Summer's here and the time is right for dancing in the streets, safely!

Young people need an escape; we all do! But let's do it right and use the expertise available to us, says Stevie G in his Downtown column
Summer's here and the time is right for dancing in the streets, safely!

Martha Reeves and the Vandellas had a hit with ‘Dancing in the Street’, but this year’s outdoor summer has not materialised.

“Summer’s here and the time is right for dancing in the street”

The words of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas’ ‘Dancing in the Street’ still resonate almost 60 years after the song was released. Co-written by Marvin Gaye, it was a party classic, in keeping with the early years of Motown’s success, but the song soon took on a different meaning, with civil-rights activists using it as an anthem when organising demonstrations during this very tense era in the US.

These tensions were mirrored last year in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, and marches continue around the world today. In Ireland, there have been flash-points, too, and protests in the last few months, following the death of George Nkencho over Christmas. Martha Reeves had a great career as a celebrated music artist, and even visited the Cork City Hall for a show during the last pre-pandemic jazz festival.

She also became active in her own city’s council chambers, where she acted as a councillor from 2005 to 2009.

As the long-awaited summer finally roars into Ireland this June, there are different tensions in the streets, and, in recent weeks, our so-called outdoor summer has descended into images of gardaí with batons breaking up gatherings in Dublin City centre. It is depressing stuff, and it’s been causing much debate in recent weeks.

Young people in Ireland are feeling more disenfranchised than ever, and are taking to the streets at weekends, as the lockdowns finally ease.

Flashpoints and some trouble were always inevitable, but the images from recent weekends are beyond anything we could have imagined a few years ago, and are a million miles away from Ireland’s traditional ‘céad míle fáilte’ marketing speak.

Tensions are high and the blame game is being played out all over, and, as usual with big gatherings, a minority of trouble makers are at the heart of it. The response has been heavy and even locals in Dublin are speculating that it’s making things worse.

There is mistrust in the air, and it’s making a mockery of the wonderful outdoor summer that the Government promised.

Most youngsters have been locked up in flats and apartments and are not likely to be spending their sunny Saturdays in leafy back gardens or on the coast. They are going to go out. But they are now being told to clear off from the city centre, too.

As some pubs reopen, it remains to be seen how it will all go, but it got me thinking that many venues and festivals operate year in year out with impressive crowd control. People drink and party and there’s the odd bit of trouble, but, generally, it’s managed very well, and I’ve seen, at first hand, how a friendly approach from security and gardaí works at these events most times (including Cork City last weekend).

The expertise in running events is available right now, with many of these people out of work, so maybe that might be a way of making the cities run with less hassle.

MCD are involved in running vaccination centres, such as Páirc Uí Chaoimh, and good crowd management and planning and expertise are readily available around Ireland.

On a busy Saturday night pre-pandemic, the staff and security in pubs and clubs and other venues did lots of the policing, and gardaí would tell you that much of the on-street trouble came from those who couldn’t get into these venues anyway.

We definitely miss these venues and festivals.

Young people need an escape; we all do! It’s not to excuse the minority of trouble makers. But a prohibitive approach to everything is unlikely to work.

Encouraging the masses to go enjoy themselves outdoors, and later telling them to get off the streets, is not a good look. Our relationship with alcohol needs to be examined and the fact that there is so much litter is depressing. It’s not just children, either; you’ll see coffee cups thrown all over Blackrock, too.

But we need to have more co-operation and more events. Our streets and cities need to be welcoming and we probably need to start running some more events outdoors, too. There’s an industry out of work that will be willing to help out!

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