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Council boss hits out at 'disappointing' dissolution of Liberties-based Digital Hub

Chief Executive Owen Keegan said the decision to dissolve the Agency was taken “without any engagement” with its Board.

Image: RollingNews.ie

THE WINDING DOWN of Dublin’s Digital Hub in The Liberties has been criticised by Dublin City Council’s Chief Executive after a decision was taken by Government to hand over the site to The Land Development Agency for social and affordable housing. 

The Hub, situated on Thomas Street, was established in 2003 and is home to over 30 technology companies. The Department of Communications confirmed in late April the Digital Hub Development Agency [DHDA] was “no longer required” and would be shut down. 

The Council’s Chief Executive Owen Keegan expressed “disappointment” this week and said the decision to dissolve the Agency was taken “without any engagement” with its Board. 

In 2011, the DHDA – which provides a number of training initiatives locally – was included in a list of agencies to be merged. A decision was subsequently made by Government that responsibility for the DHDA would transfer to Dublin City Council.

“For reasons that are not entirely clear this decision was never implemented despite the City Council being agreeable to taking over responsibility for the Agency,” said Keegan, in response to Labour Councillor Daragh Moriarty.  

A 2018 study by Grant Thornton said retaining the Agency was not required in order to sustain continued growth in the digital tech sector but said it served as a counterbalance to the proliferation of co-working office space in Dublin’s Docklands. 

The report found the Agency was important to the ongoing regeneration of the The Liberties which “continues to be one of the most economically disadvantaged areas of Dublin” and recommend the Digital Hub be retained. 

The Council has said the DHDA’s dissolution could mean an end to a number of local training initiatives. 

Keegan said on Monday that “the DHDA’s established relationships with the local enterprise base, local educational establishments, local healthcare providers and local community groups would have ensured that the development was integrated into the locality and sustainable for the long-term, greatly facilitating the regeneration and revitalisation of the area.”

Keegan said DHDA staff had worked with local schools, families and businesses to develop and promote a wide range of skills in the community, ranging from IT literacy, through website creation, online trading, coding, digital design, animation, sound and video recording and editing, to problem-solving, team work and communication.

“These programmes have enriched and empowered both the participants and the providers. The loss of these programmes is especially disappointing,” he said. 

Following confirmation that the Agency would be dissolved its CEO Fiach Mac Conghail criticised what he described as the Government’s decision to “abolish” the Digital Hub, but committed to an “orderly transfer of ownership” to the LDA, The Irish Times reported. 

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Keegan this week said the aim of the Agency was to foster the development of enterprise clusters focused on societal needs, such as health and well-being and responses to the climate emergency.

“This ambition was clearly not shared by Government,” he said. 

A spokesperson for the Department said the redevelopment of the Thomas Street site by the LDA would be “a transformative project for Dublin, with the potential for significant housing supply in a centrally-located area, as well as potential for other community uses”. 

It said the LDA would prepare a plan for development of the site “and will engage with the local community and other stakeholders on other potential civic and community uses in addition to housing”. 

The Digital Hub is due to remain in place until mid-2022. 

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