Sinead Mercier has been going to the Cumberland Street Market with her mother – a set and costume designer – her whole life.
Her earliest memory is watching the stalls being set up from an old navy buggy, her sister huddled in beside her, she says.
“My memories of inner-city Dublin life are built around that market and its people,” says Mercier, who is now a legal researcher in the Dáil for the Green Party.
So when Mercier heard that Dublin City Council might shut down the market, she wrote to local councillors, asking them to take into account its importance to Dublin’s culture, and reconsider.
Draft casual-trading bye-laws discussed at the council’s economic development committee on 21 November last year propose to “de-designate” the market – meaning casual trading would no longer be permitted there – because of “a lot of issues with waste management costs from these pitches and illegal trading in the area”.
But if you ask the traders working there, and some local councillors, these problems have faded significantly in recent years, and inspectors have been assigned to the market to keep them under control. They believe there’s a different reason the market’s future is under threat.
The Cost of Maintaining the Market
Eleanor Larkin has been trading at the Cumberland Street Market for more than 36 years and says “there is no longer any illegal trading there as there are two inspectors there to supervise”.
Not only that, but “on average, there are small amounts of rubbish left, under the supervision of the inspectors, [and] a lot of rubbish is left from the local housing area”, she says.
Larkin believes the real problem is that the Matthews company’s buses, which used to stop on Parnell Street, now stop on North Cumberland Street, because of the extension of the Luas Green Line.
The traders and drivers try not to get in each other’s way, says Larkin. The buses begin arriving at 11am and, although the market doesn’t end until noon, when the council painted lines for bus-parking spaces, they were on the side of the road where the market takes place.
“We were not informed by [Dublin City Council] about these buses. We just arrived to see them parked in our market,” she says. “They have given us no alternative, and all the traders are disgusted on how we are being treated.”
Christy Hanney, who says his family has been trading at the market the longest, gives a different reason.
He says “the buses have nothing to do with this”, but rather that it’s “the cost of having inspectors making sure there’s no illegal traders, [and] the cost of taking the refuse away”.
A Dublin Institution
Mercier says the traders she’s spoken to feel like the proposal to eliminate their market has come out of the blue.
She and Larkin both mention the importance of the market in Dublin for many who cannot afford to shop elsewhere.
“A lot of people who come are very poor,” says Hanney, who said the traders would never let someone walk home in the rain without a jacket, even if they didn’t have the money to pay.
Hanney says he didn’t find out about the draft bye-laws until about two weeks ago, and Larkin says she feels the council went over the traders’ heads.
The market has dwindled over the years. There were about 80 stalls, then the council started requiring casual-trading licences in 1995, and the number dropped to 40, and since then it’s fallen to 12, according to Hanney.
However, while the council cited vacant pitches as its reason for proposing to de-designating other city markets, it did not give that as the reason for proposing to eliminate Cumberland Street Market.
The Response from Councillors
Right now, the new bye-laws that would de-designate the Cumberland Street Market are only at the draft stage.
Members of the public have until 28 March to make submissions telling the council their views on the draft.
These submissions will be given to the councillors on the economic development committee, who can take them into account when amending the draft bye-laws before sending them on to the full council for consideration.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council’s press office said yesterday that the council cannot comment before a decision is reached on the bye-laws.
Green Party Councillor Ciarán Cuffe, who is on the council’s casual trading and markets subcommittee, has said he intends to work with his colleagues to “ensure that Cumberland Street is not de-listed from the list of street markets in our bye-laws”.
Noting the improvements made in waste-management and illegal trading, Cuffe said, “Why not improve it further? It’s not rocket science to ensure traders don’t dump rubbish all over the street. It simply requires close cooperation between our staff and those who are trading.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Janice Boylan is also on the subcommittee and says her own family have traded in the city for four generations, and it’s a tradition they’re proud of.
“Bus companies should be spoken to,” she says, “and the traders who want to continue trading should come together and speak up to all local politicians and DCC [Dublin City Council].”
Initially, Boylan said that traders not coming forward may have been interpreted as lack of resistance, but she added later that “sometimes decisions are made without consultation with those who will be affected”.
Larkin says the council notified her and the other traders about the draft bye-laws, but not about what they contained – and that when she called, she was told that the proposal to de-designate the market was already being discussed.