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Dublin’s post-Covid plans: ‘There is no vision and no strategy… our citizens are losers’

The continued lack of a post-Covid plan for Dublin's future is jeopardizing its reputation as a premier tourism destination and investment location, according to a group of leading city-centre retailers, hotels, cultural institutions and business organisations.

The lack of planning is exacerbated by the spate of violent attacks in the city in recent months, most recently in a stabbing attack on a man in his 30s on Grafton Street early Sunday morning.

As Dublin prepares to host thousands of US tourists at Aviva Stadium on Saturday for a high-profile American college football game between Notre Dame and Army, concerns are being raised over the violence.

The Dublin Business Group raised their concerns in correspondence with Dublin City Council (DCC) seen by the Irish Times in July 2021. She has repeatedly warned – regardless of Dublin's drug and violence problems, alcohol-fueled lawlessness and insufficient amounts of policing – that the lack of a vision for the coming decades threatens the city's status as “our country's business and cultural capital”.

They emphasized that a significant increase in antisocial behavior requires “an updated policy response”; Concerns over the impact of outdoor hospitality introduced during the pandemic, which is “often of poor quality” and the urgent need for agreement on acceptable cleanliness standards due to chronic waste.

The group accepted that “sporadic changes” in the city were inevitable given “Dublin's post-Covid reality” and acknowledged the challenges in certain locations. More recently, however, their concerns have focused on the city's Georgian Quarter, which includes significant cultural institutions, and the Merrion Row/Lower Baggot Street area.

Her concerns were first detailed in a letter to then-Lord Mayor Alison Gilliland and Council leader Owen Keegan dated July 30, 2021. The 18 signatories included retailers such as Brown Thomas Arnotts and Weir & Sons, and hotels such as The Shelbourne; The Merrion, Buswells, The Marker, The Fitzwilliam, The Conrad and the Doyle Collection.

They were supported by the Dublin Chamber of Commerce; KPMG, the Convention Centre, Croke Park Stadium, the Royal Hibernian Academy, the Little Museum of Dublin and the Docklands Business Forum.

In response, the DCC agreed on the need for a “comprehensive and coordinated post-Covid plan… particularly in relation to tourism and related sectors which are essential to the success of Dublin's economy”.

“While the City Council can and will contribute to and implement such a strategy, a successful outcome requires a holistic approach from government. We are currently considering how this can be achieved,” said Keegan.

He strongly defended measures to facilitate outdoor hospitality, which he says have “largely been successful, particularly in terms of achieving goals related to the reopening of our society and economy”.

It is understood that despite efforts by the group's officials in the government, the plan has not made significant headway. Their concerns about deteriorating road conditions have not abated.

The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) has strongly expressed its concern at the lack of leadership and overall vision for Dublin, “including the need for creative solutions to problem areas”.

“There is no vision and no strategy for the city and our citizens are the losers,” RIAI President Charlotte Sheridan told the Irish Times.

“We know that our citizens and visitors want to visit vibrant, livable cities. Employers want quality places where their employees can lead fulfilling lives and we need to make that a reality,” she added.

Sheridan said the RIAI is committed to working with DCC to create an environment that provides high quality and well-designed long-term values ​​for the people of Dublin City and a sustainable livable city for generations to come, Sheridan said.

“As Ireland's population continues to grow, the capital has increasing demands and complex needs to create a vibrant, safe, sustainable and inclusive city,” she added.

“However, for the city to thrive fully, it also needs the social, economic and cultural assets essential to supporting growing communities in their daily lives.”

That includes quality, well-designed facilities like playgrounds and parks — places that support communities, Sheridan said. “These are places where people come together and where visitors can engage with a welcoming and well-designed Dublin.”

Sheridan recognized the need to protect, enhance and promote Dublin's many historic and modern buildings. “There are parts of the city where new communities have thrived really well and where existing communities and neighborhoods have consolidated, but it's happening piecemeal and not replicating city-wide.”

Merrion Row received a €232,000 grant from Fáilte Ireland to pave the area, leading to fears that it would become a ‘mini-temple bar' but this is not being pursued

Established in April 2021, the DCC Office of City Recovery issued a comprehensive “Update and Mid-Term Action Plan” for the city, but the actions were either mostly temporary in nature or suggested as future options. Operations were scheduled to cease at the end of 2021, but have been retained. It is headed by a senior staff member and reports to a taskforce committee chaired by the Lord Mayor.

Some stakeholders on Merrion Row and Lower Baggot Street fear the problems are getting worse, although they recognize businesses with facilities on the street create jobs and contribute to community life. Some expressed concerns in a statement to DCC on June 23, opposing the street furniture expansion.

“The temporary outdoor dining structures constructed in the Merrion Row area during Covid are causing visual pollution and clutter and negatively impacting the area's architectural fabric and character,” said Shelbourne Hotel, Merrion Hotel and Finnegan Menton Estate Agents.

