Tuesday, 12 December 2006
Genealogy and Heraldry Bill 2006: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Cuirim fíor-chaoin fáilte roimh an Aire Ealaíon, Spóirt agus Turasóireachta. Bímse agus an tAire ar aon aigne faoi a lán rudaí ó am go ham. Tá a fhios aige go bhfuil roinnt mhaith suime agam i gcuid bheag dá Dháilcheantar. Tá a fhios aige fós gur féidir linn aontú faoi rudaí ó am go ham, ach ní fios cad a déarfaidh sé inniu.
I thank the Minister and the Government for facilitating this debate in Government time. I particularly thank the Leader and Deputy Leader of the House, Senators O'Rourke and Dardis, respectively, and various colleagues on both sides of the House who have expressed an interest in something that to many people might seem obscure but which is, in fact, a significant issue. It is the type of issue with which the Oireachtas, in conflict mode, would never get around to dealing but with which the Seanad, in slightly more reflective mode, should be able to deal.
This Bill is not some type of esoteric undertaking but is part of the way modern and democratic societies organise themselves. Like many things in modern society, its roots lie in a very ancient tradition. I am intrigued by the fact that countries as ancient as the United Kingdom and as modern as the Republic of South Africa both consider it necessary to have heraldry Acts, a state herald and a bureau of heraldry. We like symbols; they express our identity. There is a skill and a good deal of artistry involved.
The idea of recognising heraldry and of giving it only under regulated conditions is ancient. The first record of a herald of arms for Ireland dates back to 1382, more than 620 years ago. The office of Ulster King of Arms which, peculiarly, became the awarder of arms in Ireland was established by King Edward VI in 1552. Some people might, somewhere in our hearts, have reservations about his jurisdiction to make such decisions even then — it took a long time to sort out that issue — but he was the legal authority at the time. He even noted it in his diary on 2 February that year.
The Ulster King of Arms, the first of whom was a Bartholomew Butler, persisted in that role from 1552 until 1941. Nobody is sure where the use of the term "Ulster" came from; it does not relate to the province but is an adjective that was used. The deputy Ulster King of Arms continued in office until 1943, when the powers were transferred from the United Kingdom to the State and the office of the Chief Herald of Ireland was established. That redoubtable figure in Irish literature and history, Dr. Edward MacLysaght, was the first Chief Herald of Ireland.
Why tell the history? When something's origins are buried in the mists of history, questions of legalities can arise. The problem is that the transfer of the office of arms to Irish control was done without any legal enactment. There was considerable concern about that. That concern persisted. The records and the office were transferred but the legislative basis for this is murky, at the least, and, in the opinion of some, unsustainable. Attempts were made to resolve the problem in the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997, which was introduced by my esteemed colleague, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, who was Minister at the time. Without casting aspersions on the current Minister's distinction, he was one of this Minister's more distinguished predecessors.
The provision in that Act states:
(1) For the avoidance of doubt, it is hereby declared that the Genealogical Office is a branch of the Library. [That is, the National Library].
(2) The Board shall, from time to time as occasion requires, designate a member of its staff to perform the duty of researching, granting and confirming coats of arms and such member shall use the appellation Chief Herald of Ireland or, in the Irish language, Príomh-Aralt na hÉireann while performing such duties.
The Genealogical Office is declared to be a branch of the National Library but the Genealogical Office is not founded in legislation anywhere. The body does not have a legislative or legal basis, or that is the argument. This is not just esoteric; it relates to our heritage. This dates back to more than 600 years ago. It relates to how we deal with symbols, flags and the like.
The provision in the 1997 Act, on the basis of which the existing Chief Herald was established, was always questioned by people involved in specialist genealogical services. However, in 2002 a report appeared in the newspapers and it has not, to my knowledge, been contradicted. It stated that the Attorney General had advised the Minister in June 2002 that there was no legislative basis for courtesy recognition of the Gaelic chiefs. He went on to state that there was no legislative basis for the granting of arms by the Chief Herald on behalf of the State. That is the reported advice of the Attorney General. I am familiar with the rigmarole that it is not practice to disclose the advice of the Attorney General but the fact that the report has not been contradicted suggests there must be some truth in it. We are, therefore, in a peculiar legal quagmire.
Why should that matter? It leaves open the possibility that arms which have been issued, including those of many organisations, are open to legal misuse and abuse. It leaves open the question of whether the issue of arms is copyright. I have made the point, a little mischievously but without attempting to distort, that if there is no proper and enforceable legal protection for the issue of arms, the coat of arms of Uachtarán na hÉireann, for example, could be used by somebody who opens a lap dancing club, calls it "The Presidents" and uses that coat of arms as an emblem of the club.
If the legal basis is as seriously non-existent as I am told, this issue raises fundamental questions. It is part of what we need to do to guard our heritage. This Bill is an attempt to respond to that uncertainty and to give the matter proper legal footing. I am not optimistic. I read the Minister's dismissive response to questions raised by a Member of the other House saying that since the board of the National Library of Ireland had not informed him of any deficiencies, there are none. I imagine the board of the National Library of Ireland has a long list of matters to deal with and that a matter such as this, which is to do with the legislative base of the protection of a specific part of our heritage, would be a matter for Government. It would be interesting if the Minister asked the board its opinion and how it felt the interpretation of others in this area differs from its own. It would be interesting if he asked the board members in confidence how they feel the Attorney General's advice can be reconciled with their apparent willingness to accept the situation.
I have often sat in this House going through long Bills section by section with Ministers. The House will be spared that because I do not have time to go through the entire Bill. It contains 40 sections, six Parts and three Schedules. It is appropriate to mention the sections of the Bill. The Bill has a long list of objectives, including the regularisation of the delivery of the services, which is not being done, and performs a variety of functions, including the establishment of the office of arms with a firm legal basis, assigning responsibility for the management, control and administration of the office of arms within the National Library, providing for the granting of arms, which we are told the Attorney General has advised may not be legally grounded, and providing for copyright matters because without a clear and unambiguous position on copyright of arms, they can be copied, thus undermining the purpose of the issue of unique arms.
The Bill also aims to give a less expensive method of granting arms, give Príomh-Aralt na hÉireann responsibility for the overall policy and delivery of such services, provide retrospective confirmation of grants of arms issued since 1943, establish a new register of emblems and provide for such and provide for the appointment by licence of heraldic and vexillogical agents. Vexillology relates to flags. Even Senator Norris was defeated by that word.
My advice is that it does not need to be defined. One does not need to define in legislation words that have only one meaning. Since this word has only one meaning, it does not need to be defined. Only words that are capable of ambiguous interpretation need to be defined in legislation. Since this word is not capable of ambiguous interpretation——
This legislation is a classic example of the sort of work Seanad Éireann can do that will not be done anywhere else. I appeal to the Minister to let the debate persist. If we vote it down now, the people who believe it is necessary will begin again. Their agenda is not political but relates to our heritage. They want to see the resolution of what they believe to be ambiguity. Perhaps the Minister can offer clear, unequivocal advice that there is no need for this. Apart from the issue of the register of arms, there are other issues regarding quality, services, accessibility and copyright, and I hope the Minister will deal with them.
I ask the Minister not to let us get involved in an argument about details in this legislation that the Minister feels are inconsistent. In the past two years I have been responsible for two Government Bills having to return to the Dáil late in the summer because they contained mistakes. If the Minister wants the names of these Bills I will tell him. One of them, the National Economic and Social Development Office Bill, had sat in the Dáil for four years and contained a fundamental contradiction. Any inadequacies or mistakes can be remedied on Committee Stage. That is what Committee Stage is for and we can have a long, leisurely reflection on this over Christmas and pursue it gently in the new year. The alternative is to vote it down, in which case the same people will begin it again in January. Until they are convinced that there is no need for it, this issue will surface, as it has done intermittently for the past 60 years.
