Last week, the Lord Mayor’s Forum on Moore Street put out a new vision for the historic Moore Street area, and the laneways that lie east towards O’Connell Street.
At its centre is the development of a historic 1916 quarter as an alternative vision to the giant shopping mall planned by developers.
“It’s not a case of either dereliction or this shopping mall, there is a different way to proceed,” said Dublin City Councillor Micheál Mac Donncha of Sinn Fein, who has been involved in coming up with the vision.
But while the vision takes in the views of TDs, councillors, architects, stall holders and the relatives of those who fought in 1916, some argue that there are voices missing.
Where are the views of the small, mainly immigrant-run, businesses that dominate the street?
The vision includes restoring as much as possible of the Moore Street battlefield site – which takes in the block and lanes east of the street towards O’Connell Street – to a state as close as possible to what it would have looked like in 1916 during the Easter Rising.
That includes replicating period features, putting back in cobblestones, and getting rid of road markings and bins around Henry Place, Moore Lane and the Moore Street junction.
The Bottling Plant and the O’Briens Mineral Water Works building would be restored to how they looked in 1916. O’Rahilly Parade would get a similar makeover.
Those who sat on the forum would like to see a long garden to the rear of numbers 10 to 25 Moore Street, which those who live in and visit the area could use as a place to relax and reflect.
As for Moore Street itself, the vision suggests restoring it “to how it would have appeared in 1916 by replicating and restoring period features and removing modern distractions such as advertising hoardings, road markings”.
The cultural importance of Dublin’s oldest food market would be recognised with long-awaited upgrades for the market traders: running water, electrical ports, and an indoor toilet.
“This development of the street market aspect of Moore Street will be done in consultation with the current stall holders,” says the vision document.
The Moore Street terrace of buildings – including numbers 10, 15, 16, 17 and 21 – would also be restored in line with the overall vision to emphasise the historic importance of the area.
But while many welcome the need to preserve the heritage of a site that has been central to modern Irish history and independence, some have also questioned whether or not the vision could be broader in scope.
In the latest round of discussions on the history and future of Moore Street, local businesses haven’t been consulted, says Godfrey Chimbganda, who advises some of the businesses on Moore Street.
“I was quite annoyed about that. Not at all. You know the funny thing? The history of Moore Street is now more than about the uprising,” he said.
As he sees it, it is also about the battle for street-traders’ rights led by local politicians such as the late independent TD Tony Gregory. “That’s an uprising in itself,” said Chimbganda.
“Then, you have the late 90s coming into the 2000s up to today, when you have the influx of the first street well-known to be migrant businesses,” he said. “Everybody knew that this street called Moore Street was where migrants were setting up.”
Some of the shops and businesses have been there more than a decade. “They keep fighting to stay,” he said.”That’s history. It’s a city centre and businesses do matter.”
Green Party Councillor Ciaran Cuffe agrees. “[The plan] has a firm focus on the events of a hundred years ago and it talks about the street traders who’ve been there a long time but I have to say it could have done more to reach out to the more recent businesses that established themselves in the area,” he said.
“Given that the population of the North Inner City, 40 percent weren’t born in Ireland, I think we should be doing a lot more to help those who’ve come to Ireland, set up businesses, and get ahead in the marketplace,” said Cuffe.
On Tuesday late morning on Moore Street, Ming Huang was sat behind a small counter, pieces of mobile phones scattered in front of him.
He is aware of the court case and the ongoing battle to save a long stretch of the Moore Street terrace as a national monument, and the planned giant shopping centre, from flyers that are dropped off, but hadn’t heard about any new alternative vision.
He’s been there for two years but doesn’t see that there’s much he can do to shape what the neighbourhood looks like. “We have no choice, we just follow the government,” he said.
Open to Talk
There’s no intention to leave anybody out of the debate around the future of Moore Street, says Mac Donncha of Sinn Fein.
“We welcome all the new communities and immigrant business people and so on, there’s absolutely no question of not trying to have everybody involved as much as possible,” he said.
The historical restoration is an important part of the vision but he also wants Moore Street to be a vibrant commercial street, he said.
“We’ve spoken in particular to the street traders and they’re very much involved in the process,” he said. “The businesses tend to be transient enough but we want to see that as a commercial street, we’re not interested in the whole thing being kind of anaesthetised, (…) absolutely not.”
