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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 16 Feb 1966

Vol. 60 No. 15

Coinage (Amendment) Bill, 1965: Second and Subsequent Stages.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Bill is designed to amend the Coinage Act, 1950, so as to permit the issue by the Central Bank of a special silver coin on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Rising of Easter Week, 1916, and I am sure the House will agree that this is an eminently suitable occasion for the issue of our first special coin.

A portrait of Pádraig Pearse will appear on the obverse of the coin while on the reverse there will be a representation of the Cuchulainn statue by Oliver Sheppard, RHA, in the General Post Office. Both designs will be on a concave surface and the coin being thicker at the rim than in the centre will have a dish effect. The edge of the coin will bear the inscription "Eirí amach na Cásca 1916". I was asked in the Dáil whether the names of all the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation could be included. This could not be done in view of the limited space on the coin.

The denomination of the coin is 10/- as indicated in the Schedule to the Bill. Existing coins from three-pence to half-crown are made of a mixture of copper and nickel. The dignity of the occasion called for the use of silver. In view of the silver content taken in conjunction with the desired size and weight of the coin, a unit of lower denomination such as 4/- or 5/- would be unsuitable. The 10/- unit appears the most appropriate.

The particulars of the weight and composition of the new coin are set out in the Schedule to the Bill. An amendment has been put down for Committee Stage giving revised figures for weight which have been settled as a result of tests of samples of the coin. I will be making regulations under the 1950 Act prescribing the design and diameter, that is, 1.2 inches; these particulars are, in the case of existing coins, prescribed by regulations. The new coin will be legal tender for payment of amounts not exceeding £5 as compared with £2 for cupro-nickel coins.

The new silver coin is being made by the Royal Mint, London, which mints existing Irish coins. The need to have the minting arrangements put in hand without delay did not leave sufficient time to have a design prepared by an artist nominated by the Council of Design. After consultation between the Central Bank and the Mint, Mr. T.H. Paget was commissioned to prepare the design; he is a sculptor and an authority on coinage design.

The Central Bank will arrange for the coins to be available in all bank offices in the State on Tuesday, 12th April, 1966. It is intended that there will be sufficient coins available to meet the demand and a substantial order has, therefore, been placed for the coins. An order for additional coins, can, if necessary, be placed. In order to cater for the interest of collectors both here and abroad supplies of a polished proof coin in a leather case will be available some time later after the initial issue of the coin.

I should like to say straight away that what is proposed in this Bill is suitable as a part of the commemoration of 1916. Fiscal independence is a symbol of the nationhood which we celebrate and which was made possible by, among other things, the Rising of 1916. The fact that we have our own coinage would seem in itself to be a small thing, but it is a very significant one. Accordingly, it is appropriate that we should honour the men of 1916 through our coinage. I am glad to know from what the Minister has said that this will be available both as part of the ordinary coinage, and also in a suitable case as an item which can be used as a presentation.

The only thing that disturbs me about what the Minister has said is his reference to the fact that the need to have the minting arrangements put in hand without delay did not leave sufficient time to have a design prepared by an artist nominated by the Council of Design. It would appear from what the Minister has said that the only consultations that were held were with the Central Bank, the currency authority, and with the Mint. There do not appear to have been any consultations in regard to design. This is in distinct contrast to what happened when our original coins were minted in the mid-twenties. On that occasion very great care was taken in regard to the design of the coins. The committee which operated then was under the chairmanship of Senator W. B. Yeats, who was a distinguished Member of the Seanad at that time. In my opinion, the results of this care, and the results of the study which was undertaken, and the decision to have a public competition, details of which can be read in the report of the committee, were amply justified.

We have today in our ordinary coinage a set of coins that have been admired not only by people in this country but by people from abroad. It is a little disquieting that there were no consultations, so far as we can gather from what the Minister has said, with the Council of Design who have been charged by the Government with tendering advice on such matters. The Minister said there was not time for this. That seems a little strange in view of the fact that we knew 1966 was coming and that it was the 50th anniversary of the Rising. We must express some slight degree of disappointment and hope that this is not an earnest of what is to happen in regard to similar questions because of the Government not taking pains to consult in time with the Council of Design on matters of this sort. We in this country are not sufficiently conscious of matters of design and the Government must make every effort to improve public taste in this matter.

