Following a number of recent attacks on tourists in Dublin, a national conversation has begun around revitalising Dublin city centre in order to create a safer and more accessible capital.
Trevor White, founder of the Little Museum of Dublin, last week wrote an article titled Manifesto for a Better Dublin calling for a Dublin-centred political party, more housing for young people and a charge for people to drive through the city centre. White’s 12-point plan, which included calling for RTÉ to leave its “leafy Montrose” headquarters in “the epicentre of bourgeois privilege’, prompted many readers at home and abroad to share their own proposed solutions.
Piotr Michalek, from Balbriggan, north Co Dublin, said: “As someone who lives in the county and commutes to work through the city every day I’m a firm believer that one of the main things Dublin needs is more gardaí on the streets and for them to have increased powers.” He called for gardaí to have the ability to arrest people seen committing anti-social behaviour in the city centre.
Michalek raised particular concerns about St Stephen’s Green. “During the summer it often becomes a hotspot for drug activity,” he said, adding that he had seen “people doing hard drugs right next to families enjoying their time there, even near young children”.
“I believe that with a higher level of security people would refrain from engaging in anti-social behaviour at St Stephen’s Green.”
He wasn’t alone in calling for an increased Garda presence in the capital, Braden Henrichs from Dublin 8, complained he “very rarely sees gardaí on foot, even in areas right next to Garda stations”. Henrichs said that “Dublin would do well to learn from Limerick”, which he said took its “negative reputation seriously” and that city had now ”significantly improved”.
When gardaí do catch people engaging in anti-social behaviour, one reader, Jonathon Healy, from Phibsborough, north Dublin, said that sentencing for assaults and anti-social behaviour needed to be more strict to make Dubliners feel safe in their city.
“There’s a disconnect between what politicians are saying and the lived experience of inner-city residents. We are told the city is so safe but we know from experience that it is getting less safe than it was,” Healy said. “I think there needs to be a Garda response, but we also just need more people living in the city which would address the vacant and derelict problem.”
Healy also called for drug treatment centres to moved out of the city centre, ensuring the capital is “no longer a repository for social problems”.
Carmel Dwan was less certain that more policing was the solution for what she called the city’s “chronic drug problem”, saying that “more Garda presence sadly won’t ease the issue of drug abuse, we urgently need more drug treatment centres”. She called for the public “to have more empathy for those that are struggling in our society”.
A dirty city
Dwan went on to say that the city had become “very dirty”. Having recently been shocked by the level of litter around Heuston Station, she said that beer cans and other rubbish left on the windowsills and ground around the train station was “disgusting”, and suggested greater fines for littering be imposed.
Dubliner Kevin Griffiths said: “If we are to improve Dublin more litter bins and better bin collection services would be a start. It’s not good enough to keep reminding people to put their rubbish away because some don’t. Therefore the council should get more funding and tackle the issue head on.”
Griffiths suggested the local councils should begin to institute litter patrols every few hours. Improvements in the city begin with the “small things”, he said, recommending “machines where you could place plastic bottles and get some money out of them”.
As well as litter across the Dublin streets, “even cleaning up the statues of our founding men and women would be something”, Griffiths said. “Daniel O’Connell’s statue, as an example, has been covered in bird poo on his head and on the angels around him for ages and nothing has been done to clean him. Even small gestures like this would show some semblance of pride in our history and people. Not just for tourists but for ourselves as well.”
“If there is Tidy Towns why can’t there be Tidy cities as well?’ he asked. “If there is some incentive to try and improve Dublin why not add an element of competition to it? Have Dublin compete with Cork, Limerick or Galway, and thus maybe some people will try and improve the city.”
He suggested: “Have tidy city committees in the different Dublin suburbs to unite and try and claim the prize. Creating community spirit to it for the tidiest city and a sense of pride for the capital. Get the council involved and thus some participation with local government could be achieved.”
Another respondent, Orla, who did not want to give her surname and who lives in the city centre, said she felt like she was “inhaling everyone else’s choice to drive a car” and that many parts of the capital smell like urine and found herself “hopping over urine puddles on the ground” whenever she walked on laneways in Dublin.
She also suggested targets be implements for minimum walking distances to parks in the city centre, saying that she is a “30-minute walk from the nearest park, the kids in my apartment block play on concrete”.
“They [the parks] don’t all need to be big or have all the bells and whistles, we just need to start. We could also do with a bench or two about the place, we have so very few.”
