TEMPORARY ACCOMMODATION OF THE OIREACHTAS. - SECOND REPORT OF THE JOINT COMMITTEE.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

The next matter on the Order Paper is the consideration of the Second Report of the Joint Committee on the temporary accommodation of the Oireachtas. That Report has been in the hands of Senators, and perhaps some Senator who is on that Committee would move the adoption of the Report.

I move:—

That the Second Report of the Joint Committee on the temporary accommodation of the Oireachtas be received and adopted.

I second the motion.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

The matter is now open for discussion.

I move:—

That the consideration of this Report be postponed for a fortnight.

I do this because it recommends that the Parliament should remain in the present building. We are very anxious to have some investigation made as to whether the Museum is safe from fire, and I do not think we can very well consider the matter until we have had some investigation. Some of us are going, in the course of a few minutes, to see the Minister on the question, and I think it may be desirable to have a Special Committee of this House appointed to take expert advice. I do not see how we can come to any conclusion on the question at all until we can have some evidence before us as to the security or otherwise of the national treasures. I, therefore, move that the consideration of the Report be postponed for a fortnight.

I should like to second Senator Yeats' proposal, sir. When the Report of the Committee previously appointed, first came before this House, I think that it hardly received the attention that it perhaps deserved. As far as I can recollect, the Report was agreed to practically without any remark being made at all, and no particular attention was drawn to the question of whether the proposal to take over Leinster House was desirable until the Dáil referred the matter back to the Committee. Then this House did take notice of the matter, and agreed with that proposition. I think it will be a matter for general regret that the Committee has again come to the conclusion that the only way out of our difficulties is to rob the Royal Dublin Society of their premises. I have heard it said that the Royal Dublin Society is, quite possibly, as useful an institution, if not more so, than the Oireachtas; but I do not go quite so far as that. I think it is probably one of the most useful institutions in the country, and members of the Council of the Society have told me that in their view the temporary acquisition of Leinster House would probably be worse for them than their permanent removal, because in that case they would establish themselves in a permanent home which, under this scheme, they will not be able to do, and I find it rather difficult to understand why the Committee could not find a better way out of it.

Is the Senator speaking to the amendment, or is he proposing a fresh amendment?

I was speaking to the amendment. I do not know whether I am allowed to say what I am saying——

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

Certainly, you are quite in order.

I am sorry, as I said, that the Committee could have no better recommendations to make than to take over Leinster House, but I am glad that they did on this occasion supply us with an alternative — to remove to the Castle — and for my part I think that would be immeasurably the better course. I quite recognise that the legal profession would suffer some inconvenience, but it seems possible to me that Kilmainham, whether it is suitable or not for the Oireachtas, might be made suitable for the temporary accommodation of the Law Courts, and in view of the great attention that has lately been drawn by Senator Yeats and Senator Mrs. Green to the terrible danger that attends our national treasures by the fact that we are occupying portion of the Museum, I think that the sooner we could get out of these premises altogether, the better. And after all, even if the Seanad were to clear out of this corner of the Museum and occupy Leinster House, the public, I submit, would not then enjoy, as fully as they should enjoy, the privilege of visiting the Museum and examining at their leisure all that there is to be seen there. The gates would, presumably, continue to be guarded; it would be troublesome for the public to get in, and, in common justice to the public, and especially to the Royal Dublin Society, this House should not adopt this Report at present. I hope that when they do adopt it they may express the opinion that the second part of the Report, recommending the removal to Dublin Castle, is the least objectionable.

I rise to support the amendment. I do so for the very obvious reason that I think this portion of the Museum will be essential for the carrying on of the Government of the country as long as the Dáil and the various Government offices occupy Leinster House, or a portion of it.

That means that for an extended period the treasures of art of inestimable value, and the relics of the past stored in this Museum, must be in almost hourly danger of fire, and at the same time the nation is, and really must be, deprived of access to the Museum as long as the Oireachtas is sitting at Leinster House. I cannot conceive how it will be possible to have free access, almost up to the doors of the Dáil, for any person who would like to go in. Therefore, I think that any alternative would be better than that Leinster House should continue for any length of time to house the Oireachtas, even if it was only for another year. I think these premises would be in serious danger, and although you, sir, and those who understand the requirements of the law, would probably be able to judge better than I, as a lay man could, it seems that it would be as easy to find a home for them as for the Parliament of the nation.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

Perhaps I should say I do not wish in any way to take any part in the question raised by the amendment moved by Senator Yeats, but I think it is right to say in fairness to the Committee that they did not overlook this question of the possibility of danger from fire. We considered that. We had positive assurances from the Board of Works in charge of these premises that every possible precaution had been taken to minimise that danger, and that they did not themselves anticipate any danger from fire by reason of occupation by the Oireachtas, as they had taken special precautions. I notice that the President in the other House stated that they had taken the unusual precaution of having special firemen night and day to protect the premises from any possibility of a danger of that kind. Therefore, we had as much assurance as we were able to get. I do not put it further than that — that, reasonably speaking, the Museum premises were safe from the risk anticipated, and very properly brought to the notice of this House and the notice of the Dáil, mainly through the instrumentality of Senator Mrs. Green.

