State concedes An Taisce’s Beit Paintings Export Licence Case

28th July 2015
Press Release

In the High Court today, the State conceded, without reservation, that the National Gallery of Ireland's licence issued to Christie’s acting on behalf of the Alfred Beit Foundation for export of art works in March 2015 was unlawful.

An Taisce is now seeking the repatriation of the relevant paintings and artworks and action by Minister for Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht

An Taisce obtained complete vindication of its legal action against the National Gallery of Ireland and the Minister for Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht, in a settlement reached and read before the High Court today, given the State chose to concede the matter rather than defend the unlawful licensing regime.

The case was initiated by An Taisce challenging the legal entitlement of the National Gallery of Ireland to act on behalf of the Minster for Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht in issuing an export license under the Documents and Pictures Act (Regulation of Export Act) 1945. The case was taken by An Taisce following the failure of the repondents to respond to An Taisce’s concerns regarding the lawfulness of the licenses.

The Alfred Beit Foundation had sought the export of ten artworks in March 2015 for sale, with seven consigned for auction by Christies in July.

While one of the works was sold privately through Christies and two watercolours were auctioned in June 2015, the remaining items were withdrawn from auction in June following the lodgement of An Taisce’s legal proceedings in the High Court and the sale “postponed.

This experience exposes the failure of the Minister for Arts Heritage and Gaeltacht to act to resolve this unlawful export and establish an effective export license regime in Ireland.

Today’s declaration establishes that the export licence granted to the Alfred Beit Foundation was without legal authority under Irish law. Subsequent licences issued on foot of them in the UK to facilitate their export outside the EU were also thus compromised. The paintings cannot now be lawfully exported outside the European Union without first being returned to this jurisdiction and a lawful licence granted.

The State, through the Minister for Arts Heritage and Gaeltacht, agreed in the settlement to the following terms :

  1. "A declaration by way of application for judicial review that the grant of the said licence was ultra vires the authority of the First Respondent under the Documents and Pictures (Regulation of Export Act) 1945."
  2. "A declaration by way of application for judicial review that the appropriate authority for the grant of such licence was the Second Respondent."

(The case was against the National Gallery of Ireland as first respondent and the Minister for Arts Heritage and Gaeltacht as second respondent.)

An order in respect of the costs of An Taisce’s legal team was also made by the High Court

Following the conclusion of the settlement in Court today Charles Stanley-Smith, An Taisce’s Communication Officer stated :

‘It is clear now that the Minister should have taken responsibility for the unlawful export of paintings of such cultural significance. So we are calling for Minister Humphreys to take action to secure their return, and not waited till the 11th hour and a court action to do so..’

He continued:

‘The Government have been happy until now to stand on the side lines and claim it is not their responsibility but as we have seen from the High Court decision today that this simply is not the case, they are the competent authority. These paintings were donated by Sir Alfred Beit to a Charitable Foundation with the primary objective to promote art education and appreciation including the public exhibition of paintings in Ireland.'

An Taisce is now seeking the following action:

  1. That the Alfred Beit Foundation repatriate the paintings and for the ABF, for the first time, to properly engage and exhaust any and all means to keep these art works in Ireland.

  2. That the National Gallery of Ireland, in being found to have acted outside its powers, confirm that it will not issue any further export licenses under the 1945 Act.

  3. That the Minister for Arts Heritage and Gaeltacht put in place an effective art and historic artefact export licensing regime which provides a mechanism to ensure that cultural artefacts of national significance can be preserved for the nation.

  4. The the Minister for Arts Heritage and Gaeltacht engage directly with the National Gallery of Ireland to identify any and all other licences in play where sales are pending on foot of unlawful licences, and that the Minister make such details publicly available.

An Taisce was represented in the proceedings by Sara Moorhead, S.C. and John Kenny B.L. instructed by Phelim O’Neill Solicitors.

ENDS

For further information, please call:
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce Tel: +353 87 2411995
email: publicaffairs@antaisce.org
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland
www.antaisce.org

NOTES:

An Taisce was represented in the proceedings by Sara Moorhead, S.C. and John Kenny B.L. instructed by Phelim O’Neill Solicitors.