It has been said by some people prominent in the broad Moore Street campaign that the Minister for Heritage has declared her support for the Report of her Consultative Group on Moore Street and its recommendations. A number of other campaigners have said this is not so and I am one of those (NB: there are a number of campaign groups in this struggle).
For saying that, I have been criticised as “rocking the boat” and “spreading inaccuracies” or even “generating conspiracy theories” and also personally verbally attacked in public and on social media by name and by inference. The reputation for integrity of a political and social activist is very important to her or to him and so these allegations are of course hurtful. But there is much more at stake than my feelings or even my reputation or that of a few other activists – there is indeed the struggle for the Moore Street historical quarter itself. For a successful conclusion of this long struggle, the direction taken is crucially important.
(For those who may be unfamiliar with the background or have lost track of some of the major developments, a very brief background is given in an Appendix below).
THE MINISTER’S CONSULTATIVE GROUP AND ITS REPORT
In June 2016, the Minister set up her Consultative Group on Moore Street to which she invited a range of political party representatives (and one Independent) elected to the Dáil, a number of Dublin City councillors and representatives of two campaigning groups. The list excluded the first campaign group to raise the Moore Street conservation issue along with the most active campaign groups of recent years and also included no historians.
Though it did not publicly call for them, the Consultative Group accepted submissions in writing and a number of campaigns and individuals made presentations in person (the 35 submissions are available on the Department’s website under Minister’s Consultative Group on Moore Street – see link at end).
On the 29th of March, the report of the Consultative Group was launched.
Should the Minister accept the Recommendations of the Report in full, then there are a number of recommendations which we should celebrate (and indeed some of us proposed many of them in submissions to the Consultative Group itself) and for which we should seek implementation. But there are also some very harmful ones which we should repudiate.
However, if the Minister has not accepted the Recommendations, then nothing has been won by the Consultative Group, even on paper, despite the many submissions and delegations it has received and the meetings and discussions of its members. This would obviously be a distressing revelation to some of those who were part of that Group. And we can expect even less from the next one the Minister has set up, the Advisory Group.
But, let us return to the question: Did the Minister or did she not accept the Recommendations of the Report? Let us examine the available evidence.
THE MINISTER’S ACTUAL WORDS
On the 29th of March 2017, the following statement was issued by the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht affairs:
‘The Moore Street Report – Securing History’ is presented to Minister Humphreys by the Moore Street Consultative Group
The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphreys TD, has today (Wednesday) received a copy of the report compiled by the Moore Consultative Group, which she established last year. The Minister announced the establishment of the group in June 2016, as a means to make positive progress in relation to the future of Moore Street.
“I set up the Moore Street Consultative Group, which includes political representatives, relatives and other stakeholders, in a bid to bring together the range of views on Moore Street and seek a positive way forward. Since then, the Group, chaired by Gerry Kearney, has carried out a body of work which has resulted in the report they are publishing today.
“I want to take this opportunity to thank all of the members of the Group for their dedication and commitment in completing this work in such a short timeframe. The time and effort which went into this report is greatly appreciated.
“I welcome the fact that the report is seeking a way forward based on consensus. I believe that the recommendations in the Report can help find a way to breathe new life into the Moore Street area, while at the same time retaining its sense of history and enhancing its traditional street market.
“The Report signals the potential of a negotiated outcome, balancing the perspectives of the key stakeholders. I am fully supportive of this constructive approach and I want to see the work of the Group being built upon, so we can progress to the next stage. I will therefore be recommending to Government the establishment of a new Advisory Group as recommended in the Report to advance that process.”
A little over a month later, on the 2nd May 2017, Éamonn Ó Cuív (Fianna Fáil) asked a question of the Minister in the Dáil and followed with a supplementary one:
43. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if she has considered the report of a group (details supplied) issued in March 2017; her plans to implement the recommendations in the report; the progress made to date in doing so; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20440/17]
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: As the Minister knows, the Moore Street report was published in March and a timeline was set out with the hope that a decision would be recommended in six weeks, as the matter has dragged on for years. Has the Minister brought this to the Cabinet and have we a decision? Will she set up the advisory group that has been recommended in the report so we can move to the next phase? I am afraid we will lose the good momentum built up in the past six months towards progressing the Moore Street project to a suitable resolution.
