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Dublin: 18°C Tuesday 22 June 2021
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'No point in fooling ourselves into telling people not to go out': Call for extended park opening hours

Meanwhile, young people told us about their experiences gathering over the weekend.

embers of Gardai enforce coronavirus restrictions and move people on from South William St, Dublin
embers of Gardai enforce coronavirus restrictions and move people on from South William St, Dublin
Image: PA

FIANNA FAIL’S JIM O’Callaghan has said councils need to redirect young people into the parks, saying that park opening hours should be extended over the weekend. 

Speaking on RTE’s Drivetime, he said there is a need to recognise that this has been a very difficult 15 months for young people, their employment, their education, their social life, and their ability to form relationships.

“I want to salute them for the sacrifices that they’ve made to protect society from the pandemic,” he said. 

“This weekend coming, I think the city councils and councils around the country need to do more to redirect young people into parks. I think we need more bins in the parks, toilets in the parks, I think we have to recognise that young people are going to drink outside,” he said.

The Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said this evening that the Cabinet did “toy with” the possibility of reopening outdoor dining and drinking facilities sooner than 7 June. 

“We’re not going to change it now,” Varadkar said on Newstalk radio’s The Hard Shoulder.  

He said he witnessed “people gathering in the outdoors responsibly, sitting in relatively small groups” in Dublin city yesterday. 

“I think there is a risk always, when a video goes up on Twitter of a certain number of people misbehaving in a certain number of places, there can be a bit of overreaction to it.

“The vast majority of people – 90% of people 90% of the time – are following the guidelines,” he said. 

O’Callaghan said the crowds should “reduce significantly” when outdoor dining reopens on Bank Holiday Monday. 

He said people drinking and socialising outside is not something new, and that the government’s outdoor summer message for young people is so they don’t socialise in each other’s homes. 

“We’ve told them that they must meet up with people outside. The problem with the weekend was that they were meeting outside in very densely congregated areas. And obviously, a number of different groups are coming together. We need to try to disperse them into other parts for the forthcoming weekend.”

He said the parks that Dublin City Council operates should be kept open longer. 

“Keep them open late in the evening,” said O’Callaghan.

“Like there’s no point in fooling ourselves into saying, ‘we’re going to tell people not to go out’. Young people are going to go out and socialise. We have great facilities in Dublin City, we need to make those facilities available for this weekend,” he added. 

Earlier today, Housing and Local Government Minister Darragh O’Brien said he has called on local authorities to supply more bins in areas where people are gathering. 

Dublin Mid-West Fine Gael TD Emer Higgins said it is great to see outdoor seating in some areas of the city, and that it is an important part of outdoor socialising. She said she would like to see more of that in our villages and cities.

“We know that outdoors is safer than indoors so many people will continue to want to socialise outdoors even when indoor is permitted. We need to facilitate that,” she said.

“There’s been a huge increase in litter throughout the pandemic, not just recently but in the past year or more as people have been spending more time in local parks and public spaces. People should be bringing their rubbish home with them if bins are full, but an increase in bins would help alleviate that problem. It’s great there was an announcement of additional funding for this, but we need that funding turned into bins ASAP,” she added. 

Resources

Dublin Rathdown Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond told The Journal that the government has given plenty of resources to local authorities to get areas ready for an outdoor summer.  

“I don’t think it’s a funding issue at all. The provisions of bins, toilets and resources is perfectly affordable and indeed the Government has made plenty of supports available. The lack of consistency in approach, however, is frustrating.

“I think Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown and the local gardaí have done well to achieve a balance cooperating with local businesses, residents groups and local representatives to provide extra bins, public toilets, seating, cleansing crews and to extend park opening hours.

“If we’re serious about an outdoor summer then we must ensure that it is possible,” he added. 

“I have a lot of sympathy for those who have limited space where they live, who are probably working from home and who have missed out on so many opportunities throughout the pandemic. Indeed, as a young family, we’d be lost without local parks and playgrounds.

“But of course, we all still need to heed the public health advice, consider our actions and tidy up after ourselves,” he added. 

Dublin Fingal TD Alan Farrell said councils have been provided with additional funding for outdoor facilities via two separate departments in recent months.

For years councils refused to install benches, for fear they would be used by teens, he said, adding that anti-social behaviour is a huge thing in the suburbs “but teens hanging out in public should be encouraged, otherwise they gather in seclusion”.

