Aosdána criticises handling of ‘Star Wars’ filming

Group calls for new protections for heritage sites following Disney’s use of Skellig Michael

Poet Paddy Bushe, sculptor Imogen Stuart and painter Maria Simmonds-Gooding  at the Aosdána general assembly at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in Dublin. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Poet Paddy Bushe, sculptor Imogen Stuart and painter Maria Simmonds-Gooding at the Aosdána general assembly at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in Dublin. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

The proposal that Disney’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens should film on Skellig Michael was made without reference to the Office of Public Works (OPW) and imposed through pressure from the highest levels of Government, the members of Aosdána have been told by Kerry poet Paddy Bushe.

At its assembly in the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, Dublin, on Wednesday, the organisation of artists, writers and musicians unanimously passed a motion calling on the incoming government to take measures to ensure heritage sites in the care of the State are treated “primarily as places to be preserved with their character intact for the public and for future generations, and not as commodities for commercial exploitation”.

It called for “open and transparent consultation with all interested and relevant individuals and bodies” before permission to film on heritage sites is granted in the future, and requested that consideration be given to the re-establishment of a body with explicit heritage protection functions.

“This motion is not about whether or not physical damage was caused, could have been caused or will be caused to either the built or natural heritage of Skellig Michael by the filming of Star Wars,” said Mr Bushe, who proposed the motion, along with sculptor Imogen Stuart.

“It is not about summarily prohibiting filming on Skellig, or any other national monuments, by Star Wars or any other high-budget film enterprises. It is not about cultural elitism as opposed to cultural populism.

“It is about trying to ensure that the cultural, built and natural heritage of this Republic, whose guardianship is vested in the government and public agencies of this Republic, is in safe hands.”

Mr Bushe said questions about safeguarding the built and natural heritage of Skellig that had been put to the OPW and the Wildlife Service were referred to The Irish Film Board, which was neither qualified to answer them nor the relevant body.

“Either those agencies were abdicating from their responsibilities, or, more likely, they were pressured to refer the questions,” he said.

“Even those who may be in favour of Star Wars on Skellig can surely agree with what this motion asks for in relation to something very precious to all of us,” he told the assembly.

General assembly

Aosdána members meet annually in the general assembly to elect new members, to review the affairs of the organisation and to discuss the position of the artist and the arts in society.

This year’s meeting included a debate on the role of libraries, as well as motions commemorating the leaders of the Easter Rising and calling for new standards in public architecture competitions.

An emergency motion was also passed criticising an exhibition in St Stephen’s Green that contained a panel stating that Constance Markiewicz had shot and killed the unarmed Constable Michael Lahiff during the Rising.

Writers Deirdre Kinahan and Little John Nee, along with composers Colman Pearce and Bill Whelan, were elected as new members, bringing Aosdána’s total membership to 250.