Deputy Heather Humphreys: I agree with the Deputy that good momentum has been built up and I put on record my sincere appreciation to the members of the group referred to by the Deputy for the report they recently presented to me. The group, which was independently chaired by a former departmental Secretary General, included local and Oireachtas political representatives, 1916 relatives, street traders and other stakeholders. It was set up in a bid to bring together the full range of views on the matter and it held its inaugural meeting in September 2016. In the mean time, it has reviewed numerous presentations and submissions from a range of interests, looked at a variety of official and other reports, interviewed relevant public officials and other experts and examined a large body of work from within its own membership, as the Deputy knows. This extensive programme of work has culminated in the series of recommendations contained in the report that was presented to me in the last few weeks and that is now being examined in my Department.
I welcome the fact the report is seeking a way forward based on consensus. Its recommendations can help breathe new life into the area while retaining its sense of history and tradition. In addition to its particular association with the 1916 Rising, there are other relevant aspects of the street and surrounding area that also need to be taken into account, including the range of State, public and private property holdings and ownership and, of course, the presence of the street traders themselves, who do so much to give the area its unique ambience and place in the life of our capital city. The report has looked carefully at all these elements and I am delighted that it signals the potential for a mutually successful outcome to be agreed between the relevant parties, balancing the perspectives of all the key stakeholders. I am fully supportive of this collaborative approach and I want to see the work already done being continued so we can progress to the next stage and see tangible results on the ground. Critical to this will be the establishment of the new advisory group that the report itself identifies as the most effective way to move forward with its recommendations. I will be proceeding with the setting up of this group as quickly as possible to build on the positive and constructive foundations set out in this report.
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: As happens so often, the Minister gave me much information that I already have, as I was part of all those discussions and on the forum referred to. As she pointed out, we had a very experienced chairman and in his work he was very diligent in advising us against things that could not be done. However, the report very clearly states that the establishment of the advisory oversight group should happen within six weeks. As the Minister knows, this was because a consensus was built through a huge amount of work. People believed they had put together a map to bring us forward. There are two questions that still have not been answered. When will the advisory group be set up or will it be set up? Has the Government considered this report and made any decision on the recommendations of the report? All of them must be implemented but some need very urgent attention, including, for example, those relating to street traders.
Deputy Heather Humphreys: The appointment of a chairman for the new advisory group is the next step in the process and I hope to see that person appointed, with the group beginning its work, as soon as possible. I am very much aware the chairman of the previous consultative group worked in a particularly effective way with all the parties and his efforts were key to the achievement of the agreed outcome to the group’s deliberations as set out in the report. The next stage is equally crucial and the new chairman will have just as vital a role to play. I am looking at possible candidates and hope to make the appointment as soon as possible. The report envisaged this process taking six weeks and we are still well within that timeframe. The new advisory group will be drawn from among the existing membership of the outgoing Moore Street consultative group. I understand it had 27 members and it is envisaged that the new body, while being equally representative across the same spectrum of interests, will be somewhat smaller.
People reading the text of the Minister’s statements and replies will search in vain for anywhere she says that she actually accepts the Report and its Recommendations. In fact, one can see that while in politician-speak she talks around it, she studiously avoids saying that, confining herself to praise for the Group and its Chair and to the spirit of consensus. And well she might praise the consensus, because despite the public positions of many of the Consultative Group prior to their being chosen by the Minister and which some may still hold, and despite the calls from a number of campaigners and other stakeholders in their submissions, the Group did not call on the Minister to abandon her appeal against the High Court judgement (i.e that the Moore Street historic quarter is “a National 1916 Historical Monument” — more on this below).
Also, the Minister and the Report both accept the speculators as “stakeholders” and the Report calls for the future to be decided in negotiations between those “stakeholders” and the two elements who have all along been facilitating them: Dublin City Council’s Planning Department and the Department of Heritage!
Those who have been repeating the erroneous line that “the Minister has accepted the Report” argue that a) she set up the Group and/or b) she has proceeded to the second stage, setting up the Advisory Group and therefore must accept its Report. Or b) even that an Irish Times news report carried a headline saying that she supported it and that the Minister did not deny the headline!
The best that can be said for that reasoning is that those are their interpretations but her statements quoted above do not support those interpretations. Nor do they refute them, it is true. But surely if the Minister did actually support the Recommendations, she would have unequivocally and specifically said so?
DANGEROUS RECOMMENDATIONS AMID WELCOME ONES
As noted earlier, the Recommendations contain some positive elements, including keeping the “footprint” of the main remaining Moore Street 1916 quarter intact, i.e the block enclosed by Henry Place, Moore Street, O’Rahilly Parade and Moore Lane, along with the lanes themselves and the street. They also include a number of recommendations for long-overdue improvements to the hard lot of the Moore Street street traders (but not the small business shops), both in terms of provision of facilities and in terms of their trading license restrictions.
