An hour-long queue for the canteen of one of the largest tech companies in the Docklands a couple of weeks ago caused enough of a stir for the news to make it outside the building.
After months of speculation over whether the character of the area known as Silicon Docks could ever recover anything like its former buzz, it seemed that tentatively at least, it might.
Despite the rise in remote working, the demand to live and work in Grand Canal Dock is still very much alive.
It’s a fine sunny day when we arrive on the square and the scene is like one of the idealised images of people actively enjoying the space that is so often conjured up by architects in a bid to gain planning permission.
A couple sit on a grassy patch having a lunchtime picnic, a cycling tour have paused for a break to enjoy the view of the water and a boom box is pumping out beats to accompany a daring display of skateboarding.
Out walking their dog, a rescue from a hurricane, Gail Saunders and her daughter Lauren De Loughry came back from the Caribbean to sit out the pandemic in their apartment in the IFSC. They enjoyed the peace of their lockdown walks – but are glad it has sprung back to life.
“I think the pandemic has changed how people use this area – they can sit and enjoy it now, and that’s a good thing,” says Gail.
She thinks the ambiance has changed – and doubts it will ever return to how it was. Cafes and restaurants look to be thriving – but not all businesses have bounced back yet. Moored to the dock is the Thai-influenced Massage on a Barge which owner Michael Joy believes is the only one of its kind in the world. “We did a lot of neck and shoulder massages for people who are sitting in front of a computer all day,” he explains. “We were just getting our sea legs when the pandemic kicked off.”
On March 21, 2020, their list of bookings for the day was cancelled and so far the doors have remained shut. “It’s much quieter these days but when Google finishes its building we hope to be back – at this stage it will probably be next year.”
Out on the square, skateboarder Frank Hafner, who works for one of the tech companies and moved here from Brazil over three years ago, prefers to work from home but likes the social aspect of the Docklands.
“We come here and hang out and talk. We used to get trouble from the security guards for skateboarding here. But this is part of urban culture. I think Ireland was not used to that but maybe things are changing.”
Frank says he was lucky to get accommodation relatively close to the Docklands because even highly paid tech residents are not immune to the housing crisis.
“It’s the lowest supply of rentals I’ve ever seen and I’m down here since January 2008,” says Owen Reilly.
The Dublin estate agent, who handles most of the rentals in Grand Canal Dock, has found that the situation is forcing even those in the tech industry to go further out.
“Some are going further and further afield on the Dart line northside and south or even in places like Leixlip.”
Not all tech workers have returned since the pandemic.
“I’d be aware of some who went to France, Scandinavia, Italy and are now demanding that they’re employed there in those countries – mostly they’ve joined Google Italy. It’s not worrying – if anything it might alleviate the pressure here a little.”
Meanwhile he fears things will get much worse with the Docklands workforce set to double in the next couple of years from 40,000 to 80,000.
“We have a lot of office completions about to happen – TikTok will be occupied soon, the Exo building beside The Point, you don’t need to be a property expert to see we are completing this space and not building anything near enough apartments.
“It’s frustrating that we are still talking about the same things – we did a report four years ago that detailed the amount of office accommodation planned and under construction compared with the apartments and it was staggering – only 20pc of the new number of workers can be accommodated. And some of those residential units are still not occupied.”
“My own observation is that the young people want to be in the office every day. They didn’t come to Dublin to work in their bedrooms. It’s the buzz, the culture – all the benefits like the canteen and the social life.”