At a recent meeting, two councillors proposed an emergency motion to start a process to consider closing off the public right of way on Hardwicke Street.
After a debate on the motion from Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam and independent Councillor Christy Burke, councillors at a 10 October meeting of the Central Area Committee voted 8 to 3 to back it.
“The issues are related to security, related to the fact that there is a huge amount of transient parking on Hardwicke Street,” McAdam said at the meeting, making his pitch to get other councillors on-side to back his motion.
At the meeting, councillors talked about parking issues, and the desirability of keeping the street open for people to walk or cycle through.
But there’s another issue at play too: tensions between some residents of the flats at the north end of Hardwicke Street, and Somali business owners and their customers at the south end.
Max Jamaal, working behind the counter of his dad’s Hodma Shop at the south end of Hardwicke Street last Wednesday, said the shop’s been there for years, and they get on fine with most people from the flats. Always have done, he says.
But there’s a few, relatively recently, that things have gotten rocky with. “They come over from the flats, and say to us that they don’t want to see our people around here,” Jamaal says.
Somalis from around the Dublin area come to eat at a cafe around the corner on North Frederick Street, Maka Cadey, he says. It’s mostly men, who work security or work in warehouses or other places, he says.
They come, get a good meal of Somali food at the cafe, then they might walk a few steps around the corner to pick up a few bits at the Hodma Shop – and hang around in groups on the corner chatting, Jamaal says.
Some people think these groups of men hanging around are dangerous, and have told Jamaal, he says, that they want to get the council to close off the street to block them out. “It doesn’t make sense. They’re not harming anyone,” he says.
At the area committee meeting, the council’s north inner-city area manager, David Forde, said residents had previously asked for a gate at the north end to keep cars out, and more recently for a gate toward the south end too, down towards Hodma Shop and Maka Cadey.
“This is where this emergency motion is coming from,” Forde said. “I’m meeting the Gardaí next week in relation to some of the issues that are happening up there.”
Reached by phone on Friday, a woman who said she was a member of the Hardwicke Street Residents Committee declined to comment at this time.
On nearby Dorset Street, in another Somali restaurant, Samosa, Ahmed Abdalla says community relations in the area have become tense recently. But putting up fences and walls isn’t the solution, he says.
“No, that’s crazy,” he says. What’s needed is better integration, he says, “people need to be connected to each other, they need to be influenced by each other”.
It’s easier to understand this whole situation if you understand a bit of the geography first.
Hardwicke Street is about 200 metres long, running parallel to Dorset Street, just east of it. At the north end, it hits Temple Street, near the hospital. At the south end, North Frederick Street.
There’s no through motor-vehicle traffic on Hardwicke Street. It is blocked off in the middle by two rows of chicanes, with a small plaza or park in between.
However, people walk through and cycle through – fast, apparently, last Wednesday there was an orange sign up at the bollards with the words “SLOW DOWN” painted on by hand.
The two ends of the street are different. At the north: it’s a cul-de-sac full of cars, and surrounded by blocks of council flats.
At the south end, it’s another cul-de-sac, a public street, surrounded by the Hodma Shop, the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu & Capoeira Academy, the Vietnamese Association, a homeless hostel, and more.
At the north end, there’s a clear way for the council to install gates at the entrance to the flat complexes’ cul-de-sac, at the intersection with Hardwicke Street. There’s a pillar on each side.
At the south end, putting a fence at the intersection with North Frederick Street would leave Hardwicke Street businesses fenced off from customers – and block access by delivery vans who use Hardwicke Lane to get to the back of Dorset Street shops like Samosa.
So the obvious place to put a fence and gate would be where Hardwicke Street reaches the bollards at the southern edge of the central plaza, which is also the southern edge of the flats.
There’s no neat posts to attach it to at either side here. The fence would have to stretch across about 15 open metres between buildings.
At the meeting
Between the two proposals that Forde, the council area manager, has said that residents of the flats have made, the flat complex at the north end would be fenced off at both ends – turned into a sort of Fortress Hardwicke Street.
This is not what McAdam, the Fine Gael councillor, or independent Councillor Christy Burke said they were advocating for, either at the meeting, or on the phone later.
The two councillors talked about the north end of the street, about cars, about parking, about road safety.
“The area is smothered with cars from the outside,” Burke said at the meeting. “There’s mayhem on a daily basis.”
“Every resident in Hardwicke Street that I’ve spoken to, and there’s 210 flats in it, and I know every single one of them, certainly are in favour of getting safety measures put in place to prevent ongoing off-street parking,” he said.
Sinn Féin Councillor Janice Boylan also supported the motion, and said local Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald has met with residents about the issue – although McDonald has not responded to queries sent Monday about what her understanding of the issues is, and what solution she supports.
At the meeting, Boylan said: “This request doesn’t come very lightly, it doesn’t come because they haven’t tried anything else, it doesn’t come because they want to block people out and they don’t want to have permeability, or they don’t want to have people coming into the area and stuff like that.”
