The sun shines down on the streets of Dublin city on the last Saturday of May. For the first time in what feels like forever, the city is alive with the sounds of music, chatting and of course, the occasional chant. Groups of friends descend on the city looking for a good time and a sigh of relief, but where to?
The city is not built like other cities of Europe, littered with grand squares, where congregation can be separated from consumerism. When the parks fill up, Dubliners looking for a space removed from traffic find themselves sandwiched on a series of streets and laneways between Grafton Street and Georges’ Street. Anywhere else and friends will find themselves caught between road and pedestrian traffic.
Conveniently, this is where Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan found himself too last Saturday evening. His tweet about his “shock” upon seeing the crowds gather in the only place that they could, began circulating on social media. Like a School Master, a parallel could be drawn, as he wagged a finger at the unruly crowds. To many, what seemed like the logical consequence of loosened restrictions, combined with beautiful weather, should have come as no surprise.
However, this points to a broader issue of the recent contradictions in government messaging. Just yesterday Senator Regina Doherty, retweeted a video of crowds in the same area, tweeting “Back to a Little bit of Normality”. Many will now also be familiar with public ad boards, displaying the message “Think Outside”.
Yet, public spaces around the country are being cordoned off. Every incident of littering or public urination is treated with sternness, and instead of providing portaloos near popular meet up spots or bins and street cleaning, the locations are closed up and the public or told to go find another place to “think outside”.
The luxury of a garden or a car to visit more isolated spots is not one many have the privilege of, and the young people of Dublin know this better than any other demographic. Where is one to meet their friends if there are no public spaces left?
Politicians and government officials can complain all day about the litter left on the streets after a hectic day in town but there seems to be a lack of understanding that 50% of the job of running a bar or restaurant is cleaning and upkeep.
Young people who now gather will find themselves subject to accusations of not taking restrictions seriously, or not treating the city with due respect, despite the lack of public facilities.
Keeping indoor meetings restricted and telling individuals to meet outdoors creates a lifestyle that cities in this country are not equipped to deal with. The logical consequence of “thinking outside” requires the government to equip the local councils to provide wide and open spaces in a city traditionally built for motorists.
It requires the government to equip councils with the ability to clean these spaces more often, and for public toilets to become commonplace. As calls for people to "think outside" continue while society resumes to some form of normality, local councils must understand the importance of improving and increasing public facilities so as to properly balance respecting public health measures and maintaining the upkeep of local communities.