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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 22 Jun 1994

Vol. 444 No. 2

National Monuments (Amendment) Bill, 1993 [Seanad]: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 12:
In page 9, line 8, after "facilities" to insert "deemed appropriate by the Minister".
—(Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht).

Amendment Nos. 12 and 13 are being taken together.

The amendment in the name of Deputy Quill refers to the necessity for approval by both Houses of the Oireachtas for developments in the vicinity of national monuments. The Deputy rightly said that there is a possibility that a monument could be taken over by one Minister while permission to use the land in its vicinity could be granted by another. Responsibility for planning permission rests with the local authority and that is its function alone. My understanding from the most recent controversies is that the Department must apply for planning permission and, therefore, it is not a case of a Minister deciding that a certain building is a national monument and that he will give one of his cronies planning permission for a fast food restaurant in the locality.

We have to rely on the planning process and the discretion of local authority members to interpret what is appropriate to provide in the vicinity of a national monument. Deputy Quill's point is valid to the extent that a number of serious mistakes were made in the planning process over the years. Perhaps the developments may have been perceived as genuine initially but the practical result of what has transpired in a number of cases has been wrong.

If we wish to promote our heritage, it is necessary to make planners and members of local authorities aware that the setting is intrinsic to a national monument. The Minister needs to address that concern clearly. People must understand that the designation of a national monument is very important for a number of specific and traditional reasons and it should not be destroyed for irrelevant or political considerations, for instance, by a development by which someone sees the opportunity to make a fast buck in the locality.

Amendment No. 12 addresses some of the issues. Under this section there is accountability in the process. The permission of the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht is required in addition to the agreement of the Minister for Finance, both of whom are accountable to the Dáil and beyond both is the planning process. If amendment No. 13 was accepted it would create such a cumbersome process that the norm would be impeded in the interests of seeking to deal with the unusual.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 not moved.

We now come to amendment No. 15 in the name of Deputy Creed; amendment No. 16 is an alternative and I suggest, therefore, that we take amendments Nos. 15 and 16 together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): I move amendment No. 15:

In page 9, line 22, to delete "The Commissioners may establish and maintain" and substitute "The Minister shall ensure that there will be established and maintained".

We usually debate the question of using "shall" or "may", but as the Minister uses the word "shall" in amendment No. 16 there is no need to waste time debating that issue.

Deputy Browne is very helpful. Deputy Creed's amendment No. 15 sought to create an obligation to have a register in place but if amendment No. 16 is accepted, the register will be mandatory and the Commissioners of Public Works will be primarily responsible for it. In so far as they are the people primarily involved, it is appropriate for the onus to be laid on them to keep the register that Deputy Creed sought. Amendment No. 16 addresses the need adverted to in amendment No. 15.

I accept what the Minister says. The consequence of setting up a register is that it is used and that the people are made aware of its existence. It is necessary to inform tourism promotion outlets of this. The schools in the locality and in the county should also be made aware and schoolchildren encouraged to visit local national monuments so that they become imbued with a sense of their history and tradition. We are aware that ring forts and other areas of historical interest are destroyed on a constant basis.

I welcome the establishment of a register. Its display and use is critical, otherwise it is like having a book on a shelf, if it is not thumbed through, read and understood it is of little value.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No 16:

In page 9, line 22, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".

Amendment agreed to.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): I move amendment No. 17:

In page 9, between lines 40 and 41, to insert the following:

"(4) When the owner or occupier (being the Commissioners) of a monument or place which has been recorded under subsection (1) of this section or any person proposes to carry out, or to cause or permit the carrying out of, any work at or in relation to such monument or place, he shall give notice in writing of his proposal to carry out the work to the relevant local authority and shall not, except in the case of urgent necessity and with the consent of the Minister, commence the work for a period of two months after having given the notice.".

This is a precautionary measure to ensure that notice is given to the relevant local authority so that it will be made aware of any proposed work to be carried out. An exception is made for work of urgent necessity where the Minister's consent only will be required. Perhaps the period of notice of two months is a little long but it gives notice to the local authorities so that people will not arrive and start work overnight that nobody knows about. The local authority may have strong views about the work that needs to be carried out and the owner also may like to plan the work.

I am aware of the point being made but I am not satisfied as to the practicality or desirability of the amendment except as it concerns work to be carried out in significant heritage buildings owned by the public authorities.

