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

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Ba mhaith liom an Bille um Fhorbairt Ceathrú 1916 2015 a mholadh don Teach. Beimid ag déanamh comóradh ar Éirí Amach na Cásca agus ar chéad bliain ón Éirí Amach sin an bhliain seo chugainn. Tá sé fíorthábhachtach go ndéanfadh muid comóradh agus ceiliúradh ceart ar an Éirí Amach. Bhí go leor cainte ar an Éirí Amach ach go minic bíonn easpa tuisceana ar thábhacht an Éirí Amach, ní hamháin i stair na tíre seo, ach i stair an domhain. Bíonn daoine ag rá go bhféadfaí saoirse a bhaint amach ar bhealaí eile. Faraor géar, níl sé sin fíor.

I recommend the 1916 Quarter Development Bill to the House. I believe the Bill is important as next year we commemorate and celebrate the 1916 Rising. I think it is very important that we leave a permanent legacy to the generations to come in terms of how we commemorate the Rising.

Before I come to the details of the Bill, I would like to put the 1916 Rising in context. The 1916 Rising is often taken in its military context and obviously that is very important and is in a certain way the subject of the Bill because what we are seeking to preserve are the sites at which the Rising took place. However, to see the Rising in purely military terms is to underestimate the seismic change that came about as a result of the Rising, the legacy that those who survived the Rising took from the Rising and how they went on to build on the Rising in subsequent years.

The world of 1916 was a world in which the British empire dominated on the world scene and where any map of the world would show that the influence of the British empire literally spread across all of the continents. In that context, a very small number of people decided that the only way they could break that empire's grip in this country would be to stage a rising. They believed that, in the events that had happened leading into the First World War and the opposition to home rule, even home rule itself would not come rapidly. Of course, what they aspired to, and what I think history proved the Irish people aspired to, was full independence.

I have always believed that 1916 must be taken in the context of 1919 but it also must be taken in the context of the demise of the British Empire in the following 100 years. The story is recorded that, when the negotiations started in 1921 and Éamon de Valera went over to meet Lloyd George, he had a huge map of the empire and, to try to intimidate de Valera, he asked how little Ireland could stand out against all of this. The reply given was that de Valera would see, within his own lifetime, the demise of that empire. In fact, he did largely see the demise of that empire within his lifetime. However, it is fair to say that what happened in Ireland was the first stone taken out of the edifice - it was the first block removed that made the rest crumble. Therefore, 1916 is a world-important event. Anybody who has had any contact with people who were involved in Indian independence will say that the leaders of India took massive inspiration from the independence movement in Ireland in what they were seeking to do. It is only when we look at 1916 in this wider context that it becomes absolutely imperative that we respect the heritage we have inherited.

As I said, to think of 1916 just as an event of a week or a few weeks is, in my view, to misunderstand exactly what happened. The leaders of the Rising knew, because of the countermanding order and the loss of the shipment of arms on the Aud, that militarily they could not succeed. However, what they also knew was that by making a stand, they would be able to influence and embolden public opinion and encourage people to look for their just rights, as an independent nation, and to believe they could get them.

When we look at 1916, I always believe we cannot do so without looking at the 1918 election and the setting up of the First Dáil. For those who say that 1916 did not have a democratic mandate, they have to look at the first opportunity in a full franchise of men and women that was given after the Rising, in that the Rising got an overwhelming endorsement not only in 1918 but in the subsequent election of 1920. Therefore, to read the 1918 election purely in terms of conscription is, in my view, to miss the point.

Why is the Dáil so important? It is important because we sit in this Dáil and this Dáil takes its numbers from the First Dáil and claims to be the successor of that First Dáil. Let us remember that of the people who were behind the setting up of the Dáil, many were either veterans or relatives of veterans of 1916. The inspiration for the First Dáil, a democratic assembly of the Irish people, free and independent, took its inspiration from 1916. When people talk about the military side of it, they often forget that the Proclamation talks about a government elected by its men and women. They did not see a government set up by military action as being the ideal one; they were very clear they wanted a government and a Dáil elected by the people. At the first opportunity they got, because they were the same people, they set up that Parliament.

