That Seanad Éireann notes the Report of the Board of Visitors of the National Museum of Science and Art for the year 1965-66.
This report is entitled on its cover in the same manner as specified in the motion. Inside the cover, on the title page, it is described as the Report of the Board of Visitors for 1966-67. That is a discrepancy which is an eloquent enough comment in itself as a microcosm of the general conditions surrounding the museum.
The report, if it is a report for 1965-66, appeared four years late and the time lag is adverted to by the compilers of the report on page 4:
The publication of our Annual Report has increasingly lagged. The 1965 Report of the Board is still not in print, though it was submitted in Summer 1965: that of 1966 was submitted in July of the year and is still unavailable. We are unable to see how reports of this sort, brought to light only years after preparation, can be more than dead letters and in fact there is nothing to suggest that points raised in them have received any serious consideration. Their recurrence this year, in the following text, only spotlights the matter.
This report appeared in January and its appearance was followed almost immediately by a statement from the Government Information Bureau which adverted to the delay in publishing the report and gave as the reason for the many years delay in issuing the report that other and more urgent reports had to take precedence.
This report is eight pages long. I know a little about printing, I am the editor of a journal which appears in a format not unlike this report, and I can make a guess at the cost of its printing. The approximate cost, with eight pages, would be about £3 10s a page, which, let us say, might run into a thousand copies. I do not know how many appeared, but let us say a thousand. It would cost £26, £28 or perhaps £30 to produce this report, and yet the Government Information Bureau stated that other and more important reports had to take precedence. There are no illustrations in this report. It is a straightforward business of typesetting which even the most inexperienced compositor in Ireland could perform.
Last June, two weeks before the general election, a most expensive document, running to 40 or 50 pages, entitled Ár nDaltaí Uilig—All Our Children—was circulated free to every household in Ireland. That was something which I do not think requires comment. The coincidence of that expensive piece of printing delivered to the households of Ireland and the general election is something which again requires no comment but it casts, to my mind, a ludicrous light on the assertion that any objective precedents of any kind are recognised in the Department of Education when it comes to printing or publishing. How can the Department say that a report of this kind which is important and which was compiled by people with a serious national duty to perform, who do not want to waste their time producing something which will not be read for five years, must take a low priority in a programme of publishing in which this thing—“All Our Children” which nobody asked for and which nobody wanted and the patent purpose of which was to produce electoral results for the Government could be produced, an infinitely more expensive job and running to an edition of at least a quarter, more likely half a million?
The Government Information Bureau on the same occasion issued a statement in regard to the National Museum. I do not know if it issued it only to the Irish Press but it certainly appeared only in the Irish Press. I must say for the Government Information Bureau that I never knew it was selective in its issuing of statements and I do not want to make that allegation now but it certainly is the case, so far as I know, that this report appeared only in the Irish Press and it was entitled there, by the sub-editor of that paper, “Facelift for the National Museum”. This statement by the Government Information Bureau contains—and I quote from the Irish Press of March 31st, 1970—references to what are called “alternative arrangements” in regard to part of the botanical section. It also says:
Investigations are currently being made to find a home for the geology collection...
Possible alternative accommodation for the Natural History Division...
Normal arrangements have been made to fill staff vacancies...
Improvements have been effected in the storage arrangements...
No details, no timetable, no programme was given for this and in the following issue of the Irish Press an archaeologist who is on the staff of University College, Dublin, Dr. Herity, was reported as saying:
... the statement seemed to make a virtue of what in similar organisations would be regarded as routine.
It was making a virtue out of developments which, in any other museum in any other country in the world, would simply have been routine but the routine even had been neglected here for years and years. It is no answer whatever to the complaints made by the Visitors of the National Museum of Science and Art that these arrangements were being contemplated or even carried out. That is no answer to the charge of persistent, sustained neglect which they have been making year in year out, for which they have been getting no attention and in fact in regard to which it is not too much to say attempts have been made to silence them by keeping their report out of people's hands.
This report is provided by a board of visitors. I will say who these visitors are because this will be relevant to something I have to say later on. The board consists of 12 members of whom four are appointed by the State, three by the Royal Irish Academy and five by the Royal Dublin Society. The reason why the academy and the RDS are represented on this board of visitors is an historical reason. I cannot claim to speak for the RDS but I have the honour to be a member of the academy and I can tell the House—some Members may already know it—the reason why the academy has a status in the museum's affairs. It is because the core and nucleus of the national collections in the museum originally came from the academy. The academy ceded these collections to the National Museum when it was first set up and an arrangement was made which had legal force in 1881 between the Department of Science and Art, as it was then called, the Commissioners of Public Works and the RDS and the academy, which provided for this board of visitors with the representation that I have described. In other words, the RDS and the academy are not simply busybodies when it comes to the museum's affairs; they have a legal right and a legal duty to take an interest in it. That duty is actually spelt out by the agreement of 1881:
The duties of the board of visitors shall be to make annual reports to the Department on the condition, management and requirements of the Museum and to advise on points affecting the administration and a copy of such report shall be laid before the Parliament by the Department.
They are not, therefore, just busybodies; they have a serious public duty in this regard and, as I shall show the House, they have been treated, in their attempts to perform that duty, with very little attention or respect by the Department to which they are in the first place responsible.
