(Reading time main text: 5 mins; total including backround: 7 mins.)
Last Thursday (7th October) the former home of the Pearse family saw the launch of a plan for Moore Street as an alternative to the current Hammerson plan. The latter, a large property development company based in England, currently has a planning application in to Dublin City Council awaiting a decision. Moore Street is a centuries-old iconic street market in the heart of Dublin city but was also a battleground during the 1916 Rising, as the insurgents’ headquarters garrison in the General Post Office building evacuated the building, set aflame by British shelling and strove to relocate to continue the insurrection to the north-west of the city.
The former home of Patrick Pearse, Commander-in-Chief of the 1916 insurrection and of his brother William, both executed by British firing squads, now a building held in trust with facilities for meetings and a small theatre, was the location chosen by the Moore Street Preservation Trust to launch their alternative plan.
A packed room of people sweltered in their Covid19 face-masks as they listened to a number of speakers on behalf of the Moore Street Preservation Trust, formed earlier this year along with a guest spot for Mary Lou Mac Donald, President of the Sinn Féin political party, prior to the unveiling of the scale model.
Mícheál Mac Donncha, a Dublin City councillor for the Sinn Féin party and Secretary of the Trust, chaired the event and, after an introduction to the subject of the meeting, announced Patrick Cooney who spoke for the Trust on their history, aspects of the long campaign and the alternative plan. Cooney outlined what the Trust considers the importance historically of the “Moore Street battleground” and remarked that their plan was the only alternative to the Hammerson plan, which he said is supported by no-one else.
In traversing aspects of the conservation struggle, Cooney referred to the High Court case taken against the Minister of Heritage and the property developer (which was then Joe O’Reilly’s Chartered Land) and the momentous judgement that the whole Moore Street area was a national historical monument. The capacity of the Judge to make that decision was overturned in a later appeal by the Minister of Heritage’s legal team.
Patrick Cooney also paid tribute to the week-long occupation of the buildings by others in January of 2016, which had prevented the demolition of three buildings in the sixteen-building terrace in Moore Street. He said that his group could not be identified with the occupation since they were part of the High Court case ongoing at the time but named two Irish Republicans (of a group opposed to the Good Friday Agreement) who had acted as their link with the occupation body, leaving a possible impression that his group had been involved in some way from behind the scenes in the occupation of the buildings.
Cooney also mentioned the Bill moved by Sinn Féin TD (parliamentary representative) Aengus Ó Snodaigh, currently awaiting debate in the Dáil (Irish parliament) and how it mirrored to a large degree that put forward formerly by a TD of the Irish political party Fianna Fáil, currently in coalition Government, which had not been proceeded with. Cooney paid tribute to the political party Sinn Féin as “the only political party to support” the Moore Street conservation struggle (which may have come as a surprise to Peadar Ó Tóibín, TD of the Aontú political party, who was present in the audience).
Mac Donncha thanked Cooney for his contribution and introduced Jim Connolly Heron, a great-grandson of James Connolly, one of the executed leaders of the 1916 Rising who talked about the historical importance of the site and the importance of its preservation. Connolly Heron talked about historical buildings in Dublin that had been demolished. He said their plan represented an opportunity for the State to atone for the “lamentable failure to save Wood Quay” and commented that “On that occasion the voice of the people was silenced; the loss to the city was immeasurable and we can ill afford another Wood Quay.”
Then Connolly Heron, with Proinnsias Ó Rathaille, grandson of The O’Rahilly, removed the Starry Plough flag of the Irish Citizen Army to unveil the architect’ scale model to loud applause and the clicking of phones and cameras.
A portion of the attendance then removed to the small theatre where Seán Antóin Ó Muirí, for the architects, took the audience through a slide show of drawings and maps while discussing their relevance to the Preservation Trust’s plan.
Outside the building, a large group of teenage Danish students, on a walking history tour conducted by Lorcán Collins of 1916 Rising Tours, had gathered, where they were addressed by Lorcán and also by Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD and, very briefly by Diarmuid Breatnach of the SMSFD group who, at Lorcán’s request, sang them the “Grace” ballad (in which Joseph Plunkett addresses Grace Gifford, his bride of only hours before he is to be executed by British firing squad).
