Architectural Heritage (National Inventory) and Historic Monuments (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1998 [ Seanad ] : Report and Final Stages.
Tuesday, 22 June 1999
Dáil Éireann Debate
In page 4, line 12, after “Heritage” to insert “and the Minister shall cause to be included in that inventory every structure and building,  together with their settings and attendant grounds, fixtures and fittings, group of such structures and buildings, and site, which is in his or her opinion of architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social or technical interest”.
I tabled a similar amendment on Committee Stage. The word “cultural” is added here arising out of an amendment tabled by the Minister on Committee Stage. We debated this issue on Committee Stage but I still feel that section 2(2) does not impose an obligation on the Minister to add particular structures to the inventory. I made the point previously that we must consider the legislation as it is framed, not in the context of the Minister's own intentions.
The Minister pointed out that local authorities will have a pivotal role in the development of the list of buildings or settings to be included in the inventory. However, if the Department is of the view that a particular structure should be added to the list but the local authority concerned is not amenable to that, for whatever reason, it is important that the Minister should be obliged to add the structure. The Minister should not stand idly by and fail to intervene in a situation in which a local authority was clearly pursuing a mistaken course of action in regard to the listing of a particular structure.
Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera): The establishment and maintenance of the national inventory of architectural heritage, provided for in section 2, is governed by the definition of “architectural heritage” in section 1 which is the interpretation section. The Deputy will note that the definition includes the word “all” in the first line thus ensuring that if a structure meets the criteria set out in the definition, it will be regarded as part of architectural heritage. The purpose of the inventory is precisely to record and include in the inventory all aspects of our architectural heritage, as defined in section 1. Therefore, I do not consider the amendment to be necessary.
Mr. O'Shea: I again draw the Minister's attention to section 2(2) which states that “the Minister may do any or all of the following”. I put it to the Minister that that does not impose any particular obligation on her. Who will be the arbiter of whether structures, groups of structures or sites should be included in the inventory? I understood from Committee Stage that the Minister was of the view that lists would issue from local authorities and that she did not see herself as having any particular role in adding to the lists.
Miss de Valera: Section 2, as it stands, places an obligation on the Minister. The Deputy will note the words “shall cause to be established”. The word “shall” is very strong and would cover the anxieties being expressed by the Deputy. The inclusion of the Deputy's amendment would be repetitive and superfluous. The issue about which  the Deputy is concerned is already covered by section 2.
Mr. Kenny: I commented on the Order of Business in regard to resources being made available to the House, that if Members were furnished with the Minister's detailed Committee Stage responses, it would assist us in framing Report Stage amendments.
I support Deputy O'Shea's comments. Will the Minister define “attendant grounds”? Given the manner in which development is leading planning throughout the country, we are witnessing a huge explosion in investment and an invasion into what formerly constituted the attendant grounds of architectural and historic buildings. If one considers a 200 year old house surrounded by an avenue and trees, what constitutes its “attendant grounds” as defined in section 1?
Mr. O'Shea: I refer to section 2(1) which states that “the Minister shall cause to be established and maintained an inventory to be known as the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage”. The Minister referred to the definition of architectural heritage. Any such definition or interpretation is subject to arbitration and it is not clear to me who will decide what “architectural heritage” means. There are many structures, buildings and sites which it is clear are part of our architectural heritage. What I am talking about are those about which there is a dispute in spite of the expertise available to local authorities in drawing up their lists to be included in the national inventory. The Minister should be obliged to act on the advice available to her Department and make additions. It is not clear, however, whether the local authorities or the Minister will make the final decision in the event of disagreement.
Miss de Valera: On the Order of Business Deputy Kenny referred to the Committee Stage report on the Bill. That is not a matter for me or the Department. I understand the Deputy has received a copy of the report from the clerk to the committee. If he has a difficulty, he should take the matter up with the appropriate authorities.
On the definition of “attendant grounds”, the Bill incorporates the definition of “heritage” set out in the Granada Convention which includes the setting in which a building is found. This extends to the avenue and surrounding grounds, whether it be parkland or gardens.
On the national inventory of architectural heritage, it is the Minister who will decide on what buildings are of local, regional or national import ance. Any building which meets the definition will be included. The amendment, therefore, is superfluous. Section 2 outlines the obligations of the Minister.