I am pleased to have been asked to speak to this House on a Private Members' Bill and I congratulate Senator Ryan on bringing it forward. I remind this House of the excellent progress this Government has made in recent times in supporting the arts. The total expenditure for my Department in 2007 will be €698.6 million, which is up by 17.6% over 2006. Of this, €216.56 million is for arts and culture, an increase of 8.65% on a record 2006 expenditure. In recent years the arts, sport and tourism sectors have received unprecedented tangible support from the Government in terms of increased financial allocations. Since 2003, current funding has been increased by 43.4% or €121 million, but capital funding has increased by 147.5% or €178 million. That is before taking account of the public private partnership allocations for the redevelopment of the National Concert Hall and the new Abbey Theatre. I am delighted that the sectors have acknowledged such support and responded with vibrancy and innovation in their programmes.
The arts are a response to our individuality and our nature. They demonstrate and shape our identity as a people. They can become the driving force for healing division and divisiveness as well as a potent economic force. Nobody can question this Government's commitment to the arts. The Arts Council is the main vehicle through which State support is channelled to the arts and the Government's ongoing commitment to the arts sector is well demonstrated with an allocation of €80 million to the Arts Council in 2007. Artists and arts organisations should see the decision to provide a further substantial increase, following on from the 18% increase provided in 2006, to the Arts Council as confirmation of the high regard in which Government holds the arts and culture sectors.
Commitment to the arts infrastructure is further evidenced in the continued funding under the arts and culture capital enhancement support scheme, ACCESS for a wide range of capital projects at new and existing venues throughout the country. Again the Government has been able to provide a substantial increase for the national cultural institutions such as the National Museum, National Library, National Archives, National Gallery, Chester Beatty Library, Irish Museum of Modern Art and National Concert Hall. As Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism I am proud of the work undertaken by these institutions. I am confident they will continue to be an easily accessible resource to all our citizens and visitors. I commend the role they play both as a tourism asset and as educational facilities. I will return to the matter of the National Library.
Overall funding of €19.7 million will be allocated to the Irish Film Board in 2007. This increase will enable the board to continue its essential role of developing and supporting the indigenous industry. The increased current allocation will facilitate the board in marketing Ireland as a film location and will assist the work of the newly appointed official in Los Angeles in raising the profile of the Irish audiovisual industry abroad. This provision underlies the sustained Government support for the board that has seen its allocation increase by 60% since 2002.
A 50% increase in funding has been secured for Culture Ireland to ensure that Irish art is promoted both at home and abroad. Taken together with the 50% increase secured in 2006, this represents unprecedented Government support for the arts. I will continue to highlight the necessity to invest in the arts. The Government must nourish the broader aspects of society and should not weigh up all matters in purely economic terms. Artists and the arts, in conjunction with the national cultural institutions, seek to promote a more rounded development of our country and our lives. After many years of neglect, I have striven to increase Government investment in arts and culture and will continue to do so as Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism. Under my stewardship the arts have been pushed boldly into the core of Government policy.
The Genealogy and Heraldry Bill concerns one of our national institutions, the National Library of Ireland, in which I have taken keen interest over the past few years. When I first assumed office as Minister with responsibility for the arts, one of my objectives was the reinvigoration of the national cultural institutions. The National Cultural Institutions Act had only been partly enabled. Two of our most venerable institutions then formed part of the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism. These were the National Library of Ireland and the National Museum of Ireland, which had over the years come under the aegis of the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Education. I was keen to move both of these institutions out of my Department and make them independent under their own boards. It never made sense to me that such specialised institutions should form part of a Department and they would be better placed to deliver as statutorily independent entities. I also sought to avail of the opportunity to provide an environment that facilitated 21st century governance and accountability infrastructure in these institutions. After much negotiation with staff and the Department of Finance, both the National Museum and the National Library were made autonomous in May 2005 under the National Cultural Institutions Act. In each case I appointed strong, independent boards.
There remain some matters to be finalised under the Act, such as export licensing for the National Museum and extending mandatory deposit for the National Library. However, I am convinced that the ability of both institutions to discharge their functions has been immeasurably improved with independence and substantial additional resources.
Within the past year and a half both institutions have made good strides in independent guises. The National Museum recently opened a new permanent exhibition at Collins Barracks, which deals for the first time with the history of the Irish soldier at home and abroad and in many different uniforms. This exhibition is entitled "Soldiers and Chiefs", an appropriate title for a future Private Members' Bill.
The National Library of Ireland is similarly on a sound footing. It is currently hosting a seminal exhibition on William Butler Yeats, poet, romantic and distinguished former Member of this House. Last month the National Library won a major award for the outstanding way in which it informs and involves the public. The award was from the Association for Heritage Interpretation and it singled out the National Library's current exhibition on Yeats as a magnificent example of the way in which the library interacts with the public. Over 30,000 people have visited the exhibition to date and I exhort Members to make sure they do so. I congratulate the board, director and staff of the National Library on this success.
In the case of press publications the National Library of Ireland seems to fascinate in the matter of heraldry and what were dubbed chiefs of the name. It must be some medieval mystique that attracts people in a constitutional republic to such relics of history. The Government is not in a position to support Senator Ryan's Bill. I commend the Senator for the work that he and others have clearly put into the Bill. While I appreciate his interest in this area of public administration I am unconvinced of the need for this Bill. Nothing I have heard from the Senator today leads me to believe——
There are not significant issues of public interest that would justify the parliamentary time and administrative resources in my Department required to process this Bill.
New legislative measures were put in place on 3 May last year regarding heraldry when sections 12 and 13 of the National Cultural Institutions Act came into effect. These set out what I and my predecessors believed were the appropriate arrangements for the promotion and delivery of heraldic services. While it will take time for those new arrangements to fully settle down I have no reason to speculate on their effectiveness.
The 1997 Act gave the board of the National Library the power to facilitate, encourage, assist and promote the granting and confirming of coats of arms. The Act also declared that the genealogical office was a branch of the National Library and provided that a member of the library's staff would be designated to perform the duty of researching, granting and confirming coats of arms and would use the appellation Chief Herald of Ireland. The board of the National Library established the committee on genealogy and heraldry, provided for in section 13 of the 1997 Act, and designated a staff member to use the appellation Chief Herald. The position had been vacant for two years.
Through the committee on genealogy and heraldry the board has been reviewing issues relating to the granting of arms, including eligibility to apply for grants of arms, the procedures for granting of arms, the wording of grants of arms, etc. The Bill attempts to legislate in considerable detail for matters such as this. Such level of detail is not appropriate to primary legislation. Having entrusted matters of genealogy and heraldry to the board of the National Library, there is no reason the board should not be allowed to deal with such matters as it has been doing since it was established.
There has been speculation in the media — humorous, petulant and otherwise — as to whether the provisions of the legislation provide an adequate basis for the granting of arms by the Chief Herald. If this were the case I would expect, as I indicated in a response to a parliamentary question on 7 November, that the board of the National Library would bring any deficiencies in the legislation to my attention. The board is the statutory body responsible for this particular area and it is best placed to advise me on the appropriateness or otherwise of its statutory framework.
