Private Members' Business. - Electricity Supply (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 1963—Second Stage (Resumed).

Wednesday, 4 November 1964

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 212 No. 2

First Page Previous Page Page of 100 Next Page Last Page

Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time”.

Mr. Dockrell:  When Private Members' Time ceased yesterday I was speaking on this Bill. I do not wish to go over the points I then made. I had paid tribute to the very thorough way in which Deputy Dunne had introduced his Bill and said that I agreed with his points in connection with this struggle to preserve these buildings. I touched on the subject that some people had the idea that these Georgian houses, or 18th century buildings, were somehow connected with Georgian society and Georgian aristocracy. Since then, a speech was made by the former president of the Old Dublin Society, Mr. Desmond Moore. He has gone into the question of the occupiers of these houses in the thorough way in which the Society works and he points out that these houses in Lower Fitzwilliam Street, far from being the homes of an unwanted and unwelcome aristocracy, were in fact the habitations of Dublin professional people. He gave a number of names in the 1830's when the houses were occupied by families named Hughes, Darley, Daly, O'Hagan, Murphy and Driscoll. Another was Alderman Tom Makinney, Lord Mayor of Dublin. He asks: “Did you ever hear of aristocrats with names like that?”

These were Irish names of Irish people at that time. In fact these houses were not in themselves magnificent examples of 18th century or early 19th century workmanship. It is as a block that they achieved their town planning effect. Their beauty comes from the fact that those 16 houses make a very charming and beautiful unbroken line. There is no reason to think it is in any way perpetuating a part of Irish life which now, in a new state, some people wish to forget. That is not the case, but even if it [309] were these buildings are part of our Irish heritage and we should be very jealous of their preservation. In this utilitarian age far too few objects of beauty exist and we should be, and many of us are, rightly jealous of those few remnants from the past which we have managed to preserve intact.

A number of semi-state bodies have been given wide powers for the purpose of carrying on their various functions, among them the ESB. They were given wide powers for the purpose of supplying electricity and carrying out the multifarious duties going with that, laying cables, crossing land and so on, but it is not really intended that those powers should be used for the purpose of what will result in spoiling irretrievably a section of historic and beautiful Dublin. I ask the ESB to think again before they do this act which, when done, can never be undone. Once those houses are pulled down, that section of Dublin will lose its unique claim to being one of the few places in the city where things have survived in all their former beauty unspoiled. I ask the ESB to remember that the people for whom Deputy Dunne and other Members of this House speak are the inarticulate masses of Dublin citizenry just as much as the people who belong to the Old Dublin Society and the Georgian Society. We are speaking for the ordinary man in the street who is very proud of his Dublin—and rightly so— and wishes to see it maintained unspoiled. I say that as a person who has had the honour of once occupying the position of first citizen of this capital city. I am aware, as is every other occupant of that post, that Dublin citizens are very proud of their city and wish to see its beauty maintained and enhanced.

I would ask the Minister to remember the big petition which was signed and presented to the Government for the preservation of the houses in Lower Fitzwilliam Street. I would ask him to take heed of the very real desire which the citizens of Dublin have to preserve the beauty of their city. I know it is easy to say we are fighting to preserve things which are out of [310] date. There are other beautiful aspects of the city such as the magnificent houses which have fallen utterly into decay but they have gone since that bad part of our history, the 19th century. The havoc wrought in the 19th century on the beauty of Dublin is irreparable. We want to preserve these houses as a unique little section in the centre of the city, which is the pride and glory of many of the citizens of Dublin and a source of great pleasure to our visitors.

Mr. Timmons: Information on Eugene Timmons  Zoom on Eugene Timmons  I should just like to add a few comments to the contributions made on this Bill. In the course of moving the Second Reading, Deputy S. Dunne stated that the Dublin Corporation rejected proposals for the demolition of these buildings. Here are the facts. When the ESB sought permission from the Planning Section of the Dublin Corporation, they made it quite clear in the plans that they envisaged the demolition of these 18 houses. The Corporation planners, having examined the particular plans submitted to them, agreed in principle to the proposal. Subsequently, when the detailed plans were submitted to the Corporation a dispute arose in the professional circles of the Corporation in regard to the design. It was in regard to the design feature alone that the plans were rejected by the Corporation. Indeed, members of the Corporation had divided views about the whole matter. The point I wish to stress is that the plans submitted, and approved in principle, were plans which envisaged the demolition of these houses.

The ESB themselves, as far back as 1950, engaged the services of Sir John Summerson, the famous authority on Georgian architecture. He favoured a competition for a design which was not in conflict with the preserved neighbourhood, but not necessarily Georgian. The competition, which was eventually announced and competed for by well-known architects, produced a design in line with the advice given to the Board. In 1954, the ESB were informed by the Chief Inspector of the dangerous building section of Dublin Corporation that the [311] whole structure in that street was in a critical condition. The late Sir Patrick Abercrombie, the well-known town planning expert, made it clear there was no alternative to the construction of a new building.

In view of these facts, I cannot see why all this outcry should be raised to preserve buildings which were clearly established as being uneconomic, in a dangerous state and unsuitable, particularly for office purposes. I am sure Deputy M. E. Dockrell will recall some years ago, during the early years after the war, when the city was faced with a grave shortage of building materials, the Corporation decided to preserve Georgian structures in the Summerhill district. We see the result there today. They are very unsuitable and arouse a lot of criticism. They were reconstructed at enormous expense. I cannot see any semi-State body, public authority or local authority preserving and repairing something which is unsuitable, uneconomic and which would entail a tremendous capital outlay.

