Heritage Fund Bill, 2001: Second Stage (Resumed).

Tuesday, 6 November 2001

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 543 No. 2

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Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Mr. Ring: Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring  I wish to share the remainder of my time with Deputy Durkan.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Ring: Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring  On the last occasion I made the point that the Bill's title should read – the Dublin Heritage Fund Bill. I am disappointed that its provisions do not cover the rest of the country; everything appears to be orientated towards Dublin. Five institutions in Dublin will gain from it and all the directors are Dublin appointees. It is a good job the Minister did not appoint the manager of the Dublin football team because Tommy Lyons would have had no chance given that he is not from Dublin. I hope we can extend the remit of the Bill and the resources it provides to the rest of the country.

I do not pretend to be an expert on heritage or culture but I have a keen interest in Westport House. I remember when the Mullan Kilbride hoard was found by John Dyra. It is now on display in Dublin. I appeal to the Minister to have that collection brought to Turlough House in its native county. It would add to the attractions of the House. It is a reasonable request. At the time it was found, there was great excitement in Mayo as many people were delighted to see it. I compliment the farmer, John Dyra. I also compliment the Department because at the time, during the 1980s, money was not as plentiful. The Department saved the day by acting swiftly and making a contribution to the farmer. I am delighted it is on display in this country. The matter of Westport House, to which I will return, is relevant in this regard.

The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands has been helpful in relation to the national park in Mayo. The people of Ballycroy are proud that the project is going ahead. Many people, including the Minister and myself, [339] worked to ensure that the project would go ahead. I ask the Minister to ask that Ballycroy is remembered when the park is being named. I do not mind whether the park is named the Mayo Ballycroy national park or the Ballycroy Mayo national park, but the people of Ballycroy want their area to be mentioned. Ballycroy is a deprived area which has suffered from emigration and its people would love to see it in lights. I ask the Department to be reasonable and to include the name of Ballycroy.

I wish to make two points in relation to artefacts. I have spoken to many people in relation to this Bill, including people with an interest in history, such as my friend, the former Senator, Patrick Durcan. He pointed out to me a number of months ago that there is a massive amount of records in courthouses throughout the country. All such records should be brought together to form a collection of historical value. The second point I wish to make relates to the records held in lighthouses, including a number of lighthouses in Mayo. At this late stage I hope the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands makes every effort to compile the records that are in lighthouses and courthouses as they are of national historical interest. People should be able to access the records to research what was happening in this country many years ago.

I recently read that there is a collection of valuable letters relating to the Siege of Limerick in Westport House. Jeremy Browne, or Lord Altamont, is trying to preserve the house and its artefacts. When I was a member of Westport UDC a number of years ago, a number of senior politicians in my county spoke to the then Fine Gael Government to try to establish a public private partnership for Westport House.

I welcome the Turlough House project, which is under the control of the State and about which I will say a few words later. I was amazed that entry to the museum is free, which shows how many such places I have visited over the years. It is wonderful that such facilities are free as it encourages school children to visit them. As Minister, Deputy de Valera should write to every school in Connacht and Ulster to invite them to visit the museum at Turlough House, while explaining it is free. The Minister should write such letters before the summer season starts again. Visits from school groups would help tourism and would enable young people to develop a sense of history. We spend a great deal of money promoting many things, but money promoting Turlough House would be money well spent. The promotion of our culture in schools will ensure that young people are interested in Ireland.

Over the years, the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands has played a small part in helping Westport House. Jeremy Browne, Lord Altamont, has worked hard to preserve artefacts and the house, but the State has not been very helpful. I see nothing wrong with a public private partnership to aid the preservation of [340] Westport House. We have lost enough artefacts from the country. In the past, historical documents were taken from Westport to be sold abroad and their whereabouts are not known. The preservation of the valuable letters relating to the Siege of Limerick should be investigated and should be discussed with Lord Altamont, who would be interested. The Browne family was once highly thought of in the legal profession and I would love to see documents from that era held by the State.

