Chester Beatty Library Bill, 1985: Committee and Final Stages.

Wednesday, 12 March 1986

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 111 No. 13

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Question proposed: “That section 1 stand part of the Bill.”

Mrs. Bulbulia: Information on Katherine Bulbulia  Zoom on Katherine Bulbulia  I am very pleased that we have at last reached the Committee Stage of the Chester Beatty Library Bill, 1985. We had a first-class Second Stage here in this House under the Minister's predecessor and, indeed, I welcome the Minister here this afternoon. This is a small Bill; others would have wished to have seen greater substance in it, but certainly as it applies to the Chester Beatty Library it will give legal authority to allow a lot of necessary work to proceed in that building to enhance it and to make it a more fitting museum for the stunning collection of treasures which it houses and, indeed, enhance it as a place for Irish people and so many tourists to go to study these oriental artifacts.

At the conclusion of the Second Stage it was suggested that we might have the Committee Stage of this Bill out at the Chester Beatty Library. Many of us felt that this was a most novel suggestion and one well worth pursuing. I am a little bit disappointed that it was not possible for us to do that. I wonder, a Leas-Chathaoirleach, if you could indicate to us why it was not possible, because we in this House may very soon be looking for a new home. Indeed, there has been talk that, in view of the length of the work involved in renovating this building, we may have to consider sitting elsewhere. For that reason also it would have been an interesting experiment to have taken [1215] the Committee Stage of this Bill elsewhere. I do not know, a Leas-Chathaoirleach, if you can make a statement as to why we were not able to take up the suggestion of Senator Dooge and conduct the Committee Stage in the Chester Beatty Library. I would be very interested to hear why it was not possible to do that.

In my Second Stage speech I paid tribute to the staff of the Chester Beatty Library, who were extremely helpful in getting me material for my Second Stage speech. It has subsequently come to my attention that much of the material which they gave to me has in fact been the work of Brian Kennedy who has worked with the Chester Beatty Library and I am very pleased that so many Senators enjoyed the speech that I made. Some of them recommended that it should be published as a separate pamphlet. I would echo those sentiments. I was very pleased to be able to use this material and would pay tribute ot Brian Kennedy for all the work and research that he has done.

We have some amendments down for Committee Stage of this Bill. They have been but down by Senator Fitzsimons. It will be interesting to hear him propose these amendments. For the moment I will await to see what he has to say about them.

Acting Chairman (Mr. McGonagle): Information on Stephen McGonagle  Zoom on Stephen McGonagle  I would ask the Leader of the House to clarify an answer to the question raised by the Senator about what Senator Dooge did about the proposition that he made.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  It was a novel suggestion but I think there were some problems involved in trying to arrange a sitting of the House in the Chester Beatty Library. It was not for the want of trying from the Leader of the House's point of view but it was not physically possible to do it. I apologise to the Senators who had looked forward to moving there. As the Senator said, we will have to move anyway — but not too far away I hope. Some people would like to put us into limbo but I suggest that we move to the ante-room. It [1216] was not possible to have this Committee Stage in the Chester Beatty Library and I apologise for that.

Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman:  Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are related and may be discussed together.

Mr. Fitzsimons: Information on Jack Fitzsimons  Zoom on Jack Fitzsimons  I move amendment No. 1:

In page 2, line 35, after “premises” to add:

“having regard to the safety, proper preservation and spatial requirements of the important library collection therein and the working conditions for staff; and to ensure that the Chester Beatty Library will be enabled to play a full part in the cultural and educational life of this country”.

I also welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, although in a sense I am disappointed that we did not have Deputy Joe Bermingham back because on the last occasion I felt he was somewhat ebullient and bellicose — and perhaps rightly so — with regard to this. I felt he was inviting me to interject. I felt, too, that he was justified in doing so because I had said that the Bill was stop-gap legislation. I did not mean that in any derogatory sense. I said that I welcomed the Bill and felt that it was for a specific purpose and it was on those lines that I said it was stop-gap legislation. However, Deputy Bermingham was well on top of the occasion and I also wish him well.

This is a very important Bill. In one sense also I should say that what Deputy Bermingham was saying was, “Look, after all those years we have produced this Bill to do something about the Chester Beatty Library and now when we have done that Members are nit-picking about it”. It was not in that sense that I was being critical of the Bill. I felt that this is a very important collection and every Member of the House who contributed [1217] stated that and emphasised that. So, I think that is agreed. By any standard, by the highest international standard, it is a very important collection and therefore it deserves special attention.

