Government wants to repossess landmark College Green bank


THE GOVERNMENT wants Bank of Ireland to hand over its historic branch on Dublin’s College Green for use as a major tourist attraction.

Minister for Arts Jimmy Deenihan wrote to the bank on Thursday setting out his wish to acquire the former Irish parliament building for the State for cultural uses. He has requested an early meeting with the bank’s governor, Pat Molloy, to set out his ideas for the site.

Sources said the Minister wants to “open a conversation” on alternative uses for the premises, which were purchased by the bank for its headquarters in the early 19th century.

The move is seen as a first step toward the acquisition of the building, possibly as part of a deal to inject further State funds into the ailing bank. The Government holds a 36 per cent share in Bank of Ireland, which is expected to need further financial support in the coming months. The bank says it has no plans to hand over the building or change it from a working bank, but acknowledged that the Minister had made contact on the matter.

During a recent meeting with leading academics, Mr Deenihan said he hoped to convert the home of the Irish parliament in the 18th century into a major attraction for tourists.

His plans, which are at a preliminary stage, envisage the conversion of the building into a centre celebrating Dublin’s literary heritage, incorporating an exhibition space and reading rooms as well as a cafe and meeting rooms. Mr Deenihan’s spokeswoman said he was examining a number of venues for a “world literature centre”, but that no decision had been taken yet on a location.

Fine Gael in its election manifesto promised to “maximise” the tourism potential offered by Dublin’s designation as a Unesco City of Literature.

The commitment did not appear in the programme for government.

Various politicians have sought to have the College Green complex returned to State ownership. Five years ago, former Green Party minister Eamon Ryan met the bank’s chief executive and chairman about his proposal to turn it into an electronic library but he was rebuffed.

Last year, the bank rejected a proposal by then minister of state Seán Haughey to hand it over to the Irish people as a thank you for the bank bailout. Other recent suggestions for the building include a home for the banks’ former art collections, offices for an elected lord mayor and a new home for the Dáil and Seanad.

Some €3.5 billion in State funds were injected into the bank in 2009. Bank of Ireland has until July to raise more than €5 billion in cash to avoid a further bailout.