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Commemorations and celebrations… The GPO, 1916 and all that… March 27, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Irish Politics.
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I missed the Easter Sunday parade on O’Connell Street this year. To be honest I didn’t hear about it until too late, and I got the sense that it was fairly unpublicised. This was confirmed, at least slightly, by the report on RTÉ before the event that the Gardai were expecting 5,000 spectators. Considering that the Easter parade, which I remember seeing as a very young child, went AWOL during the Troubles one wonders is it as a response to the continuing issues with the Peace Process that it remains low key. And yet I don’t see why it shouldn’t be seen as an entirely valid part of our history and commemorative traditions.

That said there was a certain degree of pathos about the fly past (which I did catch as the four Air corps – count ‘em, four – propeller trainer aircraft looped out towards Fairview after storming across O’Connell Street. Time for a few fast jet squadrons. Or, if not that, how about beefing up the number of our coastguard aircraft. This is after all an island with an extensive shoreline and surrounding territorial waters.

Anyhow, on foot of all this there was an interesting article in the Irish Times about how the GPO may become setting for presidential inaugurations.

Franks McDonald, the IT Environment Editor (and surely one of the few remaining outposts of the ancien regime at the IT) writes that

THE GPO in Dublin may become the setting for future presidential inaugurations, following its transformation to accommodate a museum commemorating the 1916 Rising.

Plans being drawn up by architects in the Office of Public Works (OPW) envisage demolishing part of the building to create a glazed courtyard to the rear, two-thirds the size of the Upper Yard of Dublin Castle.

Apparently its current layout is not appropriate for such usage. And that…

The two existing courtyards within the GPO are “rather mean”, according to a spokesman, so the plan is to demolish the cross-block between them and create a much more impressive civic space.

It get’s better…

Beneath this courtyard, there would be a vast concourse – “something like the Louvre [ in Paris] rather than Clery’s basement” – which would be accessible from the front and sides of the building.

Let’s conjure with that thought a moment or two. “Something like the Louvre”… Okay. Sounds good. I’ve been there. But it is the second comment that I like… “rather than Clery’s basement”. No doubt that had their shareholders sputtering their morning coffee across the table when they read it, but really. Who would seek to compare a ‘vast concourse’ with ‘Clery’s basement’?

The concept being worked on is to retain the existing post office, but reconfigure it to create a processional route from the neoclassical portico on O’Connell Street to the courtyard and concourse.

“This could become the ‘front room of the nation’ within a building that’s central to the foundation of the State,” the OPW spokesman said. “It could even be used for presidential inaugurations.”

I think that may be a bit of a stretch, and one wonders if this is the spokesman talking or has it been thought about a bit more deeply elsewhere? Well perhaps since they seem to be fairly clued up on the matter…

Traditionally, presidents have been inaugurated in St Patrick’s Hall at Dublin Castle, “with 500 people crammed in, so it would be lovely to have these ceremonies in a space that could accommodate 2,000″.

I think the symbolism might be most interesting. It’s not as if the GPO isn’t even as it stands a bit more contentious than many consider. After all, the iconic site of the rebirth of Irish Republicanism and/or Nationalism (depending on taste) was a very British building indeed. Now I can talk about the mutability of such symbols – go take a look at who introduced the harp as a state emblem – and I have. But if one has even a passing acquaintance with the imagery used by the state in the first fifty odd years of its existence one will know that the GPO became something of a substitute signifier of Republicanism, to the point that Leinster House, the actual site of a sovereign independent Irish parliament was almost never depicted. No surprise there. The revolution was truncated and delayed in the context of partition. The present was less happy than a past which was bright with optimism despite the seeming defeat at the GPO and a future which would see an entirely new dispensation (and arguably no Leinster House).

So in a way this suggestion hearkens back to that. And I suspect quite a few people might find that a somewhat threatening proposition. Nationalist feeling has never been entirely trusted by our indigenous elites, hence the disappearance of our Easter Parade, indeed perhaps too a subtext that has led to a sort of de facto pacifism and dearmanent as regards our military affairs (although in fairness that approach has entirely sincere roots in other places). The idea that a President of the Republic of Ireland will be inaugerated at the GPO seems to me to be hugely unlikely. Still, we’ll see. Meanwhile the GPO redevelopment promises to be eye-catching…

The proposed concourse beneath the courtyard would be a large, column-free exhibition space similar to the central concourse of the Louvre museum, with roof lights above to flood it with natural light.

And we also get, and this makes considerable sense:

…a 1916 museum… it would contain a philately museum and possibly also a museum of Dublin. A working group headed by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism is examining the options.

The National Museum is advising on the content of the 1916 museum, which is likely to be broader than the Rising itself and its aftermath, but it is likely that professional exhibition designers will also be involved.

Erm… yes, I’m sure the National Museum could supply some expertise on that front, but anyhow. Although reading the above that does seem like and extraordinary number of museums being located there.

