This City Is Filthy

Frank McDonald

Frank McDonald is the former environment editor of the Irish Times, and the author of several books, including The Destruction of Dublin (1985), Saving the City (1989), and The Construction of Dublin (2000). He is also co-author of books including Chaos at the Crossroads (2005) and The Builders (2008). He was born in Dublin, graduated from UCD in 1971, joined the Irish Times in 1979 and has been a resident of the Temple Bar area since 1995.


In Barcelona every night, guys in yellow overalls from the city’s sanitation department can be seen power-hosing footpaths to get rid of dirt and make them presentable to pedestrians every morning. The same happens in Paris and in many other European cities.

In Dublin, however, we expect rain to clean the streets. So when there’s a long dry spell, particularly in summertime, the footpaths become filthy with all sorts of grime and gunge, including the disgusting, sticky silage-like effluent that leaches out of litter bins.

We think nothing of dumping paper coffee cups, aluminium cans, plastic bottles, cigarette butts and other rubbish on the street, even within metres of a litter bin. The other day in Temple Bar, I saw the wicker basket of a parked ladies’ bicycle used as a litter receptacle.

If you walk around the streets, especially around 6pm, you can see lots of waste bags on city centre pavements tagged for collection, or untagged black plastic bags simply dumped on side streets and even on stone steps in front of Georgian houses in the north inner city.

Dublin must also be in the running for the title of World Capital of Public Urination, given how prevalent this disgusting practice is in parts of the city centre, notably Temple Bar. Mostly it’s done by men, but I once saw a drunken young woman squatting on a footpath to pee.

It’s no wonder there’s been a debate about Senator David Norris’s characterisation of us as a “genuinely filthy nation”. But even he overlooked the filthy state of our footpaths in saying that O’Connell Street was “kept really clean and wholesome all the time”.

It is not. No more than Grafton Street, where the new grey Iberian granite paving is pockmarked by dirt, including black stains left by discarded chewing gum; it has become “a blank canvas for filth”, according to one eagle-eyed citizen, Maureen Duckenfield.

In a letter to the Irish Times last month, the Ballinteer woman queried whether she was the only person to notice this problem. “I have never seen the pavements so dirty . . . This is the height of the tourist season. Have we lost all pride and respect for where we live?”

The pavements and gutters are swept alright, but there is no commitment to “deep cleaning” by power-hosing. Expecting rainfall to do the job is about as naive as former City Architect Jim Barrett’s initial belief that the stainless steel Dublin Spire would be “self-cleaning”.

“Think of your kitchen sink!” I remember saying to him. And yes, it’s true that a film of brown slime covers most of the Spire, above the shiny surface at the lower level. Yet the 120-metre monument has only been cleaned once (in 2008) since it was completed in 2003.

The cleaning cost, at €240,000, is obviously the main reason why it’s not done more often. But then, nobody gave much thought to the ongoing maintenance of the slender structure. The debate was all about its appropriateness in the context of O’Connell Street.

Let’s face it, we’re not good at maintenance. Millions of euro are spent on providing public amenities, but they’re simply not maintained. Look at all the graffiti on the bronze handrails of the Millennium footbridge or on the new opaque glass on the seats on Grattan Bridge.

Dublin City Council doesn’t even have a consistent programme of graffiti removal from buildings in its ownership, including the cultural institutions in Temple Bar; it merely responds to complaints from individual citizens, does a bit of painting and then forgets about it.

The only deterrent to graffiti vandals is to clean off or paint over their “tags” within 24 hours, as we do with our own building in Temple Bar. Eventually, the vandals get the message that there’s not much point in hitting us and they go off to daub another building instead.

Trees planted less than a decade ago on a central median dividing Dorset Street are dying, if not already dead, yet nothing is done to put this right. Elsewhere, the Parks Department often cuts down trees and leave their stumps in the ground for months before replacing them.

Or take the brace of 12 tall lighting masts in Smithfield topped by gas braziers that haven’t been lit for years because it costs €300 per hour to fire them. If they’re now useless, why not take them down, leaving the uplighters to provide public lighting for the re-ordered “plaza”?

Reader responses

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Cathy Danyluk
at 15 July 2015 at 12:21

I saw some of the streets being cleaned with hoses in the early morning in Dublin, but you are right. I’m from Canada, and visit every 2 years, and Temple Bar is getting grungy.
Plus, lots of sketchy people hanging around.
I still feel safe there as long as there are two of us.

