I move: "That the National Monuments Bill, 1929, be read a second time." That the Bill is described as the National Monuments Bill rather than the more usual Ancient Monuments Bill is not without some significance. It stresses the point that the provisions of a measure of this kind should concern not merely the limited though happily daily increasing number of people interested in antiquarian learning and research but the nation as a whole. Apart from the preservation of the national language I think there is nothing more likely to conduce to the development of a strong and healthy national spirit in the country than an informed and intelligent interest in these memorials of the past. They stand like so many milestones and mark the advance of civilisation in our country from the remotest times down to the present day. In fact, in some respects an interest in these monuments should have a wider appeal than the language, because the language to a great extent perforce is confined to people inhabiting the country whereas the preservation of our monuments must be of some concern, not only to those inhabiting Ireland at present but to the Irish race spread all over the world, and as well as that, it is of interest to everybody who has any concern with the early development of European culture, apart from and independent of the levelling influence of Roman power, since Ireland is the only country in western Europe where such a development was enabled to take place.
At the outset I would like to make it clear that this Bill is not, and does not purport to be, the last word in ancient monument conservation as understood in countries where this science has been brought to the highest pitch—for example, in Sweden. There are two reasons for that. First of all, you cannot legislate effectively, particularly in matters of this kind, very far in advance of public opinion. Legislative measures of this kind must advancepari passu with a desire on the part of the people for such measures. As long as the attitude of a considerable portion of our population towards ancient monuments is one of regret that the Land Commission stands between the tenant and the historic castle, the stones of which could be so profitably disposed of for road metal, and the prehistoric mounds or raths which could be so usefully employed as top dressing, it would be very foolish to embark on legislation, based on the assumption of active and enthusiastic co-operation on the part of all sections of the public. Secondly, an elaborate code dealing with this matter would mean the setting up of elaborate machinery, and that would naturally entail a very large addition to the official staff for manning that machinery, and as a consequence a heavy additional charge on the Exchequer which would scarcely be justifiable at the present time, unless for some development that was likely to be immediately and directly financially productive. The Bill is in some respects conservative, and in other respects progressive, having an eye to future development of various kinds. The Bill is conservative in so far as its effective enforcement should go a long way to prevent any further diminution of our wealth of historical and archæological remains.
A great danger is to be anticipated from the clumsy and unscientific efforts at excavation by amateur archæologists. There is the danger that such inexperienced people, in their zeal to discover something new, may destroy the very thing which they are seeking. There is the danger that certain objects of very great archæological value, but perhaps not obviously so, such as prehistoric human remains, unique in some particular way, may pass unrecognised or be ignored, that objects of first rate national importance, when dated by the geological layer in which they were embedded, might prove of very little value when excavated without any scientific note being made of the circumstances under which they were discovered.
Then again, we are all aware of the fact that souvenir hunting tourists have played havoc with some of our most valuable archæological remains. In fact, the souvenir hunting vandal has left a trail of destruction behind him almost as wide as that of the iconoclast army or the pillaging mob. We have an example of that in Co. Tipperary in Holy Cross Abbey. In that Abbey was a sedilia, described as the most perfect piece of architectural work in Ireland. That sedilia is to-day but a shadow of its former glory as a monument not merely to the skill with which the craftsmen of the thirteenth and the fourteenth centuries wrought in Ireland, but to the lack of appreciation of that skill which persists throughout a large part of Ireland at the present time.
Then again we must bear in mind that, concurrently with the quickening of interest in archæological investigation all over the world, there has been a corresponding increase in the commercial value of the objects which have been discovered by such investigations, and the tendency is very much on the increase to market those objects in centres where they are likely to command the highest price, which is not always in their country of origin.
The Bill, so far as any legislative measure can, calls a halt to all those undesirable activities and ensures, as I have already stated, that there shall be no further diminution in our wealth of archæological and historical remains. Side by side with the conservative section of the Bill, we have the progressive side, inasmuch as the Bill gives very wide powers to a central advisory council and to local advisory committees to advise and assist the Commissioners of Public Works, and the various local authorities, in all matters dealing with the preservation of these monuments, and kindred subjects.
