Dublin City councillors challenge fellow councillors on why they didn’t tell constituents about Transport Plan public consultation

— Councillors remind others that they voted for traffic reduction in the Development Plan.
— Dublin City Centre Transport Plan to be brought for councillor approval in April.

LONG-READ REPORT: A number of Dublin City councillors have questioned their fellow councillors why they did not inform the public about the consultation on the Dublin City Centre Transport Plan, which includes new cycle paths and bus priority measures in the core areas of the city.

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The issue of the public consultation process was debated at the monthly council meeting (see full video below) on Monday, February 12th where the Lord Mayor said that the plan will be brought to the full council meeting “in April”.

The awareness around the consultation for the city centre plan included briefing the council’s transport committee, a large amount of media coverage, repeated postings on social media, videos posted by the council explaining the plan, the councillors from different parties distributing thousands of leaflets, some councillors talking about it with constituents, a display at the council offices at Wood Quay where submissions could be made, and a public meeting held by the Green Party.

READ MORE: Dublin City Centre Transport Plan, what’s included? / How is cycling presented in the Dublin City Centre Transport Plan?

The media coverage of the plan, while the consultation was live, is estimated to have reached 1.4 million people. The councillors who mentioned the plan in leafets include Cllr Ray McAdam (Fine Gael), based on the northside, who said he distributed 5,500 leaflets, while Cllr Claire Byrne (Green Party), based on the southside, said she delivered 7,000 leaflets

The submissions received included 3,487 responses via the consultation portal survey, 11 paper survey submissions, 77 emails, and 17 postal.

But at the monthly council meeting last Monday week, some councillors made inaccurate claims about the public consultation, including that it was only via an online survey. Some councillors implied or outright claimed that email and postal submissions were not an option when such submissions were received and included.

Cllr Nial Ring (independent) — who has a track record of opposing the promotion of sustainable transport over car use — referred to the council’s public consultation and said, in a huff, “It was published on Citizen Space, whatever that is…” — Citizen Space is the name of the product which powers the council’s public consultation portal at consultation.dublincity.ie which is used for a wide range of projects.

He then claimed — incorrectly — that it was the only way to make a submission before he claimed that there was no consultation and he went on to claim it was “clandestine, covert, suspicious” despite it being debated at the council’s open Transport Committee meeting, widely covered in the media and councillors being emailed about it.

Cllr Janet Horner (Green) referred to Paris’s referendum on higher parking charges for SUVs which had a turnout rate of just 5.7% and said that there’s no perfect way of getting people to respond to consultation.

She said that it “is up to councillors to make consultation more accessible to the public” and she said that the Greens held public meetings, spoke in the media, and met with constituents.

“It’s a little frustrating — and this isn’t the first time we’ve had this — where people raise issues with the consultation process long after the consultation process itself was open and there for use as public reps to show leadership on and try to bring as many people as possible with us.

She highlighted that Dublin Bus has said that the project will cut travel times for its users which are a majority of public transport users in the city.

Cllr James Geoghegan (FG) said that people should not be “lectured” about what one party did over another. He then also said that there should be more engagement.

“I’d be of the view that the changes to the south quays in particular if you’re taking a bus, riding a bike or even if you’re just walking it’s going to be transformative for those journeys,” said Cllr Geoghegan. “I think there are neighbourhoods that are close by that are concerned and they should be engaged with rather than cartoonish rows.”

Cllr Darragh Moriarty (Labour) said: “It was us as councillors through our city development plan process who set the ambition of a reduction of 40% in traffic — that was adopted by this council, that was voted on by this council. But he said that there needs to be engagement with communities who are potentially going to see an increase in traffic and a wider communications plan is needed to tell people how to get in and around the city centre.

Cllr Daithi Doolan (Sinn Féin), who is the party leader on the council, said: “We do need to be reducing traffic, congestion, pollution, and the dangers of traffic in our city and our quays. I think people feel strongly because they are passionate about the city, I’m passionate about the city. I’m not a car owner, I don’t drive, I cycle, and my children use public transport every day into the city centre. I want everybody to feel safe and welcome in our city.”

“While a healthy debate is welcome it needs to be done in a proper orderly non-inflammatory way I think some of the language I’ve witnessed in this debate has not been helpful. I think we need to park that language and engage each other as people as citizens and and and activists in the in the city and that’s what we’ve been charged to do as elected reps,” he said.

Cllr Doolan said: “We need to ensure that when we are bringing about changes to traffic in the city that we’re clear about where that traffic is going to go there’s no point to moving the congestion from the quays or from O’Connell Street or surrounding streets to other communities and then imposing traffic congestion on them. That’s not the solution.”