Friendly Canuck
at 15 July 2015 at 23:46

My wife and I are here visiting for the first time, and I just can’t believe how truly dirty this city is. It’s an amazing city with so much to see and do, and great people … But there’s garbage everywhere and the smell of piss on many sidewalks – but without any public restrooms to be found and virtually every business saying “no” to those seeking to borrow facilities, it’s no wonder. It’s too bad. Such an amazing place has been overshadowed by its pure filth.

Ken
at 17 July 2015 at 13:10

Dublin is a kip, plain and simple.

Grape
at 18 July 2015 at 17:24

environment with a small e .I think really and truely there are bigger fish to fry Frank.Litter ,rubbish in bags and people pissing on the streets is one thing but im not sure it’s a good use of clean water and human resources to scrub the ground we walk on or going around removing tags/street art everyday.in their own way these markings artificial and organic are part of the fabric of the city.

Mel Healy
at 20 July 2015 at 08:13

Frank is no stranger to the Smithfield and Stoneybatter areas of the city. Stoneybatter no longer has a proper weekly street-cleaning service as used to be provided by the Corporation with its little handcarts and so on. Instead, in recent times we’ve been getting flocks of local politicians organising their Monthly Clean-Ups. I kid you not.

There they pose with their brooms and plastic bags and high-vis jackets at the centre of their photo-ops, surrounded by “volunteers”, about four or five of them (yep, that’s about the sum of its mass appeal).

These politicians are the very same pro-austerity creeps who have hacked back the council’s cleansing services and who supported the privatisation of the bin collections.

It’s all done in the name of “competition” and “efficiencies” of course. You can witness some of these efficient competitions at dawn every Tuesday in Stoneybatter as the rival bin lorries “race” along our streets in a sort of F1 race with multiple pitstops. When the race is over the streets are as bad as ever.

As for the Monthly Clean-Ups, they are about as superficial as their promotion on social media, while the general deterioration of our streets continues – not just in city-centre tourist traps such as Temple Bar but in the likes of Stoneybatter too.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a spot of civic mindedness, and we could do with a general change in attitude to how we handle rubbish in our society. Local initiatives that recycle materials and compost are brilliant and deserve more support.

But the key issue here is about ongoing maintenance – not voluntary clean-ups for photo-ops. In the run-up to the next election there is a heavy stink of opportunism, desperation and fakery in the air.

It reminds me of “Potemkin villages” – the fake portable villages that were erected overnight to impress Empress Catherine II during her journey to Crimea in 1787.

Since the recession began the incumbent politicians in our consituency have rarely dared to show their faces at our doorsteps (where said faces would probably get a metaphorical boot). Instead, canvassing is done at a remote distance. It consists of large posters, junkmail rubbish hastily bunged in our letterboxes, and this superficial photo-op shite on Facebook and the Twitter machine.

Anyway, keep on rockin’, Frank.

Daragh Cassidy
at 25 July 2015 at 13:18

Couldn’t agree more. The inability of so many Dubliners to put their rubbish into a litter bin (despite there being bins the length and breadth of the city) is astonishing.

I live in Rathmines, right by the canal, and the amount of littler left around the canal each day is disgusting. On a sunny day the canal resembles a dump. People have no trouble dumping their little into the canal either. Wine bottles, beer bottles, plastic bags etc can all be found floating around the canal at any time. We’re a disgrace. And the council never seems to clean it up – it being left to local people to do it themselves (nothing wrong with local people getting involved, civic duty and pride is amazing to see, but we pay enough taxes and rates for the council to provide a better cleaning service).

I do think slightly better enforcement and the odd Garda litter fine would definitely help improve things. Like speeding or breaking a traffic light, if people genuinely felt there could be repercussions for their behaviour they’d be far less likely to do it.

Gi
at 4 May 2016 at 19:58

It is embarrassing how filthy everything is in Dublin. I am from Barcelona, a city you’ve mentioned, and we do get our streets cleaned every morning. I think any big city should do that, it’s pretty basic. Portobello is definitely one of the filthiest areas I have ever seen.

Robin
at 13 September 2016 at 14:07

My first visit to Ireland (from Canada) and I’m astonished at the filth of the city. Garbage and homeless people in the streets close to our supposed 4 star hotel, and graffiti everywhere. I certainly hope this is not indicative of the rest of Ireland.

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