Some mornings, Eileen O’Sullivan throws water outside if people have been relieving themselves against her house, she says.
It’s partly the bench outside, where Warren Street and Portobello Road meet, that she blames. “That seat has been a problem for a long time, really,” she says, gesturing to the right of her canal-facing house.
People gather there and drink, making noise, she says. “It could start at four o’clock in the morning and go until seven,” she says. “That’s people coming home from nightclubs, I suppose.”
At last week’s meeting of Dublin City Council’s South East Area Committee, Sinn Féin Councillor Chris Andrews proposed a motion, which was agreed, to remove this particular bench, in light of what he says is “extreme behaviour” that it attracts.
A motion agreed by councillors at an area committee meeting can be put on the agenda for one of the monthly meetings of the full council at City Hall.
However, some people along the Grand Canal on Monday said they would prefer to find other ways to deal with anti-social behaviour and the impact of canal-side drinking in the summer months, rather than removing the bench.
There’s another bench in front of Kingsland Parade, about 100 metres from the one in front of Warren Street. A third bench is less than 200 metres away, at Windsor Terrace.
What about these two other benches, which are further along the canal towards Harold’s Cross? Do they attract problems too?
“It just seems to be there,” at the Warren Street bench, says O’Sullivan. “It seems to be that seat, all the time.”
Andrews thinks the bench’s proximity to Portobello Plaza, where people gather to drink in the summertime, makes it more popular than other benches.
“There are people almost taking up residency there. It’s a gathering point for people that drink socially and have issues with drink,” says Andrews, who represents the South-East Inner-City.
“There’s a bit of an overspill,” he says. “It’s a residential area and residents facing it have a lot of problems. They feel that removing that bench will alleviate some of the problems, make them go home earlier.”
What if people just move over to the other benches? “That’s a possibility, but it’s worth trying,” he says.
Drinking around the canal hasn’t caused her any problems, says Lauren Breatnach, who lives close to another of the benches along the canal.
Nor have people who are homeless, sleeping along there, she says. There’s a tent between Warren Street and Martin Street on Monday, and a man laying on a bench, wrapped up in a black sleeping bag.
“I wouldn’t be in favour of taking them [the benches] away. It’s unfortunately where people sleep,” Breatnach says. “For me, I just feel sorry for them. But I wouldn’t classify it as anti-social behaviour.”
Drinking on weekends isn’t a problem, she says. “No, it’s part of the canal. We don’t get involved.”
“It’s young people. They’re all very pleasant and gone by a certain time. Nothing kind of spreads onto this road.”
Taking the bench away won’t resolve the issue, says Laura Morrissey, sat on the bench on Monday midday, taking in the 22-degree weather.
She works nearby and sits on the bench during her break. “People will just sit on the grass,” Morrissey says.
It’s not the benches that cause the anti-social behaviour, says Tom O’Brien, sat two benches over, at the intersection of Portobello Road and Kingsland Parade, as he waits for a friend.
A bench might make it worse if it’s a target for vandalism or sitting around with friends, he says. “But you’re taking away an awful lot from an area if you take away a bench.”
They Must Go
People enjoying the benches don’t have to deal with the problems they cause, says Sean O’Connell, a neighbour of O’Sullivan’s, who says he has lived in Portobello for 37 years. He wants the Warren Street bench removed too.
“Last night there was a load of people, they had won a football match,” he says. “These benches are a major problem. They’re at the top of each street. The people that put these here, don’t live here.”
O’Connell doesn’t think removing the benches will take away from the area. “Absolutely not. It would remove anti-social behaviour. All it does is encourage people to congregate.”
O’Sullivan loses sleep because of the noise, she says.
In the run-up to the local elections, she asked politicians to do something about it. “They all promised. I’ve written to TDs. Nothing has happened,” she says.
Fine Gael Councillor Danny Byrne, who also represents the South-East Inner-City area, says he doesn’t know where he stands on the issue of removing a bench from the canal.
But public representatives and Gardaí met as recently as Monday to discuss problems in Portobello caused by drinking in the summer, he says.
Gardaí said they would increase their visibility in the area, Byrne says.
Independent Councillor Mannix Flynn says he’d like to see Waterways Ireland, be part of the solution.
Taking away the bench would “punish” the wrong people, like elderly people who want somewhere to sit, says Flynn, who also represents the area.
“We need proper management of the canals. Waterways Ireland need to take control, the way you would at a park,” he says. “Where you have park attendants like you would at St Stephen’s Green.”
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said there was “no proposal” to remove the bench and that they had not received reports of “anti-social behaviour” at that spot.