An Taisce calls on the Board of the National Museum to Rescind Authorisation of Seanad Move.

13th November 2016
Press Release

An Taisce calls on the Board of the National Museum to rescind their authorisation of the Seanad move into the National Museum. An Taisce have also issued a ‘Section 5’ request to determine if the proposed structural changes are exempt or require planning permission.

In a Press Release dated 10th November 2016, Seán O’Feargháil, Chair of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, has announced, that ‘following constructive discussions’ an agreement has been reached with the National Museum.

He thanked ‘the Board, Director, and staff’ of the NMI for facilitating the ‘temporary’ occupation of the sizable ‘Ceramics’ Gallery by the Seanad. No mention of the Japanese Room, or the Chinese Room, which are both rumoured to also be in the equation. Indeed, the entire upper inner wing of the Museum may be at stake. This area is at the heart of the Museum’s public outreach – workshops, public talks, seminars, school group interactions, etc., etc. To gain access to this area of the Museum, the OPW has been instructed to prepare plans for structural alterations to the building.

Dr. Mark Clinton, of An Taisce’s Monuments & Antiquities Committee stated “The occupation of the ‘Ceramics’ Gallery and other spaces and any structural alterations to the late 19th century Protected Structure is the sole responsibility of the Board of the National Museum. Their ‘duty of care’ to the staff, public, and the Institution demands they rescind their authorisation”.

The entire professional staff of the Museum are still, and have been from the word go, been totally opposed to this ‘temporary’ takeover of valued space and facilities within their confined building. Clearly, Deputy O’ Fearghaill is not interested in the slightest in their views and is more than happy to ignore them.

There are always carrots dangling in front of the big stick. So, what are the ‘goodies’ on offer here? O’Fearghaill announced that they ‘will fund the refurbishment of an area for future use by the Museum as a public exhibition space and funds will be made available for the construction of a new lift which will be of long-term benefit to the Museum in facilitating public access’.

These dangled Smarties just about sum up the attitude of ‘official’ Ireland to our cultural Institutions. For years, the National Museum has been pleading for financial aid to increase public exhibition areas. They were ignored. Millions of ancient objects are stored in the basement of the Museum. The staff must lug large exhibits and precious objects up and down stairs and hope that they don’t trip! For decades, there have been heartfelt requests for a lift. They were ignored. Now, with a few nomadic Senators at the door, immediately there’s to be a new lift!

But will this lift go to the basement? Where in the Museum building will it be located (surely still not stuck to the façade of the Protected Structure as heralded in the early design?) Is it expected to provide ‘disability access to the upper level of the Museum’ as flagged by Minister Humphreys (in her written response to Deputy Broughan). Has anybody informed the Minister that the upper floor of the Museum is not all on one level? One needs to negotiate narrow steps to visit the Viking Exhibition, or similarly the Egyptian Exhibition, to name but two.

Planning Matters – Section 5 Note [1]

Dr. Clinton stated “To date, the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission have not applied for Planning Permission, instead they have sought an exemption. An Taisce has itself lodged a Section 5 appeal with the Planning Department of Dublin City Council, to determine if the proposed works are ‘exempted development’ or not. They stress that the Museum building is a Protected Structure dating to the late 1800s.

ENDS

Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce. Tel: +353 87 241 1995
Dr. Mark Clinton, Monuments & Antiquities Committee, An Taisce. Tel: +353 1 832 2058
email: publicaffairs@antaisce.org
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland
www.antaisce.org

