City traders against street closures despite public disorder

Call to show ‘personal responsibility’ and zero tolerance for illegal outdoor drinking

Gardaí enforce coronavirus restrictions and move people on from South William Street, Dublin, on Sunday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Gardaí enforce coronavirus restrictions and move people on from South William Street, Dublin, on Sunday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

 

Dublin city traders have cautioned against reactionary street closures following scenes of public disorder on South William Street and surrounding areas last weekend.

Large groups engaged in illegal outdoor drinking, which resulted in several arrests on Saturday, must not be permitted to jeopardise the reopening of hospitality businesses next week, said Martin Harte chief executive of the Temple Bar Company.

“South William Street seems to have become a brand in itself for outdoor drinking,” Mr Harte said. “Temple Bar had street drinking back in the 1990s, but it was banned and it wasn’t tolerated afterwards.”

A similar approach needed to be adopted throughout the city to avoid the phenomenon taking hold, he said.

“What we have seen is uncontrolled outdoor drinking in a public space and that is illegal. If we had English stag parties behaving like this – peeing in people’s doorways and the rest, everyone would be saying the city had gone to the dogs.”

Temple Bar has so far escaped the chaos visited on the streets between Grafton Street and George’s Street, Mr Harte said, with bars and restaurants mostly waiting for the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions next week when they can officially trade outdoors.

“The city is going to be a very different offering once the restaurants open. They will provide a form of passive policing. There needs to be an element of control, if you don’t do that you have chaos. Our view is that, if it is seated and planned, it can be managed, whereas anything can happen in a large uncontrolled situation,” he said.

“The door needs to be firmly shut on outdoor drinking before next weekend. If this is allowed to continue the city will be uninhabitable and untradable and its tourist reputation will be shattered.”

Pedestrianisation

The crowds were centred on the council’s new pedestrian zones of South William Street, Dame Court and Drury Street. South Anne Street has also been pedestrianised, but has not attracted street drinkers.

Karl Purdy, who runs Coffeeangel on South Anne Street, said he didn’t think the pedestrianisation was at fault.

“The issue is uncontrolled street drinking and waste, not pedestrianisation. People bringing slabs of beer and naggins of whiskey into the city streets need to be dealt with appropriately, I don’t think rolling back on pedestrianisation is the solution.”

Pedestrianisation benefitted city businesses in general, not just the hospitality trade, Mr Purdy said. Any activity that could mean streets closed to customers had to be “nipped in the bud” he said.

Coilín O’Reilly, head of Dublin City Council’s city recovery strategy, said the council would continue to liaise with gardaí, traders and other stakeholders over the coming days to avoid a repeat of last weekend’s scenes. However, he said there are “no simple solutions” to prevent potential public order issues.

“Unplanned mass gatherings are by definition very difficult to plan for . . . We all have our part to play in preventing this, but people have to take personal responsibility as well.”

Bins and toilets

There was a risk he said that installing more bins and toilets would bring additional footfall into confined areas that didn’t have the capacity to deal with crowds.

“It’s a very difficult situation. We are in the middle of two conflated issues, one surrounds the availability of public toilets and bins, the other is a public health issue.”

He also believed the resumption of outdoor dining would help to curb illegal street drinking. And he said plans to create pedestrian zones on Capel Street would help to disperse people more evenly across the city.

“I genuinely think outdoor dining will mitigate some of these issues, but we are at the point in time where we have the perfect storm, where people are going outdoors, but there is nothing yet open for them to go to.”

Mr O’Reilly said the accusation the council had not provided adequate outdoor spaces was unfounded. “I don’t accept that . . . we have really good public spaces.”