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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: July 15, 2009 @ 10:34 am

    It’s Payback Time: A Modest Proposal For The Bank

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    There’s an excellent letter in today’s Irish Times (see below) which struck a chord with yours truly. The letter-writer suggests that the Bank of Ireland hand over the old Parliament House on College Green to the State. He goes on to propose that the building become a museum in commemoration of the 1916 Rising and the Battle of the Somme.


    Former Houses of Parliament, now Bank of Ireland premises at College Green, Dublin (Photograph by Alan Betson, 2001)

    Not sure about the latter idea myself. As I understand it, the GPO may be getting turned into a 1916 museum. I’m all for recalling the Battle of the Somme, in which there were of course many Irish participants including, family folklore has it, an uncle of my own.

    But I love the Parliament House. It is a real pleasure to go there to conduct my own very modest (!) banking transactions. The letter-writer makes a good point when he says it would be an appropriate gesture for the  Bank to make at this time, given the State’s and the taxpayer’s generosity to the banking system in general, including Bank of Ireland.

    There is a dramatic story about Charles Stewart Parnell being driven through the city to the acclamation of a huge crowd. He stops the carriage on College Green and points to the Parliament House. The message was clear – we want to govern ourselves.

    Instead of just 1916 and the Somme, my own preference would be for a wider range of subjects in any museum or commemorative centre. Parnell himself and, of course, the great Henry Grattan deserve to be remembered. By the way, I believe Benjamin Franklin once visited the building.

    Alternatively, it could be used as a meeting-place for a North-South parliamentary forum and civic forum as envisaged in the peace process. Here’s the letter. Thank you, Mr Taylor.

    Madam, — When turning the pages of your edition of July 11th the illustration of the former House of Lords, a building still with us in great part, took my interest.

    The centenary of the 1916 Rising is a mere seven years away, and, regardless of whether the State will be able to afford it, it will be marked in some way, preferably with at least one significant act that will leave an enduring positive legacy.

    To this end, it would be a gesture of inestimable value if the Governor and Court of the Bank of Ireland were to vacate the former House of Lords and associated buildings, none of which are suitable for modern banking, and donate the lot to the State.

    The Board of Works and the National Museum of Ireland would be excellent stewards on behalf of the Government.

    The present and improving condition of the former Collins Barracks is testimony to the quality of their stewardship.

    I suggest that the first use of the premises in College Green under a new dispensation might be as a focal point for exhibitions and events around the centennial remembrances of 1916, both the Rising and the Battle of the Somme.

    Two significant events could be recalled in an iconic building and in the context of European history involving the Irish, the Germans, the French and the British. Later use of the building might be as a centre for the study of Irish history and culture in a world context.

    The bank is deeply indebted to our Government which has given enormous amounts of cash national assets to it to save the country from the dire consequences of its and other banks’ dealings.

    To acquire the buildings would be the first step, and, under the present circumstances of the bank’s obligation to the State, should be done at little or no cost. – Yours, etc,



    Dublin 5.

    Deaglán note: There are some useful links on the Parliament House here and here

    • Eoin says:

      Funny enough, I had the same idea about six months ago.

      There must be a price for these bank bailouts, and transfer of this historic building (and Lynch’s Castle in Galway, owned by AIB) to the State, should be part of the price.

    • An Fear Bolg says:

      I’m no commercial property expert but I expect that the building is so priceless that it’s worthless, if that oxymoron makes sense. There is probably no other potential acquirer other than the State so it would certainly be an opportune time for the Bank to get some good PR by handing it over.

      However I dread to think of the mundane uses that the current Government would put it to – such as a 1916 museum (do we need one? could our other museums not adequately fulfil the role?). Something creative would be good – preserve the thing and use it for a multiplicity of purposes – State receptions, official government functions, theatre and arts, public events. Farmleigh in town, for example.

    • Maurice O'Leary says:

      Given the way the banks sold many of their branches to property investors in order to finance the explosion in borrowing that was the boom, the chances are that it is owned by some syndicate rather than by BoI.

      What are the chances we end up owning it through NAMA?

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      I was suggesting that all corporate perks like Six Nations tickets etc should be raffled amongst taxpayers. It is true that something must be done to show willing.

    • Apparently the Taoiseach has said that he will sign any cheque to any amount to bail out the banks. Given that he has said as much, the banks will no doubt sit tight on their assets and there’s little or no chance of there being a handover of property as envisaged in the letter.

      I think also that to turn it into a museum would be too sterile a utillisation of such a building, unless there was a section in the museum dedicated to the gombeen men in the banks who sold our country’s future, the future for which the men of 1916 in Dublin and on the banks of the Somme and elsewhere, died. Those same gombeen men are living it large on fat pensions while the rest of us pick up the tab and the pieces.

    • james says:

      Fantastic idea. Good to see a bit of innovative thinking on a big scale

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      I’d rather see the crooks in politics, business, law and the professions held to account and sent to jail for what they’ve done rather than just handing over a building.

      I think before we get carried away with ourselves in planning celebrations for 1916 or 1922 or whatever, we, as a people, need to first-off have a long hard debate among ourselves as to the type of country we have created – one of the most corrupt countries in Europe.

      Until people in the ‘establishment’ start going to jail for what they’ve done there is little to hope that Ireland will ever provide the equality and accountability her founding fathers aimed for.

      Depressingly, there is not even the slightest sign that this will ever happen. In the US we see Madoff in jail, as is Stanford, and the Govenor who tried to get a dig-out for Obama’s former Senate seat is gone and barred from public office for life! To name just three.

      Yet, in our little banana republic; no priest or nun or state official or minister has gone to jail for their role in torturing children and/or defrauding the state.

      Would the ghosts of Grattan or Parnell or Emmet or Edward FitzGerald rest easy knowing they’d have to share space with the likes of Bertie or Biffo. I think not.

      Fianna Fáil lacked both the breeding and the grace to buy Carton House. So it’s more likely one of their builder mates will get to turn BOI College Green into apartments before an Irish government shows it can step up to the mark with such landmark buildings.

      However, as always these arguments come right back to the Irish people who cast their votes to elect the gombeens who make such bad decisions on these and other matters in the first place.

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