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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 29 Mar 1994

Vol. 440 No. 7

National Monuments (Amendment) Bill, 1993 (Seanad): Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

I referred to the neglect of our archaeological heritage in the Sligo area, an area highlighted in recent surveys as one of the richest in monuments and sites. As a total of 4,500 such sites and monuments were in County Sligo in recent surveys, the neglect of that area is regrettable. A primary example of that neglect relates to Knocknashee Hill Fort in south County Sligo, the third largest hill fort in the country with 30 hut dwellings dating back to 1000 BC and a megalithic passage tomb dating pehaps to the year 3000 BC. This has been described as a prehistoric proto-town, possibly a major socio-economic, political and tribal centre of the day in the province. There are no signposts indicating the location of the site. Once reached, there is no information about it. I accept that the Office of Public Works has an extremely good record and I commend its officials for the work, but they have fallen down in this area. I hope the Minister of State will have good news about the Knocknashee Hill Fort.

What is happening in regard to the Armada wrecks found off Streadagh strand in the early 1980s? Some of the finest Armada artefacts can be found under the sand a short distance out to sea. I accept there are legal problems in that regard and I commend the efforts of the Minister and his predecessors, to ensure that those artefacts remain the property of the State. It should be possible to reach an agreement whereby work can begin on taking up the 59 cannon and establishing an Armada museum and a regional folk museum in the area. This is Yeats' country, a short distance down the strand from Lissadel House, beside Drumcliffe and in the shadow of Benbulben. A museum located in that area would be a major attraction for tourists. The Minister of State is familiar with the area and will probably become more familiar with it in the next few weeks and months as he campaigns to get further away from Donegal than he is at present.

This Bill originated from the discovery of the Derrynaflan hoard and I concur with the Minister that there should be no loophole preventing all treasures discovered becoming the property of the State. One of the saddest things I ever witnessed on television was the man who discovered that treasure celebrating with champagne following the first court case which ruled in his favour. Fortunately, the decision of the Supreme Court was different and under this legislation we are underpinning the fundamental finding of the Supreme Court in the Derrynaflan case. We should leave no stone unturned in ensuring that all treasures found belong to the State.

The discoverer of the Derrynaflan hoard may not have been entirely to blame for the introduction of this legislation. The National Museum, perhaps because of lack of finance or attrition, was parsimonious in the rewards it offered for handing over discovered treasures. The finders of the Moylough Belt — one of the great treasures in the museum found in a bog outside Tubbercurry — received only a few pounds. We were too tight fisted and the National Museum, for whatever reason, was not prepared to offer proper rewards for such finds. In contrast, during my term in office, when the National Museum came under the remit of the Department of the Taoiseach, in one week we found a satisfactory solution to the discovery of the Lough Kinale book shrine, another of the great treasures in the museum. The finders were satisfied, the museum was happy with the payment made and all the legalities were wrapped up within one week of the treasure being discovered by a diver in a lake in the Westmeath-Longford area. With common sense on all sides it is possible to reach amicable agreements. The general perception among the public is that such treasures rightly belong to the State.

Traditionally the staff of the National Museum have been dedicated, and work against the odds. Regrettably the museum has been neglected by the authorities. The structure under which the museum is governed has been inadequate. The museum was merely an appendage to and an afterthought of the Department of Education. While the Minister of the day attended the great ceremonial occasions when treasures were exhibited or to be transported abroad, little recognition was given to the museum and the institution was allowed to fall into decay. The board of visitors, the institution governing the museum, was given no power and no cognisance was taken of its excellent recommendations. Will the museum be under the control of the Department of Finance or a board of governors, like the National Gallery?

I am pleased the Minister has acquired Collins Barracks for exhibition space. In the past there was a lack of exhibition space in the artistic and culture areas but that problem has been resolved in Dublin by the acquisition of the Royal Hibernian Academy, the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham and recently Collins Barracks. Around the country excellent centres have been made available for museums and galleries. We should now concentrate on the use to which they should be put. The Minister should ensure that all the artefacts under the control of the National Museum will be displayed in a lively manner, using modern technology, in the various centres around the country. The Minister should not break up the great national collections but that should not prohibit the establishment of regional museums in Tipperary, Sligo, Galway, Donegal or other counties. Departmental policy should be directed towards establishing such museums.

