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Rolling News

Andrea Horan Whose job is it to provide a liveable city?

The Dublin businesswoman, campaigner and broadcaster says Covid-19 has exposed the under-resourcing and neglect of Dublin’s outdoor spaces.

LAST UPDATE | 2 Jun 2021

WHAT HAPPENED AT the weekend on South William Street (the centre of the universe if you’re asking) was inevitable. Anyone who was surprised hasn’t been paying attention.

Let’s get the issue of the littering and absolute state of the place out of the way first though. People shouldn’t have left the place like that. Full stop. And it has to be said the cleanup operation by Dublin City Council’s team was phenomenal.

Was it ideal for such a big crowd to gather in one place during a pandemic? No. But one can only imagine the big crowd was made up of many smaller groups, abiding by the guidelines and instruction to meet outside for an ‘outdoor summer’, merging into one irresistible crowd of craic.

But as soon as you scratch even a suggestion of the surface, it becomes clear that there are much bigger systemic reasons as to why this frisson of sociability exploded like it did last weekend – as well as it coinciding with the loosening of restrictions.

I come to this conversation on the back of a project called No More Hotels, a protest party to highlight the fact that clubbing was culture. We set it up because we were sick of watching the eradication of places to dance in the city to make way for hotels.

We’re not against hotels, we love hotels. But the city was becoming a mono-culture of facilities for tourists to splash their cash with nowhere for the residents of the city to let their hair down. As the campaign grew, we couldn’t help but wonder, who was in charge of shaping our city and providing the amenities, social spaces and facilities that made a city worth living in because it felt like no one had our best interests at heart.

Who’s in charge?

It’s easy to land on councillors when you try to figure out who is responsible for the lack of radical thinking and plans for a gorgeous city and the benefit of their constituents but when you dig a bit deeper, it quickly becomes apparent that the councillors are severely lacking any power or autonomy and the buck stops with the Council Executive, which holds all the cards and decision making.

Back to South William Street.

This weekend comes on the back of weeks and weeks and weeks of people begging for basic facilities to be able to make it possible to use the city. Toilets were a hot topic, bins were too. It got to the point where actual city councillors were sharing petitions calling for more toilet facilities.

Councillors petitioning the city council for basic amenities that we shouldn’t have to beg for.

The absence of basic facilities in Dublin was exposed by the pandemic as the businesses that were left to carry the slack for the city’s lacking closed. The Tanaiste’s response to what happened at the weekend was to reassure everyone that businesses were opening soon and the people of the city would have toilets again. REJOICE!

But all that does is highlight how inaccessible the city is for anyone who isn’t splashing the cash and how yet again, things are being left to the market. Sure, public toilets are currently out to tender by private businesses and their locations will be driven by ‘the market’.

We’ve been told for months that we’d have to rely on an ‘Outdoor Summer’ in the interest of public health, however, the facilities, plans, programming and budget assigned to make the city viable for outdoor life are not at the scale we need. It felt as though the big ideas and radical plans we needed were not being met by the Council’s actions.

Authentic, real plans?

In a memo sent to all city councillors, Dublin City Council CEO Owen Keegan announcing the Recovery Task Force, it was explicitly spelt out that there would be issues with the city’s recovery but no “specific financial allocation” would be assigned to the task force. Any meaningful actions were put on the long finger yet again, to wait it out till the businesses could provide the city with its functionality.

It’s telling that we live in a city that has a council which publicly announced that “…feel that if we provide toilets and bins at these locations it will only drive more footfall and create more of an issue from a public health perspective”; that instead of managing Portobello Plaza (as we’re apparently calling it now) that a hugely utilised public space was fenced off at weekends.

What this period of time has highlighted is how under-resourced the city was before a pandemic struck and we had to rely on the city to provide for our needs. Now, a year into Covid-19, when we weren’t even starting off with the basics, we’re left to fend for ourselves from a city that doesn’t seem to want us. Unless you have an interest in White Water Rafting, apparently this city isn’t for you.

We need a local government that allows its representatives to seed ideas with the hope they’ll come to fruition. We need councillors who are empowered to think radically because the basics are covered as a baseline.

We need accountability from those in charge. We need a democratic local government. We need to realise that we all have ownership of the city and we deserve to be provided with not just the basics, we deserve a city that hums, bustles with life and activity and is open to all.

Andrea Horan is the founder of nail bar Tropical Popical, The Hunreal Issues, co-founder of No More Hotels, and co-presenter of Don’t Stop Repealin’ and United Ireland with Una Mullally. She currently features as one of two protagonists in ‘The 8th’, available to view on demand now. Twitter @andreahoran.


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