The Bill before the House today will fulfil another commitment in the Programme for a Partnership Government, 1993-1997. This, however, is not the first time such a Bill has been introduced in this House. Almost exactly 12 years ago, in June 1982, a Bill to establish a national heritage council received a second reading in Seanad Éireann but the Bill lapsed with the change of Government. The central purpose of that Bill was to create a semi-State body to take over the executive functions of the National Museum and of the Office of Public Works insofar as heritage matters were concerned. It would also have had advisory functions in certain aspects of heritage.
In 1988 the Government established a non-statutory National Heritage Council whose functions are mainly advisory although it has certain executive functions. The expressed intention at the time was to introduce legislation to regularise the position of the council, but this was never done.
This Bill proposes to replace the existing council with a statutory corporation which would also take over the functions of the Wiildlife Advisory Council appointed under section 13 of the Wildlife Act, 1976 as well as the functions of the Historic Monuments Council as provided for in the National Monuments (Amendment) Act, 1987. The Historic Monuments Council was, however, never appointed. The new Heritage Council will also be given an important responsibility for buildings of architectural importance in the ownership of public authorities.
Ba chóir féachaint ar an mBille seo i gcomhthéacs an pholasaí a bhí taobh thiar de bhunú na Roinne Ealaíon, Cultúir agus Gaeltachta. Is í m'aidhm ná go mbeidh cruthú pholasaí mar ról lárnach sa Roinn ach go ndéanfar dilárú ar chur i gcrích na bpolasaithe sin. Ar ndóigh, beidh ról tábhachtach ag an gComhairle Oidhreachta i gcruthú pholasaí oidhreachta. Ar an dtaobh eile, beidh mé ag dul i dtreo an díláraithe freisin agus, chuige sin, tá súil agam Bille Mhúsaem agus Leabharlainne a thabhairt isteach sa chéad seisiún eile. Sa Bille sin tá súil agam tuilleadh neamhspleáchais a thabhairt don dá Institiúid sin — Ard-Mhúsaem na hÉireann agus an Leabharlann Náisiúnta. Ar ndóigh, beidh Oifig na nOibreacha Poiblí ag coinneáil uirthi ag bainistiú an eastáit oidhreachta ach, mar is eol do Sheanadóirí, níl cúramaí polasaí uirithi a thuilleadh.
The word "heritage" has not been included in the title of my Department and perhaps that is just as well, as the word has become devalued by over use and inappropriate associations. It has become perhaps too closely associated with tourism as if it were no more than something to amuse foreigners — in a temporary and slightly cultural way — which comes out in early summer and goes back into hibernation in the autumn. This is not to belittle the contribution of tourism to our economy; it is important that the targets set in the National Plan are achieved so that jobs can be created and sustained. However "heritage" must be authentic and not just a romantic image of that which we think the tourists want to see. It means preserving and telling our own story in our own way so that we are seen to be interesting people living in interesting places of which we are proud and to which we welcome visitors. In the absence, until now, of a definition of what is meant by cultural tourism, it is important that it be understood in terms of empowering ourselves to know and respect our heritage, and thus become the more interesting people to visit.
Taking the word in its widest sense, "heritage"— or, more accurately, the Irish word "oidhreacht"— could be said to embrace all the work of my Department. In other words it is that which binds it together. It includes all those elements of Irish life today which have survived from the past and whose continuing survival into future generations depends on the attitudes and actions of the present. Ensuring the protection of the Irish heritage in all its aspects, and providing access to this heritage for all sectors of the population, are central planks of my policy. When we speak of heritage we are talking about something that is the heritage of all and of those yet to come.
Ach caithfear a bheith réadúil agus praiticúil agus feicim go mba cheart na cúramaí seo a roinnt suas de réir earnálacha. Mar shampla, le haghaidh na Gaeilge, tá Bord na Gaeilge ann agus, le haghaidh cúrsaí ealaíona, tá an Chomhairle Ealaíon ann. Dúnfar bearna na hoidhreachta le bunú na Comhairle Oidhreachta ar bhonn reachtúil.
I have created a small heritage policy unit in my Department and I will shortly strengthen it with the addition of three technical personnel; an archaeologist, and architectural historian and an ecologist. It will be the function of that unit to translate the advice of the Heritage Council into practical policy statements and legislative proposals as well as producing initiatives and ensuring that policy is implemented.
I acknowledge the excellent work of the existing National Heritage Council — notwithstanding its non-statutory status — particularly in its funding role and also when acting as a catalyst on a variety of specific issues affecting heritage. The National Heritage Council was appointed in 1988 and given the following tasks: to formulate policies and priorities to identify, protect, preserve, enhance and increase awareness of Ireland's heritage in the specific areas of archaeology, architecture, flora, fauna, landscape, heritage gardens and inland waterways; to promote among the general public an interest and pride in our heritage and to facilitate the appreciation and enjoyment of it; to work closely with and make recommendations to Government Departments, planning authorities, public bodies and State companies on all matters coming within the council's general area of responsibility, to ensure the co-ordination of all activities in the heritage field, to decide on the distribution of moneys allocated for heritage work subject to the approval of the Minister, and to decide on the priorities for such expenditure.
