Independent councillor Mannix Flynn has said that redesigning Dublin’s Meath Street with a design which is similar to the parallel Francis Street is “cultural appropriation”, while Sinn Féin councillor Máire Devine claimed that an unelected group opposed to the current draft plan are “the leaders” of the street who represent the “entire area of traders, residents and visitors”.
The comments were made at Dublin City Council’s monthly meeting on Monday, where councillors approved the Part 8 planning permission for the project. The project will now progress to the detailed design stage with council officials committing to consult further as part of the process.
It is understood that the main point of contention is the volume of car parking being removed to make space for pedestrians, on-street trading, greenery, and public seating. The street will still have car access, parking and loading.
According to Census 2022 data, in the electoral district area which covers Meath Street, 66% of households don’t have access to a car and an even smaller percentage of residents use cars for commuting. There is a similar or lower rate in most of the electoral districts around the street.
Cllr Máire Devine referred to the crew behind her in the public gallery who are the “leaders of Meath Street who are representing the entire area of traders, residents and visitors.”
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“I just want to take issue with the report itself… there’s a lot of feeling that the consultation was extremely poor it wasn’t adequate or robust enough,” said Cllr Devine, who claimed it was “during Covid and lots of issues were missed and left out,” but the latest consultation for the project was between August 15 and September 25 of this year, not during Covid.
She said “while everybody wants to see improvement” and is “delighted that they’re getting a focus on their area at long last” there are still concerns.
“We’ve been told that it’s going to be a very similar public realm improvement as the success of Francis Street now I think some traders there would question that, but it’s an extremely different street,” said Cllr Devine.
Cllr Flynn said: “It goes without saying that certainly the city needs improvements, but… it needs conservation in relation to these public realm improvements. In particular, with this street there’s a danger here of cultural appropriation and a sensibility being placed into this particular street that has a different cultural association altogether and that the working class people of this community and that community would be basically outed from their own streets.”
Cllr Flynn — who recently complained that working-class communities were not getting investment — said that there’s “nothing spectacular” about the nearby Francis Street which was revamped. He said that its “dilapidation had curiosity” and now the plans are what “you can see anywhere across Europe”.
It continued: “They’re bland they’re dead and they bring no real life to the situation at all most of it is designed to remove traffic off the street and not only due to that but they also remove people off the street.”
The plans have no traffic restrictions other than raised pedestrian crossings to allow people to cross the road more easily and a reallocation of some car parking space for wider footpaths and other elements.
Cllr Flynn said that when talking about the “destruction of the Liberties area” that “it goes without saying that the first people who destroyed the Liberties were Guinnesses because they pulled the whole place down and built that big brewery.”
Cllr Darragh Moriarty (Labour) said that he supports the public realm improvements and that it was also fortunate that people with concerns were able to air them throughout the consultation process. He said: “They’ve made the points again by email, they made the points again by sending in this petition.”
“I just don’t agree with the point that Mannix Flynn has just raised there around the destruction of the streets. I mean we’re talking here about replacing some parking spaces so we can widen the footpaths to make the footpaths wider for street trading to be possible, we’re talking here about some tree planting, we’re talking here about some benches. That’s what we’re talking about,” he said.
Cllr Moriarty said: “There there’s much deeper and wider issues around the erosion of working-class areas, gentrification, whatever you want to call it, but I think putting in trees and putting in benches and widening the footpath are not the cause of those and to trying and standing the way of that or to try and unpick that or to try and stop that from happening to try and stop investment in our community from happening doesn’t make sense to me.”
He said that the area manager for the council has already committed to engaging with people.
Cllr Kelsey May Daly (People Before Profit) said: “I know we’ve spent a while debating about this before, but I think if the community is not happy the community is not happy and that’s plain and simple. It’s easy for us to decide what we want here for Meath Street but ultimately it’s these people up here [in the public gallery] that are living and breathing it every single day and they have their objections and they should be listened to.”
“I think this is a unique opportunity to really think about what can be done here small grants to improve shop fronts,” she said.
Cllr Michael Pidgeon (Green Party) also voiced support for the plan saying it will make space for street trading.
“If you want a shopping street you have to make space for people to do that,” he said. “And I think that, in particular, if you want street trading you need to have space on footpaths”, which he said there was limited space for such at the moment.
“I think with the idea of benches or trees being cultural appropriation or something like that, I think if you’re tired or if you’re old you need to sit down on the bench when you’re doing your shopping it doesn’t matter what class or group or geographic area you come from. I think that’s a universal need and something that the street isn’t providing for at the moment,” he said.
Referring to the petition, he said that the idea of improving the Coombe Portico area is worth investment and could be “a really nice space for the wider Liberties” and he echoed other councillors highlighted the importance of communications.
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Cllr Pidgeon said it’s an investment in an area where people rightly say doesn’t get its fair share. Adding: “I respect and understand that not everyone agrees with it, and that’s that’s absolutely fair enough.”
Bruce Phillips, an assistant local area manager for the council, said: “We’ve done some major schemes in the area Francis Street, James Street and you know they have been really successful. They’ve protected the heritage of the area the character of the area they’ve they’ve made environmental improvements and also improved the accessibility and the scheme.”
“What we’re talking about today for the proposals for Meath Street will do exactly the same we hope to go to detailed design in early January and that detailed design will involve consultation and communication with local businesses and local communities on an ongoing basis. So that continues and will continue until the design is finalised,” he said.
“We see it that this design will work really well for both businesses and the local community, it has to work well and we feel that it will support all the current uses of the street,” he said.
When Cllr Devine asked if the council was committing to engage with the group in the public gallery, Phillips added: “There are numerous different stakeholders on the street and what I’m saying this evening is that during the detailed design process, we are going to go back and communicate with the stakeholders that are directly impacted by our proposals.”
He added that there would be continued engagement with residents and businesses.