On Committee Stage I said that the principle raised by the Deputy in this amendment would be more appropriate for forthcoming legislation on the Heritage Council and I have included a section in the recently published Bill to deal with heritage buildings owned by public authorities. With regard to national monuments apart from heritage buildings in general, section 90 of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963, already provides that nothing in that Act shall restrict, prejudice or affect the functions of the Commissioners of Public Works under the National Monuments Act in relation to national monuments. The change requested in this amendment would be a radical departure in procedure and I am not satisfied that a compelling case has been put forward that necessitates such an important change. In any event, the Deputy might be satisfied to note that the Heritage Council will provide a committee structure within which I can be advised on policy priorities for national monuments and I am satisfied that this matter could be appropriately examined in that forum.

Acceptance of amendment No. 17 might defeat its purpose because two months' notice would be required before carrying out essential normal work, and that would be impractical. I believe I have addressed the spirit of the amendment in the other legislation published since we first discussed this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 18:

In page 9, to delete lines 43 to 48.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 19 not moved.

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 10, between lines 47 and 48, to insert the following:

16. —Section 2 (1) (a) (iii) of the Act of 1987 is hereby amended by the deletion of "area," and the insertion of "area, or

(iv) in, or at the site of, a monument recorded under section 12 of the National Monuments (Amendment) Act, 1994,".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 10, between lines 47 and 48, to insert the following:

17. —Section 2 (6) of the Act of 1987 is hereby repealed.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 22 not moved.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): I move amendment No. 23:

In page 11, line 6, to delete "within 4 days" and substitute "immediately".

I await the Minister's reply.

If I recall correctly, when we discussed this issue on Committee Stage we moved from Deputy Creed's amendment to discussing whether the four day requirement in section 16 was too onerous, taking into account weekends and bank holidays. I have looked at the provision again and I am satisfied that it represents a reasonable balance between the need for early reporting and the circumstances in which individuals could find themselves. The four day requirement, which was established in the National Monuments Act, 1987, came from a recommendation of the National Monuments Advisory Council which advised on the original provisions of that Act. It has struck the right balance.

Having listened to the Minister's clarification, I agree that a reasonable balance has been struck. A 100 year old wreck will obviously be located in a remote place. Many people who might take part in weekend or four day diving expeditions may make such a discovery at the end of the expedition. Their base may be located on an offshore island and, perhaps due to inclement weather conditions, it might well be two or three days before they can properly draw up their report. Even mobile telephones may not operate in such remote areas. It would be difficult, therefore, to report such a find immediately. This is a reasonable compromise from the Minister and we will withdraw the amendment in the light of the Minister's clarification.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): I move amendment No. 24:

In page 15, line 18, after "objection" to insert "written, oral or both)".

It might appear unnecessary to insert the words "written, oral or both", but I am currently dealing with a problem that arose because a telephone message was not accepted, although the person who made the call was of the view that a telephone message was sufficient. Perhaps this amendment may not be necessary but it clarifies whether the objection is written, oral or both. We are simply suggesting that an objection can be made orally or in writing.

I support Deputy Browne. The old saying in rural areas is that an agreement is not binding unless it is in writing. Whether a county council is acquiring a patch of ground or there is an agreement between two people, two organisations or an individual and an organisation, it is imperative such agreements are in writing. The Programme for Government is in writing. The elements of it that have been recommended orally have not been delivered on and it is important, therefore, that any such notice be given orally, in writing or both. I recommend strongly to the Minister that he accept the amendment.

I am not willing to accept the amendment although I can support it. I believe objections should be in writing and, given the nature of the decision required by both the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht and the Minister for Finance, any objections raised will have to be specific. There will also be a need for clarity and transparency throughout the entire process if public confidence is to be maintained. I appreciate the support for this that Deputies opposite have offered.

For example, third parties may be involved and if we are to enhance public confidence it is useful that if there are to be objections, they should be in writing. It is necessary for the adequate implementation of the legislation that any objections to be taken into account should be in writing. That is not unreasonable because objectors have two months following notice being given to make such objections. Within the two month period one should indicate the grounds for the objections. Anybody else affected has the right to object in the interests of public transparency.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Bill, as amended, received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass".

I appreciate the positive contributions of Deputies, particularly the spokespersons, Deputies Browne, Kenny and Quill, and the spirit they brought to the different Stages of the Bill. I sought to address the points raised by them because they were made with the intention of improving the legislation. I hope I addressed many of the points raised in a reasonable manner.

