I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am delighted to initiate the debate on the Heritage Fund Bill, 2001. The Bill represents an initiative in the overall strategy of acquiring
significant artefacts for the main collecting institutions.
Deputies will be aware that there was a specific commitment in the Government's "An Action Programme for the Millennium" to establish a Heritage Fund. This Heritage Fund Bill fully meets that commitment by providing for the establishment of such a fund with an overall limit of £10 million or 12.70 million over a five year period. The conversion of euro amounts has been rounded up.
The main purpose of the Heritage Fund is to build up resources, which will be used by the principal State collecting cultural institutions to acquire important items of movable heritage for the national collections that are outstanding examples of their type and pre-eminent in their class. Such items must be such that their loss to the nation would represent a significant deficiency in our heritage collection to be handed on to future generations. These items include such artefacts as archaeological objects, manuscripts, books and works of art that are both rare, costly and are of national importance and that otherwise could not be acquired. In recognition of this, the Bill will only allow for the acquisition of such significant artefacts above a valuation of £250,000 or 317,435. The Bill also allows for the Council of National Cultural Institutions to make recommendations to me on proposed acquisitions using the Heritage Fund in respect of five eligible institutions.
Section 2 provides a list of the five eligible institutions that will benefit from the Heritage Fund. These are Ireland's principal collecting national institutions and are as follows: the National Archives, the National Gallery of Ireland, the National Library of Ireland, the National Museum of Ireland, and the Irish Museum of Modern Art.
Artefacts that are described in the Bill as heritage objects are defined as: any object or collection of objects including archaeological objects, and objects relating to the decorative arts, natural sciences, history, industry or folk-ways; any book or any manuscript, other material or part thereof; copyright in any work, or and similar object or material.
The Bill stipulates that when a heritage object is being acquired it must be considered appropriate for inclusion in the collection of the relevant eligible institution by the director or chief executive officer of that institution. In the absence of a director or chief executive officer, naturally the Bill allows for a proposed acquisition by any other person at that time, who is performing the functions of director or chief executive officer. The Council of National Cultural Institutions will ultimately decide, before it makes a recommendation to me, if the proposed acquisition is an outstanding example of its type and if it is pre-
eminent in its class.
Each eligible institution has its own acquisition budget and will continue to do so. However, many critically important items appropriate to the national collections are being sold on the market for prices far in excess of the financial resources available in normal circumstances to the institutions. It is only fitting therefore that this fund is established to make further financial resources available for the acquisition of heritage objects. It will allow for the purchase of important and major artefacts that these institutions may not have been in a position to acquire heretofore. I stress that, as these institutions are national institutions, it is vital for the safeguarding of Ireland's heritage and culture that significant acquisitions are made to expand their collections not only for Irish people to appreciate and admire but also from an educational and research view point. Such acquisitions will provide an added attraction in encouraging overseas visitors to Ireland. The Heritage Fund is principally a fund for the acquisition of outstanding artefacts and should not be perceived as a grant scheme for the purchase of artefacts generally.
Part 2 of the Bill deals with the operation of the Heritage Fund. Following consultation with me, it allows for the fund to consist of such accounts as the Minister for Finance may determine. It also contains provisions in section 3(3), with regard to accounting procedures so that the operation of the fund will be clear and transparent. It stipulates that not later than three months after the end of each financial year, I, as Minister, shall submit the accounts of the fund to the Comptroller and Auditor General for audit. I shall also cause a copy of an abstract of the audited accounts together with a copy of the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General thereon to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas. This will be conducted no later than three months following my receipt of the relevant report.
Section 3(4) contains a provision for the Minister for Finance to manage the fund. The Bill allows for any moneys standing to the credit of the fund that are not, for the time being required for the purpose of making payments, to be invested by the Minister for Finance. This includes such securities, other than shares in a company, that the Minister for Finance considers appropriate. It also allows for investment with any credit institution in the currency of the State, whether within the State or not. The Minister for Finance may also from time to time at his or her discretion vary or sell any investments made by him or her. All income received from investments along with the proceeds of the sale of any such investments will be paid into the fund.