Not all of the businesses are transient, though, and for those that are it is often not out of choice, says Chimbganda, the business adviser.
For several years, there have been waves of businesses pushed out by sudden and frequent rent increases, he said. Where Dealz now is, there used to be a row of small businesses. “There were salons, African shops, some of the Indian shops,” he said.
Many of the businesses are on three-month contracts, which leaves them wary about speaking out or trying to organise.
After the Paris Bakery closed in 2014, some of the immigrant business owners started to organise, but felt too vulnerable to continue with it, he said. “You spend your capital, putting your shop together, only then to be told you have to move.”
The street traders are able to organise, he said. “Those guys were able to fight, they’ve got an organised movement. If anything happens, they’re always able to fight it.”
But the council doesn’t have an easy go-to body for immigrant and small businesses at the moment to ask them to engage. “Basically, they can’t enquire because they are not allowed to organise. So, who is going to speak for them?” he says.
Ideas for the Street
In the Earth Angel Food Shop last week, Zafar Iqbal pointed behind him towards the aisles that stretch back stacked with yam flour and hair relaxant, past the stands of CDs and the fridges with bags of cow skin and snout.
“Everything is available here,” he says, listing off the origins of all that is on the shelves. “Africa, Asia, Brazil, Uganda, South Africa … We do everything, you know.”
Iqbal has sold vegetables there for about seven years and he has ideas for what he’d like to see improved on the street, starting with tackling upper-storey vacancy.
He points to the vacant upper storeys in the row opposite. The upper storey of the shop next door is the same, he says. “It’s like this [in size], but closed.”
As Iqbal sees it, the buildings are neglected and the local economy is suffering because of it. “If we can renew everything. Everybody pays taxes, we pay taxes,” he said.
Some time back, Chimbganda says there used to be a theatre down one of the laneways. “Those are the things I would actually love to get back on Moore Street. The theatre has been closed for a while,” he said.
Gary Gannon, a Social Democrat councillor for the North Inner City, said that his experience of the forum for Moore Street was that it was all focused on 1916 commemorations, which was great to have included, but he would have liked to see it take a broader approach.
“I think that’s all fine, but I’m interested in how we can really redevelop the street, develop some sort of economy, working with the traders that are already there,” said Gannon.
“The way the traditional Irish traders and the new communities link in with each other, it’s a really nice environment,” said Gannon.
Last Friday, Margaret Buckley – who has a fish stall with her sister, that her mother ran before her – seemed fatigued with the Moore Street saga and the piles of abandoned plans.
“We’ve been listening to this for 17 years,” said Buckley. In that time, all kinds of things have been proposed and while she approves of plans to preserve heritage, she also says there needs to be movement on improvements for the living.
Buckley said the stall owners pay their dues, their rent, their insurance. “As far as I’m concerned, we’ve been waiting 17 years for nothing. It’s all words, no action.”
She tips some shrimp out and they slide into place on the metal surface. “We don’t have street lights, water, we don’t have toilets,” she says. “We really are living in the Stone Age.”
Gannon says he understands that people on the Moore Street forum are really committed to protecting heritage. “That’s great, but it doesn’t talk about the city going forward, how we develop the city,” he said.
“I would be interested in a forum about how we can redevelop Moore Street as kind of a marketplace,” he said.
“There wasn’t an attempt to look at how to develop the trading economy, how can you protect the migrant businesses, how can you publicise it,” he says.
Cuffe, of the Green Party, says he sees a role for the local enterprise office.
“We’re moving very slowly on the other markets in the city, the Iveagh Markets and the fruit and vegetable market off Capel Street,” he says. “All of these are opportunities to make available market stalls to small and micro businesses.”
Mac Donncha of Sinn Fein says the next step in the plan is to take the vision they have drawn up to the Moore Street Consultative Group, which has been set up by Fine Gael minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys.
“It will carry weight and we will be expecting the government to act on it,” Mac Donncha said.
The planning permission given to the giant shopping mall – which was extended by Dublin City Council a few months back – would push out those small businesses, he said.
At the moment, it looks as though the shopping mall has no chance of going ahead until the dispute over how much of the Moore Street terrace is a national monument is resolved. (Activists won a case, the government is appealing.)
“The shopping mall can’t go ahead at least until that case is concluded in December 2017,” Mac Donncha said.