Weekly Bulletin of the Department of External Affairs, 1953

It’s hard to spend a penny at Busáras.

Bus Éireann used to charge passengers for the use of the bathrooms there, but seems to have given up a long time ago.

In the gents’, four out of the six cubicles are out of order, and the last sink in the row has been smashed off and replaced with a black bin liner.

Blue lights blur veins and suggest daylight where none has been for half a century. It stinks of piss and pine-scented detergent.

It has been in that state since last summer at least, except new soap dispensers have been installed.

Last year, Bus Éireann was openly embarrassed about conditions at Busáras. It put up signs which read: “Bus Éireann would like to apologise to our customers for the condition of certain facilities in the bus station. We are delighted to confirm that upgrade work to the customer facilities will commence shortly and we thank you for your patience during this period. We look forward to offering you improved facilities in the very near future.”

The signs went up in 2014. They disappeared towards the end of last year. The very near future never came, and the facilities at Busáras are still as miserable as ever.

What happened?

In 2015, the National Transport Authority allocated €33,452 for design work for a major refurbishment project at Busáras in 2015.

It powered ahead with the support of design staff at Irish Rail’s Inchicore works, and by November permission had been granted for the job. But things went south in 2016.

“Funds in 2015 would have been spent on planning applications, application charges to Dublin City Council, and tender preparations for refurbishment of Busáras, and not just the toilet facilities,” a spokeswoman for Bus Éireann said.

“Planning permission was granted for this but funding was subsequently withdrawn by the NTA,” she said.

So for the moment, the company is left to do its best to scrub years of filth from the fittings.

“Toilet attendants are employed on a full-time basis to clean and supervise the toilets throughout the day, while a private cleaning company is used on occasions to carry out a deep clean of both toilet locations,” the company said.

But no amount of scrubbing will do away with the fact that the facilities there are a hangover from the bad old days.

Bus Éireann wasn’t able to say when last the bathrooms were refurbished, though a conservation report submitted with its planning application suggests the basement level was retiled around the year 2000.

History is repeating itself. In 1997, a letter to the Irish Times complained: “The toilets are a disgrace to Busáras, to Bus Éireann and to Ireland.”

Two decades later, the complaint – by tweet – is the same: “The Busáras toilets are an actual disgrace to our country,” said one.

Busáras was once the pride of official Ireland, but dogged by controversy during its construction, and delayed by party politics and unstable government in the post-war years.

In 1948, the first Inter-Party Government put its construction on hold as the state transport company CIÉ racked up a deficit of a million pounds, according to an article in History Ireland. (The new government threw the resources of the state into a housing programme.)

Once again, a state transport company finds itself in financial trouble.

“Bus Éireann are responsible for the upkeep of the building but we are restricted due to Busáras being a listed building. We have no current plans to invest in Busáras due to the financial situation at Bus Éireann which remains critical,” the company’s spokeswoman said.

When the station was finally opened by a Fianna Fáil government in 1953, it was announced to the world on the cover of the state’s diplomatic propaganda bulletin.

“Áras Mhic Dhiarmada [Busáras’s official name] introduces the best in contemporary architecture not only to the Irish public but to visitors from abroad. It has been praised by leading foreign architects and engineers, many of whom travelled to Dublin for the express purpose of studying it in the process of construction,” the bulletin read.

It’s been a rough 70 years.

Stephen Bourke is a freelance journalist, but more importantly, a second-generation Dub on both sides of the family. @anburcach

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  1. While the toilets are truly a disgrace, let’s not forget the remainder of this neglected masterpiece. The glazed mezzanine space overlooking the main concourse, originally a restaurant, should be brought back into the public realm, either as another food hall and dining area or, perhaps, an art gallery.

    Downstairs, masked by the detritus of damaged and unusable left luggage holders, is what remains of the Eblana Theatre: a custom-built theatre and performance space.

    With judicious use of funds, mountains of love and more imagination, the Eblana could be brought back to life and given new purpose. There’s no reason why the space couldn’t be a money earner for Bus Éireann.

    Too often, we hear that lack of cash is solely responsibly for the neglect and disrepair of not only Busáras but many other of our significant transport centres. What’s really missing is an (institutional) duty of care and the imagination and willingness to make these building fit for purpose, relevant, and inspiring to visit and use.

    Within the context of Busáras’ current preservation and future use, what’s not being addressed is the need for another bus depot on the south side of the Liffey. And don’t get me started on our unwillingness to properly fund public transport modes. But that’s a conversation for another day…

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