New heraldry law needed urgently, society claims


The Government has been called upon to introduce fresh heraldry legislation as a matter of urgency, amid claims that a statement by the board of the National Library of Ireland yesterday "unwittingly asserts that Ireland has the youngest heraldic authority in the world".

The Genealogical Society of Ireland (GSI) also said the validity of all coats of arms awarded between 1943 and May 2005 - including those awarded to the President and to former American president Bill Clinton - remains in serious doubt.

The copyright situation for such arms, which are also granted to individuals, corporate bodies, institutions and local authorities, similarly needs to be clarified, it said.

In his statement, chairman of the National Library board J Gerard Danaher SC, revealed that it had lifted its temporary suspension of its heraldic powers, following the advice of the Attorney General on the matter.

The decision to suspend the library's heraldic functions followed "public questioning" of the legal basis upon which it did so, he said.

However, he added that doubts about the legal basis of the heraldic functions exercised in the State in previous years were to be "addressed by the State and not by the National Library of Ireland."

Michael Merrigan, honorary secretary of the GSI, said last night the National Library statement "clearly endorsed" the society's position that the implementation in May 2005 of Section 13 of the National Cultural Institutions Act, 1997, plunged Irish heraldry into a "serious crisis".

This was because it "denied any legislative recognition to the grants of arms made by the various chief heralds of Ireland since 1943," he said.

"The board of the National Library in this statement, in fact, unwittingly asserts that Ireland has the youngest heraldic authority in the world, dating from May 2005, when the 1997 Act was implemented by the then minister, John O'Donoghue, TD," he said.

"It also recognised that serious doubts exist as to the legal status of all the grants of arms made by the chief heralds of Ireland from 1943 up to the implementation of the 1997 Act in May 2005."

"Far from resolving the heraldic problem, Mr Danaher's statement leaves the overwhelming majority of the former clients of the chief herald's office in considerable doubt as to the legal standing of the grants of arms they received from the chief heralds of Ireland acting, as they claimed, on behalf of the State."

He urged the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Séamus Brennan, to adopt the Genealogy & Heraldry Bill of 2006. If necessary, he said, Mr Brennan should amend it to resolve the historic problems dating back to 1943, to clarify the copyright situation, and to provide for a "modern heraldic authority for Ireland".

A spokesman for Mr Brennan said he was examining the advice of the National Library, which he received in recent days.

He added that Mr Brennan wished to see the issues raised resolved and was consulting with his officials and the Attorney General.