Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Ceisteanna (29)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

29. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the extent to which preservation or reconstruction works are in hand at various sites or buildings nationally with particular reference to the need to preserve such locations and buildings for posterity through education; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24295/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Culture)

This question seeks to ascertain the extent to which preservation or restoration works are in hand at various historical buildings or sites throughout the country, with a view to availing of every opportunity to make them safe, preserve them and make them available for tourism and educational purposes.

First, I will take this opportunity to say a herzlich willkommen und schönen Aufenthalt in Irland to the German delegation.

My role with regard to the protection and management of our built heritage is set out in the provisions of relevant legislation, as are the roles of local authorities and the responsibilities of owners.

As Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, I am the owner or guardian of almost 1,000 national monuments, ranging from prehistoric burial monuments to medieval fortifications and religious sites. Sites in my ownership or guardianship are maintained by the Office of Public Works. Conservation matters in respect of these sites are managed through regular liaison between the OPW and my Department, identifying condition issues and proposing appropriate conservation actions.

My Department provides financial support for the protection of heritage buildings and historic structures through the built heritage investment scheme and the historic structures fund, which are administered by local authorities. On 28 March this year I announced funding of €4.3 million to 478 projects under these schemes. Under the built heritage investment scheme 2019, Kildare County Council was allocated €79,000 to support 13 projects. These included the Church of Ireland in Kilberry; St. Michael's Church in Athy; Johnstown graveyard and church in Johnstown; Sean Chill in Donaghcomper in Celbridge; the Church of the Holy Saviour in Narraghmore; Ard Na Gréine, Canal View in Sallins; 7 Canning Place, Newbridge; Leixlip Boathouse; Pebble Hill House in Maynooth; Riverstown House in Kildangan; Grattan Vault, Tea Lane graveyard in Celbridge; Mill Cottage in Millicent South, Sallins; and Thatched Cottage in Thomastown. The total was €79,000. Under the historic structures fund 2019, Kildare County Council was allocated €25,000 to support a project at Newbridge College.

Educating young people about our heritage is fundamental to its preservation. To this end, the Heritage Council, funded by my Department, runs a highly successful heritage in schools programme, which aims to encourage greater awareness among primary school children of Ireland's rich heritage through engaging and stimulating visits to schools by a number of heritage in schools experts.

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive reply. Are moves afoot to identify sites that have missed out over the years and have become largely unknown in their localities? I refer to the importance of local history and the need to protect such structures and develop them archaeologically, perhaps with a view to excavation. I once had the opportunity to visit the rock of Masada and was very impressed with what had been done there. I think we can do a considerable amount here. I ask the Minister if we can look at the tapestry of historical sites and buildings throughout the country that seem to have been neglected over the years, notwithstanding the good work that has been done, with a view to encompassing them in a campaign for restoration.

I agree with the Deputy. We have to ensure that our national monuments are protected and preserved. As the Deputy knows, I am the owner or guardian of almost 1,000 national monuments ranging from prehistoric burial monuments to medieval fortifications and religious sites. Under the provisions of the National Monuments Acts, my Department has established and maintains the record of monuments and places. This affords legal protection to over 120,000 recorded archaeological sites and monuments in the State. Anyone proposing works to a monument that is included in the record of monuments and places must give my Department two months' prior notice before works can start. There are a number of mechanisms under the National Monuments Acts aimed at protecting Ireland's archaeological sites and monuments. They include any works to national monuments either managed by the OPW or those in the care of a local authority which require my consent under section 14. Two months' notice of any works to a monument which is included in the record of monuments and places must be given to my Department. Any excavation at an archaeological site can only take place under licence from my Department. For the Deputy's information, in 2018 there were 956 excavation licences issued.

Are any particular initiatives being taken to encourage the private sector where monuments or sites are in private ownership with a view to ensuring their preservation into the future and to ensuring such sites do not fade from memory? For example, a site in the middle of a forest may become extremely vague in so far as the local people are concerned. Measures might be put in place to ensure that such sites and locations are not lost forever with the passage of time. I suggest that we might initiate a particular programme of archaeological investigation and excavation to allow the present generation to avail of the benefit of such sites' existence and the knowledge that goes with it.

As the Deputy says, conservation and protection of our monuments is important, as is the enjoyment of those monuments in so far as we can enjoy them without jeopardising their structure. There is a fine balance there. In respect of supports, my Department provides financial support for the protection of heritage buildings and historic structures through the build heritage investment scheme and the historic structures fund, which are administered ultimately by local authorities. I announced funding of €4.3 million to 478 projects under these schemes. There is also the Heritage Council, which is funded by my Department and which runs a highly successful heritage in schools programme. That programme is about enjoyment for present as well as future generations. It aims to encourage greater awareness among primary schoolchildren of Ireland's rich heritage through engaging and stimulating visits to schools by heritage in schools experts. There was also an increase in visitor numbers to a castle in the Deputy's constituency last year.