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It’s a first for Tassio Pessanha and Alberto Caria, they say.

Neither had seen a public toilet in the city before a recent bleak Friday morning, when the pair crossed Wolfe Tone Square, shopping bags in hand, and paused in front of the new wooden building.

Pessanha takes a photo of the reclining bronze cow sculpture outside, then heads inside the bathrooms — leaving Caria watching seagulls gather in a puddle.

“I love it”, says Pessanha, a short while later, back out again. “It’s so clean and easy for the user. It saved my life.” They should be permanent and rolled out all over, he says.

“Especially in the city centre,” says Caria, name-checking Phoenix Park.

On 8 June, Dublin City Council opened two new public bathrooms in the city in shopping districts either side of the Liffey — one on Wolfe Tone Square, the other at the top of Grafton Street, near St Stephen’s Green.

For now, though, the facilities are temporary, said a council spokesperson. The council is “monitoring the use of the toilets”, and will base future decisions on the information they collect, said the spokesperson.

“There has been no decision made with regard to more public toilets,” they said.

Much Debated

The skeletons of old public toilets are still scattered about the city, on Clanbrassil Street, Burgh Quay, and elsewhere. In Smithfield, there’s a more recent one that’s also been out of use for years.

Many closed in the 1990s due to anti-social behaviour, vandalism, and heroin use.

The city’s current development plan, a blueprint drawn up by councillors and officials for how the city should grow, calls for public toilets and sanitary facilities to be brought back.

But so far, the council had stuck to putting up temporary toilets for events or festivals. A push in mid-2018 to negotiate a deal with cafés to open up their bathrooms to non-customers went nowhere.

Each time that the public and city councillors loop back over debates around reopening public toilets, the same obstacles are cited: anti-social behaviour, vandalism and the cost of maintenance.

The bathrooms at Wolfe Tone Square, open from 8am to 10pm, have two security guards and a cleaner at all times to keep an eye on things. The building is also decked out with CCTV cameras.

A council spokesperson said that the set up has cost about €40,000, but “full costs are yet to come in.”

Visitors to the Wolfe Tone Square toilets have been friendly and respectful and no hassle, said Siobhán Cullen outside the building, last Friday.

Dressed head to toe in black, except for a hi-vis vest, Cullen is just a week on the job as a security guard for the private security company tasked with looking after the toilets.

“For a few days the queues were mental. We hit the 970 mark on Saturday and now we’ve had over 1,000 [visitors],” she says.

She’s been chatting to many of those people about the toilets, she says. “Everyone thinks they should stay. They’re spotless, clean, and sanitised every 15 minutes when there’s a queue.”

That’s “the way it should be”, says Niall Dunne, her colleague. “Hopefully [the council] will take this on board, because around the city centre we have nothing.”

Among those using the toilets have been nurses, retail workers and construction workers. Those working through the lockdown, says Cullen.

With clothes shops such as Penney’s now back open, there’s been another bump in toilet-goers, she says.

Dunne says one heavily pregnant woman had walked five kilometers, unable to find a toilet: “She said she was amazed when she got here.”

“One father nearly got kicked out of a café for changing his baby,” he says.

The public bathrooms are equipped with baby-changing facilities, and an accessible bathroom, too. The ladies’ has three cubicles, while the men’s has two urinals and a cubicle.

Inside, a sign on the wall, between mirrors, reminds people not to flush “tissues and wipes, sanitary products, kittens and puppies, and hopes and dreams”.

Welcomed on the Square

“It’s a great idea, there should be more of them around the city,” says Michelle Cassidy, who last Friday was sitting on a concrete bench on the square as she waited for a friend.

She lives locally and hopes the bathrooms are left where they are, she says. “It’s great they’re manned and secured.”

There should be more around the city, she says. Near train stations and the Luas especially, she says.

Nearby, Noeline McDonnell and Patty Smith catch up over socially distant coffees.

“There should be more of them, it’s about time,” says Smith. “I hope they don’t vandalise them and abuse them.”

This is McDonnell’s first time in this part of town for a while, she says.

She’s delighted to see the new facilities and likes the look of them, she says. “It’s great to see them supervised, but it’s shameful on us that we need them supervised.”

On the southern end of the square, the lights are on at the Tram Café. Manager Claudio Contini plays Frank Sinatra on the speakers to empty seats, as he readies to welcome early customers.

The café doesn’t have its own bathrooms. The new facilities could help his business too, he says: “I think people queuing up will come for coffee and notice the café more.”

Zuzia Whelan

Zuzia Whelan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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