FMC contribution Order of Business, on Professor Diarmuid Ferriter’s resignation from the Board of the National Library – Culture & implications in pursuit of changes
Senator Fiach Mac Conghail: There is a crisis in the way culture and our living heritage is administered by the Government. This is not about money but about the lack of vision and public consultation in the way our national cultural institutions are being treated in a profoundly secretive and cavalier way. I am concerned about this and I call on the Leader to invite the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, to the Seanad for an urgent debate on the Government’s cultural policy.
As director of a national cultural institution, the Abbey Theatre, I am aware of cutting budgets, rationalising, sharing resources and, regrettably, letting staff go. All my colleagues in national cultural institutions are trying to achieve this, yet there is no public consultation. Thirteen organisations are under critical review or will be rationalised, amalgamated or abolished in 2012. That is a tsunami of desecration and potential undermining of the whole cultural infrastructure of our nation. The list of these institutions is as follows: the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the Crawford Art Gallery, the National Gallery of Ireland, the National Archives, the Irish Manuscripts Commission, An Coimisinéir Teanga, the National Library, the National Museum, the Chester Beatty Library, the Placenames Commission, the Heritage Council and Culture Ireland. Three of these organisations – the National Museum of Ireland, the National Archives and Culture Ireland – have yet to advertise the vacant position of director.
I was appointed to the Seanad by An Taoiseach because of my work in this area. My colleagues cannot speak either because they are civil servants or are in the middle of the crisis. I come here to bear witness for them and to ask the House to invite the Minister to come to the House immediately – today – as a matter of urgency. Is this the end of the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997, initiated by the President when he was a Minister, and of the National Archives Act 1986? Will the merger of the National Archives and the National Library succeed in saving money? It will not. I know there can be reductions in costs and more sharing of services, but to abolish or merge organisations without any public consultation or even publicly stated rationale is to be regretted.
The State is to abolish the National Archives, which was established as the State Paper Office in 1702. The National Library was founded in 1877. A merger, in whatever form it takes, will create a new body that will wipe away 450 years of history. As Mr. Fintan O’Toole said, “Two bits of the public service that actually work will be dismantled and the nation’s memory banks will be entrusted to some as yet unknown entity.” What is the point of promoting Ireland as a nation that supports culture and attracts tourism and of talking about commemoration if we are to dismantle all this? Probably the most successful cultural project of the past 25 years, with more foreign visitors than many organisations, is the online project of digitising the 1901 and 1911 census returns.
This morning, I read in The Irish Times that one of our eminent historians, Professor Diarmuid Ferriter, has resigned from the board of the National Library. This is worrying and a warning to us in this House. Professor Ferriter, an extraordinary historian who has brought the archive into the folk mind of the way historians now talk about history, said there was “‘little clarity’ from the Government as to the reason for proposed mergers”. Professor Ferriter also pointed out the irony of the Government working on a decade of centenary commemorations to mark the foundation of the State while it was intent on doing untold damage to the very institutions that are the custodians of so much of that history. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business calling on the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, to come to the House today to discuss this matter.
Acting Leader’s response
Senator Ivana Bacik: Senator Mac Conghail raised the issue of projected mergers in some cultural and heritage institutions. I agree with the Senator that the proposed mergers would have negative consequences for cultural and heritage institutions. Like the Senator, I was concerned at the announcement today of the resignation of a very eminent professor of history from the board. I have inquired if the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Deenihan, will come to the House at an early opportunity and I have been informed a debate with him has been arranged for 7 June, the first week after the referendum. It is a planned debate on commemorations.
Senator Fiach Mac Conghail: On a point of order, it is on commemorations and not on the issue I raised today.
Senator Ivana Bacik: Given the eminent history professor’s clear linking of the decade of commemorations with his decision to resign, I think we will be able to debate the issues the Senator has raised. I certainly hope we can do that on 7 June. That debate has been arranged. I cannot facilitate it today but I have immense sympathy for the points the Senator made. The mergers were proposed under the previous Government and I hope we can debate them in the House.
Senator Fiach Mac Conghail: On a point of order, they were also proposed by the current Government. The Minister, Deputy Deenihan, is up to his knees in amalgamations.
Senator Ivana Bacik: That debate has been arranged.