Coming to the end of a decade in Ireland defined, to many, by the activism of youth movements, it’s hard not to be dismayed at the cultural state of the nation’s capital. Many of the decade’s most enduring images will be of young people marching through Dublin’s streets, demanding their right to love or bodily autonomy, and in both cases, succeeding. But for each success, we can count another unwon battle – the fight against direction provision, the rising rates of homelessness, the looming climate crisis, and the cultural decay of the city at Trinity’s doorstep.
Recent years in Dublin have become increasingly characterized by outcry over cultural hubs and valued spaces for Ireland’s youth being shut down and paved over by hotels or luxury accommodation. The city is building over its youthful cultural soul with a sort of corporate homogeneity and business-friendly “rebranding” of spaces like “Grafton Quarter” or “Silicon Docks”, names that appeal to an idealized corporate space that doesn’t represent Dublin’s locals. The city’s residents, and especially its youth, have been made to feel completely undervalued and displaced by the planning decisions that have defined the city in the last several years. The spaces we’ve occupied for cultural and communal spirit are being taken from us and replaced by lifeless, homogenous hotel chains. Spaces of artistic expression like the original Bernard Shaw or the Tara Building are being demolished to make way for mammoths that prioritise capital over culture. Individually, each loss of a cultural relic is a misfortune. But collectively, it speaks to the more sinister power structures that determine Dublin.
On campus, the increasing profile given by College to the new E3 Learning Foundry brings a similar sense of dismay. The Biochemistry building has been razed to make way for a space promised to be a hub for collaboration. College should know that a space dedicated to collaboration – a term which is imbued with a business-oriented approach to learning – is not at the top of any students’ mind. Students want places to study, places to eat a packed lunch, places to sleep at night. The fact that tens of millions of euro have been put to a building for collaboration – rather than one for accommodation, or an accessible student centre – is heinous. College should know that. Similarly, Dublin’s City Council and the wider government allowing the city to turn into a shell – felling plans for the Parnell Square Cultural Quarter, reducing investment in the arts, sycophantic appeals to tourists – in order to chase profit is shameful. It is a gross mishandling of the city’s legacy, and it is not the city locals want to live in.
“The country’s nightlife operating procedures still echo the days of De Valera almost a century ago, wherein the Catholic church had final say on what was acceptable for young people.”
Ireland’s nightlife laws are stuck in the past, placing a ridiculous strain on pubs and clubs operating late. The country’s nightlife operating procedures still echo the days of De Valera almost a century ago, wherein the Catholic church had final say on what was acceptable for young people. Venue operators who open late need to apply each month to the court for a license, requiring both judge and a Garda officer to approve their request for a “special exemption”, and on top of that a €410 fee each night they operate until 2.30am. Compared to the rest of Ireland’s neighbours and most of Europe, we’re incredibly behind the times with how we operate our nightlife, and laws like these create an atmosphere where individual cultural spaces, like the recently-shut Hangar, can’t survive for long. Addressing these laws wouldn’t just help reverse our own cultural decline, but also contribute to the success of the tourism industry that corporations and the government seem to prioritize so much. Surely, the people in power should know the current laws don’t align with the Ireland people want to see.
But of course, the people in power do know. College knows that students want places to study and eat and sleep. The City Council knows that Dubliners want a city which can accommodate tourists, but which is a home for its locals. But it is not for students that College builds a building like the learning foundry, and it is not for residents that the City Council allows hotel conglomerates to devour land and send rent prices soaring. The pursuit of money is driving Dublin into the next decade, and driving culture out. We must not let resistance be driven out with it.
“At the end of one decade comes the start of another, and we have a chance to bring the city forward, progressing its cultural scene along with the generations that inhabit it.”
Crucially, we must resist the bubbling pessimism which benefits those we would otherwise fight against. The outlook is not entirely grim, as much as it may seem at times. At the end of one decade comes the start of another, and we have a chance to bring the city forward, progressing its cultural scene along with the generations that inhabit it. In the wake of the Bernard Shaw’s initial closure, an appeal was submitted by Dublin city councillors, voting to limit the proliferation of hotels across the city, promote and protect nightlife, and call a halt to “increasing erosion of cultural life and space”. Government bodies and representatives are beginning to hear our outcry, and it’s vital that we keep up this pressure to preserve our own cultural space. The impact of these cries for preservation are still being heard, too – just last week, a consultation was held wherein the Minister of Justice was said to be in favour of changing the nightlife operating laws to bring us more in line with the rest of Europe. The Oireachtas Committee for Culture chair Donnchadh O’Laoghaire was quoted after the consultation saying he saw it as a positive step forward, hoping that it would lead to the “modernisation of antiquated, 1930s legislation which govern licensing and opening times”. Dublin’s cultural erosion has dismayed many in recent years, but looking ahead to the start of a new decade, it’s uplifting to have some hope to go along with the usual doses of misery and skepticism.
Culture is at the heart of not just our student life in Dublin, but also of the nation as a whole. The social progress that has uplifted Ireland this decade was born and fostered by our unique cultural spaces and artists, and if we want to continue this onward march of progress, we need to ensure we value and preserve cultural identity. This means standing with the flower sellers on Grafton Street rather than the hotel chains which would have them shut down. It means looking to the new decade with optimism following the highs of activism wins in the 2010s. But crucially, it means realising that those with power know what they are doing when they wield it. And so, it means that we must be determined and daring in our fight to demand a better college, a better city, and a better decade.