Thursday, 21 May 2020
Covid-19 (Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht): Statements
Peadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
I note the same conversation was had five years ago in this Chamber and we are no further along in that regard. The matter I raise was also raised five and ten years ago in this Chamber and we are still no further along. Moore Street is the birthplace of the Irish Republic. The lanes and buildings that surround the street reverberate with the heroism of the people who were out in 1916. The Moore Street battlefield site was the location of the final stand of many of the volunteers who fought in the GPO in 1916 and they came under heavy machine gun fire in the laneways around Moore Street. They set up the final headquarters of the 1916 Provisional Government of the Irish Republic and the final council of war. Moore Street is also wonderfully rich in architecture, with one of the last extant 18th century streetscapes in Dublin. People will also know it is populated by a rich trading culture and when I was young the Moore Street trading culture was synonymous with Dublin culture.
The actions of the people out on Moore Street in 1916 were the precursor to the independence of this State and, I hope, on some sunny day the northern state as well. The freedoms that we hold in this country are as a result of the heroism and actions of these men and women. Interestingly enough, the Minister holds office in large part because of the actions of the people who were out in 1916. There would be no Fine Gael Government in place today if not for the actions of the men and women out in 1916 and the action that took place on Moore Street.
Moore Street offers an opportunity as well as it is just off O'Connell Street and ideally located to serve as a vibrant new historical, cultural and trading quarter. There are opportunities both for commercial interests and a successfully strengthened and rejuvenated street trading system. I do not know if the Minister read The Irish Timestoday but Mr. Justice Max Barrett, a High Court judge, has stated that Moore Street is now a byword for urban neglect.
Shockingly, after ten years of Fine Gael in government, the most important battlefield of the Republic is shrouded in grime and dereliction. It is a place where people urinate and defecate and traders are assaulted. Is it not an incredible indictment of our society and of the Government's actions over the past ten years that the birthplace of the Republic has become an open latrine? It is so frustrating because this discussion has been had in this Chamber over the past ten years. There have been expert groups, committees, reports, forums and never-ending discussions in Leinster House about Moore Street, but the net result of what the Minister and her predecessors have done is that Moore Street is still an isolated area of dereliction. Will she implement the agreed recommendations of the Moore Street advisory group?
I will focus on another matter relating to Moore Street. It has been reported that a significant archaeological discovery of a midden has been found underneath the street. It has been reported that this midden is Wood Quay II and could be one of the richest archaeological finds in the city in the past 30 years. Courtney Deery has compiled reports on the midden, copies of which, I understand, are in the Department's possession. Given the discovery's importance, will the Minister make a digital copy of the reports available to me and other Deputies? Specifically, we are looking for "2016:713 - 14-16 Moore Street, North City, Dublin 1, Dublin". Its author is Ms Linzi Simpson and the licence number is E004536; C494. A second document is "2014:603 - 14-17 Moore Street, Dublin, Dublin", again authored by Ms Linzi Simpson, with the licence number of E004536 C392/C494. I am giving this level of detail because I am worried that we will get another document that will not contain the specific information we need.
The State owns the buildings of 14-17 Moore Street. There is nothing stopping the Government from carefully renovating them and creating a heritage centre befitting the men and women of 1916, one that would rejuvenate the street and bring traders and other people back to it. Will the Minister commit to doing this?
There has been a radical collapse in the retail trade internationally, not just because of Covid-19, but as a result of the migration of retail from the high street to the Internet. We know that the developer behind the battlefield site is in difficulty. I am concerned that we have left the rejuvenation of Moore Street to be developer-dependent. If it remains so, it will stay isolated and in dereliction. Will the Government take responsibility and purchase the battlefield site? Is it not time for the Government to become the engine of the site's rejuvenation rather than the agent of its dereliction?
My final question on heritage relates to the Croppies Acre, a mass grave for the Irish rebel casualties of the 1798 rebellion. The National Graves Association maintains that it was used to bury veterans of that conflict well afterwards, including Matthew Tone, brother of Theobald Wolfe Tone, and Bartholomew Teeling, who was hanged in Provost's Prison. I understand there is a Fine Gael councillor on Dublin City Council who wishes to build a playground on it. What next? Are we going to build a café on Arbour Hill? Are we going to build a gym in Glasnevin? Can we not at this stage state that it is a nonsense to treat an important heritage site like the Croppies Acre in this manner?
Galway 2020 events have been cancelled for many reasons over the past year and Galway City Council has been paid a significant amount of money for licences for events that never took place. Will the council return that money to Galway 2020 and what has been the cost to the taxpayer to date?