The former director of the National Museum says staff are so upset about the impending arrival of the Seanad to the building that they have been “weeping”.
Pat Wallace said this was a second attempt by the Minister for the Arts Heather Humphreys to "grab" at the National Museum.
The Upper House has been forced to find a new location while Leinster House undergoes repairs in the years ahead – much of the work will focus on the Seanad chamber and its ante-rooms.
Mr Wallace said he was very concerned about the idea of the Seanad moving into one of the wings on the first floor of the museum. He said the move would affect its lecture theatre, education reception area, along with its ability to allow children to touch artefacts.
“The programme of education will have to terminate, and the staff will have to be accommodated elsewhere in the building,” he said.
“Apart also from the principle of violating a building that is the national archaeological museum that houses the Ardagh Chalice, the Tara Brooch, the Cross of Cong, this is a central cultural institution.
“I go in there every week, I love meeting my old colleagues and I have met three senior curators with post-graduate qualifications weeping at the idea of violating a space that has belonged to the National Museum since 1890, the old British days, that was put-up to cure Home Rule.”
Mr Wallace said that Ms Humphreys has “a bad record in this area. This is her second grab at the National Museum. She put in, temporarily albeit, staff to look after the commemorations, civil servants into the old director’s office.
“I can’t but think that there is a plan afoot here in the Department of Arts to undermine the museum, to diminish it, reduce its importance in that area of Dublin and the Board of Works are not without blemish here.”
Mr Wallace said he hopes that a Seanad member would champion the issue.
“When I was in trouble a few years ago on the same footing, Senator Joe O’Toole came to my rescue and we fobbed off an attempt by the then Board of Works, same personnel, they wanted to move into the Natural History Museum.”
Mr Wallace said: “Cost isn’t the museum’s issue. The museum’s issue is to look after its own space. Why do we count for so little in a neighbourhood that we were the pioneers of? We were there before the Oireachtas.”
Asked whether he was being precious, Mr Wallace said he was but “that preciousness is based on 40 years love and loyalty of the National Museum and what it stands for in the cultural life of the nation.
“So I am precious, I’m very protective and very committed and loyal to what the museum stands for and what it should stand for in the minds of our politicians — why don’t they take more notice of it? Why aren’t they aware of what the museum stands for? It is fundamental.”
In a statement, the Department of Arts said the the temporary relocation of the Seanad was primarily a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas and the OPW, which is “responsible for the State’s accommodation needs”.
It said the musuem’s ceramics room was identified as the best option for relocation and the museum’s board agreed to facilitate the relocation.
“Additional funding is being made available to provide alternative accommodation within the museum for its education programme and for the installation of a new lift, which will provide disability access to the upper level of the museum for the first time.”
It said Ms Humphreys had been working with the museum’s chair for a number of months on the matter “to ensure that any concerns are addressed and indeed to ensure there would be long term benefits for the museum as a result of this project”.