I see nothing wrong with a departmental pilot scheme to assist Lord Altamont to make the documents available to the public. He worked hard over the years and he is interested in the heritage of the house and the entire country. It would be wrong not to do something for somebody who has worked against the tide and who has been committed to the house and its contents. It would be a shame if the State did not play a part in the preservation of the documents. We have moved beyond civil war politics and we should ensure that the contents of the house can be kept in the country. The artefacts and documents do not have to be taken over by the State. An arrangement whereby the State assists Jeremy Browne to make them available is possible and should be entered into.

I compliment the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, who made a nice speech at the opening of the country life museum at Turlough House. She was very pleasant and the people of County Mayo were delighted to see her. I was a little disappointed with some of the politics that was played that day, but I will not discuss that this evening as I wish to discuss the success of the project. I was delighted the Minister and representatives of the Arts Council were present. I think the council now regrets that it once voted against the Turlough House project as it has been a marvellous success and it will continue to succeed.

We are very proud of our local poet, Paul Durcan, who added to the occasion. The McBride family in Westport are relatives of the poet, whose family also came from the town. He was highly impressed with the project and he added to the occasion. I was delighted that a native of the county was invited to add his special brand of poetry to the day. It was a nice day and the project has worked up to now. All other artefacts from County Mayo that are in Dublin should be brought to the museum, now that it is operating and attracting visitors. I compliment all involved on the day as it was an impressive occasion. The opening of Turlough House has added to the tourism attractions of County Mayo. It is an asset that will draw people to the county and I hope there will be record visitor numbers in the next few years.

In relation to the Bill under discussion, the success of the Turlough House project shows that everything does not have to be in Dublin. I am not saying that everything should be taken from Dublin, but many things can. What is wrong with [341] school groups coming from Athlone or Dublin to see the attractions of Mayo, such as Turlough House, the Ceide Fields and the national park that is to open soon? Such facilities add to the tourism potential of rural Ireland and help to promote counties which have not gained from the prosperity of recent years and which will suffer from the recent job losses. It is difficult for the west to gain from economic prosperity. It depends on tourism and on projects such as that in Turlough House. I am delighted it has been successful and I hope the Minister will play her part in bringing all available artefacts to County Mayo. I would love to see the artefacts that were found in the Kilbride area on display in Mayo. The Minister is a reasonable person and I know that if it can be done, she will help to play her part.

I have heard many mentions of Ted Nealon, who was the first Minister with special responsibility for arts and culture that I encountered. He was good for the arts, was certainly familiar with culture and he added to these areas during his time in office. I was highly impressed with him when he came to Westport to open an arts festival. There was a time when Irish people did not think a great deal of the arts and considered it not to be something for them. It is part of our culture and we should be proud of it. We should protect our cultural assets and ensure they are free for everybody to enjoy. In the past people were turned off when they heard that an arts week was planned. However, that has changed in recent years because we have brought arts to the people. It will change further when more people go to places, such as Turlough House, and see items on display. I hope they help to preserve our heritage for the future.

I welcome the provision of £10 million in the Bill. Artefacts from Westport were sold at auctions in London. I hope if any of these items become available, they will be bought by the State. I hope the Minister does something about lighthouses and courthouses. I hope she talks to Jeremy Browne about the collection I mentioned to her. It is important to keep that collection in the country and to offer him support. He is a nice person and he is committed to the arts, to Westport and Westport House. He did more for tourism and Westport than Bord Fáilte, any Government or any person I know. He brought people to Westport and he put it on the map before it won the Tidy Towns competition – I was delighted it won that competition. There is a great tradition in Westport. We are proud of our town and our area. I compliment Bridie Moran and her hard working committee on winning the Tidy Towns competition. It will help tourism in Westport in the next few years.

Jeremy Browne played his part in Westport over the years and he has worked against the odds to keep Westport House open. The Minister and some officials in her Department have helped him. I would love to see a public private partnership in Westport House which would help to [342] maintain the house and its artefacts. It is steeped in history and we should support him in whatever way we can. I hope the Minister and her officials continue to help him. If grant aid is needed, it should be made available to him. He has contacted the Heritage Council and it has been of small assistance to him.

