We live in a selfish society in which there are many acquisitive people. However, benevolent gestures are made by individuals and families. The Hunt family donated a collection of works worth £35 million to the city of Limerick, one of the largest and finest private collections in existence. It is important to capitalise on the bequest and make Limerick a centre of excellence in regard to museums. Other museums in the city include King John's Castle which has been refurbished recently and is worth visiting. It is one of the finest examples of Norman architecture here. Close by is another fine historical building, St. Mary's Cathedral built in 1168. Closer to my heart is the city museum located in John's Square in cramped conditions. There is also museum space available in City Hall on Merchant's Quay but because one wall is porous the building cannot be used to house the city's heritage collection. The Minister should consider opening a museum in the City Hall where the local collection as well as artefacts which are closed off to the public could be exhibited. For too long artefacts in the possession of the National Museum have been locked away in Letterfrack and other places mentioned by Deputy Connor. If money was provided to renovate the stone wall of the building in Limerick, many important artefacts could be exhibited there.
The idea of opening a centre of excellence in Limerick is worth pursuing as it would have spin-off effects for the city. The Hunt museum in Limerick attracts tourists as well as scholars and students, people who are interested in culture. Other attractions could also be provided in the area to encourage tourists to stay as long as possible in the country.
We hear much about the Ardagh chalice, the Derrynaflan hoard, the Lisheen collar and the Book of Kells, but there are many other artefacts which are significant in a local context and which are seldom seen by the public. There is no reason these items should not be displayed for our own people as well as for visitors. Perhaps the Minister will consider this suggestion. I am dwelling on much of what Deputy Connor said but I was impressed with his contribution. It is important that buildings are renovated, with an emphasis on stonework. The Minister should use his influence with the Office of Public Works to ensure that training is provided for apprentices in this area. Skills in the laying and cutting of stone can be passed on and the experience of stonemasons should be used to the advantage of young people. Since brain surgeons can be trained in five or six years there is no reason that stonemasons cannot be trained if they have the willingness and aptitude to learn the trade. The Minister should ensure that the best possible training is provided for apprentices not only in the building of new interpretative centres but in the maintenance of existing structures.
Deputy Connor referred to the interpretative centre in Navan, near Armagh. I have not visited that centre but I intend to do so. I support the concept of providing interpretative centres in populated areas where visitors have access to the local taverns, restaurants, hotels and craftshops. This would be to the advantage of the areas concerned and would mean that the tourists would not simply go from a hotel to an interpretative centre and back again, without meeting the local people. Deputy Connor's views in this regard are in line with Labour Party policy — I do not care what feathers are ruffled in saying that.
I visited Cobh in County Cork five times in the last eight months and visited the interpretative centre on two occasions. That centre is a painful reminder of the people forced to emigrate to America, Australia and New Zealand, many of whom left from Cobh. My mother was one of 15 children from County Clare, 14 of whom emigrated to New England via Cobh. For that reason I have a personal interest in this area. The interpretative centre in Cobh, which is located on the site of the old railway station, is one of the best centres in the world. I welcome the fact that brick and stone were used in the renovation of that building. People who visit the interpretative centre usually spend the day in Cobh, spending money in the area, to the benefit of the local economy.
I opposed some of the interpretative centres referred to, not for any perverse reason but because it was proposed to locate them in isolated areas. From the media one may get the impression I am a person without common sense and practical understanding of this country, but my objections to interpretative centres were based on common sense and experience. I am a stonemason, as were my father, grandfather and great grandfather, and I speak from knowledge and understanding of archaeological sites and interpretative centres. I spent a great part of my life working with stone and I know as much about this matter as any Minister.
It was on the basis of my knowledge in this area that I opposed the Mullaghmore interpretative centre. I strenuously opposed my partners in Government on this issue and will continue to do so without apology. Even though the Labour Party is in Government with Fianna Fáil I will continue to express my views, as I do at our parliamentary party meetings, and I apologise to nobody for so doing. In a democracy people lose out, and I have lost many struggles even within my own party. Even in one's household, where the woman usually rules the roost, for the sake of peace one must sometimes compromise. In this case I am stating my views and I have no objection to people opposing me.
Much was made of this issue by Deputies Killeen and de Valera, who both represent County Clare. Deputies in the same constituency, particularly members of the same party, do not always speak well of each other. I applaud the fact that these two Deputies who are now in a party of their own, in a kind of limbo, spoke well of each other. They made a case for the farmers and landowners who experience difficulties in terms of rights of way. Perhaps they had in mind Poulnabrone Dolmen in the Burren, County Clare. I know that area very well because I frequently visit Ballyvaughan. To get to that area one has to trample over ditches and fences. Where monuments are situated in isolated areas such as this, carparks should be provided close by so that people visiting the area will not block the roads. That would be welcomed, particularly by middle-aged and older tourists.
There is a compensation culture in this country, not so much in the area of the Office of Public Works, but in the area of local authorities. The Minister should face up to the fact that an increased number of visitors will wish to visit our artefacts and monuments and natural terrain. Land should be acquired in these areas to provide facilities for them.
The objections to the Bill from the other side of the House were very flimsy. I welcome the central thrust of the Bill which gives the State more power, not in an obtrusive way but in a way that will assert the State's role in this regard. Too much of our heritage is being destroyed, lost and stolen, and we should not accept that. The State has a right not only to preserve our heritage and history but to display it in a practical way where it can be seen by all our people, particularly our young people, as well as by tourists. I welcome the Bill and believe the criticisms of it are misplaced and will be proven wrong in time and wish the Minister all the best.