I beg to move the motion standing in my name:—
"That the Seanad regrets the refusal by the British Government to give effect by legislation to the codicil of Sir Hugh Lane of the 3rd February, 1915, which was invalid by reason of being unwitnessed, and in view of the finding of the Committee appointed by the British Government on July 9th, 1924, that Sir Hugh Lane, when he signed this codicil, believed that he was making a legal disposition of the pictures therein mentioned to the City of Dublin, the Seanad is of opinion that the British Government should be urged to provide by some form of legislation for the permanent return of these pictures to Dublin."
My reason for bringing this matter before the Seanad at this particular time is this: About two years ago a Committee was appointed by the British Government to advise them as to the destination of what are known as the Lane pictures. That Committee reported some considerable time ago, but its report was not published until about a fortnight ago. Last week, in answer to a question in the House of Commons, the British Government stated its intention of carrying out the recommendation of that Committee, of refusing to legislate for the purpose of making valid the invalid codicil in Sir Hugh Lane's will. The matter of these pictures is of such importance to this country, and the feeling in this country on the subject of their destination is so strong, that I felt it was right that the matter should be brought before this House and that Senators should have an opportunity of expressing their opinions on it and of urging the Government to take any steps in their power for the purpose of trying to alter the determination of the British Government on the subject. The facts in connection with the bequest of these pictures to the Corporation of Dublin are within the recollection of us all. Long prior to the year 1915, Sir Hugh Lane had formed the intention of giving this noble collection of modern French pictures to the City of Dublin. The difficulty was a gallery for them. The Municipal Gallery in Harcourt Street, in this city, was wholly unsuitable for their reception. They had, in fact, been there for some little time, but being in an old house, in an old street in this old city, they were not safe from fire, and very naturally Sir Hugh Lane, when he made up his mind to give these pictures to the city, made it a condition of his gift that the Corporation should erect a proper gallery within a certain time.
Now the Corporation agreed to erect that gallery, but we all remember the unfortunate discussion which took place as to its site. That discussion became so acrimonious and prolonged that ultimately Sir Hugh Lane removed the pictures from this country and gave them on loan to the National Gallery in London. There again a difficulty occurred as to their exhibition, and, undoubtedly, early in the year 1915, Sir Hugh Lane had no definite intention as to the ultimate destination of these pictures. But probably if things had gone on in the ordinary way, he would have given them to London or to Dublin, according to the treatment which one or other of these cities gave them in the way of providing a gallery. One thing is quite clear, that in the year 1915 he was starting on a visit to America and was conscious of the risks of the voyage, and with a strange prevision of his fate he executed a codicil to his will by which he bequeathed these modern French pictures—thirty-nine of them—to trustees for the City of Dublin on condition that the Corporation provided a suitable gallery for their reception within five years after his death. We all know that on his journey back he was lost on the "Lusitania." The codicil was found in his office of the National Gallery, just beside us here in Dublin. It was found in a desk in a sealed envelope directed to his sister, who was his executrix. When it was opened it was found that it was unwitnessed, and that it was, therefore, invalid. After his death the question arose as to whether his last wishes as to the destination of these pictures should be carried out.
Now the codicil was unwitnessed, and it was practically a war will. If he had, instead of going to America with the dangers of the voyage, gone out to France, executed the will and died, the unwitnessed will would be perfectly valid. The question almost immediately after his death as to whether this codicil of his should be given effect to by legislation was raised, and there was quite an animated correspondence in the English Press, in the "Times," the "Morning Post" and the "Observer." There was in 1916 a petition by the Corporation of the City of Dublin, as the trustees of the National Gallery, asking that the pictures should be returned to Dublin. In 1918 there was a mass meeting held in the Mansion House of Dublin, one of the most representative meetings ever held in this city, at which resolutions were passed in favour of the return to Dublin of these pictures. Then came the troubled times, but even in the troubled times representations were made by the Provisional Government through General Collins to the British Government, and these representations were most favourably received by the British Government. On the 9th May, 1923, this House unanimously passed a resolution asking the Government to press on the British Government the return to Dublin of the pictures in the unwitnessed codicil to the will. A similar resolution was passed unanimously by the Dáil.
