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Beer and goading in Portobello: 'I've cleaned up s**t, I've seen more people pissing'

There were differing views at the canal-side as Dublin City Council fenced off the popular public space.

Updated May 14th 2021, 6:31 PM

20210514_133346 The fenced off plaza this afternoon. Source: The Journal

DUBLIN CITY COUNCIL has fenced off Portobello Plaza and asked people not to congregate there after what it described as “completely unacceptable” behaviour there in recent weeks. 

DCC said this was due to anti-social behaviour and thousands gathering at the canal-side and surrounding area.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne programme, DCC CEO Owen Keegan said there were “about 1000 people in the vicinity over recent weekends” and that the problems included “noise, urination and defecation”.

He described the situation as “a shambles” for local residents. 

The plaza, which has outdoor seating and is one of relative few such spots in the city, will be fenced off this weekend with the council saying “the situation will be reviewed next week”.

The Portobello Plaza has been a spot for socialising both before and during the pandemic, particularly at the weekend during spells of good weather. In recent weeks it has attracted large crowds of people socialising outdoors, as has along the Grand Canal.

Littering has become a more acute problem in recent weeks, particularly in the canal.

Objecting to the council’s move, Peter Dooley of the Dublin Renters Union organised a protest at the plaza this afternoon. 

A small number of people gathered at the plaza for the protest, with roughly equal numbers who were in favour and opposed to the new fencing. 

Some residents who were pleased with the fencing described the area in recent weeks as being “like a warzone”.

Some others, mostly young people, said the public area had been taken away from them and that this will simply move people down the canal or indoors. 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin is among those who has said that “outdoor activities will be the theme of summer” with bars and restruatrants remaining closed under Covid-19 restrictions

The small protest was largely civil but there were raised voices on either side and Dooley moved his public address across the road to avoid disruption to the bike lane. 

One local resident said he estimated that there were “400-500 people urinating” near the plaza last weekend. Another resident said that an accumulation of urine had seeped under the front door of a local house. 

“I was abused between five and 10 times, told to ‘fuck off’ and that I’d be ‘sorted out’ if I didn’t stop complaining. It just couldn’t continue, it was like a warzone,” one local said. 

He added that fencing the area was the only option because the scale of the problem is too big for gardaí to handle: 

They do as much as they can do. Essentially they would come up and clear the plaza and then inside 20 minutes it would fill up again. Late at night, when the public parks closed, it would get worse and people would come up. In the last two weeks the crowd got rougher, I was threatened and abused.  

A second local man said he’s had to clean up urine and faeces and even saw one man selling home mixed alcohol. 

I’ve cleaned up tampons, I’ve cleaned up shit. I’ve seen more people pissing. I saw a fella yesterday mixing cocktails in the boot of his car, illegally selling alcohol. I’ve seen it all. 

“Last Sunday morning, I walked into my home came home from work at 7.20, I caught a girl pissing outside my home in the street. At 2.20 the following morning my car was broken into, 19 hours of this shit that went on last Sunday. So this is 24 hours a day, all day every day,” he said. 

This is not anti-social behaviour, this is a breakdown of public order. This is a public order thing, this is a breakdown of law and order.

Another local woman said that introducing public toilets in the area could potentially “make things worse” because “who knows what else they’d be doing in the toilets”. 

She explained that among the litter left behind were silver canisters, evidence that people there are inhaling nitrous oxide or ‘laughing gas’.

“It’s just unbelievable, we’re law abiding citizens, we are the people who are paying our taxes and obeying all the rules and the regulations,” she said.

These people come from anywhere. And they’re allowed to drink at the canal, leave their litter behind, there’s the noise, some bring boom boxes, they’re going to the toilet just everywhere. And I mean everywhere.

Another local however said the move to fence of the area was “incredibly stupid” because it will just move congregations a few hundred yards down the canal. 

“There are people who live near here who have no public spaces for the weekend now and we’ve been told to go outside for the outside summer. It’s going to move the people who are going to congregate here slightly further down the canal, making those areas more crowded, so all of the same problems of anti-social behaviour are going to be amplified further down,” he said. 

It’s been over 12 months now of essentially no socialisation, people are going to want to meet up and hang out with their friends. You can either let them do it in smaller groups by having as much public space as possible or have fewer spaces.

A number of young people who attended the protest said the decision to close to plaza essentially means more people meeting up indoors. 

“The crux of this issue is that when Dublin City Council put in measures like this in place, what they’re doing is ensuring young people will meet up indoors and spread and rise Covid-19 cases. We know the science behind this and how much worse it is to be meeting up indoors,” one person told The Journal. 

These residents here are essentially saying they’re more important than the residents down there. They’re more important than residents who live in the city centre. I mean, everybody is facing this problem.

20210514_131326 A sign near the Portobello Plaza. Source: The Journal

In its statement, Dublin City Council said that it is “very aware” of the importance of public spaces at the moment, but that some behaviour at the Portobello Plaza in recent weeks has been “completely unacceptable”.

Up to a thousand people have congregated in the area on recent weekends, without due regard for Covid-19 restrictions. The associated anti-social behaviour is having a hugely detrimental effect on both the local community and the environment.

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3603 Cleaning Up Local woman Juliana Hearty cleaning the river of rubbish at Portobello Lock, Dublin Source: Sasko Lazarov

The Council has said it has met with local residents, public representatives, and An Garda Síochána to discuss the issue and decided that, from today, the Portobello Plaza will be closed to the public until Monday morning 17 May.

The situation will then be reviewed next week.

“Dublin City Council would like to remind the public that it is illegal to drink alcohol outdoors in a public place under City Council bye-laws.

“There will be increased enforcement by An Garda Síochána in the Portobello area this weekend, and anyone found consuming alcohol outdoors in a public space may be fined,” it said.

In a series of tweets, Lord Mayor of Dublin and local councillor Hazel Chu said the decision to fence the area “was not what myself or some of my colleagues wanted”. 

“DCC curtained it off to provide local residents respite from some unfortunate events occurring. I have requested that this will be a once off curtaining until a proper consultation is put through,” Chu said. 

My preference which have been conveyed several times to DCC and gardai is to have more policing in the area, better facilities (toilets and waste) and event control. We need to address the residents concerns but we also need to keep our public spaces opened. 

Speaking at this evening’s Department of Health briefing, Deputy CMO Dr Ronan Glynn said he believes that it “not unreasonable” to close down public spaces if local people are “urinating and defecating and leaving rubbish behind. 

The decision to fence off the space has promoted a significant reaction online, with local representative Peter Dooley of the Dublin Renters Union organising the protest at the plaza this afternoon. 

Speaking to The Journal, Dooley said it is a symptom of a lack of public spaces for people. 

This has been going on for years, where I’ve been calling for the enhancement of public space, especially around Rathmines. Open spaces with a proper public facilities like toilets, we need a lot more public bins and benches as well,” he said.  

- With reporting by Gráinne Ni Aodha

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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