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Between 400 and 500 people gathered in Moore Street on Saturday 22nd January 2022 to hear a number of speakers declare their complete opposition to the plans of the Hammerson property group, most of which had been approved by the chief officer of Dublin City Council’s Planning Department, in the face of a great many formal and informal objections and against even decisions of the elected councillors. Musicians also played and sang a number of songs at the event.
SPEAKERS AND SPEECHES
Chaired by the Secretary of the Moore Street Preservation Trust, Mícheál Mac Donncha (Sinn Féin Councillor), the crowd listened to a range of speakers: dramatist and campaigner for decades Frank Allen, 1916 relatives Brendan Mulvihill and Donna Cooney (latter a long-time campaigner and also Green Party Councillor), Diarmuid Breatnach for the Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign group (with a campaign stall every Saturday), Carolyn Alright (fourth-generation street trader), Stephen Troy (2nd generation local butcher) and Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Sinn Féin TD [member of the Irish Parliament]).
Each speech was different but of course sharing such themes as the struggle for Irish independence, historical memory and conservation but also closely linked to issues very much of the day: lack of justice in economic and social policy, lack of democracy in decision-making, reference to the housing crisis, property speculators, vulture funds, the banks ….. A number also made reference to the recent deaths of two homeless people in the vicinity.
There were some additional points made, for example Frank Allen called on people to tell the Fianna Fáil party they’d never get a vote in Dublin again if they didn’t act to save the area from demolition; Donna Cooney pointed out that demolition of buildings had a much worse effect on the environment than restoration; Diarmuid Breatnach stated that the area was of international historical importance and merited world heritage status; Stephen Troy spoke about the disaster for small businesses next to a 15-year building site; Caroline Alright pleaded for the future of the street to be taken out of the hands of the developers and Ó Snodaigh expected a more supportive attitude from the next Government (widely predicted to be a coalition with Sinn Féin as the larger partner).
Live music for the event was provided by Pat Waters, performing his own compositions, including a song about the O’Rahilly who was fatally wounded in 1916 in Moore Street leading a charge against a British Army barricade; also two musicians from the Cobblestone Pub, including the son of the owner, Tom Mulligan who performed Pete St. John’s Dublin in the Rare Aul’ Times.
There was speculation in some quarters as to why the rally had been called at such short notice; with prominent members of the Moore Street Preservation Trust absent1 and having an incorrect Irish name of the street2 on the event poster and promotional merchandise did seem to indicate a rushed event.
For some too, the Trust is being increasingly seen as closely linked to Sinn Féin, which for some is a positive factor but for others is not. The closeness has been evident on a number of occasions: a SF public meeting some years ago at which Jim Connolly Heron, prominent member of the Trust was the only speaker representing campaigners and more recently the promotion of the Trust’s Alternative Moore Street plan by SF, including the party President, Mary Lou Mac Donald, speaking at its launch a few months ago. At the rally on Saturday, the speaker for the Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign group made a point of saying that their group is independent of any political party.
However, the Bill to make the area a cultural quarter, currently proceeding with glacial slowness through the Dáil (Irish Parliament) is sponsored by a Sinn Féin TD, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, who spoke at the rally. Others counter by pointing out that Darragh O’Brien, a Minister of a party now in Government, Fianna Fáil, had sponsored a very similar bill back in 2015; however, with that party now the leading member of the current coalition Government, their leaders have welcomed the speculator’s plan for Moore Street.
The Government department most concerned with the Moore Street issues is the Department of Heritage, part of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage3. When Heather Humphries was the Minister responsible for Heritage she championed the bid of property speculator Joe O’Reilly to get control of Nos. 24-25 (owned by DCC) at the end of the central Moore Street terrace in exchange for the four buildings the State had declared a National Monument (Nos.14-17).
When Dublin City councillors voted not to allow that “land-swap”, against the recommendation of the City Managers, she castigated them publicly. She also instructed her legal team to appeal the High Court Judgement of March 2016 that the whole area is a National Historical Monument and in February was successful in having the judgement set aside.4 When Humphries attended Moore Street during the Easter 2016 events she was picketed and booed when she spoke. However, the current Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien actually put in a submission against the proposed demolition of a building at the south end of Moore Street; however the Planning Department of Dublin City Council approved it.
As Minister 1n 2016, Humphries set up a Consultative Group on Moore Street on which all the Dáil political parties had a seat, along with a couple of councillors. From the campaigners, only the Jim Connolly Heron group had representation on it. The Minister’s group (latterly “Advisory”) has been in operation from 2016 until late last year but seems to have achieved nothing. The Hammerson Plan was welcomed by its Chairperson and by some of its members, including Brian O’Neill, Chairperson of the 1916 Relatives Association which seems a volte-face of that organisation, which had the conservation of the Moore Street battlefield as a central point of the Association’s constitution. However, the Hammerson plan was strongly opposed by others in the Minister’s Group, including Jim Connolly Heron. Outside the Minister’s Group, the opposition is even more widescale.
The planning permission given to Hammerson will be appealed to An Bord Pleanála but the Bord has a bad reputation with conservation campaigners, who see it as generally favouring the property developers5. Scheduling the appeal would take at least two months and possibly much longer. Should the campaigners not succeed at that stage, a legal challenge is also a possibility. Alongside the exploring of these options, street activities such as the rally on Saturday are likely. In 2016 conservation campaigners occupied the buildings for six days, blockaded them for six weeks, organised marches, rallies, pickets, re-enactments, concerts, history tours and public meetings.
Moore Street might be in for a hot summer. Or, given how long some processes have taken to date, even a hot Autumn.
1 Including Jim Connolly Heron
2 The name they used was Sráid Uí Mhórdha, which is also the one on DCC’s street nameplate. However, it has been widely accepted in recent years that the correct name in Irish is Sráid an Mhúraigh, which is the one recorded in the State’s database for place-names, logainm.ie and furthermore is the version used in Sinn Féin’s own Bill currently proceeding through the Dáil.
3 Over the years it has had different names.
4 The Appeal Court verdict did not discuss whether it was or was not but instead declared that a High Court Judge was not empowered to declare a National Monument.
5 In fact, the Bord approved the O’Reilly plan for a giant “shopping mall” in the area (forerunner to the current Hammerson Plan) even though the Bord’s own officer recommended rejecting it.