I am sorry if the nature of the case and my own temperament lead me to sound aggressive or offensive in dealing with this topic. Let me say, before I detail some of the deficiencies in the arrangements of the museum, that a genuine hope is entertained by the people who work in the museum that the present Minister will be, in this regard, an improvement on his predecessors. He is the first Minister that I know of who has taken the trouble to come and talk to the museum staff. That may seem a small thing but it is something to which the museum staff attach importance and for which they are grateful. So far as I have been able to discover they entertain strong hopes that this Minister will take more of an interest in the museum than his predecessors have done. I say that in order to reassure the Minister that the criticisms which I shall voice are not directed at him personally but are simply directed at the policy of the Department which he now leads over the years and for which in some measure his predecessors must take responsibility.
I propose to deal as briefly as I can with aspects of the museum arrangements which the report criticises, and in dealing with this report I will have to advert to another and far more comprehensive report on the conditions in the National Museum of Ireland compiled by the National Museum branch of the Institute of Professional Civil Servants in December, 1969, and which I have reason to believe is in the Minister's possession or procurement as I understand that a copy was sent to him or to his Department. This is a far more detailed report than that of the Board of Visitors. I intend with the Seanad's permission to refer to it frequently because I am not a museum expert and I am doing my best to represent in as public a place as I have access to the point of view of those who are museum experts.
One of the main difficulties and grievances with regard to the museum is shortage of staff. The present establishment—by which I mean the present number of staff officially provided for —in the keeper and assistant keeper grades, in other words in the senior professional grades, is smaller than that which was recommended by a commission of inquiry set up by the first Government in 1927. In that year not at all as much was expected from the National Museum as is expected today. The possibilities of the National Museum for supplementing the educational efforts of the schools were not as fully understood then as they are now. Dependence on the museum for advice in regard to industrial design or planning was not as fully comprehensive in 1927 as it is now. The crucial part the museum can play not merely in the purely educational but in the industrial and economic spheres was not understood in 1927 as fully as it is now. Nonetheless that commission of inquiry 43 years ago recommended an establishment in the National Museum of keeper and assistant keeper grades substantially higher than that at present in operation.
Even the establishment which at present has official force has at no time within the last ten or 15 years been up to strength. There have been occasions when that establishment, defective though it is, was very much under strength. I have to say in this regard that while vacancies in the assistant group to which the reports of the visitors adverted in December, 1969, have since been advertised and I understand that the process of filling those vacancies has reached the interview stage and they may shortly be filled, I repeat that even when they are filled the establishment in the museum in the keeper and assistant keeper and assistant grades is far smaller than it should be. It is smaller than was thought proper 43 years ago when the duties and aims of the museum were nothing like as great or as widely understood as they are now and a fortiori are hopelessly insufficient in 1970.
One or two words in regard to the question of staff need emphasis here. I am citing for example one short paragraph from the Report of the National Museum Branch of the Institute of Professional Civil Servants:
Most aspects of Museum work call for experienced staff. Therefore, to carry out its functions properly the Museum must not only recruit but must also retain adequate professional staff. Not only should the five vacancies on the present establishment be filled immediately but it is estimated that the establishment should be increased by the creation of at least nineteen extra posts.
Now the question of staff is not simply a question of the number of people who are employed. They must be happy in their jobs, they must regard themselves as able to make their career and their vocation out of the museum and intend to stay there for a long period. A man in a job like that or in any kind of job which calls for independent scholarship and research is not going to be happy unless the conditions are ones in which it is possible for him to work, and if they are not he will certainly not be able to work to the best of his ability and will necessarily be on the look-out for some other job. This is something which has been happening in the museum over the years. People have come there, have stayed for a few years and gone away again. They did not make a fuss, they have not written to the papers or made speeches or caused trouble, but the reason that they went was that the conditions in the museum are impossible. I will say something about the working conditions by quoting from the Report of the National Museum Branch of the Institute of Professional Civil Servants, pages 8 and 9:
As study of the material is one of the prime functions of the Museum, proper facilities for this should be provided. Since the members of the Museum professional staff are the obvious and best-qualified persons to carry out this study, it follows that conditions in the Museum should be such as to attract the best and most suitable persons to undertake this work and to retain their services in the institution. The knowledge which is the fruit of Museum research must be won from the material itself. There is no shortcut to winning knowledge from the material. It will yield its quota of knowledge only by the protracted and patient study of a series of specimens in the light of experience built up over years of familiarity with it. This familiarity must extend, not merely to the material itself, but to its social, archaeological, botanical, zoological, geological or historical background, as the case may be, a familiarity to which again there is no short cut. It is imperative, therefore, that the persons carrying out research should be contented to look upon their career in the Museum as a permanent vocation. There can be no worthwhile programme of research if there are repeated changes of staff. The longer a person is in the institution, the more valuable he is to it.
The staff shortage, by which I mean the fact that the establishment is not up to strength, makes itself felt and is in turn affected by other conditions and other jobs which the museum is expected to carry out. One of these is the excavation of archaeological sites. One very important one which attracted a great deal of favourable attention was the work done by the museum staff in High Street, the site of the earliest city of Dublin, which is still going on and has been going on over, I think, the last four or five years. That makes heavy demands on the museum staff. I may cite page 25 of the civil servants' report——