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Campaigners call for disbandment of Dublin Town group

Testy exchanges about inflated footfall and graffiti clean-up feature at campaign launch

Martin Deniau, Kate O’Neill, Mary Costelloe, Brendan Fagan, Michael Burns and Dublin City Cllr, Mannix Flynn, at the No To Bid campaign launch. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

The Dublin Town business group should be brought before the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to answer questions about its finances, campaigners calling for the organisation’s disbandment have said.

More than 2,500 retail members of the city’s Business Improvement District (Bid), which operates under the name Dublin Town, will hold a five-yearly plebiscite next month to decide on its future.

An alliance calling itself the “No To Bid” campaign yesterday encouraged a “No” vote among businesses, arguing that an annual levy paid to Dublin Town is double taxation on top of commercial rates.

The No campaign, which is spearheaded by the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI), launched its campaign at the Brooks Hotel, Drury Street on Tuesday.

Accounts for 2015 show Dublin Town received €2.7 million from the levy, which is equivalent to 5 per cent of the commercial rates paid by businesses in the city centre, along with €408,000 from other sources.

Saying that it has received an estimated €1.9 million from unnamed sources over the past decade, RAI chief executive Adrian Cummins accused the organisation of a lack of transparency that should be investigated by the PAC.

The plebiscite has exposed a deep schism amongst Dublin city-centre restaurateurs

Dismissing the charges, a spokesman for Dublin Town said it “utterly rejects” the transparency charges, saying the sources of sponsorship money are fully acknowledged.

The plebiscite has exposed a deep schism amongst Dublin city-centre restaurateurs, since 18 of them recently urged RAI president Liam Edwards to ensure the RAI stayed neutral in the upcoming ballot.

However, the RAI has since advocated for a No vote. Three-quarters of its 170 members in the city centre are opposed to the retention of Dublin Town, claimed Mr Cummins.

The Dublin Chamber of Commerce has offered Dublin Town conditional support, as long as it concentrates on its original mandate, “including street cleaning and graffiti removal”.

The Licensed Vintners Association, which represents pubs in the capital, has adopted a neutral stance, while the Irish Hotels Federation is opposed.

Testy exchanges

The gathering heard testy exchanges between supporters and opponents, with disagreements over whether Dublin City Council would have to remove drugs’ needles and graffiti if Dublin Town ceased to exist.

Dublin Town said the No side’s claims that footfall figures have been inflated are “simply untrue”. The number of pedestrians on city-centre streets is counted by a respected international analytics firm which has detected successive increases over the past six years, it said.

Disgruntled Capel Street business owner Michael Burns said his levy contribution to Dublin Town comes to €390 per year, equal to two days’ takings from his Goodwill Thrift Shop.

“I don’t see why I should support a company privately and pay double rates when Dublin City Council should be doing their job,” he said.

However, Dublin Town responded with positive testimony from supporters, including Liam Keighery from the Irish Life Centre who said it had been active in getting rid of graffiti in the north inner city.

Cllr Mannix Flynn said Dublin Town’s marketing and PR budget of more than €1 million in 2015 compared to €400,000 spent on cleaning and maintenance proved its primary purpose was to create “fake spectacle and events”.