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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 Paudie Coffey: Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey]  Following on from the Government decision of 31 March this year, approving the acquisition and safeguarding of the national monument, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht arranged for purchasing of the property to allow it to be refurbished and presented as a commemorative centre to be accessible in time for Easter 2016.

A great deal of effort has been made by the Minister and her predecessor to ensure that plans for the national monument secure the retention of the buildings and their historic fabric. In particular, considerable time and effort has been put into finalising the detail of a formal consent by the Minister under the National Monuments Acts, which retain all pre-1916 elements and authorise only appropriate and sympathetic interventions to comply with fire and health and safety regulations.

Earlier proposals to secure the restoration of the national monument through a combination of funding from NAMA and a property exchange between Dublin City Council and the developer within the Dublin central development site did not materialise owing to opposition from a number of elected city councillors who at that time had been supporting a battlefield quarter for the area. The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht subsequently intervened with her own proposals to acquire the national monument, secure it for the Irish nation and its people and restore it to use as a fitting commemorative centre on the site.

This Bill recreates a model, as acknowledged by its proposer in the Seanad debate, along the lines of Temple Bar Properties Limited, which is currently being disbanded and transited to Dublin City Council's control. I have referred to the problematic nature of that model and how policy has moved on. There appears to be limited accountability in the model contained in this Bill. For example, there is provision for the appointment of the directors of the renewal company by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht but there is a question as to why that Minister is involved in this regard when the broad Moore Street area is not designated as a national monument.

There is no provision for the removal of the directors, for their tenure or for any type of democratic accountability by the company, which would be important. On the other hand, we have a model with Dublin City Council and I have spoken of the initiatives that are being taken for the general area. The council has a development plan review process under way that will encompass the area. There are also other important related initiatives alongside the initiative on the Moore Street buildings, including those relating to the GPO visitors' centre, Parnell Square and the tenement museum on Henrietta Street. As I have already indicated, I have confidence in the city council as the appropriate, democratically elected body through which proposals to create a proper and fitting commemorative centre in Moore Street are progressed.

Fianna Fáil is proposing in this Bill that the Government should set up a development company for the Moore Street area. However, we know from recent experience that such models do not work and have encountered difficulties. In addition, it has not been shown or proven how much these proposals would cost the Exchequer and taxpayer. In line with Better Local Government, the Government's policy is to devolve more responsibility to local authorities in respect of their respective areas and not take power from them.

The future of the national monument buildings referred to on Moore Street has been secured and they will be accessible in order that citizens and visitors can learn the history of the 1916 Rising. The debate on this matter in the Seanad last June focused on the commemoration of the 1916 Rising. This is an ideal opportunity in the history of our Republic as we face the centenary of 1916 to reassess what we are about as a country. There are many people in our society who actively support this commemoration, particularly those on the edge of society. The commemoration will lead to a new evaluation of the values that underpin our Republic.

Many of the commemorative events planned are focused on what we want for the next 100 years. We must have a proper investigation of what happened 100 years ago in order that people can appreciate the real sacrifices that were made. Furthermore, we must never shy away from the reality that 1916 was the birth of the Republic in which we now live. It is also important that we constantly reimagine and reaffirm those values written into the Proclamation, including equal rights and opportunities for all our citizens and cherishing all the children of the nation equally. We need to appreciate what happened in the week of the Rising but we must also ask why we are commemorating this important event. We are basically doing it to ensure we can have a proper appreciation of the values that must underpin the modern Republic in which we all live.

While I appreciate the good intentions behind this Bill and the contribution of all Members this evening, I am of the opinion that the current approach taken by the Government in acquiring the national monument on Moore Street and in commissioning conservation works thereon is the correct one and should be commended. I am confident that this will protect the buildings for the Irish nation and its citizens. The buildings and the proposed interpretative centre on that site will be a fitting commemoration of the 1916 Rising and its leaders as well as complementing the new visitor centre being developed in the GPO.

If we take a snapshot of that entire geographical area and consider the work ongoing on the interpretative centre at the GPO, the proposal for an interpretative centre in Moore Street, the tenement museum in Henrietta Street, the proposed development of the Abbey Theatre and the Parnell Square central library, that entire centre and the connectivity between those sites will lift the north inner city area. The north inner city area is worthy and deserving of that.

These projects will significantly enhance the appeal of the area and will bring thousands of new visitors each year with obvious spin-offs for local businesses. This, in turn, will spur on other new developments in the area. They will complement the many other urban regeneration measures being taken by this Government to breathe new life into the community and economy of this significant central part of our capital city.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív May I call for a quorum because there seems to be a distinct lack of interest by the Government in this particular Bill? It is extraordinary that the Minister of State has spoken but there are no backbenchers here.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt There is no provision to call a quorum during Private Members' time.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív It is good to see there is more than one Government Deputy here now.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I call Deputy Mary Lou McDonald. Is the Deputy sharing time?

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald Yes. I am sharing time with Deputy Colreavy.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I understand that I have ten minutes.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Yes, there are 15 minutes in total.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I listened to what the Minister of State had to say but I got the strong impression that he was just going through the motions. He was reading a script that was ably prepared for him by the Civil Service.

The first thing we need to get out of the way is how we define the national monument, which is what is at issue here. The approach commended by the Minister of State is a limited view of a number of houses on the terrace and that is it. He seems to be quite happy to preserve this small amount of the terrace and allow it to live in splendid isolation in a sea of what would - going by the previous proposals - be grotesque commercial developments. The Minister of State seems to be missing the entire point.

Do the Minister of State and Deputy Ó Cuív remember when the Taoiseach spoke about the laneways of history? He visited the site and was clearly moved by the history and the residences there. He called them "the laneways of history".

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív He is moved by a lot of things but he moves very little.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald That is true but this seems to have been set aside and abandoned. The essential point is that however we go about it, we should define the national monument beyond an isolated number of houses in the terrace to encompass the whole area, including the laneways of history. We should truly preserve what is a very historic site.

The Minister of State remarked that the Moore Street area is not designated as a national monument. He seemed to be accusing Deputy Ó Cuív of misconstruing or misunderstanding what the national monument is but he understands that precisely, as all of us do.

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