Regarding genealogy, the 1997 Act assigns limited functions to the National Library. A number of statutory bodies have responsibility for the management and delivery of genealogical services. I am not clear as to why a greater role is now envisaged for the National Library in this area rather than any other public body. I do not see the justification for assigning such significant responsibilities to the National Library. It would require a considerable level of analysis to see if it would lead to any significant improvement on existing arrangements.
The Bill proposes an elaborate structure for the delivery of heraldic services. I am not convinced of the need for such a structure. There is little merit in the proposal and it is difficult to justify the additional expenditure. Heraldry is a small specialised area and I am not clear why an elaborate administrative structure might be needed to deal with it. To create a number of additional public posts in this area, particularly posts that would require a degree of expertise that may not exist, is difficult to justify. I am not in a position to sanction the creation of such posts given the current restrictions on staffing in the public service.
It is proposed that the posts of Chief Herald and Deputy Chief Herald be created within the National Library but with Civil Service status. This ignores the fact that since the establishment of the board of the National Library on 3 May 2005 professional staff ceased to be civil servants and became employees of the board. The Bill seems to suggest a dual structure where a Chief Herald, who was a civil servant, would report simultaneously to the board of the library and to a Minister of the Government. It is difficult to see how it would work in practice. Even chief heralds cannot serve two masters. Ní féidir leis an ngobadán an dá thrá a fhreastal.
I have concerns about the proposals for the registration and granting of arms. The constitutionality of the proposal to grant emeritus arms to meritorious individuals requires clarification. I am not satisfied that the granting of emeritus arms is an appropriate method of recognising meritorious individuals.
The Bill proposes to grant retrospective confirmation to grants of arms made between 1 April 1943 and the present. Not only has the need for such a procedure not been established but even if it had, its constitutionality would need to be fully considered.
The Bill provides for the designation of Gaelic chieftainship in grants of arms. This is an issue that has arisen previously and led to practical difficulties in determining eligibility regarding use of the appellation of Gaelic chieftainship. I am not in favour of legislating for this issue and I am of the view that it is a matter for persons styled as Gaelic chiefs to devise procedures that would clarify the line of descent. I do not see any role for the State in this process and I also must point out the apparent irony and historical contradiction in suggesting that the determinant for Gaelic chiefship is that of primogeniture, the first-born male, when this was not the system used by clans and septs to select Gaelic chiefs. This is, however, a moot point.
On the issue of a national vexillogical register, a register of flags, I am unconvinced of the need for such a register. This is not an area coming under the aegis of my Department at present and I see no compelling case for legislating for it. The Government would have to be clearly convinced that existing arrangements, such as they might be, are unsatisfactory before it would consider legislation of the extent proposed in the Bill. I am not clear why this is an area that requires legislative intervention and I am even less clear as to how the area of vexillogy——
——fits in with the core functions of the National Library.
I thank Senator Ryan for his efforts but I have to say that the newly-appointed board of the NLI must be allowed to fulfil its role and functions in matters related to genealogy and heraldry. I realise the Senator has worked extremely hard on the Bill and has put much effort into it, which should not go without acknowledgement. I note what he has stated about the matter resurfacing again if it is voted down, and he is unquestionably correct in that. Although it is a very specialised area, those concerned with it have a great interest. As a man said, when they have an opinion, they have an opinion.
Rather than see the Bill voted down, I would prefer if the Senator agreed, after an informed debate, to withdraw the legislation so the issues raised within the Bill can be considered by the statutory board of the National Library. I will undertake to go to the board with the legislation and ask it to give the issue very careful consideration. It would not be right to second guess a new institution so soon after its establishment. I would like the board to have the opportunity of carefully considering Senator Ryan's Bill. The Senator may be aware that the chairperson of the National Library is Mr. Gerry Danaher, an eminent senior counsel who may have some ideas from his own background with regard to how matters might proceed.
Although I am not accepting the legislation, I acknowledge the work which has gone into it and the motivation for it. I know of Senator Ryan's deep interest and understanding of our culture. Déanaim comhghairdeas leis an Seanadóir arís. Tá mé buíoch de as ucht an méid oibre a chuir sé isteach sa Bhille seo.
I welcome the Minister to the House and I welcome the Bill, which is designed to regularise the delivery of heraldic services by the State. Up to the point of passing the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997, these functions were performed by the Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland. When the 1997 Bill was passed, the genealogical office was referred to as a branch of the National Library, although the legislation did not explicitly establish such an office or provide for its functions.
The Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations welcomes the publication of the Bill and acknowledges that it would never have reached this stage without the hard work of Michael Merrigan of the Genealogical Society of Ireland. The Bill proposes some far-reaching changes which, to use the Bill's own wording, would "regularise the delivery of heraldic services by the State".
We have read in the press over the past few weeks about the issue of heraldry in Ireland and the State's role in it through the Office of the Chief Herald, attached to the National Library. While some of the coverage was informative, other stories unfortunately did little to make the case for change and seemed only framed at embarrassing the authorities. I hope the Government's decision not to accept the Bill is not a knee-jerk reaction to unfavourable press statements.
There appears to be differing views on whether the Office of the Chief Herald, also known as the genealogical office — which I am finding difficult to pronounce — was established in such a way as to allow it to grant arms after it was transferred by the British to the State in 1943. Those who question its status to grant arms rely upon the ambiguity surrounding the royal prerogative in Ireland during the years between 1943 and the establishment of the Republic in 1949. However, the whole issue is so complicated that whatever is decided through legislation is unlikely to find favour with all.
Another argument is that there can only be one legitimate authority able to grant arms in Ireland, the State, of which we are all part. Thus, whether legislatively or not, this responsibility is currently exercised on behalf of the State through the Office of the Chief Herald. If it should be that the Chief Herald has no responsibility in this area, does it indicate the Chief Herald is currently presiding over what I may term an "illegal armed operation"?
To again quote the Bill, it also provides for "proper management and co-ordination of the delivery of genealogical services in the State". There has been growth since the early 1980s of the various county-based genealogical indexing centres across both this State and Northern Ireland, and I saw it as part of the tourism infrastructure in Strokestown, County Roscommon, in the lean 1980s when we had no significant tourism infrastructure. It was welcome for so many Canadians, Americans and Australians coming to our county to look up genealogical services. It has been a recognised part of our tourism through the years.
Very recently the Government has reorganised how it operates Irish Genealogy Limited, the company through which it funds the various indexing centres. Senators will recall, for instance, that reference to genealogy, in the guise of the General Register Office, has many times over the years been raised on behalf of those annoyed at the lack of proper access to the historical records held by that office. If this Bill was allowed to progress to the Statute Book, perhaps issues such as the General Register Office might be more adequately addressed.
The most clear improvement the Bill would make to accessing State records would be to suggest an amendment to the Statistics Act 1993, which would have the effect of opening the 1926 census returns to researchers. Currently, the returns for this census are held by the National Archives. Some might baulk at the idea of opening census data before the completion of a hundred-year period since the taking of the census, but neither the Genealogical Society of Ireland nor the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations is suggesting that census returns should routinely be opened early. The issue could be considered.
In this case the argument relies upon the fact that Ireland's earlier 19th century census records were destroyed in the fire which consumed the Irish public records during the civil war in 1922. Contrary to popular belief, the 1926 census returns do not include anything like the detail required in modern census returns. The information recorded is little different to the minimal amount of detail recorded in the surviving 1901 and 1911 census returns.
Interestingly, those returns were first opened to researchers, without any public objection or demonstration then or since, as early as 1961 on foot of a warrant made by the Minister with responsibility for Justice under the Public Records (Ireland) Act 1867. This was only 50 years after the 1911 census was compiled. It is the general view that this Bill, if not ultimately accepted by the Government, should at least stimulate the various authorities to look in greater detail at the State's delivery of heraldic services and access to the State's genealogical records.
