Dublin City Council has been treading two paths.

Officials have held pre-planning meetings with developer Martin Keane, around his plans for the historic Iveagh Markets in the Liberties.

They’ve also, though, stressed that the council believes the agreement – which entrusted the building to Keane – is no longer valid, letters show.

In the brief correspondence, released under the Freedom of Information Act, each party blames the other for the delays that have left the market vacant for years, and the condition of the building.

Keane points to his legal firepower. Dublin City Council Assistant Chief Executive Richard Shakespeare recounts the council’s rebuff of a request from Keane for “significant” public funding.

Some councillors believe that the dance should end.

The council needs to act and take Iveagh Markets back from Keane, says Labour Councillor Rebecca Moynihan. “It should be developed as a municipal market.”

Keane didn’t respond to queries sent by email, or through his solicitor, about his plans for the Iveagh Markets.

In Disrepair

The markets were first leased to Keane in 1997, but “legal issues” meant the formalities were not completed, says a 2004 council report.

Councillors voted again to lease it that year, with a condition that he had 36 months to redevelop it, “except in case of delay due to strikes, lockouts or other circumstances outside of the control of Mr Keane or his nominee”.

Archeological surveys, followed by the financial crisis, slowed progress in developing the site, Keane said in 2015.

In September 2017, councillors, sick of the lack of movement, voted to press ahead with getting the Iveagh Markets back from Keane, and under Dublin City Council’s control.

In March 2018, Senior Executive Officer Helen McNamara said the council would first go in and do a survey of the building – to see what condition it was in.

The Survey Results

That council-commissioned survey was done in May and June of 2018 – and concluded that the building was “unsafe and in an advanced state of dereliction, due to a combination of serious neglect and several damaging interventions”.

The roof and the “rainwater disposal system” is in “a very poor state of repair”, the report says. The original Westmorland Green slate coverings survive, but are “in a very damaged and friable condition”.

The damage is due to “lack of maintenance, inappropriate intervention and loss of lead cover flashings”, the report says. There have been “two major interventions” on the roof.

The first was replacement of the “original patent glazing system, probably during the 1980s”. The second was the covering of the entire roof with polythene sheeting, “probably during the 1990s or early 2000s”, the report says.

Problems with the rainwater disposal system mean the masonry walls are damaged. Some areas of brickwork are also damaged, and would have to be repointed and damaged bricks replaced, the report says.

The survey found some structural damage including, “the insertion of a wide vehicular doorway on Dean Swift Square”. Of the four staircases that originally served the gallery, two have been removed and will need to be replaced, it says.

It listed the “most expensive works” as reconstruction and back-filling of most of the ground floor, roof and wall repairs, and rebuilding some of the demolished brickworks.

Overall, works to restore the Iveagh Markets would cost €13 million, according to the report.

And that doesn’t include “professional design team fees, inflation, M&E [mechanical and electrical] installation, fit out costs, planning costs and contributions, etc.”, it notes.

Who’s to Blame?

A point in dispute is who is responsible for the damage the markets have sustained.

Shakespeare sent the dilapidation report to Keane on 8 March 2019, writing that it was “extremely alarming”. The site “urgently requires major works to make it safe, let alone restore it completely”, he wrote.

Keane, in his response on 25 March, said that when he first gained possession of the Iveagh Markets, he was given a condition report “very similar to what you have again now provided”.

After that, he hired a team of conservationists, engineers and architects, he writes. “Over the duration the roof has been practically entirely replaced in additional to other works.”

Rebecca Moynihan, the Labour councillor for the area, says it was an operational market up to when it was handed over, so can’t have been in too bad condition.

Said Green Party Councillor Michael Pidgeon: “To me it just stands to reason that if you leave a site vacant, particularly a historical site like that, if you leave it vacant […] it’s no surprise that it’s going to fall into disrepair.”

What Might Change?

“It’s hard to measure the public outrage,” said Martin Fennelly on Monday, sat behind the desk of his antique shop on Francis Street, a short jaunt from the Iveagh Markets.

“There’s a whole load of them,” he says, as he reads aloud a few of the comments on the Arts & Antiques Quarter Facebook page – where he’s shared a recent petition urging higher powers to reopen the markets.

The petition is, in a sense, his way of testing the water – of trying to see how higher-level political attention might be brought to bear, he says – “if there’s a quantifiable hill of rage over here”.

Fennelly, like others, says he believes that building political pressure is the way forward towards getting the site developed.

Keane’s stated plans for the site are extensive.

In the exchange between Shakespeare and Keane in March, Shakespeare says he will meet with Keane to talk more about his proposals for the markets and some nearby properties.

These, a brief shows, include one four-star hotel, one three-star hotel and a hostel at Mother Redcaps, as well as a swanky markets and a brewery in the Iveagh Markets building.

But it is the council’s view that the development agreement between the council and Keane “is no longer valid due to the effluxion of time and ineffectiveness on your part in respect to progressing the development of the premises”, Shakespeare writes.

He said he would meet with Keane – other emails show that Keane was asking for pre-planning meetings – but that shouldn’t be taken as recognising Keane’s ability to develop the markets, Shakespeare wrote.

Keane hadn’t demonstrated that he had the funds for it, Shakespeare’s letter says. Instead, he had “in fact asserted that substantial public funding should be made available for that purpose”, according to Shakespeare’s letter.

In his response, Keane said he “strongly” disputed the suggestion that the development agreement wasn’t valid. His counsels agree that “a large portion of the time loss, lost opportunity, immense cost, stress and inconvenience rests at the door” of the council, he writes.

Dublin City Council needed “to stop dwelling on the past and contribute in a positive manner with a common deliberative purpose”, wrote Keane – before threatening that, if not, he would have to issue proceedings.

He has “considerable financial resources” and a “full legal team, ready, willing and able to take on this challenge”, he wrote.

They could all work together with AIB’s corporate finance team to set up a structure instead, he wrote. “To make this project happen and indeed put the Iveagh Market Quarter firmly on the European tourist trail map.”

At his desk on Francis Street, Fennelly reckons that, “The more it goes, the more costly it’s going to be.”

“This dance is going on,” he says. “The question is, how long the dance will go on for?”

The Future

Moynihan, the Labour councillor, said she’s heard Keane announce designs for the markets before. “I’ve heard that so many times,” she says, of the recent round of plans.

Pidgeon of the Green Party said the “saga” has lasted so long by now that “the model that has been proposed has failed”.

“My preference is bring it back into public hands,” he says. “Either then you tender out a contract to a company to do it, or you do it directly, or you sent up a semi-council company.”

The council should give Keane back “whatever money he paid”, Moynihan said. “[A]lso, I think, we should be going after him for damages for the state that the building has been left in.”

Council officials have seemed reluctant to do that for other sites, though, where conditions set when they were sold weren’t made good on.

Pidgeon says that the stand-off – and council officials’ seeming reluctance to take a court case over it – highlights the weakness of the way local government is set up at the moment in Ireland.

“It’s a much wider point, but it’s an example of where you do need a more political executive,” he says. “By which I mean a directly elected mayor, who would be willing to make a public judgment, a political judgment.”

A council spokesperson said the council “is actively pursuing the most efficient means available to it to ensure that the Iveagh Market Building is refurbished and returned to beneficial use”.

It would take €30 million to refurbish and develop the markets, the spokesperson said. There isn’t money for that in the capital programme, they said.

The council is now waiting to hear back from Keane before taking further action, they said. “We expect a response […] before end September.”

Lois Kapila is Dublin Inquirer's editor and general-assignment reporter. Want to share a comment or a tip with her? Send an email to her at lois@dublininquirer.com.

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