The Minister indicated on Committee Stage that initially the intention was that the national inventory of architectural heritage would be completed within 40 years but she sought to have this reduced to 12 years. I support the Bill, which is a good one. Valuable work will be completed under it. I would not like to see it pass through the House, however, without some target being set. The Bill reads: “The Minister shall cause to be established and maintained an inventory to be known as the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.” If no target is set, it may take 40 years to complete the inventory. With the expertise and professional and voluntary assistance available to the Department, it should be possible to complete it within ten years. This should be set down in the Bill. Approximately one million buildings have to be listed and examined, many of which will be included in the local authorities' inventories.
This is a straightforward amendment, the purpose of which is to ensure the Bill will not be open-ended, with no end in sight, given that the Minister's successors may not be as successful in obtaining funds from the Minister for Finance. It is necessary, therefore, to set a target for completion of the inventory. The person in charge of the appropriate section would then be able to say to staff, “It is our job to complete the national inventory of architectural heritage by 2009. Let us see if we can meet this target.” He or she should not have to say, “You are joining this outfit at the age of 20. When you are 65 the national inventory of architectural heritage will still not have been completed.” Ten years is sufficient time to complete it.
Mr. O'Shea: I support the amendment as I am a great believer in deadlines. There should be a statutory obligation on the Department to complete the inventory, be it in ten or 40 years. It was indicated on Second Stage that the Minister would have the support of this side of the House in her quest to obtain additional funds to have it completed. This will strengthen the hand of the Department. The necessary resources will have to be provided and the work will be completed if there is a statutory obligation on the Government to finish the work within ten years. If this issue is left open-ended the work could be put on the long finger by a future Government which is not committed to our heritage or a Minister who is not as committed as the present Minister to finishing this work. Ten years is a reasonable period  of time for the completion of this work. The Minister and the country will win if this amendment is accepted. I do not like open-ended timeframes as they inevitably lead to work being left incomplete.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I made inquiries about the availability of the select committee reports on the Bill. The debate of 1 June has been available on the Dáil computer system since 2 June. If Deputies have difficulty acquiring the report perhaps they should contact the Editor of Debates.
Miss de Valera: As I noted on Committee Stage, it has proved possible to shorten the timescale for the completion of the inventory to 12 years. We had a long discussion during which different timescales such as 40 years, 25 years and 12 years were discussed. I reiterate the commitment I gave on Committee Stage that I will make every effort to shorten the timescale. I am also advised that this process has taken far longer in other countries than the period we envisage. In view of the urgency attached to conserving our architectural heritage, I have requested that a preliminary county-wide survey be completed and made available to local authorities within three years. I made this point so that people would not think that the only work being undertaken is in the context of the NIAH.
On Committee Stage I also undertook to examine the possibility of including a mechanism in the Bill to allow for reviews of the progress being achieved with regard to the inventory. Opposition Deputies have not tabled an amendment in this regard. However, having considered the matter, it appears that the only practical way to provide for such a review mechanism is to include an obligation in the Bill requiring the submission of a progress report to the Oireachtas at specified intervals. However, such a provision would be superfluous in light of my recent decision to initiate preparation of an annual report from the Department as a whole with effect from this year. I propose that these annual reports will be laid in the Oireachtas Library. I am happy to give the House an undertaking that each report will contain a progress report on the national inventory of architectural heritage for the year in question.
I regret that I cannot accept this amendment. Deputy Kenny stated that we are all concerned that this work should be completed as quickly as possible. I will ensure that staffing resources will be available to considerably reduce the timescale. We are talking about 12 years and I hope we will be able to complete the work within a 12 year period.
I acknowledge the support of Members for the provision of more resources for the work of the NIAH. On Committee Stage Opposition  Members kindly stated that they would support me in seeking additional resources to push this agenda forward. However, it would not be appropriate to provide for a fixed timescale for the completion of the inventory in this legislation. I have given a commitment concerning the staffing and resources we are attempting to make available to reduce the timescale so that we can ensure that people will be able to closely monitor the steady progress in the annual reports.
Mr. Kenny: This is like mathematics in that one can have steady progress towards an end without ever reaching it. I thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for the information regarding the select committee reports. I was not aware that these reports were available on the computer system. I have received a hard copy of the report with which I am familiar.
The Minister then advised that this process takes longer in other countries. I want to help the Minister. She and future Ministers and the NIAH would be in a stronger position to acquire the necessary staff if they were able to point out in the annual reports that a ten year target is set out in law for the completion of this work. The Minister stated that she hoped the work would be completed well within 12 years. If that is the case, it should be feasible to stipulate a ten year period for the completion of the inventory.
