed its path into the annals of Irish political folklore.
It is less well documented but the most intense period of sustained investment into the community infrastructure of the Inner City was in the period after the murder of Veronica Guerin.
It was in 1996 that the fourth pillar of Social Partnership was added in the form of ‘The Community and Voluntary’ sector which may very well have been pushed into the North Inner City inside a large wooden horse.
It essentially resulted in the professionalising of community activism as a State response to the increasingly uncontrollable nature of communities who were self organising and mobilising against not only drug dealers but also against the apparatuses of State who were once again accused of neglecting the most marginalised.
The incorporation of the Community & Voluntary sector was an admission by the State that gang violence had gone beyond their control. The murder of a well respected journalist was a grotesque illustration that the violence was no longer confined to the flat complexes of the Inner City.
‘Tough on Crime, tough on the causes of crime’ was to become the mantra of Tony Blair’s New Labour which were swept into power in Britain in 1997 and this was not a markedly dissimilar approach to what was attempted here in the aftermath of this tragedy.
The Criminal Asset Bureau was established in the final year of the Rainbow Coalition but in the Inner City there also emerged a number of well intentioned community organisations that are still in existence today.
The Inner City Organisation’s Network (ICON), the North Inner City Drug’s Task Force and The Inner City Community Policing Forum are just some of the organisations that evolved from the street protests of the mid-nineties.
Social Partnership and the proliferation of community organisations charged with confronting the challenges of poverty have proven ineffective in stemming the tide of rising inequality, addiction and crime.
This is of course not the fault of these organisations whose work over the past two decades has been commendable but if Enda Kenny is actually serious about confronting the challenges of the Inner City then perhaps he should consider putting an end to this falsity that the Inner City is in some manner an exceptional case.
The marginalisation and social exclusions that exist in the North Inner City are replicated elsewhere throughout the State.
It is national policy and the choices that were and are being made by the governments which he has presided over which have created the conditions by which people are willing to kill each-other for control of illegal drug markets.
It was a choice of his government to cut the funding of community development projects nationally by 38%. This was of course we are reminded constantly a consequence of national belt tightening but the cut to community development was far more disproportionate than to any other sector.
As I sat in those rooms with the Taoiseach and the community groups some weeks back I was wondering if he was even aware of the impact that his choices had made not only on this community but on others like it throughout the State.
I appreciate that it was the violent killing of seven men which enamoured in our Taoiseach an earnest desire to intervene but I couldn’t help but wonder whether the Taoiseach was aware that the most recent figures available from the Health Research Board showed that 679 people lost their life to what the HRB termed ‘drug related deaths’.
I digress though. I of course welcome the investment into the North Inner City but question the manner in which it is being allocated. Poverty is killing people on our streets and this will not stop that from happening.
If Enda Kenny is hoping to pitch his legacy to the development of the North Inner City then I would advise him that there is an actual metric for progression which has never been fully confronted in a meaningful way.
Only 23% of students in the North Inner City progress on to 3rd level university. That figure is one of the lowest in the country and provides a challenge by which radical change can occur in this community.
To make achievements in this regard will require a long-term strategy that must begin with intensive funding of early years initiatives which have an evidence based approach to breaking the cycle of poverty early on in a child’s development.
Of the investment, we are told that over a million euro is going to be spent on sporting facilities throughout the Inner City.
I certainly don’t doubt the importance of this measure but in seeking to provide ‘mini-pitches’ could we also ensure that are schools and centres of second chance education are equipped with the facilities to provide STEAM subjects that are suitable for matriculation into both our Universities and jobs markets as they currently stand.
The issues facing Dublin’s inner city are replicated throughout the State. If there is to be a specific intervention then make it meaningful and not merely concerned with containing rather than eradicating poverty.