Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 4 Dec 1929

Vol. 13 No. 5

National Monuments Bill, 1929—Report Stage.

I move amendment 1:

Section 2. After the word "which" in line 9, page 3, to insert the word "only."

When we had this Bill before us on the last day, I directed my remarks principally to Section 24. When I came to look at the section, I saw that the whole weight of it depended on the definition of "archæological object" which is given in Section 2. I think there are very strong reasons why my amendment should be inserted. I have examined the definition, as it stands, very carefully. Having done so, I came to the conclusion that, as far as I was concerned, I could make no sense out of it. I presume the House will agree that an archæological object must be archaeological. The meaning of the word "archæological" in the dictionary is "archaic" or "very old." I take it the House intends that the object of this Bill should be the preservation of the antiquities of the country. We see in the definition that the expression "archæological object" means any chattel. A chattel is a thing that can almost be anything. All sorts of things are described as chattels—cattle, horses, and so on. The definition speaks of "any chattel whether in a manufactured or partly manufactured or unmanufactured state which, by reason of its antiquity, or the archæological or historical interest attaching thereto." I want to draw the attention of Senators to the words "or historical interest." It does not say "and historical." Historical is not added to the antiquity. An historical object need not in the least be an archæological object, and an archæological object need not in the least be an historical object. There may be no history connected with it at all and yet you find the words in the definition "or historical."

I take it that the House never intended that the definition of "archæological object" should be in the words that we find in Section 2. I suggest that the words "or historical" in the definition destroy the effect of the words in front of them. The reason why we should be very careful in this matter is that if the crimes and iniquities of the kind described in a later part of the Bill are committed by any person and a conviction is recorded that person will be liable to a fine of £50 or six months' imprisonment or both. I can imagine a case coming before a judge where some one is accused of having done something or another to an archæological object. The judge turns to the definition which we are discussing and tries to make out what an archæological object is. He finds there the words "or historical." I submit that an historical object can be proved to be not an archæological object at all. In my opinion if the judge is to go by the definition which we find in the Bill he will come to the conclusion that he cannot give any decision in the case at all.

This definition requires to be very seriously considered by the House. The matter is so serious that, I think, we cannot come to a decision on it to-day. I personally cannot understand what the section means. I hold that some of the words in this definition make out an archæological object not to be an archæological object at all. It reminds one of the old joke: when is a door not a door? When it is ajar. I think this definition is nearly as bad as that. An archæological object need not be an historical object at all, and a historical object need not be an archæological object, and yet both are mixed up in this definition. I am not sure that the problem which this definition presents would be solved even by the insertion of the word "only". I think if the words "or historical" were deleted that the definition would be quite sensible. The definition would then read, "by reason of its antiquity or the archæological interest attaching thereto".

I also wish to draw the attention of Senators to the words in the definition "has a value substantially greater than its intrinsic value." If the object has not that value, then the Bill cannot deal with it at all. If the Bill is passed as it stands it will be impossible for anyone to sell any of these things, because their intrinsic value is taken away from them. The position, I submit, would be this: that no real archæological object, as described in this definition. can ever be acquired by the State and the Minister cannot interfere with it. As I have said, this Bill provides very heavy penalties. Those convicted of certain crimes under it will be liable to six months, imprisonment or a fine of £50 or both. Therefore, I say the Bill requires far more consideration than has been given to it. I suggest that more time should be given to the consideration of this Bill. The House can consider whether I am talking sense or nonsense. I am talking sense if there is a great deal of nonsense in this particular definition. Even if the House thinks that I am talking nonsense, I suggest they should take more time for the consideration of this Bill and think well over it before they vote for it.

The amendment is a perfect example of how inefficient talent without experience can be. I listened to Senator Jameson's attempt to disentangle the section. To a lawyer with less ability the construction is perfectly plain. It is meant by the definition of an archæological object to cover articles which are ancient, and articles which though not so ancient have historical value. The best way to find out what the meaning of the section is, is to imagine the example of the bell to which Senator Miss Browne referred as having been sold at Christie's some time ago. The St. Senan's bell from County Clare would be an archæological object by reason of its antiquity. It would be an object having a special value also by reason of its workmanship, and it would be an object coming within the definition by reason of its historical associations. Therefore, it would come within all three definitions. Take the Treaty Stone of Limerick. That is not very ancient, but it has great historical value. I am sure it has a value to the Irish people far above the intrinsic value of the stone. That is an object which would come within part three of the definition. I should say that it would be an archæological object not by reason of its antiquity, for it is only a couple of hundred years in existence. There may be a difference of opinion as to whether it is an archæological object, but it certainly is of historic interest. If either of these terms is struck out the Treaty Stone of Limerick would get no protection under the Bill.

I am opposed to the amendment proposed by Senator Jameson. The amendment says: After the word "which," in line 9, page 3, to insert the word "only." Here then is what the Senator means: "The expression ‘archæological object' means any chattel, whether in a manufactured or partly manufactured or an unmanufactured state, which only by reason of its antiquity or the archæological or historical interest attaching thereto has a value substantially greater than its intrinsic value." If that word "only" were inserted it would deprive of protection a good many works which are of interest on account of the excellent workmanship expended on them by Irish artists and by Irish hands. Let us take the Cross of Cong. That is of high value apart from its intrinsic value. It has high value because of its antiquity. If only one hundred years or fifty years old it would have tremendous value because of its workmanship. I do not think it is intended that an article of such workmanship as the Cross of Cong should be freely exported. Another argument used by Senator Jameson in which there is no substance is that if you prohibit the exportation of an archæological object it will at once lose all value except its intrinsic value.

