Last week I stepped off the bus at Dawson Street and tiptoed over a man asleep against a shop front. His body was contorted in a strange sleeping position and his hand had reached slightly too far out onto the path, causing the moving black shoes around him to give little jumps as they passed. It’s a common sight, it’s a bleak sight and it’s a reality for more than our city would care to mention.
According to the Peter McVerry Trust 139 people in Dublin’s city center, were found to be sleeping rough in November of last year. While it also stated that this number of ‘rough sleepers’ only represents 2% of the overall homeless in Ireland. Others have found accommodation, a transient yet temporary solution to a never-ending problem, while those with the least amount of options make camp in doorways and on street corners. It has been said that you can judge a society on how it treats its weakest members, and when I scuttled to the side to avoid the man’s hand I couldn’t really help but feel complicit. Not complicit in causing the situation he finds himself in, but complicit in the cultural non-action which most of us are guilty of. Sadly most of us are guilty of indifference, but it still falls short of those in Dublin who are actively seeking to make life harder for homeless people.
Earlier this year a photo of ‘anti-homelessness’ spikes caused outrage online which eventually led to the constructors the devices to taking it down. The draconian spikes resembled the inside of an iron maiden, (a torture device made famous in the middle ages) and even then it was to intimidate, rather than to actually maim. Thankfully the Internet’s outrage managed to muster enough public disgust to have the spikes removed. Similar ‘anti-homelessness’ devices also appeared in Dublin earlier this year, but they were made short work of by the direct action housing committee ‘An Spréach’ who physically, with chisel and hammer removed the crude designs.
It may have been a small blow to the tide of anti-homeless devices engulfing the city, but there are still small designs all over the city built in order to ward off homeless people from sleeping where they might find shelter. Slanted benches, spiked rails and pebble dashed seats are all designed to discourage people from staying in one spot for two long, “Stop loitering and return to your homes”, they scream. What we should be following is the example laid out by Canadian housing and support group ‘RainCity’ who’s sheltered benches give the very basic human need of for a roof over one’s head. What is so striking about the benches is their understanding of the problems of the system. No one would encourage those without homes to sleep on benches as a permanent solution but ‘RainCity’ at the very minimum is prepared to acknowledge that it exists. The end result is not to placate those sleeping rough but rather to accommodate them. The problem exists, and rather than ignore it RainCity has attempted to alleviate, in a small but effective way the suffering of those forced into doorways and shop fronts.
This evening UCD students of the St. Vincent De Paul society will begin their homelessness week, where the students will sleep under the sheltered promenade of the UCD library in order to raise funds for those same homeless peoples. Even in this act of solidarity the students recognize the need for shelter. As the November rain beats the grey of the old buildings the students will at very least remain dry, and its that same basic comfort that should be afforded to Dublin’s homeless. If our society wants to end the misery of dealing with these stark realities then deterrence is not the answer, accommodation is.
It’s a strange time to be an Irish citizen. Right now I’m watching elected government member, Paul Murphy stripped shirtless on a shaky camera video; a sight more suited to a Kardashian than an elected TD, but there ya go. Outside my front door, orange fencing has been placed around a hole, where our water meter is to be installed, and Irish Water workers, with darting eyes, are chatting and glancing over their shoulders. In Jobstown, an egg that missed another elected member of government, our Tainiste no less, is decaying on a dry side-path. Enda Kenny, our country’s leader is somewhere in the city scoffing down a quick Supervalue ready made sandwich and cursing the ‘enemies of democracy’ as his advisors, I’m sure, are nodding politely, “Thrown into a ballard? What has she done for democracy?!”
It’s a strange, but interesting time to be an Irish citizen, but it can also be quite a confusing one. What exactly did the barricading of Joan Burton mean? Why would protestors sully the peaceful national consensus, which was shown by a peaceful march of nearly 100,000 people in the nations capital, earlier this October? Why are water meter installers being berated and hassled? Well, for what its worth, here’s what I believe.
Water meter installers are basically, in the mind of the anti-water charge movement, wearing ‘Team Enda/Team Tax the poor” hi-vis jackets, strolling through areas where they aren’t welcome. Gardaí are being called in to protect the installers, thus adorning the “Team Enda” jackets themselves. Colours become less nuanced, and a black and white, “Us vs Them” scenario is pretty much inevitable. Why was Joan Burton detained in her car for hours? It’s because she was the closest, physical embodiment of people’s anger that could be found in Jobstown. The people of Jobstown are not actually interested in attacking water meter installers, they’re not interested in delaying the Tainiste in her numerous photo opportunities either; they just want someone to pay some goddamn attention to their grievances.
