I am from a political wilderness on the border of Meath and Westmeath. While I was growing up, we often voted in Meath and would then switch to vote in Longford-Westmeath and sometimes just Westmeath. The constituency is now Meath West so I am sure the Chairman will be familiar with the place. It is called Killua. For those members who are not familiar with the townland of Killua, it has a very rich hinterland in terms of its history and heritage. I grew up beside Killua Castle, which was built in the late 1700s by the Chapman family, which was the landlord family at the time. The Chapmans installed a variety of monuments around the area, including a monument to Sir Walter Raleigh. As children, we thought that this was where the first potatoes were planted in Ireland so the next time members are eating their plate of spuds, they can think about Killua. It instilled in me a great sense of interest in my local heritage, community and culture. Killua is not far from the cairns of Loughcrew.
I do not know if members have ever been to Loughcrew but it probably has the most incredible monuments in the whole country. It is a beautifully peaceful place and quite uncrowded. The OPW has done restoratory works there recently so it looks even better.
As a child I was a keeper of history. I used to fly around on my bike talking to old people. When I was 11 I got a scrapbook which I filled with mementos, letters and stories which I was able to get people in the area to tell. I have always had a deep interest in history and in what forms our heritage and culture. I was beyond excitement when I was invited onto and asked to chair the board of the National Museum. It is an incredible privilege for me to do this job.
I have provided members with a paper showing where I come from and what I have done to date. I have not had a lot of free time since I took on this job but I spend a fair amount of it visiting museums as that is my hobby. I will visit a small county museum and, when abroad, I visit national museums. They are my go-to places, the first stop when I arrive in a new place. I had the pleasure of visiting Skansen, which is the oldest folklore museum in the world on a little island just outside Stockholm. It showed me what can be done with very little. There was a huge area of interactivity and great facilities for children in its outdoor museum where one can see deer through a gate. I am also a mother and an aunt to a whole army of children who are all under the age of ten, which is around about the age of reason. Museums can play a very important role in giving them a sense of history and of understanding and belonging so I have a consumer eye on the museum.
I am lucky to have a strong client base. I work for myself in a company called DHR Communications. We have a great team and are lucky to have many clients in the heritage and culture sector. I will be high-tailing it up the road to Bellaghy in Derry tomorrow because I am working on the opening of the Heaney homeplace project. I am very excited to be part of that.
I am highly involved in corporate social responsibility and have done some academic research and lectured at Columbia University in New York on the subject. I hope that some of the learning and ideas I have around corporate social responsibility and how we can deepen partnerships with the business world will help to develop the museum over the coming years. I am a former member of the Heritage Council and served as the chair of its finance and audit committee for a couple of years. I will also bring my business management and leadership attributes to the role of chair of this board.
It always surprises me how few Members of the Oireachtas I see in the museums or in the National Library or National Gallery. If I am meeting a politician, I suggest the cafe at the National Library or the National Museum and they often tell me it is the first time they were there. Accordingly, I invite all members of the committee, including absent members, to visit with me. We will organise a tour of the museum at a time that suits them. I would very much like them to be able to come along as it is very important. There would be a huge benefit as it is very crowded and tough around here and it would do wonders for members' head space for them to take a walk around the museum. We have four public sites, two at either end of Leinster House, one at Collins Barracks and at the Museum of Country Life in Mayo. The Oireachtas is very crowded at the moment and there are several committees so we could take a committee meeting to one of those sites, provided due notice was given.
The museum has a collection of over 4 million objects but only approximately 3% are on public display. If we had more resources we would be able to display more material. Our collection is housed in the collections resource centre in Swords, which is a very important piece of our infrastructure and a place where we can care for and develop the collections. I have not been there myself but my parents had a farm and we had two muscovy ducks. They were black and white and quite ugly but they admired themselves at the front door. Their names were Ned and Rita but the fox got Rita and the drake was heartbroken so we decided to donate him to the museum. I am hoping I will be reunited with Ned the muscovy duck when I go to Swords.
The museum has excelled in growing visitor numbers, including over the course of this very deep recession. The staff and the preceding board need to be commended on being so resilient despite incredible cuts. The museum's budget has been reduced by 40% over the past eight years and there has been a 25% reduction in staff. In addition, we started from a very low base because the cohort of staff we have at the National Museum is at less than 50% of its equivalent in Scotland. It is a very serious issue for us. We are in discussions with the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Government over the use of the ceramics room, which is one of our only public spaces in the Kildare Street site, and this is putting more pressure on us and on our staff. It is a critical issue for us, particularly coming up to the budget. We have laid our budgetary ask before the Minister and I will be happy to furnish the committee with a copy. Funding and staffing are our biggest challenges and we are at a critical point in regard to those.
I want to be optimistic as, by nature, I see the glass as half full. We are looking to develop a master plan for the next 15 years, which will be crucial to inform the future and our vision for the National Museum. Culture 2025 has a great little nugget about multi-annual funding and multi-annual budgets. The cultural sector and its institutions need that kind of back-up so that they can think ahead and plan for our cultural infrastructure.
I thank the incoming board of the National Museum and I feel the public appointments process has proven very robust. There is an excellent range of skills on my board and I have enjoyed working with its members. The Minister did a great job in the final selection to put in place such a mixture of skills. This will be very important in building our way forward for the next couple of years. Is pribhléid mór í bheith anseo. Déanfaidh mé mo dhícheall agus mé ag obair leis an músaem. Ba mhaith liom go mbeimid ag obair le chéile. Déanfaidh mé iarracht bheith ag caint leis an gcoiste an t-am ar fad. This is not just a once-off. I would like to be here once a year, even informally, to discuss our challenges and how we can work together to deliver a better infrastructure in our cultural institutions and, particularly, in the National Museum.