I sent our Front Bench spokesperson to America on important cultural duties, namely, to support our national team. For that reason, Deputy Browne was asked to deal with the amendments before the House. I hope this legislation will prove to be beneficial in its intent and in its effect and that where transgressions occur, the rigour of the law will be brought to bear by the Minister. In so far as the protection of our valuable archaeological sites and important antiquities is concerned, the Minister can be assured of our support in the implementation of this Bill. I wish the Minister well and I hope the Bill will prove to be successful legislation.

I compliment the Minister also on the manner in which he has brought this legislation before the House. He has been open to ideas and suggestions from members of the Opposition and I appreciate the manner in which he has accepted a number of amendments tabled by me on Committee Stage. This legislation gives effect to the Supreme Court judgment in the Derrynaflan case and from now on it will be more difficult for any citizen here or elsewhere to take any item of heritage and convert it into personal gain and, by so doing, deprive our citizens and future generations of their natural birthright. That is to be commended.

This Bill contains provisions for the protection of archaeological objects. I am not so certain that it provides the same level of protection to archaeological monuments. Perhaps this is a matter for wider debate later because, apart from the other implications, most of the archaeological objects about which we speak tend to be found in the environs of national monuments.

At present we have four national monuments Acts and I would be reassured about the future of our heritage if those Acts were consolidated in one Act. The Minister is a little more than a year in office and already he has made great strides in introducing new legislation but I ask him to consider the possibility of having one Act dealing with all items of heritage, whether they be archaeological objects or monuments. I do not wish to have another debate on the terms of my amendment No. 13 which were concerned about any buildings that might be erected in the environs of national monuments. There are no more than 60 or 70 national monuments of huge significance that need to be protected, with their environs, from undue development which would take from their importance.

I thank the Minister for bringing in amendment No. 12 in which he has made it a condition that only facilities deemed to be appropriate by the Minister will be permitted. I considered "facilities" a loose term in the Bill as originally drafted and this is a major improvement. It is an area which I may have to again confront depending on how this develops. There is reason to be apprehensive about the nature of developments that might be put in place in the environs of national monuments in the years ahead. Perhaps this matter can be dealt with in the context of a more comprehensive and integrated Bill which I hope the Minister plans to bring forward in the lifetime of this Dáil.

As well as having the legislation in place, it is important to have voluntary bodies who will create the conditions that will enable the provisions of the Bill to be fully implemented and observed. It is time to set up the Historical Monuments National Council which was promised in 1984. The National Heritage Council must be given statutory functions to enable it to play its part in preserving our heritage and creating a culture that will give it the attention it deserves.

I am concerned that the Director of the National Museum will not have the resources, manpower or money, to ensure that all the provisions in the legislation will be fully met. I ask the Minister to ensure that this does not happen. If it does, we will be left with law which will be very convincing on paper but which will not achieve its aims, which will be counterproductive.

The Office of Public Works does very little to draw attention to the existence of our national monuments. Usually there is a plaque which states: "this is a national monument. It is in the ownership of ... and any attempt to deface it will be punishable by law". It is a pity that plaques do not explain the history, background and importance of a national monument to those — probably most of us — who do not know about it, its historical importance, the period to which it belongs, its artistic importance, etc. Such a plaque would add greatly to public appreciation of our monuments. I ask the Minister to ensure that finance is available to carry out such work.

I compliment the Minister for the extraordinary amount of work he put into bringing the legislation before the House. I hope it is successful and wish good luck to the Director of the National Museum, on whose shoulders it falls to ensure that the provisions of the Bill are implemented.

I thank Members for their co-operation. The core of the legislation, which will go to the President for signature, is that it takes the Finlay judgment, the case of Webb v. Ireland, and in bold print states that the heritage of Ireland is the property of its people and affirms that. It sets up mechanisms to protect our heritage in areas of uncertainty and extends matters of registration. It should be seen in context with the heritage council legislation which I have just published and which will establish it on a statutory basis.

Having put legislation in place and used the heritage council legislation to generate policy and assist public consciousness, we will spend money on improving public awareness of what people own in their own name and what they must protect in the name of future generations.

Arís gabhaim buíochas leis na Teachtaí ar fad a ghlac pairt sa díospóireacht ar na Céimeanna éagsúla den Bhille agus a chomhoibrigh liom in a thaobh sin.

Question put and agreed to.

In accordance with Article 20.2.2º of the Constitution the Bill is considered to be a Bill initiated in the Dáil and will be sent to the Seanad.