Therefore we have from 1916, practically from the death of Sir Hugh Lane, a continuous and public claim by this country for the return of these pictures. That is of very great importance when we come to consider one of the reasons given for the conclusion arrived at by the Committee which was appointed to advise the British Government. So much had this question become a national one that in the year 1924 a Committee of three was appointed by the then Labour Government to report on the matter of the pictures, and two quite definite questions were left to that Committee. First, whether Sir Hugh Lane, when he signed the codicil on the 3rd February, 1915, thought he was making a legal disposition, that is, thought it would be effective in law; and, secondly, whether it was proper that in view of the international character of the matter of these pictures, the legal difficulty in the codicil should be remedied by legislation. The first of these questions was a question of fact, and that question the Committee has answered in the affirmative, that is, they have come to the conclusion, and so reported, that Sir Hugh Lane when he executed this unwitnessed codicil thought he was making a legal disposition. Having myself seen all the evidence on that question of fact, I hold they could come to no other conclusion. The answer to the second question is not only most unsatisfactory, but is based on considerations which were absolutely irrelevant to the question which was referred to them.
In answer to this second question the Committee recommend that the legal defect in the codicil should not be remedied by legislation, and for this conclusion they give three reasons. The first is they state that they are advised that the validation by Act of Parliament of Sir Hugh Lane's imperfect codicil would constitute a legal precedent of the first importance, and that recourse to such a step would be justified only on the grounds of general public interest. Now, with great respect, in giving that as a reason the Committee obviously mistook both the terms and the nature of the question that was put to them. They were told that this was an international question, and it was, therefore, a question of general public interest, and they were asked, this being an international question, and a question of general public interest, to order a precedent to be made. Their answer is: "You could only make a legal precedent on the grounds of general public interest." That is the false assumption which underlies this report. The question has been dealt with by this Committee as if it were a question between two galleries, whereas it was a question between two nations. They were told it was a question between two nations and their answer to the Government which appointed them was, it is not.
The second reason given by the Committee for recommending no legislation was that it would be a breach of faith as regards the donor of the gallery for modern continental pictures which was opened a week or two ago at Millbank. That would only be a valid reason if the donor of this gallery was induced to build it on the assurance that the Lane pictures would be housed there. Now it is inconceivable on the facts that any undertaking of that kind or assurance could have been given. As I pointed out, from the date of Sir Hugh Lane's death there was this continuous and public claim by this country for these pictures, of which the donor of that gallery must be perfectly well aware. It was followed in 1924, by the appointment by the British Government of this Committee, which could not have been appointed if any such assurance had been given. The third and last reason of the Committee is perhaps the most difficult of all their reasons to understand. They found as a fact that when Sir Hugh Lane signed this codicil he intended and believed, in the event of his death before his return to this country, that the pictures would come to Dublin, yet they give us a reason for recommending that his last wishes should not be given effect to, that to do so would be contrary to the spirit and purport of his wishes as expressed during the last two years of his life. Now it is very difficult indeed to understand or to deal with reasons of this kind. They were not asked to consider what Sir Hugh Lane's wishes as expressed during the last two years of his life were. They were asked, what were his wishes as expressed in the codicil, and did he believe that if he died before his return to this country they would be given legal effect to.
Sir Hugh Lane, as a matter of fact, gave different expressions as to his wishes during the last two years of his life. It depended very much on the treatment that he thought his pictures were going to get if they went to London or to Dublin. He had no settled intentions at the time, but when he came to start on his last journey there was no doubt. Therefore, in giving this as the reason for the recommendation they made to the Government that no legislation should be adopted for the purpose of validating the codicil, they had no ground to go on. They departed, as they did in answer to the second question, from the reference under which they sat. I have gone fully into these matters for the purpose of showing that our national claim for the pictures has not only not been answered but has not really been duly considered. It has been turned down by a nation which is rich in examples of modern art of this kind, whereas our examples of that art are the few pictures in the small collection in Harcourt Street. It has been suggested that our moral claim for the pictures would be met if some of them were lent to us from time to time. That is no satisfaction of our claim. If our moral claim is satisfied it will be for us to lend the pictures, and there would be nothing to prevent that being done, and there would be everything in favour of it if the pictures were ours by right and made so by legislation. I have no doubt that this country would see that England got its share of the pictures on loan from time to time.
The terms of the resolution which I am proposing are on the Order Paper. They express regret at the refusal of the British Government to give effect by legislation to the unwitnessed codicil of Sir Hugh Lane, and they ask our Government to urge on the British Government to provide, by some form of legislation, for the permanent return of the pictures to Dublin. No form of legislation is suggested by the resolution. They have declined to pass legislation which will validate the codicil. There are many other forms of legislation by which it can be done. There is a Bill, which was recently introduced by Lord Carson into the House of Lords and which provides that the pictures shall be transferred by the trustees of the National Gallery to this country. There are many ways of carrying out by legislation what is desired by this country, and what we believe is due to this country. It can be easily done, and, having regard to the fair play and generosity which the British Government have extended to us since we have been established as a State of our own,——