The Future independence of the Heritage Council to be reviewed.
Text of my article published in the current edition of Archaeology Ireland, Volume 25, No. 4, page 4.
On the 17th of November Brendan Howlin, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, published the Public Service Reform Plan. The plan is intended to give effect to commitments made in the Programme for Government to reform the Irish public service. A key item in the programme was the commitment to make substantial cuts to the number of State bodies and companies, and the Reform Plan includes a new and expanded programme of State Agency rationalisation which will affect 48 state bodies by the end of 2012 with a further 46 to be reviewed by June 2012. The Heritage Council has been included in the list of candidate bodies for critical review by the end of June 2012. The proposal in the Reform Plan is to merge the functions of the Heritage Council into the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
The Heritage Council was established under the Heritage Act of 1995 as an independent statutory body with responsibility for proposing policies and priorities for the indentification, protection, preservation and enhancement of Irish heritage. The Heritage Council takes an integrated approach to heritage, with responsibilities that include both its cultural and natural aspects. The Heritage Act provides a definition of ‘heritage’ that includes monuments, archaeological and heritage objects, architectural heritage, flora, fauna, wildlife habitats, landscapes, seascapes, wrecks, geology, heritage gardens, parks and inland waterways.
The Heritage Council has a staff of 15 and a modest annual budget of just €4.5 million with which it supports Ireland’s two internationally important archaeological projects: the Discovery Programme and the Irish National Strategic Archaeological Research (INSTAR) programme. The Heritage Council also supports through its Grants Programme heritage research, management and education, community and outreach. Through this programme large numbers of community-based projects have been supported as well as archaeological and other heritage publications that would not otherwise have been made available to the public. The Heritage Council provides significant funding and expertise in the areas of architecture, museums, inland waterways and wildlife and is involved in the development of a National Landscape Strategy for Ireland. The Heritage Council also supports the Irish Walled Towns Network, the Museums Standards Programme for Ireland, the REPS 4 Traditional Farm Building Grant Scheme and is responsible for the organisation of the very successful Heritage Week.
Along with its permanent staff the Heritage Council is able to draw on the heritage expertise available from the many heritage professionals who sit on its board and its committees. These professionals contribute their time and expertise in a largely voluntary capacity to assist not only the management and development of the organisation but provide advice to many community and voluntary groups as well.
The budget of the Heritage Council has been reduced by 47% in 2011 after a reduction of 30% in 2010. It is difficult to see how merging its functions into the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht can deliver any additional savings. The danger is that shoe-horning the Heritage Council into the Department will result in the loss of the voluntary element that has added so much value to the modest funding provided by the state as well as the goodwill of the many voluntary and community groups with which the Heritage Council has so successfully worked over the years.
However, the important role of the Heritage Council has been recognised by at least one member of the Government. In a statement published in the Kilkenny People on 16 November Mr. Phil Hogan, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government stated: “The role of the Heritage Council was never as important it is now and it will not be subsumed into any Government department while I am Minister for the Environment.” Hopefully the rest of the Government will come around to Mr. Hogan’s view of the importance of retaining the independence of the Heritage Council.
Cite this post as:
Mount, C. Heritage Council To Go?. The Charles Mount Blog, January 26, 2012. http://charles-mount.ie/wp/?p=735