Tuesday, 22 October 1991
Dáil Éireann Debate
3. Mr. McCartan asked the Taoiseach if he will outline in respect of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin 4, the progress made to date in implementing the recommendations of the O'Donnell report; when the position of Director will be filled; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
4. Mr. McCartan asked the Taoiseach if his attention has been drawn to any reduction, whether by sale, exchange, loss or other means, in the holdings of the Chester Beatty Gallery of Oriental Art during the last six years; if he will confirm the integrity of all collections in the institution; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
5. Mr. McCartan asked the Taoiseach if he has yet received information from the trustees of the Chester Beatty Library regarding the circumstances of the break-in at the library at the end of June; if he can now give full details of the items stolen and their estimated value; if he will outline the steps which have been taken to improve security as a result of this break-in; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
As I indicated to the Deputy in reply to Dáil questions on 15 May and 13 November last, the proposals and recommendations set out in the consultant's report have been the subject of discussion between my Department and the trustees of the Chester Beatty Library for some time. That continues to be the case. I must reiterate that the trustees are the legal owners of the library and that its administration rests in their hands. I am satisfied that these discussions are facilitating the best interests of the library and members of the public wishing to use it.
The principal recommendations of the consultant's report relating to the organisational structure of the library, its staffing, funding and marketing have already been implemented. It is now expected that the position of director will be filled within the next few weeks.
A person has been charged and remanded by the District Court in connection with the alleged theft over the years 1983-1988 of certain materials from the library. That matter is still the subject of Garda inquiries and it is possible that further charges will be laid. Clearly, in these present circumstances, it would be entirely inappropriate and possibly prejudicial to the outcome of the pending court case to comment further on the matter.
Information concerning the break-in last June at the library has been communicated to my Department. I do not propose to give details of the value of the items stolen as that might well impede efforts to secure their return. For security reasons, I do not wish to divulge any of the changes made to security installations or practices as a result of the June break-in. I can, however, assure the House that the break-in is still the subject of a Garda investigation. The Garda have also recently carried out a major security review at the library in conjunction with  my Department and the Office of Public Works, which is empowered by statute to ensure the maintenance of the premises. The Office of Public Works are now in the process of carrying out certain security works there which were considered to be appropriate.
Mr. McCartan: How many, if any, new trustees have been appointed to the board, in the light of the recommendations of Mr. O'Donnell who prepared the report? Has the Taoiseach made any representations with regard to those appointments? Have the recommendations contained in the O'Donnell report been implemented in regard to new appointees or to existing trustees?
The Taoiseach: I regret I am not quite sure whether it was two or three trustees who have been appointed. They were not appointed but were co-opted by the trustees. I was not aware they were being co-opted or appointed.
The Taoiseach: I have not actually got the names. I know Dermot Desmond was one of them, if that is the information the Deputy is seeking. Certainly I want to assure the Deputy that they were co-opted by the trustees themselves without any reference to my Department. In fact, I and my Department were quite surprised because we envisaged that the occasion might have been used to co-opt people from my Department and from the Office of Public Works.
Mr. McCartan: That was the point I was coming to. Has the Taoiseach succeeded in implementing one of the strongest recommendations of Mr. O'Donnell's report of securing a nominee from his Department to the board of trustees? While it has been indicated here constantly that the legal owners are the trustees, would the Taoiseach agree that nonetheless his Department and the State have a major responsibility, being  the people to whom the gifts were originally made by Mr. Beatty and that we have a responsibility to see to the security and the integrity of the collection? In respect of that, has the Taoiseach given any consideration to the introduction of legislation to establish proper statutory control and responsibility for the library?
The Taoiseach: No, I have not given any consideration at this stage to introducing any statutory provisions. I think I can assure the Deputy at this stage that the situation is working towards a satisfactory solution. There will be a new director appointed soon and the House can be satisfied that the new director will be a person of top class professional qualifications.
The Taoiseach: Not exactly but there were discussions and a name was suggested by my Department. That has subsequently been agreed to and I am sure it will be a very satisfactory appointment. The other matters of concern, the security and other arrangmeents, will be satisfactorily resolved.
Mr. Quinn: Would the Taoiseach not agree that, notwithstanding the contents  of some of his replies and the constraints imposed upon this House by virtue of the legal actions that have been initiated, the trusteeship of this treasure house has been very negligent over the last number of years; that Deputy McCartan myself and others have repeatedly asked questions in answer to which there were attempts to assure us that all was well in the Chester Beatty Library when the facts clearly show now that that is not the case? If the Taoiseach accepts that summary analysis, would he not agree that new legislation of a fundamental kind is needed and that perhaps the existing trustees might, in the privacy of the Taoiseach's own Department, be asked to consider stepping aside to allow a proper administration of this treasure house? I suspect that the full record available to the Taoiseach is an appalling one of lost treasures and that is not satisfactory. This is not the place for these matters to be adequately raised, but I would ask the Taoiseach to give full consideration to the points that have been raised and consider carefully the possibility of introducing root and branch legislation to deal with this matter once and for all.
The Taoiseach: First, I am sure the Deputy would agree that I have been cooperative to the House in this regard and have continually updated the information provided to the House, and that is in contrast to situations that applied before when it was regarded that the matter was entirely one for the trustees and that that was that. I have always taken the view that as the State is making available the entire resources it has a valid and genuine interest in the library. I would ask the Deputies to give the new arrangements a chance to work. I am reasonably confident that we are moving towards a very satisfactory situation, if we are not there already. The introduction of legislation would have pretty far-reaching implications. It may even have constitutional implications, as the Deputy knows.
Mr. McCartan: In the new arrangements the Taoiseach speaks about, will  he not at least make representations, if not ensure, that the cataloguing of the entire collection would be set as a priority so that the trustees would know what is in the collection?
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