Irish Museums Association calls for Brexit audit

Jonathan Knott, 21.02.2018
Northern Irish and Republic of Ireland governments urged to provide funding
The museum sector in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has been called on to carry out a comprehensive audit of how Brexit is likely to impact its work, in a new report from Ulster University and the Irish Museums Association (IMA).

The report recommends that museums should consider the effects of Brexit on funding; policy, planning and practice; workforce; training; and partnerships. It urges the governments of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to make funding available to support this work.

The authors reviewed official reports and consulted museums and related organisations in order to identify the areas of work likely to be impacted.

The document notes that EU funding has been “significant” for museums in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, highlighting sums such as the £3.6m that supported the creation of the Museum of Orange Heritage, which has sites in Belfast and County Armagh.

It adds that while working relationships established via EU programming will continue, the opportunity for new projects “may now be limited”.

The report highlights loan agreements and touring exhibitions as policy and practice areas that could be affected. The workforce issues it focuses on are diversity and arrangements for staff who travel across the Irish border.

Regarding collaborations between museums across the border, the report notes that “the desire to continue the constructive relationships and partnerships of the past is unlikely to diminish, but the practical administration and management of programmes, in the terms of the ease of movement and making these financially viable, is concerning”.

One curator from a museum in the Irish border region said that even a soft border would be a “psychological weight that limits the dream”.

Among the report’s specific recommendations were for the museum sector to compile a database of EU money directly received by museums, including capital and project funding, since 1998. It adds that “the sector should suggest what level of funding is needed to replace any potential loss of funding and how that will be planned and executed”.

It also calls on the sector to document the number of staff who need to cross the Irish border for work, and gather data on workforce diversity.

Another recommendation is for the Northern Ireland Museums Council (NIMC), in collaboration with the Irish Museums Council and Heritage Council, to develop training and guidance in key areas such as changes to customs and excise arrangements for the movement of collections.

The report says: “The fog produced by the continuing negotiations between the UK government and the EU, concerning the timeline and format of the withdrawal, should not distract museums and cultural bodies from interrogating what Brexit means for the sector.”

The report recommended that Northern Ireland’s Department for Communities should make funding available for an audit via the NIMC, and that the Republic of Ireland’s Department for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht should provide funding via the Heritage Council or IMA.

Elizabeth Crooke, a professor of Heritage and Museum Studies at Ulster University and one of the report’s two authors, said that the format of any audits that took place would depend on what funding was made available.

One possibility would be two distinct but aligned audits for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, using comparable frameworks. These could either be led by a central body in each area or undertaken by the museums themselves. "Ideally, whatever audits that emerge will be a collaborative effort,” said Crooke.

Gina O’Kelly, the IMA’s director of operations, said that her organisation had worked informally with a taskforce from across Ireland last year on areas likely to be put at risk by Brexit, and she anticipated that an audit would “continue to work with that taskforce and formalise the structure”.

She stressed that cross-border partnerships would be a key focus. “Over the last 20 years there has been so much work put into developing these really strong collaborations, that we don’t want anything to put them at risk,” she said.

O’Kelly added: “We would need to consider whether we need to do two separate audits. There are implications for museums in Northern Ireland that would not apply to those in the Republic of Ireland”.

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