In October 2009, the Boyzone singer Stephen Gately, from Sheriff Street in the north inner-city, died from a heart condition at the age of 33.
In September 2020, local independent councillors tabled a motion saying that the council should name a local park after him. Members of the council’s Central Area Committee agreed to rename the linear park along the Royal Canal from Spencer Dock to North Strand after Gately.
“Stephen meant so much to the people of the area,” said independent Councillor Christy Burke, one of the proposers, at the time. “He was a local lad made big and he never forgot that.”
It was widely reported that the renaming had been agreed. But it stalled when referred to the council’s commemorative naming committee.
Dublin City Council rules say the council must wait for 20 years after a person’s death before commemorating them in a place name. The council also doesn’t name parks after people, said a council spokesperson.
Independent Councillor Damien O’Farrell says the council should review that 20-year rule. “I’m saying that we should look at it.”
But there are good reasons for the cooling-off period, say other councillors, even as all say they still support finding another way to commemorate Gately.
The 20-Year Rule
O’Farrell also wants the council to name a place in the city after the environmental campaigner and former lord mayor, Seán Dublin Bay Loftus, who was a councillor for 25 years and died in 2010.
“If we keep with this 20-year gap a lot of our social history will be lost,” says O’Farrell.
A spokesperson for the council said: “if a proposal to commemorate Seán Loftus were to be submitted in 2030 (he died in 2010), the Committee would consider the proposal then, but not beforehand.”
Labour Party Councillor Dermot Lacey was chair of the commemorative naming committee when the 20-year rule was introduced.
“It was around the time of the revelations about Jimmy Saville,” says Lacey. In 2012, as stories of the abuse committed by Saville came out, lots of streets and other places in Britain had to be renamed in a hurry.
Councils became wary of naming places after people. “A cooling-off period is a good thing,” says Lacey.
O’Farrell, in his motion to the commemorative naming committee, recognised that there is a valid reason for the rule. But “there are also significant disadvantages in that many important contributions for the benefit of our city… are being forgotten”.
He met a young environmental campaigner recently, who had never heard of Seán Dublin Bay Loftus, he says.
The longtime councillor changed his name by deed poll in order to gain traction for his cause of protecting Dublin Bay, says O’Farrell.
Lacey says he would be open to a discussion about reviewing the length of time the council waits. As did the current chair of the committee, Sinn Féin Councillor Mícheál Mac Donncha.
“We are always open to reviewing rules and procedures,” he says. That said, the wisdom of the 20-year rule “seems to be generally agreed”.
Ways to Commemorate
The 20-year rule is not the only issue with renaming the Royal Canal linear park at Spencer Dock as the Stephen Gately Park.
“In addition to the twenty-year rule, the Council’s policy is that parks are named for the area they are in, and not for individuals,” says the spokesperson.
(Of course, lots of parks in the city are named after people, so this must be the council policy in recent times.)
Bridges and roads are regularly named after people, though, and could still be up for grabs.
The council has agreed that both Loftus and Gately should be honoured in the naming of the city in the future, says O’Farrell. But those decisions are not formally recorded anywhere.
So another idea, aside from shortening the timeframe to 10 years, would be to create a formal waiting list, he says.
There are lots of other ways you can commemorate people too, says Lacey, including putting up plaques or creating awards ceremonies.
Mac Donncha says that the 20-year waiting time also applies to plaques though. “There could be another type of memorial,” he said.