Section 2 states:

The Commissioners may, with the consent of the Minister and upon and subject to such terms and conditions as may be agreed upon by the Commissioners and the trustees, carry out, or cause to be carried out on their behalf, such work as, in the opinion of the Commissioners, is necessary or expedient for the maintenance, upkeep, repair, renovation and improvement of the premises.

My big objection to that is that the views of different people will obviously be different. What might be acceptable to one would be unacceptable to another. In this situation where we have this collection, we must realise the importance of the ambience of the collection, the temperature, the humidity, the storage, the display — every aspect is of importance. Here, by and large, we have an old building, certainly a building that would be outdated by any modern standards. Even the new building does not have, in my view, proper insulation in the walls, the roof or the floors, Even on this aspect people can differ. I recall one occasion when I was involved as an expert witness in a case, in which capacity I act from time to time, a very eminent authority stated under oath that he would not regard a slated roof that had 5 per cent of the slates loose or defective as unacceptable. I would reject a roof if one slate were damaged or out of place. Having regard to modern requirements, to the requirements of building regulations in regard to fire escapes, the extra space that would be involved, the fact that space is at a premium, that strict control of humidity and of temperature is most important, that air conditioning is acceptable — having regard to all that, I do not think it would be possible to provide air conditioning or other necessary facilities in these old buildings without considerable [1218] renovation and insulation.

What I am really saying is that we want a base line, a datum line, some independent line that we can compare against, because we are not talking of a simple building. In respect of a modern dwellinghouse there are very strict mandatory standards of insulation. The building regulations will impose extra strain on the buildings.

We must have regard to the importance of this collection and what it means to the nation. We must have regard to the type of buildings that are necessary to do justice to that collection. The section as it is at the moment does not provide the necessary baseline. An official who would be in charge of that department in the Office of Public Works might quite easily come to the view that the building is quite satisfactory, while perhaps the curator or the people who are in charge of that collection would feel that it would be totally unsuitable. My amendment says:

having regard to the safety, proper preservation and spatial requirements of the important library collection therein and the working conditions for staff; and to ensure that the Chester Beatty Library will be enabled to play a full part in the cultural and educational life of this country.

All these things should be taken into consideration, as they would improve the Bill and give it the strength and the phrasing whereby anybody who would be considering the situation would be able to come to the conclusion: “This building is suitable”; “This building is not suitable” or “Certain works would have to be done to make this building suitable”. My amendment, which is a simple amendment, if adopted, would improve the Bill.

Mrs. McGuinness: Information on Catherine McGuinness  Zoom on Catherine McGuinness  I support Senator Fitzsimons's amendment. I would like to start by welcoming the Minister of State here. I am glad to see her appearing in this House and I hope that she will go on to have a fruitful relationship with us. I hope that you will forgive me, a Leas-Chathaoirligh [1219] if I say, having been unfortunately absent for the Second Stage of this Bill, how glad I am so see this Bill coming into the Seanad in the first place and thus perhaps helping to offset the things that have been said recently about the usefulness of this Chamber which I think are very much based on what people may read in the papers and very little on what they might discover if they actually read the debates of this House.

It is symbolic in a sense that this Bill should have been introduced in this House because it is a Bill to do with the cultural life of the country. This House has played a very large part in encouraging the cultural life of the country. The Bill does show that as a State and as a Government appreciation is given to the enormous gift which Chester Beatty gave to this country in presenting his collection, which is a most wonderful collection of manuscripts and other artefacts, to Ireland. I am delighted to see that steps are being taken to provide moneys to help to house and preserve this collection.

Senator Fitzsimons is right in suggesting that we could go a little beyond the section in the Bill which talks of the maintenance, upkeep, repair, renovation and improvement of the premises. While renovation and improvement are included, to specify that the necessity is for the safety and the proper preservation and spatial requirements of this collection is a good idea and certainly I would support the spirit behind Senator Fitzsimons' amendment. It is important not alone that this collection should be preserved and properly housed but that it should have the widest possible publicity so that many people would be encouraged to go and see the wonderful collection of artefacts, manuscripts and so on that are there in the Chester Beatty Library, and that they should be set out in the best possible surroundings.

