I should like to support some of what Senator Rooney has been saying about Nelson's Pillar. Nelson, I think, had no relevance at all to Dublin either good or bad, except that the shopkeepers of Dublin in the early years of the last century decided to express their gratitude to him, as they saw it, for keeping, or helping to keep, Napoleon out of the country, and they put up this pillar. Obviously, Nelson never did any good to Dublin nor did he do any harm. There is no special animus against him.
In the years between our gaining political freedom of this portion of the country and the blowing up of the statue there was ample opportunity for anybody who was concerned and in a position of authority, to replace the statue of Nelson with anybody they pleased. I mention no names; but there would have been obvious candidates. Mammon would have been a good candidate, or perhaps the Golden Calf, or one of his more modern disciples, but without necessarily deciding what statue best typifies or symbolises our modern society, nobody would have shed tears if the statue of Nelson had been taken down publicly and some other statue had been put up. I think it would have been too much to expect that a statue of somebody like Pearse or Connolly would have been put up there, but almost any statue publicly approved could have been put up. However, the corporation did not do anything about it, nor did the Minister for Local Government, or the Government. There was, in fact, no action taken.
When in 1966 the pillar was half blown down by a person or persons unknown, I, as a Dubliner, felt a sense of loss, not because of Nelson—one could hardly see Nelson at the top— but because this pillar symbolised for many Dubliners the centre of the city. It had a certain rugged, elegant grace about it, apart from the kind of little cage at the top which was there to prevent people jumping off. It had a rugged, elegant grace about it which marked the city as something different from a city which had grown mushroom-like in the last few decades.
The pillar went back to the early days of the 19th Century and most people would agree, when looking at prints of old Dublin showing O'Connell Street, Upper O'Connell Street or Sackville Street, the old O'Connell Bridge, which was first called Carlisle Bridge, with the pillar in the background, they see the city and O'Connell Street with a grace which is sadly lacking today. The only thing of elegance left in O'Connell Street now—apart from the statue of O'Connell, and one can argue about that, although I personally have rather an affection for it— is the General Post Office. O'Connell Street now has a ring of Piccadilly Circus about it, with the new buildings, which have been erected to replace the destroyed ones, covered in advertising matter. The man who destroyed the pillar made Dublin look more like Birmingham and less like an ancient city on the River Liffey, because the presence of the pillar gave Dublin an internationally known appearance.
I remember being taken by my father, who was an Ulster man brought up in County Down, to Belfast. I was about six at the time and I remember asking him where the middle of Belfast was, and he told me that it was "that kiosk over there". I looked with childish Dublin pride perhaps at something which seemed to me to be totally inadequate in the light of my six years of experience, at what was the centre of this big city, because I remembered Dublin's Nelson's Pillar. I remember the look of the pillar; I remember climbing the pillar; I remember the view from the top; I remember the way in which it stood in front of the General Post Office and it was something I admired even at the age of six without knowing why. I suggest that most Dubliners, and many who are not Dubliners, had this kind of perhaps irrational affection for this monument.
I saw recently a poster about Ireland, I am not sure by which organisation it was issued so I shall not mention the name, in a shop window in a provincial town. It was a new poster advertising Ireland, with a picture of Dublin and O'Connell Street, including the pillar, and I think that is not without significance. Some people say they like the vista, the blankness, because more cars can be parked there, but I feel that is the rising of a materialistic civilisation, a utilitarian view, which would wipe away anything which gets in the way of the money-grubbing which has become such a powerful influence in our society today.
Those who are advertising our country by showing fine colour pictures of O'Connell Street with the pillar are showing a sense of the value and the rugged, elegant grace of something we have lost.
The Government removed with indecent haste the remaining half of the pillar, the base and half the column, which remained standing after the attack by a person or persons unknown. They did so without consulting the public, the corporation, the Arts Council and without taking the advice of any responsible body in the city or in the country. They simply rushed in to complete the work of the vandals who had knocked off the top. Why did they do that? I should like to hear from the Minister, who I think is in a position to answer such a question, why were the Government in such a hurry? I can imagine some sort of case being made on account of structural uncertainty, but why the rush and why the lack of consultation? Why were they so eager to get rid of it so fast, when for 40 years or more they had not done anything to replace the statue of Nelson by the statue of somebody more in keeping with Irish aspirations or Irish history?
In section 2, subsection (1) of this Bill I notice it says:
The Corporation shall pay to the trustees the following sums by way of compensation.
I suppose this is a common form of legislation but it seems to me a little bit arbitrary. It seems to me the Dublin Corporation might well ask the Minister: "Have you, even with the best intention of recouping us, really got the power to legislate and say: `The Corporation shall pay' ?" I am aware the Minister is strongly of the opinion in certain other matters that he has power to force the Corporation to do things. I wonder have we the right to say that "The Corporation shall pay the following sums". I know, of course, the Minister says in his speech and I quote from it:
No part of the compensation to be paid to the trustees under section 2 of the Bill will be borne by the Dublin city ratepayers. I have obtained the approval of the Government to the recoupment from the Exchequer of the total amount involved and provision will be made accordingly in my Department's Vote for the current year.
This is the Minister's statement that once we say "The Corporation shall pay" he commits himself to the promise that the Exchequer will recoup the Corporation.
There is nothing about that in the Bill, however. I cannot help wondering why there is not any section in the Bill to say "The Minister shall recoup the Corporation" or "The Exchequer shall recoup the Corporation for the total amount involved". After all, on the one hand, we have the Bill demanding, writing it down, instructing the Corporation to pay this compensation, and, on the other hand, we have just a speech by the Minister, a few words by the Minister.
I am not suggesting he is not telling the truth, and I am prepared to recognise that in the Estimates for his Department such an item appears, but I should feel happier if it were also to appear in this Bill just as the requirement placed on the Corporation appears in this Bill. Possibly there is some legitimate explanation for this but, unless the Minister can satisfy me on this, I should like to see it included in this Bill as a promise of his intention or, better still, of our intention, the intention of the Oireachtas, that the Exchequer shall pay. I feel it should be decided and laid down in this Nelson Pillar Bill and not merely included in an Estimate for his Department.
In section 2, subsection (1), paragraph (a) the sum of £21,750 is mentioned. This is to be paid by the Corporation to the trustees for the damage caused to the Pillar on the 8th day of March, 1966, and the subsequent removal of the pillar. Senator Rooney has pointed out that this is really two items, the damage done by persons unknown and the damage done by persons known. I should like a breakdown of that figure. How much of the £21,750 is to compensate the trustees for the damage done by persons unknown and how much is to compensate the trustees for the damage done by persons only too well known? What is the breakdown? Is it 50/50 or one-third/two-thirds? How does it go? How much of that sum does the Minister regard the Government and the Army as having been responsible for? What proportion of the damage was done by them?
I think this is an important point because, in trying to assess damage to other property round about, it would be interesting to be able to apportion the amount that could be attributable to malicious damage by persons unknown and theoretically non-malicious damage done by Government authority. I should like, therefore, to have a breakdown on this figure. I should also like something more specific than the words "the subsequent removal of the Pillar". There should be some wording in this clause which indicates that the Government went in and directed further demolition and removal of the not inconsiderable portion of the pillar which remained standing after the initial attempt of partial destruction. I think that there is here a bit of covering up, that it is made to seem just as if a few stones were left and the Government went in and had them removed. There was a lot more left than a few stones. There was the whole base of the pillar and about half of the column was left on top of it, quite easily repairable. Quite a number of buildings in a worse state have been repaired.