Generally I think the redevelopment of O’Connell Street has been reasonably good. The wider pavements and central island are a significant improvement. I’m one of those who liked the Spire and I think the general aspect of the street is better (and having an interesting effect in aiding the already on-going regeneration of Parnell Street as well). That it still acts as a central hub for traffic is problematic. There’s little as effective as a phalanx of buses to drag the look of a street down, and pedestrianisation would be a good step forward, but that’s presumably an impossible dream. Clearing the relatively low volumes of private cars off it would be no harm.

Nor does it mean that the GPO will lose its original function….

The proposal to demolish the cross-block, which is located halfway between the front of the building and the GPO arcade, means that many of An Post’s 1,000 staff will have to relocate to other offices.

However, the OPW spokesman emphasised that the GPO would continue to house the “headquarters function” of An Post as well as the post office, which dates from 1814 and was rebuilt in the 1920s.

And how soon is this coming on-line?

The sketch scheme they are preparing is expected to be presented to the Cabinet in May, with a view to getting approval to proceed to planning application stage and finish the building work by 2013.

Why just in time for the 1916- 2016 commemorations!

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Comments»

1. Conor McCabe - March 27, 2008

And in time for the centenary of the lockout!

2. WorldbyStorm - March 27, 2008

Very true as well. Time to measure up some of the rhetoric and the reality…

3. ejh - March 27, 2008

A few years ago I went on a day-trip to Dublin (Christ, I thought London was expensive) and found myself in the GPO, where I purchased a postcard commemorating the Rising. Naturally I posted it there and then, addressed to a Unionist friend of mine from North Belfast (but living in Woolwich). Annoyingly, it never arrived.

I suspect this was because of the inattention of the British postal service rather than the attention of the British security serivces….

4. chekov - March 27, 2008

“similar to the central concourse of the Louvre museum”

If you are allowed to ignore the surrounding buildings, all paved spaces are pretty similar. The fact that the GPO is absolutely nothing at all like the Louvre, in scale or decorativeness, is a mere detail.

5. ejh - March 27, 2008

with roof lights above to flood it with natural light

Does that mean “with holes in the roof so the sun can get in”?

6. Garibaldy - March 27, 2008

EJH,

What makes you think it wasn’t due to the incompetence of An Post?

7. WorldbyStorm - March 27, 2008

Yes to all the above questions and points (4, 5, 6)… :)

8. EWI - March 28, 2008

That said there was a certain degree of pathos about the fly past (which I did catch as the four Air corps – count ‘em, four – propeller trainer aircraft looped out towards Fairview after storming across O’Connell Street. Time for a few fast jet squadrons. Or, if not that, how about beefing up the number of our coastguard aircraft. This is after all an island with an extensive shoreline and surrounding territorial waters.

On “fast jets”. Everyone knows that the things (fighter jets) cost anything up to a quarter of a billion these days. And then you’ve got to get all the accessories – spares, weapons, tools. And you’ll presumably be wanting a couple of two-seater trainers so that green pilots won’t be crashing the things. Then there’s the upgrading of facilities to use and protect the things realistically (radar stations, hardened aircraft bunkers, upgraded runways, better air defence equipment). And the horrendous fuel bills.

All the above before civil servants get involved – whereupon the preferred Air Corps model gets rejected in favour of whichever local agent’s chummier with the Government of the day, and the DoD and DoF agree that for economic purposes the Air Corps will be restricted to flying the things only for x hours per day, and only allowed to conduct live firing exercises on y (single-figure) occasions per annum.

Rinse and repeat the above for all DF hardware purchases.

As to maritime surveillance aircraft (what I presume you mean by “coastguard aircraft”) the CASA’s are excellent, and we’ll be able to as usual get money off the EU by claiming they’re for fisheries protection (incidentally, also a source of funding historically for the Naval Service *cough* ‘fleet’). Turboprops are ideal for this purpose – low loitering speed, excellent range and fuel economy.

9. WorldbyStorm - March 28, 2008

We need more CASA’s then! I think 12 in formations of four would look good, perhaps a further 12 transport helicopters and 12 smaller ones. They could then loop back around the city so it looks like we have vaster numbers again… impressive – non?

But really, don’t we have to bite the bullet – so to speak – of what sort of military force we have?

10. Garibaldy - March 29, 2008

Aren’t there some training jets which can have rocket pods fitted? I read that years ago when a child.
EWI is right. The right tools have to be bought for the right jobs. What’s the poin of having lots of shiny kit? The point of neutrality is not to have to use them. I can just about understand the purchase of troop carriers for UN missions (even though the Chad thing is a disgrace) but what need is there for a decent airforce? Airplanes have never been needed for UN missions so far. And if Ireland was to be invaded you can be sure that it would be by a power to whom a few airplanes would be no hassle. Better to have no people stuck in hallways in hospitals than armed forces with lots of nice looking gear that will never be used.