To build up financial resources to the limit of £10 million, the Bill allows for Exchequer funds to be paid into the fund from the Vote of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. It will permit funds to be accumulated subject to an overall limit of £10 million or 12.70 million as follows: the sum of £3 million in the financial year of 2001, which is provided for in this year's estimate; the sum of £2 million in each of the financial years 2002, 2003, and 2004, and finally, the sum of £1 million in the financial year of 2005. Obviously, moneys standing to the credit of the fund shall not be used for any purposes other than those specified in this Bill.
In addition to Exchequer funding, other methods of increasing the amount in the Heritage Fund are proposed in section 6 of the Bill. Following a recommendation from the Council of National Cultural Institutions, I, as Minister, may accept a gift of moneys or land, for the purpose of benefiting the fund. The Bill also stipulates in section 6(3) that I cannot accept a gift of moneys, land or other property if the trusts or conditions attached to it would be inconsistent with my functions or the functions of the Minister for Finance under this Bill.
In relation to payments out of the fund, section 7 provides that following a recommendation from the Council of National Cultural Institutions, I, as Minister, may pay out of the fund an amount of money. This payment will be for the purpose of defraying, in whole or in part, any expenditure incurred in purchasing a heritage object, where I consider it appropriate to do so. The Bill, however, stipulates that a payment will not be made out of the fund for a purpose specified if the fair market value of the heritage object concerned is less than £250,000 or such greater amount as may be specified by an order made with the consent of the Minister for Finance. The purpose of the fund is to acquire uniquely important heritage items. It is not a general top-up for annual acquisition budgets.
Any payment of moneys out of the fund shall be made to the person who has incurred or will incur the expenditure concerned or, as the case may be, has incurred or will incur the liability to defray such expenditure. This will, in most cases, be the appropriate eligible institution or their appointed agents. As the Minister for Finance manages the fund, payments shall only be made out of the fund with the consent of the Minister for Finance.
On the subject of accountability, section 8 of the Bill provides for the preparation and publishing of an annual report. In accordance with this provision of the Bill, I will arrange to prepare a report with respect to the operation of the fund during the relevant financial year and arrange for copies of the report to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and published. This will be carried out every year and within a timeframe of not later than three months from the end of each appropriate financial year. It is my intention that the annual report and accounts will be produced in both the Irish and English languages and I propose to give statutory effect to this by way of Committee Stage amendment.
On Part 3 of the Bill, it is crucial that there are mechanisms to ensure that the heritage fund is used effectively and productively. On 21 October 1998, I officiated at the inaugural meeting of the Council of National Cultural Institutions, which was established by me in line with the commitment in An Action Programme for the Millennium. The purpose of the council is to pool together the collective resources of talent, experience and vision of the member institutions in furtherance of the national cultural interest. Under this Bill, the Council of National Cultural Institutions will have statutory power and responsibility to make recommendations to me in relation to acquisitions using this fund.
The council comprises the directors or chief executives of the following cultural institutions: the National Museum of Ireland, the National Library of Ireland, the National Gallery of Ireland, the Arts Council, the Heritage Council, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the National Concert Hall, the Chester Beatty Library, the National Theatre Society Limited and the National Archives.
To date, the council has worked exceptionally well. It has undertaken research and development programmes. Several working groups have been established and areas of common concern such as information technology, marketing, education and training have been examined. Under the council, the information exchange emanating from the contacts between the staff from the various institutions has proved extremely valuable. I emphasise that this Bill will allow the council to continue with its present work programme and meet in a non-statutory setting whereby the members will continue to co-operate on matters of mutual interest and concern. The council's work programme will continue as before. This Bill only contains statutory provisions relating to the powers being given under it to the Council of National Cultural Institutions relating to the heritage fund.
Section 10 of the Bill confers powers to allow the council to hold meetings to discuss the proposals for expenditure from the heritage fund as the members deem to be necessary and, accordingly, to make recommendations to me relating to acquisitions using the fund. At a meeting of the council, members who are present will select a chairperson of the meeting. Every question that falls to be decided at a meeting of the council shall be determined by a majority of the votes of the members present. In the case of an equal division of votes, the chairperson of the meeting shall have a second or casting vote. The council may act notwithstanding one or more vacancies among its members and the members will regulate their procedures by rules or otherwise. The Bill allows for ten members of the council and provides that the quorum for a meeting is given as six.
