Dirty old town
James Joyce is largely to blame for the affectionate phrase “dear old dirty Dublin” even though he never wrote that; in his version, the word “old” was omitted. That’s how it always was, going back to the medieval citizens who dumped their excrement, and much else besides, in the river Liffey. And Senator David Norris thinks he knows who’s to blame – it’s us. According to him, “we are a genuinely filthy nation ... a filthy race of people”, who think nothing of dumping untagged black plastic refuse on the back lanes and doorsteps of the north inner city. Yet a report by Dublin City Council had claimed that there was no litter problem in this area.
Perhaps the council’s complacency is attributable to a finding in 2013 that Dublin was “cleaner than European norms” by the annual Irish Business Against Litter survey. This related to litter alone and obviously took no account of other indicators of uncleanliness, such as the ingrained dirt that builds up on footpaths during warm summer weather or the prevalence of graffiti on buildings and other facilities owned by the council. Unlike other cities, especially in Europe, our footpaths are not power-hosed every night, nor does there appear to be any programme in place to remove graffiti as soon as possible after the vandals have struck. Dublin Town, as the city centre business improvement district now styles itself, has done some good work in this area, but the city council is abjectly failing in its responsibilities where keeping the streets clean are concerned.
At a time when many householders resent having to pay water charges, it may seem irresponsible to suggest that every footpath and pedestrian zone in the city centre should be washed nightly during dry spells. But we cannot go on expecting that the next shower will get rid of all the grime. Neither can the council evade its duty to maintain the Millennium Bridge by removing graffiti from its bronze handrails on a daily basis. In cities such as Barcelona or Paris, to name but two, such measures to protect the public realm would be regarded as normal, and they must also become the norm in Dublin.