A mile away, but miles apart
Dublin's Gasworks building has the highest rate of employment in the State; Gardiner Street the highest rate of unemployment. ROSITA BOLANDwalks the short distance across the Liffey between the two, and uncovers a tale of two cities
‘GOOGLE LAND’, DUBLIN 4
THE FIRST THING you notice about the Gasworks Buildings apartment complex by Grand Canal Dock in Dublin is the striking absence of even the smallest piece of litter. The blinding white paintwork on the complex walls is graffiti-free. The many carefully-tended flowerbeds and lawns are spiked with cheery signs that implore variously, “No Playing in the Flowerbeds!”, “No Ball Games”, “Keep off the Plants” and “No Smoking”. This, it seems, is an orderly community.
It is also a community that this week provided a striking finding in the Central Statistics Office’s (CSO) small area population statistics data. They showed that 94 per cent of residents of one of the apartment buildings in this complex were in employment; the highest percentage in the State.
The Gasworks complex fronts on to Barrow Street, which used to be best known as a film location site, and for the Factory studio space. That was before Google arrived. While there are other large companies nearby – Facebook, BT, and the corporate law firm, Mason, Hayes Curran, which is on Barrow Street itself – this compact area between Grand Canal Dart station and the top of Barrow Street has become unofficially known as Google Land. The flagship 210 apartment building, the former gasworks itself, sold in June for €40 million, and it was reported at the time that 80 per cent of the apartments are rented to Google employees.
When you have spent some time wandering round the area, you slowly become aware of something less obvious than the lack of litter and pristine urban flowerbeds. It is the fact that every person who comes into view on the street, whether darting out of Eurospar, striding briskly through the Gasworks complex, or coming out of a building, is wearing a plastic identity tag or swipe card somewhere on their person. These tags usually mean one thing: you’re an employee.
Des O’Toole, a contractor for Google, is taking five minutes outside a building for a cigarette. “I think the reason this area developed the way it did rather than the Gardiner Street area is that business development in the northside only got as far as the IFSC,” he says. “There wasn’t the land anywhere else.”
“Look at all the taxis,” says Chris Logan, who works in one of the offices on the street. There’s a rank outside one of the Google buildings, and an overflow of taxis on the opposite side of the street, awaiting to cross over and enter the rank. “They’re always there, and they wouldn’t be there without fares.”
Taxi driver Christopher Igbokwe is at the top of the rank, awaiting a fare. “This is a very busy rank,” he confirms. “Especially from Friday lunchtimes. They are the airport fares. I take people working at Google to the airport who tell me they are going home for the weekend, to Germany, France, Belgium, Spain. It’s Google and all the ancillary operations that provide the employment here: the catering, cleaning, security, maintenance and all the other bits and pieces.”
Nicola Scullion, manager of Meagher’s Pharmacy, breaks off our conversation to attend to a customer. The customer, who has a Spanish accent and an ID tag, is complaining of a problem with her ears after a flight the previous day. “We are never not busy,” says Scullion. Then she considers. “It’s usually busier than now, but that’s because it’s August and the builders have started their builders’ holidays. They’ll be gone now for a few weeks.”
She points across the street to a Google building, where the builders have gone on holidays. “Builders’ holidays! You don’t hear that expression in Ireland too often these days,” she says with a laugh.
Scullion has worked in the pharmacy for a year, and makes a point of relating how consistently clean and crime-free the area is. The enormous and well-stocked Eurospar that anchors the street sells produce you don’t routinely see in inner city groceries. There is, for instance, an olive bar. There are six different kinds of olives on sale, at €18 a kilo; among them, chilli with coriander, garlic and thyme, and stuffed pepper. There’s also a designated aisle, branded “Dinner to Go”, filled with pre-prepared food, including a smoked salmon and tarragon quiche made by a company whose slogan on the box declares, “Lovely Food for Lovely People”.