Walking his dog down narrow Charleville Avenue near Croke Park on Monday at lunch time, Joe Clarke’s route was down the middle of the road.
The footpaths, after all, were covered with cars, as they usually are. “It’s obviously not ideal to have cars parked up on the footpath like this,” he said.
But it’s unlikely that Dublin Street Parking Services (DSPS), the company Dublin City Council has contracted to enforce parking rules around the city, will come around and fine or clamp these cars. Even though their drivers are breaking the law by leaving them there.
“There is a common understanding that because there is no alternative for people to park outside their homes because the roads are so narrow there that the council turn a blind eye,” says Green Party Councillor Janet Horner.
Dublin City Council has not responded to a query sent Friday as to whether this is the case.
But a public council document and a DSPS briefing for its workers show that the council does not strictly enforce the law equally across the city.
It has a secret guide for where and how DSPS should enforce the law, and has – at least in the past – briefed the company not to enforce the law on certain roads, and on certain cars.
A result of this approach is that the law is more of a starting point in a negotiation than a hard and fast rule, Horner says.
For example, when DSPS fined several cars for parking on a grass verge along Glasnevin Avenue recently, Fianna Fáil Councillor Keith Connolly advocated for the council to review these fines – and it decided some would be rescinded. Even though the council confirmed that the drivers had parked their cars illegally.
Is this fair to other drivers, on other streets, who get fined or clamped for breaking the law?
“It’s very unfair,” said Feljin Jose, who’s running for the Green Party for a seat on the council representing the Cabra-Glasnevin area, and has been pushing for changes to parking enforcement in the city.
The council has not responded to a query sent Friday about whether it believes its approach to enforcement is fair.
A push for change
The council awarded the current contract to DSPS in August 2019. It was to be for five years, “with a possible extension of a further two years (on a year by year basis)”, the invitation to tender had said.
That means the regular term of the contract ends next summer. “I think if Dublin City Council wants to change the contract or put out a new contract or take it back, they have to act now,” Jose has said.
However, at a meeting of the council’s transport committee on 13 September, council transport head Brendan O’Brien said DSPS’s contract will be extended.
“The next contract … won’t be next year, it’ll be the year after probably because we’re just short-staffed in parking enforcement to actually do the contract,” he said.
Still, since the council moves slowly, and on long time lines, Jose and Green Party councillors are already pushing for the council to make changes to how parking enforcement is done in the city once DSPS’s contract ends.
On the phone on Monday, Connolly, the Fianna Fáil councillor, agreed that the city’s parking-enforcement system could use a review. “But I don’t know what the solution is,” he said.
Fines for some
The council’s last invitation to tender for parking-enforcement services, back in 2018, noted that the council “has a set of rules and procedures concerning when, on which occasions, and how enforcement should be carried out”.
“These rules and procedures are confidential to the Council, and must be treated accordingly,” the document says.
The council first said such a document did not exist, and then determined that it did, but declined to release it under the Freedom of Information Act.
In a letter, the council said that releasing it could “prejudice or impair – the prevention, detection or investigation of offences”, “the enforcement of, compliance with or administration of any law”, “facilitate the commission of an offence”.
However, a 2017 briefing from DSPS to its staff could offer some indication of the types of directions the council gives its parking enforcement contractor confidentially.
The reasons behind some of the instructions seem clear.
For example, “DO NOT ENFORCE: Clearway 1600pm to 1900pm on South William Street until the clearway sign/time plate has been erected outside number 55 by DCC”, or “Don’t enforce the grass margin on Belmont Villas as is private. Ref DCC.”
Others are not clear.
For example, “Please do not Enforce Sheriff St upper (all offences) till further notice Ref DCC”, “Do not enforce on Footway in Pleasants Street”, or “Albert Terrace is not to be enforced till Further Notice Ref DCC”.
It even names specific cars, by registration, to leave alone. For example, “Please do not clamp 04D49602 ON Terenure Park until further notice Ref DCC”.