I, like most Dubliners, am very jealous of the features of our city. Still, I should be practical and I cannot see in this age that we can preserve Georgian architecture forever. There was no outcry when the Corporation, in trying to deal with the Dublin housing problem, demolished Georgian houses in Dominick Street. There was no demand from any professional body that we should replace them with Georgian dwellings. I feel the situation has been very fairly, reasonably and ably taken care of and that what has been planned would be practical from the point of view of the ESB, whose staff work in these offices. The design which has been approved will help to preserve the main character of the district.

Mr. A. Barry: Information on Anthony Barry  Zoom on Anthony Barry  The last speaker who asked why all the emotion was being generated about these dwellings put his finger on the mainspring of all this controversy because the debate centres around a proposal which excites controversy and, as in all controversy, there are opposing points of view. The [312] last speaker expressed a point of view completely opposite to the view I hold. I am practically as emotional in this matter as I would be about proposals of a kind which would seem to me to be philistine or vandalistic. A proposal to cover over the Grand Canal, for instance, would excite the same kind of reaction in me and I hope in the majority of this House.

Nobody would grudge the ESB having a very good headquarters building but is it necessary for the ESB to stay where they are at all? The Minister for Finance, in answer to a question today, on the matter of decentralisation of Government Departments, said the Government were examining the matter. Here is something which does not require any examination. The ESB could go somewhere else. They could go more efficiently somewhere else. Large organisations, we all find, tend to be subject to the mechanism of centralisation, of getting into the middle and operating from the centre out. The ESB could create their own middle somewhere else. We should begin decentralisation with the ESB on the basis of this issue alone. I think any competent organisation should see the advantage of getting away from congested centres, particularly in large urban areas like the centre of Dublin. Transport alone would be an easier problem with which to deal.

I think it is almost wasting the time of the House to elaborate on the advantages of taking these organisations out of the centre of Dublin. It has been said so often in the House that we are hypnotised into the belief that there is some use in having them here in the middle. If they could fit on the floor of the House, in they would come. The ESB and all semi-State bodies have much wider duties. The ESB should be aware of the standards required in a civilised community.

I am satisfied that a suitable building for the ESB purposes would be one other than that which they use in Fitzwilliam Street, even with the alterations they will make. If necessary, they should go elsewhere and provide themselves with an adequate building, perhaps on the outskirts of Dublin but not in Fitzwilliam Street. This thing [313] has become a test of strength of wills in the country. I think the manner in which the ESB have behaved throughout the whole affair has been deplorable, as well as the steps they have taken to achieve their ends.

I was about to unhesitatingly praise the planning authority until I heard the last speech. If the Dublin local authority are prepared to give way on the subject of the maintenance of the existing buildings, then I will not praise them. It is a curious thing that in this Parliament, where we are surrounded in the debating chamber with 18th century Dublin Malton prints, of which we are so proud, the proposal of the ESB to destroy some of that heritage which exists in reality will get a hearing. These prints are here for 40 years, long before I became a member of this House. It has always given me great pleasure to see them and to know that people in this city dealing with the affairs of State had a feeling of the graces of the past. These prints are a continuing reminder of these graces.

We are at the moment undergoing a major transformation of this House but we are taking every care not to disturb the facade of the House. There is a reason for that and neither the Minister nor any member of the House need be told the reason. It is a good historic building although it has a lot of physical faults. Every Deputy is aware of that, but we are anxious to preserve the appearance of the building as it was 200 years ago. By so doing I am sure we are spending a lot more money than we should spend in order to provide an efficient Parliament building. In other countries much wealthier than ours, as in the United States, they actually went to the extent of reproducing the colonial type of architecture. The building of the whole town of Williamsburg in reproduction is a tribute to what they believed to be the earlier part of their history. The original buildings were rebuilt and are now run as museum pieces.

All we have to do is go to the ESB and they will do the destruction for us. It is part of a struggle going [314] on all over the country, and in other countries as well. The trouble is that those whom you would expect to maintain the graces are people with competence and efficiency to get on with the job and to hell with appearance. The ESB are curiously insensitive to any kind of criticism that has been or will be levelled at them in this matter. I have already referred to the doubtful manner in which they went around achieving their aims in this matter. I suppose the Board is constituted of men who are primarily technicians or businessmen. They have no time for these other things, and there are other things of course. I am sure I spoke half a dozen times in this House on the despoliation of the urban and rural scene in this country by the ESB. I have grumbled consistently about the way they have defaced our buildings, towns and villages with their ugly poles and wires—to hell with appearance as long as they get electricity delivered and sold.

My curiosity was aroused by a newspaper production of a tidy town. Every picture showed that great care was taken by the inhabitants to make the place look attractive but every picture was defaced by an ESB pole and wires hanging across the buildings. I think people are now becoming aware of the ugliness we have permitted to grow up around us. The job of the ESB in this regard and the way in which they do their work in supplying electric power is defacing the existing graces of all our interesting buildings. They are going a step further and are tearing down these gracious old buildings and replacing them by more useful, efficient contemporary buildings. I think it is an unnecessary bit of activity. The ESB should think over the matter, the people of the country should think over the matter and Deputies here in Dáil Éireann should think about it. They should think about leaving Fitzwilliam Street alone and not allow future generations to label us as a generation of clodhoppers.

