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Sunday 17 December 2017

Moore Street impasse puts 1916 centenary in disaster zone

STAND-OFF: Latest failure to agree on the building of a commemorative museum is an ominous sign of things to come for the 100-year celebrations, writes Andrew Lynch

Jim Connolly-Heron (Great Grandson of James Connolly) far right, and Honor O Brolchain (Grand Neice of Joseph Plunkett) pictured on left with cream coat explain to members of the Oireachtais Environment and Heritage Committee the significance of No 16 Moore Street yesterday after paying a visit there yesterday.
Jim Connolly-Heron (Great Grandson of James Connolly) far right, and Honor O Brolchain (Grand Neice of Joseph Plunkett) pictured on left with cream coat explain to members of the Oireachtais Environment and Heritage Committee the significance of No 16 Moore Street yesterday after paying a visit there yesterday.
British soldiers at the junction of Moore Street and Parnell Street

On the evening of Friday, April 28, 1916, Patrick Pearse decided that the Irish revolution needed a new headquarters.

He led his troops out of the smouldering General Post Office, with the wounded James Connolly carried on a stretcher, and took refuge in Moore Street just around the corner.

After a final council of war, the rebel leaders finally concluded that their situation was hopeless and surrendered on Easter Saturday to prevent any more loss of life.

Almost a hundred years later, Enda Kenny's government must be silently wishing that Pearse and Connolly had given up the ghost one day earlier. The GPO still stands proud and will obviously play a major role in the 2016 centenary celebrations.

Moore Street, on the other hand, is a mess - bogged down in an ugly planning row that the city's local politicians seem completely unable to sort out.

The basic problem is simple: Fine Gael and Labour want the houses numbered 14-17 to be turned into a commemorative museum in time for the 100th anniversary. Opposition parties say this is not good enough, since other buildings on the street were occupied by Rising heroes such as Michael Collins and should also be preserved.

Numbers 14-17 have had the status of National Monuments since 2007, meaning that they cannot be torn down without the Government's permission. However, they are also owned by the Chartered Land company, which has planning permission to build a shopping centre on a 2.7 hectare site stretching up to the old Carlton cinema on O'Connell Street.

arguing

Historians may still be arguing over what the men and women of 1916 died for, but they seem fairly sure it was not to create another place where people can buy a Big Mac and Coke.

A few weeks ago, Dublin City Council's latest attempt to resolve this dilemma bit the dust. Under Fine Gael and Labour's 'land swap' proposal, Chartered Land would complete the museum at a cost of €9m and hand it over in exchange for numbers 24-25 - council-owned buildings that are currently used as a waste depot.

Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and People Before Profit all opposed the plan and teamed up to defeat it, by 38 votes to 22, at a meeting on November 3.

So where does that leave us? Arts minister Heather Humphreys is disappointed by the decision but admits there is precious little she can do about it. While some 1916 relatives' groups would like the whole of Moore Street turned into a national monument, Chartered Land is a commercial business under no legal or moral obligation to give up its rights.

And so the argument rumbles on. Humphreys has claimed that numbers 13, 18 and 19 "retain little of the character of that time" and can safely be demolished, while local independent TD Maureen O'Sullivan insists that the entire area must be protected as a historic site.

Now it is a race against the calendar. Rome wasn't built in a day and the 1916 Museum will not be built in time for the centenary unless someone urgently comes up with a new idea.

Instead, we will be left with a typical Irish solution to an Irish problem - political parties jealously guarding their own turf and nobody prepared to give up ground in the national interest.

campaigners

Sadly, this entire controversy is typical of the Government's slapdash approach to 2016. After constant delays, Enda Kenny finally launched a draft programme of events at the GPO on November 12. In a supreme irony, it was disrupted by angry anti-water charge campaigners who banged on the windows and hurled abuse at him.

The 'Ireland 2016' project has also been plagued by a couple of PR disasters. Its glossy promotional video was slammed by the prominent UCD historian Diarmaid Ferriter as "embarrassing, unhistorical sh*t", partly because it featured images of Bob Geldof and Queen Elizabeth but none of the Rising leaders themselves.

Incredibly, the website used Google Translate for its Irish language content - which meant that the Proclamation's inspiring pledge to treat all the children of the nation equally was turned into complete raimeis (Google Translate it if you must).

To put it mildly, none of this inspires much confidence. Sensitive decisions such as whether or not to invite a member of the British royal family have been put on the long finger.

Some prominent 1916 relatives are threatening to boycott official ceremonies and organise events of their own, with Bill Clinton or one of the Kennedys as potential guest speakers.

These days, Moore Street is a shabby and depressing area in desperate need of a lift. A new history museum would be the ideal solution - but building it seems to be an even harder task than ending British rule.

If the Moore Street fiasco is anything to go by, then Easter 2016 will fall a long way short of the great national celebration that Pearse and Connolly might have hoped for. As things stand, in fact, Easter 2116 is starting to look like a more realistic target.

hnews@herald.ie

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