Has the ‘get-up-and-go’ of Dún Laoghaire simply ‘got-up-and-gone’?
There is something unique about being out and about early on a Sunday morning. No traffic, vehicular or pedestrian and little noise or bustle to thwart one’s perception. Shortly after daybreak this morning I walked along the High Street of Dún Laoghaire – Upper and Lower Georges Street, Cumberland Street, and Crofton Rd.
A High Street is a metonym for the primary business district of a town – typically its principal retail zone which ought to reap the economic benefit of its hinterland. It could be regarded as the vital organ, beating heart, or smiling face of a confident community; a community with a definite sense of purpose; a community with a clear identity and an awareness of its potential as well as its past.
Champs Élyées serves this purpose in Paris as does Newbury Street in Boston, Oxford Street in London, 5th Avenue in New York and Castle Street in Dalkey. Dún Laoghaire has its share of poverty and distress but it is not an economically deprived ghetto wasteland! Yet a Martian could form that opinion by strolling along its High Street.
Dún Laoghaire is the county town of county of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, a county with its own 28-member council and an electorate of over 150,000 persons.
Dún Laoghaire occupies a unique position in our national makeup. The first railway in Ireland was opened between Dublin and Dún Laoghaire in 1834. Its magnificent granite harbour took 42 years to complete and has been an important gateway to Ireland for passenger ferries and ships since 1859. The modern harbour has been the recipient of much investment – several marinas, four active yacht clubs and a newly developed terminal used by Stena Lines for its fast ferry service to Holyhead. But it is the High Street that radiates the soul of a place.
The town itself expanded in the Victorian and Edwardian era as a desirable residential suburb. It continues to be a much sought after location in which to live, offering plenty of amenities, long established and well thought of schools and most agreeable coastal scenery and other attractive natural resources.
But there is now a plethora of dirty, litter-laden, vacant retail premises in this vicinity with chewing gum embedded on the adjacent footpath. The High Street seems to attract nothing other than hucksters outlets, discount stores, fast-food outlets, charity shops and various transient enterprises, mostly offering low-value junk. There is hardly a brand name over a shop front that would be recognised in an adjacent postal district. The epicentre of retailing never reached this town. Nowadays, nearby Dundrum has overtaken and overshadowed it with its modern town centre the main showpiece.
Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown is not deprived of political influence. Its two Fianna Fáil TD’s include a cabinet minister (Mary Hanafin) and a Minister who attends government meetings (Barry Andrews). Twenty of the 28 council seats are filled by Fine Gael and Labour members – the parties who aspire the form the backbone of the next government. The current Cathaoirleach of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is Marie Baker. She has represented the Blackrock Ward since 2004 and managed to spearhead an increase in her party’s share of the poll in the most recent local elections from 27% to 39%. That vote of confidence now needs be reciprocated with effective leadership and genius. There is also an active Chamber of Commerce whose mission is to promote the town, but can it do no more than make a silk purse from a sow’s ear?
It is surprising, given this ambition, that Fine Gael and Labour don’t demonstrate a capacity to govern effectively at local level. Nothing demonstrates such a capacity more than the vitality of the High Street. Robert Mugabe would be embarrassed by the High Street of Dún Laoghaire.
I was saddened and surprised to observe
two large Fine Gael local election posters, now obsolete for 4 months, adorn one of the litter-laden, spider infested vacant shops. What a gesture of civic indifference! Come on, have they no pride?
Delinquent banks and economic recession have made their mark but there is no relationship between using a yard brush to clean a High Street premises and water to wash its facade with the economic downturn. Owners who neglect High Street properties ought to be heavily fined. Political indifference is a symptom of a lazy, myopic, indolent culture. How could an electorate be convinced that those who control the country council are fit the govern the nation when the jewel in the county crown is a heap of neglected shit? ‘A fairer Ireland’, how are you!
The fact that this morning I passed the body of a dead man lying face down on the footpath outside the entrance of St Michael’s Hospital on Crofton Road merely added to the overall spectre of a town that itself is dead and awaiting a shroud.
There are several excellent public buildings in town. The original County Hall has been skilfully extended and the old and new structures are seamlessly integrated – as it the case with the Boston Public Library on Boylston Street.
But my vote in the next general election will be influenced by the party, or parties, that demonstrate a convincing capacity to govern. I am no longer won over by hysteria, shibboleths or clichés! My litmus test will be the vitality of Georges Street.