Photo by Willy Simon

We’ve become so accustomed to noise pollution in Dublin that locals now seem to think that it’s quite normal for pubs, nightclubs, cafés and even shops to have external loudspeakers blaring music (live or recorded) into the public realm – our streets.

A couple of years ago, walking down Dame Street with Jim Keogan, now an assistant chief executive of Dublin City Council, I pointed to one such loudspeaker on Peadar Kearney’s pub, saying this type of noise pollution needed to be tackled. He was quite nonplussed.

Much earlier, when Bad Bob’s (then the Purty Kitchen) was blasting out noise all over East Essex Street, I complained to to the owner – a young chap from Dún Laoghaire – and he shrugged his shoulders, saying the loud music helped him to pay his huge mortgage.

The Quays Bar, owned by Louis Fitzgerald, often clips its door open from mid-afternoon onwards so that the noise generated by a live band playing inside the premises can be heard all over Temple Bar Square. This is apparently seen as essential to pack in patrons.

Claddagh Records on Cecilia Street would have to close down if it didn’t make an audible impression, according to Charlie, the fellow who runs the shop. Even the barbers on our ground floor have a small external speaker to “create a buzz” to lure new customers.

As chair of Temple Bar Residents (and there are 2,200 of us living in the area), I have personal experience of dealing with commercial interests that not only do nothing to prevent “entertainment noise breakout”, but rather actively promote it in the interest of profit.

When the once “iconic” Bad Ass Café was turned into a pub two years ago – in defiance of its planning permission, incidentally – one of the first things the new owners did was to install powerful loudspeakers in open lobbies on both Crown Alley and Temple Bar Square.

But after we joined Temple Bar Company in objecting to its licence, well-paid lawyers acting for the owners, made sure that we would be unable to present the court with much of our evidence – including a damning video that really showed how bad it was.

The lawyers managed to ensure that we were left with no option but to settle for a weak agreement with the Bad Ass owners; otherwise we would have lost, with the real risk that all the legal costs – which were very substantial – would be awarded against us.

Unlike the Bad Ass, some businesses do respond positively to complaints. KC Peaches, a very welcome arrival at the corner of Dame Street and Temple Lane, has turned off its external loudspeaker after I and others queried why they were polluting the area with noise.

But Fitzsimons “Hotel”, which got away with installing “five floors of fun”, still uses the loudspeaker fixed to the soffit of its entrance to drum up trade by amping up Dublin noise pollution, and so do many others. Just take a walk around the city centre and you’ll see that the problem is pervasive.

And none of this is normal. In other European cities, such as Barcelona, Berlin and Paris (to name but three), it wouldn’t be tolerated at all because they have urban sensibilities that include an acceptance of the need to avoid causing nuisance to their neighbours.

In Dublin, however, we’re just down out of the trees in terms of developing similar sensibilities. The new busking by-laws were a step in the right direction and seem to be having some impact on a problem that had got totally out of control with the increasing use of amplifiers.

The time has now come for residents of the city centre to start putting pressure on councillors and officials to adopt another noise by-law, this time simply banning the use of external loudspeakers by any business premises, whether it’s a pub, nightclub, café or barber’s shop.

People who live in the city need to be protected against abusive proprietors so that we can enjoy the relative peace and tranquility of our homes. It is illegal to pollute the public realm with litter. Why shouldn’t the same apply to noise, especially when it’s so willful?

Frank McDonald is the former environment editor of the Irish Times, and the author of several books, including The Destruction of Dublin (1985), Saving the City (1989), and The Construction of Dublin (2000)....

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