Minister for Transport and Power (Mr. Childers): Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  I want to say first of all I am very anxious that the best part [315] of Georgian Dublin should be preserved for reasons that have been given very adequately by Deputy Dockrell and in great detail and with great skill by Deputy Dunne. Having said that, it would be quite impossible for me to accept the terms of this Bill to have Departments, and the Oireachtas itself, enter into the complicated function of planning for the preservation of Dublin and its reconstruction. I think it would be entirely wrong.

I do not propose to accept the terms of this Bill. The preservation of the beauty of Dublin is, in my view, in the hands of Dublin Corporation and, in relation to Dublin Corporation, the Minister for Local Government has certain powers. There it must rest. It would be quite wrong if other Ministers, such as myself, who are in charge of various activities had also to enter into the picture. Equally, it would be wrong if, once the Dáil has passed the present very elaborate town planning legislation, some particular feature of any part of the country were to come up for consideration here and that the Dáil itself should have to give consent. Everybody can imagine the lobbying that would go on and the confusion that would reign.

I feel very strongly that initially this function is one for the planning authority. The House already knows what happened about the arrangements in relation to these houses and the new building. I want to make it clear that Dublin Corporation made an order under the Town and Regional Planning Acts, 1934 and 1939, granting general permission to the ESB to demolish Nos. 13 to 28 Lower Fitzwilliam Street and to erect a new office block in their place. The permission was granted subject to the condition that the Board should submit detailed plans, illustrations and proposals before any work of a constructional nature was put in hands.

As I understand it, there was nothing to prevent Dublin Corporation from adding a proviso to that general permission to demolish these houses whereby they could have directed that if it were possible to rebuild with the present facade strung on the outside, [316] the ESB should do so. There was nothing to prevent Dublin Corporation under the law from limiting the statement of general power to demolish, of general permission to demolish, Nos. 13 to 28 Lower Fitzwilliam Street, with some kind of proviso saying they realised the buildings had become dangerous, decaying with woodrot, but, nevertheless, if the ESB were to reconstruct they should try to preserve the facade, leaving out all technical difficulties and the practicability of doing it.

The fact is Dublin Corporation did not do it. The fact is that great architects have disagreed on the matter and there is no doubt that the experts are not all of one view. People are quite entitled to feel emotional, as suggested by Deputy A. Barry, about preserving the Georgian features along the whole of Fitzwilliam Street, Merrion Square and the Holles Street Hospital area. If they wish to feel emotional in that respect, naturally they are entitled to do it but the fact remains that Dublin Corporation have already examined this.

In 1955 it was recommended that if a new building were to be provided it should not be of a pseudo-Georgian nature. In 1957, in the draft plan for Dublin, Lower Fitzwilliam Street was clearly excluded as an area for preservation by Dublin Corporation. So Dublin Corporation, on which the responsibility must entirely rest in the ultimate, had already made up their mind in a very definite way in regard to this question of the demolition of these buildings.

When the ESB lodged plans for a proposed new building, Dublin Corporation, in their wisdom or unwisdom, refused to accept the plans. With some modifications, the plans were accepted by the Minister for Local Government on appeal to him.

That is the history of the whole business. If we are to have proper planning in this country it is no good trying to divert the responsibility from people who are doing the planning in the next four or five years. It would only result in endless delays and endless pressure groups with different [317] views. The planning authorities must stay where they are under planning legislation. Their powers were discussed at great length in this House during the passage of the new Planning Bill of 1963. If, as a result, some beautiful buildings go, it will be very unfortunate but, nevertheless, the responsibility clearly lies on the planning authorities. The Minister for Local Government has certain powers as the House well knows, but the initiative must come from the planning people themselves.

Having said that, I should like to make one or two observations on the usual attack made on a semi-State body whenever anything controversial of this kind arises—suggestions that the State body is dictatorial, without a sense of responsibility and that the directors are overriding the wishes of the people. The ESB are a most responsible body. They may not be perfect but generally speaking they are a very responsible body with a very fine tradition in the history of this country.

I should like to answer some points made which suggested that the ESB had acted with irresponsibility in regard to this whole question though, as I have said, I still regard Dublin Corporation as having the ultimate responsibility. It has been suggested that the ESB could move out of Dublin to somewhere else. If Dublin Corporation had refused to allow them to demolish these buildings, then a new situation would have arisen which would have to be examined afresh, but in actual fact the people who are to work in the new building of the ESB and those working in the present buildings must have an administrative and technical link. Otherwise there would be enormous cost on the ESB.

I do not believe the ESB are deceiving me when they say there would be very great technical and administrative difficulties involving the staffs of the present building and the new building. Someone suggested it might be possible to convert some of the houses into flats and that the ESB could take some space behind. I understand that is not possible—that the development behind the houses makes it almost impossible [318] to convert these houses into flats. If the ESB were to sell the whole area it would involve an enormous capital loss.

Mr. T. Lynch: Information on Thaddeus Lynch  Zoom on Thaddeus Lynch  They would not lose anything by it.

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  The Deputy does not know what he is talking about. He is merely talking out of the blue.

