Sunday, 1 July 2018

Rainbows over Stoneybatter

Has Stoneybatter really become the "gay capital" of the Irish universe? Here are two possible answers...

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Answer #1: Maybe it has, kind of, in a general sort of way

Or at least it can feel that way nowadays, at the end of June each year as the rainbow flags and bunting go up in an area stretching from Manor Street to Smithfield (where the Dublin Pride parade now finishes and everyone mingles for pints after) and on to Kilmainham on the southside and even further afield.

After Ireland's dark ages in which gay people were criminalised and treated like shite, all these flags on the shops, pubs and houses once a year say things can and do change for the better.

If there is a more permanent, prominent epicentre of all this, it is not so much in Stoneybatter per se but the nearby Pantibar further towards town in Capel Street. It's Ireland's best-known gay nightclub and over ten years old now.

The bar's magnificent 3.5-metre-high LED sign, designed by Niall Sweeney, went up in 2015, shortly before the huge "Yes" vote in the same-sex marriage referendum that summer. The sign has become a local landmark, looming above the ghost sign of the previous business there, Baxendales.

Above: the Pantibar in Capel Street (including the Baxendale & Co ghost sign). Below: more rainbow flags and bunting, this time where Benburb Street meets Queen Street.

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Answer #2? Yes, Stoneybatter has become Ireland's gay capital, definitely, absolutely

Or at least it sounds like it has if you go by all the headlines around the eve of this year's annual gay pride march in Dublin. Here's a sample half dozen:
If those headlines seem very "samey", so too were the stories. They replicate a study by property website "Replicate" as in taking a press release and regurgitating large chunks without looking for any hard evidence or contrary opinions or even basic questions. It is shockingly lazy journalism. The only sources the vast bulk of these stories quote are itself and the report's author, its economist Ronan Lyons.'s own blog post about the report ("Revealed: Stoneybatter is Ireland's largest gay neighbourhood") refers to "gay neighbourhoods". These it defines in crude terms as the areas with the highest proportion of same sex-couples, or as the "top Pride-filled places".

Tucked away in the small print at the very end it says:
"For this report, we defined same-sex couples as those households where there were only two persons in the household and where both persons were of the same gender and over the age of 30. This, of course, is not a perfect measure." (the bold is my emphasis)
Not perfect? The report lists one or two caveats, though off the top of the head there are many more. For example, all the following would fall into's definition above of "same-sex couple":
  • A pair of brothers who rent a flat together;
  • A man in his forties who lives with and looks after his elderly mum;
  • Two retired nuns who share a house;
  • Two straight male friends from Stoneybatter, both well over their thirties, who marry for tax reasons;
  • A woman who lives alone but uses her small spare bedroom to take in Airbnb guests - one at a time, and preferably female ones;
  • Two gay people who have been sharing an apartment, who are no longer in a relationship but can't sell up and go their separate ways for various reasons
The survey also ignores all those situations that fall out of its same-sex couple definition, such as:
  • Any same-sex couple with one or more kids;
  • Anyone living alone;
  • Any couple or household with at least one member under thirty (whether they be gay, bi, straight or otherwise);
  • Any household with three or more people at the time, such as a gay couple with lodgers, or four mates from college who share a house (of whom, say, two are gay and unattached), or a person well past his or her teens and twenties but still living with mam and dad because rents are astronomical;
  • Anyone staying in other much larger institutions such as hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, convents, prisons, oil rigs and the rapidly growing sector of purpose-built student accommodation. 
And just because a couple consists of a woman and a man, that doesn't mean that one of them can't also be LGBTI+.

(One more methodological dilemma: if the report is relying on the Central Statistics Office's Census of Population figures, it is also assuming that (a) we all tell the truth re such intimate details about who slept in our homes on census night (and whether we really were "all away on a Ryanair weekend break that week, so we didn't fill it in"), and (b) the CSO enumerators really did gain access to all those gated apartment complexes that might be harbouring two-person same-sex households).

The flaws in the methodology are only compounded by the subsequent robotic media coverage. Take the Irish edition of the Daily Mirror. Its story begins:
"Stoneybatter in Dublin has been named Ireland’s largest gay neighbourhood. The North Dublin village has the highest share of gay people and same sex couples per capita, new research has revealed. They make up almost nine percent of those living in the gaybourhood."
Look closely. It kicks off with the highly problematic concept of "largest gay neighbourhood". By the second sentence (where, despite its largeness, Stoneybatter shrinks to a "village"), "largest" in absolute terms has become "highest" in relative terms, as a "share of gay people", which in turn merges into's wishy-washy extrapolation of "same-sex couples per capita". By sentence three, this relative share - to put it in perspective it is still less than a tenth of the population - now suffices to constitute "the gaybourhood".

For its story, also provided an infographic of Dublin's top ten "Pride Filled Places". The "pride-filled places" reference is repeated a further four times in the story. Such unscientific and illogical nonsense creeps into subsequent coverage of the report.

Take the following headlines. Instead of "largest" or "biggest" or "highest", these stress "gayest", "most popular" and "Pride capital". I kid you not:
Lazy, highly subjective or nonsensical concepts such as "pride filled" may be bandied about with abandon by PR agencies and property websites but they give social science a bad name.

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The price angle in the press release - as in that last headline above by - is also reflected in other headlines such as:
An accurate assessment of the exact numbers of gay people in different areas of Ireland is impossible. Even if it were, it would probably be a non-story anyway, because gay people are pretty much everywhere in Ireland. Gay people may make up a higher proportion of Stoneybatter's population than in other areas, but so what.

Yet there's something disturbing in how the report speculates on certain linkages between property prices (and rent levels) and its own terribly flawed guesstimates of the numbers of gay people (or rather the proportion of its definition of "same-sex couples") in particular areas.

"Rents in Dublin’s pride-filled places are now 7% or €150 per month higher than neighbouring areas in the city," Daft's blog post says. So what exactly is it implying?  That landlords overcharge gay people in particular? That filling a place with pride is inflationary? That gay couples are uber-gentrifiers and/or somehow pushing up demand even further in an already overheated property market, one in which the prices of houses and apartments are already well out of reach of many young people, and rents are a huge chunk of take-home pay for those in employment? Daft.

Or, as Damien Mulley tweeted...

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Above all, even though the website itself has no problem in listing properties for rent or sale across the entire island of Ireland (so that properties in, say, Co Tyrone are only one drop-down menu item away from properties in Co Tipperary), like most other reports this one probably stops right at the Border.

To ignore the neighbourhoods and gay populations of these other large urban areas such as Belfast and Derry, to stick to statistics for just the 26 counties - bypassing the North of Ireland and ignoring one hugely significant part of this island where same-sex relationships are still not officially recognised and legalised - is quite simply divisive. Literally.

People are bound to have mixed emotions when major protest marches become bandwagons for tons of corporate interests and sponsors to jump onto. But give us proper, meaningful, in-depth sociological analysis of how Irish society is changing, not these daft, cynical press releases whose main purpose seems to be as click-bait, viral marketing and headline grabbers.

OK, rant over. Let's look at some more flags and bunting...