I would be crying in the club, if there were any clubs left

Dublin’s nightlife deserves protection if it is to become a modern city

Dublin is a modern European city. We’re recovering well enough from the crash, our GDP growth is the fastest in the EU, and cranes are regaining their post-crash place on Dublin’s skyline. However, this growth only goes so far. One area in which we are majorly falling behind in is nightlife. With Europe seeing a nighttime industry lasting from 6pm until 6am every night, most of Dublin’s clubs and bars are on lockdown by 2am. According to the Irish Nightclub Industry Association, between 2000 and 2008, 37% of nightclubs had closed across Ireland – and that number is still declining. Are these closures down to a lack of demand? Have revellers changed tastes over the years? Or is tough government legislation the cause of the industry’s death?

Firstly, let’s look at the type of venues that are struggling. In Dublin, there are broadly two types of venues – the large venues and the medium to small-sized venues. Large venues, such as the high-capacity nightclubs on Harcourt Street, are thriving and show little signs of decline. There are always hundreds of people queuing to get into Coppers or DTwo every night, and with an entrance fee of upwards €10, alongside shockingly expensive drinks, these clubs are easily able to turn massive profits. If we focus only on these types of venues, the industry certainly doesn’t seem to be on its deathbed. Even the Wright Venue, a massive club which recently shut its doors, is still set to reopen and return under a new identity in the coming years.

The crisis emerges when we shift our focus to the small and medium sized clubs. These are the clubs which focus on more unique clubbing experiences for people in Dublin, usually providing alternative music, indie DJs, or techno raves. These are the types of venues which have been closing down at a faster rate than others in the past number of years – with Hangar and District 8 being the latest fatalities. These types of clubs, and any other small entertainment venues, are where the death of Ireland’s nightlife is apparent.

“Owners are caught between a rock and a hard place; in order to entice people through the door, smaller clubs need to have lower entrance and drink costs.”

The lack of demand isn’t an issue – in fact, most entertainment industry professionals concede that many club-goers in recent years often want new and alternative places to party, alongside places which are cheaper to go to than the big and expensive clubs on Harcourt Street. Furthermore, by going to any of these smaller venues, it’s also apparent that they are usually very well attended. I only need to scroll down my Facebook timeline for a few minutes to see a lot of my fellow students sharing and clicking attending on club nights in venues such as Wigwam, Yamamori Tengu, and the Workman’s Club.

So why are these clubs still struggling if people are so interested in them? The issue is almost completely down to inadequate and shallow government legislation. Ireland’s nightclubs must adhere to the Public Dance Halls Act of 1935 – an archaic piece of legislation which requires nightclubs to close early. This legislation causes massive strife for club owners – if club-goers don’t arrive until 11pm, owners are simply not going to gain much profit out of running an event that only lasts for three or four hours.

Owners are caught between a rock and a hard place; in order to entice people through the door, smaller clubs need to have lower entrance and drink costs. However, the earlier closing times compared with the rest of Europe means that losses are so frequent. Clubs can apply for licenses to stay open later, called Special Exemption Orders, but these SEOs are guarded by a long-winded application process and often require a lot of legal fees, which small venues can’t afford. On top of that, the SEOs themselves can cost up to €410 per night – so even if a club is only open three nights a week, it can still cost almost €65,000 a year for a club to extend it’s opening hours. Furthermore, remaining open past 2am comes with additional security and equipment rental costs.

These costs are often no problem for clubs like Coppers or Dicey’s, but smaller venues are struggling. The government rules leave club owners with little room to grow – it’s difficult to make a profit during normal operating hours, yet it costs even more if they try to extend those hours. Unfortunately, there is no change in sight regarding this tough legislation. In fact, it seems to only be getting tougher in recent decades. In 2006, an extension of opening hours was trialled across Dublin night venues, with positive results; according to the Central Statistics Office, clubs staying open later led to a decrease in all types of public order offences across the city. It would make sense for the government to take heed of these positive aspects of later closing times. Yet despite these benefits, in 2008 this extension on opening times was revoked and earlier closing times were reinstated along with a higher nightly cost of Special Exemption Orders.

So given all of this, is the industry certifiably doomed? Should we get tombstones made up? Are Hangar and District 8 just the first few in a long list of closures to come? What we can say is that people across Dublin, alongside Dublin’s own creative community, are definitely fighting back against the recent trend of financial failure. A notable example is the volunteer-led organisation Give Us The Night, which campaigns for positive changes to be made for nightlife in the city. They’re working to convince the government to revoke its harsh and old-fashioned nightlife legislation and to bring us up to speed with other major European centres. They have many plans for how our city should change, from new legislation on nightclubs as a whole, to the implementation of designated political representatives to deal solely with the issue of nightlife in the city, or “Night Mayors”.

“The nightlife industry as a whole, through a change in legislation, has the power to transform Dublin’s social scene for the better.”

It’s exciting to see such a dedicated grassroots group working on the issue, and we can hope that in 2019, their campaigning will build momentum. On top of this activism, small and medium-sized nightclubs themselves can also be seen taking active steps towards boosting their revenue by having an increased and more exciting social media presence (with hundreds of people interested in their events on Facebook alone), alongside more unique “themed” nights or collaborations with big-name Irish DJs and music acts. So maybe we shouldn’t put on our funeral outfits just yet.

But in order for this activism to matter, the government’s stance on what warrants “cultural” funding and protection needs to change. It’s hard to understand why they are so steadfast in maintaining legislation that is crippling clubs. Is it simply traditionalism? Or perhaps nightlife is just not on top of their list of priorities, which is foolish as the opening up of the industry and allowing bars, clubs, and theatres to remain open later would lead to exponential growth in associated industries through increased demand for taxis, hotels, and employment.  

Other major cities, such as London, have capitalised on grassroots movements to broaden the concept of what constitutes art, and what deserves protection, to include nightlife venues such as Fabric. The nightlife industry as a whole, through a change in legislation, has the power to transform Dublin’s social scene for the better, and if the government don’t take any heed of the calls for change, the industry will only continue to fade away.