Seanad move to National Museum an atrocious decision

Deeply misguided plan must be reversed

The National Museum at Kildare Street is Ireland's showcase to the world for its artistic and cultural heritage stretching back for almost 10,000 years. The nineteenth century building houses a world-class collection of gold ornaments, carved mace heads and stone axes, along with wooden, bronze, iron and ceramic materials. An integral part of this representation of our material cultural and development as a people involves interpretation and context.

This is provided by museum experts for school groups, visitors and foreign tourists in the ceramics room, the only space suitable for conferences, seminars, educational activities and temporary exhibits. Yet the Government and Minister for Arts and Heritage Heather Humphreys have decided to withdraw these facilities for at least two years by making the space available to the Seanad as a debating chamber. This atrocious decision, verging on vandalism, must be reversed.

There has always been an anti-intellectual bias in Irish politics. But this decision marks an aggressive departure. It may be that the Government and senators were not fully aware of the implications of the proposed move or that officials were reluctant to explain its likely impact. Whatever about that, there can be no disguising what is at stake here: the short-term comfort of senators versus the importance of a national institution. Former Museum director Pat Wallace raised the alarm. He has been joined by An Taisce, which expressed planning concerns about the proposed development, and by senior archaeologists who regard the proposal as an assault on the perceived value of our cultural heritage.

Alternative accommodation can be found for Seanad debates within Leinster House, even if some disruption may be caused to the work of TDs and joint committees. In the past, individual senators prompted social progress by challenging bureaucracy and political ignorance. In return, the Irish people decided the Seanad is still worth keeping. Members of that chamber can now display the public’s faith in them by reversing this deeply misguided decision.