UCD alerts gardaí to ‘theft’ of world timbers collection

Campaigner refuses to hand back rare tree samples collected by Viscount Powerscourt


A forestry campaigner is refusing to return a rare collection of 800 world timbers which he borrowed from University College Dublin on the basis that it has “languished in the dead-end of a corridor” on campus for decades.

The university has contacted gardaí and warned that it will take “all necessary steps” to recover the exhibition, which was collected by Viscount Powerscourt during the 1930s.

However, Tom Roche of the Just Forests campaign group says the collection should remain on public view following a “huge” response to a public exhibition he organised in a Co Kerry shopping centre.

“People were astonished and saying they had never seen anything like this before,” Mr Roche said. “It’s the one of the finest timber collections in Europe, if not the world. It’s a magnificent collection which deserves to be seen.”

Raise awareness

He said he hoped future public displays would raise awareness of Ireland’s dependence on tropical timber.

“I don’t want to own it for myself. This is for public education, and I am holding onto it for the foreseeable future. I feel UCD is not the appropriate home for it, given that it’s been lying there out of view for the past 30 years,” he said.

The exhibition was held in the Outlet Centre, Killarney, as part of the town’s Celebration of Trees festival last month, which was launched by environmentalist Duncan Stewart.

After informing the college recently that he would not return the collection, Mr Roche received a letter from UCD’s solicitors which warned that his actions were being treated as theft.

‘No possession rights’

“You have absolutely no possession or other rights over it,” the letter states. “If you fail to immediately return the collection the university will regard your actions as one of theft and will take all necessary steps against you to recover its lawful property.”

Mr Roche was interviewed by gardaí from Donnybrook Garda station in recent days but, again, refused to hand back the exhibition.

He maintains the collection is not the university’s property on the basis that records indicate it was given to the college on loan by the Royal Dublin Society in the 1970s.

Viscount Powerscourt is believed to have donated the collection to the RDS in the 1940s, which displayed the collection at its main entrance for many years.

Mr Roche said he hoped to organise a nationwide tour of the timber collections in shopping centres across the State.