I hope the Minister does not let me down on the issues of Turlough House and Ballycroy. The people of Ballycroy want it included in the national heritage parks. I know the Minister will look favourably on that request.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  I thank my colleague for sharing time with me. I compliment the Minister on introducing this legislation for a variety of reasons, many of which have been mentioned by other speakers. Deputy Ring referred to the fact that the Bill will provide the Minister with the facility to ensure that works of art do not go outside the jurisdiction or that an agency, or a combination of agencies, has an opportunity to put in a bid before they are sold outside the country. If such artefacts are offered for sale outside the country, the Bill ensures that the relevant bodies will be in a position to make overtures to the seller and acquire them for the State.

Much has been said on this issue in the past. The Minister replied to parliamentary questions on countless occasions and she referred to the importance of our national heritage from an educational point of view. We have a rich heritage, some of which is our own and some of which we share with our neighbours across the water. However, it is now our heritage and we should not be ashamed to do everything we can to protect it and make it available to the widest possible audience. Artefacts which are stored and which are not on public display are of little benefit to anyone. In some cases they are not preserved indefinitely. I hope the Bill allows the Minister to direct and encourage the various agencies under her guidance to identify artefacts in the marketplace for the type of displays to which Members have referred.

One of the problems with objet d'art is that people, some of whom are unscrupulous, become involved in bidding for such items on an international basis. They seem to have endless resources and once such objects are sold on the international market it becomes difficult to track them down. Many people are now wealthy enough to have private collections and only a limited number of items are seen. They can make it difficult for anyone, a state or an individual, to intervene. Perhaps the agencies involved will draw up a register to track such items abroad and to encourage people through strictly legal means to sell them in the marketplace. People who are involved in this business will usually know where such items are likely to reappear. We must preserve and protect such items for the benefit of the country and future generations and to enable us to promote our heritage.

[343] Deputy Ring referred to local displays. There is nothing to beat a local centre which displays works of art relating to that area. I support the idea of displays travelling around the country on an ongoing basis where adequate security is provided. However, I strongly support local displays of art. We must ensure that heritage houses, old castles or other buildings which are natural places to house such items are maintained. Countless heritage and historical associations have access to old buildings and it is time to protect them. I encourage the Minister to provide the necessary funding as soon as possible to maintain houses or buildings which are in danger. It will be too late to do this when we are alleged to have the money. I would love to have more time to speak on this issue. I hope I have an opportunity to discuss it further at a later stage.

Mr. Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher  Zoom on Billy Kelleher  I wish to share my time with Deputy Pat Carey.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher  Zoom on Billy Kelleher  I congratulate the Minister on introducing the Bill, which is innovative and long overdue. For years our finer artefacts went into private ownership and they were lost to the State forever. This legislation provides us with a great opportunity to change that. When we pass legislation, we often do not commit the funds. However, the funds are the linchpin of this Bill.

Perhaps the Minister will clarify who will purchase artefacts on behalf of the State. I am concerned that if a person in Sotheby's is recognised as being from the Department, it could inflate prices. I presume the Minister will appoint an agent to act on behalf of the State to purchase artefacts. Once a State agency is involved in the purchase of anything, prices are inflated and others are encouraged to continually push the price up. This issue should be examined. A person should be able to bid on behalf of the State without the auctioneers knowing the item is being purchased for the State.

A maximum of £10 million will be provided for the fund. However, if the fund is depleted and an important artefact such as a manuscript or painting becomes available, is there provision in the legislation to put the necessary funds in place at short notice rather than having to wait to provide the funds in the Department's annual Estimate? An important document could be up for sale and the fund could be depleted to the point where there is not enough in it to make the purchase. Is there provision for discretionary funding because it would be a shame if an item of historical importance was lost to the State due to a lack of funding?