Paul murphy described the Jobstown protest, in a bizarre attempt at media spin, as peaceful. We’ll it wasn’t, but neither was it bloodletting on the steps of the GPO either. It was an overspill of anguish and frustration. The bricks which were being thrown aren’t wrapped in the list of demands of the 100,000 who marched this October, I would hasten to say that anything has ever been seriously, politically altered, by brick throwing; and when the annals of Irish History look back on these protests, I’m not quite sure that those bricks will feature. What will is the level of frustration. I don’t believe that the protesters were right to ‘menacingly’ crowd Burton’s car, (nor do I believe the Tainiste was in any serious danger) but I do believe it exemplified the feeling of many people, from all over the country, whom are unhappy with being charged for a commodity which, from 1997, was supposed to have been already paid for.
It’s a very Irish, middle class trait to howl in disbelief when a voice is raised or an egg thrown. In the Ukraine, politicians are, literally, being picked up and thrown into bins. Let’s calm the gasps and imagine if Joan Burton had been flung into a pole by a protester. But she wasn’t, so keep calm. During the bailout, Irish non-action became the talk of Europe, and our lethargy and obedience became our saving grace; if the Irish people cannot stomach the idea of an elected official playing with her phone, while genuinely aggrieved people bang on her car door, then I doubt they’ll be up for witnessing protests from other countries. What the anti-water charge movement needs now is another show of force through numbers, the fracases in Jobstwon do not represent the movement, but they do perfectly encapsulated its anger. 100,000 people marching again will have more impact then if the entire Dáil were barricaded in, plus, they would only end up hitting the bar.
Busking in Dublin’s Temple Bar, is as old a tradition as the wet cobble stones which line its alley ways. There’s a constant hum vibrating in the wet grey streets, filling the otherwise false Irish landmark with sincerity and ballads. People pause and listen and comment and join in. They dance and sing, and drop a few shekels for the bard. There’s a nod, a truly appreciative smile. All the worlds a stage and in Temple Bar there are few players who disappoint a crowd.
For myself, busking in Temple Bar gave a soundtrack to my strolls though its thoroughfare; it opens the space up, it fills the otherwise trite courtyard with a sincerity that’s chased all over the world, and which only really finds a home among the drunken revelers and shady dealers. There’s a gritty steel to the street performers who play in the often debaucherous world of Temple Bar, but there’s also a sense of community. Buskers are often seen as solitary creatures, their bags and hats are their shop fronts, inviting passers by to stop and listen, and to choose their fee. But there is also a warm sense of community, a sense of fraternity among them.
Earlier this week that sense of community, those romantic bardic notions were put in jeopardy when Dublin City Councilors put to a vote a ban on this tradition. In retaliation, and with warm and sincere concern, buskers from all over Dublin gathered to save their right to perform on the cobbled stage. Other proposed by laws, including the introduction of a permit, were met with more devise opinion. The proposed permits for buskers would cost €30, while the use of an amplifier would see the permit priced at €60. There were mixed feelings about the permit, some claimed it would regulate and thus improve the experience of buskers, others simply laughed at the idea, citing the transient nature of the art as the reason it could never be regulated.
A small stage was set outside the steps of City Hall; just a mic, a Cajon drum and an amplifier. Here buskers from all over Dublin took to the small stage to show the city, and the councilors debating within, the importance of their role in the maintaining the vibrating hum of culture that plays through the city’s veins. Following the rally, city councilors voted to withdraw the proposed ban on busking in Temple Bar.
We spoke to some of these buskers to understand, what they believed could be achieved by protesting, and the impact their disappearance from Temple Bar would have on the city.
Intimate gigs, are a rare and special thing. Being able to feel the vibrations of a foot-tap, and hearing the sighs and laughs of a band, adds a dimension to a show that can’t be easily found in Dublin. Celebrating Odessa’s 10th anniversary on a late Thursday evening, Little Matador did exactly t3hat; playing a mesmerizing acoustic set to a thoroughly captivated audience. Paring down their usually electric live set, the band played an off-the-cuff collection of their hits, telling stories and joking between each tune. The room was packed to the gills as friends, family and Little Matador fans nodded and tapped feet, restraining themselves from hypnotically dancing, for fear of stepping on toes, or spilling a drink. The twang of the acoustic guitars, against softened drums and ‘smooth as funk’ bass lines pasted smiles on faces all over the room.
