Other Questions. - Vessel Restoration.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

7 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands if her approval has been sought for proposals for the restoration of the Asgard; if she is satisfied with the proposal; if her approval has been given; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19727/98]

A request has not been received by my Department for approval to restore theAsgard. If such a request is received by my Department it will require a licence under section 25 of the National Monuments Act, 1930, as amended by section 20 of the National Monuments (Amendment) Act, 1994, and the National Cultural Institutions Act, 1997, as I am advised that the Asgard comes within the definition of “archaeological object” contained in this body of legislation. A request would be carefully and thoroughly considered since the vessel is an important historic artefact of national significance.

Was the Minister surprised to hear the Minister for Defence announce at the tall ships race that theAsgard was to be restored?

I was not surprised because contrary to what the Deputy may have heard or read in a newspaper report, the Minister for Defence had consulted me on this matter before his announcement. As Minister for Defence, he is the legal owner of theAsgard. He agreed, in principle, to its restoration to seaworthy condition.

Does that mean the Minister and the Minister for Defence made a political decision that theAsgard should be restored, in advance of a formal application for permission to restore it? Does she agree with the position announced by the Minister for Defence?

I do not accept what the Deputy said, that an advance decision made. I am not in a position to consider the matter from a ministerial viewpoint because I have not received a request for a licence. Until one comes in, I am not aware of the details and until I am aware of the details, I am not in a position to make a decision.

I am sure Members would find the distinction between a formal application for a licence and the discussion the Minister for Defence had with the Minister quite interesting. Does the Minister agree with the position announced by the Minister for Defence, that theAsgard is to be restored and put to sea again? Did she agree with the Minister for Defence when he discussed that matter with her? Presumably he told her he intended to make that announcement or to take some initiative in that regard. Did she give her approval or agree with that, or did the Minister for Defence announce this without the approval or agreement of the Minister present?

The answer to the Deputy's two questions is "no".

Then the Minister is saying that the Minister for Defence announced this without her agreement. Is that the case?

The Deputy does not appear to understand the position.

I am trying to.

It is not a question of agreement between Ministers. The person who owns the vessel is the Minister in his capacity as Minister for Defence. For it to be considered for conservation, a licence must be obtained from the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. For a licence to be obtained, an application must be made and details given. I am not aware of those details because an application has not been made. Therefore, I am sure the Deputy will accept the logic that I have not made a decision and that it would be foolish of me to make one in advance of getting the information available. It is important to note the Minister of Defence is aware that my primary concern is for the conservation of the historical vessel and he has accordingly approved the project, in principle, but subject to the restoration group obtaining a licence from my Department.

Has the Minister's Department consulted the Chief State Solicitor's office or the Attorney General regarding its legal position in anticipation of a licence application being made and, if so, what advice was given?

That is beyond the scope of the question tabled.

The Chief State Solicitor's office indicated that theAsgard came under the category of an archeological object. It has been the practice for the Minister to seek the advice of the Director of the National Museum of Ireland on any applications for licences to alter archeological objects. That is the practice and I do not intend to change it.

The Minister has told us the opinion of the Chief State Solicitor on this matter. Can I take it that her Department, presumably on the foot of the discussion she had with the Minister for Defence, sought the advice of the Chief State Solicitor's office in anticipation of receiving an application for a licence?

It appears the Deputy is trying to be invidious because there is no great mystery. The Minister is the owner of this vessel and if he wants to check the position, he is the person who would have to take the initiative. I have yet to receive such an application. The legal advice received by my Department from the Chief State Solicitor's office indicates that theAsgard would come under the category of an archeological object. There is no statutory obligation on me, but it has been the practice for the Minister to seek the advice of the Director of the National Museum of Ireland on applications for licences to alter such archeological objects. That is what I intend to do. There is no mystery. I am waiting for that application and when it comes in it will be considered in the usual way. There were no cosy chats between the Minister for Defence and me or with anyone else on this issue.

It will be a while before theAsgard sails again.