Thursday, July 01, 2010

Reflections on year as Lord Mayor of Dublin 2009/10

This time last year I was deeply honoured to be elected the 340th Lord Mayor of Dublin (and just the seventh woman to hold the position). I was elected unanimously by the City Council The night I was elected I stated that my priority was to help make Dublin a cultured, vibrant and sustainable City that is safe and secure for young and old; a city that is clean and green; an accessible City with a decent public transport system; an inclusive City that cherishes the many diverse communities living within its boundaries; a City whose citizens are gainfully employed and whose businesses flourish; a City that inspires pride in its inhabitants and a positive experience for its visitors. I said that I wanted to play my part in working with the members of the City Council in making Dublin to be the jewel in the crown of European cities and to provide the civic leadership that the people had voted for in the recent local elections.

I stated all of this conscious in the knowledge that the power of Local Councillors is limited but in the hope and expectation that I could stretch the role of Lord Mayor to achieve these ambitions. I have since found the role of Lord Mayor to be both challenging and fulfilling. The Lord Mayor can exert influence in all spheres of City life that can transcend the limitations of the office. Certainly being Lord Mayor opens doors and presents opportunities to the incumbent – the challenge is how to maximise those opportunities.

Lord Mayor's Commission on Employment Plots a Course for Economic Renewal
From the outset I stated that economic renewal in the City, specifically dealing with the increasing problem of unemployment would be the focus of my term as Lord Mayor. The stark figures showed that urgent action was needed - 71,000 jobs lost to the city between June 2007 and June 2009. In June 2009 100,000 people were on the live register and 1 in 4 were considered long term unemployed. At the same time, the greater Dublin region accounts for four out of every ten jobs and half of all goods and services produced in Ireland. Dublin is the engine of the national economy and it must become the engine of national economic recovery. The City Council as the Local Authority, can and must play a major role to play in stimulating the local economy.

With this in mind, one of the first actions I took was to establish the Lord Mayor’s Commission on Employment to promote economic renewal in the City. In September 2009 the Lord Mayor’s Commission (LMCE) put out a public “Call for Ideas” in a bottom up approach to invite the public to tell us their experiences and their proposals to generate economic activity in the City. The Call for Ideas really caught the imagination of the public as in a short space of time, we received over 130 submissions, with many innovative and creative ideas for boosting the City’s economy and improving our competitiveness. The Commission set to work immediately in September and worked hard there 24 meetings of the Commission and its working groups. The Commission held two successful workshops in January – Promoting the Creative and Cultural Industries and Promoting Dublin as an International Student City. The Commission also organised a very successful major conference in Croke Park in April with the European Commissioner for Research Innovation and Science. The report of the Commission was launched on Tuesday 15th June – and there are many actionable recommendations.
Through the public consultation process the Commission on Employment has developed exciting ideas for creating employment and looking at growth areas – finding alternative and creative uses for much of the vacant retail and industrial space, promoting the creative and cultural industries, developing and implementing sustainable energy policies, developing retail and restaurant and food strategies, seeking solutions to the financial crisis to ensure that businesses have access to capital to start, grow and develop their businesses, and promoting Dublin as an International Student City. Three immediate notable outcomes from the Commission are:

Firstly, the LMCE has liaised with Ulster Bank who will partner with Dublin City Council to provide a dedicated Business Support Programme for new Start Up businesses in Dublin. The Programme includes a €10m fund to support Start Up enterprises, and will provide support in the form of business planning and mentoring aids and other aspects of start up assistance as appropriate to the individual business.

Secondlty he LMCE has successfully joined forces with Tipperary Institute to secure 20 places for Dublin in an exciting project CESBEM (Competence Enhancement in Sustainable Building Through European Mobility) II, which is a european funded project under the Lifelong Learning, Leonardo Da Vinci (People in the Labour Market) Programme. The CESBEM II Project is aimed at those in the construction Sector and provides upskilling in the field of energy efficiency in buildings.

Thirdly, following work by the LMCE a study is now being carried out to identify the location of vacant commercial properties in the entire City Centre area initially along the Quays and Thomas Street. It is intended to database that information and match vacant units with persons or groups in the cultural and artistic arena seeking temporary premises. This would have the dual effect of uplifting areas with high vacancy levels while giving emerging cultural groups access to high visibility shop fronts.