THE ALTERNATIVE PLAN
The Alternative Plan as outlined by the architect involves a number of ideas that have been put forward over the years: refacing some of the buildings to match the pre-1916 facing surviving on some of the buildings, using appropriate matching construction materials, uncovering the cobblestones, etc. The two-story elevation has been promoted previously as have awning-covered ground-level shopfronts but the north end of the terrace at four storeys is a departure perhaps from previous plans other than the Hammerson and O’Reilly plans, as is perhaps the opening up of some spaces around the “back” of the terrace (accessed through Moore Lane). The plan foresees a unitary unbroken terrace which all campaigning groups have proposed.
Unlike some plans and visions previously mooted, the Alternative Plan as explained does not propose excluding chain stores, nor propose pubs and bakery among the businesses; street stalls were mentioned only in passing with no discussion of the range of hot and cold food or other merchandise that might be on sale. The housing units proposed do not specify local authority rental. Unlike a number of previous plans there was no mention of the benefits of linking the development of a Moore Street cultural quarter to a number of other nearby amenities and cultural quarters nor to that of rejuvenating the north city centre by day and by night.
The history component does not seem to vary much from the Hammerson/ O’Reilly one, being concentrated on the four buildings which the State has named “the historical monument”, a title also used by Trust. In the unbroken terrace proposed (and frequently demanded by campaigners) of course the Alternative Plan departs significantly from the Hammerson one but strangely this contrast was not alluded to in either the verbal or visual presentations.
In the overall presentation of a slideshow and scale model perhaps the most significant contribution of this plan is to present some of the possibilities in a manner more easily grasped and form easier for many no doubt to visualise. It is this that has been missing in past plans and proposals.
HAMMERSON AND DUBLIN CITY COUNCIL
On the west side of Moore Street is the ILAC shopping centre, built with DCC planning permission in 1977 on what was a patchwork of streets and laneways, many of them containing shops and stalls selling various new and second-hand merchandise. A university study group concluded that, apart from the construction companies, the ILAC had benefitted the big stores of Debenhams and Dunnes and that the compensation paid out to most stall-holders and small shops had been inadequate to relocate within the City Centre and workers had been made redundant. The ILAC is half-owned by Irish Life and the other half passed from O’Reilly to Hammerson.
In the early years of this century a consortium of property developers were applying for planning permission to carry out plans in the area from the northwest side of O’Connell Street to Moore Street but Dublin City Council Planning Manager froze the plans and in a very strange deal later handed it all over to Joe O’Reilly. The whole murky story (including city councillors being legally threatened to keep silent by the then Planning Manager Jim Keogan) was covered in a two-part program, Iniúchadh na Cásca, by the Irish language television channel TG4 before O’Reilly got his giant “shopping mall” planning permission (the program was re-broadcast in 2016).
Jim Keogan took early retirement from DCC and is now employed by McCutcheon Halley, a Cork-based planning consultancy company while the most recent Ireland Director for Hammerson is Mark Owen, straight from his previous employment as the Head of Asset Management & Recovery for NAMA.
INTERNAL CAMPAIGN CONTROVERSIES
Patrick Cooney in his presentation of their Alternative Plan referred to a split in the original conservation committee and in fact over the years there have been a number of controversies and conflicts among campaign groups. The remaining part of the committee containing Mr. Cooney and Mr. Connolly Heron also experienced a number of acrimonious departures. Due to internal difficulties the 1916 Relatives Association, to which both also belonged did not have a meeting for over a year and when it did so eventually, there were loud internal arguments and clashes between Mr. Connolly Heron and others, leading to a number of departures, including Marcus Howard of Easter Rising Stories, producer of many historical documentaries and filmed interviews, including a number on Moore Street.
In that atmosphere, Brian O’Neill was seen by many as a stable and quiet choice for Chair of the 1916 Relatives Association and was duly elected. Shortly afterwards Barry Lyons, a long-time campaigner was expelled from the Association as was also long-time campaigner Donna Cooney, grand-niece of Elizabeth O’Farrell and a DCC Councillor. Neither seems to have been given a formal hearing or allowed an appeal. Although formerly the 1916 Relatives’ Association opposed the developers’ plans, Brian O’Neill now represents the Association on the Minister’s Advisory Group on Moore Street and is on record supporting the Hammerson plan.