I reject earlier references to the fund being Dublin-orientated. The legislation covers the National Library, the National Archives, the Chester Beatty Library, the National Concert [344] Hall, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the National Theatre Society and the Arts Council. I come from Cork and I feel as much a part of those institutions as anybody from Dublin. It was a little disingenuous of some Members to say the legislation is Dublin-orientated. I am confident the national cultural institutions will cater for people outside Dublin.

Cork will be the European City of Culture in 2005 and that provides a great opportunity for international exposure. I hope the Minister will use her good offices to ensure many of the artefacts that are on display in Dublin and outside Ireland currently will be transferred to Cork for the year so that they can be viewed not only by the people of Cork and Munster but by the many foreign visitors who will visit the city that year. Plans should be put in train immediately because many of these valuable artefacts, manuscripts and paintings are booked for exhibitions and displays throughout Ireland and the world over the coming years. I hope funds will be made available to the committee co-ordinating the various events that will take place when Cork becomes the European City of Culture in 2005.

The Bill has been well thought out and it contains many good provisions. The State has shied away for too long from accepting gifts from citizens because of political correctness and so on. The legislation provides that the Minister, on behalf of the State, can accept gifts of money or property from companies or individuals. This is a positive development and the making of such gifts should be encouraged. There has been a great deal of reference to the Celtic tiger and our new found wealth in recent times. The legislation provides us with an opportunity to harness that wealth to the benefit of the wider community through the purchase of artefacts of historical importance.

Chronicling historical documents involves enormous expenditure. There have been references to courthouses and so on and a large number of documents is available. It takes many hours and significant resources to research and chronicle documents for display so that the public can appreciate them. Can more funding be provided to bodies engaged in such activity? There has not been enough investment in this area over many years and we often read about librarians spending hours in dark dungeons conducting endless research before a manuscript is put on public display.

I have outlined a number of issues, the most important of which relates to who acts on behalf of the State at an auction, whether it is held at Sotheby's or somewhere else. No State agency gets value for money. When private sector interests become aware that the Government is interested in purchasing an item prices are automatically inflated. It would also be a shame if artefacts were lost because the Bill is not more flexible in terms of providing discretionary funding when an item of importance to the State goes on sale.

[345] Ireland has been the source of a great deal of creativity over many years and that is accepted in the literary, artistic and music worlds. The Minister supports measures that encourage artistic development and such development must be continually progressed. However, we constantly have difficulties in regard to our architectural heritage. We are falling down as a society because many of the newer buildings throughout the State are mundane and boring. Buildings are part of our culture and we will have a poor legacy in terms of the retention and construction of buildings, particularly in cities. Exciting new architectural developments should be encouraged because most buildings which have been constructed over the past 30 or 40 years have been very similar. This probably has been due to concerns about cost but people will wander through our cities in years to come and will look at what we did at the turn of the millennium to ascertain our legacy. It will not be very good and planners also have a responsibility in this regard.

I welcome the Bill and hope that over the next few years our national cultural institutions will bear the fruit of the purchasing power provided under it.

Mr. P. Carey: Information on Pat Carey  Zoom on Pat Carey  Most Members agree this is excellent legislation. Its purpose is to establish a heritage fund to enable the State's cultural institutions to acquire items on behalf of the public. There has not been such a fund previously and I am pleased the Minister has recognised the need for it and has put it on a firm legislative footing. At the risk of us slapping each other on the back, particularly those of us from the teaching profession, there has been a refinement in recent years of our understanding of our heritage across a wide range of areas and there was no better demonstration of that than when we, as a nation, honoured ten Volunteers with a State funeral recently. The teaching profession has made an enormous contribution in terms of enabling a generation of young people to understand the nature of our heritage – buildings, literature, art etc. Successive Governments have done a great deal of work and have a great deal of which to be proud.

