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"I'm losing money every day while nothing is being done... it's a nightmare" - How Moore Street's traders have been forgotten about

Marie Cullen sells her fruit and veg on Moore Street in the shadow of the battle for the National Monument.

DSC_0007 Marie Cullen at her fruit and veg stall on Moore Street. Source: Cormac Fitzgerald/TheJournal.ie

MARIE CULLEN STANDS squeezed in at her fruit and veg stall on Moore Street in Dublin, overshadowed on both sides by a large black stretch of scaffolding.

A fourth generation Moore Street trader, Marie has been working at her stall for over 20 years.

Behind her back, a stretch of terrace encompassing Nos 14-17 Moore Street is encased behind the black column which pushes Marie and her stall out onto the street. Pinned to the wall of the terrace a wide banner proclaims the centenary of the 1916 Rising and confirms Nos 14-17′s status as a National Monument.

No 16 Moore Street is the building from which the rebel forces of the 1916 Easter Rising surrendered after the GPO was levelled by the British Army.

For decades the buildings were largely ignored by the State and the people; but for the past 15 years they have been at the centre of a dispute and activist movement aimed at protecting the heritage of the area.

For the past seven months, Marie has had that black wall behind her and has had to try to sell her fruit andveg every day with about 4ft of space on a busy city centre footpath.

“For seven months this thing has been here and absolutely nothing has been done,” Marie tells TheJournal.ie.

“It’s very bad for business. People don’t want to be squeezing in so they walk around and don’t look at the stall. I’m losing money everyday while nothing is being done.

 It’s an absolute nightmare, it really is.

DSC_0003 Scaffolding overlooks the stalls on Moore Street. Source: Cormac Fitzgerald/TheJournal.ie

National Monument

The scaffolding was first put up in early January of this year to facilitate works to restore Nos 14-17 in time for the 1916 Rising centenary.

The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht – overseen by Minister Heather Humphreys – wanted to convert the buildings – which are in dire need of refurbishment work – into a commemorative centre in time for the centenary in March.

The government purchased the buildings in April 2015 from private developer Chartered Land and had plans to convert them in time for the celebrations – a move which would have seen a number of other buildings on the terrace interfered with.

However, the move was met with fierce opposition from the Save Moore Street group – who were instrumental in getting Nos 14-17 conferred as a National Monument in the first place.

Protesters occupied the buildings to obstruct the works in January and sought a High Court injunction to stop them going ahead.

8/1/2016.Some of the protesters that have occupied Protesters occupying the buildings in Moore Street in January. Source: RollingNews.ie

The group – supported by Sinn Féin, AAA-PBP and other left-wing politicians – argue that not only are Nos 14-17 of historical significance, but the entire Moore Street terrace is of massive historical significance and should be preserved as a battlefield site.

This is a position that is strongly disputed by the Heritage Department – which argues that the other buildings on the terrace (such as 13 and 18 and 19) are not the original 1916 structures and so “are not historically significant”.

The Save Moore Street group scored a huge victory in March, when the High Court ruled that the buildings surrounding the National Monument were a historical battlefield site and as such could not be interfered with.

Minister Humphreys announced in June that the government would challenge the High Court decision to the Supreme Court due to the potential widespread implications of the judgment for planning and development nationally.

A demonstration by the Save Moore Street group will take place today at 2pm at Liberty Hall to protest the decision by the government to appeal.

DSC_0001 Source: Cormac Fitzgerald/TheJournal.ie

Meanwhile, it was also announced this week that minor works would commence on the National Monument buildings, including the removal of the 1916 banner and other renewal measures.

Ongoing saga

The dispute over the building works is just the latest chapter in an ongoing and fiercly fought saga dating back in some ways to the early 2000s (and beyond that in many respects).

The entire O’Connell Street Upper area has been due a regeneration for decades, with plans for a commercial development (new shopping centre) to open between O’Connell Street and Moore Street (known commonly as the Carlton site) repeatedly being disrupted.

