The Seanad is being temporarily relocated to the National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology. Image: J.-H. Janßen, Wikimedia Commons

Row over plans to move Ireland's senate into national museum

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 24.10.2016
National Trust for Ireland says proposal would threaten protected building
Plans to move the Seanad (senate) into the National Museum of Ireland’s archaeology building have sparked a row between the Irish government and the heritage community.

The Seanad needs to find a new home for up to two years while restoration works are carried out on its chambers in Dublin’s Leinster House.

The relocation, which has an estimated cost of between €1.5m and €1.7m, will cut off access to the first floor of the museum’s Kildare Street premises, which includes an education reception area, ceramics gallery, lecture theatre and object handling space for children.

Yesterday, An Taisce – the National Trust for Ireland issued a strongly-worded condemnation of the plans and said it may consider legal action to prevent the takeover.

Describing the proposed move as “disgraceful”, An Taisce said the alterations needed to accommodate the Seanad would breach planning permission regulations on a protected structure.

The government is seeking a planning permission exemption on the works, which can only be granted if they do not affect the character of the structure.

But An Taisce said the works would alter the building’s character in a number of ways, including the change of use of a gallery, the breach of an external wall to create entrances and exits for senators, the addition of a lift to the building’s facade and the loss of a public amenity.

Mark Clinton, who sits on An Taisce's Monuments and Antiquities Committee, said: “Clearly the works envisaged will alter the character of the protected structure and permission for the works should not be given.”

An Taisce also questioned the amount the government planned to spend on the relocation and raised concerns that the move would become permanent. “[It is] amazing expenditure for a ‘temporary’ facility,” said Clinton. “This is equally amazing given the fact that the national museum has been starved of staff, resources and funds for decades.”

An Taisce pointed to the state’s long history of requisitioning cultural buildings for governmental use. This included Leinster House itself – formerly a cultural campus that featured a number of national museums, arts and science institutions – which was taken over by the newly formed Irish Free State in 1922, as well as the Royal College of Science’s world renowned Fossil Hall, which was closed and had its exhibits put in storage in the 1960s to make way for ministerial offices.

Leading figures in the Irish culture sector have also objected to the plans. The museum’s former director, Pat Wallace, told the Irish Times that museum staff had been “weeping” over the proposal, and said he feared there was “a plan afoot... to undermine the museum, to diminish it [and] reduce its importance in this area of Dublin”.
In a statement, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht said the project would result in long-term benefit to the museum, and that the arts minister was working with the museum to ensure any concerns were addressed.

The statement said: “Additional funding is being made available to provide alternative accommodation within the museum for its education programme and for the installation of a new lift, which will provide disability access to the upper level of the museum for the first time.”