The danger was, of course, one that had to be taken into account, in view of the valuable treasures involved. It was a very proper thing that a matter of that kind should be properly considered, but I wish to let the Seanad know that that matter was before the Committee and that they gave it all the attention they could. I also want to remind the Seanad that they had already unanimously adopted the previous report of this Joint Committee, and there is no departure in this supplemental report they have made from the recommendation which a few weeks ago was unanimously adopted in this House. The only thing they have said is, if for any reason their previous recommendation is to be turned down, that they received no practical suggestion of any reasonable alternative except the Castle. They did not put that forward in the second Report; they only said that in the event of the previous recommendation, which they adhered to, being rejected for any reason, they had no other reasonable alternative except Dublin Castle.

I wish to say that the Seanad is in a particular position of responsibility as occupying this part of this building. We have reports and rumours that everything is all right, and rumours that the Board of Works consider things all right. That is not sufficient for a decision by this Assembly that we will continue to sit here in peril. I was referred to as being probably the main instigator of trouble in this matter.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

Not in that sense.

I wish to say that every day every fresh view I hear from any of the real experts is gravely to intensify the danger. Before we undertake our responsibility to the country we ought to have a formal report on the essential things. Let me give you one instance of the kind of thing that is happening which is outside the view of the Board of Works. The biological specimens preserved in spirit have been removed by way of safeguarding them into a lower safe room. I understand the room is immediately over the boilers, into which they have to put an additional fan to keep it cool. Now, what is the result? These spirits are in themselves in no particular sort of danger, because they are mixed with water, but if the atmosphere comes up to 60 degrees, the inevitable result is that the whole of the specimens there would be lost, and, therefore, on the best authority that could be found on this subject in the country, thousands and thousands of pounds would be lost in destroying and not safeguarding the specimens. That is a single illustration that might be given among many of the very grave dangers of our living on reports, and reports by we do not know whom. I know that a great deal of inquiry is going on in very important directions, and that we should not wait to hear the result of that inquiry is, to my mind a grave neglect of public duty. Also, I do not know whether the Seanad has realised that there is an immense body of articles put here on loan, some on loan for public exhibition, and some on loan for safety. What will be the result if any accident happens? The compensations that have been paid in the past will be nothing to what will be paid in the future, and what is more, no compensation can rebuild or restore what is lost. I do not know—this may be a perfectly ignorant remark I am about to make— I believe that the hydraulic apparatus here is not sufficient. If we have a couple of men going about in red, if there is not sufficient and satisfactory provision, what safety is there for the building in spite of their efforts? We are responsible, and this Seanad has on itself a very grave responsibility now, in the view of the public. I have had much correspondence from the country. The anxiety is very widespread, the feeling is not a trifling one, and it is sufficient not to be answered by a rumour from the Board of Works, nor am I content with that. I support the amendment.

I believe almost all Senators, and almost all people in Ireland, are very anxious that the Seanad should move out of this building. In fact the strong feeling is that the Castle ought to be adopted at once as the home for the Oireachtas. I believe that is the general feeling throughout the country, and I doubt if there are any, except very few, in high authority who, thinking of what we have listened to from Senator Mrs. Stopford Green, but will imagine what would happen if there was a fire, and if the fire engines were turned on this place — not in the place we are in, but on the specimens in the Museum.

I do not know which would be worse, the water or the fire; probably both between them would destroy everything. I think every endeavour ought to be made by the Seanad to induce the Government to make some arrangements by which we can remove into the Castle. We have put forward this R.D.S. building as the primary place in this Report, but it was merely because we did not see our way to go into the Castle, and for no other reason. Every effort ought to be made in that direction now. I am entirely in agreement with the amendment to postpone this matter.