Mr. T. Lynch: Information on Thaddeus Lynch  Zoom on Thaddeus Lynch  I know what I am talking about. I know all about land values.

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  I do not intend to get into a controversy with the Deputy but if he imagines it is easy to sell the contents of these houses, with all the technical gear, the cable connections and all the vast amount of technological equipment which is involved in an electrical function of this kind, there is another view about that. I wanted to mention those facts in relation to the ESB. I do not believe the ESB has acted unscrupulously in regard to this or that they have acted irresponsibly.

I have not very much more to say, except this: I am very, very keen, and so are a great many of my colleagues, that the most beautiful part of Dublin should be preserved. I do not need to go into the reasons. They have been given very adequately by Deputy Dunne and Deputy Dockrell. Of course, I completely condemn all the suggestions that have been made that because they are Georgian, they are not worth preserving. Everybody knows the Dublin so-called Georgian architecture is the Irish conception of what, first of all, came from Greece to Italy and then from Italy to England and then from England to Ireland. It is an international artistic concept which has been expanded and developed in each country through which its influence passed and I do not think there is anything particularly English about it. That suggestion is ludicrous beyond conception. A great many traditions came from other countries. If we were to adopt that attitude, we would demolish our exquisite Romanesque abbeys because [319] the Romanesque arch came originally from the Middle East.

Mr. T. Lynch: Information on Thaddeus Lynch  Zoom on Thaddeus Lynch  They are well demolished now.

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  All artistic creation— including a great part of our Celtic art—is to some extent an adaptation from some other source with some creative concepts that arise in the country itself—and everybody knows that.

I agree with those who say that we want to preserve what is part of our history. The vast majority of Dublin people would want to preserve what is part of their history in every sense of the term. The Government, for example, are rebuilding the Royal Hospital at immense cost and it will be a folk museum — a perfect example of the Government's wish to preserve our historic tradition. We are also reconstructing part of Dublin Castle at the same time. There is no desire on the part of the Government to obliterate what is part of our history.

Mr. M.E. Dockrell: Information on Maurice E. Dockrell  Zoom on Maurice E. Dockrell  The view is held by certain people, not necessarily in the Government.

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Having said that, I am speaking beyond the motion and with very great feeling. I do not like to be a pessimist or a prophet of doom. I do not think I am when I am saying this. I think all the people who have been, in their own view quite rightly, protesting about the preservation of this particular group of houses had better fairly soon form an association to make quite sure that the core of what is best in Georgian architecture in Dublin can be preserved through the Dublin Corporation, under the 1963 Act, declaring certain areas historic monuments, as Deputy Dockrell and Deputy Dunne know the position, because my own belief is, from having talked to architects who are realists about this, that it will be enormously costly to preserve the very central core, the very best of Georgian Dublin.

I am not an architect. I do not [320] know what constitutes the best architecturally. I do know the enormous cost that has been undertaken by certain institutions in putting into perfect order the very much more perfectly built houses in Merrion Square. I would not even like to tell the House the expenditure incurred by certain authorities, including a foreign Government, in putting one of these houses into order. It is going to be a very big problem. Some of these houses are coming to the natural end of their existence. I think Deputy Dockrell knows what I am talking about. It will take a united effort on the part of people who wish to preserve just the central core of Georgian Dublin, one or two of the most beautiful squares, some of the surrounding streets. It will take all the effort that can be afforded by everybody interested in this matter to preserve these over the next 20 years.

Mr. M.E. Dockrell: Information on Maurice E. Dockrell  Zoom on Maurice E. Dockrell  The Minister is making our case for us. That is what we want done. We want a plan.

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  I say it, and reluctantly, that when in 1957 Dublin Corporation definitely excluded certain streets from preservation at the then phase of the town planning legislation I am afraid they were being realistic because I am afraid it will be very difficult to preserve more than what I have said, the very minimum that is essential to preserve the Dublin we know. I am not an expert. I am only using commonsense and the knowledge that I have of certain individual expenditure by various institutions in putting back into order some of the much better houses in Merrion Square. It is a known fact that the houses that are under consideration here were jerry-built. They were built of very much inferior materials and were of inferior construction to some of the houses in Fitzwilliam Square and some in Merrion Square.

My own view is, as I have said, that when this controversy starts arising and when Dublin Corporation has to make the plan for Dublin, this very laudable effort to preserve Georgian Dublin should be concentrated on [321] seeing what can as a whole be preserved so that nobody can tear it down, so that there is a definite part of Dublin to be preserved and part to be rejected reluctantly but simply because of the prohibitive cost of putting it in order. I believe this task will be very difficult.

Once again, in conclusion, I say this responsibility must clearly lie with the Dublin Corporation and with the Minister for Local Government. I hope that when the Town Planning Act, 1963, is taken full advantage of and planning is arranged, there will be a definite final concept and then it will be much easier to deal with individual items than it is at present. The responsibility, in my view, lies with Dublin Corporation.

Mr. Clinton: Information on Mark A. Clinton  Zoom on Mark A. Clinton  When moving the Second Reading of this Bill, Deputy S. Dunne expressed the opinion in support of his case against demolition that no building that could perhaps provide living accommodation for people should be demolished at the present time. I, too, am seriously concerned, as every public representative should be, about the plight of the many who are homeless in Dublin city and county today but, personally, I do not see any attempt to purchase, repair and preserve these buildings as providing any sort of worthwhile solution to the housing problem which exists in the city and county.