The Bill will provide for the registration and protection of the arms of Ireland such as the presidential standard, flags and the emblems of the Irish Defence Forces and the Garda Síochána. It reminds me that a few years ago, the GAA had to change its emblem which was not protected. The Bill provides a template which the State or recognised vendors could work with for marketing.
The scheme was designed to recognise the enormous contribution made by the Irish diaspora. We are discussing family names. For hundreds of years people were called Malone or O'Fiachain. However, they were so engrossed in scraping out a livelihood during difficult times, they did not have time to research their families' traditions or ancestors.
We must welcome the fact that the Irish diaspora got on very well. For far too long we thought about the people in New York, London, Glasgow and Liverpool. Through good fortune, some did better financially than others. However, they are all part of the Irish diaspora and I remind people of that.
On St. Patrick's Day we spend our time travelling to places deemed to be more successful, such as New York, Chicago and Washington. Ministers go to Singapore and Sidney. I do not want to take away from this. I was very proud to be in Chicago this year. However, it would be nice to see Irish Ministers recognising the diaspora in Glasgow, Liverpool and other places which are not as colourful as Sydney or Washington. We must recognise that people left Ireland in difficult times. They went to the shipyards on the Clyde and the Tyne and worked in coalmines in Nottingham.
We consider the Irish diaspora with great pride and recount how well Irish people did in New York and consider those who are presidents of corporations. I am equally as proud of the people who stand on the terraces in Celtic Park, also known as Paradise, who espouse their love for Ireland. They may not have the finances to examine their ancestry and the Government should recognise that.
The Irish diaspora has millions of people throughout the world, all of whom we should recognise and not only the President of the United States. We should be equally proud of the people who left Ireland during the 1950s and fell on hard times in London and Cricklewood and cherish them as much as those we espouse from platforms on St. Patrick's Day.
President McAleese was involved in the design of her coat of arms. The motto of her coat of arms is "Come to the Edge", from a poem by Christopher Logue which the President quoted in her inaugural address in November 1997. Above the shield is a helmet and the crest on top is an oak tree complete with acorns. It is stated the oak is a reference to the President's association with my county, County Roscommon.
I commend this Bill to the House and support it. It aims to make services more accessible to the ordinary citizens of Ireland by creating a new and less expensive procedure for obtaining a coat of arms for individuals, institutions, clubs and corporate bodies. It will mean sports clubs, schools, societies and others will be able to register a coat of arms and obtain legal protection for their unique heraldic symbols.
I commend Senator Ryan on promoting the Bill. It has created a debate in this House. On many occasions I stated that politicians do not act, they react. I hope the Minister accepts the Bill. If he does not, I hope he reacts favourably by ensuring the provisions in the Bill are provided by the State body or otherwise. I thank all those who helped in this. We can discuss crests and emblems. However, on this occasion we should not forget the diaspora, those who left this country and show great interest in our past. As a State we now show interest in our past.
I welcome the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue to the House. I am happy to have an opportunity to speak on the proposed Genealogy and Heraldry Bill 2006.
I listened carefully to the case put forward for the Bill and to the Minister's reply. The debate thus far has demonstrated the high esteem in which heraldry is held in this House and in society as a whole. I see heraldry as very much part of our daily lives. Many of the sporting organisations I am associated with proudly wear local and county crests on their jerseys as they take the field.
Through my work on tourism in this House, I have become aware of the great value of our heritage and history. Much of our tourism could be described as heraldic tourism with huge numbers travelling to Ireland to trace their ancestors and their roots. As such, I have a high level of respect for those providing such services to members of the public, organisations and institutions. However, this Bill, although brought to the House with good intentions supporting a noble profession, is unnecessary and would lead to excessive legislation.
Section 13 of the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997 provides for a genealogical and heraldic service. During the 20th Seanad, my colleague, Senator Mooney, achieved 28 amendments to the text of the Bill which appeased many concerns of the interested parties at the time of the Bill's enactment. That Act adequately provides for the heraldic services.
The 1997 Act established a genealogy office with a chief herald responsible for research. This office is under the autonomous control of the National Library and I believe this office is more than adequate for the needs of the genealogical field and that additional legislation is unnecessary. The board of the National Library has not alerted the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism to any deficiencies in the 1997 legislation that may serve to hinder the work of the Chief Herald. Neither has there been any challenge to the legal basis of the office. Therefore, I believe that section 13 of the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997 adequately provides a legal basis for the work of the Chief Herald and that this Bill is not necessary in order to protect Irish genealogy and heraldry.
I thank the Minister for taking time to come to the House to speak on this matter. I will leave it to my learned colleague, Senator Ó Murchú, to deal with the vexillology register and matters of this kind.
Whatever about heraldry, it is refreshing to discover that the art of prophesy has not vanished from the earth because Senator Kieran Phelan who, I am glad to say, is a representative of one of the distinguished septs of my own part of the country, Ossory, was able to imagine or prophesy in his typed-up script what Senator Ryan said. The Minister said on page three of his script or whatever it was — I pointed it out at the time — that nothing he had heard today had convinced him. He had not heard it when the speech was typed up so it is a complete and utter nonsense.
We are used to this in this House. We get it on matters relating to Standing Order 29 all the time. One puts down that one wishes to raise a motion under Standing Order 29 and the Cathaoirleach po-facedly says that he does not believe anything is contemplated by this Standing Order, no matter what it is. It does not matter whether it was an armed insurrection in Listowel or a volcano in Dún Laoghaire, it is not contemplated under Standing Order 29. This is all typed up and written out before we get to the point.
The Minister is a thoroughly decent man and I have many reasons to be grateful to him and not only for his enthusiastic support of cultural life in Ireland, in particular my own little baby, the James Joyce Centre in Dublin. The late Terry O'Sullivan, who wrote the Dubliner's Diary, after a huge feast of drink went back and snored in the offices of The Irish Press. Somebody asked him if he was going to write up the column after filling his face with all their food and drink and he said: "Let us astonish them by our ingratitude." I propose to astonish the Minister with my ingratitude and say that was an absolutely pathetic speech. I do not believe he concocted it himself. This was obviously a set up.
There is clearly a case for the proper authorisation of heraldry. Again, I can perhaps understand the feeling of the Department because this was also concocted by the people in the Genealogical Society of Ireland, and more power to them. We all get the society's gazette, called The Genie Gazette, which is sometimes very interesting. It is important we regulate the area for a number of reasons, one of which is the scandal that surrounded the MacCarthy Mór, which was a dreadful affair. It was laughable in one sense that this fellow was floating around Tangier with his boyfriend behind him and a poodle on a pink cushion claiming to be the MacCarthy Mór. Apparently, the nincompoops over here actually recognised him. How farcical can one get? One has to establish something that gets away from this sort of thing.
History does not reveal which part of the globe he originated from, but he ended up in Tangier.
In his speech, the Minister is certainly right about the question of the Gaelic chieftains. This is a very interesting area because it is so full of contradiction and paradox. I have a cousin of some kind who is, or styles himself, theMacGiolla Phádraig. He is certainly the descendent of the last one that was duly elected as chief of that clan. It was done by election. There was a kind of central family stem and from within that, the leader of the family was, more or less, elected. They were pretty grim in the way they did it. There are records in my mother's family of people putting out their own brother's eyes because one could not be an Irish chieftain if one was blind. They made bloody sure they were blind so they could not be elected.
