Independent Candidate

Local Elections, May 23rd 2014

DLRCoCo, Killiney-Shankill LEA

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LOWER PROPERTY TAX by 15%!

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PRIORITIES

Fairness
Arts/Culture
Tourism 
Local Rejuvenation
 
ABOUT

 

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FAQs

What does a councillor do?

Who are our current representatives?

Why are you running in this election?

What other ideas do you have?

What are your personal politics? Are you left-wing or right-wing?

Why aren’t you running as a party candidate?

Have you ever been a member of a political party?

Why is Dún Laoghaire declining, and what do you intend to do about it?

Would the creation of a BID scheme succeed in rejuvenating Dún Laoghaire?

What is your position on water charges?

Does the Council receive proceeds from the Local Property Tax (LPT)?

What's your opinion on the new Library and Cultural Centre?

What are your thoughts on the Urban Beach proposal?

How do I contact you if I have a query? 

 

What does a councillor do?

Councillors are charged with decision-making at local government level, where local authorities are responsible for things like housing, planning, roads, as well as recreational facilities and libraries. After these elections in 2014, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown will have 40 such councillors. Hitherto, there have been 28. 

Who are our current representatives?

In 2009, 28 councillors were elected: 11 from Fine Gael, 8 from Labour, 4 from Fianna Fáil, 2 from the People Before Profit Alliance (PBPA), and 3 independents. The independents elected were Victor Boyhan in Blackrock, Tony Fox in Dundrum, and Gearóid O'Keefe in Stillorgan.

Why are you running in this election?

I am running in this election because I want to see change in Dún Laoghaire. I have four priorities: fairness, arts/culture, tourism, and local rejuvenation.

In the first instance, I think fairness should be restored to local government. This applies to councillors themselves, in terms of benefits and expenses. There has been a culture of extracting as much money as possible by claiming outrageous expenses. This should stop, immediately. Fairness should also apply to recruitment within local authorities. We have witnessed the result of unfairness in practice very recently, in the mis-management of the Limerick City of Culture project. Lastly, fairness requires equality of access to council services and facilities.   

In the second instance, I would like to help promote arts and culture within Dún Laoghaire. The Arts Act (2003) actually requires local authorities to prepare plans for the development of the arts. The Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council (DLRCoCo) developmental policy document, Continuing the Conversation, contains many positive elements, including, but not limited to, supports for resident artists and writers. I would like to see this expanded. The Pavilion Theatre has been a fantastic venue for events since the old Pavilion was opened in 1903, and I would like to assist in bringing some of these events to a wider audience. I also wholeheartedly support the development of the new Library and Cultural Centre, due for completion this year. This would be the ideal location for a TEDx Dún Laoghaire event, for example. Finally, the Festival of World Cultures was, while I was growing up, one of the best things going in Dublin. As well as providing great entertainment, I strongly supported its mission to challenge pre-conceptions and stereotypes. dlr Fusion, its replacement in this regard, is a fantastic initiative, but it's not quite the same thing. Unfortunately, the Council have deemed a smaller set of individual events to be preferred to a large-scale singular event. I disagree, and a compromise should be sought. I would campaign to see the Festival of World Cultures returned, in a modified form, taking account of the financial restrictions which led to its demise.

In the third instance, I am determined to increase tourism to the area. Dún Laoghaire possesses some unique features -- granite piers, a seaside promenade, historic bathing areas, and public parks. Dún Laoghaire also has a wonderful heritage, little-known even among its residents. I would cite the Martello Towers, for example -- one of which is the setting for the opening pages of Ulysses, and now contains a museum dedicated to James Joyce, while another has an operational cannon which is fired on special occasions. Or, the hidden Oratory of the Sacred Heart, built as a war memorial in the aftermath of the Great War, around a statue of the Sacred Heart which was given as a gift by the French. We should be marketing these attractions extensively. A port town such as Dún Laoghaire should be the busiest suburb of Dublin. The fact that it is struggling to survive is an indictment of our local leaders. In 2007, a Tourism Master Plan was commissioned, which concluded that Dún Laoghaire lacked a clear identity and image. This remains the case. The DLRCoCo County Development Plan 2010-2016 recognises that tourism is a growth area in the economy, but aside from the Outdoor Tourism Project, the Council have not capitalised on this opportunity. I have created the Dún-Laoghaire-Rathdown Heritage page on Facebook, to promote our local heritage. Please lend it your support.

Lastly, I've witnessed first-hand the degeneration of Dún Laoghaire over the last number of years. It has gone from a bustling centre of activity to a virtual ghost town, in spite of its infrastructural regeneration. Shops, pubs, and clubs are all closing their doors; Marks & Spencer and Cakebox are just the most recent casualties. I don't wish to see the loss of any more businesses, especially those which provide crucial services. For example, Dún Laoghaire has the only cinema and large bookshop in the local area. These are important amenities. We should be doing everything in our power to buttress, repair, and grow the local economy.