One of the extraordinary achievements of this nation is that it is, to my knowledge, the first country that undermined the rule of another country by literally replacing its administration with an alternative administration that had the will of the people. When we talk about the 1919-21 period, we often talk about the War of Independence but what we often ignore is that a proper Parliament was set up.

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 www.oireachtas.ie 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.

They will do so just as they now queue outside Kilmainham Gaol, which was saved by a voluntary committee in the 1960s. I was often there in the 1960s when they were doing it and it is now one of the treasured and iconic sites belonging to the State, where one must queue to get in. The GPO, its interpretive centre and Moore Street - with the traders on that street part of the scene - will become one of the "must visit" places on a tour of Dublin. People will come to spend hours there if we have the courage to act.

I recommend the Bill to the House. I hope we will not divide on it because I do not want a division. Nobody wants that. In putting forward the Bill, Fianna Fáil is hoping we will endorse a decision that the Government can take to preserve these sites and ensure they remain for posterity, so the physical legacy of 1916 can be preserved. These are places where, for example, The O'Rahilly wrote his last letter to his wife and where the surrender note was written.

I always think that one of the very great decisions of the Rising was the decision to call it off in order to save civilian lives. That becomes an even greater decision when one realises that those who signed the surrender note knew they were signing their own death warrants. They did not glory in slaughter and they wanted to preserve civilian lives. Therefore, the place where that incredibly brave decision was taken should never be destroyed and it should be preserved for posterity.

I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on the Bill put forward by my colleague, Deputy Ó Cuív. We are all aware of the importance of 1916 and its commemoration next year. Deputy Ó Cuív has been to the forefront in our party in ensuring that we are leading this commemoration by establishing the commemoration committee, or Coiste 1916, which is chaired by the Deputy. He has been doing tremendous work in ensuring that the celebrations next year will come to the fore and the descendants of the people involved in 1916 can have a place of honour and pride in the those commemorations.

This Bill deals with the Moore Street area and I will come back to that in a few minutes. I wish to reflect on the connection between 1916 and my county and town of Enniscorthy, each year the local authority and community of which have been to the fore in celebrating on Easter Monday for probably 50 or 60 years. There is mass in the cathedral and people march to the market square in order to lay wreaths at the monument. It is important that such actions are recognised. The national celebrations next year will be significant but generations of people in Enniscorthy have kept the commemorations to the fore, recognising the important role played by Enniscorthy as one of the few towns outside Dublin that supported Pearse and his comrades in the 1916 Rising.

In March 1916, Pádraig Pearse visited Enniscorthy for the commemoration of Robert Emmet, the republican leader hanged for his rising of 1803. In public, in the Athenaeum Theatre, Pearse delivered what Paul Galligan remembered as an "impressive" lecture on Emmet. The Enniscorthy battalion provided a guard of honour. Such rallies, like the funeral of O'Donovan Rossa in Dublin in 1915, allowed the Volunteers to openly flout the authority of the British state. John O'Reilly from Enniscorthy remembered, "We had the buildings under armed guard that night and were prepared to resist any interference from the RIC or other authorities." In private, Pearse told Volunteer officers such as Séamus Doyle that the orders for an armed uprising would come soon. In Enniscorthy, the Athenaeum was made the republican headquarters, over which flew the green, white and orange tricolour flag. We have heard much about the tricolour first being flown in Waterford but people from Enniscorthy and Wexford in general would contend that they flew the tricolour flag at the same time as Waterford. History has since shown that this may have been the case.

As I mentioned, Enniscorthy has been to the forefront in celebrating every Easter Monday. In 1994 or 1995, it was not popular to invite a person from Sinn Féin to events but the then chairman of Enniscorthy Urban Council invited Mr. Martin McGuinness to the celebrations. It was not very popular, as I stated, and some people resigned, while ex-Army personnel left the function when Mr. McGuinness arrived. We in Enniscorthy maintain that we sowed the first seeds of what was to become the Good Friday Agreement by accepting Mr. McGuinness into the fold on that occasion. We had Comóradh Éirí Amach na Cásca for years, with descendants of those who took part in the 1916 Rising being involved through the years in keeping the celebration going. We now have the 1916 committee, which will prepare the celebrations for Enniscorthy and Wexford in general next year. Books have been written recently by Professor Henry Goff, who wrote a history of 1916, and Mr. Bernard Browne, son of a former Fine Gael councillor, the late John Browne. The book is on the poetry and literature of 1916 from Wexford. It is important to recognise that the celebrations must go on outside Dublin as well. Some recognition has been given to towns like Enniscorthy, Ashbourne and Galway. Last Sunday, we saw the commemoration to Liam Mellows in Castletown, Wexford, another Volunteer of that era.

