Ciaran Cuffe: A radical re-think is now required for the Iveagh Market
Planning permission for a hotel on the site expires next week
The Iveagh Markets site in Dublin .Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES
A faded manila file sits on my desk. It contains a Dublin Corporation report on the Iveagh Markets dated 14th February 1992. It states that the “restoration of the building to its original splendour and its refurbishment as a modern indoor market would be of considerable economic and social benefit to the surrounding area while more investment in the area would provide a wider range of shopping facilities and attract more shoppers with an obvious spin-off for local traders and the creation of additional jobs.” What was written twenty-five years ago by the then City Manager Frank Feely still holds true today. Sadly at that time a decision was made by the Council to offer £20,000 to each stall-holder to vacate their stands and give up their licenses, bring an end to generations of market trading in the Francis Street area.
The wheels of local government turn slowly, and it wasn’t until 1999 that a license was granted by the city to publican and hotelier Martin Keane to redevelop the site. This meant that if he failed to deliver the project the deal was off. Legal issues delayed the commencement of works for several years as a dispute over the ultimate ownership of the markets ensued. Even the 1901 Dublin Corporation Markets Act was unclear as to whether Baron Iveagh of the Guinness family actually owned the lands. Subsequently a lengthy archaeological investigation was carried out on the site. In 2007 ‘Lord Iveagh Hotels and Markets Ltd’ a company reported as being controlled by Mr. Keane obtained Planning Permissions for a hotel and refurbished Iveagh Market. A five year extension to that Planning Permission will finally expire this August. Although Mr. Keane announced that work on his plans were due to start on many separate occasions it hasn’t happened, even though he invested considerable time and resources into the project. Meanwhile Buddleia plants grow from the gutters, graffiti covers the walls, and the markets are more derelict than ever.
We now need a new approach. Cork City Council successfully runs the English Market in Cork City and traders are granted twenty-one year leases from the Council itself. It also has been successful at attracting a range of produce and foodstuffs from recent immigrants to Ireland which increases its vitality. In Belfast St. George’s Market has been on the go since 1604, and bustles with activity at the weekend. Visitors can enjoy a coffee and listen to local bands playing live. In Dún Laoghaire the outdoor Sunday Market in the People’s Park has been running successfully for over a decade. It would not be that difficult to attract similar activity to the Liberties, particularly if stalls are sheltered from the elements in a beautiful red brick listed building. The City Council could refurbish and run the market, or outsource the job if they’re not for the challenge.
Perhaps the City Council should join forces with Bord Bia to present and showcase fresh Irish produce. Currently thousands of tourists visit the Guinness Storehouse every day. Imagine if they could be encouraged to stroll down Thomas Street and into the Market for a bite to eat or some modern Irish crafts or clothing to take home. Bord Failte already promotes the ‘Dubline’ project to attract more visitors to the south west inner city, and even feature an image of the Markets on their website. Perhaps the Ministers for Agriculture and Tourism could work with Dublin City Council’s Chief Executive Owen Keegan and our Lord Mayor to kick-start the project. Contact could be made with the descendents of Baron Iveagh who gifted the Market to the City back in 1901. Alternatively Diageo PLC which owns the Guinness Brewery could direct some of their Corporate Social Responsibility to providing a world-class market in their neighbourhood.
We now need to go back the drawing board and think again. A radical re-think is now required. It is one of the finest buildings in the area, and could be a crucial component of the area’s revitalisation. What if residents of the Liberties could buy Irish fruit, vegetables, meat and fish under one roof as they did for generations? Think of the spin-off in local jobs. You only have to visit any other modern European city to see how good local markets can fuel the local economy, and provide an attraction for residents and tourists alike. As planning permission for the Markets expires on 22nd August 2017, there is now an opportunity to take back the building. Let’s make a fresh start on delivering a first-class attraction for the people of Dublin and those who visit our city. It would be a travesty if it were to lie derelict for another twenty-five years.
Ciarán Cuffe is a Green Party city councillor and lecturer in urban regeneration at the Dublin Institute of Technology.