O’Connell Street should be turned into a huge green space, James Leonard suggested” “a city park, with grass, shrubs and more trees. It’s not a controversial suggestion these days given the perilous state of our ecology.”
A lecturer in design at Technological University Dublin Dr Kerry Meakin, from Kildare, said O’Connell Street should be pedestrianised and turned into “Dublin’s version of a continental square” with restaurants lining the street and outside seating lining the centre of the street.
Meakin said: “O’Connell Street is a place of historical significance – make it so, build a contemporary museum on the empty lots! Have an overall design and colour palette for the street facades that must be adhered to by traders.”
Stephen Moriarty said that he had moved to Barcelona two years ago and added: “I’ve been really struck by the beauty of the city and think that we can take some of their ideas and apply them to Dublin.”
“In sunny Barcelona there are trees everywhere, native trees, which give shelter, cleans the air and makes the place prettier. You can picture the scene of relaxing under a silver birch, reflecting on a statue of Patrick Pearse or a fountain dedicated to Cumann na mBan. It’s an enticing proposal.”
The teacher said he emigrated from Ireland due to the lack of permanent teaching jobs available and he was impressed by effort which Catalans put into making their city beautiful. “Statues and fountains are everywhere. I think that is the very first thing for us to do. Put statues, murals and fountains everywhere to add to the character of the city, increase civic pride, and make it more beautiful.”
Moriarty also suggested Dublin place more benches across the city to “add to the community feel”. He said this was normal where he lives in Barcelona, and these form natural public meeting places which add to the ambience of the city.
Adrian Gibbs, who lives in Cork city, said: “Dublin is a great city but is held back by an undercurrent of parochialism that balks at plans to modernise. Tall buildings and a metro are all out of the question because of the capital’s inability to stand up to Nimbyism.”
He predicted that “poor transport, lack of affordable housing, and myopic planning will impede Ireland’s development”, and called for a “more robust urban policing model”.
“Dublin should embrace progression and allow itself to grow up(wards) so that it can take its place beside similarly sized European cities such as Rotterdam, Luxembourg and Frankfurt!”
Another reader from Dublin, Jonathon Cooke, said that “Dublin’s property tax needs to be spent in Dublin, one city council area with an elected mayor with finance and power”.
He said that “shops must be allowed to convert over shop space into apartments” to relieve the pressure on the housing sector.
Cooke called for the city to improve its nightlife while also investing in more attractions for local people such as a new science museum and supporting local food markets. He hoped these efforts would help to get “middle classes living in the city like most European cities” and would give houses to key workers such as nurses, gardaí and teachers.
“Tax the hell out of derelict buildings!” he said.
Numerous readers criticised Dublin for its traffic and the quantity of cars that come through the capital. “We should bring in congestion charges, low traffic neighbourhoods, and implement a blanket 30kmh speed limit on the city,” said Orla. “It saves lives – there is no other argument against introducing it that can change that fact. Our buses are battling bad drivers every day and our pedestrians must dodge traffic.”
She said during 2021 she “counted every day that I saw someone breaking a red light while I had a green man [at the North King Street junction]. I gave up counting sometime around 260 days straight.”
“The quality of the air in 2020 was remarkably better than it is today. We also need to invest in cycle lanes – too many people have died on Dublin roads because we are not taking safety seriously. Anything that disrupts the car-driving experience is deprioritised; we cannot continue to accept this current level of unnecessary deaths on our roads.”
The road set-up in the country is also having other unintended impacts. Rosemary Mangan said the city “is a nightmare for wheelchair users”.
“On my first day out it was impossible to find a wheelchair parking space without barriers to its use – street signs, bins, or parking payment booths blocking my passenger door.” She said she was forced to “dismount from the car on to a busy road in the city centre”.
She found that the lack of kerb ramps forced her to put herself in danger by having to wheel through traffic to find a safe place to get on to the pavement. “I love Dublin, but I am not encouraged to enjoy it as there are so many barriers that make me feel very unwelcome.”
She said she understands that Dublin is an old city but said “preservation orders stating buildings are more important that people isn’t right”.
She called for city planners to look to other European cities of “equal historic value” where buildings are made accessible “in a manner that doesn’t require any kind of significant change to the building to allow accessible access to persons with reduced mobility”.
“Dublin has so much diversity, with the potential to increase it greatly. Let’s embrace persons with disabilities and break down the barriers preventing them being involved in Dublin.”