Why the National Museum will benefit from Seanad relocation

Suggestions of a ‘grab’ are inaccurate – integrity of museum will be protected

The Houses of the Oireachtas will fund an area for use by the National Museum as a public exhibition space and funds will also be made available for the construction of a lift. Photograph: Alan Betson

The Houses of the Oireachtas will fund an area for use by the National Museum as a public exhibition space and funds will also be made available for the construction of a lift. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Leinster House, the home of Dáil and Seanad Éireann, is the building most synonymous with politics in Ireland.

Many who pass by its gates do not realise how old it actually is. In 1745, the Earl of Kildare, James Fitzgerald, commissioned the building of it as his private residence.

After the establishment of the Free State in 1922, the government secured a part of Leinster House for parliamentary use. The entire building was acquired by the State in 1924.

I am including this information not by way of a history lesson but rather to provide some context against which we, the current custodians, are embarking on a major conservation project of the old Georgian house.

Over the last 270 years there have been many changes to the occupancy of Leinster House. Generations of politicians have served there, thousands of staff have worked here and hundreds of thousands of visitors have passed through the gates.

The wear and tear on the fabric of the house has become evident and initial conservation steps have been taken to protect it. However, there is now an urgent need to address structural and architectural issues in order to meet the longer term conservation needs and protect it for future generations.

These works will impact on all who work here and will require the building to be vacated for around 18 months.

The next stage in this project is the temporary relocation of the Seanad chamber. Moving a parliamentary chamber is a complex task and when identifying a suitable temporary venue a number of criteria must be met.

Ceramic Room

Firstly, the size of the temporary chamber must be large enough to accommodate sittings of the Upper House, support staff, the public and members of the media.

Secondly, it needs to be close to the existing chamber so that members can continue to carry out other parliamentary duties.

Thirdly, cost is a consideration. In this respect, there is a significant cost advantage in relocating to a space within immediate proximity as services can be shared rather than replicated. Finally, access and security are also important.

Using these criteria, internal and external options were examined including the Dáil chamber. All of the various location options were eliminated for real and practical reasons.

We then turned to the option of temporarily relocating to a space within one of our neighbouring institutions on Kildare Street. The Ceramic Room in the National Museum, which has previously been used for a range of functions, was identified as the most feasible and cost-effective solution.

In September, we met with representatives of the National Museum and, following positive and constructive discussions with the board and the director, we can now begin planning for the temporary relocation of the Seanad chamber.

We are, therefore, extremely grateful to them and their staff for facilitating this temporary relocation and are committed to ensuring that the integrity of the museum will be maintained and respected at all times.

It is important to note that the suggestion that a ‘grab’ is taking place is inaccurate. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. This decision was reached through dialogue, negotiations and agreement between all parties. Nothing else.

It is also untrue to suggest that there will be interference with the structural integrity of the building due to the construction of a temporary link. A steel door, previously concealed behind a partition, was uncovered, thereby providing a physical link between the two buildings.

The spirit in which we negotiated with the National Museum was founded on the ideal that we would contribute positively to the legacy of any space we temporarily used. As custodians of a Georgian building ourselves, we fully appreciate the sensitive approach which must be taken when upgrading the fabric of a building of that age.

Exhibition space

As part of the agreement reached, the State will fund the upgrading and refurbishment of the Ceramic Room itself. In particular, the Houses of the Oireachtas will fund an area for use by the museum as a public exhibition space and funds will also be made available for the construction of a lift.

This facility will make public access to upper areas of the museum easier and will be of significant long-term benefit to all visitors. The cost of these works will be set through a public tender process.

We have also assured the museum that the Ceramic Room will be available to it for seminars and lectures when the Seanad is in recess.

The Houses of the Oireachtas has always enjoyed excellent relations with our neighbouring cultural institutions and we sincerely appreciate the cooperation of the board and director of the National Museum in relation to this important conservation project.

We are committed to working with them to ensure that the integrity of the National Museum is protected and that real benefit accrues to it from the temporary relocation of Seanad Éireann.

Protecting our architectural heritage is vitally important and when the restoration of Leinster House is completed, we look forward to welcoming the public, who are the ultimate custodians of our national parliament, to Leinster House for many more years to come.

Peter Finnegan is clerk of Dáil Éireann

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