Clashes between different campaign groups and individuals have taken place on occasion inside the Lord Mayor’s Forum on Moore Street, including one between members of the Connolly Heron-Cooney group and Colm Moore, another campaigner for many years and the individual who took the High Court case against the Minister of Heritage.
The Ministers’ Consultative Group on Moore Street and its later iteration as the Minister’s Advisory Group, although it has a seat for Jim Connolly Heron, rejected the membership applications of the most active groups in the broad campaign, those who were involved in the 2016 Occupation and the six-week Blockade: the Save Moore Street From Demolition and the Save Moore Street 2016 groups. The SMSFD group has a stall on the street every Saturday, stated to have been since the founding of the group in September 2014, at 368 weeks to date and claims 380,000 signatures to its petition to save the area.
The Connolly Heron and Cooney group do not acknowledge the SMSFD group in public and on one occasion during the Blockade Mr. Cooney posted that the only campaign group they recognised outside of their own was the Save Moore Street 2016 one. However, among all the invitations that were sent out to attend the unveiling last Thursday, neither they nor the SMSFD groups received one – and nor did Colm Moore, the man who took the famous High Court case.
After the formal representation last week but while still inside the Pearse home building, Patrick Cooney was heard to clash with a prominent campaigner and City Councillor in the presence of a radio reporter. Immediately outside, Proinnsias Ó Rathaille verbally abused a member of the SMSFD group (who had learned of the event through the media) in the hearing of many people, including Danish teenagers on a walking history tour.
At time of writing it is important to realise that the only plan with Planning Permission is the original O’Reilly one which Hammerson acquired. The latter have submitted their changed plan for a shopping district and new roads which is currently under review by the Planning Department who have asked for some minor changes and gave them six months to produce them. Many objections were registered (and paid for), even by the Housing Department and the feeling is that the vast sweep of popular opinion is against the Hammerson plan – however that is far from being a guarantee against its acceptance by DCC’s Planning Department. And, as NAMA failed to seize them from Joe O’Reilly, their largest debtor at the time and allowed him to transfer them, all the buildings but two (owned by Dublin City Council) are owned by Hammerson.
Should Hammerson receive approval from DCC’s Planning Department, on previous history a not unlikely event, campaigners are sure to appeal the decision to An Bord Pleanála but that avenue too holds little hope for conservationists, given the record of that body’s decisions in Dublin. In the event of an unwelcome decision there, the High Court remains the only recourse in law (for which leave has to be sought to take the case). Protests on the street are of course likely.
Given Hammerson’s financial difficulties in recent years, even if granted planning permission they may not be able to proceed with their plan immediately and despite Hammerson’s denials the suspicion of many is that they will sell the area on – but for that, they need the new Planning Permission attached first and the current one runs out next year.
BACKGROUND TO A LONG CAMPAIGN
In 1916 Moore Street and surrounding streets and laneways became a battleground, as the Irish insurgent force evacuating its erstwhile HQ in the GPO ran into encircling forces of the British Army. A detachment of the GPO garrison proceeding up Moore Street ran into British rifle and machine gun fire, killing three including its leader, The O’Rahilly and wounding others. The main part of the evacuation forces also suffered casualties but occupied No.10 Moore Street and tunnelled through the 16-building terrace to the laneway at the end, where an assault group was being mobilised to attack the British Army barricade at the Moore Street/ Parnell Street junction. The decision to surrender, taken by the leadership, cancelled the assault. Along with William Pearse, five of the Seven Signatories of the 1916 Proclamation spent their last hours of freedom in Moore Street, not long after to be shot by British firing squads: Thomas Clarke, Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, Sean McDermott and Joseph Plunkett.
Prior to 1966 there was nothing in Moore Street to inform people of what happened there although in that year, amidst the 50th anniversary commemorations of the 1916 Rising, a small plaque was placed at first floor level on No.16 Moore Street, believed to have housed the last HQ of the 1916 Rising. That plaque was noted missing in 2002 – it turned up in a property speculator’s office – and fears of demolition plan for the buildings gave rise to a campaign to save it. A meeting was organised by the National Graves Association and a committee formed, hardly a single one of which is currently active in the campaign today for a number of reasons (Patrick Cooney alluded to one of them, a split when some sided with the property developer of the time but there have been many others).