Many relatives of leaders of 1916 are to the fore now in the preparations in my hometown. They are seeking to represent families at the celebrations in Dublin. Some have received invitations but others have not. It is important to invite as many people from rural Ireland as possible whose relatives were involved with 1916 to the celebrations in Dublin. It is not just a Dublin event and the role of the families and descendants should be recognised. Enniscorthy will participate in the laying of wreaths at the same time as Dublin, Ashbourne and Deputy Ó Cuív's county of Galway. It is important that wreaths should be laid simultaneously across the four areas. That would recognise the importance of rurally based 1916 commemorations.

Tonight's debate is about Moore Street and the historic buildings there, including No. 16 Moore Street, the last headquarters of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic during the 1916 Easter Rising. Volunteers broke into the houses on Moore Street, tunnelled their way through the terrace and took up new positions in each house, making No. 16 the headquarters.

As many as 300 Irish Volunteers and members of Cumann na mBan escaped to the building from the GPO after it caught fire following bombardment by British artillery during Easter week 1916. The buildings were designated a national monument in 2007 by the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Dick Roche. Given that they are a national monument, the current Minister has a duty to ensure the buildings do not descend into permanent decay. It is very easy for the latter to happen to buildings. The Athenaeum, which was the headquarters in Enniscorthy at the time, fell into serious decay over the years. Following representation from all of us, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform allocated €1.3 million a few months ago for the renovation of the Athenaeum. These renovations are under way and it will be one of the key buildings next year. One of the major events will be its opening next Easter. We accept and recognise the contribution of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in making such a large sum of money available for the renovation of the Athenaeum. It is an iconic building that is steeped in history. It had fallen into decay but is now being restored to its former glory, which is very welcome.

The forthcoming centenary of the 1916 Rising marks an important milestone in the history of the Republic. The Easter Rising defined us as a country. It does not belong to any one party but rather to the people of Ireland. I accept that some historians in recent years may have tried to rewrite the history of 1916 but it is important that we accept 1916 warts and all and accept that those involved made a valiant effort to secure freedom for our people after many years of British rule. As Deputy Ó Cuív noted, the 150 descendants of nearly 300 participants in the Rising must be central to any State celebrations. This is why I said earlier that the descendants of participants in Enniscorthy should be given recognition at both local and national level.

The Government has been criticised for operating in a haphazard way and possibly taking a disinterested approach but we appreciate the allocation of money by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. He made sure of this following representations from Oireachtas Members, the 1916 committee, the county manager in Wexford and many more people who argued for recognition of the role played by Enniscorthy in the celebrations and in the renovation of the Athenaeum.

In many ways, the Easter Rising in County Wexford was a follow-on from the 1798 rebellion. Wexford is famous for that era when Wexford people, led by Fr. John Murphy, fought at Vinegar Hill, Tubberneering and other areas of the county. If one traces back the people involved in the 1916 Rising, one will find that many of them were descendants of families that were involved in the 1798 rebellion. They were still involved. We have a continuation of these families who are very much at the heart of the celebrations of 1916. The people of Wexford and Enniscorthy take great pride in celebrating 1916. Every Easter Monday, we celebrate and recognise the magnificent role played by the people there at that time. Enniscorthy is a small town but one that played a significant role in both 1798 and 1916 in the fight for Irish freedom. The Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, is here tonight. I know that Waterford played a part as well. I hope we will recognise the importance of Moore Street and that the Government will consider taking on board the Bill put forward by Deputy Ó Cuív. A great deal of time and effort has gone into preparing it. The Bill is not about Deputy Ó Cuív, it is about recognising the importance of Moore Street. I have not been in Moore Street very often. I visited the markets a couple of times but the people out there recognise the significance of the Moore Street buildings from Nos. 14 to 17 and the need to renovate and restore them and give them the status they deserve. We fully support the site becoming a museum devoted to the events of 1916. It is very important that we would have a museum to that effect. Enniscorthy Castle, which is a museum, contains a lot of artefacts and family mementoes of 1916 and further back. I can say categorically that people visit the castle on a regular basis and have a great sense of pride in the role played by the people in 1916.

