On Saturdays, Meeting House Square in Temple Bar hosts a busy food market, with live music and stalls selling pastries, stuffed parathas, and oysters.
But that burst of energy vanishes once the weekend is over. From Monday to Friday, it falls rather lifeless.
Because the square is enclosed, it attracts anti-social activity, says Social Democrats Councillor Patricia Roe. “That is drug dealing and drug taking in the main, all in the daytime.”
It doesn’t help that in the west side of the square, a council-owned ground-floor space is empty, says Roe.
Roe has more than once asked council officials why this shuttered space that once housed the Eden Restaurant hasn’t been refurbished and brought again into use, she says.
Its abandonment means that, save for the Gallery of Photography building with its large lens window on the opposite end of the square, there is a lack of retail or daytime activities around the plaza, she says.
“The market is the only thing that happens there,” Roe says.
With the old Eden Restaurant space now in its fifth year of lying empty, the councillor is calling for a report on what funding is needed, and a timeline, to open it up again.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council did not respond to queries about the vacant property or plans for its refurbishment.
On Wednesday afternoon last week, the Meeting House Square was quiet.
By the passageway linking the square to Eustace Street, a staff member of the Al Vesuvio Italian restaurant tended to their outdoor seating area ahead of opening.
Next-door, a single man hurriedly exited the Irish Film Institute through its back exit, striding towards a more vivacious Essex Street and past the former Eden Restaurant.
The black metal covering outside the old restaurant was decorated in graffiti tags. Its windows were blocked out by a reflective sheeting advertising the Dublin Fringe Festival.
The restaurant used to be a beautiful spot, said Roe later over the phone. “I was just looking at it on Google Maps.”
The building is a wasted space, says Willie White, artistic director of the Dublin Theatre Festival, which has its offices around the corner on Essex Street.
“It is just being left idle in Temple Bar, which ought to be a jewel in the crown of the city infrastructure,” he said.
Ruth McGowan, artistic director and CEO of the Dublin Fringe Festival, says that seeing the restaurant space left without purpose despite its prime location is frustrating.
“Especially when you know that lots of artists or small businesses or cultural organisations could make fantastic use of it,” she says.
The Dublin Fringe Festival has its offices on the top two floors of the building and its entrance beside the old Eden space.
“We are having ongoing environmental hygiene issues,” she says. “It is a wider Temple Bar issue, but in particular at the Meeting House Square, it is a problem for any of us who work here and see it on a daily basis.”
The square is in the middle of what is the city’s cultural quarter, McGowan says.
She and the neighbouring cultural institutions, such as the Irish Film Institute and The Ark keep in touch with each other about incidents which have interrupted their programming. “It’s noise, the guards have been called. We have these ongoing issues.”
Roe calls it an example of the broken-window theory. “If somewhere is left empty, the whole square then becomes unused and a magnet for everything else.”
Falling by the Wayside
In May, a Dublin City Council spokesperson said the building was being considered for temporary use, with the hope being that it could be ready by the end of the year.
In July, a report to members on the council’s arts committee said that remedial work was required to allow meanwhile use, while significant capital works would be necessary to make it available for a long-term arts use.
At an October meeting, City Arts Officer Ray Yeates pointed out to committee members that the space was managed by a particular wing of the council, the Temple Bar Cultural Trust. And, it would take funding to make the building safe, he said.
On 21 November, at the final arts committee of the year, Roe asked that the council to draw up a report on how much would be needed. Anti-social behaviour and intimidation was endangering the cultural and commercial tenants in the area, she said.
The council had intended to use the building as a fan base during the European Football Championships in 2021, she told the committee. But those plans were abandoned when Dublin was dropped as a host city.
Green Party Councillor Claire Byrne, a member of the board of the Temple Bar Cultural Trust, told Roe she had asked for a report during the trust’s last meeting. “That will be due, as far as I know, on it and all the other buildings within the Trust.”
The report would look into the costs and timeline for its refurbishment, said Byrne, and is expected in January.
Feet on the Ground
There is no shortage of potential in the former restaurant, Roe says. “There is talk of running a cafe there. It could be used for rehearsal space or studio space.”
Sunil Sharpe, a DJ and campaigner with Give Us The Night, says the space could be used to celebrate Temple Bar’s LGBT history, pointing out that the Hirschfeld Centre and its nightclub Flikkers on Fownes Street were never directly replaced.
The Arts Office had discussed the possibility of commissioning an LGBT sculpture in April, says Sharpe. “It could become perhaps an LGBTQ community space with a built-in venue. With access to the square, it could be a really interesting place that Temple Bar needs.”
What is vital is that it is reopened with haste, Roe says. “If it is open, it will create the footfall. Could we not make it available for meanwhile use? And then, what is the long-term?”
White, however, said there still needs to be a definition and process in place for “meanwhile use”, whereby the council rents buildings short-term to organisations or individuals.
“Meanwhile use does not exist. It has no legal or planning basis. It’s a parlance. It doesn’t define anything,” said White.
His fundamental concern is why the money has not yet been spent to make it available for use, he says.
“It is hard for us to think about any cultural operator, or to think about whether it can be used for something when we’re not at the point where it is fit to be occupied,” he said.
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