I know it has been a matter of concern to the existing council for some time now that its lack of a statutory footing has led to its role in policy formulation being limited to the point where it was coming to be perceived solely as a funding agency. This Bill will provide the necessary statutory basis for the council's functions, integrate the heritage advisory functions under one body and strengthen the council's role in relation to the protection of the architectural heritage in public ownership.
Is é ceartlár an Bhille seo ná comhairle reachtúil a bhunú ar a mbeidh daoine le suim, eolas agus cleachtadh acu i gcúrsaí oidhreachta. Beidh fo-choistí sonracha le bunú ag an gcomhairle agus beidh foireann agus airgeadú dóthaineach acu chun a gcuid dualgais a chomhlíonadh.
Complementary to its previously assigned functions, the new statutory council will have a special role in relation to buildings owned by a public authority and designated as heritage buildings under the provisions of this Bill. As well as advising me in the matter of buildings to be designated as heritage buildings, the Heritage Council could exercise a veto on the plans of any public authority to demolish, alter significantly or dispose of a heritage building, unless I or the Government agree with the public authority's plans.
In addition, the Bill provides for the dissolution of the Historic Monuments Council and the Wildlife Advisory Council and the transfer of those advisory functions to the Heritage Council.
Section 4 provides for the repeal of the legal provisions establishing the Wildlife Advisory Council and the Historical Monuments Council. These physical heritage advisory functions will now be integrated under one body, the Heritage Council.
Section 6 provides for the general duty of the council to propose national policies and priorities in relation to the physical heritage and sets out a number of specific functions of the council, to promote interest in the heritage and to co-operate with and co-ordinate the activities of State, public and private bodies in the area of the physical heritage.
Section 7 provides that the council may make recommendations to me, that they may make such recommendations public and requires that I respond to such recommendations within six months. Section 8 imposes a requirement on the council to respond to my requests for advice and information. Section 9 provides that I may, after consultation with the Government, and with the approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas, confer additional functions on the council relating to national heritage.
Section 10 is a special provision introduced to increase the protection of the State's built heritage by assigning an active role to the Heritage Council. The present Heritage Council, if it becomes aware of proposals affecting a building it considers to be of heritage value owned by the State, a statutory body or other State agency or local authority, may advise that authority in relation to such proposals but with no obligation on the authority to accept such advice. Under this section, buildings may be designated heritage buildings by me on the council's advice and the Government Department, statutory body or other State agency or local authority would be required to notify the Heritage Council of its proposals relating to such heritage buildings and would be prevented from carrying out a proposal contrary to the council's advice without Government agreement, unless my agreement to such a proposal or to a modified form of such a proposal was obtained.
Section 11 empowers the council to assist any persons on matters relating to the functions of the council, including making financial assistance available.
Section 15 sets out the circumstances as a consequence whereof the chairperson or any member of the council or of a committee of the council shall automatically cease to be a member of the council or committee, as the case may be. These circumstances include bankruptcy, imprisonment and failure to disclose a pecuniary or other beneficial interest in any transaction or dealings with the council.
Section 16 provides for the exclusion from membership of the council of Members of the Oireachtas and members of the European Parliament.
Section 17 requires that members of the council or of a committee of the council disclose to the council or committee, as the case may be, any pecuniary or other beneficial interest in, or material to, any matter which falls to be considered by the council or committee, as the case may be.
Section 18 provides for the council employing its own staff, consultants or advisers. The council will be required to ensure that an adequate proportion of its staff will be competent in Irish so that service may be given through Irish as well as English. This section also excludes from membership of the staff of the council Members of either House of the Oireachtas and members of the European Parliament.
Section 19 provides for a declaration of interests in land by prescribed staff of the council or by any prescribed person whose services are availed of by the council. It also provides that failure to make such a declaration, or the making of a false or misleading declaration shall be an offence carrying a maximum penalty on summary conviction of £1,000 and on conviction on indictment of £10,000.
Section 22 requires the council to submit a report in Irish and English to me within six months after the end of each year and provides that the council may publish the report.
Paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 of the Schedule provide for the appointment by me of a council consisting of a chairperson and not more than 16 ordinary members; for the period of office of such persons to be not more than five years, and that such persons may not serve more than two consecutive terms; for a gender balance in the appointment of members of the council, requiring that not less than seven shall be men and not less than seven shall be women and that persons appointed as members of the council shall have an interest in or knowledge or experience of the national heritage.
Paragraph 9 provides that the council may establish committees to perform certain functions, that it shall establish a standing committee on wildlife and a standing committee on national monuments, and that I may appoint three persons who are not members of the council to each standing committee. These latter committees effectively replace the Wildlife Advisory Council and the Historic Monument Council. The committees will be chaired by members of the council but may include persons who are not members of the council. It is envisaged that there will be a number of other committees and, in particular, one to oversee the Discovery programme, a systematic archaeological research programme commenced in 1991 and funded by the Heritage Council.
I hope that this Bill will be seen as part of the corpus of legislation which I have been bringing forward in this general area and that it will be welcomed by all sides of the House. This legislation has been promised for some time and I am very pleased to be able to introduce it. I look forward to hearing the Senator's contributions to this debate. Molaim an Bille don Teach.