Our Bill now goes further and seeks to redevelop the entire Moore Street area and its environs. Our councillors have campaigned with other councillors for the restoration of Moore Street and for the buildings to be taken into State ownership by Dublin City Council. Senator Darragh O'Brien introduced the Bill in the Seanad and Deputy Ó Cuív amended and introduced it in the Dáil.

The debate this evening and tomorrow night is very significant at this time. We are five months away from celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising - a milestone in our history and a milestone in setting this country on the road to freedom, including economic freedom which is as important as any other type. We have ploughed a long furrow over the past 100 years. Last Sunday in Castletown, Seán Haughey asked what the leaders of 1916 would think of us today. How would they react to some of the things that are happening in this country? It is a different era and time but we must recognise that the men and women of 1916 led the way forward for the freedom of this country, including its economic freedom. It is for us as a people who are now custodians of democracy in this country to make sure it is protected and enhanced and that we look back every so often. Next Easter will give us an opportunity to look back and realise the sacrifices made by the people at that time. By looking back and taking inspiration from their leadership, we can move forward as a country to make it one in which all of our people can live in freedom, equality and fraternity.

I thank the House and Deputy Ó Cuív for being afforded the opportunity to speak on the 1916 Quarter Development Bill 2015. At the outset and while Deputy Browne is here, I must state that, as a Waterford man, I cannot concede that the Irish tricolour was first flown in Wexford. I think it is well known that Thomas Francis Meagher, the great American, Irish and Waterford patriot, unveiled the flag at 33 The Mall in Waterford on 7 March 1848. That event is celebrated annually by the Thomas Francis Meagher committee, which has a very public event that celebrates that very important event in our history. I had the honour of addressing the celebration earlier this year. I do, however, agree with Deputy Browne and all Deputies that it is essential that all of our people have the opportunity to remember and celebrate the events of 1916. It is a shared history and heritage that must never be forgotten and it is important that all communities in all counties have an opportunity to remember in whatever way they see fit with the support of the State those who went before us and fought and played their part in Irish freedom.

The primary aim of the Bill is to establish two new limited companies to be known as 1916 quarter renewal limited and 1916 quarter properties limited, both financed by the State to approve respectively the use of existing or proposed buildings and premises in the Moore Street area and to act as a development company to oversee the development of the area for approved 1916-related activities and uses, including commercial developments. The Bill further proposes that the development company would have functions for the compulsory acquisition of land in the Moore Street area and the Minister for Finance would have a power to guarantee borrowings by 1916 quarter properties limited. However, while appreciating the constructive motivations behind the Bill, and genuinely wanting to acknowledge this and that the Moore Street area is of significant historical importance in the gaining of Irish independence and the formation of the State, I cannot accept it.

The role of the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is primarily concerned with the protection and conservation of the national monument comprising Nos. 14 to 17 Moore Street. That Minister has no role in planning and development in the wider Moore Street area, which is under the remit of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in conjunction with the relevant local planning authority or other designated development authority. Indeed, there could be a conflict of roles where on the one hand, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is charged with safeguarding our built heritage, notably the national monument comprising Nos. 14 to 17 Moore Street, and on the other hand, would be supporting development that could also potentially adversely impact the national monument and other historic buildings or fabric in the Moore Street area.

