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1916 Quarter Development Bill 2015: Second Stage [Private Members] (Continued)

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 901 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív] Amazingly, with the election taking place at the end of November or beginning of December, they managed to set up a Parliament. Nowadays, if we were doing that, we would have about five commissions and there would be ten years of a delay. They set up a Parliament on 21 January, although many of the leaders were in prison. If we look at the Dáil record, we will find that every debate that took place in that Parliament was reported verbatim. All one need do is check out and enter any date between 1919 and 1921 and one will find extant every debate that democratic Chamber had.

  That Parliament was extraordinary because, despite the fact the British Government would not recognise the democratic wish, it set up its own consular services in Versailles. It had a massive diplomatic mission to America and it set up consular offices there. It set up its own justice system, courts and police. It had a culture department. There was a big debate in that Dáil, which was very interesting. Cathal Brugha proposed that the Army - the IRA - would come under the control of the Dáil. Extraordinarily, in view of future history, that proposal was seconded by Terence MacSwiney. In a time still to come, Cathal Brugha's son was to marry Terence MacSwiney's daughter in an extraordinary symmetry of history. This concept that has been so fundamental to this State, and which has been different in so many other newly independent states, of the Army coming under the control of the democratic Parliament, was laid in the 1920 period.

  It is only when we look at this total picture and the extraordinary movement that grew out of it that we can then understand why it is important that when we celebrate and commemorate 1916, we do it in a holistic fashion and realise the importance of the event. Sometimes we think things that happen here are important worldwide. Funnily enough, I believe in this case it is the other way around. Too many people see this as a local event rather than a catalytic event that tore down an empire. Therefore, I believe that in commemorating 1916 next year and in subsequent years, there will be huge interest, not only from our own diaspora, but from other nations that became free as a result of what happened in Dublin.

  This brings me to the nub of the Bill. This Bill seeks to ensure that the State takes to itself the power to preserve all of the relevant sites relative to 1916. The huge interest in the Easter Rising right across the country is amazing. People have great pride in their past. I have been contacted by people connected with the Fingal Brigade, for example, and by people and families connected with different battalions, with Boland's Mill, Jacob's and the South Dublin Union. They all believe that as part of the greater totality, but also in their local areas, they should be recognised as part of the Easter Rising.

  Our Bill seeks to set up a 1916 quarter, a company, a 1916 quarter renewal limited. This is based on the Temple Bar model but is slightly more dispersed because the Easter Rising took place in many parts of Dublin. The centre of the Easter Rising was the GPO and the area adjacent to it, particularly Moore Street where the last stand was made. It is important to note also that right around the city, there were other important sites, Jacob's, the College of Surgeons, Boland's Mill, Mount Street, the South Dublin Union, which is now St. James's Hospital, and so on. Some of those places have changed utterly since 1916 but some are unchanged, for example, the schoolhouse in Northumberland Road, which is now a hotel, was left intact. It is important we have a system whereby the State now, and into the future guarantees that these important buildings, the site of this important event, will not be destroyed.

  I would like to address the Moore Street issue. The issue is simple. The State has bought a number of the houses but the difficulty is that the full streetscape of that part of Dublin as it was in 1916 is not guaranteed to be left intact by what the Government is doing and that we will find these four houses in the middle of a modern shopping centre, making it difficult for visitors to visualise the Dublin of 1916. Furthermore, if we continue along this route and the Government does not step in, we could, considering the history of the area, have inappropriate development in Moore Street. The proposal for an Irish language cultural centre in that part of town, which is something we need in the city centre, would make a big contribution to posterity.

  The advice normally given to governments in cases such as this is based on the issue of money. As a Minister, I always saw capital expenditure on a one-off basis as very different from current expenditure. If a government takes on expenditure of €10 million this year on something that will continue in the future, that amounts to €100 million after ten years. However, if a government takes on a one-off capital expenditure, once the money is spent, there is no further demand on the purse. There is a huge difference between necessary capital expenditure and current expenditure. If we look around, we will see where governments in the past took courageous stands and were willing to invest capital. At Newgrange, for example, quite a significant amount was spent but no doubt at the time people argued the moneys could be spent on hospitals or other issues.

  In the context of what we are talking about here, we are asking that in the centenary year, a decision is made to pass this Bill and for a decision to be made then to preserve these sites, starting with the Moore Street site. Appropriate development could then take place under this company that would not destroy the important streetscape. I believe that if we have the courage to make this decision, the Irish people will thank us for doing it as will future generations. It is important we do not allow short-term considerations stand in our way because in ten or 20 years' time, people will say the amount required was a modest enough sum for the benefit achieved by it. Today, a group outside Leinster House was selling bonds to try to raise money from the public to save the Moore Street centre. I commend them on their work. They have taken on a huge task and I was happy to support them and to buy one of the bonds. However, I believe this is really a matter for the Government. It is a matter that is bigger than any one group. The Government, on behalf of the Irish people, should take this step.

  I hope the Minister of State will support this Bill. I hope that in time this decision, if taken, will be seen by the Government to be the right decision. I hope it will be seen as an act of vandalism if we allow this important site to be destroyed. If we are brave enough to take this decision, many visitors from all around the world will visit this site in years to come.

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