If one looks at the chiefs that are recognised, many of them belonged to the Church of Ireland. I find this fascinating. The MacGiolla Phádraig obviously belonged to the Church of Ireland, while the O'Hara, the O'Grady in Killballyowen and the MacGillycuddy of the Reeks from the Minister's constituency were also members. Interestingly, the two most wonderful and romantic titles, and, essentially, it is all about romance, are the O'Conor Don and the MacDermott, Prince of Coolavin. Since it is now said that one can make oneself an Irish chief, I think I might do so. Senator Ross made himself an auctioneer on "The Late Late Show". I propose to award myself a title, which I hope will be recognised and observed by my colleagues in Seanad Éireann.
There is, however, a certain seriousness about the matter, even though it is full of fantasy, fun, vexillology and what not. There is a legal problem about the granting of coats of arms. If, as a republic, we decided to abolish the whole thing, this would have been one situation, but we did not. We then purported to grant arms to people such as President Kennedy, a former President of the US, for the younger members of the House who do not recall that period of history. President Robinson and the current President McAleese have also been granted coats of arms.
If one looks inside the Oak Room in the Mansion House in Dublin, one can see all kinds of coats of arms, some of which are the real coats of arms of the ancient Irish or Norman families. Some of them are completely concocted. It is very interesting to see them. It may well be that many of these, especially the grants made to distinguished visiting persons, are challengeable internationally. We can call them what we like. The biggest pedants on this matter are the British. We inherited the system from them in 1943 — the Ulster King of Arms and so on. Nobody was appointed for quite a long time, which creates a gap. One is in a situation where one must abolish and then recreate. This Bill would be a very good point.
I thought the Minister was very dismissive about the need for these kinds of records. I do not think it is appropriate just to have it as a kind of appendage in the National Library that can be dismissed. I am not denigrating the National Library in this. Serious historical and scholarly work can be done on coats of arms which reveals interesting things.
Even though my surname is English, my mother was a descendant of a very old Gaelic Irish family. I was unearthed because of a more distinguished uncle, who is deceased, by people who asked if there were any relatives and asked to go to the Fitzpatrick Clan rally. I love and adore any kind of hokum like that. I attended the rally and poor old Denys in Key West in Florida, who was aged 101 at that stage, sent over a message as the MacGiolla Phádraig.
There were a couple of very interesting lectures, one of which was about the crest which features a green dragon and a lion rampant. The lecturer on this subject indicated that at various times, the positions and dimensions of these two animals changed. One could tell the temperature of Irish political life as far as the Gaelic nation was concerned by the relative size and aggressiveness of the two animals, which is very interesting. The items featured in the coats of arms are often indicators of the family business and connections. I suppose trade would have been more or less excluded. I think we in Ireland were much less coy about accepting trade.
There is a great deal of interest in this and for this reason and no other, it would be very important to consider something such as Senator Ryan's Bill. Having reprimanded the Minister in a jocose way, I would like to say that was the printed script. Senator Ryan would, however, be well advised to accept the generous offer the Minister made when he spoke off the cuff and stated that he would, if the Bill were withdrawn, refer the matter back to the people in the National Library who are genuinely interested in it to see what legislative proposals might come about as a result.
Another matter to which I wish to refer is that of recognition of excellence. Most societies like to recognise excellence and there is nothing very much on offer in Ireland in that regard. Perhaps we should consider reviving the Knights of St. Patrick, among whose number were a number of the old Irish families, including mine. I was pleased, when attending a recent concert at St. Patrick's Hall, to see the flag of my family on display. Reviving the Knights of St. Patrick would be worthwhile. One could not refer to a member of the Most Illustrious Order of St. Patrick as "Sir". In any event, courtesy titles are not supposed to be used — I do not believe Mr. O'Reilly is aware of this fact — in a republic.
I am happy to await the revival of the Gaelic monarchy, if the O'Conor Don can be located. As far as I am aware, such an individual still exists. I am comfortable enough with the Republic but some recognition of merit would be a useful and decent development, and the taking of action in this regard should be considered.
I wish to spar with Senator Ryan regarding the term "vexillogical". Information regarding this could easily have been included in the explanatory memorandum to the Bill. The latter should explain things. Most people do not know what vexillogical means and the majority cannot even pronounce it. I am going to be blazingly honest and state that if the word "vexillogical" had been presented to me on an otherwise blank sheet of paper, I would have been hard put to guess at its meaning. However, I worked out what it means from the context in which it is used. As a member of the universal and infallible church which he claims as his own, I have no doubt that Senator Ryan is, as he informed the House, again correct with regard to his definition of "vexillogical". However, that excludes the matter of courtesy. One would have thought that the latter would have been appropriate in a Bill that deals with heraldry. As a courtesy to plain, honest, decent, ordinary citizens not yet ennobled by the State, it might have been useful to provide us with a definition of the term.
I wish Senator Ryan well with the Bill. Outside of the fun we are having, there is something to be said for regularising the position. Even if one does not believe in it or is not interested in the romance — I described it as hokum — or the history and the important historical elements involved, one must consider the tourism aspect. The Yanks are obsessed with their ancestry and we can fleece them for the privilege of discovering it, if we have at our disposal the correct machinery. I am all in favour of the latter. It is important that we do not make prats of ourselves by handing out coats of arms that could, in the absence of a proper legislative basis, be challenged by our cousins across the water.
I exaggerated the amount of time the Minister spent discussing the Bill. I estimate that less than 25% of his contribution was devoted to the legislation, which he dismissed. The Minster spent his time, as usual, engaging in dreary self-congratulation regarding what has been done for the National Library — I accept his bona fides in this regard — and other cultural institutions. He also highlighted his interest in the Abbey Theatre. We will spend another day debating that matter because I have tabled a motion in respect of the Abbey. We should move the theatre not to the docklands but to O'Connell Street, where it belongs. It is appalling that a small cabal of business people and property speculators can sit on the Carlton site and blow a raspberry at the Government and the people.
Everybody knows that if, sadly, the Abbey Theatre cannot remain on its historic site at Abbey Street, where it should be located, it most certainly not act as an anchor in a commercial development and as a little piece of the jigsaw that is the financial services centre. The Abbey should be for the people of Ireland and it should be located on the main thoroughfare of the capital city. As a national cultural institution, the theatre should be used to lift the northern axis of our principal thoroughfare out of the oblivion and mire of chip shops and knicker sale rooms into which it has sunk.
Since the Minister opened the debate on this matter, I am glad to state that I have a motion in respect of it on the Order Paper. I will be seeking that he come before the House to explain why the Abbey Theatre should not be located in O'Connell Street. While we are at it, perhaps we could arrange some small but significant tribute to Daniel O'Connell. I heard a radio interview the other day in which the Minister, or one of his colleagues in Government, referred to digging up the Manchester Martyrs. Why is it only the violent tradition of Ireland that is celebrated?
Is mian liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Fahey, agus an Aire, an Teachta O'Donoghue, a bhí anseo roimhe. Déarfainn go bhfuilimid go léir ar aon aigne go bhfuil sé suimiúil, oiriúnach agus áisiúil go bhfuil díospóireacht mar seo ar siúl sa Seanad. Tá an t-ádh linn, dar ndóigh, go bhfuil scoláirí den scoth ag glacadh páirte sa díospóireacht seo agus go bhfuil faisnéis á cur ar fáil acu. Ní le haon duine amháin oidhreacht na hÉireann. Táimid i gcónaí ag foghlaim. Tá súil agam go bhfuil forbairt ag teacht orainn gach bliain agus go leanfaidh sé sin ar aghaidh i ngach céad amach anseo. Aontaím leis an Aire, an Teachta O'Donoghue, nuair a thugann sé cúlra na ceiste seo dúinn. Nil aon amhras faoi ná go bhfuil ré órga nua ó thaobh cultúr agus ealaíon i bhfeidhm sa tír seo i láthair na huaire. Ní gá ach féachaint ar an gníomhaíocht atá ag tarlú sa tír, go mórmhór i measc an phobail ach chomh maith i bpáirtnéireacht leis an Stáit. Tá sé sin mar gur chóir go mbeadh sé. Ceapaim go raibh an tAire ag iarraidh é sin a léiriú mar chúlra ar an díospóireacht.