Following a Government decision of 31 March 2015, Nos. 14 to 17 Moore Street were acquired by the State during the summer after other initiatives to save the buildings had not proved successful. The Government's decision to purchase and preserve these buildings recognises their historical importance for our nation and will ensure that the long-term future of this landmark will be protected and safeguarded. Bringing them into public ownership also allows for the development of a 1916 commemorative centre on the site. The Government has since awarded a contract for a comprehensive scheme of conservation works on the national monument buildings. The works have already commenced and will be completed during the 2016 centenary year. The restoration will reveal the period architectural detail, the living conditions and above all, the imprint of the insurgency. The primary focus of the work is to show the buildings as they were during the 1916 Rising, allowing them to illuminate that critical and important chapter in our history. The new commemorative centre will act as a lasting tribute to the 1916 leaders, allowing people to step back in time to the dramatic final moments of the Rising. Coupled with the new visitor centre being developed in the GPO, which will be just a few minutes' walk away, the Moore Street commemorative centre will be a fitting and permanent tribute to the Easter Rising and its leaders who played a very important role in gaining our national independence and indeed influenced and inspired other countries along a similar path.

I note that the proposed Bill is aimed at controlling development of the area surrounding the national monument site, which lands are in private ownership and which are the subject of legitimate planning permission for specific development works. It would be inappropriate for me or any other authority to interfere in that process. When it comes to urban development and regeneration, I, as Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government have primacy and the Department is already active with various initiatives that beneficially affect the Moore Street area. The proposed Bill would only serve to complicate rather than streamline the various measures in place. For example, in 2012, the Government published "Putting People First - An Action Programme for Effective Local Government". At its core, this programme proposes the local government system be the primary vehicle for overall economic and community development at local level, including the regeneration aspects of that brief. That action programme more widely sets out an overall vision for local government to be the principal vehicle of governance and public service at local level leading economic, social and community development, delivering efficient and good value services, and representing citizens and local communities effectively and accountably. Consistent with this overall vision, Government policy is to build on the local government process and not to establish separate or parallel public bodies or organisations distinct from the local government system unless, in exceptional circumstances, the need for this is clearly demonstrated.

Moreover, the model for the establishment of the proposed special development vehicles is based on previous such vehicles for example, Temple Bar Properties and Dublin Docklands Authority, which are currently being disbanded. The establishment of further State bodies of this nature is contrary to the Government's policy to create efficiencies in the delivery of public services and savings in expenditure. Regeneration initiatives of this nature have now moved on to a new phase that build on enhanced local authority capability in this area rather than setting up new bodies to undertake similar actions. Under the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, Dublin City Council, as both local government and planning consent authority, is the most appropriate entity to manage the continuing development of this important inner city area of Dublin. Already, sections of Moore Street and the auxiliary lanes are within the 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.

The main objectives of the Bill are unclear in terms of compliance with the current Dublin City development plan process and objectives for the inner city area of Dublin City. A development approach such as that proposed in the Bill could be impractical given the variety of private, commercial and publicly-owned properties within its remit, and the process involved in setting up the supporting statutory provisions could be difficult. Furthermore, the size of the area in question and its variety of property types does not on a practical level, lend itself to the type of development model envisaged. Indeed, management of a national monument is best developed, managed and promoted as a specific proposal in tandem with Dublin City Council and other key stakeholders. These mechanisms operate within the wider policy framework of the Dublin City Development Plan 2011-2017, which is under review and was recently put out to public consultation.

It remains open to the city council to prepare a statutory local area plan for the area under the provisions of the Planning and Development Act 2010. Dublin City Council would be the relevant authority to oversee implementation of such a plan. Therefore, an extensive array of planning policies and actions has been put in place for which the city council is the relevant statutory implementation body. Taking into account that the local government, planning policy and development consent, and conservation policy and implementation issues pertaining to this area have already been broadly settled, it is unclear what additional clarity or impetus over and above the role of Dublin City Council, could be brought to the need for the regeneration of this area. I have full confidence in the city council's ability to manage the area using the policy already settled and the measures already in place. Government policy and my policy as Minister of State for the Environment, Community and Local Government is to build on the local government process and not to establish separate or parallel public bodies or organisations distinct from the local government system.

There is, however, a much wider dimension to this and there was a context for it during the previous administration's tenure. That Government commissioned the special group on public service numbers and expenditure programme, more commonly known as an bord snip nua, to examine, among other things, the rationalisation of State agencies with a view to saving money in the delivery of services. Those same principles apply today.