Since this document is years old, the types of directions the council gives to DSPS could well have changed since then.
The council press office has not responded to a request sent Thursday for other briefing documents it has provided to DSPS telling them where to enforce and where not to – ones that are more recent but still out of date enough so they can’t help people break the law.
It also has not responded to a query sent Thursday on why it might decide to direct its parking-enforcement contractor not to enforce the law on certain streets, on certain footpaths, or in relation to certain specific vehicles.
Or whether it is legal for the council to choose not to enforce the law equally across the city in relation to all drivers.
A negotiation, not a hard-and-fast rule
The opacity and flexibility of the council’s approach to enforcing the parking laws, has created a system where people often feel that if they get fined when they park illegally it’s unfair and push back, says Horner, the Green Party councillor.
“Unless you have a clear transparent system that is going to be, you know, fairly uniformly applied and everybody understands where they stand with it, it’s very difficult to get people to buy in,” Horner says.
“And when people don’t buy in, they push back,” she says. “Like their case is the case that needs to be the exception … Everybody regards themselves as being the exception to the rule.”
On Monday about lunchtime, Brian Hagan was parking his car with two wheels on the footpath on Charlemont Parade, around the corner from Charleville Avenue.
He says there’s not enough parking in the neighbourhood, he needs to have a car for his work as an architect so he can go out and visit sites, and he has to park it somewhere.
His street doesn’t have a paid-parking scheme, and he doesn’t like to use orange cones to save the spot in front of his house. “It’s a public street,” he says.
So sometimes he has to take desperate measures. “This is a last resort,” he says of his parking job halfway on the footpath.
Anyone who needs a footpath can either squeeze by, or use the one on the other side of the street, Hagan says.
What should people who live on Charleville Avenue and have no driveway to park in, and people like Hagan, do?
Rather than turning a blind eye to footpath parking, the council should take a more proactive approach to working with residents to find solutions, says Horner, the Green Party councillor.
“Is there a nearby car park that could be repurposed for the sake of allowing people some places to park their cars nearby while freeing up the footpaths?” she says.
“It is an incredibly disabling environment if you have completely unusable footpaths, for anybody with any additional mobility challenges,” she says.
“We have to have useable footpaths in the city.”
Winning the negotiation
In early September DSPS staff were on Glasnevin Avenue, “and noticed that some vehicles were parked on the grass verges which is illegal along with footpath parking”, a senior staff officer at the council’s parking enforcement office wrote in an 8 September email. So they fined them.
The email was to Fianna Fáil Councillor Keith Connolly who – after the drivers were fined – had contacted the council about, asking for a review of DSPS’s actions, he says. Yes, the drivers shouldn’t have parked where they did, Connolly said by phone on Monday.
But one was the vehicle of a carer who had parked it there while looking in on elderly woman, another was a van parked by someone doing some building work, and a third was a car whose owner said she’d been parking it there for decades, he said.
Jose, the Green Party candidate, said that fining people who park illegally for these reasons “may be harsh, but it’s national legislation”.
The email from the council to Connolly reporting the results of their review of the fines DSPS had issued notes that the council has a flexible approach to enforcing the law – which has been endorsed by councillors.
“Where possible we would try to accommodate residents where we can and we did seek guidance from the Transportation SPC [Strategic Policy Committee] on how best to prioritise the limited resources from the Parking Enforcement Contractor,” the email says.
“It was decided at the time that once vehicles park in such way as to leave 2.5m of available footpath space for pedestrians, wheelchair users, people with buggies to get by that we would not deem this to be a high priority and that other offences would take precedence,” the email says.
Indeed, at a May 2021 transport committee meeting, members decided exactly this. It was actually a tightening of restrictions on parking, as the previous policy had been to leave a car alone if it left 2m of space on the footpath for people to get by.
At the meeting, several people spoke against allowing footpath parking. And Sinn Féin Councillor Daniel Céitinn said the council didn’t have a legal basis to decide to permit parking that is illegal under the law.
