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Dublin: 1 °C Tuesday 22 January, 2019

If there's no toilet around, is having a sneaky wee down a lane really a big deal?

When you gotta go, do you really have to go?


IT’S TWO WEEKS out from St. Patrick’s Day.

Ahead of that, we’re likely to hear the now annual but necessary debate about Ireland’s relationship with alcohol.

On the day, we’ll see plenty of public drunkenness. In cities like Dublin it’s often merry foreign tourists as much as Irish people, but the evidence of drink is everywhere.

We’ll also see people, mostly but not always men, urinating in alleyways or doorways. Even sometimes in the street.

What we won’t see, is enough public toilets to cater for the numbers involved. In Dublin city, there are no permanent public toilets.

The council does have some temporary toilets that it brings out at busy times, like matches or indeed St. Patrick’s Day, but as anyone who goes into town knows, this is a year-round issue.

It begs the question, can public urination really be considered offensive, and should it be a crime, if little or no effort is being made to provide an alternative?

We’re not talking here about someone who relieves themselves in full view of others on the street. Doing so is clearly a case of public indecency and would be dealt with accordingly.

But if someone felt they had no viable option and they discreetly go behind a bush or some bins to relieve themselves, who is really harmed by their actions?

And if the answer is nobody, why should it be considered a distasteful thing for them to do?

To take inspiration from a common philosophical question, if a man pisses in a lane and no one is there to see it, does it really matter that it happened?

There are of course several arguments to say that ‘yes, it does matter’.

The first is this: That after someone relieves themselves in a lane, even if nobody saw them, the contents of their bladder are left there or indeed flowing into a more public street.

In short, nobody wants to have to step over pee on their way home.

That’s true and fair, but it’s also true to say that doing so is unlikely to cause any injury or indeed any ill-health risks at all. If it were, a pub’s toilet floor is a far more toxic place to be standing.

Similarly, second-hand cigarette smoke a pee-stained tarmac is not.


But what about the point that: while it may not be physically injurious, it offends people’s sensibilities.

Again this may be true, but there are many other things that offends some people’s sensibilities that aren’t considered morally wrong.

Again, let’s go back inside the pub. A fart from a rather crude and selfish drinker may not be welcomed by anyone around them, but nobody is seriously suggesting that they should be fined.

In reality there’s not much difference between the two other than convention.

Of course, someone’s actions do not have to cause physical or financial injury for them to be wrong or indeed for it to constitute a crime.

Instances of racism, sexism, homophobia or other abuse may not initially damage a person physically, but they have real and long-term mental and societal consequences and are rightly criminalised.

But placing the offence caused by someone having a wee in the same category as above is rather ridiculous and probably insulting in itself.

For customer’s use only

Another argument against public urination is that it’s never really necessary: “Sure would you not pop into a pub for a second.”

First of all that’s not true. Sometimes it is completely necessary.

Someone relieving themselves in a lane is less offensive than that same person getting on a bus after having visibly wet themselves after 10 pints of beer.

It’s also often not practical at the times when it matters. Popping into a pub for a wee is a good option at 10 pm, less so four or five hours later.

At that time the only pubs open are the ones that will charge you a tenner to enter the door, and even then getting in is not guaranteed.

Going to a late fast-food restaurant is perhaps an option, but it’s not always.

And besides, private businesses shouldn’t have to provide public facilities and place an extra burden on staff already working unsociable hours.

In a letter to Dublin City Council in 2015, business group We Are Dublin Town said they felt “an unfair responsibility” was being placed on the city’s businesses to provide toilet facilities to members of the public.

One of the obstacles to actually providing such facilities is cost. Maintaining permanent public toilets is very expensive.

There are two automated public toilets in Dublin, one in Clontarf and one in Sandymount. Together, they cost €37,000 per year to service and maintain.

Clearly rolling out more in the city is going to be very pricey and in the past they’ve facilitated drug use.

The alternative is more compact pop-up temporary urinals or latrines that most travellers will recognise from European cities and beyond.

200287521-001 Outdoor latrine in Amsterdam, Netherlands/ Source: Getty Images

One of the main problems with these though is that they’re less suitable to the needs of women.

And that issue is one which is part and parcel of the entire debate around public urination.

The fact that urinating in public is easier for men and therefore far more common means defending it leaves one open to being accused of defending the selfish acts of men.

That’s unfair.

The lack of adequate toilet facilities for women, in venues as well as in a public spaces, is an issue in itself.

For one thing, all the arguments in defence of a private wee behind a tree are just as valid for a woman as they are for a man. Even if the act itself is trickier to pull off.

If society has deemed it less acceptable for a woman to have a public wee then it’s simply more evidence of the unfair standards a sexist society holds women to.

But using those unfair standards to ignore the wider issue is neither logical nor practical.

Instead, we must reconsider what our priorities are. If it’s to ensure that no one has to go down a side-street to drain their last Guinness, then fine let’s do that.

But if we feel that a city’s money could be better spent, then let’s stop pretending that having a widdle is somehow a problem in the first place.

It’s not, it’s just a bit of wee.

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