Exportation or sale.


It seems to me that the necessary thing for an article to possess archæological value is that it must possess a value substantially greater than its intrinsic value. That is the guiding principle. Surely there are many archæological objects which would have no intrinsic value, and then they could not be archæological except they possessed a value greater than their intrinsic value.

What I understood Senator Jameson to say, and I shall be very glad to be corrected if I misunderstood him, was that if you prohibit the export of these articles they will at once lose all value except their intrinsic value. There is nothing in the Bill so far as I know preventing sale within the country of any object of archæological value. There is a prohibition as regards selling for export without the consent of the Minister. That is the only prohibition. Senator Jameson said that if you prohibit export the article will lose all value except its intrinsic value. I say not, because there are people in Ireland who would buy it and who would pay more for it than its intrinsic value by reason of the interest attaching to it. I urge the House not to accept the amendment.

In my opinion Section 24 should be deleted as it really does not belong to the Bill. I think that should be allowed to stand over so that a better section could be introduced. According to Section 24 it would be impossible for anybody to dispose of an archæological object except it is sold within the country, and that would entail great hardship in some cases.

We have not yet come to Section 24.


As one amendment is connected with the other, I allowed Senator Jameson to take the two.

I am quite sure the Minister will not agree with the suggestion of Senator Guinness. If it is desirable to have a year's free sale of archæological objects of all kinds you might have a regular procession of tourists from America looking for these objects to export them from this country within the next twelve months. I am not affected by the argument of Senator Jameson, which seemed to concentrate on the definition of historical interest. Even without a close legal definition you can understand what is meant by its antiquity or archæological interest. "Historical interest" raises rather difficult questions, because you are not dealing with antiquities. You are not dealing with a hundred years back. Take articles of sentimental value, whose antiquity extends, say, to only 1916. I am not urging that even these shall be exported without licence, but I can see the difficulty of requiring from a person who has such an article in his possession that he has reported it to the Keeper of Irish Antiquities and seeks a licence for export of that article. The definition of "historical interest" ought perhaps to be found in the Bill.

On a point of order, there is no obligation on a person to report to the Minister.


That is not a point of order.

Section 23 says if any person finds——

If I have an object in my house which is of archæological interest because it has historical associations which may extend back only three years——

It is only the finder who is bound to report.

I will not argue with Senator Comyn, but I stand by my statement. An individual who is in possession of an article of sentimental value by reason of its historical interest must report the existence of these articles to the Gárda Síochána or the Keeper of Irish Antiquities. I think there is a certain difficulty in the term "historical interest," and while I would decry any freedom being given for the sale of these articles of historical interest for export I think it is too narrow in its meaning. It might be more clearly defined as having not merely historical interest but historical interest and some antiquity.

The real difficulty of the definition is that it contains the word "historical." The Parliamentary Secretary, in the Dáil, admitted that his object was to exclude from the purview of this Bill articles which were of purely artistic and cultural value as distinct from archæological or historical interest. He has done that, but he has kept in the word "historical." If that is kept in the word "only" ought to be added, for it would make it clear that articles like old silver and Waterford glass were excluded. I object strongly to the use of the word "historical." Unfortunately there is no amendment which meets the point, but it is such an important point, and is going to affect so many people in the country that I would urge on the House what Senator Jameson has proposed. I suggest that a week should be taken for the consideration of the matter to see if this definition could not be put in some form which would carry out the real object in view and at the same time not work out any injustice. Things may be of great historical value, such as manuscripts or papers, that do not relate to this country at all but relate to England, France or some other country. They are of historical interest, and is their export to be prevented? That was not intended. It is clear that the definitions have not been thought out.

I propose that consideration of the matter be postponed for a week to see if we could find a better definition. If this is carried as it stands, or if my amendment is rejected, a tremendous lot will depend on the debate on Section 24.

I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether it is the case that he is anxious in this Bill to exclude objects of vertu as distinct from archæological value?

If that is so, we have gone a good deal in the required direction.

Mr. Bourke

This definition has given us a good deal of trouble all through. As to the point referred to by Senator Brown, and other Senators, "historical" would include objects of other interest besides Irish. You might have something connected with Egyptian, Italian, or English history which would be equally excluded under this. I believe that if you adopt a hard and fast definition and say "things of purely Irish historical interest," then you may knock out things that have become of historical interest in Ireland although they were not manufactured here. The fact that at a particular stage in the history of the country we imported objects, say, from France or England, gives them a certain association with the country, and they are indicative of the state of culture here at that particular time. I would be glad if the Seanad held up the Bill for a week so as to enable us to arrive at a definition that would give more satisfaction. I realise that the section as drafted gives rise to a certain suspicion on the part of most people.

Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary would give us the opportunity of discussing the matter with him?

Report Stage adjourned until Wednesday, 11th December.