The development of heritage sites at Muckross House and gardens in Killarney, the Melon farm near Omagh and Strabane, the Ceide Fields in County Mayo and the Blasket Islands centre would not have been contemplated a number of years ago. Other Members stated that the Bill refers mainly to Dublin but a great deal of development has taken place throughout the country as a whole. Consider what has been done at Dublin Castle. Who would have thought that anybody would have the vision to restore it to its current state? Development of the Chester Beatty Library has enabled us to understand that our heritage can sit well beside the art housed there. We must also remember that Dublin Corporation is involved in restoration work at Pearse [346] Street library. We have a great deal of which to be proud.

The Irish Folklore Commission did a tremendous amount of work during its existence. A man who lived for many years in my constituency, the late Seamus Ennis, Ciarán Mac Mathúna and others did a great deal of work in collecting material for preservation. It might be worthwhile making another attempt at asking the school-going population to write down their understanding of our heritage because it has been 50 years since their predecessors wrote down such thoughts in their copybooks which were stored away by the Irish Folklore Commission.

As our awareness of heritage increases, there is greater public demand for the State to ensure that items of national importance are acquired for the people rather than being allowed to go overseas or, if they have already been removed from the country, to remain there. There are many examples of national treasures being taken out of the country in the past and the Hugh Lane collection is a case in point.

The Bill refers to movable heritage such as artefacts, books and works of art that are rare and that have a value of over £250,000. A key point is that these should be of national importance and I wonder who will be charged with determining this. Such artefacts do not have to be of Irish origin but I am pleased that if they are of importance to the nation or the public, they will be covered by the legislation. Acquisitions will also be significant from an education and research point of view.

This is an area in respect of which adequate provision has not been made in the school curriculum. In recent years the CSPE programme in post-primary schools has broadened the curriculum and helped a great deal. In that context, I wish to refer to the Ballymun oral history project which has been ongoing in that area, in the context of its regeneration, for some time. The project is supported by FÁS, the Department and Ballymun Regeneration Limited. However, a great deal more work must be done to develop, refine and make the project user-friendly. Academic historians must consider that oral history should be given recognition and that it should not just be dealt with as “any other business” on the agenda of an academic council. Oral history is a more developed area of study in universities abroad than in such institutions in Ireland. It has much to offer in terms of attracting potential tourists to Ireland but I believe that, regardless of this fact, we should develop it as a discipline.

A large amount of work was carried out by a FÁS supported scheme in Finglas in recent years. People are inclined to think that an area such as Finglas, which was fairly recently developed, does not have a history or heritage. However, one must consider the contribution the Craigie family made to vernacular architecture and look at the original St. Canice's church in Finglas which was founded shortly after the Normans arrived in [347] Ireland, the structure of which is basically intact and the grounds of which are home to a high cross. In that context, there is a need for people to appreciate what exists in places such as Finglas and, as Deputy Kelleher stated, realise that there is no need for everything to be new or for us to raze everything to the ground in our rush to redevelop.

One of the saddest things I was obliged to endure as a member of Dublin Corporation occurred when we were redeveloping the area around what are now the Civic Offices. It is sad to realise that some of the old city walls are buried underneath a multi-storey car park situated behind Jury's Inn in Christchurch Place and that the only way to gain access to these is through a manhole passage which is not easy to negotiate.

In developing heritage sites we must remember that they need to be accessible. People must be able to see these sites. I accept that a fair amount of scorn was poured over the empty container discovered at the base of the foundations of Nelson's Pillar, but it was important that Pat Wallace, director of the National Museum, appeared on radio and television with John Fitzgerald, the city manager, and discussed what might have been found there.

I recommend that the Minister should allow some flexibility in the fund in its earliest years. If major items come to light and need to be acquired on behalf of the people, a degree of flexibility should be exercised by the Government. I am sure nobody would have difficulty agreeing to an additional Estimate for such purposes, even in the slightly difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves at present, if we were to acquire particular artefacts. Although the House has given general approval to the Bill, people are concerned that when artefacts were acquired in the past, little was heard about them. On a previous occasion I referred to the fact that some very good material from the museum was stored in Daingean, County Offaly, and that this was never seen. However, I believe the National Museum has improved its record in respect of putting items on public display.