I wish first to declare an interest. I am chairman of the Irish Family History Foundation and my former vice-chairman was the late Sir Robert Kidd, who was also the former chairman of the Northern Ireland Civil Service. My secretary was Paddy "Bogside" Doherty from Derry. The reason I mention these individuals is to underline the diversity of interest in the subject under discussion in the context of this Bill. I do not doubt that the results which come from such a confluence of aspirations, sentiment and philosophy must, of themselves, be rich. We should bear that in mind in the debate on the Bill lest in some way we may inject a sense of elitism where it should not exist.
In some ways, such a sense was created by the fact that almost all the emphasis in the debate so far has been on heraldry. The Bill presented by Senator Ryan also deals with other genealogical sources, which are quite comprehensive. Senator Feighan referred to such sources. I would have expected that this debate would have resulted in a much greater balance. In saying this, I do not intend to take away from the issue of chieftainship, heraldry or whatever. I had a friend who died some years ago and the wedding present he generally gave was a combined coat of arms for the two families which always sparked debate about how authentic were the coats of arms. We felt there was a poetic licence attached to these gifts and that the mottos and coats of arms were intended in some way to boost the morale of the recipients. One wonders if an element of that attitude does not attach to this debate. The credibility of continuity has been undermined by some serious recent major cases.
The initial exchange between Senators Ryan and Norris in this debate was to an extent about semantics. I do not mean that in a derogatory sense but it accentuates my point that most people outside this House will not watch this debate on "Oireachtas Report" tonight, even if it is broadcast on the programme, which in a way is sad. There is an element of elitism in this debate which should not be the case. When we get down to the semantics we may be promoting that concept about a part of our heritage.
I watched Senator Ryan's body language while the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, spoke and hope that I interpreted him correctly. He sat up very straight when the Minister rightly praised him. Senator Ryan deserves the credit not just of this House but of the country for the amount of effort he has put into this Bill. It is not a Mickey Mouse Bill. It is well-researched and underpinned by a great degree of sincerity and I compliment the Senator on that. The Minister took the same view and did not want to see a Bill of this importance and potential end in a vote. That would only add to the lack of public interest in this subject.
I would prefer to look upon this debate as another stepping stone towards the acceptance of our heritage and to see the Bill sent to the National Library. That would not be the end of it. As Senator Ryan said even if the Bill is voted down today it will almost certainly return because there will be always people outside here who will be interested in the subject.
The other genealogical sources have been neglected. There are 40 million people of Irish extraction in North America, most of whom have, or are developing, an interest in their roots, partly because of the position Ireland holds in the world today, not just an economic one, although that is important, but in the areas of culture, sport, literature and so on. People of the diaspora are proud of their roots and want to trace them. That area is more relevant than the heraldic element of the Bill.
Having declared an interest in this matter I feel entitled to expand on the Irish Family History Foundation. There are 33 centres in Ireland, North and South. Both traditions are fully integrated into the project. All the Catholic Church records have been made available to the foundation's centres, only in this context. Most of the Church of Ireland records have been also made available and a large section of the civil records have been input on a computer. Almost 80% of the records have been input and computerised and we have almost concluded this work. In a matter of months all these records will be accessible on the Internet. A new pay per view system is being devised between North and South and we are signing the agreement whereby all those records will be available for everybody in the world to access.
There will not be just a centralised computer database. The system will bring one back to the local centre, which will encourage cultural tourism. Senator Ryan may not have been conscious of the extent of that area of genealogical research and service. We should be careful not to ascribe a quaint historical concept to this by bringing the State in to legislate for it because that is a minefield. The bodies involved in this area should be open and accountable, and through their scholarship and journals should try to bring more people into consideration. I salute Senator Ryan's work and appeal to the Minister not to let this Bill drift in a vote but to keep it alive because it has the basis for much greater development.
I thank the Irish Genealogical Society for providing information to the Labour Party to help us draft this Bill. My contribution relies on much of that information. The legislative basis of this issue was last debated here in 1996-97. The problem that confronted Members then was whether the Genealogical Office was already established in law and needed to be abolished in its old form before being included in the new legislation or whether the new legislation had to establish the office in law.
During the debate a suggestion was made that a formula be found to get over these sometimes absurd arguments and notions that the Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland is "the oldest office of State" and that the "Chief Herald of Ireland held his prerogative powers personally like his predecessors the Ulster Kings of Arms since 1552", without any basis in fact. The wording adopted by the then Minister, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, and his officials was that "for the avoidance of doubt, the Genealogical Office is a branch of the National Library". This was to incorporate the status quo in section 13 (1).
The Genealogical Society of Ireland strongly holds the view that it was understood when the legislation was adopted that it would be necessary to revisit the issue. The implementation of section 13 in May 2005 was not the way to proceed.
There are problems about the legislative basis for the office before the transfer of various functions to the Irish Republic and the payment of grants to it. The Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1939 had, as the principal Act, the Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924, which was enacted by Dáil Éireann to facilitate the allocation of various statutory bodies established by either the UK Parliament, or the earlier Irish Parliament, to the new Departments established by Dáil Éireann. One can well ask whether this was the appropriate legislation to use in 1943. The issue arises as to whether the bodies established by royal charter or letters patent which, for the purposes of the Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924, were deemed to be statutory bodies, covered the office of Ulster King of Arms. There is a strong argument to the effect that it did not.
The functions of the office of Ulster King of Arms were conferred by letters patent to an individual, usually for life, and not to an institution. Nowhere in the 1924 or 1926 Act is the position of the royal prerogative in respect of personal letters patent mentioned for the purposes of including same in the legislative or constitutional framework of the Irish Free State. It is clear, therefore, that the functions and powers of the office of Ulster King of Arms were not capable of being transferred under the 1924 Act and, therefore, likewise under the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1939.
It has been argued extensively that the concept of the royal prerogative did not survive the enactment of the 1922 Constitution and its various amendments and, therefore, because it did not exist it was not possible for it to be transferred or inherited by the 1937 Constitution. There are many more arguments in this regard. The Government of the Irish Free State could have given itself the power to grant arms through the enactment of legislation but that did not happen.
The legislative instruments employed in 1943 to give effect to the transfer of the records and treasures of the office of Ulster King of Arms and the subsequent decision to commence the delivery of heraldic services by the State through the issuance of letters patent claiming various rights, etc., were inappropriately applied by the Government of the day. If that was the case, then legislation should have been enacted.
Some other matters are also covered by the Bill. We should get our house in order in terms of the legislation. Much work is ongoing in regard to a British-Irish protocol on armorial bearings in respect of the mutual recognition of heraldic jurisdiction and the special position of Northern Ireland. If we get this legislation in place we can work on such issues.
In addition, the Bill deals extensively with related issues such as genealogy and vexillology — I hope I have pronounced that correctly — which, as Senator Ryan indicated, is a constituent discipline of heraldry given to the study of flags and emblems. This Bill is breaking new ground by incorporating these important aspects of our heritage in legislation, thereby providing for their protection and structured development.