“We need a very holistic approach to ensuring that communities in and around the city centre can live healthily their children play healthily and safely in the city and people can access the city for what it’s meant to be which is a place for recreation to work to study and to enjoy their lives,” he said.

Cllr Doolan added: “I hope we do bring it to a successful conclusion and that in years ahead we can look back and say that was successful we achieved it and we live in a better healthier safe more welcoming city than when we took charge.”

Cllr Patricia Roe (Social Democrats) said she thinks the plan will have a positive effect but thinks there have been issues with public consultation issues and because of that, the Social Democrats are calling on council “management to engage with Pearse Street residents’ association, who believe that there were procedural issues in relation to the publication of documents.”

Cllr Hazel de Nortúin (People Before Profit) said: “I’ve always said that consultation always gets rid of that vacuum where misinformation lingers and I’m not to discredit any of the hard work that Dublin City Council has done in the consultation process, I know it is a very hard space to be in.

She asked if the opinion of the taxi drivers or representatives was asked for.

She added: “I’m fully supportive of making our town more accessible about how we get around it but I’m also more kind of worried about that we’re bringing everybody along us, if we had a reliable free access public transport system then I think there wouldn’t be such a big uproar.”

Cllr Tom Brabazon (Fianna Fáil) said everybody “wanted motherhood and apple pie in terms of safe cycling, pedestrians, you know, freely moving uh public transport, but I suppose where we come from with this is that we need to be sure that there’s proper consultation with the public and that’s not this ‘we let’s stick something up on the internet and maybe hopefully people might find it’.”

Cllr Brabazon also has a record of being against sustainable transport projects. In 2017 he said the Council’s development of the Clontarf to City Centre route was “another example of the council acting the bully boy against the private motorist”.

Cllr Damian O’Farrell (independent) questioned the questions in the survey as part of the consultation: “Are you in favour of high-quality pedestrian facilities in the city centre, are you in favour of high-quality cycle facilities, do you support the principle of giving communities more transport choices of course… I’m in favour of all those things of course I am.”

However, he did not mention the questions on whether reducing ‘through traffic’ will improve the amenity value of Dublin City Centre or about reducing road space for private vehicles in the core city centre to facilitate a more efficient public transport system — both of which were given 82% support from respondents.

Cllr Donna Cooney (Greens) said: “I welcome this plan I think there’s been some misinformation there and you know as councillors we were all very well informed or at least we should have been, we got enough emails about it.”

“We all voted on the development plan, which this is in line with the development plan,” she said. “We want a livable city we want more people living in our city more people visiting our city you know we have to show how this is going to work but there’s a lot of misinformation people will still be able to drive into the city.”

Cllr Mannix Flynn (independent) — who has a track record of opposing cycle paths and the College Green Plaza project — said: “I believe that this issue is going to end up in the court in a judicial review I do believe that the consultation process was deeply flawed like the one was on Strand Road this whole process was led by a number of Dublin City Council officials.”

Cllr Carolyn Moore (Greens) said: “Arguably the most important public consultation on transport in our city is the one that never happened because I can guarantee you that if 30 or 40 years ago we’d asked the people of Dublin if they wanted to give the vast majority of our shared public space over to the storage and movement of private cars they would have laughed at the idea.”

She said: “It would have been unthinkable when I was a child that we’d remove the ability for children to play on their own streets or walk to school by themselves it would have been inconceivable that we’d force people with disabilities and parents with babies out into traffic so cars could occupy our footpaths and it would have been an affront of the communities living in our city many of whom didn’t own cars then and still don’t know that we would sacrifice their quality of life to cater to one mode of transport that didn’t serve them.”

Cllr Moore added: “But we never asked the citizens of Dublin if they were willing to make that tradeoff we just took the space via decades of transport policy that prioritized the car and only the car” and that the new plan was a chance to “redress that imbalance” and “that’s why there was a huge response and over 80% of the people who responded in favour.”

Cllr Janice Boylan (Sinn Féin) said: “What we’re trying to say is that the way in which the consultation was done could have been better and I think we can all agree on that for example just just relaying people’s fears if people can’t go one way well then what way can they go? So I mean we do need the traffic improvements we absolutely do and we welcome anything that improves the city for pedestrians and cyclists alike but we do have to look at the consulation process.”

Cllr Dermot Lacey (Labour) said: “Everybody knows we need to do something with traffic in the city but nobody wants to take the decisions required. Communication is the key.”

