It is a testament to the dogged determination of Dublin’s Moore Street traders, their commitment to preserving family traditions, and of course their need to make a living, that they have hung on so long in a street that no longer seems to want them.
But now it appears they have had enough, with the market's 17 traders signing a letter to Dublin City Council indicating they are willing to give up their casual trading licences.
Over the last two decades, the profile of Moore Street has changed dramatically, with phone shops and discount stores dominating, while the traders compete with ethnic grocers and, right at the entrance to the street, German discount supermarket Lidl.
But it is not the competition, nor the changing nature of the businesses on the street, that has really hurt their trade, but the squalid conditions in which they have to work.
A report from the Government-appointed Moore Street Advisory Group, recently submitted to Minister for Culture and Heritage Josepha Madigan, found the 200-year-old market was in a "vicious circle of decline", with a lack of basic facilities such as toilets and inadequate power, water, lighting and cleaning.
There were also problems with drug dealing, illegal cigarette selling, violence and homeless people sleeping under stalls, the report found.
While many of these problems were matters for the Garda, Ms Madigan has tasked the council with addressing specific recommendations of the report that it “support the retention and development of the market” and that it appoint an expert group to “lead the urgent regeneration” of the market.
“This group should consist of Moore Street traders and people in Ireland and elsewhere who have been at the heart of the emergence of country markets,” the report said.
Joanne Hanway, whose mother Margaret runs a fish stall on Moore Street, said they arrived on Thursday morning to find discarded needles and other debris associated with drug taking on top of their stall. “The conditions are deplorable. The place is swarming with drug addicts. There are always needles everywhere and this morning there was drug paraphernalia just left on top here when we came to open.”
Margaret Hanway said she has been asking the council to upgrade the markets for more than 20 years. “It’s a disgrace the way the street is. We have no toilets, and we have people using the stalls as toilets. People have been assaulted. For 21 years, I’ve been looking for the council to upgrade the street and they still haven’t done it.”
Construction of the Ilac Centre obliterated streets such as Riddal's Row, Little Denmark Street and Cole's Lane
The seeds of decline of the market were sown not two decades ago, but 50 years ago. In 1968 the council’s forerunner, Dublin Corporation, condemned several street markets, which operated in a warren of small streets and lanes between Henry Street and Parnell Street, as unhygienic and a danger to public health.
The following year, it began buying out property owners on these streets under a compulsory purchase order and, by the mid-1970s, had amassed an eight-acre site.
The corporation sold the site to the Irish Life Assurance Company on a 150-year lease for £3 million, an annual ground rent of £70,000, a share in the shop rentals and a public library that would be built in a new shopping centre.
This was the Ilac Centre, the construction of which obliterated streets such as Riddal’s Row, Little Denmark Street and Cole’s Lane and the markets that had operated on them for centuries.
Moore Street remained, though a proposal to make it a covered market as part of the Ilac development was dropped.
New shopping centre
In the late 1990s, plans for another large-scale shopping complex began to push against Moore Street from the opposite side of the street. The Carlton Group bought up a vast block of properties stretching from O'Connell Street to Moore Street and, in 1999, permission was granted for a new shopping centre, Millennium Mall.
It was at this point the council stopped issuing new casual trading licences for the market to clear the way for the proposed new scheme.
Development never happened and, after almost a decade of legal wrangling, the council secured ownership of the site, selling it on to developer Joe O’Reilly’s Chartered Land. Planning permission was again secured in 2010, but the development never went ahead.
The site is now owned by UK property group Hammerson, which plans to lodge a fresh planning application next year. Hammerson has been enthusiastic about the preservation of the street market, but it is the council and not the property owners who ultimately decide whether licences are issued to trade on the street.
Assistant council chief executive Dick Brady said the council has established the expert group as per Madigan's request and would work with the traders to explore the "potential of the street", with the possibility of new facilities such as toilets and food preparation areas.
However, it would be understandable if the traders didn’t have the heart for it. It’s astonishing they have managed to hold on as long as they have.