Speech by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys TD to Dáil Éireann on the Sinn Féin Private Members Motion in Dáil Éireann re Moore Street
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
I am delighted to have the opportunity to clarify my role and the Government’s plans to put in place a permanent and fitting tribute to the 1916 Leaders in Moore Street.
Before I do that, however, I want to acknowledge the campaign by relatives that led to Nos. 14 to 17 Moore Street – the only remaining substantially original pre 1916 building – being saved.
The Save No.16 Moore Street Committee campaigned for many years to have the location where the 1916 Leaders had their final Council of War properly recognised.
Their commitment led to the making of the Preservation Order under the National Monuments Acts in 2007.
The Preservation Order applied not just to No. 16 but also to Nos. 14, 15 and 17.
Unlike other adjacent properties, these buildings retain significant and extensive internal 18th-century elements, including staircases, partitions, plasterwork, doors, floors, fittings and fixtures. The 18th-century building form and profiles also survive.
But most importantly, we also have physical evidence of the Leaders presence in the form of the openings broken through party walls. These tunnels will be kept and preserved so that the public can see first-hand what the rebels encountered and where they made their final decisions to end the uprising.
Sinn Féin claim they are here tonight because they want to honour the 1916 Leaders.
Unfortunately where Moore Street is concerned, all we are getting from Sinn Féin is disingenuous grandstanding, deliberate misinformation and blatant electioneering.
Sinn Féin claim they want Moore Street protected – yet they opposed the previous 2014 plan which would have allowed for the site to be restored. Most recently they encouraged and supported the people who occupied the site, delaying the important restoration works and jeopardising our chances of being able to allow access to the site during the centenary.
This Government that has taken the only worthwhile and meaningful measures to save and protect this national monument and to honour the people who were there in 1916.
As Minister, I secured Government approval last year to acquire Nos. 14 to 17 for the people of Ireland.
This demonstrated the Government’s commitment to acknowledge and mark the historical importance of the site in a positive and substantive way and to safeguard the long-term future of this historical landmark.
Conservation work commenced on the site in early November, paving the way for the preservation and restoration of these buildings to their 1916 state. It will be a real and fitting tribute to the 1916 Leaders and it is a very important piece of the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme.
People will be able to step back in time, to experience the building as it was when the 1916 Leaders held their last council of war there. Visitors will be able to see the rooms the Leaders were in and to view the passages they broke through. It will be a powerful addition to the many major projects being developed as part of the commemorations.
This will not recreate or re-imagine these buildings. It will return them to their 1916 state and allow them to speak for themselves.
There has been a lot of misinformation about the nature of the works being carried out on the National Monument.
So let me set the record straight.
Conservationists and heritage experts – Lisadell Construction – are carrying out painstaking restorative work to ensure that the building is restored to its condition at the time of the Rising.
This work is being overseen by a Steering Committee, which includes representatives from my own Department, Dublin City Council, OPW, the National Archives and the National Museum of Ireland. Indeed the former Dublin City Conservation Officer is the Conservation Architect on site daily.
Last Monday, following calls from Sinn Féin for an ‘independent inspection’ of the works, the works at the national monument were inspected by a planning team from Dublin City Council, including the city archaeologist at the request of the National Monuments Service.
These officials from Dublin City Council are of course entirely independent from my Department. They have raised absolutely no issues with the work that is underway.
Their independent report is available for all to see on my Department’s website.
Nos.14 15, 16 and 17 Moore Street were first declared a National Monument in 2007. That means it has taken 8 years to get to this point, where restoration works are finally underway. If Sinn Féin get their way, arguments on the future of Moore Street will continue for years to come. Nothing will be done.
And the National Monument will continue to fall into disrepair.
I want to see the works which are already underway continue, so we can stabilise, underpin and conserve the final headquarters of the 1916 Leaders for future generations to enjoy and visit.
It will be somewhere that the public can visit, can be proud of and that will tell the story of 1916 to people from all over the world. The works will return the houses to their 1916 state for which there is ample witness, anecdotal, physical and documentary evidence.
Let me address claims from Sinn Féin and others that the rest of the Moore Street terrace is of historical significance.