Background

  • On the 27th of October 2016 Deputy Thomas Broughan T.D. addressed a Dáil Question (PQ No. 106) to Deputy Seán Canney T.D., Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW. The question was intended to seek clarification regarding the proposed Seanad move into a section of the National Museum Kildare Street and enquire about alternatives. The question was apparently transferred to another Ministry.
  • In a written reply issued by the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government it was stated that the Minister ‘has no function in the determination or management of the accommodation requirements of the Houses of the Oireachtas or the National Museum of Ireland’.
  • The reply from a separate Ministry indicates that the Deputy Canney’s Department had determined that it had no directional involvement in the project and was passing the question on to, as it transpired, another Ministry that washed its hands of the matter.
  • On the 2nd of November ‘The Irish Times’ reported that on the 17th of October the OPW had made a submission to Dublin City Planning outlining a programme of works in respect of the National Museum and seeking to know whether the work qualified for a planning exemption or not. When asked by ‘The Irish Times’ for a comment ‘a spokesman for the OPW declined and said he would forward the request to the Houses of the Oireachtas’.
  • In a written reply, dated the 2nd of November, to Deputy Tommy Broughan T.D. from the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil Deputy Seán Ó Feargháil T.D. it was clearly stated that ‘The refurbishment of Leinster House, the chamber of Seanad Éireann and the relocation of same is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission’. This determination excludes any other Ministry or indeed, as Deputy Ó Feargháil further clarified in his letter, the Taoiseach (under Standing Order 36) from the process.
  • One can reasonably conclude, therefore, that the OPW in relation to this case has been acting at the behest and upon instruction from the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission and not from the Minister with responsibility for the OPW. This is clear from the words of Deputy Ó Feargháil who is not only Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil but also Chairperson of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. It is also clear in the context of the Houses of the Oireachtas Act 2003 (as amended 2003-2015).
  • Section 11. (1) of the Act invested and transferred ‘all rights and property (and rights relating to such property) held or enjoyed immediately before that day by the officer of the Houses of the Oireachtas in the performance of it of its functions…’ to the Commission.
  • The authority and remit of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, as defined in the Act, can only logically extend as far as the boundaries of its own legally defined bailiwick.
  • The Commission, as constituted, was not granted or allocated any extraneous powers or functions. Its sphere of activity was strictly limited and confined to that area over which its legal authority extends as determined by the Act.
  • The National Museum of Ireland is a separately governed entity occupying a property outside the legal boundaries of the Oireachtas. The Houses of the Oireachtas Commission therefore has no locus standi, rights, or authority to accordingly engage in planning activities on behalf or with effect to the National Museum on Kildare Street [RPS 4199].
  • It logically and legally follows therefore that no representative or agent of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, or any person or body operating on their behalf, for example the OPW, can apply for an exemption (for example a Section 5 Declaration) or, should it arise, planning permission pertaining to a building that is sited outside the area of their jurisdiction.
  • The thesis is confirmed in a written reply (No. 537) to Deputy Tommy Broughan, dated (9th November 2016), received from Heather Humphreys, Minister for Arts & Heritage (resulting from a Parliamentary Question):

    ‘Such a temporary relocation of the Seanad is, of course, a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas in the first instance, while issues relating to the works to be carried out are proper to the OPW.’ ‘My role, on behalf of Government, was to request the NMI to facilitate the relocation request and the Board of the Museum has agreed to so facilitate it.’

There we have it. The occupation of the ‘Ceramics’ Gallery and other spaces and any structural alterations to the late 19th century Protected Structure is, therefore, the sole responsibility of the Minister approved Board of the National Museum.

Planning Note [1]]

An Taisce’s Section 5 request can be found here https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxEVOTzgFnKETVNvMlNrZEtYemM/view?usp=sharing.

The essence of An Taisce’s request is:

Pursuant to Section 5 of the Planning and Development Act, 2000, as amended (PDA 2000), we are writing to request a declaration from Dublin City Council (DCC) regarding whether:

  1. The breaching of the external wall in 2-3 places of the National Museum of Ireland on Kildare Street (Protected Structure [RPS 4199]) is or is not development within the meaning of the Planning and Development Act 2000;
  2. The attachment of a lift to the façade of the National Museum of Ireland on Kildare Street (Protected Structure [RPS 4199]) is or is not development within the meaning of the Planning and Development Act 2000;
  3. A change of use from a public amenity facility to private office space at the National Museum of Ireland (specifically the ‘Ceramics Room’) would be considered a material change of use or is exempted development within the meaning of the Planning and development act 2000.

About An Taisce

An Taisce is a charity that works to preserve and protect Ireland's natural and built heritage. We are an independent charitable voice for the environment and for heritage issues. We are not a government body, semi-state or agency. Founded in 1948, we are one of Ireland’s oldest and largest environmental organisations.