Seanad debates

Thursday, 8 February 2024

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

National Cultural Institutions

9:30 am

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Senator for tabling this important matter for discussion here in the Seanad. I am taking it on behalf of the Minister, Catherine Martin, who cannot be with us. The Senator has a long and deep knowledge of the area. It is a matter he has been following for a lengthy period. That is why it is good to have a debate on the matter this morning.Internationally, in recent years, there have been a number of high-profile cases in which artefacts have been returned by cultural institutions to their places of origin. There is growing public awareness of these issues and the need for guidance for cultural institutions in Ireland regarding how to deal with such cases. Recognising this, the Heritage Council proposed the establishment of an advisory committee on issues relating to repatriation and restitution of historically and culturally sensitive objects in Ireland.

In June last year, the Minister, Deputy Martin, brought a memorandum of information to the Government regarding the intention to form the advisory committee and to outline the work it would be undertaking. The advisory committee was established and met for the first time to begin its work on this important topic in December 2023. The advisory committee is chaired by Sir Donnell Deeny, member of the Court of Arbitration for Art in The Hague, and the chair of the UK Government's spoliation advisory committee. The Heritage Council, as the statutory body with responsibility for the museum standard programme of Ireland, serves as the oversight body for the advisory committee and provides the secretarial support for this particular committee. The members of the advisory committee were chosen due to the experience and expertise they bring to the committee. They are drawn from the museum archives and gallery sector and relevant Departments, and include members with legal expertise as well as members who can also bring the perspective of communities of origin. The objective of the advisory committee is to provide policy advice and prepare national guidelines to support Irish cultural institutions in dealing with objects of unknown provenance in their collections, including those that may have been illegally or unethically elicited or traded into Ireland many years ago. Currently, there are no guidelines for cultural institutions in Ireland on how to deal with such objects. The new advisory committee will provide critical support to collection managers regarding professional standards in the management of cultural heritage. The advisory committee with undertake research into international best practice within the field of provenance, research, restitution and repatriation. It will also engage with key stakeholders to assess the scope of relevant cultural heritage collection in Ireland. The advisory committee held its first meeting, as I mentioned, on 4 December and will meet again soon to consider initial work carried out by the Heritage Council.

This is a complex and sensitive issue and one that is increasingly coming to the fore for museums worldwide. While there have been some cases in Ireland, it has not gained the prominence it has in other countries. That makes it all the more important that we in Ireland provide structures and guidance now to support our national institutions in navigating this terrain that will continue into the future. The Minister believes that the work of the advisory committee will provide Irish cultural institutions with an opportunity to openly and transparently tackle difficult issues, which will improve public awareness of these. She is confident that the work of the committee will improve the understanding of cultural artefacts with provenance the provenance of which would otherwise remain unknown, along with the culture from where they came. This will foster greater dialogue and co-operation on the issue and above all will help increase public awareness and discussion. Most Irish people will agree and be fully supportive of returning artefacts to the counties or the cultures of their origin. There would be support for that but it needs to be done on a structured basis with a proper approach. The Minister, therefore, looks forward to reviewing the output of the work of this committee in the Heritage Council in due course.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.