Take nos. 24 and 25 Moore Street. These buildings were newly constructed from scratch in the last 20 years or so. They weren’t there in 1906, in 1916, in 1926 or in even 1986. Furthermore, these buildings are currently used as a cleansing depot by the City Council and that have no connection whatsoever with the Rising. They were constructed in the mid-1990s, and yet Sinn Féin claims they are associated with the 1916 Rising.
Sinn Féin also claims that Nos. 22 and 23 Moore Street should be preserved. They are entirely modern and perhaps only 15 or 20 years older that Nos. 24 and 25. That is self-evident from even the most cursory observation.
Immediately next to the national monument are Nos. 18 and 19 which were in ruins at the time of the Rising. This is proven by documentary evidence, including Valuation Records, Thom’s Directory, Dublin Electoral Lists and indeed contemporary witness statements. Quite simply what is there now was not there in 1916.
On the other side of the monument is No. 13 which again can be identified as a new build by just glancing up from Henry Street. It was completely rebuilt decades after the Rising. Its neighbour No. 12 was constructed in the 1970s.
None of these houses has any evidence whatsoever of the presence of the rebels. They are modern inside and out and lack any fixtures, fittings, finishes, partitions, stairs or other original elements.
On the other hand, Nos. 14 to 17 date from the late 18th century. They are the only substantially intact houses in this terrace that predate 1916. They also have the physical scars of the Rising in the form of the openings broken through by the rebels as they tunnelled their way up the Street. They retain significant 18th-century elements, including staircases, partitions, plasterwork, doors, floors, fittings and fixtures.
The removal of the fundamentally new buildings alongside the national monument will allow the historical structures to be underpinned and stabilised, and the gables to be given permanent finishes, protecting them into the future on a permanent basis.
It is worth noting that the restoration of Nos 14-17 Moore Street is one of a number of major buildings projects being undertaken as part of the Government’s Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme. Just around the corner, an immersive new visitor centre is being finalised at the GPO on O’Connell Street. Over in Kilmainham Gaol, visitor facilities are being upgraded.
Major new visitor facilities are being constructed at a number of historically important locations, including Richmond Barracks, the Military Archives and Pearse’s Cottage in Ros Muc. The Government is spending in excess of €30 million on these legacy projects, which is only possible thanks to the economic recovery – another thing which Sinn Féin has opposed.
Finally, I want to refer to where the motion calls for me to create a historical or cultural quarter in the Moore Street/GPO area. No matter how many times I explain my remit as Minister for the Arts, Sinn Féin ignores it.
The vast bulk of the surrounding properties are privately owned. My remit extends simply to the National Monument, which we are preserving. The development of the wider street is a matter for Dublin City Council, where I believe Sinn Féin is the biggest party.
Under the Planning and Development Act 2000, Dublin City Council, as both local government and planning consent authority, is charged with managing the on-going development of this important inner city area of Dublin.
Already, sections of Moore Street and the auxiliary lanes are within the current O’Connell Street Architectural Conservation Area, designated in July 2001, and the O’Connell Street Area of Special Planning Control, adopted by Dublin City Council in September 2009.
These mechanisms operate within the wider policy framework of the Dublin City Development Plan 2011-2017, which is currently under review. It also remains open to the City Council to prepare a statutory local area plan for the area under the provisions of the Planning Acts.
It is somewhat ironic that I am being asked to work through various committees of Dublin City Council which itself is the responsible authority. It would quite simply not be appropriate for me to intervene in the manner suggested, which would, in fact, cut across and undermine the existing statutory processes for the proper the planning and development of this area.
My objective and statutory responsibility in Moore Street is to restore the four historical and original buildings that make up the national monument at Nos. 14 – 17 to their 1916 state and to allow the Irish public to see the marks of that revolution.
The four houses are the only houses in that terrace whose exteriors and interiors pre-date 1916, and which bear the scars and evidence of the presence of the men and women of 1916.
I am not in the business of revising history or rewriting history, unlike the members opposite. And I am certainly not in the business of declaring buildings national monuments when they are only built in the last few decades.
I appeal to everyone in the House to support the Moore Street project so that we will have something to show there for the Commemoration year that we can all be proud of.