One of the most important genealogical matters dealt with in the Bill is the proposal for a special heritage category for the first census of population of the Irish Free State. I looked up some census information this year. We all get to the stage where we want to find out about our identity and from where we come, etc. During the summer I did some research on the occurrence of the name "Tuffy" in counties Sligo, Mayo, etc. I realised that much documentation is unavailable, although a great deal of information is available on the Internet. Various bodies do good work in terms of the provision of this information for people who wish to research their Irish heritage.
The 1926 census returns are an invaluable source for genealogy and social history covering the most turbulent period in modern Irish history. The new Irish Free State held its first census in 1926 at the height of economic depression and emigration. This is a most important period of our history. The 1926 census was closed to public view for 100 years by the Statistics Act 1993, in line with all other census returns taken since 1926. An amendment to the legislation reduced the period of closure to 70 years. The Bill aims to keep the 100 year rule for census returns generally, but to make an exception for the 1926 census. The proposal is to afford the 1926 census a special heritage category and reduce its closure period to 80 years for research purposes to bridge this gap in our records covering this most important period in our nation's history, from 1911 to 1926.
The United States of America has its 1930 census returns available for research on-line and, similarly, the Canadian province of Newfoundland, which is possibly the most Irish place outside Ireland, has its 1949 census returns open to research. It is most important that this measure would be taken on board by the Government. I commend the Bill to the House.
I welcome this debate. We have relatively few debates on cultural and sporting issues in this House. Therefore, the Minister was quite in order to outline the outstanding achievements in all three areas of his portfolio.
We should be grateful to Senator Ryan for bringing forward this Bill for discussion. Like other speakers, I pay tribute to the amount of work he put into it. He added to my vocabulary with the proposal for a national vexillological register.
The modern democratic aspect of heraldry relates to the emblems of civic organisations, clubs, societies etc. That has its importance. Senator Ryan gave an interesting history going back to the middle ages. He missed out the great scandal of the early 20th century, which was the involvement of the Ulster King of Arms, Arthur Vicars, in the disappearance of the Irish crown jewels. Subsequently, he was killed in 1922 but he was disgraced long before that. My great uncle who died in 1906 had a fascination with heraldry and was a friend of Sir Arthur Vicars. Several of his books on heraldry are in my house in County Tipperary
Although I have a coat of arms and a motto, I do not actively use either of them. My motto is "Toujours prêt". My wife snorts occasionally at it. One can translate it as, "Always flexible".
Perhaps it might fit. The State should not get too involved in formalising this area. The current arms-length relationship through the National Library is probably appropriate.
I fully endorse what Senator Ó Murchú said about family research. I do not want to belittle it in any way but for many older people tracing ancestors is an absorbing hobby. I have an Australian cousin who has about 4,000 sheets of paper of various sizes. I think she can, more or less, claim descent back to the Pharaohs. It keeps her busy and it has huge tourism potential. It is harmless. I believe that if one goes back more than two or three generations one's links with one's ancestors are probably extremely tenuous and vice versa. I am convinced that probably Brian Boru and Charlemagne had millions of descendants and that may include all of us. I am not sure how much we can claim reflected glory therefrom.
The Minister has made Senator Ryan a very fair offer, which I hope he will take up, as the proposals contained in the Bill would be thoroughly vetted by the National Library to see what more needs to be done.
I endorse what the Minister has said. The Government's commitment to the arts is well illustrated by the €700 million allocation for 2007. In that regard it would be remiss of me not to compliment and thank the Minister for his support for the Wexford Opera Festival and, in particular, the new theatre which will be built in Wexford at a cost in excess of €26 million, which will continue the prime position Wexford holds in the opera calendar worldwide. I endorse also what he said about the National Museum, particularly in regard to Collins Barracks. It is a fine museum as those who visit it will testify.
As other Senators have done, I compliment Senator Ryan on tabling the Bill and highlighting what is an important topic. I hope he will accept the Minister's invitation to withdraw the Bill in order that aspects of it can be examined which would enhance what is already on the Statute Book.
As other speakers have said genealogy is becoming quite an interest for family histories and family trees and is important from a tourism point of view. In New Ross we developed with a university in Philadelphia the history of those who emigrated from Ireland from the mid-19th century onwards from the manuscripts of the various shipping lines which left Ireland and Liverpool.
I support the thrust and the sentiments of much of what is contained in the Bill. I hope the important aspects which threaten what is already in existence will be undertaken.
I too support the thrust of the Bill. When I first read it I thought it was a very good Bill and written by somebody who has an interest in this area as I have. I can see from where the Minister is coming when he speaks about the committee on genealogy and heraldry as provided in section 13 of the 1977 Act, that there is a Chief Herald and that it is legal. The only matter on which I take issue with him is the designation of Gaelic chieftainships and grants of arms. It would be a pity if we lost forever the whole concept of Gaelic chieftainship because there are people like O'Conor Don, O'Neill, O'Donnell, O'Brien of Thomond, McDonnell of the Glens, McGillycuddy of the Reeks and so on, who can genuinely trace their ancestry back to when before the Normans came to Ireland. I do not believe in titles but there would be some way of recognising these people and I believe it could be included in the grants of arms.
I welcome the thrust of the Bill. Whoever put it together had a genuine interest. I would hate to see it being voted down because we can get what we want by using the committee.
Tréaslaím go mór leis an Seanadóir Ó Riain as ucht an Bille seo a thabhairt chugainn. Tá sé thar a bheith tábhachtach go mbeadh plé agus díospóireacht ar an méid atá ann. Agus mé ag féachaint air, caithfidh mé a rá go bhfuil sé an-tarraingteach. Tá sé tábhachtach go mbeadh sé ordaithe go rialta ó thaobh dhearcadh an Stáit de. Sa mhéid sin, táimse an-sásta vótáil chun tacaíocht a thabhairt dó.
Tá cúpla rud ann, áfach, a chuireann isteach orm beagáinín, ar an gcéad dul síos ó thaobh na gclann Gaelacha de. I gcónaí, ba é an traidisiún a bhí ag na clanna, bíodh é na Rianaigh nó muintir Uí Thuathail, nó pé dream, a gcúrsaí féin a dhéanamh iad féin. Ní raibh muintir Uí Thuathail in iarthar na tíre nó i gCill Mhantáin ariamh ag feitheamh ar Rí na Breataine, Rí na hÉireann, Rialtas na tíre seo, ná aon duine eile chun aon sórt tacaíochta a thabhairt dóibh agus iad ag teacht chun cinn ar pé bratach nó motto a bhíodh acu nó aon rud eile. Dheineadar a gcuid gnó iad féin, agus ba mhaith an rud é go ndéanfaidh siad an méid sin as seo amach chomh maith. B'fhéidir go gcuirfeadh duine i gcoinne an Stát a bheith ag cur ladair isteach ar an ngnó sin, a bhí i gcónaí i lámha na gclann go dtí seo.
Ní fheadar an bhfuil aon ghá dúinne reachtaíocht a chur chun cinn chun tacaíocht a thabhairt don Chief Herald of Ulster, nó pé rud é. Nach bhféadfaimis tosnú as an nua? Is tír nua daonlathach muid, agus ní ríocht sinn a thuilleadh. Ba mhaith liom díriú air sin chomh maith. Ní chuireann sé sin isteach ró-mhór ar an mBille, ach ba mhaith liom leasú a chur ann le go bhféadfaimis é sin a dhéanamh.
Tréaslaím go mór leis an Seanadóir as ucht é seo a thabhairt chun cinn, agus go n-éirí leis.
