Nelson Pillar Bill, 1969: Committee and Final Stages.

Section 1 agreed to.
SECTION 2.

I should like to move the following amendment:

In section 2, subsection (1), paragraph (a), lines 23 to 24, to delete the words "removal of the Pillar" and substitute the following: "Government-directed demolition and removal of the considerable portion which remained standing after the initial act of partial destruction."

Under this amendment, if it is passed, as I am sure it will be, paragraph (a) of section 2 would then read:

The Corporation shall pay to the Trustees the following sums by way of compensation:

(a) the sum of £21,750 for the damage caused to the Pillar on the 8th day of March, 1966, and the subsequent Government-directed demolition and removal of the considerable portion which remained standing after the initial act of partial destruction.

My object in putting this amendment down is simply to put on the record in the relevant Bill the two parts of what happened. The words at present in the Bill "the subsequent removal of the Pillar" are insufficient to indicate that there were two acts of vandalism, one official following on the unofficial one.

I have not used the word "vandalism" in the amendment, but it is obvious that not only was the base of the Pillar still remaining pretty firmly after the first explosion but also about half of the column. Senator O'Reilly's sympathetic speech, sympathetic both to me and to the Pillar, made the point that the Pillar was so badly shaken that it constituted a danger and had to be taken down. This, of course, can be argued. I can remember, again as a very small boy, a very considerable portion of O'Connell Street being in the same state, and the General Post Office had not a floor in it, had not a roof on it and the walls were badly shaken by bombarding from the Liffey. I do not remember any suggestion from any quarter that it should be taken down stone from stone and that fresh explosives should be put in in order to destroy the work ill-begun.

I believe if a monument which one wants to preserve, or a house which one wants to preserve, is damaged and is capable of repair, there is no excuse for saying: "This house is in a dangerous condition, let us blow up the rest of it." I believe a pillar or a house, if damaged, can be shored up and preserved even if it is in a shaken condition. In fact, the base of the Pillar was so solid and the Pillar was so narrow in comparison with it that I do not believe there was any real danger which could not have been met by a shoring up which would not take more than a few hours. I believe the Pillar could have been re-assembled and rebuilt. The Minister seemed very shocked at the notion they might do this. After all, this was done to the Four Courts; it was done to the Custom House and it was done to the General Post Office and there was no feeling that they had to be gutted and torn down because of the damage done by high explosives. I do not see any reason why the Minister should express surprise at my suggestion that this damage should have been repaired and the rugged elegance of the Pillar restored. However, the Minister regards this as quite impossible, but I would not like him to be allowed to evade in the terms of the Bill the responsibility which lay on him and on the Government for this act of official destruction.

That is why I want to change the words in paragraph (a) from "the subsequent removal of the Pillar" to the words "the subsequent Government-directed demolition and removal of the considerable portion which remained standing after the initial act of partial destruction". I am not content simply to attribute to the Government the "removal" of the Pillar. It is not as if they merely removed a pile of rubble lying in the street. This was not the case. There should, in all honesty, be in this Nelson Pillar Bill some reference to what happened to the Pillar both by the unofficial action and by most regrettable and very hasty Government official action.

I should like to recall in this connection that the Minister's reply to me when I suggested the Government might at least have taken some advice from the members of the Dublin Corporation, the members of the Arts Council and from some other advisory body before taking what was for the city and the country quite a big decision, was that I appeared to be wanting him to wait until a "crank pressure group", or I think crank pressure groups were the words he used, would stop him from doing anything. I am not quite sure what those crank pressure groups were supposed to do to him. What he means, in fact, is that public opinion would become so strong that he feared he would not have been, or the Government would not have been, allowed to carry out further destruction rendering our city more like any other big office-block city in Western Europe. For that reason I feel there should be incorporated in the text of the Bill a wording which recognises and mentions the responsibility the Government undertook in this regard, and which I do not think they should be allowed, even verbally, to evade.

Acting Chairman

Before anyone else speaks, I should like to inform the Senator that his second amendment is out of order because it would impose a charge on public funds which may only be proposed by the Government.

I do not know whether at this juncture I am in order in mentioning that the Minister has promised to do this thing and, consequently, the charge is already on the public funds. Therefore, when I am suggesting merely that it be mentioned in the text of the Bill, I am not putting any extra charge on public funds. I am merely writing into the Bill something which the Minister has already agreed to do, and which is already in the Estimates, so I cannot really, on a point of order, be accused of adding a charge. I am merely specifically mentioning a charge that is already there.

Acting Chairman

It may be there in intention but the Estimate has not been accepted by Dáil Éireann and, therefore, the Senator would be anticipating the wishes of Dáil Éireann in the matter. Therefore, his amendment is out of order.

I bow to your ruling. On a point of order, however, would the Minister have been in order in incorporating that in this Bill in the first place?

Acting Chairman

Yes, the Minister may make such an amendment.

Merely the Seanad have not got the power.

Acting Chairman

Not the Seanad. No private member of the Dáil or the Seanad may impose a charge on public funds or seek to do so by amendment.