Back in 2001, Nos 14-17 were just a red brick old storefront with a part-missing sign reading “Plunket” above the door; the buildings were in disrepair for years and were outside of the national consciousness, the only notable thing being a simple plaque set high above the ground mentioning their historical significance.

moore-street-2-4 (1) The bronze plaque on No 16. Source: Leon Farrell/RollingNews.ie

That year the voluntary National Graves Association was informed by a member of the public that the plaque was missing, which they took to mean that the building would soon be demolished.

Relatives of those who fought in 1916 immediately set about with others to protect the buildings, which they saw as a vital link to Ireland’s history.

Activists campaigned for years, and their efforts were eventually rewarded in 2007 when the buildings were declared a National Monument.

This meant that they couldn’t be demolished, a huge victory for campaigners; the buildings were still owned by private development company Chartered Land, however.

Chartered Land – headed by developer Joe O’Reilly – has planning permission to develop the Carlton site into a shopping centre. The company is behind the Ilac Centre, Dundrum Town Centre and Swords Pavilions among others.

Before the State bought Nos 14-17, a proposed land swap deal in late-2014 between the developer and Dublin City Council – which would have seen Chartered Land exchange the National Monument for two council-owned buildings (Nos 24-25 Moore Street) currently used as a waste depot – was voted down by councillors.

Save Moore Street activists believed the swap would have paved the way for the destruction of the Moore Street terrace and so lobbied councillors to vote against it.

James Connolly Heron, great-grandson of Rising-leader James Connolly, is at the forefront of the Save Moore Street campaign. He campaigns for the entirety of the Moore Street area and surrounding areas to be declared a historical cultural centre.

“The High Court decision vindicated what we have been saying all along,” he told TheJournal.ie this week.

That the entire Moore Street area – and that includes the streets and laneways – is a battlefield site and must be preserved.

23/10/2012. Save Moore Street Campaigns Connolly Heron (far-right) with other Save Moore Street activists in front of the National Monument back in 2012. Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

The future

As the battle for Moore Street between the government and activists wages on, the future is anything but certain.

Chartered Land had up until recently been in NAMA, with its loans taken over by the State-run bad bank.

It was reported in September that the company had exited NAMA and had its loan portfolio sold to companies Hammerson and Allianz, throwing the future development of the Carlton site into further uncertainty.

Minister Humphreys announced this week that a new Oireachtas cross-party consultative group (which will include representatives from the Moore Street traders) will be formed “as soon as possible” to discuss the future of the area.

The discussions of this group and the Supreme Court appeal decision will form the basis of what the future will hold for the street – with no clear indication as to how long either will take.

For Marie Cullen and the other Moore Street traders, the battle being fought is for their livelihoods, as they remain waiting for a regeneration of their street that still may take decades.

DSC_1653 Marie's stall and others on Moore Street. Source: Cormac Fitzgerald/TheJournal.ie

Speaking to this reporter in late-2014, some traders said they felt abandoned by the State and that they were being left to “die a miserable death” while the higher-ups fought.

Standing at her stall, Marie says that she’s at her wits’ end. Her foot was rolled over by a pram earlier in the day (which regularly happens) and she’s annoyed and unsure as to what the future holds.

“People are knocking against you and banging against you all day every day,” she says.

It’s very bad.

The Moore Street traders have been promised a regeneration of the area for years. But far from getting better, for Marie things have only gotten worse.

For the past seven months the remnants of the centenary dispute looms up behind her, pushing her onto the street and making it almost impossible to do her job; and there is no clear indication of when it will be taken away.

As the conversation about the fate of Moore Street wages on, Marie will still be selling her fruit and veg, overshadowed by the plans for Ireland’s future and the ghosts of Ireland’s past.

Read: ‘I slept in 18 Moore Street in protest this weekend. Once these buildings are gone, they’re gone’

Read: Government to appeal decision to protect Moore Street battlefield site to Supreme Court

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About the author:

Cormac Fitzgerald

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