Every state holds monuments which are important to its sense of identity. This is particularly true of those states which have fought for freedom against foreign occupation and oppression. Think of the USA and the American Revolutionary War. Independence Hall in Philadelphia is where the Declaration of Independence was signed; or Faneuil Hall in Boston which was the site of speeches setting the scene for the subsequent war of independence or Paul Revere’s home.The French have the former Army ammunition dump at Les Invalides in Paris which was stormed by revolutionaries and whose weapons were then used to attack the Bastille.
The Vietnamese have their Củ Chi system of tunnels which was the base of operations for their Tết Offensive in 1968. The people of South Africa have Robben island where Madiba and other famous political prisoners courageously opposed the apartheid regime.
And on it goes. Place after place. State after state. Proud of their history. Proud of their resistance to injustice. Proud to have fought and won their freedom.
Now imagine the scandal, the outrage if Independence Hall was left to become derelict or Les Invalides had fallen into disrepair or Robben Island was abandoned to the elements?
Regrettably that is what successive Irish governments have allowed to happen to 14-17 Moore Street which was accepted as a National Monument by the Irish government in 2007. This is the place where, on the Friday evening of Easter week and with the GPO in flames behind them, the surviving leaders of the 1916 Rising and the men and women of the GPO garrison escaped to. Carrying a wounded James Connolly they left the GPO by a side entrance in Henry Street. Under sustained sniper fire from British soldiers they managed to reach Moore Lane and then Moore Street.
The garrison entered number 10 and tunnelled from one house to the next until they reached no 16 – Plunket’s a poultry shop.
In a room in this terraced house the members of Provisional Irish Government held their last council of war. Pádraig Mac Piarais, Joseph Plunkett, Tom Clarke and Seán Mac Diarmada and James Connolly met to decide their next move. They had hoped to reach the Four Courts but that was clearly impossible. They looked at the possibility of storming the British Army position at Parnell Street but that too was ruled out.
Finally they decided that the only sensible course of action open to them was to surrender and Elizabeth O’Farrell was given the arduous and dangerous task of making her way to the British lines. She met the British General Lowe in Tom Clarke’s shop a short distance away in Parnell Street and a short time later Pearse signed the surrender document at the Moore Street barricade.
These are what Taoiseach Enda Kenny aptly described in a debate with me in the Dáil as ‘the laneways of history’. This is the ‘battlefield site of 1916’ but much of it is to be concreted over to make way for a shopping mall!
Last week I was among a delegation of Oireachtas members who visited the national monument in Moore Street. I was shocked and dismayed by the condition of the buildings. They stand in a state of considerable dereliction and decay. No other state in the world would allow such an iconic national monument to deteriorate into such a shameful condition. The roofs are in poor condition; there are serious structural problems with ceilings and walls, and dampness is everywhere; joists are severely decayed and some floors are unstable and have sagged, and there is substantial rot in timber rafters.
On the same day as our visit the Minister of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan TD announced his proposals for the preservation and development of 14-17 Moore Street which I welcome but these proposals exclude the battlefield site which is disappointing.
The Minister’s decision changes important aspects of the plan by the owners of the site, Chartered Lands. This company is owned by Joseph O’Reilly who has been described in the media as ‘NAMA’s largest client with debts of close to €3bn’ and who is paid a salary of €200,000 out of the public purse by NAMA.
The Minister’s changes are in part good news. He has consented to works on the National Monument which, he states, ‘are considered necessary for the conservation and preservation of the National Monument’.
The work consented to seems consistent with the preservation and restoration of the National Monument and the development of the commemorative centre.
However, the Minister has also consented to the demolition of Numbers 13, 18 and 19 Moore Street on the grounds that they are post-1916 structures. This facilitates the destruction of the terrace 10-25 Moore Street. This means that he has confined himself to his remit under the National Monuments Act to 14 to 17 Moore Street alone. He has not acted on his overall responsibility as Heritage Minister to preserve this historic area – Moore Street and the ‘laneways of history’ behind it, the evacuation route from the GPO and the entire battlefield site.
So, the campaign to save Moore Street, led by the families of the 1916 Leaders, must continue. A delegation of TDs met the Minister this Tuesday. I told him this in our conversation.
I and the other TDs urged him to engage with all of the stakeholders – the 1916 relatives, all property owners in the area and not just Chartered Land, the National Museum, NAMA and other relevant State agencies and NGOs with the aim of framing a new plan to fully preserve the National Monument and the terrace in which it stands, but also to develop the Historic 1916 Quarter/Battlefield Site.
The preservation of the National Monument and of Moore Street and the surrounding streetscape would allow for the development of a Historic 1916 Quarter encompassing the entire Moore St/O’Connell St. area. This would have ample scope for commercial and retail development, helping to rejuvenate this neglected part of our capital.