Minister for Arts and Heritage Jimmy Deenihan has welcomed a “significant partnership” between the State and the Bank of Ireland to create a new cultural and heritage centre in the old Parliament Building on Dublin’s College Green.
However, it is clear that what is being proposed falls well short of Mr Deenihan’s initial idea that the bank should hand over the entire complex for conversion to cultural use, as part of a plan to transform College Green into something like Rome’s Piazza Navona.
Just over 650 sq metres – less than 10 per cent of the overall floorspace – is to be made available to the State for a 10-year period. The bank will cover the cost of refurbishing and managing the centre, which is to be fitted out and run by Mr Deenihan’s department.
Previously used as office space but currently unoccupied, it will have its own entrance from Westmoreland Street via the old House of Lords portico, which was designed by James Gandon. The House of Lords, with its Williamite tapestries, is already open to the public.
As the 10-year licence coincides with the current “Decade of Centenaries”, it is envisaged that exhibitions at the new cultural and heritage centre will focus on key events up to the centenary of the Civil War, which led to the creation of modern Ireland.
An expert committee drawn from the national cultural institutions and other city institutions is to be set up to to advise the Minister on a programme of exhibitions and events at the centre, focusing on the social, economic and political events of the period.
Welcoming Bank of Ireland’s decision to make the space available, Mr Deenihan said he was “delighted that [it] will deliver a public cultural and heritage centre at the heart of the College Green buildings” and thanked the bank for “strongly supporting this initiative”.
Bank of Ireland chief executive Richie Boucher said it recognised its role as “custodians of the bank’s own history and heritage”, including the very important role that its College Green building had played in Ireland’s history from the time it was built in 1730.
Commenting on the impact on Bank of Ireland’s banking operations in College Green, a spokeswoman said that it “won’t impact on the day-to-day activities of the branch”, which the bank has long regarded as its “flagship” in Dublin.
She said a planning application would be made “reasonably soon” for the new cultural centre, following discussions with the Department of Arts and Heritage on the type of facility required. At present, the space being made available is used only for storage.