Deputy Dunne, as one would expect, made his case ably but it is unfortunate that in doing so he did not present both sides of the picture. He presented only that side of the picture that is favourable to retention of these buildings. He portrayed the responsible people in the ESB. He did not describe them as irresponsible vandals but he referred to the “vandal plan”—I think those were more or less his words—of the ESB.

I believe this whole rebuilding programme was considered by responsible, cultured and able people in the ESB and that every aspect of it was considered. I believe that in their consideration of the problem they were supported by the best possible professional [322] and technical advice that could be secured. They, in their wisdom, decided that there was no course open to them except to demolish and rebuild this line of buildings. I believe this decision was taken after very responsible consideration of the matter and the facts on all sides should be made known so that people will be fully informed of the problems with which they were confronted. They should not be portrayed as people who are going around seeking to cause destruction, people who disregarded the beauty of the area. I believe they were very sensitive to beauty and were very anxious to preserve it. In 1955 this communication was addressed to the ESB:

The attention of the Dangerous Buildings Inspector concerned, Mr. D. Nolan, was drawn to the condition of the roofs of a number of the above houses, and the Chief Inspector later accompanied him on an inspection of the whole block from Upper Mount Street to Lower Baggot Street.

These are four storey houses over basements, built, I would say, in the early part of the last century. They are of a much inferior quality and finish to the houses in Merrion Square and are all occupied by your Board's staff.

The roofs of Nos. 16, 17, 18, 20, 25, 26, 27 and 28 are badly sagged and grouted, the rafters in some cases being broken, due to overloading with cement grout.

The back walls of Nos. 26, 27 and 28 are badly bulged and have been secured in a temporary manner by the erection of raking shores.

The floors of many of the rooms are sagged and the joists are very light; in one case 7” x 1½” joists cover a span of 20' 6”.

In several of the houses there is evidence of recent settlements in the staircase walls and the walls dividing the front and back rooms, due mainly to partial foundation failure and the presence of perished bond timbers. In Nos. 17 and 18 extensive [323] rebuilding of the walls in the basements has been carried out.

The next paragraph should be particularly noted:

A critical stage has now been reached in the lives of these houses, and your Board should consider the advisability of carrying out extensive shoring to the floors, walls and roofs of the affected premises, if it is intended to keep them in continued occupation.

Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne  Zoom on Seán Dunne  Who made that statement?

Mr. Clinton: Information on Mark A. Clinton  Zoom on Mark A. Clinton  This is from the Dangerous Buildings Inspector of the Dublin Corporation.

Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne  Zoom on Seán Dunne  What year was that?

Mr. Clinton: Information on Mark A. Clinton  Zoom on Mark A. Clinton  1955. I know Deputy Dunne made the case that extensive repairs to the roofs of these buildings had been carried out in 1950.

Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne  Zoom on Seán Dunne  Or thereabouts.

Mr. Clinton: Information on Mark A. Clinton  Zoom on Mark A. Clinton  Or thereabouts. This is the picture with which the ESB were confronted in 1955.

Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne  Zoom on Seán Dunne  Five years made a big difference.

Mr. Clinton: Information on Mark A. Clinton  Zoom on Mark A. Clinton  Yes, but I have had this experience already in regard to a building purchased by the county committee of agriculture. We got the benefit of the experience of a well-known architect in Dublin city before purchasing the premises a short few years ago and we were told it was a sound building. We are now served with a notice by the Dangerous Buildings Section of the Dublin Corporation that there is extensive work to be carried out on this building.

Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne  Zoom on Seán Dunne  It speaks very well for Irish architects.

Mr. Clinton: Information on Mark A. Clinton  Zoom on Mark A. Clinton  Here is a clash of opinion and it is difficult to know where it will be resolved. There is one set of architects saying one thing and another set saying another, and it is very hard for any public body to know what way they should act.

[324]Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne  Zoom on Seán Dunne  It is very hard, then, to take their word that buildings are not sound, that they should be knocked down.

Mr. Clinton: Information on Mark A. Clinton  Zoom on Mark A. Clinton  A firm like the ESB, or anybody else for that matter in accommodation in Dublin city, must be bound by what the Dangerous Building Section of the Corporation say about these matters. They were confronted with that situation and they knew they were involved in very heavy expenditure on this aspect of it alone, the rebuilding and reconstruction programme that was being imposed upon them. They knew, too, that the buildings as they stood were anything but suitable, anything but economic or efficient office buildings.

Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne  Zoom on Seán Dunne  I do not like interrupting but one point might clear up the matter. The Minister said that these buildings were declared dangerous. Does that document mention that any of these buildings were dangerous?

Mr. Clinton: Information on Mark A. Clinton  Zoom on Mark A. Clinton  The letter says:

A critical stage has now been reached in the lives of these houses, and your Board should consider the advisability of carrying out extensive shoring to the floors, walls and roofs of the affected premises, if it is intended to keep them in continued occupation.

Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne  Zoom on Seán Dunne  It does not say they were dangerous. Is there not a legal formula for declaring a building dangerous?

Mr. Clinton: Information on Mark A. Clinton  Zoom on Mark A. Clinton  This is the report of the Dangerous Buildings Inspector of Dublin Corporation.

Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne  Zoom on Seán Dunne  They did not say they were dangerous, and the Minister did.

