Running past Christ Church, into the Liberties and up to the Guinness Storehouse, the Dubline route was launched back in 2012.

This tourist trail, stretching from Trinity College and finishing at Kilmainham Gaol in the west, is a shared brainchild of Fáilte Ireland and Dublin City Council.

Six years later, though, and with over €2 million spent on the Dubline, local representatives have questioned whether the project was worth the money.

“The concept hasn’t been realised,” says independent Councillor Ruairí McGinley. “Rather than tackle the fundamental issues they’ve taken the easy route.”

Places, People, Stories

Connecting “places, people and stories”, the Dubline is a “major tourism initiative for the city”, according to a spokesperson for Dublin City Council.

“One of the easiest ways for visitors to explore some of the city’s most visited sites and attractions”, the spokesperson said, this project is “an essential vehicle to grow overseas visitor numbers in Dublin”.

But, what is the Dubline exactly and what has it achieved? In its raw form, it is a series of teal information panels dotted along the route from Trinity College up to Kilmainham Gaol.

Fáilte Ireland provides the funding, and Dublin City Council puts in the panels. Various Dubline projects are implemented by the council’s South Central Area office.

The Dubline, says McGinley, was originally aimed at tackling rundown facades through traditionally working-class areas and “to make a substantial difference along the route”.

Part of the plan was revamping the Peace Park at Christ Church. But the park remains closed.

In 2016, €75,000 was set aside for an art installation along the pavements of Thomas Street. This has been shelved due to health-and-safety issues, according to council Public Art Manager Ruairí Ó Cuiv.

Bronze paving slabs, as proposed under this installation, are a slip-and-trip hazard, Ó Cuiv said. “I know there are existing examples of this but it is a moot point as to whether they would now get through the rigorous standards of Roads and Traffic [Department],” he said by email.

The concept of the Dubline makes sense, McGinley says, since it is important to move visitors west through the city centre. “You’re talking about huge numbers, well over a million people every year,” he says, of the figures expected to funnel that way.

Yet McGinley has questioned Dubline spending since 2012 and why the council is still working on funding allocations. “I’d have thought that this project would be well advanced or completed,” he says.

How Much Money?

According to a council spokesperson, the now-completed Phase One of the Dubline – which includes information panels, High Street “greening”, Thomas Street lighting, laneway lighting and city-wall lighting – cost €962,017.

At last week’s meeting of the council’s transport committee, McGinley queried why the council was still identifying projects for funding approval six years after the project was first launched.

Others are even more skeptical of the project. “There’s very little to show for the Dubline,” says independent Councillor Mannix Flynn.

At last week’s meeting, Flynn raised concerns about what he sees as a lack of oversight with councillors not updated on costs and what is going on, unless they ask.

When it was first launched, a Dubline Partners Group was established to oversee the project. That group’s last meeting was in April 2014 though.

At this stage, Flynn says he’s worried Dubline is progressing “piecemeal”.

Losing Out

Funding aside, there are those along the route, or along the route’s offshoots, who argue that the Dubline is somewhat exclusionary.

Fino Fusco’s café sits halfway down Meath Street in the heart of the Liberties, just off the Dubline.

He says the council still ignores Meath Street and Francis Street. “They’re neglecting us,” he says. “Most people just walk past Meath Street because it looks a bit rough. They don’t come in to buy anything.”

Thomas Street pharmacist Brian McDevitt says the Dubline has helped improve the public realm along that street. “The improvements are good, I’d welcome more,” he says.

McDevitt reckons, however, that the Guinness Storehouse will draw visitors up the street regardless.

Time to Rethink?

Recently, a training programme for Liberties locals to give tours of the area launched. And in August the Irish Times reported that local historians had started bringing groups of students, who had recently moved into the Liberties, around to meet the local shopkeepers, in an effort to maintain and boost small enterprise.

Local efforts have done more to engage tourists with this part of the city than the Dubline has in six years, says Sinn Féin Councillor Críona Ní Dhalaigh.

“That’s really working well,” she says. “That’s all on a voluntary basis. We have the top tourists attractions so we’ll always get the numbers but … this has actually brought people into the heart of the Liberties.”

The Dubline might work well as a conceptual route through the city’s popular attractions. But it has come at the expense of neighbouring areas, says Ní Dhalaigh.

“The Guinness Storehouse isn’t the only thing in that area that should draw people in. Apart from that, what is the Dubline attracting?” she said.

Last year, councillors approved plans to revamp Francis Street, she says. “There’s nothing happening yet,” says Ní Dhalaigh. “What are the delays? Why isn’t Meath Street being touched?”

One aspect of the Dubline worth commending is the Thomas Street public-realm improvements such as planting, says Ní Dhalaigh. “They may seem trivial but they’re important.”

Ní Dhalaigh queries Dubline spending, though. Greening, for instance, cost €161,000. (It’s unclear how much greening that paid for.)

Phase Two of the Dubline project is set to cost €1.8 million. This is meant to include additional information panels, refurbishment of St Audeon’s, improvement of access to Castle Street, improvements to Crane Street and “greening” on Nicholas Street. Of that tranche, €1,039,811 has been spent already.

McGinley argues in favour of revisiting Dubline’s concept entirely, and is pushing for a joined-up thinking approach between Fáilte Ireland and Dublin City Council. (Fáilte Ireland did not reply to queries by the time this was published.)

“Having a key project manager”, is a start, says McGinley. “There’s been a total change in personnel since 2012. But the underlying opportunity hasn’t gone away.” At the moment, its overseen by the South Central Area Office.

After several attempts, Dublin City Council finally purchased the historic Kilmainham Mills last month. That could form part of a rejigged Dubline route, says McGinley. “There’s a couple of jewels there.”

Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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