Future of historic city markets under threat as change creates new problems


Located on two acres behind the Four Courts, the Dublin Corporation-controlled fruit, vegetable, flower and fish market is at the heart of the 14-acre markets area between Capel Street, Mary's Abbey, Chancery Street, Church Street and North King Street, about a quarter mile away from Smithfield. But the future of this colourful and historic corner of Dublin, and the partly-renovated Corporation building, is threatened because of a conflict between the needs of wholesalers trading in the markets and the need to cater for tourists/residents in a developing area tipped to be a second Temple Bar.

Now Jim Keogan, project manager for the HARP (Historic Area Rejuvenation Project) area where the markets are based, believes the development of a retail market in this part of the city could ensure a future for the Corporation building, and be a key part of linking Mary Street/Henry Street to Smithfield. The HARP area extends from O'Connell Street to Collins Barracks and down to the River Liffey.

People tend to confuse the markets area with Smithfield but it's a common misconception, says the Corporation's superintendent of markets, Colm O'Grady. The municipal fruit, vegetable and flower market is an impressive red and yellow brick building, its recently renovated facade decorated with terracotta floral panels, iron grilles and food motifs, which are still being restored. It houses 34 traders, of which 27 are fruit and vegetable wholesalers and six flower wholesalers. The 34th unit is a cafe. Located opposite the fruit and vegetable market on St Michan's Street, the fish market accommodates a further 13 wholesalers.

Goods are delivered up to 12 o'clock at night and the markets open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday to Friday and on Saturday from 7.30 a.m. to 11 a.m. The fish market is open on the same days, though the hours vary slightly.

It's essentially a wholesale market, says O'Grady, "but there's nothing whatsoever to stop anybody from coming into the market".

Joseph Meade, then lord mayor of Dublin, officially opened the fruit and vegetable market on December 6th, 1892. Fish was originally sold there until the separate St Michan's Street fish market opened in 1897. u £45,407 14s. 3d. Jim Keogan says the two Corporation market buildings form a very small percentage of the overall wholesale market business in the markets area. While the HARP plan said the markets should stay, "there is change being brought about. There are restrictions coming into force in relation to large articulated lorries coming into the city. We have Luas coming on stream. We have the whole issue of servicing that whole area. And we now have new residential uses juxtaposed with this business."

Mr Keogan asks: "Is it wise on our part to invest a huge amount of money if in the morning, say, the private sector decides to up and move out of the city? If the private sector went out of the city - the Fyffes, the Dennings, the Keelings - you're left with a very small core area."

One objective of the HARP strategy is to develop an east-west pedestrian link through the north-west inner city area, with a series of "magnets" along the way. The Corporation recently completed an upgrade of the Henry Street/Mary Street surface, which sees as many as 23 million people pass through it every year. But only a very small proportion of that number moves westwards, through the markets and on to Smithfield, in which the Corporation has already invested heavily.

"The big problem we have in Dublin is that we don't have a retail market," says Mr Keogan. He believes a retail market would act as a stimulus for people to move into the markets area and on into Smithfield. "We believe it could be done and hold on to, in essence, the wholesaling element of it."

The Luas, work on which will start fairly shortly, will come down Chancery Street, Mary's Abbey and across Church Street. The markets currently use Chancery Street for loading and unloading. "If the private sector relocates out, what hope is there for retaining a purely municipal wholesale fruit and veg operation? One lives off the other.

"We have a building there. It is a listed municipal building. We have the money available to do something with it and we've restored the facade of what is a very beautiful building. Now we're also carrying out improvement works to the surrounding paved area." (Work so far has cost £973,909, and work about to start on the footpaths around the market will cost over £500,000.)

But, says Keogan, "we're not touching it inside. Because to invest further and have it purely to store potatoes doesn't make economic sense. What we're saying is we could only do that if, for instance, we had the kind of activity that we think the area requires. Dublin hasn't got a retail market, and that's where the retail market should be."