Does this relate to my second amendment only?

Acting Chairman

Yes, the second amendment. I just wanted to let you know now because there was not much time.

Senator Sheehy Skeffington says that his sole purpose in this amendment is to put what actually happened in the removal of the pillar on record in the relevant Bill. This, of course, is not a relevant Bill. It is not a Bill which sets out to record the whole saga of the disappearance of Nelson Pillar from the city of Dublin. It is merely a Bill, as I said, to give effect to an agreement entered into by the Corporation of Dublin and the trustees of Nelson Pillar.

I have pointed out already that I am willing to allow the chronicle of the event to be made by Senator Sheehy Skeffington. I have no aspirations in that direction whatsoever. I do not think the rebuilding of O'Connell Street after the damage caused in 1916 and during the War of Independence is in any way comparable to the proposition of the Senator that Nelson Pillar should be rebuilt. The buildings to which the Senator referred were functional buildings and, therefore, the expenditure on their rebuilding——

I had no excess funds at my disposal with which to preserve the stump of Nelson Pillar or to rebuild the monument. I manage to obtain from the Government, at the appropriate time every year, substantially increased funds for the needs of my Department, but I need every penny for the important work that has to be done by my Department and I would not be prepared to utilise any of that money for this purpose.

It is obvious there is no comparison between the rebuilding of the GPO, the Four Courts and so on and what Senator Sheehy Skeffington wants us to do. The original explosion, which effectively demolished Nelson Pillar was, of course, an illegal one which, I think, every responsible person will regret. They will particularly regret that the people responsible for this illegal action were not apprehended. However, once this damage had been done, the removal of the remains of the pillar was the obvious course. Regrettable as the illegal demolition of the pillar was, it did give expression to the divergence of opinion that was known to exist as to the desirability of the monument being there at all. I do not think there was any such divergence of opinion with regard to the GPO or the Four Courts. I oppose the amendment because it has no relevance to the Bill, which does not set out to describe this operation but merely to give effect to the agreement between the Corporation of Dublin and the trustees of the pillar.

The Minister has seen a distinction between the rebuilding of the GPO, the Four Courts and the Custom House and the retoration of the pillar. The distinction he sees is that the other three were functional, by which he means utilitarian. For utilitarian reasons, he is prepared to see a case for it, but where it is merely an artistic reason he has no time or funds for it. This represents very well the official view of Dublin today where some of the most beautiful buildings are demolished on "functional" grounds, utilitarian grounds, materialistic grounds; and a protest on artistic grounds is dismissed as being the protest of a crank pressure group.

I do not know what kind of a country we would have if the entire judgement as to what is worth doing and what is not worth doing were to be left to those who see justification only in the functional, only in the utilitarian. I am sorry to say we have gone a long way on that road already but I do not believe the Irish people as a whole are interested solely in the utilitarian, and I feel the Minister is not speaking for all the people when he makes such a defence.

Moreover, he says: "I have no funds to preserve such things as the stump of Nelson Pillar". This is not what I was suggesting might have been advised. The base was there, half the column was there, and it could have been rebuilt in much the same way as the other buildings mentioned were rebuilt. Furthermore, when the Minister says he has no funds, he has got £21,000 which was forked out to the Corporation and some of that expenditure would have been avoided had the pillar been rebuilt and become again a money-making proposition.

If Nelson was not at the top the £21,000 would be repayable.

On what grounds does the Senator make that suggestion? He was not here while I was speaking and I do not propose to repeat what I said.

Because the trustees would be entitled to claim damage.

This, in fact, is not the case. We here, by this Bill—I do not know whether the Senator has read the Bill, but I refer him to section 4 which states:

No action, proceeding, claim or demand of any kind or description shall lie against the trustees or any of them by any person in respect of their actions in—

(a) agreeing to accept the monetary provision contained in section 2 of this Act in full and final settlement of all claims in relation to the pillar and its site, and

(b) not restoring a monument to Nelson,

and that those actions shall have the like effect and validity as if they had been expressly authorised by the terms of the trusts.

The £21,000, therefore, to which they agreed was clearly in the light of their no longer being able to get any income from the pillar. If the pillar had been rebuilt, even if a statue of Michael Yeats had been put on the top, the view from the top would have been sufficient to compensate the people from getting closer to the statue. Therefore, the compensation would not have needed to be of the order of £21,000. The question of the trustees obligations to Nelson can be ruled out by an Act of the Oireachtas. That is what we are doing and it is what Senator Yeats attempts to deny.

The trustees are still in being.

This little conversation has no relevance to the matter before the House.

Acting Chairman

Senator Yeats began it.

I know he did, but he should come to the Bill.

