Thursday, 17 April 2014
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
3. To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in view of the fact that a survey by three structural engineers concluded that 18 Moore Street is pre-1916, if he will commit to seeking independent expert advice on the status of the structure of 18 Moore Street and all 1916 buildings in the GPO-Moore Street area, described as the most important site in modern Irish history by the National Museum of Ireland. [18132/14]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 and 3 together.
As the Deputies are aware, 14 to 17 Moore Street are the subject of a preservation order under section 8 of the National Monuments Act 1930. The preservation order was made on the grounds that the protection of 16 Moore Street is of national importance by reason of its historical significance as the site of the final council of war and final headquarters of the leaders of the 1916 Rising. To achieve that objective, the order also covers 14, 15 and 17 Moore Street and includes the yards to the rear of 15 and 16, extending to 8 and 9 Moore Lane.
In July 2013, I made a determination under the National Monuments Acts on the consent application and related environmental impact statement submitted by the owners in regard to their proposals for the national monument at 14 to 17 Moore Street. My decision provided, inter alia, for the full repair and restoration of the monument buildings and the creation of a commemorative centre to honour the leaders of the 1916 Rising.
The national monument is in private ownership and, accordingly, the advancement of proposals that reflect the terms of the consent I have granted is a matter for the owners. The consent was, however, conditional on a revised project design that took full account of the terms of my decision being submitted within nine months to verify their compliance with the consent order. The final design proposals for the approved works have been received by my Department. They are being assessed and I will complete my examination as quickly as possible.
The position regarding the area outside the bounds of the preservation order, including 18 Moore Street, is set out in the planning permissions granted by Dublin City Council and An Bord Pleanála. My function, as Minister, in regard to 18 Moore Street is to ensure any works to that building do not adversely impact on the adjacent national monument.
I know the Minister will agree that there is a need to protect and develop the Moore Street national monument. That is a given. As I said, Moore Street is an area acknowledged as the most important modern historic site in Ireland. Unfortunately, the Government has taken a light approach to the development of Moore Street. The Government's proposals to turn 14 to 17 Moore Street into an interpretative centre are welcome but are totally inadequate and fail to match the reality that this is the most important historic site in modern Irish history. The rest of the terrace is to be demolished and the lanes surrounding Moore Street are to be bulldozed and covered by a mall.
We have sent the Minister a report on 18 Moore Street and I gather he has read it. Does he agree with its conclusion that the building should be fully surveyed and recorded in detail? Does the Minister agree no building should be demolished until his Department agrees to have a full report on 18 Moore Street compiled and made public? Does he have verified evidence contrary to that report?
As I have explained several times in this House, planning permission has been granted by Dublin City Council, which includes members of the Deputy's party, and An Bord Pleanála for the Moore Street development. I am responsible for 14 to 17 Moore Street, the national monument. I have been quite clear about this. Planning permission has been granted on the rest of that site. Neither the Government nor I have any involvement in the planning permission that has been granted.
Not too long ago, planning permission was granted to demolish all of Moore Street. I agree with the Deputy that Moore Street is of major significance, but the fact is that planning permission has been granted on it, except for 14 to 17 Moore Street, which is my responsibility. I received the report and I thank the Deputy for sending it to me. I am sure that is the report to which Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan referred in her question.
I accept the Minister has responsibility for 14 to 17 Moore Street, but if there is evidence that some of the other fixtures predate 1916, that would be his responsibility. In another state, these laneways of history would be preserved and would be a vital place of remembrance. The entire Moore Street battlefield site should be developed and protected as a national monument. This would be a fitting centrepiece for the centenary and an economic boost to the north inner city as well as a prestigious international education and tourist facility.
The Oireachtas group, of which Deputy O'Sullivan is a member, and the Moore Street relatives of 1916 have sought a meeting with the Minister on this matter. The Minister had agreed to meet following the submission of the new plans from Chartered Land. They have now been submitted so I ask the Minister to consider meeting us without delay. Could he give us a date for the meeting today?