With that one note of disagreement may I say that I am glad that the Government have done this thing. I hope that any disquiet in regard to the design will be quite allayed by the coin when we see it and I hope this issue will be a signal success.

I should like to start by saying that I think this is an excellent initiative on the part of the Government. It makes a most attractive proposition and we look forward to its realisation. I would echo what Senator Dooge says with relation to the artist. I am quite certain that the artist who has been commissioned will do a first class job, but it does seem a pity that for reasons that remain a little bit obscure it had to be a rushed thing, as if this were a last moment thought, a good thought that was too late to enable Irish artists to be invited to compete, or the Council of Design to be consulted.

There is just one further point I feel I ought to raise though I do it with some hesitation. The portrait of Pádraig Pearse will appear on one side of the coin. I think of Pearse with the greatest admiration and respect, but I also remember Tom Clarke who was the first signatory of the Proclamation, and who was recognised at the time as being the senior of the others, the man they looked up to, and whom they regarded as their senior leading them. I am very happy to think of the portrait of Pearse being there, but I would feel even happier if Tom Clarke could appear also, in some manner, even at the loss of the representation of the fine Cuchullain statue which is in the General Post Office. I say this with hesitation. It would obviously be in the worst possible taste to suggest that there should be or that there was in any sense a rivalry between these men who, in fact, rivalled one another in standing aside from the limelight. Nevertheless, the first name on the Proclamation and the senior of the few, the seven signatories, was, in fact, Tom Clarke.

I should also like to welcome the introduction of the Bill to enable the Central Bank to issue this silver coin for the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the 1916 Rising. Like the speaker in the Dáil who referred to the names of the signatories, I also should like to express that regret. I feel that it should be possible in a coin of this dimension to have included all the names, and I think it is a great pity that on this coin, which will be sought throughout the world wherever Irish people assemble or live, the names of the seven signatories of the Proclamation do not appear. I would welcome the introduction of the Bill with this exception.

I invited comment on the design by the fact that I mentioned that time did not permit the holding of a competition, but while what Senator Dooge has said is quite correct—that we knew the fiftieth anniversary of 1916 was coming for a long time and of course knew it for fifty years—when the ideas and thoughts as to how best to celebrate the occasion were assembled it was at a late stage that this idea of the coin was generated and, therefore, it was only from that point of time that it was not possible to have a competition. However, I have seen a prototype of the coin and I think the Seanad will agree that it is attractive in its character.

The point made by Senator Sheehy Skeffington is not an invalid one, but it will, I think, be agreed that Pearse probably symbolised the insurrection more than any other single individual. In any event, he was the head of the Provisional Government and I think Commander in Chief of the Forces. While people may have views as to who, if there was to be a particular one of the signatories or participants in the Rising to epitomise the men who got together to organise it, I think the consensus would be that Pearse would have been the one man generally acceptable in all the circumstances.

With regard to the point made by Senator Fitzgerald that the names of the seven signatories should appear, it would be difficult to have more than one from a practical viewpoint and it would also be aesthetically difficult to have all the signatories on the coin. Certainly I should imagine that from the practical point of view it would be difficult in a coin of this dimension and in my opinion would make it too fussy. I think that with the end result the people generally will be quite happy. The head of Pearse and the reproduction on the reverse side of the Cuchullain statue have been excellently done, so that all in all we will have a very worthwhile souvenir and not only a souvenir but a piece of currency to commemorate the Rising.

Would it be possible for the Minister to give an indication as to how many of these coins it is intended to produce?

There is a certain difficulty about that, because, naturally, the availability of the coins will determine the extent to which there might be cornering of the market or hoarding of them. The farthest I can go would be that there will be sufficient available for circulation and recirculation if that seems necessary in the long run. The Seanad will understand the point of my reluctance.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.
Bill considered in Committee.
Sections 1 to 3, inclusive, agreed to.
Government amendment No. 1:
In column (2), to delete "345" and "22,356" and substitute "280" and "18,144", respectively.

I gave the reason for the necessity for this amendment in my opening statement. When the coin was ultimately processed, the practical test indicated that the specifications required amendment in accordance with the figures set out in the amendment, which has been circulated.

Amendment agreed to.
Schedule, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with amendment, received for final consideration and passed.