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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 12 Nov 1959

Vol. 177 No. 8

Lane Pictures: Statement by Taoiseach.

I am happy to inform the House that an Agreement has been concluded between the Commissioners of Public Works and the Trustees of the National Gallery of London in regard to the Lane pictures. In entering into this Agreement the Commissioners have acted as agents for the Government, and the Government will, of course, take whatever steps may be necessary to secure that the Agreement will be carried out on this side.

A copy of the Agreement is being placed in the Library. It provides that the 39 Lane pictures will be divided into two groups, which will be lent, in turn, for public exhibition in Dublin for successive periods of five years, over a total period of 20 years.

The Government welcome these arrangements and consider that for the duration of the Agreement they offer a solution of a question which has been the subject of controversy for a long time. They will not themselves during the currency of the Agreement initiate, or give support to, any proposal for an alternative arrangement concerning the Lane pictures.

We trust that the conclusion of this Agreement will be welcomed by the House.

I feel that I should not let this occasion pass without paying tribute to those whose untiring efforts have helped so greatly to secure the completion of the arrangements that have now been made.

In the first place, it gives me special pleasure to express the Government's sincere appreciation of the active interest displayed by Deputy John A. Costello in this matter, both during his periods of office as Taoiseach and while in opposition. As Taoiseach, he availed himself of every opportunity to renew, in a vigorous manner, the representations of previous Governments for the return of the pictures to Ireland. In opposition, his advice and co-operation have been generously given and have been of inestimable value in the course of the discussions that led to the present Agreement.

To Professor Thomas Bodkin, the nation owes a debt of gratitude for a lifetime's service for the return of the Lane pictures. In more recent years, Professor Bodkin has had the co-operation of Lord Pakenham and Lord Moyne, both of whom have been unsparing of time and effort and have given assistance of the utmost value.

It is right that I should recall also the assistance given, over the years, by many other friends in Britain who have shown a constant anxiety to promote a friendly and equitable settlement of this question. We are sincerely grateful to them all.

It is a great privilege and pleasure to me to join with the Taoiseach in his expression of gratification at the conclusion of an Agreement which will to a considerable extent secure that the wishes of the late Sir Hugh Lane in reference to the group of pictures which he intended to donate to Dublin will be carried into effect.

The Agreement offers an honourable compromise in a prolonged and difficult controversy. We have not secured our full demands, which could not have been met without the enactment of a statute of the Parliament of Great Britain. In the absence of such an enactment it is, I think, proper that we should express our appreciation of the manner in which our claims have been met by the Trustees of the National Gallery. They are confined in their powers by their statutory duties as Trustees and I think it can be said that within the limits of their authority they have gone to the fullest possible extent in making this Agreement.

Those who have been engaged in this long campaign have been sustained and heartened in their endeavours by the encouragement and help of many people of goodwill in Great Britain, and particularly by the knowledge that in the course of the years there has grown up in Great Britain amongst fair-minded people a public opinion favourable to the return of the Lane pictures to Dublin, founded on the conviction of the justice of our case. To them we should offer our gratitude. They created an atmosphere which enabled the present Agreement to be arrived at.

While many in Ireland, North and South, and in Great Britain helped our Governments, success has really been achieved by the persistent and tenacious efforts of a few individuals. I join with the Taoiseach in expressing our gratitude for the co-operation of Lord Pakenham and Lord Moyne. I am grateful to him for his generous expressions in reference to myself. Such little work as I have over the years been enabled to do has been entirely inspired and directed by the unflagging energy and unfaltering hope of the person, above all others, to whom the present successful Agreement is to be attributed—Doctor Thomas Bodkin. In his famous codicil, Sir Hugh Lane said: "I would like my friend Thomas Bodkin to be asked to help." Doctor Bodkin felt that it was his mission to see that what he was convinced were Sir Hugh Lane's real wishes were carried into practical effect. For 44 years, he has borne practically the entire of the burden. His books on Hugh Lane, his multitude of letters and articles in a variety of newspapers and periodicals, his lectures, broadcasts, and the seizing of every television opportunity to keep alive our claims have contributed more than anything else to maintaining our case and bringing a great measure of success to our cause.

I join with the Taoiseach in commending this Agreement for its endorsement by the Dáil and the people. The Irish people should guard these treasures as their own. Generations to come will derive that cultural and spiritual advantage from the study of the beauty of the pictures which Sir Hugh Lane had intended to bequeath to the people of Dublin as an inestimable gift.

I should like to join briefly in recording the satisfaction of this Party that this Agreement has been arrived at with the British Government and to say that I think the whole nation will rejoice that what in the circumstances is a relatively satisfactory Agreement has been arrived at. It does not of course satisfy our full demand that the pictures morally belong to the Irish nation, but, having regard to the many difficulties which confronted the negotiators, I think we can all feel gratified that such a substantial measure of agreement has been achieved. With the Taoiseach and Deputy Costello, I want to join in paying tribute to Lord Pakenham and Lord Moyne for the magnificent services they have rendered. I think, however, that no one will deny to Professor Bodkin a due measure of credit for his dauntless struggle over a long period of years to have these pictures returned to the home for which Sir Hugh Lane intended them.

I agree with Deputy Costello that many high-minded people in Great Britain, not of Irish nationality, have helped in the effort to have these pictures returned to Ireland, being convinced, as they were, of the outstanding merits of the Irish claim. To them, the Irish nation can now return its sincere thanks. I am sure the nation will honour to the full the Agreement into which the Government has entered on the people's behalf.