The first thing Martin Cullen’s successor as minister for the arts must do is review his supposedly bright idea of shovelling the Abbey Theatre into the General Post Office. Airily dismissing a previous proposal by Bertie Ahern that the GPO should house a museum commemorating the 1916 Rising, Cullen said last December: “I don’t want another museum there, open nine to five, then the whole bloody thing is dead. Think of the wider context of O’Connell Street and try to rejuvenate it.”
Let us first locate Martin Cullen in a wider context. While having personal sympathy for his current plight, I believe he was one of the worst ministers for the environment in living memory. He eviscerated the social and affordable housing provisions of the 2000 Planning Act at the behest of developers, practically nullified the National Monuments Acts so that archaeology wouldn’t get in the way of motorway plans, did nothing whatever to halt the sprawl of Dublin, and promoted “Bungalow Blitz” in the countryside.
He ran with moving the Abbey to the GPO – an idea canvassed by Senator David Norris in June 2008 – after shooting the breeze with an unnamed “very good international architect” (believed to be Ian Ritchie, who designed the Spire in O’Connell Street).
But if one of the key objectives is to contribute to the rejuvenation of O’Connell Street, Cullen was seriously misguided. Did he not realise that the GPO is by far the busiest post office in Ireland, with thousands of people using it every day? They’re customers buying stamps, as well as tourists and history buffs who come to see an original copy of the 1916 Proclamation that Pearse read outside the building after the insurgents had seized it. They seized it precisely because of its importance as Dublin’s chief post office, the point from which all distances from the capital were measured.