On a technical note, section 13 of the Bill proposes that the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht would act as guarantor on moneys owed by the new development company. Under Article 17.2 of the Constitution the inclusion of such a financial clause in the Bill, without the support of the Government, would be unconstitutional and therefore cannot be enacted. I am also at a loss as to why the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is given the primary role in this Bill as her role has nothing to do with planning and development. I suspect that it is in some way to do with the Minister's role in the national monument at Nos. 14 to 17 Moore Street which has been acquired for the State by her Department.

No. 16 Moore Street is where the decision to surrender was made by the leaders of the 1916 Rising. Nos. 14-17 Moore Street were declared a national monument in 2007 as the most authentic and complete examples of surviving pre-1916 Moore Street buildings associated with the Rising. The monument buildings have been privately owned as part of a property portfolio for the proposed Dublin central development site extending over Moore Street, Henry Street and O'Connell Street.

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.

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.

There is no provision to call a quorum during Private Members' time.

It is good to see there is more than one Government Deputy here now.

I call Deputy Mary Lou McDonald. Is the Deputy sharing time?

Yes. I am sharing time with Deputy Colreavy.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I understand that I have ten minutes.

Yes, there are 15 minutes in total.

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".

He is moved by a lot of things but he moves very little.

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.

We are urging that the national monument be more broadly cast and more inclusive. If the Minister of State believed what he said about commemorating the Rising but, more importantly, about underpinning and reaffirming those values as the ones on which we will build a republic - we do not yet live in one, by the way - he would understand the concept of monument much more broadly than the very narrow and mean definition with which he is running.

The Minister of State seems to misunderstand that part of Dublin which Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan and I happen to represent; it is included in our Dáil constituency. He has no appreciation of the sensitivity the area deserves. It is clearly lost on him that there has been massive uncertainty and speculation about all of these issues, which is a matter of public concern. It is not a hobbyhorse for a limited number of parliamentarians or a narrow section of society.

One really would have thought that we had learned a few hard lessons from the destruction of our Viking heritage at Wood Quay or the demolition of the outstanding Georgian facades on St. Stephen's Green which were wanton acts of destruction. It was vandalism, pure and simple. We know that now, but at the time when these things were done, people stood up and defended them in the same monotone going-through-the-motions way the Minister of State has adopted and explained the value of modernity and modernisation and so on. We should have learned the lesson that we should protect that which is precious. We should have learned the lesson that if, on the one hand, we are to extol the virtues of the Rising and the women and men who led and fought at the time, we should actually respect the heritage, including the built heritage and geography of where these historic events took place.

It beggars belief that a proposal for a 1916 quarter and a revolutionary quarter would be mired in controversy. The arguments over the preservation of this battlefield site date back beyond the term of the Government. Previous Governments were equally guilty of allowing uncertainty to fester and this area of national and international significance to fall into disrepair, ruin and decay. It is dereliction de facto. Sinn Féin has been consistent throughout this process in arguing strongly that we should protect this revolutionary site. We have repeatedly raised the issue and our concerns about the preservation of the battlefield site at Dublin City Council and Oireachtas level. Serious questions remain unanswered, particularly about the dealings management at Dublin City Council has had with the developers originally involved in what was to be the development of the site. I am sure the Minister of State is aware of these controversies. The existing site and plans could only be said to have been pulled together by dubious means. The process has been scandal ridden from the very start.

The original proposal was for a huge shopping centre. Imagine it as a legacy to the women and men of 1916, as an edifice to honour the Republic. It was, of course, made all the more distasteful against the background of dubious dealings I have mentioned. The proposal for a giant shopping centre was originally put forward by the developer Joe O’Reilly’s company, Chartered Land. Later, a block of properties owned by his company became part of NAMA’s loan portfolio, appropriately enough called Project Jewel. The properties included sites between O’Connell Street and Moore Street and the area involved covered much of the 1916 battlefield site. Excluded from the portfolio is a small terrace section on Moore Street, the site of the last headquarters of the 1916 leaders. This portfolio of properties has now been sold to the English-based company, Hammerson, in partnership with Allianz. We, in Sinn Féin, have written to Hammerson requesting a meeting. We have made it aware of our concerns about the use it may make of some of the properties it has acquired and which are of significant national importance. Although not open to a meeting, it has acknowledged the historical significance of the sites it has acquired in Project Jewel that include areas around Moore Street.

