Cocaine exchanged at window ledge of room where child played, says Portobello resident

Public urination and drug use sparked local ire but council reaction ‘lazy and myopic’

Dublin City Council was told that closing Portobello Plaza due to antisocial behaviour was "lazy and myopic" and risked "pushing people" into residential streets, and further into the city centre.

The council moved to restrict access to the plaza last month following antisocial behaviour which led to extensive complaints by residents, who said they were subject to widespread public urination, drug use and dealing which rendered the public utility unusable. The plaza has reopened after the temporary closure, the council said on Tuesday.

Residents told the council it was “hard to believe a small area could be so badly mismanaged”, while another said cocaine was being exchanged at the window ledge of a room where a child played – with residents forced “to live in a public toilet”.

However, the decision to put fences up around the plaza led to a strong backlash from many Dubliners who castigated the local authority for failing to provide enough facilities, and for closing off a public space as people were being told to enjoy an outdoor summer.


‘Knee-jerk’ response

Records released under the Freedom of Information Act show how Dublin City Council was told by a member of the public that if it “opened up more public spaces, closed roads and installed public toilets and facilities then you wouldn’t have to worry about 1000s of people congregating in one spot”.

"What on earth is wrong with [Dublin City Council chief executive] Owen Keegan and DCC management? How during a pandemic can you justify closing public space," asked one writer. Another accused the local authority of having "actively locked Dublin residents out of a public space, rather than use the resources it needs. DCC by this action is encouraging people to meet indoors." This added that amenities, public toilets, additional bins and seating should have been installed.

“Instead DCC went with a knee-jerk draconian disproportionate response devoid of natural justice.

“This problem can’t be solved by closing one plaza so please consider alternative options. To quote our Taoiseach, ‘outdoor activities will be the theme of the summer’.” Another wrote “the council is currently failing in its most important duty, which I remind the council is to the people of the city it is supposed to represent”.

‘Contempt shown’

The council was also chastised for not having identified the potential misuse of the plaza sooner: “That this issue would arise has been obvious since at least early spring and will only come more sharply into focus as restrictions ease.”

Another wrote: “What do you, the council officials and the gardaí think will happen this weekend? Where will the people who congregate at Portobello Harbour go when they get into town and realise the square is fenced off? This action will simply push people further into the residential streets, down the canal and into town.”

Another correspondent told the council that: “Observing the way DCC acts, one would think they had never set foot in another capital city. The contempt shown towards the general public, who this city should belong to, is astonishing.”

A spokesman for the council said the decision was taken to close the plaza after meetings with local residents. “After meeting with residents, the gardaí and local representatives, we decided we had a duty to act. And so we did.”

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times