“Has there been a legal challenge up to now, or has it just sailed under the radar?” he asked at the time.
In her 8 September 2023 email to Connolly, the Fianna Fáil councillor, the council parking-enforcement official said several of the Glasnevin Avenue fines had been rescinded.
“On looking back at the photos of the vehicles that were fined we have decided to waive the fine for some of the motorists that were parked on the grass margin,” she wrote. “However there was a vehicle that infringed significantly onto the footpath and their fine will stand.”
Jose said by phone on Monday that “the council doesn’t have the power to make exceptions to national legislation” by rescinding fines imposed on illegally parked cars.
The council has not responded to a query sent Thursday asking, generally, whether it is legal for the council to choose not to enforce the law equally across the city to all residents/drivers.
Or to another query, sent yesterday, asking specifically about the legality of rescinding the Glasnevin Avenue fines.
On Monday about lunchtime, Pedro Did was walking down the footpath on Glasnevin Avenue, past a couple of cars parked on the grass verge. It was bright, crisp, and windy – a gorgeous autumn day.
The cars were not in his way. They weren’t on the footpath at all. Still, though, Did said they shouldn’t have been parked there.
“We need the grass to breathe,” Did said. “And at the end of the day, it destroys the beauty of the city.”
Proposals for change
Drivers’ desire to park where they wish often clashes with the council’s efforts to transform the city into a place with less space for cars.
In various ways the council has been moving to make more space for people who are not in cars, for trees, bees and birds – for grassy places where rain can soak into the earth. For kids to play.
For people to walk or cycle or wheel safely and comfortably to the shops or to school. For buses to quickly and smoothly get people to work or into town for a night out.
People with disabilities especially are impacted by footpaths and other public spaces being blocked, says Brenda Drumm, a spokesperson for the Disability Federation of Ireland.
“Cars and vans parked on footpaths, bins and rubbish, motorbikes and bicycles etc.” create “obstacles and hazards”, Drumm says
This Friday is the group’s annual “Make Way Day” campaign for raising awareness about the problems it causes. “The best mix of addressing this issue is enforcement, education, and, awareness raising of the problems it causes,” Drumm said.
So it’s probably time to have another look at how the parking laws are enforced, say some Dublin city councillors.
On the transport committee’s agenda for its 13 September meeting there was a motion from Green Party councillors Janet Horner, Carolyn Moore, Michael Pidgeon and Caroline Conroy to transform the system.
“This SPC [strategic policy committee] calls for the work of parking enforcement to be brought back under direct control of the Council instead of being contracted out,” it says.
“The new mandate for parking enforcement officers should emphasise enforcement where parking is dangerous or illegal or causing significant accessibility obstacle or damage to public infrastructure,” it says.
“It should also be explored to see whether litter, dumping and dog warden powers can be combined with those of parking enforcement for a combined benefit for all aspects of the public realm and the community,” it ends.
At the meeting, the council’s transport head, Brendan O’Brien, said the council had never done parking enforcement itself, and pushed back against the idea that it might. “I genuinely don’t think there’s any possibility” of that, he said.
Instead, O’Brien suggested, what if council managers get together with councillors and talk about how the next contract for a company to provide a parking-enforcement service could be different, better?
“We’re quite happy to propose that we sit down with yourselves in a workshop where we kind of get the concerns from yourselves and see how we can translate that into, if you like, better contractual KPIs [key performance indicators] and so on, for the next contract,” he said.
In the end, Horner proposed that “we would kind of refer this on to a workshop – that we would look at what has been proposed in the motion in the context of a workshop in the next few months”, and the committee backed that plan.
On the phone on Monday, Connolly, the Fianna Fáil councillor said he thought the council’s parking-enforcement system could use a review.
Why does it have to be either a contract for a private service, or a shift to the council directly enforcing the law with wardens, though? he asked. Why not both?
“Years ago in Finglas we had parking wardens. They were great. Everyone was afraid of them,” he said. “Now parking in Finglas is ridiculous.”