While the future of Nos. 14 to 17 Moore Street has been safeguarded by the Government, all else remains at risk. It is hard for me to grasp that the Minister of State would commend this approach as though it were some great achievement. It is minimalism taken to the nth degree. I go so far as to say it shows marked disrespect for Dublin's north inner city, the Rising, its leaders and the values of the Republic.

Let us consider some of what is in jeopardy. The location of the first council of war by the rebels as they fled the GPO was No. 10 Moore Street. What about Nos. 20 and 21 Moore Street? They also hold great historical significance because at this location the surrender order was accepted after consultation with Tom Clarke, Seán Mac Diarmada, Joseph Plunkett and Michael Collins. Why would the Government jeopardise this? As we draw towards the conclusion of 2015 and look to the centenary, how on earth could any Minister with an ounce of cop-on or half an ounce of self-respect stand in this Chamber and say this is an acceptable way to proceed? It is not. The Minister of State still has an opportunity to do the right thing and preserve our history before it is lost to developers.

The Minister of State mentioned economic development. I have a natural interest in the economic development and vibrancy of the north inner city of Dublin, as do all Dubliners and people across the country. I ask the Minister of State to imagine the battlefield preserved and being developed appropriately as a magnet in the heart of rebel Dublin for visitors and Irish people. That would be the right thing to do. I urge the Government to take that course of action with all haste.

Almost 100 years ago, Dublin and the entire island of Ireland were in a state of desperation. Unemployment was rampant. There was a massive rate of child mortality and swelling slums were rife. The only option many people had was to be shipped off to the killing fields of Europe to spill their blood for their imperialist oppressor. Out of this despair and destitution, arrived the men and women of 1916 who offered Irish people an alternative vision. They offered a republic that would guarantee equal rights and equal opportunities for all its citizens and declared its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally. The hope and vision they offered to Ireland, to strike for her freedom, are as true today as they were 100 years ago. Ireland today is searching for hope in turbulent economic times. Similar to the conditions in which the men and women of 1916 found themselves, we are at the whim of foreign rulers and foreign markets. There is no finer example of courage and determination than the one the men and women of 1916 set.

For the past 100 years we have drawn inspiration from their heroism and as we are now in these difficult times we should still draw inspiration from them into the future, yet, a Government in this country would even consider not securing the Moore Street battlefield site. The buildings are not just bricks and mortar; the area is a symbol of why we exist as a country and as a people. The environs of Moore Street make up a very important part of our story as a nation because from that block with its small rooms and lanes emerged this Parliament. Every person who stands and speaks in this Chamber owes allegiance to those who occupied the environs of Moore Street. Future generations will condemn any politician or Government that would allow the vandalisation of this precious monument.

Seán Mac Diarmada came from north Leitrim. His cottage is preserved as it was when he was alive. The vandalisation that will be visited on the Moore Street area is as bad as what Seán Mac Diarmada would see if he were alive today and looking out his window. He would see the beautiful rolling hills and drumlins but in 20 years' time he would perhaps see fracking wells. Imagine that. How would he feel if we were to vandalise that beautiful area for the benefit of the very few? If the men and women of 1916, who showed such courage and leadership, came back, what would they say about the vandalisation of that area of Moore Street? We must stop the penny-pinching. One can get shopping malls a hundred a dime in any country in the world but there is one and only one battlefield site in the centre of Dublin. It should be there for the next century and the next thousand years. We should do the right thing by it.

We know the central role of the GPO from the reading of the Proclamation until the evacuation on the Thursday. That evacuation went out of the GPO into Henry Street, Moore Street, Moore Lane and the surrounding areas. Every step and few yards on that route tells a story of the various men and women involved – the Volunteers, the Citizen Army, the IRB and Cumann na mBan – who fought and defended so many places on that route until they dug their way through No. 10 Moore Street into Nos. 14 to 17. While Nos. 14 to 17 Moore Street have been designated as a national monument it is the opinion of many historians, relatives, supporters and many others that the whole area is a battlefield site of immense historical and cultural significance and it deserves so much more than it is being given.

