When Greg Kelly raised the issue of that College Green banner at City Hall on Monday evening, and asked for a vote to take it down, there were about 20 minutes left of Dublin City Council’s monthly meeting.
So, councillors squeezed in a debate that touched on whether they should debate it, and grazed the history on Irish independence, the reputation of John Redmond, free speech and censorship, and council standing orders.
Until the clock ran out and, without voting, everybody went home.
That banner shows the large green faces of Henry Grattan, Daniel O’Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell and John Redmond on the front of the Bank of Ireland.
Kelly, a Sinn Fein councillor, repeated criticisms that the first three had been dead before the Easter Rising and John Redmond had condemned it. Other Sinn Fein and People Before Profit councillors backed his call.
“It’s totally out of keeping with the rest of the city,” said Mícheál Mac Donncha of Sinn Fein.
Councillor John Lyons of People Before Profit said that constitutional nationalist Ireland had a significant part to play in our history. But “I do think we have to recognise what 1916 was. It was a revolutionary act, it was a violent act, it was unconstitutional.”
If councillors had expected the council management to be reticent to take down the banner, they were surprised.
“If the council here is of the view that this banner should be removed, we’ll remove it tomorrow,” said Assistant Chief Executive Brendan Kenny.
He later said there had been been concern about vandalism to the banner. “On that basis, if this council feels the banner should come down we’re prepared to do that,” said Kenny.
But not everybody spoke in favour of pulling the banner down.
“I think this is a really sad motion,” said Labour councillor Dermot Lacey. “Whether people who like it or not, included in the people who led to the development and the birth of this state were the democratic leaders Parnell, O’Connell, and Redmond,” he said.
Whether or not you agreed with their approach they were part of generation who led the struggle for an inclusive Ireland. It wouldn’t reflect the inclusive feelings of Irish people, he said .
Kieran Binchy of Fine Gael accused Sinn Fein of censoring history. “They want to remove four people from the face of our city, because those four people don’t sit comfortably with the story of violence of 1916.”
“If it was O’Donovan Rossa who was up there, I would still disagree with this motion. Because we should not be trying to delete one strand from our history to try to justify our current politics, violent or otherwise,” he said.
It’s about the prominent location, said Fianna Fail’s Paul McAuliffe. He said he was reluctant to erase people from history, he said, and would prefer a counter-banner with the 1916 leaders on it. “It looked like one version of history which was being pushed, rather than another,” he said.
With a few minutes to go before the 9:30 pm cut-off point for the meeting, Binchy of Fine Gael brought up the issue of whether the vote had been called in line with rules.
After council official Vincent Norton had tried to give some clarity on that, time was up.
An Offer of Aid
The meeting had started earlier with the delivery of a petition by homeless campaigner Erica Fleming. The petition had been signed by more than 800 residents, who were offering their help to Dublin City Council to renovate empty city council houses, and get them turned around faster.
“I fully understand that there may be technical difficulties,” said Críona Ní Dhálaigh, but asked the Housing Strategic Policy Committee to look into it. That’s something that Sinn Fein councillor Daithi Doolan, who is head of the housing committee, said he’d do.
Bins and Bins and Dog Dirt
Councillors also talked about, and voted through, a new plan to deal with litter in the city, a plan that will last until 2018.
Among the measures is a commitment to put in more bins across the city. Schools, hospitals, bus stops and parks will all be prioritised.
Some councillors said they had been pushing for years to get bins in some areas.
“If you are going to have public places, we need to have litter bins for dog dirt. We can’t ask and encourage people to be responsible if we don’t give people the facilities to do it,” she said.
The new litter plan includes a timeline for getting stuff done. If stuck to, by the end of the second quarter of this year, there should be more bins in parks, or near parks.
In quarter three, there’ll be a bin survey. And by quarter four, there’ll be a whole litter policy in place for where bins are put and when they’re taken away.
Alongside the oft-repeated challenges of how to trace litterers and the originators of dog poo, councillors also discussed whether the problem of litter on the streets of Dublin was because of a lack of resources.
Not so, argued Assistant Chief Executive Declan Wallace. In his view, it’s because we have a bit of an attitude problem.“It’s all about education and people finding it socially unacceptable to dump,” he said.
The Old Fire Station and the Digital Hub
The Mart art collective in Rathmines looks set to stay there for the time being at least.
Councillors agreed to let the old fire station building to the Mart for another three years at an annual licence fee of €5,200 a year plus VAT. The licence can be broken by either side with two months’ notice.
Both independent councillor Ruairi McGinley and Labour’s Dermot Lacey said they think the Mart is a valuable asset to Rathmines. “I think it’s a good win for both them and us,” said Lacey. [Full disclose: Dublin Inquirer rents its office in Kilmainham from the Mart.]
Dublin City Council also voted to dispose of land at 9 Thomas Street and 17-18 Thomas Street to the Digital Hub. The former is known as the Stonemason’s Yard, and the latter used to be McGruder’s Pub and Beer Garden.
There are few details yet on the plans for the sites. A council report says that the Digital Hub Development Agency hopes to sell the site in exchange for some office space.