THE FIGHT FOR THE MOORE STREET HISTORICAL QUARTER IS A SOCIALIST STRUGGLE

Diarmuid Breatnach 

The struggle for the preservation of Moore Street that is currently in the news (but has been going on for fifteen years) is one not only for nationalists and Republicans, but for socialists too. And for socialists of revolutionary ideology as well as for radical social democrats. But currently these sectors, apart from individuals independent of political party (and one or two belonging to parties), are keeping away from the issue. In this they are seriously mistaken and are doing the working class in Ireland and indeed internationally a disservice.

Aerial view of Moore Street in the days when the speculators and supermarkets had only just begun to reduce it (Photo from Internet)

Aerial view of Moore Street in the days when the speculators and supermarkets had only just begun to reduce it (Photo from Internet)

BACKGROUND TO MOORE STREET STRUGGLE

For those who may not be aware of the historical background, roughly 300 men and women of the GPO garrison in 1916, having to evacuate the burning building, made their way to Moore Street and occupied the terrace from the junction with Henry Place to what is now O’Rahilly Parade, entering at No.10 and tunneling through up to No.25 at the end of the terrace. On the following day, the decision was taken to surrender. Despite its historical status, nothing was done by the State to protect the ‘1916 Terrace’ for decades, although a small commemorative plaque was put on No.16 in 1966, when a number of such plaques were erected at sites throughout the city.

Fifteen years ago a campaign was started, by the National Graves Association and mostly by descendants of people who participated in the 1916 Rising, to have an appropriate historical monument on the site. In 2007 the State named buildings No.14-17 as a ‘National Monument’ but would take no steps regarding the other twelve buildings in the Terrace. By that time the four buildings belonged to a property speculator who allowed them to deteriorate but compliance with maintenance and upkeep obligations to a national monument were not enforced by the State. Also, shortly afterwards, the speculator put in a planning application for a huge shopping centre entailing the demolition of 12 houses of the Terrace and the State approved it.

Paul O'Toole, who played a number of sets at an "Arms Around Moore Street event in June 2015, including singing some songs of his own composition. The event was organised by Save Moore Street From Demolition group.

Paul O’Toole, who played a number of sets at an “Arms Around Moore Street event in June 2015, including singing some songs of his own composition. The event was organised by Save Moore Street From Demolition group.

Other threats emerged later, such as planning applications to extend the ILAC centre further into Moore Street and to build a tall budget hotel at the Moore Lane/ O’Rahilly Parade intersection; these were approved by Dublin City Council’s Planning Department although the majority of the Councillors have voted to preserve the 1916 Terrace and indeed the Historical Quarter.

Donna Cooney, great-grandniece of Elizabeth O'Farrell, speaking on behalf of the 1916 Relatives' Assocation

Donna Cooney, great grandniece of Elizabeth O’Farrell, speaking on behalf of the 1916 Relatives’ Association, at an “Arms Around Moore Street, event in June 2015. To her left is Mel Mac Giobúin, one of the principal organisers of the SMSFD group.

At the end of 2015 the State bought the four houses of the ‘national monument’ from the speculator, paying him €1 million each for them and proposed to knock down houses either side of it. As soon as the intention to proceed with imminent demolitions became clear, emergency demonstrations were called in the street by a newer group, Save Moore Street From Demolition (founded in September 2014). A five-day occupation of the buildings ensued, ending only on foot of an order of the Court that no demolition take place while a High Court challenge to the Dept. of Heritage was awaited.

Section of the January march to save Moore Street, organised by the Save Moore Street 2016 umbrella group

Section of the January march to save Moore Street, organised by the Save Moore Street 2016 umbrella group. In photo foreground, two of the principal organisers of the SMSFD group, (L-R) Mel Mac Giobúin and Diarmuid Breatnach. (Also in shot, Dave Swift, supporter of the campaign, in Irish Citizen Army uniform).   (Photo source: Donal Higgins)

A number of protest actions have taken place since then including a street concert and a march from Liberty Hall to Moore Street ending in a rally at the GPO.   The struggle continues at the time of writing with further events planned and the SMSFD group have joined with others, including people who occupied the buildings, to form the ‘Save Moore Street 2016’ group. It is a broad group containing activists from a number of Republican organisations and independents of community action, socialist and Republican background.