Shatter, with its cowboy style riffs and repeated falsetto chorus was as warm and satisfying as the whiskey, one audience member announced they were waiting on. Having supported rock legends such as Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age it was difficult to ignore the obvious strains of influence in each song. Similar in tone, and possibly in hair-cut, Little Matador exuded all the signs their famous counterparts, while still maintaining a sound unmistakably their own.
Liar Liar, a minute and a half punk-esque track off their new self-titled album was softened, elongated, varnished and polished into a mesmeric desert rock ballad. Drummer Paul Brennan, the only member without a mic, crashed around on the pared down kit giving the set a rhythmic jab with every pause and start. Reasons, the latest single off the album again had been put through the ‘acoustic blender’ and had come out the other side possibly even catchier than its electric original. The soft tones of the bass and guitars allowed singer Nathan Connelly’s voice to take on a more central role, and helped the chorus to crawl into the audience’s ears and make a nest. This Crooked Wood, a song never before played acoustically, should be, from now on. Injecting pace and urgency into the set, it allowed bass player Gavin Fox run the length and breath of his instrument, fills and sly little licks were thrown in as he bobbed up and down to the song’s speed. The eerie lyrics set against the driving rhythm added to the excitement. And you know what? It actually looked like the band were enjoying playing it.
In the end that’s what made this show so good; the marriage announcements, the side stories, the dedication of the gig to Paul Rudd (the AC/DC drummer acquitted of murder allegations: Rock and Roll right?!). It felt as though I had stumbled into a rock and roll, post-christening party where the priest had arrived to say a few words, instead deciding to jam for a good half hour. The band enjoyed themselves, so the crowd were enjoying themselves; and in essence that’s what made this short gig so good. While being dubbed a ‘side project’ for the Snow Patrol guitarist Nathan Connelly, Little Matador played like it was an impromptu Led Zeppelin reunion concert, and to be honest, you can’t ask much more of a band then that.
Ok, now that’s quite a sensationalist headline, voiced in the same weird tone as ‘sex-ed’ videos made in the 1950’s, “Pre-marital sex – the silent killer”, but, aside from a little tongue-and check click-baiting headline, the point is far from sensationalist; cycle lanes are poorly made, poorly kept and all to often, treated by motorist as comfy parking spaces. Coming across the bridge from Harold’s cross on a busy weekday morning, you will be treated to a cavalcade of hi-vis vests and flowery baskets as they trundle over the bridge, narrowly escaping death every five seconds or so. Cycling in Dublin’s fair city is a dangerous mode of travel and little is done in the way of alleviating any of that danger; often its impossible to know where the cycle lane begins and ends, parked cars mount the clearly lined path and force its intended users onto the road. Beeps and horns from disgruntled drivers on one side, and a great wall of parked vehicles patrol the other; cycling in Dublin must only be for the demented and deranged, or so the state of Irish cycle paths would lead you to believe. What must the mental state of a person be who would put themselves in such danger? Well as it happens, most who do cycle are professionals and students, attempting to find and alternative to the traffic jams and frustration; why punish such an attempt with an obstacle course of injury and indifference?
According to the Garda Inspectorate Report on Crime Investigation, 2014, incidents of cyclist collisions are not being handled correctly by the authorities. It reads, “This inspection has identified several deficiencies in recording practices, supervision and governance over recorded crime and the level of recorded detections for those crimes.” While a HSE report filed in 2011 noted that only 10% of all cyclist collisions are recorded properly. Not only are cyclists being pinned into a narrow stretch, fit only for adrenaline junkies, but when the inevitable happens, and they are felled by passing cars, nothing is being said of it. It must be said however, that none of this is meant to lay blame on the drivers; they’re as terrified of the amateur circus performers balancing to their left, as the cyclists are of them. As a result the roads become unsafe, unsure and accidents unaccounted for. As autumn takes hold of Dublin and lines the gutter ridden, yellow-marked slip-streams with Mario-cart style slip-up leaves, it can only be a matter of time before a cyclist ends up beneath the wheels of a startled car. This ‘Danger Zone’ (to borrow a phrase from the song made famous by Kenny Loggins and again by Sterling Archer) is fit only for ISIS agents (both types), rather than average commuters. Forced into a perilous battle between car and path I’ve often found myself hoping for some sort of divine intervention; there are no atheists in Danger Zones.
Before we can begin to even consider the idea of improving this situation, motorists have to stop taking control of the cycle paths, cyclists have to be aware of the rules of the road and drivers have to be aware that the ‘two wheeled maniacs’ they share the road with are just as fearful of rolling over their bonnet as they are.