Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 19 Jun 1979

Vol. 315 No. 4

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Archaeological Excavations.


asked the Minister for Education in respect of each licensed archaeological excavation in the past ten years on which a statutory report on the finding of archaeological objects was received if any of the objects reported were of a substance likely to deteriorate without special conservation measures being taken, if so, if the appropriate conservation measures were in fact carried out by the archaeologist to whom the excavation licence was granted.

Appropriate action in relation to conservation has been and is being taken with regard to those objects lodged in institutions under public control. I am not in a position to furnish the information sought in relation to objects not lodged in such institutions.

Is the Minister aware that the vast bulk of material found in licensed archaeological excavations with the aid of public funds is not lodged in institutions under public control and does he agree that is not a satisfactory situation? Does he agree that because public money has been spent on such excavations he or the Board of Works should take steps to ensure that these objects are conserved adequately?

I do not agree entirely that every object should be lodged, but I agree that our authorities should have the right to claim any objects they deem necessary for scholarship or research. I agree that legislation covering excavations is in need of updating.

Hear, hear. In the case of objects of a perishable nature which the Minister knows to be in the hands of private archaeologists or others not under State control, would he take steps to have them inspected to ensure they are in an adequate state of conservation?

The Deputy is aware that in respect of all these objects there is an obligation under the Act on the excavator to make a report to the Director of the National Museum so that he will be made aware of the locations of these objects. I am quite sure that if he knew any such objects were in danger he would be anxious to have them protected.

Will the Minister not agree it is not possible for the Director of the National Museum, merely because he receives a list of objects, to know whether they are in an adequate state of conservation? Unless he actually sees them how can he know? Would it not be a good idea if the Director was authorised to inspect these objects to ensure that they have not deteriorated in the hands of private archaeologists?

The Deputy will know from his four years in this office that things which might be deemed to be necessary are not always covered by the legislation on this matter. It is true to say that these objects do not belong to the person who has carried out the excavation. Therefore, we could find ourselves in the area of ownership of these objects and the position of the Director in claiming them is not an easy one.

We cannot be digging all day on this question.

Does the Minister agree that the problem he has now referred to could be ironed out easily before excavation licences are given?

The Minister agrees that the whole area is one which needs updating. I am examining it with a view to improvement.


asked the Minister for Education the approximate number of archaeological objects reported to have been found in licensed archaeological excavations in the past ten years but not lodged by the archaeologist responsible in the National Museum; if any of the objects are retained in private collections or have been or are liable to be sold commercially.

Approximately 7,600 archaeological objects reported to have been found in licensed excavations in the past ten years have not been lodged in the National Museum. I do not have information about the retention of objects in private collections or about the sale of such objects.

Does the Minister agree it is regrettable that he is not able to give the House an assurance that none of these reported objects has been exported for private gain?

I cannot say whether they have been but the Deputy knows that anybody who would wish to export any objects of this kind would have to get a licence from the Minister for Education.

Is the Minister aware that it is impossible to enforce that requirement because there is not customs clearance of things going out of the country, only those coming in? Does he agree he should take powers to have all materials excavated on licence at public expense examined on a regular basis to ensure that they will not be exported for private gain?

I inherited this problem from the Deputy. If it is regrettable now, it was more regrettable during the four years of his term of office.

It is regrettable at any time, and I am asking the Minister to address himself to the problem rather than engage in this sort of activity. Will he give me an assurance that this will be attended to?

I have already told the Deputy that it is my concern to remedy this situation.

Will the Minister say whether lodgment in the National Museum is required by law of archaeologists who discover something in licensed excavations?

The Deputy's party voted down a Bill to put that right which we introduced six months ago.

It is a pity the Deputy did not do it when he was in power.