I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Cuirim fíor-chaoin fáilte roimh an Aire Ealaíon, Spóirt agus Turasóireachta. Bímse agus an tAire ar aon aigne faoi a lán rudaí ó am go ham. Tá a fhios aige go bhfuil roinnt mhaith suime agam i gcuid bheag dá Dháilcheantar. Tá a fhios aige fós gur féidir linn aontú faoi rudaí ó am go ham, ach ní fios cad a déarfaidh sé inniu.
I thank the Minister and the Government for facilitating this debate in Government time. I particularly thank the Leader and Deputy Leader of the House, Senators O'Rourke and Dardis, respectively, and various colleagues on both sides of the House who have expressed an interest in something that to many people might seem obscure but which is, in fact, a significant issue. It is the type of issue with which the Oireachtas, in conflict mode, would never get around to dealing but with which the Seanad, in slightly more reflective mode, should be able to deal.
This Bill is not some type of esoteric undertaking but is part of the way modern and democratic societies organise themselves. Like many things in modern society, its roots lie in a very ancient tradition. I am intrigued by the fact that countries as ancient as the United Kingdom and as modern as the Republic of South Africa both consider it necessary to have heraldry Acts, a state herald and a bureau of heraldry. We like symbols; they express our identity. There is a skill and a good deal of artistry involved.
The idea of recognising heraldry and of giving it only under regulated conditions is ancient. The first record of a herald of arms for Ireland dates back to 1382, more than 620 years ago. The office of Ulster King of Arms which, peculiarly, became the awarder of arms in Ireland was established by King Edward VI in 1552. Some people might, somewhere in our hearts, have reservations about his jurisdiction to make such decisions even then — it took a long time to sort out that issue — but he was the legal authority at the time. He even noted it in his diary on 2 February that year.
The Ulster King of Arms, the first of whom was a Bartholomew Butler, persisted in that role from 1552 until 1941. Nobody is sure where the use of the term "Ulster" came from; it does not relate to the province but is an adjective that was used. The deputy Ulster King of Arms continued in office until 1943, when the powers were transferred from the United Kingdom to the State and the office of the Chief Herald of Ireland was established. That redoubtable figure in Irish literature and history, Dr. Edward MacLysaght, was the first Chief Herald of Ireland.
Why tell the history? When something's origins are buried in the mists of history, questions of legalities can arise. The problem is that the transfer of the office of arms to Irish control was done without any legal enactment. There was considerable concern about that. That concern persisted. The records and the office were transferred but the legislative basis for this is murky, at the least, and, in the opinion of some, unsustainable. Attempts were made to resolve the problem in the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997, which was introduced by my esteemed colleague, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, who was Minister at the time. Without casting aspersions on the current Minister's distinction, he was one of this Minister's more distinguished predecessors.
The provision in that Act states:
(1) For the avoidance of doubt, it is hereby declared that the Genealogical Office is a branch of the Library. [That is, the National Library].
(2) The Board shall, from time to time as occasion requires, designate a member of its staff to perform the duty of researching, granting and confirming coats of arms and such member shall use the appellation Chief Herald of Ireland or, in the Irish language, Príomh-Aralt na hÉireann while performing such duties.
The Genealogical Office is declared to be a branch of the National Library but the Genealogical Office is not founded in legislation anywhere. The body does not have a legislative or legal basis, or that is the argument. This is not just esoteric; it relates to our heritage. This dates back to more than 600 years ago. It relates to how we deal with symbols, flags and the like.
The provision in the 1997 Act, on the basis of which the existing Chief Herald was established, was always questioned by people involved in specialist genealogical services. However, in 2002 a report appeared in the newspapers and it has not, to my knowledge, been contradicted. It stated that the Attorney General had advised the Minister in June 2002 that there was no legislative basis for courtesy recognition of the Gaelic chiefs. He went on to state that there was no legislative basis for the granting of arms by the Chief Herald on behalf of the State. That is the reported advice of the Attorney General. I am familiar with the rigmarole that it is not practice to disclose the advice of the Attorney General but the fact that the report has not been contradicted suggests there must be some truth in it. We are, therefore, in a peculiar legal quagmire.
Why should that matter? It leaves open the possibility that arms which have been issued, including those of many organisations, are open to legal misuse and abuse. It leaves open the question of whether the issue of arms is copyright. I have made the point, a little mischievously but without attempting to distort, that if there is no proper and enforceable legal protection for the issue of arms, the coat of arms of Uachtarán na hÉireann, for example, could be used by somebody who opens a lap dancing club, calls it "The Presidents" and uses that coat of arms as an emblem of the club.
If the legal basis is as seriously non-existent as I am told, this issue raises fundamental questions. It is part of what we need to do to guard our heritage. This Bill is an attempt to respond to that uncertainty and to give the matter proper legal footing. I am not optimistic. I read the Minister's dismissive response to questions raised by a Member of the other House saying that since the board of the National Library of Ireland had not informed him of any deficiencies, there are none. I imagine the board of the National Library of Ireland has a long list of matters to deal with and that a matter such as this, which is to do with the legislative base of the protection of a specific part of our heritage, would be a matter for Government. It would be interesting if the Minister asked the board its opinion and how it felt the interpretation of others in this area differs from its own. It would be interesting if he asked the board members in confidence how they feel the Attorney General's advice can be reconciled with their apparent willingness to accept the situation.
I have often sat in this House going through long Bills section by section with Ministers. The House will be spared that because I do not have time to go through the entire Bill. It contains 40 sections, six Parts and three Schedules. It is appropriate to mention the sections of the Bill. The Bill has a long list of objectives, including the regularisation of the delivery of the services, which is not being done, and performs a variety of functions, including the establishment of the office of arms with a firm legal basis, assigning responsibility for the management, control and administration of the office of arms within the National Library, providing for the granting of arms, which we are told the Attorney General has advised may not be legally grounded, and providing for copyright matters because without a clear and unambiguous position on copyright of arms, they can be copied, thus undermining the purpose of the issue of unique arms.
The Bill also aims to give a less expensive method of granting arms, give Príomh-Aralt na hÉireann responsibility for the overall policy and delivery of such services, provide retrospective confirmation of grants of arms issued since 1943, establish a new register of emblems and provide for such and provide for the appointment by licence of heraldic and vexillogical agents. Vexillology relates to flags. Even Senator Norris was defeated by that word.