While Nos. 14 to 17 Moore Street will be preserved as a national monument, that will be accompanied by the total obliteration of the laneways of history. I do not understand this disregard for places of historical significance in that all we want to do is knock them down. We lost so much of Viking Dublin, Tara, the Mendicity Institution and we very nearly lost Kilmainham Gaol. Are we now going to lose another area of great historical significance and for what – another shopping mall, another shopping centre in an area surrounded by shops and shopping centres when we see shops such as Clerys and Boyers being closed?

When I asked for the independent comprehensive assessment on the site the Minister refused, saying an assessment had been carried out. Who was it done by? It was the same developer who wants to knock down the whole area and would have knocked down Nos. 14 to 17 Moore Street if he had the opportunity. It is the same developer who allowed the whole site, including Nos. 14 to 17, fall into dereliction and disrepair. The Minister also said in her reply that there had been detailed consideration and appraisal of all the relevant factors. I find that incredible because all the relevant factors have not been taken into consideration. If they were, we would be treating the whole area with much more respect in acknowledgement of all that had gone on, not just in Nos. 14 to 17 but on the surrounding streets and laneways.

The Myles battlefield report identified the whole area as a monument and acknowledged what happened on that journey, where so many people were killed. We have O’Brien’s Mineral Water building in Henry Place, which was occupied by the Volunteers. The White House was occupied and held by Michael Collins. No. 10 was where the first council of war was held and there was an overnight stay. The Bottling Store was occupied. Hanlon's – Nos. 20 to 21 – was where the surrender order was accepted by the Volunteers. O’Rahilly Parade is that most moving place where a letter was written from The O’Rahilly to his wife. How could we possibly say that a comprehensive assessment was carried out when all of that is being ignored? That area is the link between the GPO, Kilmainham Gaol and Richmond Barracks.

There is a need now for a more innovative, dignified, respectful vision for the area. There is potential for a historical cultural quarter with appropriate small businesses or arts centres in the area, and above all of that, housing because there was a time when people lived in Moore Street. That type of development very much complements the historic street trading tradition because a massive shopping centre with discount supermarkets is going to bring an end to the traders and the stall holders who are already struggling. The Taoiseach’s response to me on Leaders’ Questions was that the decade of centenary commemorative events must be inclusive, sensitive and appropriate. It is not sensitive and it is not appropriate to surround Nos. 14 to 17 Moore Street in this most inappropriate way, by being dwarfed by a shopping centre. Permission has been granted for a hotel on Moore Lane, which means we are going to lose O’Rahilly Parade for what will be a service entrance to the hotel. Where is the appropriateness and the sensitivity in that?

I have been asking questions repeatedly of the Minister and I am not getting answers. Who valued Nos. 14 to 17 Moore Street at €4 million? Why was it valued at that amount? Surely €4 million would have bought the whole terrace? Were the buildings purchased by a CPO under a State order? If so, why could the whole area not have been purchased in that way? Who has costed the restoration at €5 million? A contractor has been named for Nos. 14 to 17 Moore Street. I have made inquiries but I have still not received an answer about when the project went out to tender, how many tenders were received and who, why and how the particular contractor was chosen. The irony of ironies is that it is the ministerial consent order of the Chartered Land team that had in its plan the destruction of the entire area is being adopted.

Dr. Pat Wallace said that any consent should be mindful of the national historical importance of the whole Moore Street area. Seamus Lyham said the national monument exists within a historic battlefield. When the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, was Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government she said there are specific guidelines in regard to developments that affect a protected structure or an architectural conservation area. The Imperial War Museum said the area is the only city-based 20th century battlefield site in all of Europe to survive and that is under threat now.

Dr. Wallace said that once one allows the destruction of buildings and their neighbourhood ambience, one cannot bring them back. We cannot bring them back if we allow them to be destroyed. It is okay if the Government does not wish to accept the Fianna Fáil Bill but could it come up with something that would respect the entire area for its historical significance because that would be fitting, dignified and respectful?

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 10 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 16 December 2015.