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  I said the ESB had spent something like £80,000 keeping not all the buildings but most of the floors habitable.

Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne  Zoom on Seán Dunne  Spread that over a period of nearly 40 years.

[325]Mr. Clinton: Information on Mark A. Clinton  Zoom on Mark A. Clinton  Deputy Dunne has made the case very ably for retaining these buildings and I admire him for it. We are all anxious to retain the beautiful spots in Dublin, and if this is one of them it should be no exception. However, every side of the question should be considered dispassionately and I am putting the case as I see it for the ESB, that they had to make this decision for which they have been severely criticised. I am not competent technically nor indeed have I all the information that I require to do that but I know that this line of buildings, or some line of buildings adjacent to it, owned by the ESB contains what is described as the load dispatch department. I cannot exactly describe what that department is but I know it is the nerve centre of the whole network of the ESB and that it represents in equipment something to the value of £500,000. That has cost an immense amount of money to instal and it would cost an enormous sum and apparently cause immense disruption if it were to be moved to another site.

As well as that, I believe the site itself is adequate. Deputy Dunne made the case that the site was not adequate even when they would be finished. Apparently it is quite adequate, as far as can be estimated, for the coming generation. The point was also made by Deputy Dunne that there was congestion, that there were car parking difficulties and so on. Apparently it is proposed to make parking accommodation available for about 175 or 180 cars and no problem is anticipated there.

Mr. A. Barry: Information on Anthony Barry  Zoom on Anthony Barry  Except getting the cars to the building and out of it.

Mr. Clinton: Information on Mark A. Clinton  Zoom on Mark A. Clinton  That is a traffic problem but if the facilities are not being used by the ESB, they will be used by somebody else, and there will always be a traffic problem in the centre of the city.

The question of the Corporation's decision at some stage to refuse permission should be explained as well. I understand that at the meeting of [326] the Housing Committee of the Corporation at which that decision was taken, there were only four out of ten present and that could hardly be regarded as the considered view of the members of the Dublin Corporation. While I would be extremely anxious to see that no particular area of beauty was unnecessarily destroyed or demolished in the city of Dublin, I believe that in these circumstances the ESB had really no alternative but to demolish these buildings and to rebuild them. It is the opinion of the responsible people in the ESB that the manner in which they are going to rebuild will, if anything, improve the general appearance of the area. and add much to the present vista. I am sure there is something in what they say. I do not think they are setting out irresponsibly to destroy something. The present height of the structure will be the height of the new structure. The intention is to put up a line of buildings which will harmonise with the area.

There is this to be said about the ESB tackling this job: if this property were put on the market it is conceivable it would be bought up by a number of interests and there could be then no overall or complete treatment of the area owned by the ESB at the moment. Every aspect of this matter should, I think, be considered and fair judgment should be brought to bear upon it. However, if the most eminent professional people cannot agree, it is hard to expect that we, in Dáil Éireann, can agree either. On the whole, I think the ESB have made the only decision it was open to them to make.

Mr. T. Lynch: Information on Thaddeus Lynch  Zoom on Thaddeus Lynch  I want to state at the outset that in anything I shall say criticising the ESB, I shall not be accusing the ESB of being irresponsible. I may accuse them of having been inefficient at some periods in their activities. We all have a great admiration for the ESB, more especially on this side of the House because we look on the ESB as the creation of Front Bench Members of this Party. As Members of Parliament, [327] representing our constituents and the Irish people, we will come in here and criticise the ESB, or any other State or semi-State body, whenever we like, and that applies also to Ministers and their Departments.

I sometimes ask myself who it is that does these things? How does a thing like this start? Who or what causes it? Whence are these ideas conceived? Who decides they must have offices and the only place they can find for them is Fitzwilliam Street? When an idea like this is sold to one or two people in the Department, the next step is to sell it to a Minister. I have noticed that the Minister who is present here now, when his officials make up their minds about something, he will go through with it with a tenacity worthy of better causes. I have known him to come in here and stand over what some of these faceless men have done in other Departments, even though they were proved wrong time and time again.

I admit that this may not be the best thing to do, economically speaking, if we are going to count the pennies, but it was the Minister himself who said we should preserve the beauties of this city. The Minister's whole case and the case of my colleague, Deputy Clinton, is based on the ability of the officials of the ESB to be the arbiters in this matter. I do not believe these men are infallible. In the city in which I was born and reared, we have a beautiful block built of cut stone by a former mayor in the last century. Beside it we have planted what I describe as an ESB kiosk. We have our oldest antiquity at the end of the quay, ancient and hoary old Reginald's Tower, and, right beside it, we have another rough concrete kiosk belonging to the ESB. Perhaps it was some of the younger architects and engineers who were responsible for this. Perhaps they are the people behind the scenes who are telling us what to do now with this beautiful Georgian facade in Fitzwilliam Street.

The Minister tried to duck the issue by saying this is a matter for the Minister for Local Government and the Dublin Corporation. Let us examine the record. I may have to go [328] a little far back. Perhaps it would not be a good idea to leave it to the Dublin Corporation. There is a stain on the escutcheon of the Dublin Corporation where the beauties of Dublin are concerned and that stain will take some rubbing out. I refer to the bridge erected with the permission of the Dublin Corporation and spelling the complete ruination of one of the most beautiful river vistas in Europe.

Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne  Zoom on Seán Dunne  The Loopline Bridge.

Mr. Byrne: Information on Patrick Byrne  Zoom on Patrick Byrne  That was 60 years ago.

Mr. T. Lynch: Information on Thaddeus Lynch  Zoom on Thaddeus Lynch  I know. Times change, but men go on making the same mistakes. It is with the greatest respect I say what I say now to the Minister. We have been told about the utility of the project; we will have to count the pennies. Everything that is not useful must be destroyed. If someone comes in and hands in a report saying there is woodworm and the building is falling to pieces, the only thing to do is to take it down, break it up, and wreck it. I am very glad surveyors went in to survey the Asgard. I am very glad they did not work along these lines. They did not consider whether it was an economic proposition to restore the Asgard. They regarded the matter in the right light and they made the proper decision.

This beautiful facade in Fitzwilliam Street should not be destroyed. Even if the ESB preserved the facade and built the offices behind them—they have all their wonderful plant and machinery behind Fitzwilliam Street— I still think the best thing they could do is to shift the whole lot out. Otherwise, they will be adding to Dublin's traffic problem in concentrating a large number of officials, technicians, and so on, there every day of the year. That is the kind of planning we should be thinking about when we are thinking of our capital city.

I take the Minister to task on something else. The Minister says we must have this. I would say to the Minister that he must allow us as Irishmen coming from all parts of Ireland to have a certain interest. This is our capital city. We are very proud of it. [329] It is a magnificent experience to bring visitors or friends into Dublin and go through the wonderful Georgian squares. If a group of architects, engineers or experts went into the General Post Office and said the building was no good for its present purpose and that it should be pulled down so that we could erect a modern building, with more storeys to it, I wonder what our reaction would be.

I listened to Deputy Timmons and the Minister talking tonight about pressure groups. I wish Ministers would stop talking about pressure groups. It is the right of the people to band together and bring their case before their own Parliament. As long as we have pressure groups in this country, or what the Minister calls pressure groups, we will have a country; but when people band themselves together and make a request to a Parliament, that is not lobbying as we regard lobbying. The picture I have is of professional people in Washington bringing pressure to bear on various Congressmen and Senators.

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  The Deputy misunderstood me. I was not complaining about pressure groups in connection with this particular controversy. What I was saying was that if Deputy Dunne's Bill was passed, the various pressure groups operating on the Dublin Corporation, the Minister for Local Government and on the Members of the Dáil who, according to the Bill, would have the ultimate decision in regard to certain buildings, would simply cause confusion. I have no objection to pressure groups.

Mr. T. Lynch: Information on Thaddeus Lynch  Zoom on Thaddeus Lynch  Then we will always have confusion. I would ask the Minister to realise that because people have worked for the ESB, for the Department of Transport and Power, or Bord na Móna, they are not a Brahmin class and everybody else is a low-class native. Ministers come in here and refer to “my officials”, “my officers” and “my engineers” and that is like speaking ex cathedra. More heed should be paid to what people have to say and when people come to us as Deputies, we always look to see [330] if they are responsible people. Surely Desmond Guinness, who got the Georgian Society together, could not be called irresponsible? These are people with a great love for Dublin. They set up the greatest industry that we have and to which we can look proudly. These are people whose generosity is boundless when it comes to Dublin. This is the family which gave us St. Stephen's Green, the family that built flats for workers before anybody else thought about that. Surely when a member of that family brought together a group interested in the period architecture of Dublin, he should not be passed by lightly?

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  I am not passing him by lightly. Desmond Guinness is not in the Bill.

Mr. A. Barry: Information on Anthony Barry  Zoom on Anthony Barry  He is in the Bill.

Mr. T. Lynch: Information on Thaddeus Lynch  Zoom on Thaddeus Lynch  He is in the Bill.

Mr. A. Barry: Information on Anthony Barry  Zoom on Anthony Barry  And the Minister is in the Bill and I am in the Bill.

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  The Bill is not the proper way out.

Mr. T. Lynch: Information on Thaddeus Lynch  Zoom on Thaddeus Lynch  The Minister is in the Bill, and his friends and a lot of people in this country who want to preserve this beautiful building. As the Minister said, it may come to Merrion Square's turn.

Mr. Byrne: Information on Patrick Byrne  Zoom on Patrick Byrne  The Minister for Social Welfare says they are only a group of West Britons—they do not speak Irish.

Mr. T. Lynch: Information on Thaddeus Lynch  Zoom on Thaddeus Lynch  I will give the Minister credit because from what he said tonight, I can see he realises the beauty and worth of the Merrion Square houses and the St. Stephen's Green houses, but if we knock these down lightly, it will be like the beginning of the knocking down of the lesser abbeys in England. They all went in the end. A stand should be made. The Minister said that this would come under the 1963 Planning Act. It will not look after these houses. Even though that Act is a good one, I do not think local authorities will be able to apply it for a long time. It is no use the Minister [331] stating that this is a matter for the Minister for Local Government; this is a matter for the Minister for Transport and Power who told us that he was responsible for his Departments and the ESB comes under one of those Departments.