Deputy de Valera is the Minister who is providing the resources for the work. She issues a direction as to the kind of inventory she wants produced and its contents. As the political head of the Department and the person who issues political policy to the NIAH, surely it is normal for the Minister to outline its remit, responsibilities, resources and target, and to state that she wants the work completed within ten years. This would ensure that those dealing with these matters in ten years would have a full, accurate, up-to-date inventory available. It would also ensure that local authority planners producing county development plans, businesses expanding and locating throughout the country and every aspect of Irish development would fully appreciate that this legislation set out a ten year timeframe which would be adhered to. I will press this amendment as it will help the Minister to extract the necessary resources and assistance from the Department of Finance to enable her staff and the NIAH to complete this work within ten years.
Miss de Valera: The Committee Stage debate on the timescale was interesting in that Deputy Kenny referred to trying to complete the work within five years. He now realises that this could take ten to 12 years, which seems the most  realistic timeframe. There is no problem in talking about targets and timescales. The completion of the county-wide survey so that it is available to local authorities within three years is an important target and timescale. There is also the issue of working towards the 12 years. I would like to see the work completed within 12 years. It  is important that we set targets and do our best to achieve them. However, it is not appropriate to set a timeframe in the legislation. That is why I cannot accept the amendment.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
De Rossa, Proinsias.
de Valera, Síle.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
Wright, G. V.
5.–Section 2 of the National Monuments Act, 1930, (as amended by section 11 of the National Monuments (Amendment) Act, 1987) is hereby amended in the definition of “monument” by the deletion of the words from “, but does not include”to the end of the definition.”.
I seek this amendment to the Bill because structures considered to be religious are exempt from the National Monuments Acts. The amendment removes the blanket exemption. The Minister may say it is unconstitutional to make the amendment, but she did not say so on Committee Stage. Apart from the fact that the 1937 Constitution was not in place when the 1930 Act was passed, there is a provision in the Constitution, Article 44.2.6º, which states:
Amendment No. 4 seeks to amend the National Monuments (Amendment) Act, 1987, so that monuments which are 100 years old will be included as against the situation at present where only monuments which are 299 years old or older are included. Many architecturally important structures can be defined as religious. Because of the importance of these structures in terms of our heritage and because of the important part they have played in our history, they should be included in the Bill.
The Minister informed us on Committee Stage that she is in the process of drafting a heritage plan and that she will examine these issues in that context. There is no guarantee there will be amendment to the National Monuments Acts. This means we are embarking on a process of compiling a national inventory of our important architectural heritage when certain important structures are excluded under another Act.
I withdrew my amendment on Committee Stage but I am not satisfied with certain monuments of architectural merit being excluded, on the one hand, because they are part of our religious heritage and, on the other, because they are not old enough. I ask the Minister to respond more firmly than she did on Committee Stage because a large and significant discrepancy exists in respect of the buildings, sites, etc., which can be described as national monuments under the Bill.
Mr. J. Bruton: One of the most interesting ways of understanding the history of an area and the people who lived there is to visit its churches and places of worship. Most, if not all, of the  graveyards throughout the country are associated with churches and are situated on ground which has been sanctified by one church or another. To prepare an inventory of our physical heritage which excludes churches is foolish. It would be equally foolish if the implication of this was that graveyards, which are associated with churches and which are part of the property of churches, would be excluded as a result of the exclusion of churches. I, therefore, support Deputy O'Shea's amendment, the aim of which is to ensure that churches are included under the Bill.
I am aware that arguments have been advanced that there is a separation between Church and State in our Constitution. I accept that this separation exists but it is not as rigid as it might be presented by some people. For example, the Church is intimately involved in education and that involvement has been supported by the taxpayer in a substantial way. It is impossible to conceive of political activity which is not inspired in some way by spiritual values. These values may or may not be of a transcendental origin but it is not possible to divide life into neat compartments, religious and non-religious. Life is not like that, life is a seamless garment. It is not feasible or wise for us to adopt a rigid view of the constitutional constraint which might prevent acceptance of Deputy O'Shea's amendment in the way it is intended. The amendment should be accepted.