Sections 11 and 12 provide for the disclosure of certain interests by members of council and the prohibition of unauthorised disclosure of information. With reference to section 11, covering the disclosure of interests by council members, a member will inform the meeting if he or she has an interest in the matter being discussed and will disclose details of such interest and the nature thereof. The disclosure will then be recorded in the minutes of the meeting concerned and, for so long as the matter to which the disclosure relates is being dealt with by the meeting, the member by whom the disclosure is made shall not take part in the deliberation of the meeting on that matter.
Section 12 covers the prohibition of unauthorised disclosure of information. A person shall not disclose confidential information obtained by him or her while performing duties as a member of the council during meetings held to discuss the heritage fund.
The provisions under sections 11 and 12 of the Bill are standard. However, I would like to put on the record of the House that I am anxious to ensure that the provisions in this Bill do not give rise to potential conflict between the roles of the directors or chief executives as council members and their role towards their respective boards. In this regard, officials from my Department have met the council members and discussed this issue at length. As a result of these meetings, I will be proposing amendments on Committee Stage to provide greater certainty and security in this regard. These amendments will be in addition to two other technical amendments which I will also move on Committee Stage. Section 13, which deals with penalties, is broadly a standard provision.
Since the publication of the Heritage Fund Bill, I have been aware that questions have been raised about the future of the existing tax relief scheme for donations of important national heritage items. I emphasise that the provisions contained in the Heritage Fund Bill are entirely separate from, but complementary to, the provisions already contained in the scheme for tax relief for donation of heritage objects, as provided for under section 1003 of the Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997, formerly section 176 of the Finance Act, 1995.
It is worth referring to the success of this latter scheme in attracting the donation of important national heritage items to the Irish national collections. A tax credit equal to the value of the heritage item or items donated is allowed to the donor, which can then be credited against particular tax liabilities incurred by the donor. This tax legislative provision has had significant positive impacts on the collecting national cultural institutions since its enactment. Many outstanding items have been donated to the various national cultural institutions through this provision. These include, by way of recent example, the Brian Friel Archive to the National Library of Ireland. This collection comprises all original workings and manuscripts of Brian Friel's plays, as well as large quantities of his correspondence with other contemporary Irish writers and artists.
Under the tax donation scheme, the National Gallery of Ireland acquired the beautiful and delightful painting entitled "A Musical Party" by the Dutch artist van Honthorst. Those of you who are familiar with the world of art will know that this painting was once displayed in the Casino at Marino as part of Lord Charlemont's collection. Another significant donation concerns a collection of modern art, the Maurice Foley collection. This collection comprises an important and varied collection of 20th century art which was donated to the Irish Museum of Modern Art. This was a truly important addition to the museum's collection.
I assure the House that the existing tax relief scheme for donations of important national heritage items will continue in tandem with the heritage fund. Although they are two entirely separate schemes, both mechanisms can work alongside one another to ensure that the national cultural institutions build substantially on their present collections.
The House will appreciate that it is not possible to forecast what will be purchased for the institutions under the heritage fund. By way of example, however, I want to draw the Deputies' attention to the acquisition of the "Circe" manuscript in December of last year. I was successful in acquiring this wonderful 27 page manuscript for the National Library of Ireland. This manuscript is regarded as the centrepiece of James Joyce's masterpiece Ulysses. The sale of this exceptional Joyce manuscript attracted huge international interest and there was a fear that its eventual home would not be Ireland. This would have been a great pity as, apart from some note sheets in the British Library, there is no other Ulysses material in Ireland or, indeed, throughout the whole of Europe. In the absence of a statutory fund it was only possible to acquire this artefact because of additional funding made available by my colleague, the Minister for Finance. Otherwise this magnificent treasure could have been lost to a private collector or possibly to an overseas library. The Deputies will recall that the manuscript was purchased for $1.4 million. It is now on exhibition in the National Library and has been viewed by many visitors. It is also available to Joycean scholars and academics and has been described as one of the most intriguing Joyce manuscripts as it produces many insights concerning the composition of “Circe” and of Ulysses.I reiterate the importance of the heritage fund. This will be the first time the national collecting cultural institutions will have additional funding to enable them to expand their collections with significant and important artefacts. The Deputies will appreciate that £3 million or 3.81 million has already been provided for in my Department's Estimate for this year for payment into the fund when established. Clearly it is of the utmost importance therefore that the Bill is enacted in the current financial year and I would welcome the co-operation of the House in securing this objective. I look forward to hearing the contributions of Members to this debate.