What I should like the Minister to do is to get the ESB to go out to virgin land and build their offices there, making them sufficiently large to allow for expansion. That is what has been done in the great cities of America. They no longer want to build blocks of offices or new skyscrapers in the centre of New York but to get out to areas in which there are parking facilities and so on and where it is easier to reach the offices. Recently an insurance company here built offices on the banks of the canal. They were looking to the future. If they had acquired a site in O'Connell Street or Westmoreland Street and knocked down houses and built a skyscraper, you would nearly have to fight your way into the city to get into them. If such a trend is allowed to continue, it will be impossible to get into Dublin. The next thing they will be faced with will be the erection of fly-overs to bring traffic in and out of the city.

Last night when listening to Deputy Dunne, I heard him mention that the curator of the Soame Museum was one of the experts who condemned this facade. I want to register a protest against that gentleman coming over here and making such a statement. I frequently visit the museum where he is the curator and it is a beautiful house. It was the property of Sir John Soame who was one of England's great architects and he built what he thought was a perfect house and filled it with great treasures, including a great number of Hogarth originals. He has put them in a very small picture gallery with a glass roof overhead and you just turn them over as you would the pages of a book. The man who is in charge of this museum would not preserve these houses at all; yet he is in charge of one of the finest period houses in London. I would not accept his views on this at all.

[332]Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne  Zoom on Seán Dunne  He was here only for a flying visit of two days. He was never here before, never here since and he departed with his fee.

Mr. T. Lynch: Information on Thaddeus Lynch  Zoom on Thaddeus Lynch  I do not think that what Deputy Dunne, Deputy Barry, myself and a few of my colleagues here want the Minister to do is the most economical thing. We are not thinking of that end at all. We are thinking with a certain amount of sentiment and emotion of something beautiful in our capital city, something that should not lightly be destroyed. The Minister says that the Dáil and Government Departments should not enter into the planning of Dublin, that it is a matter for Dublin Corporation. It certainly is. But whether these houses stand or fall is now a matter for the Minister. If he wishes, the Minister can give a direction to the ESB. He is the man in charge of ESB.

Mr. P.J. Burke: Information on Patrick J. Burke  Zoom on Patrick J. Burke  Is the Deputy coming up to Dublin county now?

Mr. T. Lynch: Information on Thaddeus Lynch  Zoom on Thaddeus Lynch  I am sure the Deputy who was haymaking in Roscommon is fretting about whether these houses are knocked down or not. I am sure it was a Corporation composed of members like Deputy Burke who allowed them to build a railway bridge down there and ruin the view of the river. I am only waiting for him to propose what was mooted some time ago—a car park for the River Liffey.

Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne  Zoom on Seán Dunne  He will officiate at the obsequies, anyway.

Mr. T. Lynch: Information on Thaddeus Lynch  Zoom on Thaddeus Lynch  I am always clashing with the Minister because every time he comes in here he is wrecking something. It is about time he stopped. The Minister gets reports from experts. I met many of them, and I would not have some of them snagging turnips. However, they advised the Minister. Then, the Minister, in his own inimitable way, put down his head and butted his way through. On the advice of experts he did something for which we will never forgive him. He smashed up the Tramore railway.

[333]Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  I knew I would hear that.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin  Zoom on Cormac Breslin  The Deputy will please relate his remarks to the matter before the House.

Mr. T. Lynch: Information on Thaddeus Lynch  Zoom on Thaddeus Lynch  This is relevant, because the Minister has been advised by experts on this occassion also. However, this time we do not know them. It will be like laying a foundation stone. The Minister will go up with a pickaxe and knock out the first brick. This type of expert has been proved wrong in the past. I can tell a story about my own city which is relevant to this. It concerns a magnificent building in Waterford. Experts said it was about to fall down. The man who could decide whether it would go or not did not want to knock it down. He loved this beautiful building. The experts brought him there one day and a piece of plaster fell on his head. Then another piece. He did not know the scoundrels were dropping the plaster down. Eventually, he decided the building was dangerous and that the experts must be right. He said: “All right; this must go. We will build a new cathedral.” They knocked down the old Danish cathedral in Waterford, but they had to blow it down with gunpowder.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin  Zoom on Cormac Breslin  We are discussing Georgian houses in the city of Dublin.

Mr. T. Lynch: Information on Thaddeus Lynch  Zoom on Thaddeus Lynch  The main idea was to give a job to Lord Roberts' father to build a new cathedral.

Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne  Zoom on Seán Dunne  They did what Strongbow could not do.

Mr. T. Lynch: Information on Thaddeus Lynch  Zoom on Thaddeus Lynch  I am giving the Minister an instance of where the experts have been proved wrong. I also direct his attention to the fact that other beautiful houses in this city have been saved. We have that lovely house in William Street belonging to the Old Dublin Society. The Minister has produced an expert who says that these houses in Fitzwilliam Street must come down. The main reason why they should not come down is to preserve the vista. The reason the Minister [334] says they must come down is that the ESB must build their offices there. The ESB should follow the American trend and go out to the “green belt”. They would have more room for expansion and their staffs would be better satisfied.

The Minister tells us that this is a matter for the Minister for Local Government, but the Minister for Local Government does not give two hoots for these houses. I know the Minister for Transport and Power has a grá, as Deputy Burke would say, for this type of house. When I heard him speaking feelingly about these Georgian houses, I thought he was going to say he would look into this matter and that he would come back and tell us the ESB were going to do what we would hope they would do.

Debate adjourned.


Last Updated: 15/09/2010 21:09:22 First Page Previous Page Page of 100 Next Page Last Page