The provision in the Constitution which separates Church and State originated in a time which was very different to that in which we now live. The need which existed in the 1930s to separate Church and State came about because the Church was seen to be exercising an inordinate, sometimes authoritarian, influence over democratic political activity. That is not the case today. If anything, those involved in organised religion are afraid to express their views for fear that they might be refused the right to do so because those views come from a religious perspective. In many ways people involved in organised religion have lost their voices because of a prevailing orthodoxy that is, in itself, reactionary. The current preference for political correctness is reactionary in the sense that it is a reaction to an earlier unhealthy arrangement which has been put aside. However, the reaction has been equally unhealthy. Therefore, we should be constrained in the way the Minister believes we are.
In many instances, churches and churchyards have a tremendous capacity to inform us about political history and about the status of particular families in different localities. The inscriptions people put on gravestones hint in an eloquent way at the relationships which existed in certain families. In some instances, for example, the term “beloved” may be expressed more prominently than in others. The expressions inscribed on some gravestones are literally “cold” while others are, at least metaphorically speaking, quite “warm”.
If one were to visit a cemetery with a copy of the electoral register in one's possession, one  could see which families had survived and which families did not. Graveyards are, in a sense, tangible history. Graveyards are alive in the imagination and there are fewer things I enjoy more when I have time, than to visit a graveyard. I look forward to visiting the grave of my great grandfather from Dublin in Glasnevin cemetery.
I hope the Minister will accept Deputy O'Shea's good and thoughtful amendment which bridges the artificial divide that has been created for purposes which are now anachronistic. These artificial divisions are no longer necessary and I hope the Minister will have the courage of her convictions to ignore any cautious advice offered by the Attorney General and other less qualified persons and make a decision, as a legislator, to accept Deputy O'Shea's amendment.
An Ceann Comhairle: Before I call Deputy Kenny, I remind Members that the time permitted for taking Report Stage of the Bill is limited to one hour. That hour will expire at 5.32 p.m. I ask Deputy Kenny to be brief in order that the Minister might have an opportunity to reply.
Mr. Kenny: Deputy Bruton's intervention has broadened the debate on Deputy O'Shea's amendment and added a new dimension to it. I strongly support the amendment because churches and religious buildings are the focal points of many villages and towns. Most people accept that those which have stood for centuries – Ballintubber Abbey, Holy Cross or Cong Abbey – are well maintained by the State.
Travelling here today in my car I listened to comments on the radio about the village of Ardagh, County Longford, which won the national award, North and South, for villages of its type. I was repeatedly struck by the many comments about the church buildings and the old abbey in the locality.
When former Deputy Nealon served as Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, he dealt extensively with the confiscation and illegal export of gravestones and cornerstones from various abbeys throughout the country. I support Deputy O'Shea's comments about the provision in the Constitution and my party believes that church buildings and graveyards should be included in the national inventory. I urge the Minister to include them.
Miss de Valera: I am conscious of the concerns in respect of ecclesiastical buildings. However, this issue would be better considered in terms of the national heritage plan because we would be given an opportunity to look at the National Monuments Acts to see how best they can be improved to aid the conservation and preservation of our heritage.
Deputy Bruton raised a specific issue and it is important to note that we are discussing the question of places of worship which are in current use. There would be implications if we included these churches in the definition of the term “monu ment”. That is why we need to examine the National Monuments Acts to ascertain how they need to be amended. That would best be done under the National Heritage Plan, on which we have had a great deal of consultation.
Miss de Valera: We have to consider these issues within the context of our heritage. It is not merely a question of making these changes in a piecemeal fashion. We must examine what is already in place under our laws. The National Monuments Acts have worked well, but I agree with the Deputy that we need to review issues concerning ecclesiastical buildings. It is best to do that within the context of the National Heritage Plan and I cannot, therefore, accept amendments Nos. 3 and 4.
Mr. O'Shea: I am disappointed with the Minister's response. All buildings are part of our heritage and no building should be exempt from the provisions of the Bill. Some convents and monasteries have beautiful small churches that are gems of architectural design which are not open to public view in a real sense. While the sensitivities of places of worship must be taken into account, the heritage we all inherit is part of a broad package and there is no reason any part of it should be exempt from the provisions of the Bill.
While I am disappointed with the Minister's response, I ask her, as I did on Committee Stage, to move quickly on this issue. If she reaches the decision, which I hope and suspect she will, that amendments to the National Monuments Acts are necessary, I ask her to introduce such amending legislation quickly because the national inventory will be incomplete if a broad section of religious buildings is excluded from the provisions of the Bill. I am disappointed about that, and I will press my amendment.
An Ceann Comhairle: The time permitted for this debate has expired and I am required to put the following question in accordance with an Order of the Dáil of this day, “That Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed”. Is that agreed?
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