Dáil debates

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

National Monuments: Motion [Private Members]


7:45 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

I move:

“That Dáil Éireann:

recognises that the people of Ireland, the Irish diaspora and friends of Ireland everywhere, are looking forward to this significant centenary year of the 1916 Easter Rising and the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, a pivotal event in our history;

acknowledges the dedication of the concerned relatives of the 1916 leaders, and those who have supported their campaign over many years, to save – thus far – Moore Street and the laneways of history which were the last outpost or the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Army of the Irish Republic in 1916 from demolition by developers;

recognises the significant public support across the island of Ireland and the diaspora for the full preservation of the national monument and the development of the surrounding General Post Office (GPO)-Moore Street area into an historic revolutionary quarter and battlefield site; condemns this Government for its outright refusal while holding office, to use the legislative powers at its disposal to designate as a national monument the GPO-Moore Street area of historical and national importance, which should become of social, cultural and economic benefit to Dublin and the rest of Ireland; and calls on the Government to:

— immediately rescind the ministerial order that allows for the demolition of numbers 13, 18 and 19 Moore Street;

— work with Dublin City Council, 1916 relatives and all relevant stakeholders to implement an urban framework plan for the area bounded by Moore Street, Parnell Street and Henry Street that will retain 10-25 Moore Street;

— meet with and work through the Dublin City Council Moore Street Forum and the Moore Street Advisory Committee to achieve this;

— develop a commemorative centre as part of a wider scheme for the regeneration of this historic quarter;

— rejuvenate street and market trading; and

— designate the GPO-Moore Street area as a national monument, to be preserved and developed under the protection of the State as a 1916 historic revolutionary quarter.”

It is probably appropriate in what might be the last debate here under the tutelage of this Leas-Cheann Comhairle, that we move this motion. One hundred years ago, Dublin quaked and trembled under the bullets and shells of an empire as ordinary Irish men and women, risked life, limb, death and incarceration, not only to free Ireland from foreign rule but to build a nation of equals, an Ireland to be proud of, a country to be defined by the high ideals of the Proclamation. Their powerful actions, which shook the foundations of an empire, have echoed down the century. The goals and ideals of the men and women of 1916 and the ideals of the proclamation, have been an inspiration to generations but they have also been and proved a compelling critique of the failures of this nation to live up to those ideals.

How little this Government thinks of these women and men and what they went through. We can look at 1916 through the mists of time, even through rose-tinted glasses and romanticise their struggle. How easy it is to forget how real it was for them, how real their suffering and the despair for them facing into an uncertain future, and then the horror of the drawn-out executions of their comrades. They thought not of themselves. Their actions were entirely unselfish. Today it is the actions of ordinary, unselfish people who fight to preserve their legacy. It was people power that saved Kilmainham Gaol for the nation. It was not any government that saved that national edifice. A dedicated group of citizens saved this historical building for the nation. It seems that it rests once again with people power, to repeat history and to save for the nation and for future generations the 1916 historic revolutionary quarter of the GPO and Moore Street area.

This area should rightfully be designated a national monument, preserved and developed under the protection of the State. It should not be left to the vagaries of developers and speculators whose only interest is in the profit margin. How can we leave our heritage to profiteers? This has been done before. Previous wanton acts of destruction caused by bad developments, poor and even corrupt planning decisions, led to the destruction of the Viking site at Wood Quay. This Government is repeating the mistakes of the past. We can look back now and see that the destruction of Wood Quay amounted to a criminal act of vandalism. People at the time fought the good fight to preserve the site and realised its significance to our national heritage but they lost that battle, more is the pity. We as a nation have lost a significant site of importance to our national heritage and we will never get it back, because as the advertisement says, "Once it's gone, it's gone".

We are in a time of significant national and European anniversaries and nations across Europe are putting great time and resources into preserving what remains of their national heritage yet in Dublin the revolutionary quarter, an area of tremendous significance, which the National Museum described as the most important historic site in modern Irish history remains the object of uncertainty and speculation 15 years after its importance was first highlighted.

The original proposal for the area around Moore Street was for a huge shopping centre. What a memorial that would be to the men and women of 1916, what a comment on how their legacy is viewed, a commemorative shopping mall. This is the proposal that persists, that this Government supports. It is shocking is that government after government has allowed this area of national significance to fall into disrepair, ruin and decay. Uncertainty over the site and dubious dealings have been the battle cry at this historic battlefield site. It is with some arrogance that decisions about this area have been made that fly in the face of the enormous public support for the preservation of this historical quarter. The developments that have been proposed would effectively obliterate many of Dublin's revolutionary landmarks. We in Sinn Féin have consistently called for the preservation of the buildings, laneways and surrounding areas. We recognise the area as a battlefield site of substantial historical as well as national significance.

The Government has taken a minimalist approach, safeguarding only 14 to 17 Moore Street. Other sites remain at risk, for example, 10 Moore Street, location of the first council of war held by the rebels as they fled the GPO. Numbers 20 and 21 Moore Street hold great historical significance too because it was at these locations that the surrender order was accepted by the Volunteers. The entire Moore Street terrace needs to be protected, preserved and restored. Our proposal to develop a historical quarter, will also be of considerable benefit to Dublin, both economically and socially. Apart from doing the right thing and preserving our history before it is lost to developers, the preservation of the revolutionary quarter would be of significant economic value to the city of Dublin. If the Moore Street terrace and the surrounding areas were developed as a historic battlefield site, it would have the potential to become a major tourist attraction, particularly for the Irish diaspora as well as for those interested in history.

The north inner city of Dublin, which I represent in this Dáil, is crying out for economic development. We should not forget the street-trading tradition that goes back generations. Street traders make a real contribution to the life and vibrancy of the north inner city, nowhere more so than on Moore Street. The relatives of the 1916 leaders and we in Sinn Féin are fearful that the very questionable planning permissions, which would allow the demolition of the entire terrace, apart from numbers 14 to 17, are still in place. It is yet the intention of this Government that this area would be engulfed by a giant shopping mall.

We bring our motion this evening because the threat to our heritage remains real and significant.

We need the Government to step up finally and put in place proper safeguards for all these important historic locations. If properly developed with the historic sites preserved sensitively in a way that is authentic and true to the area's history and character, the whole area can become, not just an enduring memorial to all those women and men who fought and died in 1916, but also in this year of the 100th anniversary of the Rising, an inspiration for future generations, encouraged by the selfless courage and commitment of these women and men. That is the position I understood we shared across the Oireachtas.

The State should intervene to preserve what we have and moreover to develop it in an authentic way that advances not only heritage development but also economic development. We believe that the memorial we propose is the only fitting one. We owe at least that much to the memory and legacy of the women and men of 1916.


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