Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Extraordinary Response to McHugh's Campaign

Greenhills, be proud!

We have had an incredible response from people in Greenhills and the wider Dublin 12 area in South Dublin County to our petition on the derelict site of the old McHugh's Shopping Centre.
We delivered just over 1,000 petitions door-to-door in Greenhills Estate, Greenpark, Limekiln and Temple Manor.

From those, over the last few days, we have had approximately:

175 signatures by standard post or delivered by hand;

150 online signatories at the PetitionOnline site;
40 people contacting us by email to sign the petition;
40 freepost envelopes from the last batch delivered.

When you consider the majority of people took the trouble either to buy a stamp and post a letter, or deliver it by hand to my door, or log on online and sign up or email our campaign, you can see the serious community response there has been to this stain on our community.

There, are, we believe, much more to come. We are confident that by the end of our campaign more than 500 local people will have signed the petition demanding action either by the developer, or, as we suspect, failing any action on his part, by the Council. I have, in all honesty, never met with such a positive reaction from local people to a political campaign - mostly because people knew about me from previous canvasses and leaflets, know my record and that of the Labour Party in the area, and knew we were genuine.

This campaign has hit the headlines in all local papers. The Southside People covered it on their front page - the first time our campaign has been covered in this way. We also had a substantial presence in the Tallaght Voice (see below) and the Tallaght Echo, and were also covered in at least one other local publication. For the first time in 5 years, it seemed, our efforts have brought this issue to the fore - making, quite literally, front page news.

Other parties standing for election in Greenhills have obviously been taken aback by the huge response to the campaign I have launched. Amongst them have been the Socialist Party, who organised, over the weekend, a public meeting on the issue. This was held with approximately 70-80 people in attendance in the Greenhills Community Centre tonight.

Various political figures attended and spoke - Cllrs Mick Murphy (SP), Colm Brophy (FG), Cáit Keane (PD - soon to be something else) and Pat Dunne - blogged about here before. Pat curiously announced his intention to run next year for the People Before Profit Alliance, a Socialist Workers' Party-dominated outfit which was vehemently opposed by the last similar alliance he was involved with, the Campaign for an Independent Left. A number of local residents and people who had worked at the centre spoke passionately about the loss of local services and the dereliction Greenhills is now faced with on a daily basis.

Sadly, the meeting, in my view, was not well-organised and poorly-chaired, although from my own experience of similar meetings both locally and nationally this is a common problem. It descended into farce at one stage with the Socialist Party chair and FG Councillor Brophy engaging in an unceremonious screaming match while baffled local residents - myself included - looked on.

The SP had no particular solutions or answers to the community's concerns, other than to hope really hard that the developers take on board our views and maybe, just maybe, they might tidy up the site - perhaps, bafflingly, by building a car park. Mick Murphy scoffed at our campaign for a Compulsory Purchase Order, claiming we were "chasing rainbows." Cllr Murphy, it should be noted, has previously called for a CPO on the site on more than one occasion, and has also called for a CPO on the site of the old petrol station at the end of the Greenhills Road in Tallaght Village.

Nor did other political figures seem to have any real targets or solutions. On the conservative side, Cllrs Brophy and Keane indicated that they wished only to pursue issues through contact with the developer - similar to Murphy - or on the Council committee.

The PBP candidate called for a meeting between the developer (McHugh), Louis Fitzgerald - the publican who owns the Traders Pub next door and who has expressed an interest in the site - and local political and community representatives. I would be happy to attend such a meeting but don't believe it is, in itself, an adequate community response.

Unlike Cllr Murphy and Candidate Dunne, I believe very firmly that there is both scope and possibility, with public action, for a CPO of the site, and for its appropriate development in the needs of the community.
And having spoken to plenty of residents both at and after the meeting - many of whom came to us to sign the petition - I am convinced that this approach is best for Greenhills.

People often associate groups such as the SP and the PBP with 'hard left' positions, but in truth tonight's meeting showed a bankruptcy to their arguments that was nowhere near the left. There was plenty of talk of facing down developers and speculators but, faced with an existing and mass community campaign, rooted in Greenhills and its people, the best they could do was make a few suggestions - some of them random, others bizarre - in the hope of bringing pressure to bear on the developer involved.

Don't get me wrong. I prefer to work with others on the left and baulk at any sectarian abuse or critiques of other progressives. These are two fine candidates and will appear higher up my ballot than the variety of conservative candidates in Tallaght Central next June. But as a socialist who believes both in utilising both the parliamentary - in this case, on the local Council - and the extraparliamentary, and who believes in the maintenance and development of public space and the public sphere through local democracy, the attitudes of the other 'leftists' baffled me.

Fact is that the pressure has now been put on by the power of our campaign and that, given McHugh's continual failure to act over 5 1/2 years, this community response now needs to take aim at the Council. I believe the site to be derelict and to fall under the description of dereliction outlined in the 1990 Derelict Sites Act - and Council officials, who agreed with this analysis in 2006, will now be made realise the huge outpouring of community feeling to the site's dereliction and the need for its development.

Neither Cllr Murphy, who is based on the old Tallaght Area Committee, nor Candidate Dunne have access to the relevant Council meetings at the Terenure Rathfarnham Area Committee (TRAC). My Labour colleague, Cllr Eamonn Walsh, is continuing to push the issue and is raising it again at the next TRAC meeting on October 7th. Our experience to date has shown that committee work alone cannot achieve victory. But with a true community response, both in the future of the campaign and at the polls next June, progress is more than possible.

PS - If you haven't done so - don't forget to sign!