Wednesday, 20 October 2004

Questions (47, 48)

Simon Coveney

Question:

149 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism to outline the unresolved problems related to official grants of arms in this jurisdiction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25261/04]

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Olwyn Enright

Question:

188 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he intends to fill the vacant position of Chief Herald of Ireland; his views on the fact that no grants of arms have issued since September 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25260/04]

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Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 149 and 188 together.

My predecessor appointed Mr. Brendan O'Donoghue, the director of the National Library of Ireland, to act as Chief Herald and genealogical officer. The position of Chief Herald became vacant when Mr. O'Donoghue resigned last year, pending the appointment of a new director. Arrangements for filling the post are in train. Regarding the issue raised by the Deputy, I intend to grant autonomous status to the National Library of Ireland under the provisions of the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997, with effect from 1 January 2005 if possible. I propose to activate section 13 of the 1997 Act, which specifies that the Genealogical Office will be confirmed as an integral part of the National Library of Ireland, at the same time. The board of the National Library of Ireland, to be established under the 1997 Act, will be required to designate a member of its staff to research, grant and confirm coats of arms. That member of staff will be known as the Chief Herald of Ireland. The Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism is in consultations with the acting director to explore options for resolving the current difficulties, pending the establishment of the new board.

Will the Minister explain the delay in appointing the new Chief Herald in the National Library of Ireland, given that the previous office holder retired in September 2003? I appreciate that the Minister has proposed new arrangements, but it seems to me that somebody could have been appointed in the interim. There are concerns that section 13 of the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997, to which the Minister referred, provides an inadequate legal basis for the granting of arms by the Chief Herald. The Attorney General has expressed serious concern that the 1997 Act may not be used as to do so would cause chaos. I understand it was proposed to enact a genealogy and heraldry Bill to provide a sound legislative basis for services and facilities relating to such activities in the State. Are there any such proposals in the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism? Will the Minister consider the introduction of such legislation?

The post of director of the National Library of Ireland became vacant in September 2003 following the retirement of Mr. Brendan O'Donoghue, who did a wonderful job. We then advertised the post through the Civil Service Commission. That was at the end of January this year, but the process did not result in an appointment. In that context, the salary for the post was not an issue. Several options are currently being explored with a view to filling the post in the context of the establishment of the National Library as a separate legal entity, as is proposed from 1 January 2005, should that prove possible. I am not aware of any difficulty with section 13. I have certainly not been given any legal advice to the effect that there is anything wrong with it. However, it may well be the case that Deputy Deenihan has separate information. I do not have such information.

Given that I read in the newspapers that there might be a legal challenge if this section were used, I suggest to the Minister that he take advice on it. Does he think it a good idea that the office of the Chief Herald should be combined with the office of Director of the National Library, or should they be separate functions? Regarding the legislation, might he consider introducing a genealogy and heraldry Bill to provide a sound legislative basis for the area?

Interestingly, the proposal to establish a separate genealogical office, which I think is what Deputy Deenihan is getting at, was examined relatively recently by my predecessor who was not convinced that a separate office was necessary or desirable. The need for the genealogical office to have ready access to the library material held in the National Library and governed by its working practices and standards points strongly to the maintenance of the genealogical office as a branch of the National Library. The continuance of that link also permits the genealogical office to access the library's administrative resources, obviating the need to provide additional staff and resources were the office to be established as a separate entity.

I am not aware of any difficulties with section 13 of the legislation. Few provisions in our legislation or anywhere else in the world might not be the target of legal challenge. There are cynics who feel that, if one pays enough, one can get any legal opinion.