There were six people holding signs up and down Grafton Street last Thursday, advertising local businesses.
One man stands with a big yellow sign promoting a temporary exhibition upstairs in the shopping centre.
A young man strolls past, headphones on, with a heavy-looking electronic sign hanging from straps across his shoulders. It’s advertising a pub around the corner.
At a recent meeting of Dublin City Council’s transport committee, Senior Executive Officer Kevin Meade told councillors about plans to bring in a licensing system for sandwich boards on public pavements.
Councillors were broadly supportive of that – but one particularly thorny question did come up: what about the folks who hold the signs advertising businesses?
Sandwich boards popping up everywhere, causing issues for people with disabilities, said Meade, at the council meeting. They needed to be addressed, he said.
Meade said this became obvious after Make Way Day, a campaign that highlights the issue of obstacles in public spaces for people with disabilities.
Allen Dunne, deputy CEO of the Disability Federation of Ireland – which organises Make Way Day – says the general message of the campaign is that footpaths shouldn’t be obstructed. He says the sandwich board licensing scheme “is fantastic”.
Dunne says the campaign is about trying to get people to think twice about blocking the pavement, be it with a car, a bin or a barrel of beer.
With regard to sign holders, Dunne says that if they’re standing or walking around, they can move out of the way of someone with a disability. If they’re sitting in a chair, that can block a footpath just like any other obstruction.
The council plans to a one-time €100 application fee for a licence, plus €630 per year. Meade said section 71 of the Roads Act 1993 gives the council the authority to remove unlicensed advertising boards.
Sandwich boards should be banned altogether, said Fine Gael Councillor Kieran Binchy. They block people walking down the street and are obstacles for those in wheelchairs, prams, and the visually impaired.
It’s part of the city-wide problem of limited space, said Binchy. It “would be crazy” to allow sandwich boards to block footpaths, when there’s not enough room for pedestrians, cyclists, and cars, he says.
Sign holders, or “stick men” as they used to be called should be regulated for the same reason, he says – particularly the ones who sit on seats, stationary.
Binchy says he hopes the council bans people sitting on chairs, holding signs, especially on Grafton Street and other busy streets.
“Space on our street is at such a premium at the moment,” he says. “It’s in the interest to inner-city businesses as a group to have a comfortable, accessible inner-city. If we can ban it, we’re actually doing good for all businesses.”
At the meeting, Meade said he’d look into the issue of people holding sandwich boards and “see if we can introduce bye-laws”.
Sign holders on Grafton Street last Thursday said they didn’t want to talk on the record for fear of losing their jobs.
Some have been doing the same thing, in the same spot, for a long time – eight years, 11 years.
Three said someone from the council had come around before Christmas and told them not to use chairs anymore, and two said their employers had received letters about the same issue only this month.
Some of them said they don’t mind standing too much. Others said standing for a nine-hour shift hurts their backs.
One sign holder said that if the council decided to bring in a licensing system for sign holders, that would be okay. But he doesn’t understand why he can’t sit down, in an out-of-the-way place.
Another wondered why they would have to pay more for a licence than street performers, whose licences are €30 per year.
“If the license is reasonable, then okay. If it’s a lot, why do we have to pay more than street performers? We’re not doing anything wrong. If there’s a lot of traffic, or a disabled person, we move,” he said.
The sign holders said they hoped new regulations wouldn’t cost them their jobs.