Our national folk collection, one of the greatest in western countries, has never been exhibited. It has been stored in boxes for 50 years behind ten to 12 foot high walls in the former Dangan reformatory. I presided over the opening of some of those boxes. Due to the enthusiasm of collectors in the past that collection comprises four to ten examples of each type of artefact. It would be possible to maintain the national collection and also to display collections in regional folk museums. Presentation is important in the establishment of such museums. Modern techniques should be used and craftsmen should display their skills and work on the museum site.

The Minister should establish regional museums which will benefit our heritage and our tourism industry. Nothing is more attractive to foreign tourists and to Irish adults and school children than a well presented folk museum. If the Minister is successful in this area I would be pleased to see an interpretative centre built in his honour. There is great potential in that area and I urge him to concentrate on developing it.

I have outlined what could be achieved in Sligo by the establishment of a folk museum and an Armada museum. Sligo is a significant historical area due to its association with Yeats and is close to Lissadel, Ben Bulben and Drumcliffe. It is one of the richest counties in respect of monuments with 4,500 sites listed. Some, like Carraroe, are famous and Knocknashee Hill Fort is one of the great hill forts in the country and an area that should be well known but is not. It requires immediate attention by the Office of Public Works. If folk museums were established in Sligo and Donegal it would benefit the north-west region and tourists would flock to visit them just as they do the Céide Fields in Mayo. I support the Bill which puts into legislative form a clear, unequivocal right to our heritage and provides for action against those who would seek to diminish it. It is a worthy Bill and I am pleased to have contributed to it.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill and I congratulate the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Higgins, and the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, on introducing it. In future years this legislation will be viewed as an important administrative landmark in the identification, acquisition and preservation of our national heritage for this State and its people. The Minister stated that the judgment by the Supreme Court paved the way for this important legislation in relation to the establishment of the right of the State to the ownership of important objects of antiquity or objects of archaeological interest of national importance. The legislation outlines the State's obligation to protect and preserve our heritage. The proposed restrictions on possession, sale, exchange or disposal of an archaeological object found in the State after the enactment of the Bill are welcome.

Section 11 deals with the power of the Commissioners of Public Works to gain access to national monuments and the rare need to resort to compulsory purchase highlights the need for legislation on occupier's liability. It is essential that our people should have ready access to sites of national importance, but the rights of the landowner over whose property people may travel to gain access should be protected. The fear of some landowners should be eased at the earliest possible date and I urge the Minister to pursue at Government level the need for the Minister for Equality and Law Reform to introduce that necessary legislation with delay. I realise that the legislation may be somewhat complicated and technical but I urge him to treat the matter with the utmost urgency.

The establishment of the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht has given the Minister and the Minister of State the opportunity to address the regional imbalance that has occurred in the establishment of art and culture centres throughout the country. Everyone should have easy access to arts activities in all parts of the country. Throughout the country it is realised that the arts contribute significantly to local economies and it is essential that approved facilities be provided nationwide. The Arts Council in its Capital Programme for the Arts 1994-1997 identified the lack of capital investment as being a major barrier to necessary growth in that area.

I take this opportunity to request the Minister, when allocating Structural Funds, to redress the regional imbalance in the arts infrastructure and particularly to take into account the need for investment in Border counties.

The identification by the Government in 1987 of tourism as a potential growth area for employment was timely and successful. The response of 65 per cent of holidaymakers to this country that they visited historical places while in Ireland underlines the importance of our heritage and the need to preserve and enhance it. The primary aim must be the retention of our culture and our national identity. The sites, artefacts and monuments provide for us and for future generations a mass of invaluable information.

