Heather Humphreys told Beit art sale was a ‘done deal’

An Taisce calls for political intervention while Minister says she was not consulted

A spokeswoman  for Minister for Arts and Heritage Heather Humphreys said the Minister “was not consulted in advance and she had no role in the decision-making process” on the sale of the Beit paintings. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

A spokeswoman for Minister for Arts and Heritage Heather Humphreys said the Minister “was not consulted in advance and she had no role in the decision-making process” on the sale of the Beit paintings. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

The decision by the trust that runs Russborough House to sell valuable paintings in London to raise funds was presented as a “done deal” to Minister for Arts and Heritage Heather Humphreys, her spokeswoman has said.

The Alfred Beit Foundation has put the pictures, including works by Rubens, in Christie’s auctions. Two paintings by 19th-century English artist John Atkinson Grimshaw are to be sold on Tuesday and the others in sales in July.

An Taisce, the National Trust organisation, has called for “high level political intervention” in the controversy.

An Taisce heritage officer Ian Lumley said the matter should be prioritised by Ms Humphreys, along with Minister for Transport and Tourism Paschal Donohoe and Minister of State for Finance with responsibility for OPW Simon Harris.

“What’s going on in Russborough is an international scandal with a secret sale on top of that,” Mr Lumley said.

Ms Humphreys is expected to meet the chairwoman of the foundation, Judith Woodworth, former governor of The Irish Times Trust, late on Tuesday.

Not consulted

“She is very keen, therefore, to establish whether the Trust considered all possible options before taking the decision to proceed with the sale.”

An Taisce will host a press conference in Dublin on Wednesday to “discuss alternative plans” for funding Russborough, together with the Irish Georgian Society and UCD’s School of Art History and Cultural Policy.

Speakers will include the Chester Beatty Library’s former director, Dr Michael Ryan, and UCD’s Dr John Loughman, a specialist in 17th-century Dutch art.

Both the Irish Georgian Society and An Taisce’s representatives on the foundation’s board approved the original decision. They were former Irish Times journalist Robert O’Bryne (Irish Georgian Society), who has since stepped down, and Consuelo O’Connor (An Taisce).

TDs to meet

WicklowAndrew DoyleAnne FerrisStephen DonnellyBilly Timmins

“I’m eager to see Government take a leadership role in this,” Ms Ferris said. “There’s scope for the OPW to be involved in assisting the foundation in finding a solution to this.”

Mr Timmins said the Government should “step in” and called for Ms Humphreys to appear before the Oireachtas committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht to explain the Coalition’s policy.

“A fire sale of national paintings, decided with short notice and without a process of public consultation, does not enhance confidence in the proposal,” he said.

Mr Doyle expressed concern that the money raised would not be enough. “Will they go to the well again?”