Wednesday, 24 March 1999
Dáil Éireann Debate
1. Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Taoiseach if his Department has been approached in relation to the funding of the proposed millennium spire for O'Connell Street, Dublin 1; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7030/99]
2. Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Taoiseach if his attention has been drawn to the concerns expressed by a number of people, including a person (details supplied) in Dublin 12, regarding the proposal to mark the millennium. [7746/99]
The National Millennium Committee, which I chair, has not received a proposal in respect of Dublin Corporation's plan for a new monument for O'Connell Street. Dublin Corporation has submitted a plan for the integrated development of the O'Connell Street area for consideration for funding as a millennium project. This proposal is currently under consideration by the National Millennium Committee in the context of its mandate to examine and make recommendations on proposed projects for inclusion in the Government's millennium programme.
I have received a large number of postcards supporting the erection of a statue in O'Connell Street, Dublin, to mark the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ. I will bring this petition to the attention of the National Millennium Committee. I have also brought this petition to the attention of Dublin Corporation. Such a proposal would need to be submitted to the millennium committee in a worked out form before it could be given detailed consideration.
Mr. G. Mitchell: On Question No. 1, notwithstanding the quality of the project – I do not cast aspersions on it; it is a fascinating idea and I am interested in innovative ideas for Dublin city – and the manner in which it was chosen, will the Minister of State agree that to erect a 400 ft. spire of light in O'Connell Street without any consultation with the people of Dublin is the wrong way to proceed? I raise this question because a number of projects of this kind took place in Dublin city which would not be tolerated elsewhere. I doubt if a statue or monument of any magnitude would be erected in Mullingar without Deputy Paul McGrath or the local public representatives  informally consulting the people. It is not possible to do that in Dublin but given that the local elections will take place on 11 June, will the Minister of State agree that the opportunity should be taken to consult the people of Dublin so that we do not have a repetition of the reclining lady in the water for which Dubliners have no affection?
Mr. S. Brennan: I agree with the Deputy that the maximum consultation should be entered into by Dublin Corporation. He will appreciate this project is one for Dublin Corporation alone; it is not a matter for the National Millennium Committee because I have not received any request from the corporation for funding. I gather that the vote at the council was 34 for and 14 against the project. A total of 84 submissions were received by the corporation which went through a thorough assessment procedure. It is a matter for the corporation to defend itself on this issue because it chose to do it this way. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That is a true phrase when it comes to the monument in O'Connell Street. One either loves it or hates it but I expect in future we will be unable to ignore it.
Mr. G. Mitchell: I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Will he agree that if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, O'Connell Street is in the ownership of the people? The people who own O'Connell Street have not been consulted about this project. It sounds like an interesting project but delaying the erection of something like this for two months, which presumably will be in O'Connell Street for most of the next century if not longer, would allow people to have their say and be given ownership of the project. It is all very well for a small number of so-called experts to conduct a competition but there is no democracy in the way this decision is being made.
Mr. G. Mitchell: Given that the corporation proposes to spend £3 million on this project, some of which it hopes to get from the Exchequer, will the Minister of State bring his influence to bear to ensure there is some consultation process with the people of Dublin who own O'Connell Street? Will the Minister consider that?
Mr. S. Brennan: I hope to meet soon with the officials and representatives of Dublin Corporation and I will certainly bring the Deputy's concerns to their attention. The more consultation in these matters, the better, but the corporation will have to decide on the extent to which it is practical to do so. It took an open vote on the matter.
The national committee has 408 proposals before it in regard to projects. It has deemed 128 of those to be national and 117 local, and they are being whittled down by the day. Approximately 90 have been closely examined and the view has been taken that they are not particularly  suitable. Approximately 40 are in serious contention and we are beginning to talk to those people and receive presentations. I would like to do that as openly as possible.
Mr. G. Mitchell: Question No. 2 specifically relates to marking the millennium, the birth of Christ, in a way that would be suitable. I am aware this sends shivers down the backs of the so-called liberals in this House who have been tolerated in—
Mr. G. Mitchell: I have been liberal in tolerating different views but we should also tolerate the view of people who want to see a Christian memorial erected. The Minister said there were 408 projects before the millennium committee. If one of those is a proposal to erect a suitable statue to mark the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ, will he give proper and fair consideration to the proposal which is supported by a large number of people? We should not lose sight of the fact that this is not just the start of a new century but, for Christians in particular, it is a significant anniversary.
Mr. S. Brennan: That idea is before the committee. I agree with Deputy Mitchell and I have said publicly on a number of occasions that the National Millennium Committee is particularly anxious that we mark the millennium with dignity because, long after the champagne has run out, people should be able to say that we marked it in a suitable fashion. The Christian churches in particular have a strong role to play in that regard. I have had a meeting with Bishop Field, who runs the millennium festivals in Dublin for the Catholic Church, and with Bishop Ryan, who is the chairman of the National Catholic Church Millennium Committee. I have also had a meeting with the religious liaison group of the millennium committee. It is made up of representatives from the different religious organisations and is representative of Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Church of Ireland members, Presbyterians, Methodists and Buddhists. I hope to have a further meeting with that group as soon as possible.
Mr. G. Mitchell: I hope as a result of this exchange neither myself nor the Minister are crucified in the Sunday newspapers. I thank the  Minister for his reply and urge him to ensure, without causing offence to other religious groupings, that a suitable and lasting Christian memorial is found to meet the concerns of those advocating it. I would appreciate it if the Minister would confirm he will give that strong and active consideration.
Some years ago there was a major controversy about a magnificent sculpture of Christ the King. Would it not be appropriate for it to be relocated from its relative obscurity to a more central point? The sculpture in question was by Andrew O'Connor and is one of the finest pieces of monumental sculpture in this country. It was put in a place of obscurity because people were afraid of being offended. I join with Deputy Gay Mitchell in asking the Minister if he and his committee will give some consideration to the appropriateness of a Christian memorial for the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Christ.
Mr. S. Brennan: We have built a very strong working relationship with the various churches. Many meetings have taken place and many more will be held in the coming weeks. The understanding we have with the churches is that we will seek their advice and counsel before we embark on any proposal such as that made by Deputy Roche or Deputy Mitchell, particularly when using taxpayers' money. That will be done only in consultation with the churches.
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