There is need for a greater regional spread of cultural facilities. I welcome the development of a new county museum in Ballyjamesduff, County Cavan. Many artefacts of importance from County Cavan are stored in the National Museum and I hope that when the museum opens in that town it will be possible to return those objects to the county. Cavan County Council is to be commended on its initiative in commencing this project which will enable items of local and national importance to be preserved for the county in a permanent facility and will result in considerable enhancement of the area, thus contributing to the local tourism industry. With the growing importance of tourism for job creation, it is essential that cultural facilities such as museums are provided to attract visitors. Mr. Wallace, Director of the National Museum, is committed to the enhancement of the museum and I believe he will do his utmost to facilitate the transfer of objects of particular interest and importance to the county museum in Cavan.

One item that lies outside our jurisdiction is the great Mace of Cavan which was sold at auction in Dublin in 1967 and is held in the Ulster Museum in Belfast. My understanding is that this Mace was returned to the original donor's family and subsequently sold at auction. That great Mace was presented to the Corporation of the Borough of Cavan on 29 June 1724. I hope the Minister will negotiate with the relevant authorities in Belfast for the return of this item to another part of the province of Ulster, namely, County Cavan, when the county museum opens.

The enactment of this legislation should result in an increase in the number of sites and monuments to come under the care of the State. There are many places of major historical interst in County Cavan, but, unfortunately, only four are classed as national monuments: the Church and Round Tower at Drumlane where the first monastery was founded in the early Christian period; the splendid Romanesque doorway built into the modern Church of Ireland Cathedral of St. Feidhleimieh, Kilmore, County Cavan — that doorway was removed from an early monastery on Trinity Island in Lough Oughter; the Double Court Cairne at Cohaw and Clogh Oughter Castle. There is a need to take into State care Trinity Abbey on Trinity Island, Lough Oughter, County Cavan. In recent years there has been contact between the owners of the land in question and the Office of Public Works in regard to the property. I urge the Department or the Office of Public Works, whoever is responsible, to make a realistic offer to finalise these negotiations. It is essential that this site of major national importance is taken into State care without further delay and preserved as a national monument.

Trinity Island is the site of an early monastery and may have been the site of the Cathedral at Kilmore. In 1237, the Prémónstrátensian Canons established a community there and an interesting ecclesiastical history leads up to the 17th century. Trinity Abbey has long association with the O'Reillys who were the Chiefs of Breffni and the nearby Clogh Oughter Castle which was one of their strongholds. Trinity Island is situated about six miles west of Cavan town and it is thought that St. Feidhleimieh trained for the priesthood there in the 6th century. Subsequently he was to become the patron saint of Kilmore. The rich history associated with this island, with the presence of the Canons Regular of Saint Norbert and the O'Reillys and the sacking of the Lough Oughter Priory by the Cromwellians is ample reason for its inclusion under State care. Thankfully, the sacking of the Lough Oughter Priory did not deter the Canons Regular of Saint Norbert from coming back to Cavan 400 years later, when they established a community at Kilnacrott, County Cavan.

I commend the Minister, the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, and the Department officials on their work in framing this Bill. I am confident that it will contribute significantly to the retention, preservation and development of our rich cultural values.

I welcome this Bill. It is an important step in copper-fastening the State's authority over our national heritage, whether it be in the form of archaeological objects, monuments or sites of archaeological interest. I am glad the Bill encompasses a wide degree of control over parts of our national heritage that are of paramount importance to the nation. If one travels to the Middle Eastern states of Turkey, Greece and Israel one realises that those countries have protected their heritage, archaeological sites and objects of interest. It is vital that all nations ensure that objects of archaeological and heritage interest are protected for posterity.

The onus is on the Minister and his Department to ensure that sufficient attention and financial backing is provided so that archaeological objects which are buried underneath the soil are recovered for the enjoyment of our citizens and of the millions who will visit this country in the future. Treasure trove underneath the ground is a loss to the nation. Every effort should be made to ensure that all venerable objects of past generations are displayed and maintained for the benefit of our citizens and visitors.

Were it not for people such as Michael Webb and his son Michael Junior, who, on Sunday, 17 February 1980, discovered the Derrynaflan hoard, archaeological objects, monuments and sites of archaeological interest would never be discovered. People must be congratulated for the effort, time and attention they put into the work of recovery of these items. I urge the Minister not to introduce legislation that would make more difficult recovery work on such items. It is vital that enthusiasts who are willing to pursue the discovery of archaeological objects are encouraged so as to ensure our heritage is preserved.

