In six months the centenary celebration of the 1916 Rising will take place. Central to that act of remembrance will be the GPO. It was there that much of the fierce fighting that followed the Rising took place. A short distance away is Moore Street where the last meeting of the Provisional Government and of the key leaders took place.
With the GPO in flames the republican garrison made its way under fire to the corner of Moore Street. Tunnelling from house to house they eventually stopped in number 16. There the final moments of the Rising were played out as the leaders, including Pádraig Mac Piarais, Joseph Plunkett, Tom Clarke and Seán Mac Diarmada and the wounded James Connolly decided their next steps.
It was from there that Pádraig Mac Piarais and Elizabeth O’Farrell walked to the Moore Street barricade where the document of surrender was signed.
Moore Street holds a special place in the history of Ireland. The streets and laneways around it are part of the battlefield site where Irishmen and women took on the might of the British Empire in pursuit of Irish freedom.
It also is part of the ‘laneways of history’ that include Tom Clarke’s shop on Parnell Street; to the GPO; to Henry Street where the Proclamation was signed; to Moore Lane and Moore Street where the GPO Garrison retreated; to the spot where ‘The O'Rahilly’ died; to the Rotunda where the garrison was held by the British; and where the volunteers were founded three years earlier; these are all places intimately connected to the Rising and to the men and women who participated in it.
These modest buildings and back lanes provide a tangible link with the great ideas that were given expression in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.
For years now the families of the executed leaders and many others have campaigned for the Moore Street buildings to be preserved as a national monument and the area developed as a revolutionary quarter. In reality the dilapidated and neglected condition of the buildings is a metaphor for the state we are in. One hundred years after the Rising successive governments have ignored this historically significant battlefield site in much the same way as they have ignored the ideals and principles of the Proclamation.
Most of the terrace and that part of O Connell Street adjoining to it where owned by developer Joe O Reilly of Chartered lands. It was his intention to develop a huge shopping mall fronting on to O Connell Street and taking up most of Moore Street. However, this property is now owned by the National Asset Management Agency - NAMA – in other words by the taxpayers – and is part of what is called the Project Jewel loan portfolio.
Last year the government announced that it would - through NAMA - invest five million euro in refurbishing and restoring the section of Moore Street which has been designated as a national monument, that is, Nos. 14 to 17 Moore Street. The remainder of Moore Street is to be demolished to make way for the Mall and Hotel development.
At the end of September it was revealed that Hammerson and Allianz are to purchase the Project Jewel loan portfolio from NAMA. This decision has caused considerable anger and a real concern that commercial interests will be allowed to override the national and historical significance of a site which the National Museum of Ireland described as the ‘most important historic site in modern Irish history.’
I recently met the families of the 1916 leaders. They are deeply concerned by the failure of the government to defend the battlefield site.
They have asked the Public Accounts Committee in the Dáil to seek answers to a series of questions, including what are the terms and conditions of the transfer of ownership of the National Monument at 14-17 Moore Street to the state; what buildings will be demolished in the Project Jewel/Chartered Land loan portfolio; did NAMA have the site assessed, surveyed and valued for including it in the Project Jewel Loan Portfolio auction; where is the five million euro set aside for the restoration of the derelict National Monument and why are the buildings being allowed to deteriorate further?
These are all important questions deserving the fullest response but the campaign to save Moore Street must go beyond questions by the Public Accounts Committee.
Specifically the role of the government in defending Moore Street needs to be seriously questioned. Last week NAMA unexpectedly withdrew the Westport House estate from another of NAMA’s loan portfolios – in this case it is the Project arrow portfolio of loans. NAMA had just announced that U.S. investment fund Cerberus – which is at the centre of the controversy over the sale of the Project Eagle portfolio of loans in the north - as the preferred bidder for that project.
The decision to withdraw Westport House from the Project Arrow portfolio came about after the government intervened over the sale of this major tourist attraction in the Taoiseach’s constituency of Mayo. The Minister of State for Tourism, and Westport TD Michael Ring, has already confirmed that he arranged a meeting between Mayo County Council and NAMA.
Westport House is a stunning tourist destination which attracts tens of thousands of tourists to Mayo each year. Securing its future is an important political and economic initiative.
The same arguments also apply to the Battlefield site around Moore Street where the economic benefits to Dublin would be greater; the number of jobs created would be higher, and the national historical significance of the site is greater.
But thus far the government has not adopted the same approach it has in respect of Westport House. Last week Sinn Féin TD Aengus O Snodaigh raised this issue in the Dáil and urged the Minister for Finance to intervene in the sale of this property. He has the authority to do so and he and his predecessor have used that authority on at least 15 separate occasions since 2009. However the response from Labour Minister Alex White was dismissive and at this time it seems likely that the government will opt for destroying the ‘laneways of history’ around Moore Street.
In the battle over the future of Moore Street we see the culture of naked consumerism as exemplified by the desire to build another mall in a city of malls challenge the valour and self-sacrifice and national pride of 1916.
Moore Street and its environs are the heart and soul of the 1916 Rising. But if consumerism and the rush to profit have their way the buildings and lanes around Moore Street will be effectively obliterated. Historically, culturally, politically, and emotionally there can be few other places on this island that are of greater significance.