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Dublin City Council’s new chief: ‘If I can help climate efforts by making it a little more difficult for motorists, well then that’s what I’ll do’

Richard Shakespeare, who had a ‘baptism of fire’ during the Dublin riots, lays out his plans for a safer, cleaner, less rundown city

Just weeks after taking over as acting Dublin City Council chief executive Richard Shakespeare was faced with a city in flames.

The stabbing of three children and a carer on Parnell Square on the afternoon of November 23rd was used by far-right agitators to stoke violence in the city centre. As darkness fell, Garda cars, buses and a Luas tram were set alight, gardaí were attacked and shops were looted.

“It was a baptism of fire,” says Shakespeare.

“As I walked through the city that morning with the lord mayor, I was upset and sort of proud in equal measure because I saw what Shay Brady and his team from cleansing had achieved in the four-five hours that they had been there.”


Workers had stayed on for hours after their shifts had ended, removing burnt debris, clearing uncollected commercial waste to prevent it being used as fuel for further attacks, hosing down the still smouldering streets, and relaying the destroyed asphalt.

“We do crisis well in the city, but to do crisis well you need a committed, focused, directed and encouraged workforce. I have to confess I was immensely proud of all our staff,” says Shakespeare.

He was also buoyed by the multiple offers of help from chief executives of other local authorities, city councillors and community organisation, and by the work of gardaí, emergency services and other agencies.

“It got me thinking of something Owen [Keegan, his predecessor] had established in Covid: an office of city recovery,” he says.

It’s a concept Shakespeare has been honing since he officially became chief executive last December, following Keegan’s retirement.

“We are in the early process of developing a city co-ordination office. That’s about integrating effort and getting buy-in across communities, the business community, the Garda, the HSE,” he says.

“I think an awful lot of us work in isolation and sometimes the decisions of one group can impact others – the law of unintended consequences. It’s better that the senior stakeholders meet on a consistent basis to get collaboration going.”

Everyone in Dublin should feel they have a stake in the city and a responsibility for it, he says.

“What [the riots] did show us is you cannot take the capital city for granted. You can fall into that false sense of security of ‘Sure aren’t we great and everything’s wonderful’ when in actual fact you’ve always got to be vigilant,” he says.

“My vision is to have a vibrant, clean, green, thriving, inclusive, liveable and safe city. I think the city council can have an impact on all of those. I don’t think we are the only ones that have responsibility for it but I do believe we can have a positive influence across the board.”

To start, he wants to “work on the basics” of cleaning the city. “I think we have upped our game; we are still not where I want to be, but a clean city with well-maintained footpaths, functioning street lights, is, I think, vital and feeds into perception of safety.”

Central to this is the safety of the city’s most vulnerable, its homeless population. On this issue, he has set himself an ambitious target.

“For the first time ever Dublin Region Homeless Executive and Dublin City Council is looking after in excess of 10,000 homeless people and that’s not a place anybody wants to be ... My vision is that we won’t have anybody living on the streets by 2030,” he says.

As part of achieving this he plans an internal council reorganisation, creating a senior management position that has a “singular focus on housing and homelessness”. He also aims to exceed the Government’s social housing targets.

“It was a very slow start, but we will exceed our Housing for All targets of 10,500 units at the end of 2026. Then the delivery pipeline out to 2030 and beyond is very strong. These are targets; they are not limits – there is nothing to stop us overachieving.”

The city’s vacant and derelict buildings, which detract so much from the cityscape and add to the perception of an unsafe, rundown town, could also contribute to addressing the city’s housing needs, he says.

“At the moment we are surveying a good chunk of Dublin 1 and Dublin 8 just to quantify the problem with a view to stepping in as an actor to get rid of the vacancy piece,” he says.

“I think we shouldn’t be as passive as we have been, but I will need to borrow money to do that, which will need to be paid back. We do look at this as somewhat of a social investment, but at the same time if you are looking to do it at scale, it’s quite a significant amount of money and I need to have a means to pay the money back.”

Using these buildings for affordable purchase or cost-rental housing could contribute to the coffers, as well as breeding mixed tenure neighbourhoods.

“You want your streets to be full of people with different stories,” he says.

To truly achieve Shakespeare’s vision of making the city safe, thriving, liveable, clean and green, its serious traffic problem has to be tackled.

The Government is putting forward a suite of options for local authorities to reduce traffic, but the council is ahead of the curve with Dublin City Centre Transport Plan to reduce the number of motorists driving “through” instead of “to” the city centre. The first changes, which are due to be in place this year, include “bus gates” on Bachelors Walk and Aston Quay along the river Liffey, restricting passage to public transport only.

“There are a few things that have to be teased out with Diageo, and a few others, of how goods will get in and out, but the two bus gates I think are fundamentally positive.”

Shakespeare is “not anti-car”, but he says cars have to be restricted if the city is to meet its climate goals.

“Everyone is all for climate change except where it affects them. Any time we try to lever people and force them to make those choices, they give out murder, yet they’ve already signed a petition for a cleaner environment!” he says.

“If you really want a future for your children and your grandchildren, you need to start taking action sooner rather than later. If I can facilitate that by making it a little more difficult for motorists, along with the vast sums of money being invested in active travel and walking, well then that’s exactly what I’ll do.”

The city is “not going to change overnight”, he says, but he hopes at the end of his seven-year term “people might be saying: there’s no one living on the streets any more, there are more people living over the shops, the council has invested a lot in our streets, and it’s a greener, friendlier city than it was.

“That’s what I would hope to leave behind.”