Mrs. Bulbulia: Information on Katherine Bulbulia  Zoom on Katherine Bulbulia  I wish to say a brief word on this amendment put down by Senator Fitzsimons. Perhaps there is [1220] something that suggests that the limitations of this Bill have not been recognised. I would wish to see unlimited funding being given to the Chester Beatty Library so enthusiastic am I about it and, indeed, about the priceless collection of manuscripts and artefacts which it houses. The facts are, as I understand them, that some £50,000 was spent by the trustees and that this Bill just allows us to give this money back to them. I would be glad if the Minister, when she is responding to this amendment, would perhaps clarify that. My understanding was that this money had already been spent and that this measure, which is a very simple one, is merely designed to reimburse, and that while we might wish this Bill to go a lot further and to encompass a larger range of improvements and greater and better facilities in the library which I recognise are needed, in fact, the Bill is of narrower dimensions and does not, in my understanding, allow us to do what I suppose is the point of the amendment which has been put down.

I was interested in a Second Stage speech when one of the Senators talked of the necessity from time to time to move artefacts and manuscripts for the purpose of special exhibitions from one building to another and that very often these priceless objects have to be carried on a tray and perhaps someone runs beside the tray and the person carrying it with an umbrella or perhaps there is a simple cover put over the tray to protect the objects. That is not good enough. There should be linkages between one building and another which would obviate the danger of destruction of these materials by the elements. Particularly in today's difficult situation, security must be kept in mind. Perhaps all of that is covered by the improvements of the premises which are talked about in the Bill. While we might like to see so much of what is included in the amendment, it is really up to the trustees to design their programmes for the improvement of the library and then to make their case, so that the funding will come on stream. I [1221] would seek clarification from the Minister when she responds to this amendment.

Mr. Fitzsimons: Information on Jack Fitzsimons  Zoom on Jack Fitzsimons  I do not accept Senator Bulbulia's interpretation. I may not be correct in this. While I understand that in section 3 it does make provision to make repayment of the £50,000 which has already been spent from 18 October 1984, nevertheless I understand the Bill to relate to any other work that has to be carried out to leave this building in a satisfactory condition. Therefore, on that account, if I am correct, Senator Bulbulia might feel like withdrawing those reservations, seeing that the Bill, as I understand it, does not relate solely to that money which has already been spent but also makes provision for the carrying out of any works which are necessary in the future. This is the area I am interested in. When it refers to the opinions of the commissioners that, in my view, would be the opinion of someone in charge, who would be influenced to some extent by Government policy, who would be influenced by the amount of money that might be available and who would have many other pressures to deal with as well as the actual requirements of the building itself.

I welcome the Bill. I felt, as Senator Bulbulia has said, that since it was the first Bill of its kind in relation to further improvements of the Chester Beatty Library, a more comprehensive Bill should have been introduced. But, dealing strictly with the Bill we have before us, my interpretation is that it does make provision to carry out these works but that it leaves too much to the opinions and the decisions of the commissioners. An independent and fair minded individual who would examine the buildings should be able to say they are satisfactory or they are not satisfactory in relation to some specific requirements. I am trying, in this amendment, to spell out the requirements which would be considered reasonable with a building of this kind, with a collection of this kind, a unique collection which, looking forward to the [1222] future, will hopefully be extended. I am asking the Minister to incorporate the amendment in the Bill and it will certainly result in an improved Bill.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  I accept that the Bill actually confers the powers on the Commissioner of Public Works and I would not like it to be inferred from what Senator Fitzsimons has said that he would not consider them impartial or otherwise, because they are a most important body of people in the country.

Mr. Fitzsimons: Information on Jack Fitzsimons  Zoom on Jack Fitzsimons  I did not put it exactly in that way.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  This Bill actually confers on them the right to carry out works. I would trust them emphatically on their decision of what would be necessary. I even trust them in regard to here, because they have decided it is so bad that it has to be done properly. I would trust that they would have the same opinion in regard to the Chester Beatty Library.

Mr. Fitzsimons: Information on Jack Fitzsimons  Zoom on Jack Fitzsimons  It has taken a very long time.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  Who else in the country can we get to look after our own property except a specific board of commissioners who are set up by the Constitution to do that?

