'All I'm appealing for is people to give this a chance and see how it works'
Controversial plans to merge the boards of the National Library and National Museum will go ahead, says Minister for the Arts Jimmy DeenihanDespite all the controversy, Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan says he is pressing ahead with his plan to merge the boards of the National Library and National Museum to form an advisory council operating within his department.
It is part of a process of reorganising cultural institutions that he says will save €1 million, small change perhaps for some other departments but the Minister insists it is a lot of money when your total budget is €260 million.
“All I’m appealing for is people to give this a chance and to see how it will work,” he says in an interview at his office on Kildare Street, Dublin.
A native of Lixnaw, Co Kerry, he holds five senior All-Ireland medals in Gaelic football. The challenge for him is to show the same kind of leadership in his ministerial role that he displayed when, as captain of the Kerry team, he led the side to victory over Offaly in 1981.
“I was asked to carry out a review of all the boards under my jurisdiction – 12 in all,” he says. Following this request from the Government in November 2011, a reform unit was set up in his department.
“As regards the library and the museum, the proposal was to amalgamate the National Archives with the National Library and then to look at the board structures of the National Library and the National Museum.
“Having considered the report of the reform unit, and obviously having made some consultations myself, I decided that the National Archives should stay as it was – it’s working very effectively and efficiently.”
After that, he says: “I used the National Archives model or template for the National Library and the National Museum. We have a proposal to set up an advisory council similar to the National Archives Advisory Council.”
There are 16 members on the board of the museum and 11 members on the library board but the new council will have nine members. Fees will no longer be paid to members of boards or advisory councils in 12 organisations that are part of the reform plan.
Total amounts paid to boards for 2011 included: National Gallery, €52,881; National Museum, €102,991; National Library, €62,385; Culture Ireland, €56,858; and the Heritage Council, €49,377.
“We’re going to introduce legislation as well to strengthen the curatorial independence of the directors of both the library and the museum: I consider that very important,” the Minister says.
It hasn’t been smooth sailing for Deenihan: historian Diarmaid Ferriter resigned from the National Library’s board last May in protest at the amalgamation plan, while former director of the National Museum Pat Wallace described the proposal as “a very mistaken idea”.
The view expressed more generally by critics of the move is that it is a Civil Service coup to deprive these institutions of their independence.
However, Deenihan rejects this charge.
“That’s not the intention and when people see the legislation they will understand that it’s not the intention.
“I am aware of Diarmaid Ferriter’s concerns and I’m delighted he stayed on the National Archives Advisory Council: that would seem to indicate that he supports that form of governance.”