He added: “But we need to look at our own structures, as a member of of this city council, I have never seen the plan, the Dublin City traffic plan there needs to be a full presentation to the full council on this. Not for me to oppose it, for me to understand it.”

Cllr Claire Byrne (Green Party) said: “It’s pretty clear that no one actually read the climate action plan [which was agreed on earlier in the same meeting], because if you had you would see that there are very key clear objectives around transport and active travel and it prioritises cycling, walking and big public pedestrianization projects with cleaner streets and cleaner air because that is what climate action is.”

“Yet here we are criticising the process because we don’t like the outcome an outcome that was 82% of the respondents supporting this, and you’re saying that people weren’t told about it. I wonder what is your role as an elected representative? I personally dropped about 7,000 leaflets on this, I held a public meeting,” she said.

She added: “You have a responsibility to let people know about what is going on in their city it is too late to criticise the process now the time was there. Now we need to talk about how it will be monitored, how it will be reported on that’s that’s very very important but this is not.”

Cllr Kevin Donoghue (Labour Party) said: “I think this plan is very exciting it’s nice to see a plan with a bit of teeth in it and that’ll actually make some substantive changes and I do think when it eventually or if it eventually comes to pass it’ll be very quickly we’ll wonder how we ever operate the way we currently do.”

He said that the issue of consultation “has derailed the substance of a number of debates” in recent years and there should be an an agreed framework for consultations.

Cllr Donoghue said: “Some of the issues around consultation are real some of them are not and I think that that the issue of consultation is very frequently used as an excuse to bring up complaints that aren’t actually related to consultation at all.”

Cllr Ray McAdam (FG) said: “The reality is that we do need to reduce our dependency in the private car but equally we cannot simply wish away problems as well and I think there is there are elements of the transport plan that we are simply wishing away and I am concerned that for particularly in parts of the inner city that I represent in Stony batter and parts of Dublin 7 that we are going to see increased levels of traffic and therefore issues with our air quality.”

He said that with consultation there needs to be consistency in the approach used.

Cllr Vincent Jackson (independent) said that the Ballyfermot area, where he lives and represents, is “crucified with traffic on a daily basis. I never hear any opportunities for to reduce the through traffic, about 16 to 20,000 cars and trucks and vans cut through Ballyfermot every day.” However, the Liffey Valley BusConnects plans for Ballyfermot include measures which will reduce through traffic on the Ballyfermot Road.

Cllr Jackson said “All my neighbours” are commuting to places like Kildare where there’s “no public transport to bring people out there so unless you have a car you just have to be consigned to unemployment or whatever the case may be.” But in the Ballyfermot-Drimnagh area, which Cllr Jackson represents, over 50% of workers travel to their workplace means other than car, van or truck or they work from home (CSO Census 2022 data).

It was in this context that said that “we don’t destroy the retail heart of the city”, made an unsubstantiated claim about business being down on Capel Street and warned on “collateral damage” of the plan.

Cllr Paddy McCartan (Fine Gael), a member of the transport committee who says he’s greener than the Greens, said: “In relation to some of the inner city areas there in Pearse Street, people are absolutely fed up with the traffic the environmental considerations and the damage that’s being done to their health.”

Cllr Anne Feeney (Fine Gael) said: “I am pro this proposal and I want to see it as a success however it will only be a success if we have open and honest communications and that means showing people models of where alternative traffic is going to go and what the impact is going to be for the economy of the city and how the Gardaí are going to police the greater public realm areas so that we don’t have another boardwalk scenario.”

Traffic modelling data is seen widely as accurately modelling traffic and even poorer at modelling people switching from cars to sustainable transport options — such modelling was used as a centrepiece against the Strand Road cycle route trial but data showing traffic after Irish Water works partly simulated the cycle route found relatively little change in traffic levels in the area.

She added: “We need to help people see through any fears and see what the long-term gain is for the city.”

Under topical issues debate rules, the management of the council do not reply to councillors. But in reply to Cllr Deirdre Heney saying that the issue had yet to be decided, the Lord Mayor said that the plan would be brought to the April council meeting.


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2 comments

  1. A lot of these people seem quite frightened. They’re saying of course they want change but then appear to be backtracking saying their own processes weren’t good enough. The councillor who spoke about car priority never having been subject to public consultation was spot on. As far as I know the Luas only happened because the Minister at the time (?Mary O’Rourke) pushed it through.

    Reply
  2. If the media put the same energy into promoting the consultations as they do in trying to misinform and undermine the plans then there would be no issues with people complaining they didn’t hear about it.

    Reply

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