I am very pleased to see that we have representatives of all seven signatories in the Visitors Gallery today. This is an historic day in some ways. I welcome them all. It is my pleasure to give the Government position on this matter and to take some questions and make some comments at the end of the debate following contributions made by Members of the Upper House.
The Government fully appreciates the historical significance of the site of the last military actions of the 1916 Rising leaders, Pearse, Connolly, Plunkett and MacDermott. Their actions and self-sacrifice, the centenary of which will be upon us in just five years, laid the foundations for the establishment of the Irish State. It was for these reasons that in January 2007, the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Dick Roche, placed a preservation order on Nos. 14-17 Moore Street, Dublin under section 8 of the National Monuments Act 1930. The purpose of the preservation order was to ensure the preservation of No. 16 Moore Street in the context of the wider redevelopment proposals centred round the former Carlton cinema site. To achieve this, the preservation order also covered Nos. 14-17 Moore Street
There had been uncertainty that No. 16 was the actual site of the 1916 surrender as there were indications that the street had been renumbered at some stage in the meantime. However, the proposed redevelopment of the Carlton site brought the issue to prominence and prompted research into the matter. I acknowledge the work of those groups who raised concerns about the preservation of the property.
A report commissioned by Dublin City Council at the time pointed to No. 16 Moore Street as the building used by the leaders of the 1916 Rising as their headquarters after they had left the GPO. The council believed that the façade of No. 16 was so badly damaged in the bombardment that most of the current façade brickwork probably dates from the late 1920s. Internally, there is an original 18th century staircase and original fireplaces.
The preservation order was made on the grounds that the buildings constituted a monument, the preservation of which was of national importance by reason of its historical importance as the final headquarters of the leaders of the Easter Rising. The objective of the preservation order is to protect the monument from any danger of being destroyed, injured or removed. The effect of the preservation order is that any works affecting these properties, including any excavation or ground disturbance within, around or in proximity to them, require the prior written consent of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government under the National Monuments Acts. The Minister is statutorily obliged to consult the director of the National Museum of Ireland as part of the consent process. It is an offence for anyone to damage, injure, remove, carry out, cause or permit work affecting the monument without the Minister's written consent.
It is important to note that, although covered by a preservation order, Nos. 14-17 Moore Street are privately owned and not in State care. The preservation order does not empower the Minister to carry out works or to oblige the owner to undertake works with the intention, for example, of replicating the structures that existed up to 1916.
There have been suggestions the existing preservation order should be extended to include the entirety of the terrace containing No. 16 and a wider area. The historical significance of No. 16 as the final headquarters of the 1916 Rising was the determining factor in the decision to make the preservation order. The inclusion of the entire terrace would not add to this significance, nor does its exclusion from the ambit of the preservation order in any way detract from the recognition and acknowledgement of the national importance of No. 16. It is also the case that the planning approval given by An Bord Pleanála for the redevelopment of the Carlton site provides for the removal of the buildings on Moore Street other than Nos. 14-17.
As a prescribed body, my Department commented on the initial planning application for the Carlton site in May 2008 and identified a number of concerns relating to, inter alia, architectural heritage, height, demolition of certain buildings, impact on the character of the O’Connell Street architectural conservation area and so on. The Department’s concerns have been addressed in the redesign of the project through the inclusion of a screen along O’Connell Street to reinforce the street facade, the omission of the tall building element onto Henry Street, the overall reduction in height of the tallest element of the development and its relocation to the centre of the site where the visual impact from surrounding streets will be lessened.
An Bord Pleanála's planning approval in March 2010 in no way supersedes the preservation order on Nos. 14-17 and any proposed works affecting the latter buildings will require the Minister's consent under the National Monuments Acts. To date, no application for consent for works to the monument related to the proposed major development of the Carlton site has been received by my Department.
The proposed development of the site, in accordance with the permission granted by An Bord Pleanála, envisages the retention of Nos. 14-17 Moore Street. Subject to ministerial consent under the National Monuments Acts, No. 16 is to be converted to use as a commemorative centre. This is in accordance with the objective of the Dublin City Council development plan to have the building in museum use. Nos. 14, 15 and 17 will be conserved and used as cafés, shops or offices.
The planning permission specifically states: "No works shall commence within the preservation order boundary of the National Monument at 14-17 Moore Street unless the prior ministerial consent to such works has been obtained in accordance with the statutory requirements of section 14 of the National Monuments Acts, 1930-2004". This reiterates the existing protections afforded by the preservation order.
In late 2010 the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government approved an application for consent for minor works to protect and maintain the fabric of these buildings. These minor works are being undertaken by an established firm of conservation architects. The works entail an investigation of the underlying condition of the fabric of the buildings to inform plans for any necessary refurbishment. Any such refurbishment works would require the Minister's further consent, in which case the appropriateness of the works would be carefully considered by the Department, taking into account all potential impacts on this significant monument.
More recently, there has been comment on the demolition of the wall of Nos. 17 and 18 Henry Place at first floor level to prevent danger to the public. Nos. 17 and 18 Henry Place are not protected structures under the planning code, or national monuments, and the works in question took place outside the area covered by the existing preservation order. I understand Dublin City Council instructed the site owners in April 2010 to carry out an inspection of their properties on Moore Street, Moore Lane and Henry Place-Lane because of concerns about the structural stability of these vacant properties. On foot of discussions with the council, the site owners' consulting engineers recommended, inter alia, the demolition of the wall of 17 to 18 Henry Place to first floor sill level to prevent danger to the public. This was approved by Dublin City Council and the works were carried out on 18 December 2010. The works did not impact on the area covered by the preservation order and, therefore, there was no obligation for ministerial consent to be obtained for them.
The appropriateness of any proposed works will be carefully examined against the historical background if and when a development related consent application is submitted to the Department. The Minister of the day will need to see the full extent and detail of the developer's proposal before being in a position to offer any comment on it in the context of the National Monuments Acts.
The National Monuments Acts do not provide a vehicle for commemorating historical events. The Department of the Taoiseach has established a 1916 Centenary Committee to make preparations for a major celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Rising in 2016. I am sure that in due course the new Government will bring forward arrangements for the centenary of Easter 1916 to be commemorated in an appropriate manner which will permit all the people of Ireland to take pride in the remarkable generation that laid the foundations of the State.