I thank Senator O'Toole for sharing time. I welcome the Bill and commend my colleague, Senator Ryan, on introducing it. I hope it will get a speedy passage into law. I am aware that some people think that heraldry and genealogy is a colonial heritage that we should not value in a Republic. I could not disagree more. I believe it is the sort of thing we should value if we are to maintain the nation's heritage.
Another issue that has been raised is that there is a commercial aspect to it. There is little doubt that those who emigrated many years ago wish to be able to access the information that is available. I learned only today that some statute is necessary if legal doubts are to be removed concerning some of the arms that were granted to President Robinson, President McAleese and also to President Kennedy and President Clinton. We need a proper department of heraldry and genealogy and a vexillological register.
Dr. Pat Donlon, who is in charge of the National Library, wrote in 1996 that her long term plans included a dedicated, open access, genealogical reference centre to be housed in the refurbished extension to the National Library into the former National College of Art and Design premises. I hope the Minister will look again at those plans. There is a benefit in this for our heritage and a benefit for our traditions as well as a commercial benefit. I congratulate Senator Ryan on introducing the Bill. I hope the Minister will find a way to ensure it comes to fruition in whatever manner is the most suitable.
I am grateful to Senator Ryan for accommodating me. I line with the contributions from both sides I support the spirit of the Bill but I take cognisance of what the Minister has said.
I had the honour and privilege of being the Opposition spokesperson when the Cultural Institutions Bill was taken in the House and I became very familiar with the area of vexillology, genealogy and heralds. The Genealogical Society of Ireland has been at the forefront in this regard. I was reminded of Margaret Thatcher's famous "out, out, out" speech when the New Ireland Forum issued its report. To the three areas that Senator Ryan indicated in his Bill, the Minister has said unequivocally and unambiguously "no, no, no." However, I share his views and those of the Genealogical Society of Ireland about some form of recognition for eminent people in this country. I had this argument at the time of the previous debate. Former Senator, Joe Lee, and I mounted a challenge with the then Minister, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, who had fixed his mind in much the same way as has the current Minister about the specific proposal on honours and titles.
Government generally seems to have some sort of blind spot whenever one discusses these matters, partly because we are in a republic and should not do this. It is regarded as an anachronism and going back to the old times. However, I believe we could reach an accommodation in this republic of ours. It happens in France, which is probably the best example of a functioning republic with a monarchical structure. I see no reason someone could not devise something similar to the order of St. Patrick. We have very worthwhile local and national institutions that annually recognise the contribution that ordinary people make in the course of their daily lives. I attended a function recently in my county and understand it takes place in several other counties. I refer to the ESB-Rehab Person of the Year award and there are many others. The Leitrim Guardian magazine, which uniquely is the only magazine in my county published on an annual basis, has a person of the year award. While all these awards are good and fine, there is an argument for establishing a national scheme for recognition of people, which would in no way compromise our republican credentials.
I was very anxious to make a modest and limited contribution to the Bill. As I said at the outset, I empathise greatly with much of its contents. As Senator Jim Walsh said, I acknowledge what the Minister has said in the firm argument he made against allowing the Bill to proceed. It is encouraging that he said he would reflect on the points and arguments made here.
I apologise to my colleagues if I do not mention everybody's contribution. It is an inevitable consequence of the brevity of my reply. I do not mean this as a nasty point. Once we got away from the set scripts we had a very good debate arising from which is something that people may not have known, which is how important the issues are. Many people here have views. Whether I or other Senators agree is secondary. It is clear this is an issue with ramifications that matter to many people. I have taken the debate in that spirit. I have many smart remarks about the Minister, which I will leave out. I will have plenty of opportunities again. There is nothing inconsistent with a republic having a chief herald. That proudest of new republics, the Republic of South Africa is the example I would cite. There is no single model of a republic. A republic is a democratic state that does not have someone who remains as head of state for life. After that, provided it is democratic, there is a range of republics.
While it is not like a politician to say this, I have received enormous compliments for my diligence in drafting the Bill. I did not draft the Bill, other people drafted it. If I deserve a compliment it is for introducing it and having the neck to go through with something as complicated and risk the possibility of making a fool of myself in the process. I deserve no compliment for the detail of the Bill. It was prepared by people who know considerably more than I do. However, this is how we should do our business. We cannot, as Members of the Oireachtas, be experts in every field. When other people impress us with an idea and their expertise, we should use it and admit it.
Having said that, a number of matters arose. Senator Ó Murchú spoke about the impending extraordinary event where much of our family history will be accessible on the Internet in a very organised fashion. When investigating the family history of ordinary people, like ourselves, as distinct from the distinguished families, I am always struck by the sudden terrifying gap in the middle of the 19th century. In the investigation of family history, there is a sudden staring over the brink of the catastrophe in the middle of the 19th century. When we sought the history of my grandfather and grandmother in County Tipperary, I found it was easy to go back to the late 19th century. It was a bit more of a struggle in the early 19th century, but beyond that there is suddenly a gap, which remains deep in our self-conscious.
I am a chemical engineer, the only engineer in the Oireachtas and the missing engineer on Senator Ross's list, as many Senators will know. Every chemical engineer in that building over there had to be able to say "vexillological" before being allowed in. If Senators believe that they will believe anything. However, we must get one up on Trinity if we get a chance.
I was somewhat disappointed in the Minister's response. There is no point in responding to Private Members' legislation with arguments about detail. The Minister did not address the central issue of whether a sound legal base exists for the issue of arms in the State. I would like to know what the Attorney General advised the Government in 2002 in this regard. If advice exists, it is a pity we are not discussing it. I do not know why the National Library of Ireland has not pursued it. I know the current chief herald does not believe it. However, while he may be a fine chief herald, he is not an authority on law and the Constitution.
Some Senators spoke about our diaspora, which is a legitimate part of it. We are an extraordinarily diverse people who are spread throughout the world. We have connections in many countries and the Internet will greatly expand the access that people will have and will want to have to what exists of records here. This is why one of the Bill's provisions to prevent the improper or illegal export of genealogical records is extremely important. Within a generation such matters could go from being the stuff of parish records to the sort of items that could sell for large amounts of money at international auctions. Some great works of art barely sold 100 years ago and are now worth up to €50 million. We need to ensure we recognise our heritage while we still have it in our hands and before it drifts away from us and is scattered around. It is a tragedy that the personal papers of some of our great writers are now scattered through half a dozen different universities. I think of the papers of James Joyce, in particular, that are scattered in a variety of places. It is a tragedy because when it could have been done it was not done and now that we could perhaps do it we cannot afford to do it.
I still cherish that one of the more distinguished former members of this House was theMcGillicuddy of the Reeks. Senator Norris assured me he insisted on the emphasis being on the first syllable rather than on the second syllable, which is peculiar. However, the man knows more about pronunciation than anybody else here does.
There is consensus on pursuing the issue. It is not an issue on which there is a major party political divide. It would be a pity to force it to a vote. I do not propose to do this because I do not want to embarrass Members who are sympathetic to my intention. It would be a pity to do so. I therefore ask the permission of the House to withdraw the Bill. I accept the Minister's offer to seek the views of the board of the National Library of Ireland on the issues raised and I hope this will be done reasonably expeditiously. I ask Government Members to pursue the Minister on the question of whether there is a genuine and reliable legal basis for the current issue of arms and whether there is a need for clarification in this regard.
I thank Members for their contributions to this entertaining and enjoyable debate, which was conducted in good spirit and with little rancour. I also thank the Government for allowing it to take place in Government time. This is unusual and I welcome it unequivocally.