Governance of Irish Heritage Trust

7th November 2005
Press Release

THE NATIONAL TRUST FOR IRELAND RAISES CONCERNS OVER THE STEERING GROUP TO ADVISE ON THE GOVERNANCE OF THE IRISH HERITAGE TRUST For further information John Ducie 087 2231355 or Frank Corcoran 087 9009164

An Taisce the National Trust for Ireland welcomes today the government’s acknowledgement of the need for an independent Irish Heritage Trust which benefits from tax reliefs. It wishes to raise concerns that the steering group is not fully representative of all the stakeholders.

The Government’s acknowledgement of the need for a Heritage Trust is based on the Indecon Report (2004) which quotes heavily from submissions made by An Taisce the National Trust for Ireland.

In the interest of establishing a truly independent Irish Heritage Trust, that can fulfil all the requirements for international recognition, it is vital that it firstly is truly representative of Ireland’s heritage and those involved in its management. It is important to the well being of Ireland’s heritage that the proposed heritage trust is truly independent and free from taint as is best practice in other jurisdictions

An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland calls for the steering group to include all of the stakeholders involved in the management of Irelands heritage.

An Taisce the National Trust for Ireland wishes to raise the following questions to confirm the extent to which the Indecon Report recommendations and international best practice will be implemented:

Will governance of the independent Irish Heritage Trust be based on international best practice, such as in the UK National Trust Act of 1971 as mentioned in the Indecon Report? I.e.; Established as a body incorporated by an Act of Parliament, vested in a council comprising 50% elected by the membership and 50% appointed by kindred bodies. These bodies are laid down by the Act of Parliament and reviewed by the membership every six years. Will the Irish Heritage Trust be able to declare heritage properties inalienable; i.e. such properties cannot be sold or mortgaged without the permission of the Oireachtas, as is international best practice and is recommended by the Indecon Report? Will the steering group be aiming for full recognition by the international movement of National Trusts, and comply with the exacting standards of governance required and uphold all the declarations of international National Trusts as do all properly constituted National Trusts? So far emphasis seems to be all directed towards ‘the country house’. Will the proposed Irish Heritage Trust be prepared to care for all elements of Ireland’s heritage including landscapes and natural heritage as do other National Trusts internationally? Why is it that there is no representation on the steering group of existing NGOs other than the Irish Georgian Society and The Landmark Trust? Why is there nobody appointed to the steering group with international experience of National Trusts and Heritage Trusts? Why is there no representation on the steering group of other Irish NGOs engaged in heritage property ownership and management? Some of these NGOs have a depth of international experience in the governance of Heritage Trusts and most importantly international best practice. Will the steering group be inviting participation from all stakeholders, including the general public, in establishing the governance of this Heritage Trust? Why is An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland, which has represented Ireland in this field internationally for the past 60 years not included? If this new Heritage Trust is to be truly independent, why is the Minister for the Environment alone appointing the steering group?

Background Information.

An Taisce is not erroneously known as Ireland's National Trust. It is Ireland's National Trust membership society and carries out the work of a National Trust in property ownership, education programes and advocacy as do all other National trusts. Macedonia, Lithuania and Greece also have such national trust membership societies. However they, like this republic are the only European countries that have such societies that do not have statutory provision - a vital, fundamental, requirement for the full functioning of a national trust. National Trusts are independent non-governmental voluntary membership organisations that frequently receive legislative provision in order to permit them to carry out their charitable objectives, viz. "To take up the challenge of reducing and eventually reversing the progressive damage and destruction of cultural and natural heritage". (International Edinburgh Declaration of National Trusts 2003)

An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland was founded following a public meeting in Dublin's Mansion House in 1946, convened by the R.I.A, The Royal Society of Antiquaries, An Oige, The Geographical Society of Ireland, The Dublin Naturalists Field Club and The Irish Society for the Preservation of Birds. From the outset it was the successor to the all Ireland National Trust Committee that ceased to exist that year following the passage of The Northern Ireland National Trust Act. The first council contained a number of distinguished persons who were members of the former all Ireland committee. Its constitution was modelled on that of the National Trust for Scotland. It acquired its first property in 1950 in Killarney (now part of the national park) and currently holds 16 important heritage properties, including 6500 acres of Donegal gifted by the land commission in 1968, and Kanturk Castle inherited from the National Trust in 1951. In 1963 it became a statutory consultee under the planning acts, a distinction shared with some other national trusts in their countries. It is a founder member of all the international organisations of national trusts and is bound by the international declarations of national trusts.

Throughout its long history it has continually sought the necessary legislative framework to permit its aim of, holding and managing heritage property in trust for the benefit of all the people in perpetuity to be carried out effectively. It is also seeking legislative provision for all voluntary bodies who carry out this work to be also provided, as is the case in other jurisdictions. To this end it has been promoting a heritage trust bill that would permit recognition of all that labour in this field.

There are currently 5000 paid up members and 50% of schools participate in its Green School's program, which is the highest participation rate in the world.