I have met every request for meetings since I took on this position. I have no problem meeting groups. I have met members of the families who are for and who are opposed to the proposed development on the historic monument. I have also met members of the Oireachtas group. I have had many discussions.
I have no issue at all meeting Deputy McLellan's group and I have set time aside next Thursday when I hope to be able to meet a number of the groups. I have received the report, to which the Deputy referred, but I repeat that my responsibility is for 14 to 17 Moore Street. If anything is proposed that would affect 14 to 17 Moore Street, I have a responsibility to ensure it does not impact on the national monument site. The report itself is quite interesting and I have noted it.
I still find it really bizarre that the site of Moore Street and the area from the GPO, which was described by the National Museum of Ireland as the most important site in modern Irish history, should be in private ownership and in the hands of a developer who is in NAMA and owes billions of euro to the State and that the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Oireachtas can do nothing about it. The Minister talked about planning permission and An Bord Pleanála. That was given under a flawed premise because no independent assessment and survey was done of that whole site. The relatives eventually gained access to 18 Moore Street - the Minister knows how difficult that was and only for his intervention, they probably would not have been able to do so - and discovered that it is pre-1916. What else may be discovered if there is an independent assessment of that whole battlefield site?
We will be there next Sunday to commemorate the Easter Rising and, in two years' time, there will be a massive commemoration because of the centenary. Imagine what it will be like walking from the new museum in the GPO along a whole area still derelict into Moore Street where four buildings will be in some way preserved while the rest of place will be demolished.
I am sure she knew people who were on the council. They made that decision at the time which was upheld by An Bord Pleanála. That is the current legal position. I have responsibility for Nos. 14 to 17 Moore Street on which I have made a determination. I rejected the full proposal last June. I asked the developers to come up with a new proposal in order to meet the conditions I had set. They have come up with that proposal. I have not seen the proposal yet but my officials have considered it. I hope to look at the proposal today or early next week on Tuesday. As I promised, I am meeting with the various interest groups in this development in order to discuss the proposal.
I reiterate that I am in complete agreement with the Deputy about the importance of the site but legal planning permission has been granted by Dublin City Council and by An Bord Pleanála. I do not disagree with the Deputy. It could be a great historical development but I am legally prohibited from doing anything about it.
I return to the point that we still do not know the significance of the remaining buildings in the area and therefore there is a vital need to have an independent assessment done as quickly as possible on that whole battlefield site. I do not think anyone in the House would disagree if the Minister with responsibility for arts and heritage were more proactive on this matter. I accept his point about An Bord Pleanála but I maintain it made a decision on a flawed report. I know the relatives are keen to meet the Taoiseach, and whoever is Taoiseach of the day when the commemoration is held will be only delighted to be seen with the relatives. However, now is the time to get this right. There is also a need to consider having a public consultation to find out the views of members of the public about the area and the preservation of what was the battlefield site. Will there be an independent assessment?
So far as I am aware there was an assessment of the buildings. I refer to the report which Deputy O'Sullivan sent me which shows that No. 18 has been substantially altered and rebuilt in the years since 1916. I am aware of documentary evidence in valuation records from 1911 to 1915 and 1915 to 1925 in Thom's Directory which show that this building was in ruins prior to the 1916 Rising. The opening up of plaster work has revealed concrete block party walls confirming the post-1916 date. The report commissioned by the relatives notes that none of the windows or the shop-front are original, as is none of the brickwork over the first floor windows or the chimney. The report indicates that the building was reduced from three to two storeys between 1930 and 1950, meaning that the roof is also new. The report also notes that none of the original features in the interior survive, such as stairs, cornices, doors or partition walls. The report highlights that some fabric of the lower part of the front facade may predate 1916 but the clear evidence is that the structure, shape, layout, fittings, finishes, that now exist in No. 18, were not there in 1916. The report to which I refer is the report submitted by Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan.
What is found in No. 18 is in stark contrast to Nos. 14 to 17, where all four houses retain significant 18th century elements, including staircases, internal walls, doors, partitions, floors, fittings and plaster work. More important, the 18th century building, form and profiles, also survive. I reiterate that this is the report on No. 18 which the Deputy submitted to me.