“As it applies to common areas in the city, I think Dublin City Council is entirely derelict in their responsibilities in not recognising the need for more bins, benches and a joined-up approach to policing an area,” he added.

The pubs being closed and the lack of public loos is also driving this, he said, adding that if the pubs are reopened safely, “most of this issue goes away”.

Farrell said there will always be an issue with popular areas like South William Street, and others like Harcourt Street and Temple Bar. “Younger folk want to hang out. Let them,” he said.

‘It was genuinely like a festival – so we left’

Meanwhile, young people have spoken to The Journal about their experiences over the weekend.

One young graduate felt the brunt of the blame was pushed towards young people. She said that she and her two friends bought takeaway pints from South William St on Saturday evening. However, the trio left the crowds to drink them.

“It was packed, it was genuinely like a festival,” she said. “So we didn’t want to hang around there.”

About an hour after they arrived at St Stephen’s Green, gardaí began to clear the busy park. She and her friends, who were sitting separate to other groups, began to pack up their belongings.

One of the young woman’s female friends was holding a half-full pint in one hand as she packed up.

A Garda who was there clearing the crowds took the pint, crushed the plastic cup and threw it over his shoulder, said the young woman.

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The young woman said that while she understands why the crowds need to be moved, she felt the entire experience was degrading.

“We had to walk through South William Street to get through our bus stop and we were like sardines trying to get through. It was ridiculous.

And I know we probably shouldn’t have been there and we probably shouldn’t have been drinking – but there was three of us.

She was frustrated at how she and her friends are encouraged to gather outside, but when they do, they don’t have a nice experience. “It was a nice day, we went out to a public park, we sat alone and then the guards just treated us in that manner. It was really off-putting.”

“I feel like sometimes when you’re a teenager or in your early 20s, you can’t really win. We tried to gather respectively but we still got treated like shit.”

The graduate said that she and her friends went their separate ways after leaving the park, but she could see how on a sunny day and after being cleared out of the city centre, some people may go to gather in houses.

“I think that Dublin City Council (DCC) needs to recognise there are teenagers across Dublin and across the country that don’t have a back garden to host friends, so going into town and meeting in public spaces is the only option. When that is taken away, there’s no other choice left than to go inside.”

She said she doesn’t think it’s fair to be “wagging the finger” at young people when DCC “needs to do more”.

Doireann O’Sullivan, a student living in South Dublin, said that she thinks it’s mostly people between the ages of 16 and 24 gathering at these outdoor drinking spots.

“I think it’s fair to say those are people who know, in terms of crowds, they make up the biggest proportion,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s fair to completely demonise young people for doing things that we haven’t really been able to do in a year, and [given] the circumstances, warm weather and being outside.

“I suppose you could argue [about] mingling and mixing. That’s very fair to criticise, but I don’t know, I think the excessive criticism is kind of uncalled for.”

Doireann said there needs to be facilities to allow for the outdoor summer the government is promoting. She said that people should never litter, but that it goes both ways.

“The services have to be there. And I think it’s likely it’s wishful thinking on behalf of the government not to provide services.

I think that there’s no getting out of people going into the city centre and going to green areas when it is sunny. It’s been going on for months, and it’s only going to get worse. So I think the best thing you can do is damage control basically.

‘It’s going to encourage more parties’

“If you don’t put out sufficient bins, you’re basically forcing people to litter,” said Eoghan, a student living in the city centre. “And they should maybe have the gardaí to mitigate the worst of it.”

It’s the summer and it’s really warm and it’s Ireland, people want to drink. So shutting down drinking in public places is just going to encourage more house parties, which I just feel like is worse when it comes to the pandemic.

Eoghan said that most of the time, in his experience, going to another popular outdoor spot the Grand Canal is fine, with not much anti-social behaviour going on.

“And once they got the bigger bins in as well there’s way less litter around,” he said, “although there is still a good bit.”

Minister for Housing and Local Government, Darragh O’Brien today told local councils to put bins out in park and areas where people gather. However, DCC has said that the provision of facilities could encourage people to go and gather in certain areas.

On Saturday night, Gardaí arrested four people from South William Street and adjoining streets. DCC said in a press statement that they will be engaging with stakeholders over the coming week to address the large, unplanned outdoor public gatherings. 

- Additional reporting Niamh Quinlan

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