Lawyers for the Minister of Heritage (also of Arts and Gaeltacht) were supposed on Friday (28th April 2017) to lay out the legal terms nature of their Appeal Court action against the Moore Street National Monument judgement given on March 18th last year from the High Court. Instead, they came asking for another extension in order to consider taking her case to the Supreme Court.
Apparently over 13 months was not long enough to consider on what grounds and what court to which to take her case! All along the line the Minister has delayed and gone right up the deadline (and arguably beyond it at least once), then asking for yet more time. Meanwhile the buildings in the historic Moore Street quarter deteriorate further.
There are three main villains in this ongoing drama: the property speculators, Dublin Council’s Planning Department and the Irish State, the latter in the particular manifestations of the Department of Heritage and successive governments.
It might be obvious to some but others may need to have it pointed out that Heather Humphreys, the Minister in question, is not acting alone – she has the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition Cabinet supporting her. Nor is it a matter of those two political parties alone either – Fianna Fáil, another major political party, is on record as wanting the Minister to continue with her appeal; apparently the right of a High Court Judge to declare that prime speculation property is a national monument, with all the protection that implies, cannot be left unchallenged.
Senator Peadar Tóibín, Sinn Féin’s representative on the Minister’s Consultative Forum on Moore Street (on which all the members were chosen by her Department), supports the Forum’s Report, including the recommendations that the man who won the court case against the Minister drop his defence of that judgement and that the three major villains in the piece, the Heritage Department, Dublin Council’s Planning Department and the property speculators negotiate over the future of the 1916 Battleground site, with a smaller and even more exclusive Advisory Committee to oversee the negotiations (but without any statutory powers). Whatever the chosen individuals and parties have said prior to their entering the Minister’s Consultative Group, not one member has dissented from those recommendations.
For over 90 years the State did nothing to mark the importance of Moore Street as a 1916 Battleground or that the Surrender was decided here, that Volunteers and civilians fell to British bullets in that street and surrounding laneways, including The O’Rathaille who famously wrote a dying farewell letter to his wife in the lane now named after him. Nothing to mark that of the 16 executed, six had spent their last days of freedom in Moore Street. Or that of the seven Signatories of the Proclamation, five had been in that street until the surrender.
In 1966, the voluntary and non-state-funded National Graves Association put one of their small commemorative plaques on the front of No.16 Moore Street and it was the removal of this plaque by a property speculator in 2001that gave rise to the NGA starting the campaign to save Moore Street, into which over the years others outside the NGA came to play major roles.
THE PLANNING DEPARTMENT OF DUBLIN CITY COUNCIL
The Planning Department’s pet property speculator was Joe O’Reilly of Chartered Land and TG4’s program Iniúchadh Oidhreacht na Cásca in 2007 traced the process by which this speculator was given extraordinary special facilities even over other speculators. The Planning and Property Development Department’s chief officer is, since a change in the law some years ago, empowered to grant planning applications without reference to the Councillors, the elected representatives. He is also incidentally the Assistant Chief Officer of the Council’s management executive. Jim Keoghan (now retired from DCC) has used that executive power to approve most property speculators’ application for “development” in Moore Street and indeed it was Dublin City Council that oversaw the destruction of most of the centuries-old street market quarter and its replacement by the ILAC Shopping Centre, Dunne’s Stores and Debenhams.
Throughout all these “developments” in the Moore Street area the street traders have had meagre shelters and poor lighting provided by Dublin City Council but no heating, toilet facilities, changing rooms or convenient water supplies for cleaning or flowers maintenance; they are obliged to renew their licenses yearly, licenses which are bound by all kinds of petty restrictions.
As the modern-day battle for Moore Street intensified, Dublin City Council installed not one but two full-time Market Inspectors on the street, which had previously functioned well with one Inspector visiting in the morning and evening. These market inspectors have no role in preventing antisocial behaviour or in monitoring the quality of the food on sale and their main activity seems to consist of telling stall-holders what they may not sell1, or that they are placing merchandise beyond the strict limits of their stall area (in a street which now holds at maximum fifteen stalls, where once before there were many times that number), or that they have continued trading some minutes beyond their official closing time. And they are not permitted to sell on Sundays while, of course, the supermarkets bracketing them, Lidl and Dunnes, face no such restrictions.
