Other Questions. - National Library.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

5 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands when the National Library last had a permanent director; when it is proposed to make an appointment to this position having regard to the importance of the library and its contents; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19723/98]

As I explained in the reply I gave the Deputy to question No. 30 on 18 June, it did not prove possible to fill this post when it was advertised last year following the retirement of the last permanent director. There was nothing to indicate that the outcome would be any different this year and at the request of the trustees of the National Library I agreed not to proceed with a competition to fill the position. I decided that the current arrangements for carrying out the duties of the post, which are working very satisfactorily, should continue in place for another year.

How long is it since the former director retired from office? Does the Minister not believe it is highly undesirable that the post of director of one of our major national cultural institutions should be left vacant for so long and that the position of director is critical in terms of the future development of the National Library, as evidenced by the outstanding contribution and performance in that post by Dr. Donlon who transformed the library during her term of office?

I join Deputy Gilmore in congratulating Dr. Donlon on the work she did during her term as director of the National Library. In 1997, following her retirement on grounds of ill health — my Department requested the Civil Service Commission to organise a competition to fill the post of director of the National Library. That competition failed to yield a suitable candidate for the position. The question of requesting the Civil Service Commission to seek to fill the post by public competition was reassessed in 1998 but there was no evidence to suggest that a suitable candidate would emerge from such a competition at that time.

I reiterate that the trustees of the National Library requested that the current arrangements should be allowed to continue. I gladly acceded to their request. I will review the situation again in mid-1999. I take this opportunity to congratulate Mr. Brendan O'Donoghue — former Secretary of the Department of the Environment and Local Government — for his tremendous foresight and his work and commitment to the National Library. He has addressed a number of issues, including extending the opening hours of reading rooms to include Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. Lunchtime closure of the library will be discontinued with effect from this month. I could list many other issues if the Deputy so requires but I do not want to take up too much time because there may be further supplementary questions. However, if the Deputy requires further information I can provide it here in the House or by way of letter.

It is a remarkable tribute to Dr. Donlon that it appears she is irreplaceable. What did the Minister mean when she stated it is unlikely that another competition would produce a candidate capable of doing the job? Does that mean that there is no one available who is capable of filling the position of director of the National Library? That seems an extraordinary stance for the Minister to take. I concur with her about the work being done by Mr. O'Donoghue but I do not agree with filling the post on a temporary basis for a prolonged period. That would not be good for the National Library. Will the Minister review the position and proceed with another competition to fill the post?

As already stated, this matter was considered in 1997 when the competition failed to yield a suitable candidate. The situation was reassessed in 1998 and I outlined the position in that regard. I also stated that it will be reviewed in mid-1999. The work of the National Library and its importance cannot be over-emphasised. I recognised this by ensuring the allocation of significant increases in funding to the National Library so that its work could progress. As already stated, that work has been expedited by Mr. Brendan O'Donoghue who has proven to be particularly competent. I have every intention of reviewing the situation in mid-1999. It is my intention that the National Library will be a statutory body under the National Cultural Institutions Act, 1997, from the beginning of the year 2000.

I agree with others who have paid tribute to Dr. Donlon, who has served in this position with distinction and I pay tribute to Mr. O'Donoghue who has been administering since Dr. Donlon's resignation.

Are there aspects of the post or conditions which are limiting the field of applicants so as not to produce a potential director? The Director of the National Library of Ireland is one of the most distinguished posts in Europe. One therefore wonders why applicants are not coming from the ranks of librarianship. Will the Minister comment on the distinction between filling the post by a librarian from the ethos of librarianship and by an administrator because they are different tasks? I pay tribute to the administrative reforms which have taken place, but it raises the question as to why a librarian is not Director of the National Library of Ireland.

What would change the Minister's mind in the middle of 1999 to allow a competition to take place? Is she in a position to tell the House what circumstance is present in 1998 which leads her to the conclusion that a competition would not draw a candidate? Of course the opinion of the trustees is always valuable, but is it the opinion of the Civil Service Commission that it would fail to attract a librarian for one of the most distinguished posts available in librarianship?

As I have already stated, I was advised — that advice was also available to the trustees of the National Library — that the post was not likely to be filled. They found that the work of Mr. O'Donoghue was extremely satisfactory and asked that he be retained for some time to deal with the situation in the National Library. He is certainly dealing effectively with the matter.

I want to refer to a parliamentary question which I put to the then Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Higgins, on 8 April 1997 when I was in Opposition. I asked about the status of the Director of the National Library, particularly with regard to salaries and I got an interesting reply. The then Minister said he expected the salary for the post would over time reach the maximum for the grade. It will be noted that the former director also remained on the first point of the scale.

No doubt the question of salaries is a major consideration by any applicant. As a former Minister, Deputy Higgins will be aware of the procedures which must take place and the parameters within which one must work with regard to increasing salary scales in the normal way.

It is only fair to say that the work of Mr. O'Donoghue has been exemplary. I would not like anyone in this House to feel that because he does not have the title of director he is not capable of doing an excellent job. He has proven that he is capable since he took up that position.

Nobody is casting the slightest doubt over the contribution of Mr. O'Donoghue. We have all acknowledged his contribution. The Minister did not answer the question as to why there has not been an application from the community of librarians.

She referred to her question of 8 April 1997. It is now October 1998. Her suggestion had considerable merit, but will she tell the House how successful she was in the interim in convincing the Minister for Finance to upgrade the post?

That is an obvious question for any Member of the Opposition to ask. I asked it when Deputy Higgins was Minister, and I am in the position to give him the same answer he gave on that occasion.

The question of staffing and salaries is a matter for the Minister for Finance and the Government. There are certain parameters within which we must all work. Those parameters are obvious and they have been restated again and again in Government policy, not least by the Minister for Finance. I would like to see a substantial increase in the salary of the person who takes on the onerous position of director because we all know it is a particularly prestigious job because of the wonderful collection which thankfully is in the museum. That is recognised not only nationally but internationally. Because Deputy Higgins was Minister in the previous Administration, he will know the exact difficulties in this regard.