Vandalism and neglect


The destruction of the Viking site at Wood Quay to make way for Dublin civic offices represented one of the greatest acts of official vandalism in the last century. It happened in spite of public protests and represented a mindset that had earlier regarded the demolition of large parts of Georgian Dublin with equanimity. The situation has improved. But a reluctance to pursue private property owners for failing to maintain historic buildings persists and, with money in short supply, corners are being cut. A minor indication of official slippage has been the neglect and intended removal of the Alfie Byrne memorial at Clontarf.

Dublin City Council commissioned this carved oak bench, facing seawards, as a monument to a highly regarded politician who had been Lord Mayor of the city on ten separate occasions. It was erected in 1999. Rather than oil the wood to maintain its appearance and integrity, however, the bench - in later years - was coated in thick, unsightly brown paint that obscured the formal dedication. Its unkempt appearance encouraged vandalism. The memorial is now beyond repair and will be removed.

A wooden bench, of its nature, has a limited lifespan. But this public memorial deserved better treatment. Its loss may help to focus attention on the continuing damage being caused to public monuments, structures and artworks through extensive criminal activity. In stealing valuable metal, thieves can cause serious, sometimes irreparable, damage. This is only one aspect of countrywide metal thefts that exceed two thousand cases annually. Valuable paintings and museum artefacts are also being targeted.

Vandalism takes many forms. The most obvious involves criminal damage to property and the motivation of the perpetrators may involve greed, social resentment or intimidation. The defacement of walls and buildings by graffiti is seemingly unstoppable. But the loss of basic heritage and commemorative structures through official neglect or deliberate action can be addressed. All that is needed is pride.

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