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'If shops can reopen, market should', say Henry Street traders

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Lorraine Owens (with pram) and fellow Henry Street traders.

Lorraine Owens (with pram) and fellow Henry Street traders.

Lorraine Owens (with pram) and fellow Henry Street traders.

The cancellation of the traditional Christmas market on Henry Street caused anger among stallholders, who claim Dublin City Council (DCC) is displaying a lack of consistency in its decision to halt it over Covid-19 concerns.

For 80 years, Henry Street has come alive at Christmas with shouts of traders selling Cheeky Charlie toys and offering "wrapping paper, five for 50".

While Cheeky Charlies have been consigned to history and the price of wrapping paper has changed, the cheerful shouts of the traders have echoed from O'Connell Street to Mary Street every December.

Unfair

However, a decision was made by the council on Wednesday that the markets would not operate this year on public health grounds.

"If the shops will be able to open in December, we think it's unfair that we can't trade," said Lorraine Owens, the third generation of her family to trade on the street.

"Markets elsewhere don't seem to be affected, so we think there's a lack of consistency in the decision."

John McDonnell said the history and tradition of the Henry Street market is important to the city.

Standing with the old pram his mother Martha Reilly used in the past, topped with the traditional bread boards to display wrapping paper and toys, he said he has been trading at the Christmas market since the 1970s.

"It passes down the generations. You're born into it," he told the Herald. "At Christmas you'd always look forward to your first trade. It was called a 'Hansel'.

"It brought you good luck. People would give you the money and take something they might not even need and say, 'There's your hansel, good luck for Christmas'."

Marie Fox has been trading for more than 30 years and remembers the days when traders would sleep on Henry Street overnight to get their pitch on the street for the Christmas season.

"We're immune to the cold. We're here every year in rain, sleet and snow," she said.

Independent councillor Nial Ring accused the council of making the traders a "soft target".

"The contradictions are huge. If the shops are allowed to open, then the traders should be allowed to trade," he said.

"The council seems to be against anything that creates a bit of Christmas atmosphere."

Sinn Féin councillor Janice Boylan, who comes from a street trading background and is on the Henry Street traders committee, said there is usually good dialogue between the committee and DCC, but there was no consultation on this decision.

"We formed the committee six years ago and have a good relationship with the council, and if ever anything needed to be discussed we were open, practical and transparent with each other, but there was no consultation on this decision," she said.

"If the country was still under Level 5 restrictions, then we could understand the situation, but if we're operating under Level 2 or 3 and the shops and department stores are open, we don't see why we would be stopped from trading."

Another trader, Lorraine Owens, looked down Henry Street toward the market area beyond Capel Street.

Disappointed

"We went to school in George's Hill, and I remember pushing the pram up from there to here at Christmas as a child to help my mother with the Henry Street market," she said.

Dublin City Council said it has arranged to carry out risk assessments on other on-street trading areas in the city to ascertain if it is safe from a public health point of view for trading to be allowed in these locations next month.

"Christmas traders are a huge part of the festive season in Dublin and we realise that many people will be disapp- ointed," a spokesman said.

"We are too, but safety must come first."


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