These are just three tangible outcomes of the Lord Mayor's Commission. I will continue to work towards the implementation of all of the recommendations in the Commission Report.

Developing an Inclusive City
Since last June I have travelled the length and breadth of the City, I have met with a huge range of groups and organisations including residents associations, community groups, youth groups, senior citizens’ day-care centres; women’s organisations, men’s support groups. I have visited schools, colleges, universities and also education and training organisations who work with young people whom our educational system has failed and who have found the courage to start again through alternative pathways. I have also had the privilege to visit and meet with a range of organisations working with and supporting those at most at risk in our society including drug addicts, homeless people, prisoners and ex-prisoners. I have supported equality campaigners from disability groups, ethnic minorities, lesbian and gay rights organisations. As someone who is passionate about the heritage and culture of our City, I have worked with a range of statutory voluntary and commercial creative and cultural organisations to promote and develop cultural activity in the City. I have supported the work of City business associations such as the Chamber of Commerce, the DCBA and BIDS along with some of the locally based business groups throughout the City . As Dublin has been designated Capital of Sport, I have had the great pleasure to collaborate with numerous sporting organisation such as the GAA, the FAI and the IRFU and Athletics and with their grass roots local clubs. I have also worked supported other sporting bodies and events including the Liffey Swim, the Dublin City Marathon and the Table Tennis Championships. Each of these experiences has informed my work as a civic leader and policy maker for the City.

Global City - International Co-operation
My own professional background is in international co-operation in education. As I aimed to make Dublin the jewel in the crown of European Cities, I also sought to create and develop transnational links between Dublin and other cities. My role as Lord Mayor involves meeting with Ambassadors to Ireland and helping to promote and develop links between our countries. I have engaged with our twin cities of Barcelona and San Jose. Last year Dublin signed a friendship agreement with Moscow and later this year we will sign a agreement with St Petersberg. The City Council has invested heavily in the promotion of international cultural festivals in Dublin such as the Chinese New Year Festival, the Festival of Russian Culture and Experience Japan. . I have been happy to play my part in fully supporting these events. I have worked with embassies on a range of events and believe that co-operation between the City and the Diplomatic Corps to be crucial for the City Indeed, the Lord Mayor’s Commission on Employment has identified the promotion of Dublin as an International Student City as a key priority for economic renewal in the City and I have championed this idea.

City Council Providing Civic Leadership
As Chairperson of the City Council, I have steered the Council through many challenges over the past year. Following intense debate over four meetings of the City Council, the Draft Dublin City Development Plan (2011 – 2018) has been put on public display. The challenge for the Development Plan is to ensure that Dublin can pitch itself as a dynamic competitive city, open for business and capable of attracting inward investment while at the same time ensuring that we protect the quality of life our culture, heritage and identity. The document on display is a proposal and we need the input of the citizens of the City to ensure we get it right.

Other challenges which faced the City Council this year included the controversial introduction of the Bus Corridor at College Green and the extension of the 30K speed limit in the City Centre. The debates on these matters both in the Council Chamber and in the media shows that the City Council has the maturity to discuss these issues and act in the best interest of the citizens.

Weather events also dominated. The year started with floods in July, the snow and ice in January to be followed by severe water shortages and outages which caused huge distress to citizens of the City. Members of the City Council played a major role in communicating the problems with the public and have made constructive recommendations on how the City Council communicates with the public during a time of crisis.

Personal Moments

There have also been many highlights this year, for the City and for me personally. Our City skyline has been changed forever by the arrival of the Samuel Beckett Bridge which I have no doubt will become an icon for Dublin in future years. The Luas to the Docklands area has greatly enhanced our transport infrastructure and will bring much needed footfall to the area. Dublin was designated European Capital of Sport for 2010. The Dublinbikes scheme has proven to be an unprecedented success. The Innovation Dublin Festival, in November, held almost 500 events showcasing innovation in the City, proving Dublin to be a creative, smart outward and forward looking 21st Century City.

My year as Lord Mayor has flown by. It is an honour and privilege to be the First Citizen of Dublin. When the dust settles I hope I will have made some small contribution to the wellbeing of the City and its citizens.


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