These rules have been there for years – it is the degree of enforcement that has changed. One could be forgiven for thinking that some high officials in Dublin City Council want to drive the traders out and, indeed, traders who are now in their third and fourth generations on the street see no-one in their families willing to take over the enterprise when they retire.
THE PROPERTY SPECULATORS
The small shopkeepers are not without their own problems in the street. Most of them are on annual contracts (or even shorter, such as three months), subject to having their business in the street closed at the wish of the property speculators. The ILAC extension currently underway at the south end of the building resulted in the eviction of around ten businesses, most of which received no alternative site. Even the presence of a narrow vegetable produce rack outside a shop can bring down a threat or an actual fine from the Market Inspectors, while ugly hoardings approved by Dublin City Council squeeze the street and restrict the flow of pedestrians.
The ILAC shopping centre was jointly owned by property speculators Chartered Land and Irish Life. As outlined by the TG4 program, Joe O’Reilly of Chartered Land, like many banks and speculators, over-extended himself and Government agency NAMA took over his debts, however paying him €250,000 a year to “manage” them. Subsequently, NAMA approved Chartered Land to sell its debt on to Hammerson, a huge British-based property speculator and vulture capitalist concern.
Chartered Land had been granted planning permission for a giant “shopping mall” of nearly seven acres (2.3 hectares), extending from O’Connell Street westwards to Moore Street and from parts of Parnell Street southwards to Henry Street. The planning permission entailed the demolition of every building within those limits, excepting only No.s 14-17, which the State had by then accepted were of historical importance and had granted them preservation status. The laneways and streets were also to disappear. In the meantime the State did nothing to oblige Mr. O’Reilly to maintain the buildings which they had stated were of preservation status.
The State bought the four houses in question in the latter half of 2015 and planned to demolish houses on each side of the four until in January of 2016 a legal challenge by Mr. Colm Moore and an occupation of the buildings by activists for five days, followed by five-week blockade, brought about a respite. The speculators attached themselves to the case as having an interest to defend.
While the case dragged on, the Minister’s officers and legal team endeavoured to undermine the historical importance of the quarter, arguing that the Moore Street area was not a battleground (instead “the whole of Dublin was a battleground”) and that no other building there other than the four with preservation status was of historical importance. This included the rest of the terrace and even No.10, which had been the first HQ of the Rising after the evacuation of the GPO, and which had been run as a temporary hospital by Volunteer Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell, caring for nearly twenty wounded men (including a British soldier found in Moore Street).
The Save Moore Street From Demolition group (whose campaign stall has been on the street every Saturday since September 2014) raised the alarm and called an emergency demonstration in January 2016, after which people occupied the buildings for five days until the High Court Judge ordered no demolition until Mr. Moore’s case had been heard. Subsequently, with heavy machinery heard at work on the site and the contractors and Minister refusing inspection to campaigners, the Lord Mayor, Councillors or TDs, campaigners blockaded the site and allowed no workers to enter; this was led by a new, broad group that had arisen from the occupation: Save Moore Street 2016.
On March 18th 2016, the 100th anniversary year of the Rising, the High Court Judge delivered his verdict in the case brought by Mr. Moore, declaring that the quarter bounded by Moore Lane, Henry Place, O’Rahilly Parade and Moore Street, including the backyards and those aforementioned lanes and street, is a national historical 1916 monument. The campaigners lifted their blockade.
The Minister took her time deciding whether to appeal the judgement and at the deadline, announced that she would, with the support of the Cabinet and other departments. Then she set up her Consultative Forum, from which she excluded the most active of the campaigners, including the Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign which has just passed its 136th consecutive Saturday on the street collecting over 80,000 petition signatures and distributing leaflets. Also excluded have been the Save Moore Street 2016 campaign group, a broad alliance of people from different organisations and none that arose out of the occupation and blockade of the buildings in early 2016.
Meanwhile, Jim Keoghan of Dublin City Council, in one of his last major acts of office before retirement, in the summer of 2016 extended the planning permission for the giant ‘shopping mall’, despite the fact that it was due to run out in March 2016, despite the High Court judgement, in the face of opposition by the majority of elected City Councillors and despite the fact that it had been conclusively shown in court that the speculator had carried out no substantial work on the buildings as required by the planning permission conditions.