As other Members stated, there should be displays of items of historical interest throughout the country. I accept that this might lead to insurance, logistical and security difficulties, but an effort should be made to arrange such displays. The Minister will be aware, if she has seen it, that at City Hall there is a fine exhibition of some of the artefacts found during the excavations of the Wood Quay area which can be viewed by the public. That is as it should be. Such artefacts should not be kept in a totally rarefied atmosphere.

Another matter about which the Minister will be hearing quite soon is the Civic Museum, which is hidden away in a building in South William Street. This museum is home to some extraordinary work which has been catalogued and stored away. We are making a proposal to the Dock[348] lands Development Authority to try to incorporate, if possible, the Civic Museum in stack A. A museum linked to the city and located in stack A would make a great contribution in terms of enhancing the existing museum culture in the city. I hope progress can be made in this regard.

The final matter to which I wish to refer is Carmichael House, which is situated beside the old Richmond Hospital in North Brunswick Street and which is a fine building. As Deputy Kelleher stated, we sometimes abuse buildings. Carmichael House is a fine example of vernacular architecture of the Victorian era and it would be a terrible shame if it was allowed to become derelict. Money is needed to secure the roof and preserve the fabric of the building and if the Minister is in a position to assist in any way we would welcome it.

Mr. Deenihan: Information on Jimmy Deenihan  Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan  I wish to share one minute of my time with Deputy Finucane.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Deenihan: Information on Jimmy Deenihan  Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan  We have seen unprecedented levels of prosperity in the recent past in Ireland and I hope that will continue to be the case in the future. However, we are not investing realistic levels of capital into heritage, our non-renewable resource. We have libraries full of policy documents regarding our heritage, but few adequately staffed resources to implement these policies. Much of what has been done so far is too little too late.

A recent survey by the Heritage Council discovered that 68% of archaeological field monuments in Wexford had been destroyed and that the county would have no field archaeology such as ring forts, raths and standing stones by 2068. My own county of Kerry is not far behind, with the loss of 49.2% of monuments in recent years. This is unacceptable.

Despite our prosperity we have limited funds to prevent valuable heritage objects from being sold and taken out of the State. These objects are the jewels in the crown. For every heritage item we prevent from leaving the country, how many are shipped out the back door? We do not know as in many instances there are no accurate inventories, which are the raw data regarding our heritage resource. We do not have the manpower on the ground to educate, inform and implement policy and legislation. Many people are not aware that the standing stone in an adjacent field is unique and important on a local and national level.

It is expected that the national architectural inventory will take 15 to 20 years to formulate a list of protected structures, much of which will be destroyed before a basic record is compiled. Through lack of awareness, education and the manpower to protect them, our architecture, works of art, archaeological sites and the landscapes within which they sit are being scattered [349] to the four corners of the earth. We have policies, but the Minister must provide the necessary funding for proactive rather than reactive heritage and education policies.

I welcome the Bill and the £10 million will be an important source of purchasing funds. The sum of £10 million seems significant, however, given that the minimum purchase will be £250,000, this would allow for only 12 purchases in 2001. Over a period the fund will allow for only 40 purchases. Given the price of a Jack. B. Yeats painting, the fund would only allow for a small number of purchases. Therefore, in the context of the prices involved, the fund will make a small, but welcome, impact.

Will the Minister refer to objects which are on loan to the National Museum? A number of collections are on loan to the museum, but will the fund allow the council to purchase some of these objects?

I wish to refer to national treasures, such as the annals of Inishfallen, which are legitimately housed in the Bodleian Library. Will the State approach the Bodleian Library to try to negotiate a price for the annals? The Emly shrine, which I saw in the Boston Museum of Art last year, is one of the finest treasures this country could have. Will this Bill allow for reasonable prices to be offered for such treasures? The Eileen Gray furniture collection was bought from Germany and is an invaluable addition to the National Museum. I welcome the Bill, but I regret I did not have more time to speak on it.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  Pat Wallace is a native of west Limerick and the Minister could do the constituency much pride in enhancing the profile of the Hunt Museum in Limerick by relocating the Ardagh chalice in it. The chalice was found in Ardagh and is a national treasure which should be relocated. The community in Ardagh built up a fine mini-museum to which it hoped the chalice would be relocated, but that proposal was not entertained by the National Museum for security purposes. However, if we wish to devolve the process and give additional status to a location such as the Hunt Museum, the Minister could do worse than relocate the Ardagh chalice to it.