But to leave the future of the historic quarter to negotiations between the three historic villains of the saga, the property speculators, the Planning Department and the Department of Heritage, as laid out in the Main Recommendations, 7, 8, 9 and 12 (pp. 6-7)) and in Chapter 10, Conclusions and Recommendations (pp.36-37) 10.3 and 10.4 is surely not what we should be doing.
A number of times in the Report the State is claimed to be “the ultimate custodian of our history, culture and heritage”. Whatever one might think of the desirability of such a state of affairs, such an evaluation of the role of the State is patently untrue as even a glance over the history of this state will demonstrate. It is untrue about historical and archaeological sites, the Irish language, Irish traditional music, Irish dance and Gaelic games.
The State has failed to defend a great many sites of historical, archaeological and architectural importance from property speculators and other financial interests, was about to demolish houses in Moore Street and one of its Government Ministers is currently appealing a judgement that the whole Quarter is a “National Historical Monument”. The main Irish-language promotional and defence organisations were set up as voluntary bodies — though some now receive some low State funding — and most of the activity is by unpaid activists. Neither the Minister of the responsible department nor her Ministerial appointments to the Gaeltacht desk have been competent Irish speakers and some years ago the Ombudsman for the Irish Language resigned in protest at inaction and obstruction from within the state apparatus. The national Irish-language TV channel (TG4) and radio station (Radió na Gaeltachta) were won by people campaigning against the State, in which activists were fined and threatened with jail (one campaigner did go to jail to defend his right to motor insurance documentation in Irish). Likewise bodies promoting Irish traditional music and song were voluntary to begin with and although Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann now receives State funding, most enthusiasts and practitioners, whether within or without Comhaltas, are doing so either in a voluntary or private professional capacity. That is also true of Irish traditional dancing, both social and performance. Gaelic Games are also largely a voluntary activity with minimal state support overall.
The “ultimate custodians of our history, culture and heritage” are the PEOPLE! And it is to the people that we should look to defend these aspects of our identity. It is they who must be represented in the decision-making and stewardship of this national historical monument, and all other bodies subservient to them. Setting up such a representative, inclusive and transparent management committee for the project will not be easy but is surely worth the effort, rather than handing it over to the main villains, whom campaigners have been fighting – on this site alone – for a decade-and-a-half!
THE MINISTER, THE LITIGANT AND COURT CASES
Without going into too much detail, an individual by the name of Colm Moore in 2015 initiated a High Court case against the Minister of Heritage on a number of issues, all to do with her plans and actions with regard to the Moore Street quarter. In January 2016, during an occupation by protesters of the site to prevent the Minister’s contractors from demolishing three houses in the terrace, Colm Moore obtained a temporary injunction against any demolition until judgement had been reached in his case.
The property speculator involved attached himself to the case as a respondent (i.e as a “defendant”). The Minister’s legal team and her Department’s officers defended all her actions, denied that the site was a battlefield (“all Dublin was a battlefield”) and denied the importance of any buildings except Nos.14-17 Moore Street (even of No.10, which was the site of the first transferred HQ of the GPO Garrison and of the 1916 Rising and of the emergency insurgent hospital dealing with nearly a score of wounded — including a rescued British soldier).
On March 18th 2016, the High Court Judge found against the Minister and speculator on all grounds and ruled that the whole quarter is a 1916 battlefield and a historic national monument. The Minister said that she was considering appealing, asked for more time, then more time again and finally confirmed that she would indeed appeal the judgement, with the support of the full Cabinet. Contrary to interpretations of her reasoning and to a reply Enda Kenny gave on her behalf to Gerry Adams TD (Sinn Féin) last year, she has entered an appeal against all parts of the judgement, 250 pages – far from the “clarification on some points of law” reason for the appeal which some people have claimed (and which a speaker was still claiming at a public meeting as recently as 22nd of May this year).
Some people have said that the Consultative Group’s Report, while nowhere suggesting the Minister should drop her appeal of the historic judgement, instead suggests the litigant, Colm Moore, should drop his defence of the case. I am one of those people. We have been called liars, troublemakers, conspiracy theorists and accused of making inaccurate statements.