The achievement of these priority objectives will greatly improve our locality, while simultaneously creating and sustaining jobs. In essence, all of these priorities have an important motivating rationale: getting people back to work. This is ultimately my primary concern.

What other ideas do you have?

A number of people have outlined to me the necesssity for action on a number of issues in the area.

Foremost among these is youth unemployment. I was unemployed for a period of a few months in 2010, and standing in the queue to collect my social welfare payment, it was obvious that the majority of the 12% unemployed are young people. Although the private sector are creating around 1,000 jobs a week, we run the risk of temporary unemployment resulting in social exclusion and a "lost generation." The solution to this problem does not lie exclusively with national initiatives, such as JobBridge, but also with local communities. We need to do more to tackle unemployment at a local level.

The problem of growing old with independence and dignity is another issue which needs urgent attention. There are strong charities in the locality, such as Age Action, and some local groups, such as Sallynoggin Young at Art, which require support, but DLRCoCo does not have a coherent policy with regard to this matter. There are international efforts in this area, such as the World Health Organisation's Global Age-Friendly Cities Guide, resulting in the Dublin Declaration 2013. There are also national associations, such as the Ageing Well Network, whose aim it is to achieve age-friendly local authorities. We need to work with these groups to act on this issue.    

What are your personal politics? Are you left-wing or right-wing?

I find these labels confining, but if pressed, I consider myself centre-left. I am a social democrat, in so far as I believe socialism combined with capitalism is the best form of social and economic policy. I don’t wish to live in a society which provides no security for those in need, but I also don’t wish to live in a society which stifles business. My position is closest to that of the Labour Party.

Why aren’t you running as a party candidate?

Independents are free to criticise and to comment on current affairs without reference to party policy, so this gives them a central role in the parliamentary process.

I’m running as an independent so I can act independently in Council. I agree with many Labour policies, for example, but I also agree with some Fine Gael policies. I want to be able to follow my conscience, not the party whip, in making decisions. I also feel that national parties, with their national agendas, should have a limited place in local politics.

Fortunately, the number of independents in Irish politics is growing exponentially. The number of independent councillors elected to DLRCoCo has steadily increased over the last decade, with none in 1999, to 1 in 2004, and 3 in 2009, in line with a general trend away from voting for traditional parties. In the last general election, the number of independents jumped from 5 to 14, out of a total of 166 TDs, which is an increase of 280%. With an increase in councillor numbers this year, from 28 to 40, there may well be a large number of independents elected. This would be a good result.

Have you ever been a member of a political party?

Yes, I was a member of the Progressive Democrats (PDs), and supported them in the general election of 2007. The party was officially dissolved in 2009. In the last general election, in 2011, I supported the Labour Party, and campaigned for Ivana Bacik, though I am not a member of the Labour Party. It may seem strange to have been involved with the "right-wing" PDs, and also with the "left-wing" Labour Party, but there is no contradiction. There exists a common thread: social democratic justice. The Progressive Democrats were a party of independent-minded contrarians: Mary Harney, Michael McDowell, and so on. They were not just ruthless free-marketeers: the PDs completely removed all minimum-wage employees from the tax net, and increased public spending on social services. These were progressive policies. In 2007, in the context of the Celtic Tiger, I believed the PDs were the party most likely to improve the lives of everyone on this island. In 2011, in the context of a recession, I believed this party was Labour. Now, I’m running as an independent. (As an aside, in 2010, while living in London, I voted for the Labour Party in the UK general election, in the person of Barry Gardiner, and subsequently supported David Miliband in his challenge for leadership). 

Why is Dún Laoghaire declining, and what do you intend to do about it?

There is no doubt that Dún Laoghaire is in the grip of a downward spiral. Once one business closes, this has an impact on the others, creating negative feedback. This process accelerates until breaking point, so something must be done fast. 

There are a number of factors. Many businesses in the area blame parking restrictions and parking fines for declining footfall. This is certainly true, but too much is made of it. I would push for a reduction in charges, as well as the introduction of charge-free shopping days. (Fines and charges for parking accounted for just 3.4% of DLRCoCo's income in 2013).

The opening of Dundrum Town Centre, in 2005, has certainly had an effect. We must attract new businesses to compete with Dundrum, and the City Centre. The opening of Nando's, for instance, is a positive step.

High commercial rents are a problem everywhere, so we must lower commercial rates.

There is also one other primary factor: public sentiment. We must make Dún Laoghaire attractive, once again, as a place to visit. Atmosphere is something we must endeavour to create and the arts should play a leading role in this regard.