Castles throughout the country are testament to the tremendous work being carried out by Dúchas. Desmond Castle is situated in the square in Newcastle West. In the past I contributed financially to a programme to renovate the castle. However, such locations should be allowed to serve a limited amount of wine and food during functions. The level of insurance which such bodies are compelled to have is prohibitive and such castles should be made more accessible to the public. I appreciate the Minister's concern that people may fall down steps, but I am not talking about allowing excessive drinking. I am suggesting that people should have the luxury of a glass of wine at a cheese reception. However, this is not allowed at such a location.

[350]Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera): Information on Síle de Valera  Zoom on Síle de Valera  I thank Deputies who contributed to this debate which gave the House an opportunity to journey around the country, speaking about the various monuments and places of interest. It is natural that Deputies should highlight heritage interests within their constituencies as we are discussing this Bill.

The Bill is specific in nature as it refers to a heritage fund. I wish to allay the fears expressed by many Deputies that this will be a Dublin-centred Bill. The legislation is nothing of the kind and I would not agree with such an approach. Representing a constituency west of the Shannon, my approach is in line with those of Deputies on all sides who believe there should be participation and access with regard to our heritage and culture, and that we must provide the best opportunity for people throughout the country to enjoy and partake of our heritage.

There are many provisions within the Bill which ensure that the legislation will not be Dublin-centred. For historic reasons the national institutions have been based in Dublin. The one exception is Turlough House in County Mayo which is an important branch of the National Museum. This has been a positive development for the institution and the national institutions generally. This development also proves that I have taken the issue of cultural decentralisation seriously.

The investment at Turlough House was extremely expensive at almost £15 million. However, this demonstrates the Government's commitment to the regions. The number of people who have visited the location highlights the great interest in it and that it is of the highest calibre. I thank Deputy Ring and all in Mayo for the great day of celebration and welcome we had at Turlough House.

The fund will not be Dublin-centred. Deputies will be aware that there are designated museums. Eight county museums have been designated under the National Cultural Institutions Act which means they have reached a particular standard. I will announce a further two such designations shortly. These museums are recognised as being of the highest standards in terms of environmental conditions and security, and there is an opportunity for a lending programme between the national institutions and these museums. In fairness to it, the National Museum, and other national institutions, have looked upon this issue favourably and the National Museum has operated a lending policy for many years.

This Bill refers to moveable heritage, the definition of which was the cause of some concern to a number of Deputies who queried whether this was clear in the legislation. The Bill is clear on this issue as it refers to the fact that a moveable object is a moveable heritage object and is an artefact. It refers to any object or collection of objects, including archaeological objects and objects relating to the decorative arts, natural sciences, history, industry or folkways, any book or [351] any manuscript, other material or part thereof, copyright and any work or any similar object or material. It is a wide and comprehensive definition. There should be no difficulty with the definition in this Bill as it is quite clear.

In regard to the emphasis on giving the opportunity to the regions to partake in and enhance our culture, I am very proud that this Government has allocated £36 million to me. I asked specifically for this money so that we would be able to have what is known as the Access programme. Under the Access programme, we will have no less than 44 projects which will be up and running or the position of which will be improved thanks to that fund. Some £2.3 million has been allocated in principle to Sligo County Museum. Lismore Heritage Centre Museum in County Waterford has been allocated £110,000, Wexford County Museum has been allocated £1.3 million and the Civic Museum at Spanish Arch in Galway has been allocated £2.4 million.