Section 7 states that a member of the Garda Síochána, may, without warrant, seize and detain a detection device found in or at the site of a monument. Will the Minister clarify how those who use metal detectors are to be treated? In some cases they are treated worse than subversives or drug dealers. No allowance is made for those who use such objects as a hobby. People who use metal detectors are doing their best to ensure that treasure trove is unearthed. If it were not for this hard work very few finds of archaeological importance would have been made.

Will the Minister clarify why people who use metal detectors are deemed to be guilty until proven innocent? Why does the law use terms which are so vague that any interpretation can be put on them? What exactly does the term "in the vicinity" mean? The definition of "an archaeological object" is so wide that it could mean an object of any age.

It is utter nonsense that people cannot get a licence to use a metal detector in an area of no known archaeological importance. Many of these areas could, through the good work of these people, become historically important. Many areas of archaeological importance will go undetected if people are not given licences to use detectors. We would not have known about the importance of the Céide Fields if it had not been for satellites. The Minister should adopt a more flexible attitude to the use of metal detectors.

Sections 7 (1) (b) provides that a member of the Garda Síochána may without warrant seize and detain "any diving equipment which he reasonably believes is about to be used or has been used in any waters protected by an underwater heritage order made under section 3 (1) of the Act of 1987". I am not happy with the limitations proposed in this section. The power given to the Garda Síochána under this section is unrelated to any offence in the Principal Act. It is similar to giving the Garda Síochána the power to seize a car simply because the driver was seen entering a pub, even though that driver was drinking Kaliber. It is wrong to empower a garda to seize diving equipment merely became he believes an illegal act may take place. It is not proper to give the Garda powers on the basis of supposition. Apart from drug related and terrorist offences, there is no similar provision in our criminal legal code.

We have a limited number of ports and harbours and divers may unintentionally dive into a section of water close to an underwater heritage site. Under the Bill such divers can have their equipment seized. The 1588 Armada wreck, the San Marcos, lies off Quilty Pier and Mutton Island in County Clare. Will it be an offence under the Bill for divers to enter the sea in this area? The Minister must clarify the point before the Bill is passed.

Antique dealers and coin collectors will find it very difficult to operate if the definition of "an archaeological object" is so wide. The Garda will be able to confiscate diving equipment if divers dive in a lake which has an underwater heritage site. The media has been manipulated to give the impression that thousands of people are using metal detectors to pillage sites of archaeological interest. Has anyone asked the National Museum the number of metal detector users on its list? The law makes no provision for people who use metal detectors as a hobby or those involved in meaningful projects. The proposed arbitrary powers being given to the Garda, based on an individual's subjective belief, are draconian. The Minister must re-examine this section to ensure it is not discriminatory.

Section 10 (4) states:

Nothing in this section shall impose an obligation on the Director to pay a reward unless he is satisfied that it is in the public interest to do so.

This is a very naive provision. I should like to see included in the Bill a provision which would make it mandatory on the director to pay a reward if he is satisfied that it is in the public interest to do so. There is an obligation on the State to compensate people who spend their time trying to detect very valuable objects which lie underneath the ground. There is also an obligation on the director to pay a reward to the person on whose land an archaeological or historical object was found. It is vitally important that the Minister includes in the Bill a provision which will make it mandatory on the director to compensate an individual or individuals who have allowed their land to be used for archaeological purposes.

I do not understand how the Office of Public Works will be able to carry out the obligations placed on it under the Bill without adequate finance. The Government is playing a game of hide and seek in this Bill. The Minister is laying down the rules and regulations appertaining to historical and archaeological objects. Such objects must be preserved and the Office of Public Works must be given a free hand in carrying out the obligations placed on its doorstep by this Bill. In effect, due to a lack of finance the Office of Public Works has been muzzled in its efforts to ensure that objects of archaeological and historical importance are maintained for posterity. If it does not receive its rightful share of finance to carry out its functions and to play its part in the preservation of our artefacts and historical monuments, this legislation will be useless.

Debate adjourned.