The campaign extended its demand for the conservation of the whole terrace, backyards etc and in 2006 the State finally conceded a historical importance worth conserving in Moore Street by declaring Nos.14-17 a National Monument, though these still belonged to O’Reilly. In 2008, O’Reilly applied for planning permission for a huge “shopping mall” from O’Connell Street to Moore Street, with a “ski slope” on top and carpark underneath, entailing the demolition of all but Nos.14-17 and the renovation of these as a small museum. DCC’s Planning Department approved the plan but it was appealed to An Bord Pleanála which, against the advice of its own Inspector, rejected the appeal. With the removal of the “ski slope” top and the underground carpark, the giant “shopping mall” was approved but O’Reilly’s demolition plans faced a problem in that two buildings at the end of the terrace belonged to Dublin City Council and four in the middle are protected structures.
In 2009 and 2012 dramatist Frank Allen organised human chain “Arms Around Moore Street” events which gained some media attention.
The campaign gained prominence again when in September 2014 O’Reilly offered Dublin City Council the dilapidated Nos. 14-17 in exchange for Nos. 24-25, where the Council had a waste management depot, a “land-swap” favoured by the City Managers and the Minister of Heritage. A branch of the campaign set up a stall on the street and began to collect signatures to a conservation petition and to disseminate campaign leaflets. In November the majority of DCC councillors voted to reject the deal.
The campaign group with a weekly Saturday stall on the street, now called Save Moore Street From Demolition and separate from the other which had mainly concentrated on lobbying, organised the first public meeting about the campaign in November 2014, inviting as speakers Jim Connolly Heron and Donna Cooney (there had been some conflicts between the two). But in January 2016 the group noted hoardings going up around Nos.12-18 with plans for the demolition of three buildings. They called two emergency meetings during the week on the street and supporters, a mix of people including water protesters and Irish Republicans, occupied the buildings, an act which became headline news.
While the Minister of Heritage made ready to obtain an injunction against the occupiers, instead Colm Moore, who had registered a case with the High Court against the State plans, obtained an injunction against any demolition until the case should be decided and the occupiers left the buildings after one week. However, subsequently alarmed by sounds of heavy machinery inside the buildings, campaigners asked to inspect the works but were refused, as was also a delegation of politicians led by the Lord Mayor.
A new defence coalition called Save Moore Street 2016 had been formed of those who had occupied the buildings and including representatives of the weekly stall group, SMSFD and these now installed a blockade on the buildings from 6.30am to 4pm Monday to Friday. No building workers were admitted to the buildings until the decision of the High Court, on 18th March 2016, that the whole terrace and its surrounding area is a national historical monument.
In the meantime the SMSFD group separately and, in particular the SMS2016 coalition, had organised marches, history walking tours, street concerts and street theatre events in period costume, including mock “heritage funerals” and a reenactment of the 1916 surrender.
Towards the end of 2016, also the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, the Minister of Heritage set up her Advisory Group on Moore Street and the 1916 Relatives’ Association, formed earlier that year, were invited to participate, as was the separate Jim Connolly Heron/ Paddy Cooney etc group, along with representatives of the political parties in the Dáil. Not invited were the National Graves Association, the Save Moore Street From Demolition or the Save Moore Street 2016 activist groups — the applications of the latter two were rejected, though they were permitted to make a submission.
By this time, O’Reilly had been permitted by the responsible officer at NAMA to transfer his Moore Street and Dundrum portfolio to Hammerson.
The Lord Mayor’s Forum on Moore Street, where all concerned have had representation, has met regularly some years but not on others. The 1916 Relatives Association has seen internal changes and ended with its Chairperson supporting the Hammerson plan. The Jim Connolly Heron/ Paddy Cooney group has gone through a number of name changes, shedding some individuals and gaining others, before the current group presenting the Alternative Plan.
SOME SOURCES AND USEFUL LINKS
Moore Street Preservation Trust:https://www.facebook.com/MooreStreetTrust/
Save Moore Street From Demolition:
Save Moore Street 2016: https://www.facebook.com/SaveMooreStreet2016/
Submissions on Moore Street to the Department of Heritage in 2016:https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/34a67-moore-street-consultative-group-submissions/
DCC Planning Department: https://www.dublincity.ie/residential/planning
TG4 Iniúchadh – Oidhreacht na Cásca: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k07qja5JJlU