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
And so to where we are today. The Minister has her extension (unspecified length but one supposes up to six weeks) but may not decide to take her case to the Supreme Court and may use the delay instead for other purposes, including setting up her select Advisory Committee, as in the Recommendations of the Report of her Consultative Group. If the case goes to the Supreme Court, a date for hearing will need to be set. If the Minister should continue instead to Court of Appeal, the case date has been set for mid-December this year 2017, which also means it is bound to continue on into 2018.
Meanwhile most of the buildings steadily and visibly deteriorate, prey to speculator neglect and Irish weather. The four buildings now in Government hands have been subject to restoration work with some visible inappropriate results, the whole of the work carried out without independent archaeological and restoration expert assessment or oversight, the Government ‘expert’, Gráinne Shafrey, being the same person who argued for the Minister in the High Court that the other buildings in the street were of no historical importance.
For progress to take place at the moment, the first step is for the Minister to drop the appeal and that should be the minimum demand of all who genuinely care for the historic buildings, laneways and street market. When that has been done, we can move on to consultation on the most appropriate way to save and restore the buildings, rejuvenate and expand the street market. And to how that process shall be democratically and transparently controlled.
No foreseeable change of Government seems likely to bring any relief to this situation, given the stand taken in the Minister’s Consultative Forum by the representatives of the four main political parties. Other than the continuing legal action, the real hope resides where it has done from the start – with the wishes of the majority of people and the energy, commitment and at times daring of the active campaigners outside the corridors of power or, one might say, instead on the streets of power.
Historical background notes:
On 28th April 1916, with the GPO and many other buildings in O’Connell Street in flames, the garrison of the GPO and HQ staff of the Rising for an independent Irish Republic evacuated their building and sought to break out of the British Army’s tightening encirclement. They made their way along Henry Place, encountering heavy British fire at the junctions of Moore Lane and Moore Street from British barricades at the Parnell Street ends and from the Rotunda tower, suffering a number of casualties as a result. In Moore Street the major part of the evacuation tunneled from house to house along the No.s10-25 terrace and a number of other houses too. Another section mounted an unsuccessful charge on the British barricade at the end of the street.
On Saturday 29th April, after a number of civilians were shot down in the street by British gunfire, the decision was taken by the insurgents’ leadership to surrender and Volunteer Nurse O’Farrell went out under a white flag of truce to seek terms from the British. None being available, Patrick Pearse and James Connolly surrendered their forces unconditionally and over the next few days the forces in other strongholds in the city and in Wexford surrendered (or evacuated their fighting posts and went into hiding). Nearly 100 death sentences were handed out by British military courts of which fifteen were confirmed and carried out (and a further one in London by civilian court); the executed included six who had spend their last days of freedom in Moore Street houses, including five of the seven signatories of the Proclamation: Thomas Clarke, Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, Joseph Plunkett, Seán Mac Diarmada. Most other prisoners were sentenced to prison or concentration camps in Britain and many others were arrested and interned without trial.
Moore Street was at the time part of a whole centuries-old street market quarter of which most of the rest lies buried under the ILAC Shopping Centre, constructed in the later 1970s. For sixteen years a struggle has been going on for the preservation and restoration of this historical quarter.
Note about the author:
Diarmuid Breatnach is an independent political and social activist who has been campaigning for Moore Street for years, including in September 2014 being a co-founder and active member of the Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign group and is a member too of the Save Moore Street 2016 campaign. He has written a number of articles, given talks and presentations on the Moore Street issue (including to the Minister’s Consultative Group). Breatnach also writes on history in general (among other subjects), conducts history walking tours and has publicly called on Dublin City Council to give Moore Street its correct Irish version of the street name, i.e Sráid an Mhúraigh rather than the “Sráid Uí Mhórdha” which Dublin City Council has named it.
All submissions to Minister’s Consultative Group on Moor Street: http://www.ahrrga.gov.ie/heritage/moore-street-consultative-group/submissions/
1In 2016, the centenary of the 1916 Rising, they were forbidden from selling Easter Lillies and Easter Rising commemorative products from their stalls, unless they purchased a special license to do so.