Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 13 May 1993

Vol. 136 No. 4

Adjournment Matters. - Preservation of St. Helen's House, Booterstown.

Thank you for allowing me to raise this matter on the Adjournment. I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I ask the Minister to have St. Helen's House, Booterstown, preserved for the benefit of the State. This house has a distinguished history. It was formerly occupied by members of the aristocracy and other distinguished people. It is one of the finest Georgian houses in the borough and probably one of the finest in the country. In the past far too many of these houses have been lost along with the historical perspective we can gain from them. These days we lose much of our environment to progress. We should preserve our heritage. We have succeeded in restoring certain houses including Newbridge House in Donabate, Malahide Castle, Ardgillan Castle, Strokestown House, County Roscommon and Russborough House.

It is important that we ensure that the house is preserved, and it is a list A building at present under the 1991 Dún Laoghaire Development Plan. It is therefore an objective of the corporation as a planning authority to preserve both the structure and much of its interior, which is also listed. It is good to have this as a stated objective and it is important that the objective be achieved.

Large sums of money are raised by the national lottery, and a fraction of this money would go a long way towards preserving this building. The State might then be able to purchase it and lease it to Dún Laoghaire Corporation, with a view to opening it as a local museum. I ask the Minister to approach the present owners in order to find out what can be done about its preservation. I am not asking the Minister to spend money needlessly. In recent times there seems to be a lack of a coherent policy with regard to the way in which some of our lottery funds are being spent. Some small fraction should be targeted towards the development and preservation of our cultural heritage.

St. Helen's House is a fine building. I suggest the Minister should if at all possible visit it and see it at firsthand. St. Helen's Preservation Society has suggested that an area of the house could be utilised as the first Irish military museum. Ireland has no such museum to commemorate the valour of the Irish who fought in foreign lands. The history of these Irish soldiers is well researched yet it remains outside the reach of the public as there is no suitable location for its exhibition. This type of museum would attract many thousands of visitors throughout the year and St. Helen's would be an excellent location.

The Gough family who lived in St. Helen's for many years have a distinguished history. If the Minister visits he will be very impressed by the splendid garden which could be restored and would be an additional attraction. Restorations of this kind cost money but the cost would not be excessive. I thank the Minister for coming here and I hope he will repond positively to what I have said. I understand the Minister cannot give me a commitment this afternoon.

I am sure the Minister, Deputy Aylward, will have good news for you.

First I apologise for the unavoidable absence of the Minister of State, Deputy Dempsey. I thank Senator Cosgrave for raising this matter.

St. Helen's is an architecturally significant mid-18th century house set in landscaped grounds in the southern suburbs of Booterstown and is in private ownership. It is representative of a number of such properties in the city suburbs and is listed for preservation in the 1991 Dún Laoghaire Development Plan. The owners applied for planning permission to convert the property for use as offices. Permission was refused by Dún Laoghaire Corporation and was later refused on appeal by An Bord Pleanála. No further application has been made and the owners' intentions are not known.

In general, given limited State resources, the future of such privately owned heritage properties lies with appropriate use being found for the buildings which are compatible with conservation objectives. The State however contributes to the protection of such buildings not only by such measures as listing under the planning Acts but also by encouraging a conservation approach by providing generous tax relief incentives. For example section 19 of the Finance Act, 1982 provides for relief from tax in respect of the cost of the maintenance and restoration of buildings which are of significant scientific, historical, architectural or aesthetic interest and to which reasonable access is afforded to the public. I am glad to say that this year's recently published Finance Bill proposes to extend such reliefs to significant gardens also.

In exceptional circumstances the State has intervened directly in acquiring unique properties in order to preserve them as prime examples of our architectural heritage. The acquisition of Castletown House is a recent example. In the main, however, properties such as St. Helen's are best protected by remaining in private hands and put to appropriate modern use under the control of the Planning Acts and with the encouragement of the financial incentives I have outlined.

Unfortunately, I am not in a position to give a commitment to the Senator this evening. I will ask my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Dempsey, to take into account the points made by the Senator, to visit the property in the near future and do whatever is possible.