Dublin’s lord mayor and cycling campaigners have criticised the decision by Fine Gael minister Phil Hogan’s department to end a key role aimed at promoting cycling and making road conditions safer for cyclists.
Critics of the move point to the national cycle policy which promises to require each local authority to assign a senior level cycling officer, and to increase cycling levels to 10 percent of commuters nationally.
The cycle policy was introduced by the last government but it is supported by the Fine Gael/Labour Party coalition – the 2011 programme for government commits to continued to invest in the policy.
Dublin is the only council to so-far appoint a cycling officer and his three year contract is due to run out early next month, but without approval for the department of the environment the contract cannot be renewed due to the embargo on public sector recruitment.
Dublin City Council said the issue is not of funding but only due to the embargo.
Lord mayor Andrew Montague (Labour) said axing to position would be a “very retrograde step”.
“I’m encouraging them hold onto the position as it has been a very important factor in promoting cycling in Dublin over the last number of years and it would a very retrograde step for Dublin if we lost the position,” said Montague.
Montague said that while the department of the environment sanctioned the post three years ago, it only did so when then minister for the environment and head of the Green Party John Gormley intervened after media coverage of the issue. Montague said he has only received an acknowledgement letter from Hogan’s department.
Montague said a “dedicated expert” was needed if the city wants to promote cycling.
He said the cycling officer is not only an engineer, and whoever occupies the role needs to have “good selling and educational skills as well as practical and engineering skills.”
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Anne Bedos, founder of bicycle repair and recycling business Rothar, said cutting the position did not make sense.
She said as the cycling officer is also an important link between the council and the cycling community and she will be campaigning against the cut.
Mike McKillen, a spokesman for the national cycling lobby Cyclist.ie and the Dublin Cycling Campaign, said all regions should have cycling officer and was “deplorable” that in a city the size of Dublin would be left without one.
He said it would “set cycling back” and questioned what it says about government policy on cycling and climate change.
“From a cyclist’s perspective it calls into question whether this government is serious about cycling,” said McKillen. “If they can’t afford one they could combine together on a regional bases or a city council and county council could share one.”
“We’ve got to take cycling seriously; it’s the least polluting along with walking, the least congesting, most silent, and most practical way of getting from A to B over five to six kilometres.”
A spokeswoman for Dublin City Council said, “The issue is not one of funding but rather the moratorium on recruitment to the public service.”
“The work carried out by the cycling officer is of importance as part of Dublin City Council’s overall programme of providing cycle infrastructure, cycle training and cycle promotion,” the council spokeswoman said.
She added, “If it is not possible to continue the role of cycling officer it will be necessary to identify efficiencies to allow this work to be carried out using remaining staff resources.”
However the department for the environment, community and local government, said that the continuing the position after its first three years was “not justified”.
A spokesman for the department said, “In relation to this post, it was considered, in the particular circumstances, that the creation of an additional permanent post was not justified. The Department advised Dublin City Council that it would be more appropriate if the post was filled internally via redeployment or through the re-organisation / reallocation of work to meet requirements.”