Mr. Fitzsimons: Information on Jack Fitzsimons  Zoom on Jack Fitzsimons  In fairness, they could have come in here at the beginning of the vacation last year.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  They are a very important body. The Bill gives them the power. I would accept that, if the Government fail to give them proper funding or direction, they might have problems. However, I would think that is one of the last things in the world the Office of Public Works would want is to say they did not want to do something because they did not have the price of it. All of us have known the value of their work in the past, particularly in the area of important buildings and monuments belonging to the State. [1223] Their work is second to none in this area and I would want to defend what they have done in the past. Admittedly, we complain about how slow they are in doing it; but the price to pay for slowness is thoroughness. If you are going to do something like repairs or maintenance to the Chester Beatty Library it must be done with the kind of care, attention and thoroughness that we as legislators, would require. I will let the Minister decide if the amendment is necessary or otherwise, but I must defend the Office of Public Works for the quality of the work they have always carried out in the past in respect of anything we have given them authority to do. Theirs is a very special area of authority in that they cover all building programmes of the nation. It is important to put that on the record.

Senator Bulbulia mentioned a specific reallocation of money to them and that is right. This Bill also gives the power to the Minister for Finance to reimburse the trustees for money already expended. That is not an issue, because it is something that needs to be done because they have carried out works. Because of the importance of this building it is important that in future a specific Government agency such as the Office of the Public Works, would be responsible, legally and constitutionally, to do that work. That is as I understand the Bill. Perhaps that is Senator Fitzsimons' view also. I would just like to put that on the record.

Mr. Fitzsimons: Information on Jack Fitzsimons  Zoom on Jack Fitzsimons  I admire greatly anything that Senator Ferris says in this House, but I resent to some extent when he lectures me on being critical of the Office of Public Works. I feel I have a better understanding of the Office of Public Works than Senator Ferris has. I worked in it for almost five years. I know how hard they work. I know the difficult job they have to do and I am familiar with the pressures which they have. I am certainly not critical in that sense. I know they do their work well. I would not be one who would be critical of the Office of Public Works. I have never seen anything [1224] while I worked there that I would be critical of. They were all brilliant civil servants who did their work well. When a file comes before any officer in the Office of Public Works there are pressures. That officer has his own ideas, but there are other people who would have an input to the file. To say that the final decision of the commissioners in the Office of Public Works would be the correct decision in all cases is something I would not accept unless there were some proviso that the curator or whoever would be in charge of the trustees or whoever would be in charge of the Chester Beatty Library would have some input or could appeal against the decision or that they would be consulted and that in some way approval would be necessary from them in all cases. We are dealing here with a Bill concerning a very important collection. It is very unlikely that the next Bill will come before the House within the next ten years. This is an important Bill. We have an opportunity of dealing with this now. It is a very short Bill. We have an opportunity now of giving it a datum line in some way. If it is not done in the way I suggest and if the Minister introduces it in some other way, I will be satisfied. Some means should be provided of appealing against the opinions of the commissioners where those opinions would not coincide with the requirements of those in charge of the Chester Beatty Library. I think it is very reasonable.

Acting Chairman:  Could I advise you, Senator, in order to clarify matters that you should accept that I should call on the Minister now and if you wish to make observations when the Minister has concluded, you may.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mrs. A. Doyle): Information on Avril Doyle  Zoom on Avril Doyle  At the outset I would like to support the view of Senators that this debate is of great benefit in highlighting and raising consciousness generally of the marvellous gift of Chester Beatty to our nation. I would also like to commend the contributors in the [1225] Seanad on Second Stage for their excellent contributions and to thank those Senators who extended good wishes to me today on my new appointment. In a short few weeks this is my third visit to the Seanad.

I particularly would like to thank Senator Fitzsimons for the interest he has shown in the Bill as evidenced by the two amendments put down by him. While I will be opposing the two amendments I would like to emphasise that I appreciate and share the sentiments which underlie them. However, because of the absolute necessity for legislation to be couched in precise and readily definable terms, the sections should stand as they are. In this context, I should commence by emphasising the separate objectives in sections 2 and 3 in the Bill. As the Leas-Chathaoirleach mentioned earlier, I will refer to both amendments together.