Social Democrats Councillor Cat O’Driscoll opposed the motion, saying it would extinguish the public right of way on a street that is available for walking and cycling at the moment.
“I’m hearing what others are saying about the parking issues and there has to be other solutions,” O’Driscoll said.
“We’ve had this conversation already about our laneways, that we’re pushed into making a place safer by removing public access and I’m really worried that this is now going to become our only way of making areas safe is to gate them off,” she said.
Green Party Councillor Janet Horner also opposed the motion, calling it a “very, very regressive proposal”.
“The response every time in the city when we look at problems of anti-social behaviour and difficulty with parking and all kinds of different things cannot be to shut down public space,” she said.
In response, Burke said the intention of the motion wasn’t to keep people from walking through Hardwicke Street from one end to the other, but to solve the parking issue.
And McAdam said the motion would only begin a statutory public consultation, and everyone would get their say on what they thought should happen before anything happened.
When it came time for a vote, the majority of the committee backed McAdam and Burke.
What’s being proposed, actually?
A couple days later on the phone, McAdam said his motion wasn’t about fencing off the Somali men who gather at the corner with North Frederick Street from the flats.
Last Wednesday, when asked about the Somali men who gather at the corner, Burke said, “Well, I know there’s hostels down the other end and there was issues going back of anti-social behaviour, I don’t know by who.”
But anti-social behaviour is “a matter for the cops. It’s not a matter for the Christy Burkes of this world”, Burke said.
If the proposal to close off the public right of way through Hardwicke Street went to a public consultation and was approved on the basis of putting up a gate at the Temple Street end to deal with parking issues down at the flats, would it then also be possible to put a gate at the Frederick Street end, where the chicanes are?
“I don’t think the city council would agree to – I don’t think so, now maybe I’m projecting, but I don’t think the city council would block off both ends of the street,” he said.
“I know there’s lots of members who are reluctant to block off even laneways and probably rightly so in some cases, where you’re genuflecting to the behaviour, the people carrying out the behaviour,” he said.
But Forde, the council area manager, after the debate on the motion, made clear that what residents were asking for was not only closing off the Temple Street end, the bit that McAdam and Burke have focused on.
“Just to clarify, senior members of the city council have met with the residents there over the last number of months, there was a request for gates to be installed at the car park near the Temple Street side of the complex and Housing are actually looking at that, that’s just for preventing vehicles, so there’ll still be pedestrian access there,” he said.
“One of the last meetings we had there was requests for gates or fencing to block off the access from the other side. Now that was just a suggestion at that time and this is where this emergency motion is coming from,” he said.
A council spokesperson said on Monday that the proposal to make changes on Hardwicke Street “is at an early stage and Dublin City Council will hold further meetings with Internal Departments to review the implications of any request and then once again liaise with the public representatives and residents before proceeding any further in any formal process”.
Jamaal, at the Hodma Shop at the south end of Hardwicke Street, says no one has any reason to be scared of the Somali guys who hang out on the corner. He says he just doesn’t get it.
In fact, the Somali community feel threatened themselves at this point, he says. After being approached several times by people complaining about men hanging out on the corner, “We called the guards”, who came and talked to both sides and left, he said.
In response to a query on whether they’d been called to the corner of Hardwicke Street and North Frederick Street more often than to other locations in the north inner-city – and, if so, why, a Garda spokesperson said they didn’t have that information.
“Regular high visibility patrols are conducted in the Hardwick Street area by Community Gardaí and like in many areas we have been called to this location to address various anti-social and public order issues,” the Garda spokesperson said.
“We do not have specific statistics readily available, but it is important to clarify that our presence in any area is determined by the need for our services, and it is not necessarily indicative of a higher crime rate,” he said.
Over on Dorset Street, at the restaurant Samosa, Abdalla says the gatherings at the south end of Hardwicke Street are just people from the Somali community standing around talking, and nothing to be scared of.
“In my community, they like to stand on the streets, they like to talk,” he says. They aren’t aggressive, he says.
“If you compare Somalis hanging out there and homeless people, Somalis are not the problem,” Abdalla says.
Burke, the independent councillor, said there are several homeless hostels around the intersection of Hardwicke Street and North Frederick Street.
“I know there was problems with the hostels, and I think we, the city council, need to manage that,” he says. “As regards whatever nationality, or whoever it was, I don’t know. But I know there was serious anti-social.”
Aside from any issues with the hostels, Abdalla says relations have deteriorated between the White Irish and Somali communities in the area since the summer, when anti-immigrant protests flared across the country. He blames the media for helping to fuel those fires, he says.
As for the council, both Jamaal and Abdalla say they do not hear from local councillors. Says Abdalla: “They only listen to one side.”
Horner, the Green Party councillor, said by phone on 13 October that if a part of the plan is to fence off the flats from the south end of Hardwicke Street, she didn’t think that was a good idea.
“We live together as a community, and there are a lot of different communities around Hardwicke Street and we’re better served if we’re not segregated and can sort out any issues through mediation if it’s needed,” she said.