I am always ready to be enlightened, but I have not always the good fortune to be enlightened when I listen to Senator Yeats. If he is out of order, as has been suggested by the Leader of the House, I plead with the Chair, nevertheless, for clemency to allow me to reply to the point he made. The Senator asserted that £21,000 would have to be paid whether or not the pillar became again a revenue-producing object. He has not proved that. It is obvious that the amount of the compensation is this size because the pillar has been wiped out as a revenue-producing object. If it were restored, the full sum of £21,000 would clearly not have been necessary. There probably would have been some compensation but there would have been no need, as Senator Yeats suggested, to have Nelson at the top. Nelson could have been wiped out by a clause such as this. This could have been done years ago by Senator Yeats and/or his Party. They have been in power for nearly 30 years. If they objected to Nelson at the top he could have been removed long ago. I do not know why Senator Yeats waits for me to make a speech, before suggesting that the only way to get rid of Nelson was to blow him up.

The Minister who says he has no funds available to preserve the grace of Dublin and the elegance of Nelson Pillar in O'Connell Street can find £21,000 to repair the damage, a portion of which was done at his direction. He was unwilling to break down that sum and to state how much damage was done by him and how much by persons unknown. He had an odd expression in his reply just now. He said that the "illegal explosion had given expression to a divergence of opinion about the value of retaining the pillar".

I feel this is the kind of expression of divergence of opinion which should be deplored. If adverted to at all by a responsible Minister, it should be specifically deplored. In so far as it in him lies, I feel he ought to restore thestatus quo ante and not allow this particular type of “expression of divergence of opinion” to be encouraged here or anywhere else. Therefore, I feel like pressing this amendment. The Minister suggests that it is not the purpose of the Bill to write the saga of what took place. The House will agree that the addition of the dozen words or so I propose is hardly for the purpose of telling the whole saga, but merely of mentioning that, though some damage was done on the 8th March, 1966, further damage was subsequently done by the Government officially and that the Government did a little bit more than remove the pillar but actually directed further demolition, because the base took a lot more wiping out than the upper pillar. While the Minister says it is not the function of this Bill to contain words that reveal this fact, I feel it is not the purpose of the wording of this Bill to conceal this fact. This is what is done by the wording which refers only to the removal by the Government and not to the damage done by the Government.

Acting Chairman

Is the Senator pressing the amendment?

Acting Chairman

Will Senators seeking a Division please stand in their places?

Senator Sheehy Skeffington rose.

Amendment declared lost, Senator Sheehy Skeffington dissenting.

Section 2 agreed to.
SECTION 3.
Question proposed: "That section 3 stand part of the Bill".

May I ask the Minister what area is covered by the word "site". Does it mean precisely the bit of ground on which the pillar stood or does it include something beyond that because the pillar also stood on a piece of paving—is it the site of the base of the pillar or does it extend further?

It covers the site of the pillar; in other words, it means what it says.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 4 agreed to.
SECTION 5.
Question proposed: "That section 5 stand part of the Bill".

I should like to ask the Minister what date he has in mind for the bringing into operation of the Bill.

I will decide that when the Bill is passed.

Subsection (2) of section 5 says: "This Act shall come into operation on such day as the Minister appoints by Order". What I am simply asking the Minister to tell us is the order of magnitude of lapse of time he envisages in our passing the Bill and his giving effect to it, because it has been indicated to us that it would be a dreadful pity if we did not take all Stages tonight. Now the Minister is being very coy, and says he will not tell us when he is going to bring this into operation. I would plead with him to be less coy and give us the facts. What is his objection to telling us, even approximately, the order of magnitude of delay he has in mind between the passing of the Act and its coming into operation?

I dealt with that question.

Again, on this section I feel the Minister is treating us with less than courtesy. For all we know he may be going to allow this to stand aside for six months or so. He is probably very busy with other things, but the mere fact that he feels slightly irritated or testy now, because he is being kept rather later than he wants to stay, should not make him refuse to give us an indication of what he has in mind, and I feel he owes this in courtesy to the House. Why should the Minister sit mute, however glorious, when asked a simple question?

The Minister did not sit mute. The Senator probably did not hear him he is so full up of his own importance. The Minister said he would make up his mind when the Bill was passed and that is the answer to the Senator's question.

My question was what was the order of magnitude of the delay he had in mind and the Minister answered he did not know, that he would not make up his mind until the Bill was passed. I pressed him on this and his second answer was, in my opinion, the equivalent of being mute because he said he had already answered that question, but he had not. In courtesy to the House he might be a little less coy because I do not think the coy attitude suits the Minister. He should come clean and tell us if he intends to delay it one month, six months or three years. I cannot see any reason for his being so unwilling to tell us this until we give him the Bill.

We are getting bored with this repetition by Senator Sheehy Skeffington but no doubt he proposes to continue this and I suggest that the House continue in session until such time as this is finished.

It would be perfectly easy to satisfy me and any Member of the House who would like to know the length of time the Minister has in mind before putting this Bill into operation. All he has to do is to tell us what he has in mind. The Leader of the House has said he is getting bored. I would say to the Minister: "Do not allow your Leader to get bored—give us an answer".

Question put and agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.

We have sung our requiem for Nelson's Pillar with Senator Sheehy skeffington at the organ. My suggestion now is that with the clear space and the present position, formerly occupied by the pillar——

Acting Chairman

The Senator is out of order.

The Seanad adjourned at 10 p.m.sine die.