Section 2 sets out the powers of the Commissioners of Public Works in relation to carrying out works of any nature at the library premises. The section is self-explanatory to a large extent. The wording gives just regard to the importance of the collection in the library. The very fact that the commissioners may:

“with the consent of the Minister and upon and subject to such terms and conditions as may be agreed upon by the Commissioners and the trustees”

indicates there must be agreement between both bodies on the terms and conditions of any work. That sentence should allay any fears Senator Fitzsimons may have in relation to this aspect as mentioned in his amendment.

Section 3 enables the Minister for Finance to recoup to the trustees of the library cost already incurred on certain works to the premises before this Bill comes into effect. These works already undertaken by the Commissioners of Public Works and paid for by the trustees include roof repairs and security measures. The amount involved is approximately £50,000. I have examined in detail [1226] the Senator's amendments and I am satisfied as far as his section 2 amendment is concerned that while not improving on the section shown on the printed Bill it would instead introduce problems of uncertainty and ambiguity in legal interpretation. The section 3 amendment is linked with the section 2 amendment. Both sections of the Bill as I have already explained cater for separate objectives. Linking the two amendments together would, I am satisfied, confound the objectives and undermine the legality of the sections in the printed Bill.

I might point out for Senator Bulbulia's information that section 2 would look after her reservations and cater quite adequately for the doubts she expressed earlier.

In response to a few other points made, I would like to say that the Office of Public Works will undertake any major capital project which would be sponsored by the Minister of State for Arts and Culture on behalf of the library trustees. Any final decision on major capital expenditure will rest with the Government of the day. The Office of Public Works will do any work on an agency basis so sanctioned. I would like to reiterate the views expressed that the quality of the work of OPW should never be questioned. You may be forgiven for some doubt as to the length of time some work takes to get under way but I can stand over the public monuments throughout the country and in Dublin are testament to the quality of their work. The OPW have vast experience in dealing with problems similar to those of the Chester Beatty Library: I draw your attention to the National Museum and Gallery and the many others that are around.

Mr. Fitzsimons: Information on Jack Fitzsimons  Zoom on Jack Fitzsimons  I would be in total agreement with the Minister of State that it would be very hard to be critical of the actual work carried out because, as I stated before, I have been involved in many projects and I know that only the best is good enough. No words of mine would be sufficient to pay tribute; that is [1227] not in question. I accept what the Minister has said. Section 2 states:

Such work as, in the opinion of the Commissioners, is necessary or expedient for the maintenance, upkeep, repair, renovation and improvement of the premises.

What I am saying is this. If there is a hole in the roof and water is pouring down, we would all accept that that needs attention. That is obvious. If there is a serious crack which may be a structural problem, that needs attention. But what I am talking about is with regard to an extension to the premises which may be necessary; with regard to the space that would be taken up to comply with the building regulations regarding safety, the means of escape in the case of a fire — there is going to be a considerable loss of space; with regard to the temperature of the building. Are they provided for in this section and in the Bill? With regard to the control of humidity, is that provided for? It may well be regarded as improvement. Regarding the ambience and the proper control of the situation inside the building and with regard to the provision of access to the buildings from one to another, Senator Bulbulia has mentioned that at present items are carried from one building to another in the open. Deputy Bermingham stated that provision would be made for connections between the buildings. I accept that but with regard to the other areas, the humidity, the temperature, the lighting, the daylighting which is most important because, as the Senator has pointed out, this must be controlled, are all these covered in the section? If the Minister says they are, I will be quite satisfied.

Mrs. A. Doyle: Information on Avril Doyle  Zoom on Avril Doyle  I can only reiterate to Senator Fitzsimons that in effect section 2 will allow for any capital project with the consent of the Minister of State and sponsored by the Government of the day. Initially the matter will be discussed between the commissioners and the trustees. Finally, money can only be spent, not only in this area but in any aspect, [1228] with the consent of the Government. The Minister of State for Arts and Culture will be responsible for ensuring the sponsorship of any work deemed absolutely necessary or deemed necessary at all. The provisions in section 2 cover your requirements without any guarantees; money will still have to be provided by Government on each and every issue as it arises. The matter as stated is sufficient to carry out what the Senator has in mind.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Section 2, agreed to.

Amendment No. 2 not moved.

Section 3 agreed to.

Sections 4 and 5 agreed to.

Title agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.


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