11. WorldbyStorm - March 29, 2008

Hence my peaceful alternative, including the CASA’s… Just think how that will brighten up Easter Sunday :)

12. Garibaldy - March 29, 2008

Only as long as they have adhesive Easter lillies!

And besides, we need less army involvement in public life as they try to push themselves forward more. At the annual republican commemoration in Belfast, the proclamtion is always read by a child. A better signal I think than an officer in the army for the Dublin one.

13. EWI - March 29, 2008

We need more CASA’s then! I think 12 in formations of four would look good, perhaps a further 12 transport helicopters and 12 smaller ones. They could then loop back around the city so it looks like we have vaster numbers again… impressive – non?

You’ve raised a serious point, perhaps inadvertently ;) We need CASA’s and choppers much more than jets (drones & cruise missiles do most of the latter’s work these days).

In a hierarchy of ‘things to buy’ they should be at the top of the list – ahead of the Government jets, never mind warplanes. As you rightly point out, we’re a maritime nation on the border of Europe, and I don’t see how we’re allowed to get away with contributing very little to everyday security of even our own territorial waters.

But really, don’t we have to bite the bullet – so to speak – of what sort of military force we have?

The crux is that building a ‘mini-me’ of, say, the UK armed forces would be a waste of resources. We just don’t have the population or wealth to support an armed forces with all the paraphenalia that a first- or second-class power these days needs to invest in. Think of it this way – what use would the, say, twelve fighter jets we could maybe afford be, and against whom? We’re not going to be fighting the UK in the forseeable future, and we can’t match their military in numbers even if we were.

We cannot afford an effective armoured force. We should (and are) putting the future of our Defence Forces in a mix of a core of mechanized (the new APC’s) infantry with the rest being motorized. This suits us admirably for where we can punch at our weight level – internal security and peacekeeping.

n.b. a notable example from our own recent history of politicians being infatuated with the prestige of having the sexy war toys occured during Haughey’s early Eighties reign, where a completely barmy Defence Forces re-equipment program was thought up and set in motion – naval ships, artillery, helicopters, missiles. Jets were also on the list.

However, the country was about to go bankrupt, and the money would arguably have been better spent on ‘defence’ and ‘security’ of the State by not being spent at all.

Ignoring the aforegoing, then the following criticisms can be made:

(i) the priorities were insane, and clearly reflected Haughey’s desire to puff himself up by buying shiny toys – replacing the worn-out FN rifles, antiquated ground transport and unsafe buildings was vastly more important at that moment.

(ii) reflecting the ridiculousness of the scheme in that financial climate, Haughey’s grand plans had to be abandoned after token amounts of kit had been bought (only one ‘Eithne’, a single battery of 105mm Light Guns, a single troop of Scorpion Light Tanks and a single battery of Giraffe SAM systems). So we ended up with inadequate numbers (to ‘do stuff with’) of very expensive equipment, while the DF laboured on with crap basic tools for another decade.

14. EWI - March 29, 2008

(only one ‘Eithne’, a single battery of 105mm Light Guns, a single troop of Scorpion Light Tanks and a single battery of Giraffe SAM systems)

I need to add as a postscript that I believe that it’s still technically illegal to publish more specific information, such as numbers of kit. Jane’s has it, though, if you can access their (iirc) ’86 annual.

15. WorldbyStorm - March 29, 2008

No I’m entirely serious about how we could and should reconfigure our forces, particularly the Air Corps into a air/sea coastguard. Much the same with the Navy. I’m not talking about changing the names of the services, but the function (or rather being a bit more explicit about that function). Therefore I’m 100% with you as regards purchasing aircraft which have that function, rather than fast jets, etc… And I entirely agree with you that the Defence Forces should be security/peacekeeping. That’s their role for the foreseeable future. That said they should have the equipment (and I think that’s what you’re saying in your last sentence in 13) to fulfill that role.

As it happens I have considerable sympathy for the DF.

It’s illegal? Get out of here. Why?

16. EWI - March 29, 2008

particularly the Air Corps into a air/sea coastguard.

They pretty much already are. I think most of their equipment has been part-paid for by the EU as being for fisheries protection. They have insignificant military capability against anyone other than domestic insurgents or third-world adversaries. Most ships and aircaft don’t even have military-purposed sensors, never mind weapons.

It’s illegal? Get out of here. Why?

I can’t say for certain after all these years since I myself learned this, but AFAIK it’s the Official Secrets Act. And I have been under the OSA myself (I was once an NCO in the FCÁ), so I’m restraining myself to commenting on what I consider to fairly be in the public domain. Even so.

17. EWI - March 29, 2008

That said they should have the equipment (and I think that’s what you’re saying in your last sentence in 13) to fulfill that role.

Yes, indeed.


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