Speaking at Louth County Council’s July meeting, Sinn Féin Councillor and Chairperson of the Housing Strategic Policy Committee (SPC) Joanna Byrne raised the issue of an increase yet again in the number of Vacant Properties in the County,
Cllr Byrne said “This month sees yet another increase in the number of vacant properties the council is in possession of, with additional houses in both un-tenanted & un-occupied requiring major and minor works in refurbishing. It must become a priority for the local authority to get these up to allocation standard, considering the housing shortage in this county. What is the delay in turning these around, is it money or manpower?”
Director of Services, Joe McGuinness, agreed with Cllr Byrne that there was an increase with the percentage of Stock Vacant going from the usual 0.27% to 2.44% and it is an issue that he and his team are currently focusing on. A surge in abandoned properties and the amount of properties acquired through the CPO process coming into fruition have contributed to the increase.
Speaking afterwards Cllr Byrne said: “No amount of vacant properties is acceptable to me, let alone 83 of them. That’s 83 families that could be taken out of emergency accommodation or off the housing waiting list and given their forever home. Louth County Council need to now focus on turning these vacant properties around and making them a priority for allocation. I will be monitoring this issue very closely and will keep pressing the officials until I see them all completed and allocated.”
Once again Sinn Féin Councillor Joanna Byrne has called on Louth County Council to clarify the county’s status in regards to homelessness.
The Local Authority’s latest Housing Progress report saw a significant decrease in numbers presenting as homeless across the board in Drogheda, Dundalk and Mid-Louth forcing Cllr Joanna Byrne to seek clarification if this was “a true reflection of our homelessness situation or a massaging of the figures as a result of ‘re-categorisation.”
Cllr Byrne said “Louth County Council was instructed recently by the Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy, to remove a number of people from this report who were placed in local authority owned or leased housing stock as emergency accommodation.”
This recent instruction prompted Cllr Byrne to promise publicly that she would hold officials to account over what she termed the ‘sheer manipulation of the reality of homelessness in Louth.”
Speaking at this month’s Council meeting, Cllr Byrne told officials “We now have a report in front of us that is not a true reflection of the situation. It fathoms me how you expect us to assess the current state of play in regards to homelessness when you are re-categorising the reports and not including the figures you have removed. I am asking you to change the report for next month and include a new section that reflects the number of people that have been removed and placed in this type of accommodation. It is still emergency accommodation regardless of who owns the properties and until a long term tenancy through social housing or HAP (Housing Assistance Payment) is secured, they remain as homeless, no matter what way you want to dress it up!”
Joe McGuinness, Director of Service’s for Housing in Louth recognised Cllr Byrne’s concerns and assured her he would look to rectify the report for the next meeting.
This month’s Municipal District meeting in Drogheda saw Sinn Féin Councillor Joanna Byrne hold officials from Louth County Council to account over their commitment to clean the streets of Drogheda.
Councillor Byrne raised her concerns regarding the “filth of our pavements, particularly on the main streets of the town centre”and was given firm plans for a Deep Cleaning Machine to facilitate aggressive surface cleaning of pavements for a one week period commencing Monday 19th June and a further period three week period before the commencement of the Fleadh on August 12th.
On Monday night Cllr Byrne slammed officials over this blasé commitment – “Firstly I want to ask what streets were actually cleaned on this initial one week period? I can’t see any improvements so either it wasn’t done or the machine isn’t an adequate solution to tackling this issue.” She went on to say “I’m all for cleaning the town in advance of the Fleadh but I have said it before and I’ll say it again, we should be doing this regardless for our own people, residents and businesses alike who consistently utilise these areas. Now I’m asking you to extend this pathetic schedule, no time limits, just clean until the job is done, can you give that commitment?”
Senior Engineer Mark Johnson assured Cllr Byrne that the job was done over the initial planned period, the machine was used for three days with effective results, but he could not clarify where exactly it had been used. He went on to inform her of the extensive cost in using this machine, €900 per week, and an additional €300 to get it on-site and that is why there was only limited cleaning scheduled with it.
Cllr Byrne welcomed the official’s clarification that the aggressive cleaning was effective in the small area it was used on, and that this heightened her request to have the schedule for its use extended, which fell on deaf ears as she was told it would be sticking to the original schedule and would not be in use again until the weeks leading up to the Fleadh.
