What now for the Dublin Portal? Has the city ‘disgraced ourselves again’ over the art installation?

The portal live-streaming the public on streets in Dublin and New York has brought out the best and the worst in people

The Dublin Portal was supposed to be a window on the world, but has turned into a window on ourselves.

“Why can’t we have nice things?” or words to that effect seem to have been the commonest refrain from people on social media bemoaning the ugly scenes and inappropriate behaviour the live stream between public streets in Dublin and New York generated.

The behaviour meant the portal lasted less than a week before it was taken down, albeit temporarily, given the behaviour of a small number of people.

Pornographic images and photos of the Twin Towers being attacked on 9/11 were posted in Dublin to an aghast audience in New York City led to the portal being shut down for the first time. Then an OnlyFans performer showed her bare breasts to Dubliners and the portal was shut down on the New York side.


The Dublin portal was reinstated, but the bad behaviour persisted and it was closed down again earlier this week.

The Portal: Are we overreacting to a bit of 'bad' behaviour?

Listen | 18:36

“It’s a case of Dublin you’ve disgraced yourself again,” said the tribune of Irish life Joe Duffy on RTE’s Liveline paraphrasing the timeless comments made by WB Yeats reprimanding an Abbey Theatre audience in 1926.

He, like others, was mortified by the article in the New York Post documenting the antics of people on this side of the Atlantic. The Post contrasted the lofty ambition of the company that erected the two structures, portals.org, and its aspirations to build a “bridge to a united planet” with the reality.

“That earnest utopian vision proved no match for the pub-lined Dublin thoroughfare, whose Guinness-glugging patrons were quickly drawn to the futuristic-looking exhibit like moths to a flame in videos circulating online,” The Post wrote.

In reality, the portal has been a huge success on both sides of the Atlantic. There is a joyous congregation there around the clock with people dancing, singing and gesturing to people who are watching in real time 5,000 kilometres away.

It may be – as one observer noted – a “glorified FaceTime” but still there is something very 21st century about seeing a NYPD car or a yellow New York taxi drive past in real time.

Dublin City Council, which dreamed up the idea for the portal in Dublin , located it opposite the Spire and the GPO, twin totems of the Dublin cityscape, but the location left many questioning the wisdom of putting a window on the city in a place which has well-documented antisocial problems.

It’s only two months since the Government responded to public pressure and put a new Garda station on O’Connell Street because of the ongoing problems with drug dealing, violence and dereliction in north inner-city Dublin.

The station is less than five minutes walk away from the Dublin Portal. When The Irish Times attended on Monday night a group of twentysomethings were taking turns to post pornographic images up to the camera lens and laughing to themselves as they took turns. There was no garda in sight.

Gardaí might well argue that policing a portal 24/7 is a problem they could do without given all the other challenges they face.

Dublin City Council declined to elaborate on why the portal is located where it is – or how much it is costing. Portals.org, the company behind the installation, did not respond to a list of questions either.

The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Councillor Daithí de Róiste unveiled the portal on May 8th as part of Dublin city’s contribution to the European Capital of Smart Tourism 2024.

“One of my key aims as Lord Mayor is to make the city more inclusive,” he said at the launch, but the portal has been inclusive in a way that a lot of people do not want.

They are working on technical solutions to the problem of people misusing the portal. One of the suggestions they are working is a monitoring software that turns the screen blurry if bad behaviour is detected.

New York has been quick to act. The portal itself is now roped off and security guards are present 24/7.

The artist responsible, Lithuanian-born Benediktas Gylys, told RTÉ News this week that those approaching the portal should think of what they would want a seven-year-old to see on the other side and behave accordingly.

When I did my project, I did a back story about a Victorian past and a tunnel. I haven’t met anybody who actually believed it, but they behaved as if it was true

—  Paul St George - visual artist

The New York-Dublin portal is not the first one. The initial portal was between Lublin in Poland and Vilnius in Lithuania and was unveiled in 2021 during the Covid-19 pandemic. It attracted none of the bad behaviour associated with the New York-Dublin portal.

Visual artist Paul St George designed a prototype of the portal in 2008 with his telectroscope art installation that connected viewers in London and New York City through a live video link.

Ultimately, the solution to the problem cannot be either technological or security-focused, he believes.

“When I did my project, I did a back story about a Victorian past and a tunnel. I haven’t met anybody who actually believed it, but they behaved as if it was true,” he said.

He likened the portal to Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes and the process of “defamilarisation” – a concept that nobody would think twice about a Brillo box containing soap pads in their kitchen.

“But if you see it in an art gallery, you notice it for the first time. It becomes an art object,” he said.

Similarly, he says, the idea of seeing people in a different location is nothing new in the world of Zoom or FaceTime, but “if you create a back story and a setting that it becomes unfamiliar like the Brillo boxes, people will behave very differently”.

  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here