The Committee has gone carefully into this whole question. This is not the first Committee, but the second Committee that went into the matter very carefully. The first Committee went carefully into it when Senator Moore was not there. When people talk about fire it should be remembered that there is no reason why there might not be a fire after we had left this building. The danger is no greater by our being here in ordinary daylight than if we were not here; in fact the danger is a great deal less. When we are here there are people about, and we know the conditions as a rule, and that there is no danger. The idea of there being extra danger to the antiques in the Museum by our being here is absurd. The Committee has given time to this. When the Seanad appoints a Committee and that Committee does its best, it ought to be reasonably supported. It is absurd to talk of changing from here to Dublin Castle. If you take over Dublin Castle, where will you put the whole legal machinery of Ireland? First build the Four Courts, then transfer your judiciary to them, and fix their place there, and then you can talk of taking over the Castle. I strongly support the Committee's Report, and hope it will be accepted.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

I should have added, before Senator Mrs. Green spoke, one observation, that as Senator Martin Fitzgerald has said, this is not the first Committee that has considered the matter. It was gone into very fully more than a year ago, and the question about the retention of the present buildings was then fully discussed. The dissolution happened before the labours of the Committee were completed. A second Committee was appointed, and it was not, I think, until after they had presented their report that, for the first time, the suggestion was made about the danger from fire. They presented their first report about a month ago, and up to that time there had been no suggestion from any quarter that there was any risk or danger from fire by reason of the occupation of these premises by the Seanad. But our attention was drawn to it after the report was sent back to be reconsidered, not upon that question, but solely upon the question as to whether Leinster Lawn could be made available. It was for that purpose it was sent back, and then when it had been referred back the question of the danger from fire was brought to our attention. But that was fully a year after the matter was discussed and brought to the notice of the public and thrashed out both in the Dáil and in this House.

May I say that this is an illustration of how indifferent, really, the Board of Works has been to the whole question. This matter should have been brought forward by the Government officials. It should have been brought forward by the Board of Works. The Government's residence here immensely increases the danger to the treasures. The Government ought to have considered it, or some official appointed by them should have considered it, but it has been left to people like myself to draw attention to these things. Every difficulty was put in our way here to prevent this troublesome question arising. It has arisen; it has to be considered, and I say that no remark that it was not brought forward a year ago, can relieve us of our responsibility now that it has been brought forward.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

I may mention, in reply to that, that it is not quite accurate to say that the Government or the Board of Works were not alive to this matter. I understand from both departments that the matter has been under their consideration throughout the entire period, and that the Government were in fact satisfied with the assurances they got from the Board of Works, but that in order to make assurances doubly sure, they have taken extra precautions on the recommendation of the Board of Works, with the result that the Government appear to be quite satisfied. so far as it is reasonably practicable in the case of any building, that these buildings are safe from fire.

May we request to be furnished with a detailed report of what the Board of Works has done? Is there any truth in what I say in regard to the biological specimens, as a single illustration? Are the scientific authorities outside the Board of Works satisfied? Can we have a report from the Government of exactly what they have done and of exactly what the situation is as to the whole of the hydraulic water supply arrangements in these buildings?

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

I thought the biological specimens had nothing whatever to do with the risk of fire.

Are we to be confined to the risk of fire?

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

No, but I thought it was the question of fire you were discussing. That is what I understood. I do not understand these things, but I thought, if I followed you correctly, the illustration you gave had nothing whatever to do with fire.

It has to do with the loss of, and damage to, the collection for which we are in part responsible.

As the mover of the motion for the adoption of the Report. I would be quite satisfied to agree to have it postponed for a fortnight. Of course, I only speak for myself. An Cathaoirleach was Chairman. If we agree to postpone it, I think we ought to know who the committee of experts are.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

I think we are entitled to know that, because we have given months of time to this and it is only a few weeks ago that this objection was first started.

If the names of the committee of experts who are sitting upon this question commend themselves to this assembly, I, personally, would be very glad to fall in with the suggestion to postpone this question for a fortnight. Perhaps Senator Yeats would tell us whether the Chief of the Dublin Fire Brigade is one of the experts.

What I propose is that this Seanad should appoint a committee to take expert advice.

I made a mistake. I was under the impression that you had selected your committee of experts and that we would have their report in a fortnight. Do you now propose that this House should appoint experts, or would you and your committee approach the subject of experts? We should know these things, and I am quite willing to wait.

I desire also, as one of the Committee, to say that we gave all the attention it was possible to give to the very great grievances of the Royal Dublin Society, and later on to the question that Senator Mrs. Green now raises. I personally agreed in the unanimous report of my colleagues that we should retain these buildings at the present time, for the reason that I could see no alternative.