Requests to keep these drinks have been made by Ely Wine Bar, Etto Restaurant, Toners Bar, Cirillo's Restaurant, Brookwood Restaurant, Doheny & Nesbitt Bar, Giuseppe's Fish & Chip Shop, Caffe Nero, Bang Restaurant and Hugo's Restaurant.

The holdouts said that while the council could be commended for responding so quickly to the Covid emergency, “an unintended consequence is that alfresco dining has now become alfresco drinking, leading to antisocial behavior in this.” area that has not previously been a problem”.

“Loud music is played through loudspeakers from bars, with drinkers blocking main footpaths and copious alcohol branding around schools and on the main thoroughfare to and from St Stephens' Green, as well as major tourist attractions, museums and galleries,” they added .

The Public Health (Alcohol) Act imposes strict regulations on the placement and content of alcohol advertisements in public places and prohibits the advertisement within 200 meters of a school, crèche or local authority playground. No one is permitted “to consume or attempt to consume intoxicating beverages on any street or in any public place within the functional area of ​​the Council”.

DCC said, “Drinking in public outside of a licensed area is the business of the Gardaí.”

“This area has an over-concentration of large pubs and restaurants and the taking of public space during an emergency has resulted in very narrow streets with no room for cyclists or pedestrians and an intimidating atmosphere for both local residents and international visitors.” the holdouts said, citing a Fáilte Ireland Tourism Barometer which cited outdoor drinking as a problem.

“We also observed that the street redevelopments resulted in a totally unacceptable level of litter and even dirtier streets, as the streets could not be properly cleaned while the makeshift structures were in place.

“This area in the Georgian heart of the city [an architectural conservation area] In our opinion, this is not the right place for the development of al fresco dining/drinking facilities and for the above reasons we strongly oppose this application from the restaurants and bars,” they added, noting: “This objection applies to all future applications shall be applied thereto.” the same applies to either Merrion Row or Lower Baggot Street.”

Objectors speaking to the Irish Times noted incidents of people openly using crack cocaine on the street; “several instances of shoplifting”; and defecation in public places. They accepted that sometimes large gatherings are inevitable there, especially in connection with major sporting events.

Merrion Row received a €232,000 grant from Fáilte Ireland to pave the area, leading to fears that it would become a ‘mini-temple bar' but this is not being pursued.

Dariusz Jablonski, Manager of Cirillo's Restaurant, agreed that there was a cleaning issue. He and his staff were constantly busy cleaning their area, and community cleaners are rarely seen. There is also an anti-social problem in Dublin, which is generally exacerbated by the lack of a Garda presence, he said.

“It's definitely different than it was a few years ago… it's not safe anymore,” he added.

He added that restaurant staff have faced some very delicate situations, including throwing glasses and smashing a window, but are making extra efforts to ensure the safety of their customers. It has 12 tables outside, but they've remained closed lately due to inclement weather, leading to an 18-20 percent drop in sales in July, Jablonski said.

With seating for 16 guests in front of Etto, “the tables are elegant and candlelit, with seating for two or four,” explains co-owner Liz Matthews. “We use plain white umbrellas and there is no branding on any of our furniture. It's a very clean and tidy space. Everyone sits and enjoys a full meal.

“It's a nice, quiet hum with no music and absolutely no scuffles. We never get in the way of pedestrians and on a nice day there is a great atmosphere with people strolling and enjoying the atmosphere.”

However, she can understand why there are objections to anything related to antisocial behavior or lack of cleanliness.

“But this can certainly be controlled by having the council deal with each troubled deal individually,” Matthews said. “Most businesses want their outdoor spaces to contribute to a positive improvement in the city, and they can be trusted to run them responsibly. The city center should be a sociable, lively place, like other European cities, where people sit outside with a meal, a drink or a coffee all year round.”

A spokeswoman for Bang Restaurant disagreed with the grounds for the objection, saying they were “not an issue in this area”. The eight tables on the street have not been used in recent weeks due to bad weather, but when they were in use there were no experiences of anti-social behaviour. “Nothing out of the ordinary,” she added.

A Caffe Nero representative said there were no problems near their store during the day. When asked if antisocial behavior at night was a problem, she said: “Not for us. NO.”

A DCC spokeswoman said the Council is “actively working with business representative groups, including hospitality industry representatives, and with Fáilte Ireland at a strategic level in various forums and operationally on a daily basis to maintain the City of Dublin's position as a prime travel destination for.” Tourism, Investment and Pleasure for Citizens”.

“Outdoor dining is now an active part of the urban landscape and DCC works with companies and business advocacy groups to support the consistency and quality of outdoor street furniture arrangements… and strives to develop a higher quality, more aesthetically pleasing suite.” Street furniture that enhances the city,” she added.

The council will continue its efforts to address local concerns or issues while improving streetscapes and providing “a quality dining experience for customers”.

She accepted that many of the regulations allowed during Covid-19 “need to be expanded now in times of crisis to improve the quality of service”.

“DCC is working with outdoor hospitality businesses across the city, including on Merrion Row and Lower Baggot Street, to regulate outdoor street furniture placement and address issues raised.”

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