The question was asked as to why the Council of Cultural Institutions would be the body, vehicle or channel used in this case. The reason is that these people are the experts. We are talking about the directors of our national institutions. It is a pool of tremendous knowledge and experience and they will have that expert knowledge which will benefit the people generally in terms of advising and being able to work this fund.

I was rather puzzled that the heritage fund was referred to as partitionist, although, in fairness, this was mentioned by only one Deputy opposite. Artefacts which may have originated in the North may be purchased from the heritage fund on the recommendation of the Council of Cultural Institutions and subject to my agreement. That situation would pertain so I do not understand that accusation.

Representations were made to me by Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge – Deputy O'Shea referred to this. When initiating this Bill, I said I was looking at the proposals being put forward. I said that before Committee Stage, I wanted to see the reports and accounts in both Irish and English. Between now and Committee Stage, I will look at the further proposals put forward by comhdháil.

I refer to the reason there is a £250,000 threshold. This is a very important point and is crucial to this Bill. We are not talking about doing away with the acquisition funds that already exist and have been approved over the years in our national institutions. This is an additional fund. We are talking about an artefact of extreme national importance and significance, something very precious indeed, which would be very difficult for any of the national institutions to acquire. This is an additional fund and the national institutions will still have their own obligations and responsibilities in acquiring different artefacts. That is acknowledged. The reason for the £250,000 threshold is to make the point that an [352] artefact is of particular interest to the country and that it would be best that it remain at home.

I refer to the £10 million. We are talking about £3 million over a three year period. The money does not have to be expended straight away – there can be a rollover. It does not mean everything that is likely to come to auction will be of that calibre and will not already be on the list of acquisitions or potential acquisitions of the national institutions. This will be reviewed because, as we know, the situation is ongoing and changing. It is a new approach. We will look at the operation of the fund and it will be reviewed annually. The review will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas so there will be an opportunity for Members to express their views.

The issue of record keeping and archives was raised. Deputy O'Shea asked about the position of the proposed public private partnership and the National Archives. The last day we discussed this matter in the House I said the go ahead had been given for the public private partnership by the Department of Finance and that we were talking about a very expensive proposal because it would be a very comprehensive one in terms of the new archives. The public private partnership has been sanctioned by the Department of Finance. The PPP approach is being examined by the Office of Public Works which is drawing up the contract and tender documents. If we are to have more new buildings and space, we will need staffing. At my intervention, seven new posts were sanctioned by the Department of Finance for the National Archives and some of those posts have been filled.

A number of other issues arose during the debate. The battle sites have not been protected and I will look at this in the context of the National Monuments Acts. I agree with Deputies that this issue must be looked at and the best possible way to do so is in the context of the national monuments proposals which I will publish shortly.

A number of references were made to our architecture and national monuments which do not come under the remit of this Bill. Given that they have been referred to, I will refer very briefly to them. Some 120,000 monuments are listed in the record of monuments and places. They are afforded protection under the National Monuments Act. Over 740 of those are in State care. I emphasise that over the past four and a half years since I have been given responsibility in this Department, I have ensured that there have been increases for the Heritage Council. We have given additional moneys for listed buildings at risk. Under the national development plan, I announced the allocation of £100 million and that we would see what we could do in regard to our monuments because they are of great interest and are very precious. A national inventory of architectural heritage has been initiated. Although it will take 12 years, if this legislation had not been introduced, we would have had to wait for over [353] 40 years for this work to be completed. That puts it into perspective.

Deputy Ring and other Deputies said they would like to see artefacts in other centres throughout the country – I referred to that. Education is of importance and I will talk to my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science. We, in our Department, do what we can through our visitor services. I refer to Deputy Pat Carey's interest in the Irish Folklore Commission. It is one of the reasons I have supported what is known as the women's history project. I will make some statements very soon in regard to the oral history project which should be of interest to Members.

This has been a very positive debate and I thank all Members for their kind words. This legislation will be of tremendous help not only to our national institutions. This fund will build up over five years, not three, as I said earlier, and there will be an opportunity on a yearly basis to review it.

Question put and agreed to.

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