Effort to name Dublin Park after Boyzone singer Stephen Gately blocked by 20-year rule

In October 2009, Boyzone singer Stephen Gately, of Sheriff Street in the inner city north, died of heart disease aged 33.

In September 2020 independent local councilors tabled a motion saying the council should name a local park after them. Members of the Board’s Core Area Committee agreed rename the linear park along the Royal Canal from Spencer Dock to North Strand past Gately.

“Stephen meant so much to the people of the area,” said Independent Councilor Christy Burke, one of the nominees, at the time. “He was a grown-up local boy and he never forgot it.”

It was widely reported that the name change was agreed upon. But it stalled when referred to the council’s commemorative naming committee.

Dublin City Council rules state that the council must wait 20 years after a person’s death before commemorating them in a place name. The council also does not name parks after people, a council spokesperson said.

Independent adviser Damien O’Farrell said the board should review that 20-year rule. “I say we should look into it.”

But there are good reasons for the cooling-off period, say other advisers, although all say they still support finding another way to commemorate Gately.

The 20 year rule

O’Farrell also wants council to name a place in the city after environmental campaigner and former lord mayor Seán Dublin Bay Loftus, who was a councilor for 25 years and died in 2010.

“If we maintain this 20-year gap, much of our social history will be lost,” says O’Farrell.

A spokesman for the council said: “if a proposal to commemorate Seán Loftus were to be submitted in 2030 (he died in 2010), the Committee would consider the proposal then, but not before.”

Labor Party councilor Dermot Lacey was chairman of the commemorative naming committee when the 20-year rule was introduced.

“It was around the time of the Jimmy Saville revelations,” Lacey said. In 2012, as stories of abuse by Saville emerged, many streets and other places in Britain had to be hastily renamed.

Councils began to be wary of naming places after people. “A cooling off period is a good thing,” says Lacey.

O’Farrell, in his motion to the commemorative naming committee, acknowledged that there was a valid reason for the rule. But “there are also significant drawbacks in the fact that many important contributions to the benefit of our city…are overlooked.”

He recently met a young environmental activist, who had never heard of Seán Dublin Bay Loftus, he says.

The longtime councilor changed his name by deed to gain traction for his cause of protecting Dublin Bay, O’Farrell says.

Lacey says he would be open to a discussion about revising the board’s wait time. So does the current chairman of the committee, Sinn Féin councilor Mícheál Mac Donncha.

“We are always open to reviewing rules and procedures,” he says. That said, the wisdom of the 20-year rule “seems to be generally accepted.”

Ways to commemorate

The 20-year rule isn’t the only problem with the renaming of the Royal Canal Linear Park at Spencer Dock to Stephen Gately Park.

“In addition to the twenty-year rule, it is Council policy that parks are named after the area in which they are located, not individuals,” the spokesperson said.

(Of course, many city parks are named after people, so that must be council policy lately.)

However, bridges and roads are regularly named after people and could still be up for grabs.

The council agreed that Loftus and Gately should be honored in the town’s name going forward, O’Farrell said. But these decisions are not officially recorded anywhere.

So another idea, in addition to shortening the time frame to 10 years, would be to create a formal waiting list, he says.

There are many other ways to commemorate people, Lacey says, including putting up plaques or creating award ceremonies.

Mac Donncha says the 20-year waiting period also applies to plaques. “There could be another type of memorial,” he said.