Again, let us examine the actual text (extract from 10.1 New Beginnings (p.34):
In the event of consensus being secured on an agreed way forward for the development through dialogue by the Advisory/Oversight Group with the developer, and agreed to by the Applicant and the State, the Group is strongly of the view that payment of legal costs, incurred by the Applicant’s legal team, by the State is warranted and appropriate. The Group has reached this conclusion after considerable reflection and having regard to the widely acknowledged public interest which informed the taking of the case and the savings which would accrue to the State by settlement through such a process. (end quotation)
I agree that the section does not actually say Mr. Moore should drop the appeal but I do think that it is a nuanced call for him to do so and offers an inducement to him and more particularly to his legal team. To me, the subtext to this reads something like this:
“Listen lads, we know you put a lot of work into this and the legal team in particular have had to turn away some lucrative work while they concentrated on this case. And we know they haven’t yet received a penny for doing so. So, you settle the case on terms the State can agree with and we guarantee the legal team get paid and your litigant can walk away. Millions in the legal team’s bank accounts now or years in court with no guaranteed win – which is to be, lads?”
It is not only an inducement to settle but a possible seeking to cause a split between the litigant and his team. The litigant is taking the case presumably because of historical and possibly political (in the broad sense) motivation but one cannot expect that motivation of the legal team.
The latest news on the legal case is that Minister asked for time to consider skipping over the Appeal Court and taking it straight to the Supreme Court. Normally such an extension is for six weeks but the Minister has exceeded that and no limit was set – although clearly she will have to declare definitely at some point to which court she is taking her appeal. In the event of it being the Supreme Court, my information is that we could well see the end of 2019 before it reaches there. And meanwhile the buildings and laneways deteriorate and no substantial work of a construction nature can be undertaken to improve facilities for the market traders.
ROCKING THE BOAT
When a boat is being steered in a bad direction it is perfectly justifiable for those crew who become aware of this to rock the boat, to bring their concern home to the other members of the crew. Should this fail to yield a change of direction, it becomes time to inform the passengers. If danger appears, it is not a time for discreet nudges and whispers but for speaking clearly and loudly, that all may have an opportunity to bring the boat back on a safe and productive course.
VERY BRIEF BACKGROUND IN BULLET POINTS
Moore Street is the last remaining street of a centuries-old street market quarter (the rest is buried under the ILAC shopping centre).
On Friday of Easter week 1916, with the GPO in flames, the insurgent garrison evacuated, most of it through Henry Place eventually to Moore Street, some participants being killed along the way. On reaching Moore Street, they occupied a number of houses and in particular No.10, then tunneling through the walls throughout the night, to occupy the whole 16 houses of the terrace by Saturday.
On the Saturday, the decision was taken to surrender and instructions to that effect were sent out to the other garrisons. Among the 14 taken prisoner and later shot by firing squad in Dublin, six were from the Moore St/ GPO garrison, including five of the seven signatories of the 1916 Proclamation.
In 1966, the 50th anniversary of the Rising, the National Graves Association, a voluntary non-state-funded organisation, placed a plaque on No.16, the first formal mark of recognition of the events there.
Around 2001 a campaign was started to have a building in Moore Street as a national monument; this later expanded to cover the whole terrace Nos.10-25, back yards, and surrounding street and laneways.
In 2007 the State decreed Nos.14-17 to be of historical importance and in need of preservation; the Planning Department and Government between them approved the speculator’s plan for a huge shopping centre with the four buildings being a tiny museum inside the shopping mall campaigners; the 1916 Relatives campaign on Moore Street split, one James Connolly relative favouring the speculator’s plan and another against; the State offered the speculator €5 million for renovation work on the buildings.
In September 2014 the speculator proposed to hand over the four buildings to Dublin City Council in exchange for two the Council owns at the end of the terrace, which would have enabled him to demolish half the buildings in the terrace. The Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign group was formed specifically to defeat the land swap proposal (which had the support of the Chief and Deputy Chief Executives of Dublin City Council) and began a petition on Moore Street every Saturday. The proposal was defeated by majority vote of councillors in November 2014.
In July 2015 the State purchased Nos.14-17 from the speculator at a total price of €4 million. An individual, Colm Moore, took three cases against the Minister of Heritage with regard to Moore Street.
In January 2016 the State was about to demolish three buildings in the terrace. The SMSFD group convened two emergency demonstrations in the street. The site was occupied by protesters for five days and subsequently blockaded for five weeks by a new group that grew out of the occupation, the Save Moore Street 2016 campaign group.
On March 18th the High Court Judge ruled against the Minister and the speculator and ruled that the whole quarter, including streets and laneways, is a historic 1916 National Monument.
In July 2016, after much delay, the Minister put in an appeal against the High Court judgement – the appeal has still to be heard.
Minister’s Consultative Group Report: http://www.ahrrga.gov.ie/app/uploads/2017/03/moore-st-report-final-version-1.pdf
Save Moore Street From Demolition FB pages: https://www.facebook.com/save.moore.st.from.demolition/
Save Moore Street 2016 FB page: https://www.facebook.com/SaveMooreStreet2016/