If I had the decision in my own hands it would be a simple business one. It is only a business matter, and should have been decided six months ago. The Upper Castle Yard is the most suitable place to hold sittings of the Houses of Parliament. There is plenty of accommodation there. It is easily guarded in case of attack, and it can be made available, certainly inside two years. I went to the trouble of getting a large firm of builders to have it surveyed, and to report on it. They reported back to me that they could do the work, and make the buildings suitable inside two years at the cost of £150,000. I do not think any better substitute can be found for that. I am sure that the Chairman and every single member of the Committee were most anxious to oblige the Royal Dublin Society in every way they could, and are yet. I cannot see for the life of me how far Senator Yeats' amendment carries us. It is another case of procrastination, and postponing the evil. We want this thing to be carried through as a business proposition. It is quite simple. The Four Courts will have to be rebuilt some day. Why not build them now? They are not an ornamental spectacle for the people in Dublin or for strangers who come to visit the city. People are saying to me every day: "Do you ever mean to build the houses that have been destroyed, and why do you not build the Four Courts?" It is a monument of misfortune and despair. I certainly say that we are most anxious to facilitate the Royal Dublin Society and to put them to the least amount of inconvenience.

I intend to support the amendment now before the House, because after all, it is not so much a question of various empty or ruined buildings, as that at present we are running the risk of being the cause of what would be a national loss. It is not so much a question of fire or deterioration of exhibits. Senator Mrs. Green has mentioned that. But there may be hundreds of other cases where the destruction may be going on. I do not think the occupation of the buildings by members of the Seanad is risky so far as our sitting here in the day is concerned. We must bear in mind that the place is surrounded and occupied by troops during the 24 hours. There is a strong element of risk, and it is due to the Seanad that we should have a written report from the Government as to the steps that have been taken, and a report from the Board of Works that they have taken every precaution. Then we will know what has been done. Going back to the main question, I do not think this Seanad has power, without the consent of the other House, to take immediate steps to secure a proper residence for the two Houses. But listening to all that has taken place—I have read every report carefully — it does seem to me that the Castle is the place we should remove to, and if we can only bring sufficient pressure or influence on the other House to come to a decision at once, it would be a good thing. It is not our fault that a decision has not been come to. There is a question of expense, and of what is suitable. But really, when you come to consider the matter, the Four Courts is the place where the Judiciary of the future should sit, and the Castle is the seat of Government. It would be a terrible national loss if there was a risk that the Museum might be destroyed by our occupancy.

It is not altogether a question of the fire or of the Royal Dublin Society, but here we are with great national collections which no one is allowed to see. People from the country want to see them and want to go to the National Library. They cannot, without inconvenience, get into those places to see them properly. That alone, with all the other things, necessitates our moving away from this place and going, if possible, to the Castle.

I simply want to say, as a matter of explanation, that I have brought forward this resolution with no other object whatever, except to find out whether the collections are or are not in danger from fire or otherwise from our residence here. I have not done this in the interest of the Royal Dublin Society or because of preference for any particular site. But I do think we have got to find out, and the responsibility is ours individually, whether our residence here is causing danger to the national collections. I think the Chairman has made our case in telling us that it was not raised until a few weeks ago, in other words, that it was not considered by the Committee.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

I did not say that. What I said was the reverse. When it was brought before us at the end of a year-and-a-half we gave it our fullest consideration.

Another question I would like to have asked the Board of Works as to the protection against fire is, whether they had to improve this protection at the instance of Senator Mrs. Green's agitation. Had they to have more protection or to improve it, because if they improved it, then the former protections were inadequate, and the Board of Works are in the dock. I see every reason for postponing this matter until we get expert opinion. I am only asking for postponement, not rejection of the Report. It is quite possible that when we have heard this opinion we will decide that this is the best place. I do not know——

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

How do you propose to get this opinion in the interval? At the end of a fortnight I do not want the Seanad to find that nothing has been done.

I thought to have a Committee of the Seanad appointed.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

I think that would be awkward. You have a Committee already, and if you are going to propose the appointment of another Committee this day fortnight, you are putting the matter off indefinitely. I thought your suggestion was that between now and this day fortnight you would have obtained expert opinion, and be in a position to bring it before the Seanad.

I have no doubt we could lay evidence before the Seanad.

Would it bring unanimity if we asked the Board of Works for a report by this day fortnight on the matter? In this matter the Government is the Board of Works.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

I would be quite willing, if it is the wish of the Seanad, to write to the President, asking that he would be good enough to furnish us with the materials from which he made his speech a few nights ago in the Dáil. The question could then be considered this day fortnight. I am as fully alive as any Senator to the responsibility, and to the risk involved by our continued occupation of these premises.

We will accept that.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

We will take it that the motion is adopted and that consideration of the report is postponed for a fortnight. I shall write to the President asking if he will be good enough to supply us, with sufficient material to answer the questions that have been raised.

How would that be communicated to the Seanad?

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

I imagine that the President has got an elaborate report from the Board of Works on the subject. This question was fully debated a few nights ago in the Dáil, when the President made a very full statement. I gather that he has got a report, probably in writing, and if he supplied us with that it would be all we require.

Motion agreed to.