In a separate development, a High Court challenge against the process undertaken by the State to buy the properties and demolish others on either side opened on February 9th and has been adjourned a number of times since, apparently due to the State not having got its papers together.

NATIONAL HISTORY

Socialists may argue that the cause lying behind the struggle is one of preservation of Republican or even nationalist history. I would argue that is only partly true – but what if it were so? Who actually makes history? It is the masses of people that make history, even if individuals among all classes at certain times are thrust – or throw themselves – upon the stage. In that sense, ALL history of progressive social history belongs to the working class.

Furthermore, the underlying historical reason for which many are seeking to preserve the 1916 Terrace and, indeed, the Moore Street historical quarter, is because it related to a struggle against colonialism, against an immense colonial empire. Are socialists to say that they take no interest in anti-colonial struggles and their history? Or is it that they do, so long as they be in some other part of the world? And if the latter be their position, what possible political justification could they offer for it?

STREET MARKET – SOCIAL HISTORY

In the development of this city, Dublin, street traders have played a part – as indeed they have in the development of probably every city in the world. Working people and small-time entrepreneurs, working hard from dawn to dusk in all weathers to feed themselves and their families, a link between town and country or between coast and inner city. They brought fresh food to the city dwellers of all classes and brought colour to what was often a drab environment, colour to the eye and to the ear also.

Moore Street is the last remaining street of a traditional street market centuries old, the rest of which now lies buried under the ILAC centre and which even now threatens to extend further into Moore Street, squeezing the market street still further. This street market and its history as well as being physically threatened by the proposed extension of the ILAC, squeezed commercially by Dunne’s and Lidl, is threatened also by a planned budget hotel building of many floors and of course the giant shopping centre plan of Chartered Land/ Hammerson. Have the socialist groups nothing to say about this or, if they are against this monopoly capitalist assault, why do they distain to take their place in the ranks of the resistance?

AGAINST WORLD WAR

Some of the Volunteers undoubtedly planned the Rising to take place during the first imperialist World War purely on the basis of the maxim that ‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity’.  But others, including the revolutionary socialist leader James Connolly, also clearly wanted a rising against the slaughter of workers in a war between imperialists.  Connolly wrote a number of articles denouncing this slaughter which socialists of his time had pledged themselves to fight but which few had actually done, when it came to the crunch.  However, that position remains the correct one for the working class: in a situation where your masters wish to send you out to fight your class brothers abroad, turn your guns on your masters instead.  The 1916 Rising stands as an example of this, the first of the 20th Century and world history would have to wait until the following year for another example in Europe.

WORKERS’ HISTORY

All the Irish socialist groups, as far as I’m aware, right across the spectrum from Anarchist to Communist, hold the memory of James Connolly and of the Irish Citizen Army in high esteem. And so do the radical social democrats.

James Connolly led the Irish Citizen Army into alliance with the Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan and na Fianna. The ICA, a trade union-based militia, had been formed to defend demonstrating and picketing workers against the attacks of the Dublin Metropolitan Police in 1913. When the ICA went out in the 1916 Rising, Ireland was the first country in the world that century for a workers’ armed unit to fight in its own uniforms and under its own leaders.

Irish Citizen Army on parade at the Irish Transport & General Workers' Union building and grounds in Fairview, Dublin

Irish Citizen Army on parade at the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union building and grounds in Fairview, Dublin. (Photo source: Internet)

The ICA were allocated the Stephens Green and Dublin Castle areas but also had members in the GPO garrison. So when the GPO garrison retreated from the burning building, ICA members were part of that retreat. At least one died on that journey, struck down in Henry Place by British Army bullets at the intersection with what is now Moore Lane.

When the GPO garrison took possession of the 16 houses of the Terrace in Moore Street, tunneling from house to house, the ICA were part of that. And when the decision to surrender was taken, the ICA laid down their arms with the rest.

The 1916 Rising and the occupation of the Moore Street terrace and backyards is part of the ICA’s history and is therefore part of the history of the Irish working class and, indeed, of the international working class. If the socialist groups don’t wish to celebrate that episode in the history of the class, why? If, on the other hand, they do celebrate it, why then do they not join the struggle to have the place of their last stand preserved from demolition and to have the ICA’s place in history marked by a fitting monument?

The lack of engagement of most of the revolutionary and radical left with the Moore Street struggle has also meant no noticeable pressure within the trade unions, where the left have some influence, to even declare verbally for the preservation of the 1916 Terrace. To date, only one section of one trade union, the Construction Section of SIPTU, has declared in favour of saving the Terrace.

WOMEN

The struggle for gender equality is an important part of the struggle for the emancipation of the working class, i.e. for socialism: women represent slightly over one-half of the human race and this is true also for the working class. In addition, the oppression of one part of the class serves as a wedge into the solidarity of the class as a whole.

In 1916 women served as auxiliaries in Cumann na mBan and as equals in the Irish Citizen Army. That year was the first in the World in which women participated in an insurrection in a unit of their own, wearing a uniform of their own and under their own female officers, as was the case with Cumann na mBan. It was also the first time in the 20th Century in which women had formal equality with men in an armed workers’ organisation, as they did in the Irish Citizen Army.

Constance Markievicz, ICA officer, fighting in the Stephen's Green area. She poses here with a gun prior to the Rising to underline her position that women can and should take part in armed revolutionary struggle, on a par with the men.

Constance Markievicz, ICA officer, fighting in the Stephen’s Green area. She poses here with a gun prior to the Rising to underline her position that women can and should take part in armed revolutionary struggle, on a par with the men. (Photo source: Internet)

The Proclamation was the first insurrectionary call to arms to address itself specifically to women alongside men (“Irish men and Irish women …”, it begins) and had been signed in secret a little earlier by the seven male signatories (or by most of them) in the alternative cafe and agricultural product cooperative run by Jenny Wyse Power at No.21 Henry Street.

1916 CUMANN na mBAN & ICA 1917

Women of Cumann na mBan and ICA who participated in the 1916 Rising in a group photo a year later (photo sourced Internet)

 

         CAPITALISM & THE STATE

The campaign for the saving and appropriate renovation of the 1916 Terrace first of all confronted the capitalist property speculator Joe Reilly and his Chartered Land company, while it lobbied the State to take over the Terrace.

When in 2007 the State declared four houses in the Terrace to be a ‘national monument’, the campaign continued confronting the speculator but now calling, without success, on the State to oblige Mr. O’Reilly to comply with his maintenance obligations to a national monument. When the State granted, with some changes, planning permission for the speculator’s giant shopping centre, the campaign moved into confrontation with the State, a confrontation which intensified after the State purchased the four buildings and prepared to demolish the buildings on either side.

The whole saga was an object demonstration of the function of the State in facilitating capitalist property speculation and furthermore, of the neo-colonial nature of a capitalist class unable to consider saving such a national historical treasure even with the support of the vast majority of the population.

In such a struggle, with people with democratic objectives on one side and, on the other, rapacious property speculators and a capitalist State facilitating those speculators, where does the duty of socialists lie? It is clear on which side they should stand if they should stand on the issue at all. And they should take a stand on it – how can the development of that struggle do anything but strengthen the democratic movement in general, including the movement for socialism, and harm its opponents, the State and capitalism in Ireland? And surely in the course of that struggle, with socialists side by side with Republicans, alliances would be formed which could be built upon for more ambitious projects later?

Monument in Dublin to James Connolly, revolutionary sociailist writer, historian, theorist, union organiser, publisher -- his last location of freedom was the Moore Street 1916 Terrace, before he was shot by British firing squad

Monument in Dublin to James Connolly, revolutionary sociailist writer, historian, theorist, union organiser, publisher — his last location of freedom was the Moore Street 1916 Terrace, before he was shot by British firing squad (Photo source: Internet)

IN CONCLUSION:

For all the reasons given above, its social history, its anti-colonial history, the history of the common people as well as that of intellectuals, the history of the working class to assert its independence and dominance of the movement for liberation, the history of women’s struggles, and the current struggle of people against property speculator capital and State, the place of socialists, revolutionary and radical, is right there with the Moore Street 1916 Terrace campaigners. But where are they?

With the exception of a few honourable exceptions, they are notable by their absence. Yet, they will wonder at times why the mass of people do not follow them; why, for the most part, they regard them and their organisations as an irrelevance.

End.

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