The Mulvey Report

It is always interesting to see whether the policy making apparatus of government learns from previous experiences. In this context, I took a particular interest in the process of assessing the needs of the North-Inner City of Dublin which has culminated in the recently published Mulvey Report, as we have been through a similar process previously. In November 1991, a particular incidence of violence, in the Dublin suburb of Ronanstown, prompted the then government to set up an interdepartmental committee to devise a response. The Minister for Justice, Ray Burke, made it clear that this was to be a high-level group, looking at all aspects of the problem.  Ronanstown was to be taken as an example for such areas of disadvantage.  Nominees of six government departments, at assistant secretary level, were joined by representatives of the Garda√≠, the Probation and Welfare Service, the IDA and the local authorities.  The task was to recommend measures aimed at addressing the difficulties, not just in Ronanstown, but in disadvantaged urban areas generally.  Particular focus was placed on the need for a wider consideration than just that of policing and was to include factors such as unemployment, educational disadvantage, healthcare and similar issues.  In the light of the seniority of those representing the various government departments and agencies, a fairly substantial set of recommendations might have been expected.  In the event the report on Urban Crime, Lawlessness and vandalism, (informally known as the Ronanstown Report) was quite limited.     I watched the process unfold at fairly close quarters as I was serving as principal of the local community college. A particular weakness in the approach taken is that there was no independent expertise involved in drawing up the report. So, the representatives of the various departments brought forward projects, which were already under consideration, and some new but hardly radical ideas, and these were incorporated in the plan. While this resulted in certain improvements there was nobody present to question whether the projects included in the plan were comprehensive enough to tackle the underlying problems. As regards education, while some extra facilities were made available to the particular locality nothing emerged which might have significant impact in similarly disadvantaged areas elsewhere.  To a certain extent there was an effort to avoid that pitfall on this occasion by involving the vastly experienced Kieran Mulvey. Whether he had enough or indeed any independent advice available to him is a moot point. Certainly there is nothing in the education section of his report which will radically alter educational outcomes. Yes there are worthy proposals in the report. These include, for example, steps to align existing services and develop links between schools, training organisations and employers. A forum representatives of all relevant agencies is to be established. Early Years intervention is to be supported and tailored career guidance is to be made available to post-primary students. All this will help, of course, but is not sufficient to change educational outcomes to a very significant extent.

The second weakness in the case of the Ronanstown report was the lack of an effective implementation process. In fairness, Mulvey and the government have sought to address that weakness this time round by establishing a group to oversee the process, supported by guaranteed ring-fenced funding. However, the failure to include enough expertise in its membership is to repeat the mistakes of the past. The group is to be headed by an independent expert, who will act as an executive chair reporting to a ministerial taskforce, but otherwise to consist representatives of various departments and agencies which, together with the political system, have failed disadvantaged areas in the past. There is one hopeful sign. Mulvey has recommended a three-year review of progress. If this is independently carried out in a transparent and robust manner a more radical approach may emerge.

Twenty five years after the Ronanstown Report was issued the area is still educationally disadvantaged on all the familiar measurements. In the next quarter century the North Inner City is likely to see many important improvements. Sadly, transformation in educational outcomes is an unlikely eventuality unless a more comprehensive response emerges. 

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