So much for the general scope of the Bill. I now proceed to explain as briefly as I can the present state of the law and the principal changes we propose to make by this Bill. The first point is the definition of a national monument. At present the Board of Works and the local authorities are only able to deal with monuments which are either ancient or mediæval. When mediæval times stopped and modern times began is, I believe, a point much disputed in the history schools, but at any rate we are barred at present from dealing with eighteenth century buildings as national monuments. That disability we propose to remove by the definition in Clause 2 of the Bill; anyone who reads it will see that it is fairly wide.
The second point is the powers of the Board of Works and the local authorities, respectively, to acquire the property in national monuments, or alternatively to become guardians of such monuments without acquiring them. The present position is rather complicated. The Board of Works may purchase a monument by agreement, not by compulsion; they may also accept a monument by way of gift or legacy; and they may become guardians of a monument with the consent of the owner. A county council may accept a monument by way of gift or legacy; they may not purchase; and they may not become guardians, but they may prosecute anyone who injures a monument within their territory. We propose to enlarge the powers both of the Board of Works and of the county councils. We propose to give the Board of Works the power to purchase by compulsion, but only with the consent of the Minister for Finance; this provision is in Clause 11 of the Bill. We propose to give the county councils the power to become guardians of a monument; and we also propose to give the present and the new powers of the county councils to borough councils and urban district councils, as we think that in boroughs and urban districts where interesting ancient monuments exist the local council may well take a more special interest in them than the county council would take.
I now come to an innovation of some importance, which is, however, already the law in Great Britain and in Northern Ireland—I mean the provision about preservation orders in Clauses 8, 9, and 14. If the Minister for Finance is advised that a national monument which is private property is in danger of damage or destruction he may make a preservation order, of which the effect is that the owner as well as everyone else is prohibited from injuring the monument, and that the Board of Works may, if they think it expedient, appoint themselves guardians of it, and take steps to preserve it without the owner's consent. Every such order must be laid before each House of the Oireachtas, and must be annulled if a resolution against it is passed by either House.
There are three other new provisions which we expect to be useful for the preservation of national monuments, two in Clause 14 (1) (b) and (c), by which it is forbidden to make excavations near a monument. and also to export any such monument or any part of it, and one in Clause 16 which gives power to control burials. The indecent and, indeed, appalling spectacles due to burials in overcrowded graveyards in and about ruined churches are a frequent occasion of complaint, and we hope to do something to diminish that evil.
A very important provision is that in Clause 19 which establishes an advisory council to give skilled advice on archæological matters to the Board of Works. The Commissioners of Public Works are, of course, not specialists in archæology, and their Inspector of Ancient Monuments is primarily an architect and not an archæologist; it is important, therefore, that they should receive advice and guidance from specialists.
Powers are also given to the county and town councils, by Clause 20, to set up advisory committees of skilled persons; and this should be a very useful measure.
Now I come to that part of the Bill which deals with movable objects of archæological interest, and here we are on new ground altogether, for up to the present there has been no legislation whatever in the Saorstát to control the freedom of dealing in archæological objects. There is, of course, the law of treasure trove, but the purpose of that law is not the preservation of the remains of antiquity, though it may be incidentally useful for that purpose.
In this Bill we make two provisions for the preservation of movable objects of archæological interest. The first, in Clause 21, enacts that every person who finds such an object shall report the find to the Gárda Síochána; in this way the National Museum authorities will get early information. This provision is on the same lines as the existing law in Northern Ireland. The other provision, in Clause 22, prohibits the export of any archæological object except by licence from the Minister for Education. This is a new provision; I believe there is a similar enactment in Italy protecting valuable pictures, but there is no precedent in Great Britain or Northern Ireland.
Finally I should like to mention a general provision which is important for the protection both of movable and immovable objects, that is the prohibition in Clause 23 of excavating for archæological purposes except with a licence from the Board of Works. Such a licence would, of course, be granted only to competent archæologists. Unskilled excavation has in the past been responsible for the destruction of an immense number of valuable archæological objects both movable and immovable.
These are all the points which it seems necessary to touch upon now. I think that this Bill, if the Oireachtas passes it, will enable the Government to make a distinct advance in the preservation and protection of national monuments and archæological objects.