Tuesday, 31 January 2012
Dáil Éireann Debate
45. Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he will give an update on his plans in terms of having the Bank of Ireland premises in College Green, Dublin, available for cultural use as a public building; and if he will give a timeline for the completion of this proposal. [5672/12]
47. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the position regarding any contact or discussions between himself and-or his Department and the Bank of Ireland on making the Bank of Ireland premises in College Green, Dublin, available as a public building for use for cultural purposes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5507/12]
I refer the Deputies to my previous replies on this matter. I met the chair and chief executive of the Bank of Ireland and had a constructive engagement on the issues. That positive dialogue is continuing with the Bank of Ireland.
At the time of my initial suggestion, the future ownership of the bank was in question. My raising of the issue was exploratory and it came to unintended public attention. Clearly, too, it caught the public imagination. This building was the first purpose-built parliament in Europe. Completed in 1739, the building served as Ireland’s Parliament until the Act of Union in 1801. By extension, the question of its future use was entirely appropriate, given its resonances throughout public, cultural and civic life in this country.
Ireland has a rich literary heritage, and this building was a forum for the great parliamentary orators of the 18th century. In more recent years, the building has provided the backdrop for many iconic moments, including the addresses by two great political orators of our time, Presidents Clinton and Obama.
Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan: Whether in the short or long term, I hope the Minister will push forward with the proposal to put the Bank of Ireland premises in College Green, Dublin, back where it belongs, which is with the people. I also hope that the whole area of College Green can be pedestrianised so that people can take back a bit of the city. Other cities like Barcelona, London, Amsterdam and Brussels have areas where one can sit down and relax without traffic noise blowing one out of it at every turn. There is a fantastic collection of buildings in College Green with brilliant views, but it is a shame that one never gets the chance to enjoy them. My main feeling when I am standing there is not to look at the wonderful architecture or the city that surrounds us; it is to get out of there as quickly as possible because I am either going to be run over or go deaf from the noise. It would be brilliant if the Minister could push forward with this. This will discommode some people but we get discommoded in rural Ireland as well and we try to deal with it. It would be brilliant if something like this happens and the Minister can push for it.
Deputy Jimmy Deenihan: I thank Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan and agree with his vision, which is part of the vision I expressed to the Bank of Ireland. I presented a slideshow for them showing how the area could become a plaza like Trafalgar Square or Times Square in New York or the many examples in Paris, Madrid and Tiananmen Square. That could be our focal point and it is not overly ambitious to consider it. Dublin City Council has similar plans. The issue of traffic can be overcome.
This was part of our bid for the UNESCO city of literature designation. Our bid referred to considering providing a writers museum. This is nothing new and I am not the first to come up with that vision for the Bank of Ireland. In order to capitalise fully on the designation, we need a centre of literary excellence. We have a very good writers centre and writers museum but these are not of the magnitude to celebrate the achievements of our four winners of the Nobel Prize in literature, Heaney, Beckett, Yeats and Shaw, and the totality of expression running from Swift to our present-day writers making a major impact on the world stage. Members should try to agree to advance as much as possible. It is a site of approximately 1.5 acres under cover in the entire Bank of Ireland College Green complex. A small part of it would suffice to express the unique literary tradition of Ireland. I acknowledge the support of Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan and agree with his vision for that part of the city, which should be shared among all of us in the House.
Deputy Sandra McLellan: I thank the Minister for his reply. We were promised in the programme for Government that a social dividend would be returned for our massive investment in the banking system. I am disappointed there has been little movement on this issue. Has the Minister identified other sites as having potential for use for cultural purposes? On a related point, what steps has the Minister taken to secure the future of 14-17 Moore Street, Dublin? Does the Minister agree this is an unprecedented opportunity in the run-in to the 100th anniversary of 1916 to create a cultural quarter incorporating Moore Street and the surrounding streets and lanes, with the GPO at its centre, in the heart of Dublin city?
Deputy Jimmy Deenihan: When it looked like Bank of Ireland was going into State ownership, it put the State in a much stronger position but that has now gone the opposite way. If it was to go into private ownership, it would be important that College Green is preserved so that it does not pass on to an international bank. We are in the early stages of discussion as regards the future of the Bank of Ireland College Green and we are considering iconic projects for 1916. This is something we should consider as a nation in full co-operation with the bank. The discussions I had with the bank have been quite positive but obviously it has major problems and challenges, not including the development of cultural facilities. Any input I can get from this House is welcome.
Regarding the social dividend, that is one of the reasons I pushed bank officials because if they co-operated with my Department and the Government there would be a dividend of goodwill for the bank, which it needs. It would also send out a very strong message internationally that the bank, despite the circumstances it is now in, the Government and people could combine to produce something iconic. In terms of the symbols of Ireland, the architecture of the Bank of Ireland building resonates with a lot of people around the world. It is a site one sees representing Ireland a lot. It was represented in images of State visits and dignitaries before independence and more recently during the visits of Presidents Obama and Clinton. It has been the location for some of the great moments in Irish history.
On 14-17 Moore Street, as the Deputy knows a decision was made by Dublin City Council and An Bord Pleanála before I became Minister. I have been asked to look at the buildings and see how appropriate the proposal made by the developer is. I have consulted widely. There is a very enthusiastic all-party Oireachtas joint committee which is responsible for the next decade of commemorations. We received presentations, visited the site and met those in favour of and opposed to the proposal, as well as those who have a bigger vision for the site.
I have requested advice from the National Museum and have an open mind. If the project does not go ahead it is unlikely we will see anything happening to the buildings in terms of preservation and conservation before the anniversary of 1916. It is not within the capacity of the Government to provide the type of funding required to upgrade the site to the design proposed by the current developer. The issue is under discussion. I will bring a report to the Oireachtas joint committee. Before I make any decision I will take the issue to Cabinet because I realise it is a major decision. It is not something I am taking lightly. Whatever decision I take will be endorsed by the Cabinet.
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