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Harbour Court has been a place historically associated with anti-social activity. Sam Boal/

Letters from locals over Dublin city centre laneway tell of open drug use and public sex

Councillors on Monday voted to close public access to the Harbour Court laneway in Dublin.

LETTERS TO DUBLIN City Council about anti-social activity in a city centre laneway tell of open drug use in the laneway, remains of human excrement, stenches of urine and public sex taking place there.

Workers, residents and business owners in the area, in letters sent to the Dublin City Council Area Manager seen by The Journal, pleaded with the local authority to close off public access to Harbour Court.

Councillors on Monday voted in favour of closing public access to the Harbour Court laneway over long-running concerns of intravenous drug abuse, drug dealing and other activity taking place in the laneway. 

The laneway has been the focus of local concerns for years. Problems with drug use and related issues were highlighted in this article from The Journal almost a decade ago.

In July of last year, the council’s Central Area Committee were tasked with initiating the procedure to close the laneway and opened the process for submissions. 

The complaints paint a stark image. Many complaints simply asked for the laneway to be closed in the interest of public safety and cleanliness.

One handwritten letter from an employee of a local pub detailed that the work lives of the employees of the neighbouring businesses have been “defined by the poor state of the lane and its unsavoury characters”.

harbour court Map of the area where public right of way has been extinguished on Harbour Court in Dublin 1. Dublin City Council Dublin City Council

The letter said: “We have had many customers complain of the smell of urine on hot summer days. I do not advise my customers to use the laneway at anytime of day – but especially at night.”

When night falls, the lane becomes a hub of dangerous activity.”

It adds: “My colleagues have been attacked because of the characters [...] who frequent the lane. It also reflects on the pub’s reputation. It has fallen on us to clean the public street of broken bottles, needles and all sorts of bodily fluids.

“Personally, I have seen constant drug abuse, physical altercations, public sex. Every day I deal with addicts trying to steal a drink and find a bathroom to get high.”

The letter concludes with a request to the councillors: “Make Dublin a safer place for regular people. Close the lane.”

The laneway, located on the north of the city, connects Marlborough Street to Lower Abbey Street and Eden Quay. The backs of many businesses, such as Wynn’s Hotel, The Laughter Lounge comedy club and the Wiley Fox pub, face into the laneway.

On the same day councillors voted, a violent machete attack allegedly took place just a short distance from it.

Sinn Féin councillor for the North inner-city Janice Boylan said that because none of the businesses or residents in the area face onto the laneway, passive surveillance of the area is difficult.

Another letter attached a negative review of a business who received it after a guest – who was a wheelchair user – was subjected to entering the premises through the laneway, as it was the only accessible route that could be provided.

In the review, the guest says they had to travel through a “terrible road with potholes filled with more than just water in them”, the smell of urine, graffiti and broken glass.

The business owner claimed that this was one of many negative reviews where the contents were out of their control.

Boylan told The Journal that the council “don’t have to do these things”, but have been left with no choice but to stop public access to the laneway.

Boylan said she intends to support two urban renewal projects – Reimagining Dublin One scheme and the Love Your Lane plan – if re-elected in June. She said the Central Area Committee have not been presented with enough evidence that those plans will be enough to tackle the behaviour at Harbour Court.

harbour ct 01_90684767 Rubbish and poor road quality in the laneway in June 2023. Sam Boal / Rolling News Sam Boal / Rolling News / Rolling News

Fine Gael Councillor for the North Inner-City Ray McAdam said he has been dealing with the issues at Harbour Court “on and off for 15 years”.

He told the monthly meeting of the Council on Monday that it was right to respect the submissions from local businesses to close the laneway.

Speaking to The Journal, McAdam said the work carried out so far to curb anti-social activity has only been met with even more of the same behaviour, or worse. “You’d take two steps forward and end up going back five.”

Another letter, written on behalf of a local property owner, said they have owned the building since the late 1980s. The letter claims that there have been so many high-profile, serious incidents in the laneway that gardaí are “reluctant to patrol the area now”.

aor Labour TD Aodhan Ó Ríordáin visiting the site when he was drugs minister in 2013. Used syringes and human excrement were seen in the alley. Daragh Brophy / The Journal Daragh Brophy / The Journal / The Journal

Another local property owner claimed that they had invested upwards of €3 million into restoring their building. 

It said: “Unfortunately all our hard work is being undone as our staff, our customers, tourists to the city centre and members of the public have to put up with the shocking, dangerous, anti-social activities all taking place in Harbour Court just yards from what should be a our main tourist area of the city.”

A manager at a local business said in a letter to the council that syringes, drug paraphernalia, human excrement and urine had littered the laneway behind their workplace. They asked the council to close off public access.

“I have personally dealt with multiple counts of assault to members of the public and one of my staff members caused by the unsavoury characters using it as a place to use drugs or as a public toilet,” the letter said.

Another letter, written on behalf of a landlord in charge of a property housing single women, single-parent households and 20 residents who are in international protection, made similar claims.

It labelled the laneway as a “disgrace for a capital city like Dublin” and said it represents “an imminent danger to females and children”.

It says: “Used needles and other utensils are carelessly left behind. The consumption and distribution of hard drugs in public is undoubtedly prohibited in Ireland.”

“Another aspect of the immediate closure of this laneway is the fact that it is used as a public urinal. Excrement can be found at every corner. The smell is almost unbearable and poses a health risk to my residents.”

DublinTown, a collective organisation of businesses in the capital, told The Journal that the group believes “this is the right decision in the current circumstances”.

Boylan called for increased Garda visibility around the city and the establishment of safe, drug-use facilities for those with those with addiction issues.

Plans to construct a designated supervised injection centre for drug users in Dublin have been in the works for several years but have been blighted by planning permission problems.

It’s planned the centre will now open at Merchants Quay Ireland, on the south quays of the Liffey, in September of this year.

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