BUSINESS OWNERS ON and around South William Street in Dublin city centre have said that that the masses of people gathering in the area are making staff and customers feel unsafe.
They have also said that their staff were left to clean up the high volume of litter left by gatherers.
Video footage of the crowds was shared widely on social media over the weekend, as were images of the litter left behind the following morning.
Shop owners have also expressed concerns that if there are repeats of Saturday’s scene, their businesses may suffer.
Mary Costelloe, who runs Costelloe + Costelloe, a boutique on nearby Chatham Street, with her sister Margaret, said that “post three o’clock [on Saturday] there was damn-all business done”.
“People obviously came into town to drink, to socialise, rather than to shop,” she said. “There are people whose businesses are really suffering at the moment. And it just seems so unfair.”
Videos of crowds sparked controversy particularly after Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said on Twitter that he was ‘absolutely shocked’ at the amount of people in the area.
But others have pointed out that the closure of public spaces such as Portobello Plaza means people have fewer places to socialise outdoors, in line with public health advice.
Pedestrianisation was introduced in South William Street, along with several other streets in Dublin city centre, earlier this month. Dublin City Council made the decision to close the streets off to cars after successful pilot pedestrianisations over six weekends last summer.
There was a “lack of action, lack of leadership” on the part of Dublin City Council, Costelloe said.
Richard Dromgoole, who co-owns Zeba hair salon on South William Street, said that the crowds were unsettling for both customers and staff. “Our clients aren’t happy. They feel vulnerable … One of the girls, on Saturday night, she didn’t want to be left here on her own because of the people that were outside.”
Both Dromgoole and Costelloe said they saw people urinating in the street, as well as drug usage, on Saturday night.
Dromgoole said that many people in the crowds were not customers of the pubs and bars on the street – which are serving takeaway only – but are rather bringing their own drinks there from elsewhere.
“It wasn’t necessarily takeaway pints, people are bringing their beer [in] … having that facility around here initially attracted people to come to the area.”
Christina Melnychenko, store manager at All Saints clothes shop, said that her staff were left to clean up the litter outside the shop front before opening on Sunday morning.
“We’re not responsible for it, it’s the council, but like, we have to do something, because we opened for 12”, she said. “It stopped people from coming in here, because everywhere was like, young guys, basically, drinking.”
Gardaí confirmed that four people were arrested for public order offences on Saturday.
Fionn Carroll of the Fireplace Barber Shop said that “it’s nice to see people out, but I think it went probably a little bit too far”.
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“I guess it’s hard to say what to do, people have been caged up like animals for the last six months. There’s no skips or anything like that, where people can put their [rubbish] … people would probably want to play their part if they could play their part.”
Carroll said he did not think the litter would deter customers from coming to South William Street, but Melnychenko disagreed: “People can’t get in here – if there was a group of youngsters and they’re drinking, and I think that’s gonna scare people away.”
Dromgoole said that with most people still working from home, “business is tough enough in the area” without the added issue of customers being fearful of the crowds.
Speaking about the issue on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, Dublin City Council’s director of city recovery Coilín O’Reilly claimed that providing more bins and toilets could make the problem worse.
“We feel that if we provide toilets and bins at these locations, it’ll only drive more footfall and create more of an issue from a public health perspective,” he said.
“If we supply more toilets and bins, does that bring more people in? Do we end up with bigger public health issues? It’s a very difficult situation to manage.”
When asked if areas such as St Stephen’s Green and Merrion Square should be open later to take pressure off other areas in the city, O’Reilly said: “It’s a public health issue from a mass gathering perspective. So, putting everybody into St Stephen’s Green or Merrion Square doesn’t solve the public health issue.”
In a statement this afternoon, Dublin City Council said is is engaging with “a number of other city stakeholders this week to discuss the issues around large unplanned public gatherings in the city-centre over the past weekend”.
“The outcome of these meetings and what, if any, extra measures should be taken by the City Council will be announced in due course.”