“This is simply not good enough for the people of Drogheda and I am enraged at the unwillingness of the officials to put some pride back into our town, if senior officials put as much effort into doing something as they do into making excuses not to do it we would all be a lot better off!” she concluded.
Sinn Féin Councillor Joanna Byrne tabled a motion at the June County Council meeting calling for the collection of plastics from the bring bank centres in the county to be re-introduced for the duration of the Fleadh and requested this include the wider parts of the County that will or may be facilitating visitors for the period.
Cllr Byrne has been a champion on this issue and very vocal on the axing of collections of plastic’s from the bring banks. She tabled an emergency motion at the time calling for the original decision to cease plastics collections to be reversed. The Chief Executive refused to reverse the decision despite Cllr Byrne’s motion being supported by all cross-party councillors. She promised at the time that she would not let this issue drop.
Cllr Byrne said “With licensed premises and restaurants set to distribute plastic glasses and containers in the thousands, and litter already plaguing the town, I have my reservations that our current litter collections will be able to facilitate this waste collection.”
Although Cllr Byrne’s motion was passed without any opposition, she was told that the collection of plastic’s from the bring bank facilities could not be facilitated in the way suggested as to do so would require changes in the current infrastructure and amendments to the service contract currently in place.
However, Paddy Donnelly did re-assure Cllr Byrne that a specific ‘Greening the Fleadh’ initiative had already been established. A Committee has been set up – led and chaired by LCC Environment Awareness team, including staff from Enforcement Section, the Energy Office and other stakeholders such as the Drogheda Tidy Towns Group, V&W recycling centre and Endavar, who all also have reps on the committee.
The purpose of this initiative is to manage waste collection and put an emphasis on recycling and the use of biodegradable cups and packaging on take away foods. The intention of this committee is to increase awareness and to bid in 2019 for Festival Green flag status.
Cllr Byrne welcomed this initiative saying “I am pleased to see the commitment and drive shown by Louth County Council in regards to this issue. In my opinion the axing of the collection of plastics was always a disservice to the people of this county and I had major worries as to where this plastic waste would have ended up. I warmly welcome the ‘Greening The Fleadh’ initiative and hopefully its goals come to fruition and it provides an adequate service in regards to recycling and waste management. I will be monitoring it closely throughout the period of the Fleadh and will have no hesitation calling for changes if I don’t deem it satisfactory.”
At May’s monthly meeting of Louth County Council, Sinn Féin Councillor Joanna Byrne had her motion successfully passed calling on the government to introduce affordable housing schemes for local authorities.
The motion read:
That this Louth County Council recognises that homes to rent and to purchase are becoming increasingly unaffordable and calls on government to;
Immediately introduce ambitious affordable rental and purchase housing schemes led by Local Authorities, and where appropriate, Approved Housing Bodies and Housing Co-operatives with clear annual targets for all local authorities;
and to design the Home Building Finance Ireland fund to prioritise loan finance to small and medium sized builders participating in Council led affordable housing schemes.
Cllr Byrne who is also the chairperson of Louth’s Housing Strategic Policy Committee (SPC) said she tabled this motion because “I believe there is huge cohort of people falling through the cracks that firstly earn over the threshold to get onto the local authority social housing list and do not earn enough to qualify for a mortgage to buy any kind of substantial home.”
Speaking in the chamber on the day Cllr Byrne stated: “Under current government proposals, not one affordable home will be delivered in this state this year. Since taking office in 2011, Fine Gael have not delivered a single affordable rental or purchase home through any Government scheme and the Rebuilding Ireland Action plan for Housing and Homelessness is no different, it too contains no targets and no clear funding stream for the delivery of affordable housing.”
Cllr Byrne said “the only way to ensure that affordable homes are delivered is to immediately introduce affordable schemes, led by Local Authorities, on public land. The Minister maintains that the private sector will deliver affordable homes via the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund (LIHAF), but we have yet to see this materialise.
“I have major concerns as to where the current failing government policies are leaving massive numbers of people in this county, and that is the merits behind me tabling this motion. In my view there is an onus on us as representatives of the people of this County to put our names to this and push for it.”
Cllr Byrne welcomed having her motion passed unopposed, notification of this will now be sent directly to the Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy.