Diarmuid Breatnach — part of Submission to the Minister’s Moore Street Consultative Group
I have had input to a number of submissions to the Minister’s Moore Street Consultative Group and recently sent in my own personal one. The submission is divided into sections and this is the one dealing with the market (the others will be published at intervals).
DUBLIN’S HISTORIC STREET MARKET
Historically, the Moore Street quarter deserves preserving in its own right and should have been so. Instead, it has been both neglected and preyed upon. But so has the street market.
As the only traditional food street market of antiquity remaining in Dublin, considering also its iconic status to not only Dubliners but migrants through the centuries and to visitors from the countryside, the street market should also have been saved. Such features in cities abroad are promoted for tourists, and indeed both Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland do promote the market to visitors to Dublin. One can see the bemusement of the faces on many as they wander through in groups and imagine their thoughts (or overhear their expression):
“This is the famous street market? Are we sure we haven’t taken a wrong turning?”
It is easy to understand their confusion. Had they come a half-century ago, before the ILAC was built, they would have seen a bustling street, with stalls and shops both sides of the road along its length, and some businesses in side streets. Two decades ago, they would have found no difficulty in imagining the market’s former glory, for much of it remained still. Even a decade ago, perhaps, enough remained to imagine it.
But now? With shops closed and ugly hoardings squeezing the street? With big business shops pushing out in Moore Street? With independent shopkeepers offered only one-year leases at a time and pushed out willy-nilly? With only 15 street trading licences in operation and only some of those on the street at any one time?
The street market is not beyond saving and I will devote some space to that issue but first let us examine how it has come to this, for overcoming those causes is part of the solution.
In a Rogues’ Gallery of those guilty for bringing about this state of affairs, first in line must stand the Planning Department of Dublin City Council, which has made the decisions about what could be built and what demolished.
I know not how much money was placed into how many brown envelopes nor the names of all those who received them (though I have a fair idea of the identities of some of the recipients), nor what other favours were dispensed. But what is clear is that there was massive favour given to big business and speculators, the legendary Gombeen Men, and massive disfavour to street traders, small independent businesses, workers and working class residents. This of course has happened in many other areas of Dublin City and County and indeed elsewhere in Ireland. But one of the most concentrated areas of abuse has been the Moore Street area. And it continues to suffer that abuse.
Who, wanting to conserve a street market, would allow a giant supermarket chain outlet at one end of the street and another next door, in a city centre already abundantly served (if that is the word) by supermarkets? Who, wanting to conserve such a street market, would grant planning permission to huge shopping centre buildings to cover the entire area on each side of that remaining street market? Who, in good stewardship of our city centre, would grant a huge extension on a bad planning permission when the original one of a decade was running out with no work of any significance having been done on it to that point? And what public servants would so callously and nonchalantly ignore the wishes expressed by its citizens and, indeed of late, by the majority of their elected representatives?
Since no other motivations are apparent, one is entitled to assume either idiocy or rapacious greed; since the men involved on both sides of those arrangements are not idiots in the normal sense, that leaves an intelligent observer with only one alternative. And ask most ordinary people in Dublin and they will freely name the alternative, the real motivation.
Next into that rogues’ gallery must step the Department of Dublin City Council responsible for Street Trading – it is they that issue the street trading licenses to the street traders, lay down conditions and enforce restrictions, and in conjunction with other departments, provide their facilities.
Yes, well – facilities? One covered stall, open on all sides. No heating. No lighting other than the dim amount in the street. No water supply near to stalls. No toilets or changing rooms for the traders. Year after year, despite promises to the contrary, these disgraceful conditions continue. Some of the current traders are the fourth generation of their family in such work but is it any wonder that few stall-holders believe their children or grandchildren will follow them into the work?
As if that were not enough, around the time the Moore Street campaign was heating up further, when Chartered Land was gearing up to make its ‘land-swap’ offer, a deal promoted by the head of the Planning Department and lauded by Minister for Heritage Heather Humphreys, Dublin City Council put not one but two permanent Market Inspectors on the street (at that time I think there were only 16 street licenses in operation there). Previously, one inspector would tour the market perhaps once or twice a day, for an hour at most.
What was the practical need for bumping up to this relatively high level of inspection? These inspectors have no powers other than instructing the shops and traders about street and pavement regulations and fining them for non-compliance. They do not attend to any other matters. They do not even claim to monitor the quality of the produce sold in the street.
There is no reasonable answer to this question, unless the purpose is to harass the small shopkeepers and traders further, in the way that unscrupulous landlords harass their tenants when they want to get rid of them but find it difficult to do so legally.
I do not accuse the individual inspectors of having that intention – only those who conceived of the idea and put them on that street. But employ two men on a street which they can clearly see often contains only ten stalls, tell them they have to enforce the street trading rules or their jobs will be in jeopardy — and what will they do? Urged by employment insecurity and sheer boredom, they will go up and down the street, criticising traders and even shopkeepers for extending some inches outside their allotted space (though there are many empty metres to each side and their neighbours are not complaining), or for continuing to sell some minutes after official closing time, threatening and even fining those trying to make a living with legitimate businesses and stalls on that street.
One might almost suspect that between speculators, big chain businesses and certain Dublin City Council officials, there is a conspiracy to run the street market into the ground, in order to make the whole a rasa tabula, a board wiped clean, upon which powerful financial interests can write their plans. Or an eyesore that few will bother to defend. And I say that such a conspiracy exists. Generally in this world, what looks like, feels like and smells like is indeed the substance one suspects.
The Moore Street Market should be cherished, nurtured and supported. Perhaps it is too late to do anything about those already in existence around it but no more supermarkets should be permitted in its near proximity.
The street traders should be given decent working conditions of shelter, heating and light and free from unnecessary official interference (not to say harassment). Small independent businesses should be encouraged in the street and in its surroundings (more on this later). The objective should be to promote a healthy, vigorous, colourful street food market on the spot where such has stood for centuries, with attractive working and earning-a-living conditions for those who work and shop there.
I am not a street trader but I have sold and promoted items publicly on many occasions and I also know something of the conditions in Moore Street, which I attend at least once week and usually a number of other days too.
- When the weather is fine it is pleasant to have an open-air market but when it rains, snows or cold winds blow, shelter is desirable. The only way to be able to benefit from good weather and shelter from the bad is to provide a removable cover over the whole. I am sure that our present level of technology can provide a retractable, transparent roof.
- Because the winds can be biting and also to conserve heat in winter, I suggest that sliding doors at each end to of the market should be provided – these can be left open or partially drawn as required.
- Each stall should have adequate lighting and heating at hand (or foot!). A water supply should be available nearby no more than a few feet distance from every stall.
- Toilets should be provided for traders.
- There should be more flexibility in what the traders can sell, without losing the focus on a food market. During the 1916 Centenary year, traders were prevented by market inspectors from selling simple 1916 memorabilia – scarves, copies of the proclamation, flags etc. Such a prohibition in Moore Street was particularly ironic and unfortunate.
- The refuse collected in the street should be verifiably recycled, the vegetable and fruit refuse in particular making excellent compost for city gardeners (and perhaps for a garden in the quarter itself).
- The market traders do not work on Sundays and this seems an excellent opportunity to provide a farmers’ market in the street and lanes, bringing more value to the area.
- The part of Moore Street largely omitted from the Barrett judgement, i.e from the Henry Place/ Moore St. junction to Henry Street, should be included in the overall plan
- All of the above should be done in consultation with representation from workers, traders, small shopkeepers, shoppers of Moore Street and with local residents and the process should be transparent and publicly accountable