Would the creation of a BID scheme succeed in rejuvenating Dún Laoghaire?

Yes, I think it would certainly help. The creation of a Business Improvement District (BID) would be beneficial, but ultimately it's up to the local businesses to decide. We must be careful in proceeding, however, as many non-retail businesses are unconvinced of the benefits. And many businesses are worried about extra costs. However, as it stands, 81% of businesses in the BID area would pay just €300 or less. Although funding for the creation of a BID must be sought through additional charges, on top of existing rates, I would attempt to see if public funding could be used for specific elements of the proposal, in which case a lower BID levy would be required.

UPDATE: A plebiscite has taken place, with a 51% ballot return rate, from 805 ratepayers. The scheme was passed with 55% in favour, i.e. 215 votes. In essence, then, only a quarter of ratepayers voted in favour. Nonetheless, the scheme will go ahead. We should be very careful in our handling of non-payments, and we should see if the council could help reduce the levy by funding some aspects of the scheme. 

What is your position on water charges?

I would prefer not to charge for access to clean water. However, we have recently witnessed significant problems with our national delivery system, which needs investment. Currently, 42% of our water leaks from damaged pipes. Ireland is also the only country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that does not charge for its water supply. As of 1st January, this has changed, as responsibility for water management has passed to Irish Water. I will endeavour to ensure that these charges are kept as low as humanly possible.

Does the Council receive proceeds from the Local Property Tax (LPT)?

Yes, as of this year, though not all of the LPT is used for local government. It is too high a tax on families that are struggling to survive in a difficult economic climate. I support a motion carried (13-4) by the Council on 11th November, in which the County Manager is expected to write to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, seeking an alteration to the valuation of the LPT, from market value to site value, or land value. In addition, contained within the legislation introducing the LPT was the provision that the levy could be increased or decreased by the local council, by up to 15%. This avenue must be explored.

What's your opinion on the new Library and Cultural Centre?

I am in favour of this development, which, in any case, is almost complete. However, its location was not a good choice. The estimated cost of the new centre is €36.6 million. Although this is a large sum of money, it will provide for a state-of-the-art library and community centre, inclusive of a public "living room," a performance space, an art gallery, a children's library, and a local history department. It is important to remember that people are increasingly visiting Dún Laoghaire for leisure reasons, so we must cater for this demand.

What are your thoughts on the Urban Beach proposal?

The Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company have proposed the construction of an Urban Beach, adjacent to East Pier. This project would include a floating swimming pool filled with seawater and heated using renewable energy sources, and also includes changing facilities and a restaurant/café. The whole project was inspired by the Badeschiff in Berlin, which charges a €5 entrance fee. DLRCoCo have tentatively agreed to provide a grant of up to €1.5 million towards this project, subject to certain conditions, including the acquisition of planning permission. I completely support this scheme, in line with my policies of boosting tourism and rejuvenating the local area. In a recent survey, conducted by the UCD Marketing Development Programme, leisure was now the main reason for people visiting Dún Laoghaire. This trend is expected to continue. It is anticipated that this new facility will attract 150,000 visitors per annum, and will be worth up to €1 million to the local economy, each year. I expect it will exceed these expectations.

How do I contact you if I have a query?

I can be reached through a number of means: mobile phone (087 131 0417), email (hallsp@tcd.ie), or Facebook (just click the Facebook icon at the top of this page). It's usually best to call between 9AM and 5PM.

About

Simon is 29 years old, and works at Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel, in Killiney. He is Co-Founder, alongside Wayne Flanagan Tobin, of the "People Before Parties" Initiative, the aim of which is to encourage young people to run as independents in their local communities. This initiative has been featured on 103.2 Dublin City FM and RTÉ Radio 1 Drivetime with Mary Wilson, as well as Trinity News, and journal.ie

Simon is a member of the Dalkey Writers' Workshop, an eclectic group of local writers. He is also currently studying Arabic (MSA & ECA) through the International Language Institute (ILI), Cairo. Simon has a master’s degree in history from University College Dublin, with research on religion and society, another master’s degree in astrophysics from University College London, with research on inflationary cosmology, and his bachelor’s degree, from Trinity College, Dublin, was in physics and astrophysics. He has worked at various academic institutions including Dunsink Observatory, the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, and Armagh Observatory.

Simon was Editor of The University Record newspaper, and Deputy President & Publicity Officer for Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union from 2006 – 2007.

Simon has been active for many years in the area of education, particularly for pupils from a disadvantaged background. He was a long-time tutor with the Voluntary Tuition Programme, based in St. Andrew's Resource Centre, which is aimed at helping primary school children from the Pearse Street area of the inner city. In addition, he has worked with the Trinity Access Programme (TAP), providing instruction in print publishing to second-level students from disadvantaged communities all over Dublin.