Business of Seanad

Before I call the Leader, I want to update Senators on developments in regard to the temporary relocation of the Seanad Chamber to the Ceramics Room of the National Museum. A lot of people have concerns, and some Senators have raised the matter in the House.

It is important to stress at the outset that the need for the Seanad Chamber to move temporarily arises because much-needed essential work has to be done to the historic part of Leinster House. We have been asked by the Office of Public Works, OPW, to relocate to facilitate work on this building and other buildings such as the old offices of the Cathaoirleach and Ceann Comhairle which have already been vacated.

Leinster House is 270 years old and is badly in need of refurbishment, and we have a duty to maintain it properly. I am glad to say that final agreement has been reached with the National Museum on the arrangements for the temporary relocation. The location of the temporary Chamber was not chosen lightly, as some people may think and as public perception may be. A wide range of locations were considered, including Dublin Castle, the Mansion House, the Dáil Chamber, committee room 1 and local cultural institutions. In fact, a total of 13 venues were exhausted before the decision was made.

Account had to be taken of key criteria such as security, accessibility for Members, adequacy of space, access to technical and support services, the impact on core parliamentary activities, such as committee meetings, accessibility for visitors and, of course, cost.

Taking all of these into account, the museum was identified as the most suitable option and approved by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. Naturally, the museum had a number of concerns about the relocation and I am pleased that we have been able to find practical ways to meet its needs. Additional exhibition space and an AV room will be developed. A lift to allow universal access will be installed in the museum; alarm systems will be upgraded and financial assistance for project management provided. It has also been proposed that the Ceramics Room be available to the museum for seminars and lectures when the Seanad is in recess.

Last week the Ceann Comhairle met staff of the museum and, in order to promote relationships further, a forum involving the Houses of the Oireachtas and the neighbouring national cultural institutions will be set up. Last week the Committee on Procedure and Privileges agreed that a visit to the Ceramics Room should be organised for group leaders and Whips and that visit will take place tomorrow. Because of the fact that Senator David Norris is in a certain vacuum, he is also invited to take part.

A detailed briefing by the OPW in the AV room is also being organised for all Senators.

I pay a sincere tribute and give thanks to the board of the National Museum of Ireland and its staff for their co-operation with the project and in being neighbourly in allowing it to go ahead. I greatly appreciate the flexibility and pragmatism they have shown and look forward to maintaining the excellent relations that have developed between us in the course of our discussions.

I am not allowing any debate on the matter. I just wanted to confirm that agreement had been reached, which is hugely important. I emphasise that we have no choice but to vacate the Chamber. This issue has been ongoing for some years and I am delighted that an agreement has finally been made. A press release was organised for last week by the Houses of the Oireachtas and the National Museum of Ireland but, because of certain events in other parts of the world, it went unheeded and seems to have been neglected. I hope the visit tomorrow to the museum and the briefing in the AV room will help to put a lot of issues to bed.

I seek clarification.

I would like to ask a question.

No. I have made a statement and we will now move to the Order of Business.

Will the Cathaoirleach give a guarantee that when the works are completed, the museum will be vacated?

That has already been done. I am not allowing any further debate on the matter. I took a risk in making a statement.