Dáil Éireann - Volume 307 - 21 June, 1978

Private Members' Business . - Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland (Acceptance of Trusteeship) Bill, 1978: Second and Subsequent Stages .

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Wyse): I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

The need for this Bill arises from Mr. W. Garfield Weston's very generous offer to make a gift to the State of his property Barrettstown Castle and adjoining land at Ballymore Eustace, County Kildare. The gift includes the contents of the Castle and a sum of £100,000 by way of permanent endowment for the purpose of discharging the outgoings on the property.

On behalf of the present Government I should like to endorse the expression of thanks made to Mr. Garfield Weston by the then Taoiseach when acknowledging acceptance of the gift in March of 1977.

The arrangements for the processing of the gift, which is being funded by the Garfield Weston Charitable Foundation, include the setting up of Barrettstown Castle Trust and it was proposed that the Commissioners of Public Works would be the trustees of the Barrettstown Castle Trust. The legal advice which was obtained was to the effect that the commissioners have no statutory power to act as trustees or to nominate trustees in a case such as this.

Legislation to enable the commissioners to act as trustees is accordingly necessary and the Bill provides for this. The Bill also contains a clause enabling the commissioners in general terms to accept the trusteeship of any other trust with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance. It seems appropriate to take the present opportunity to give them this power which they have not had up to now.

[1719] The Barrettstown Castle Trust is being administered by the Trustees of the Garfield Weston Irish Foundation until the commissioners can undertake the trust. The Irish National Stud Company is using the land and farm buildings on a rental basis and the question of the future of the house is being examined.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. P. Barry: I should like to join the Minister of State in saying how much the previous Government and this Government appreciate the generosity of Mr. Garfield Weston in making this valuable property available to the Government and, through them, to the people, and in giving the sum of £100,000.

To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Weston is a Canadian and his attitude to this country, where he has, by his own admission, been successful in business and his appreciation of the hospitality that was extended to him is shown in this generous gift to the State. This is in marked contrast to a number of people, the descendants of families who have been here for many hundreds of years, who in many cases were not contributing to employment. When they were asked to pay some more tax their immediate response was to clear out. They could well take a lead from Mr. Weston's example and from the words of an assassinated president of the neighbouring country to Mr. Weston's home country, which were: “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country”.

According to the last sentence in the Minister's brief, the National Stud are using the land and farm buildings on a rental basis and the question of the future of the house is being examined. On many occasions it has been said, outside this House mainly, that we need a residence for the Taoiseach. It is inappropriate from his neighbours point of view that he should be living in a suburban area where security arrangements have to be made because of the job he holds. Like An t-Uachtaran, the Taoiseach [1720] needs a residence in which he can entertain and provide hospitality for visitors from abroad.

I am not sure what distance Ballymore Eustace is from Dublin but it was possible for the previous Minister for Industry and Commerce, Senator Keating, to come up to Dublin from Ballymore Eustace every day to his work. I suggest to the commissioners that, when they get this property, into their control they might consider, and the Government might consider, making it available as a residence for the Taoiseach if it is within suitable driving distance from Dublin. No doubt there will be many other suggestions as to how this house should be used. This and other similar generous gifts which are frequently given to the Government should be examined with the No. 1 priority of being made a residence for the Taoiseach. Perhaps this is too far away and maybe some other property will come on the market.

Mr. B. Desmond: I welcome this Bill. I should like to ask how much land adjoins the castle. I notice that the land and the farm buildings are rented by the National Stud Company. Mr. Garfield Weston has set a good example and the least this House can do is to thank him publicly for making the property available. The Minister might indicate to us the extent of the contents of the castle. The contents of some Irish castles are more valuable than the properties. It is encouraging that the gift includes the contents of the castle and a cash endowment which will be useful to the Commissioners of Public Works. I approve of this operation.

I am a member of Dublin County Council. Recently it cost us a good deal of money to bring Malahide Castle into public ownership and to decorate it properly. It is a magnificent public property. In Kilkenny Workshop and other places one visits, one grows to admire the tremendous craftsmanship and sensitivity the staff of the commissioners exercise in their care of many public buildings. I know of thousands of Dublin people who have never visited Dublin Castle, not to mention Barrettstown Castle. That is a terrible pity.

[1721] I do not know what the Government or the Commissioners may have in mind as to the future use of this castle. I do not know the building. Perhaps later Members of the House may have an opportunity of going down to see it. I am sure we would all like to see this gift to the State. It might be possible for the Eastern Health Board in the area to lease it. They might well be able to make use of a property of that nature if it is suitable for community work. I do not know whether it would be suitable as the out-of-town residence of the Taoiseach and for guests of the President. We need a residence of that nature rather than having to hire accommodation for visitors because of the inadequate facilities in Aras an Uachtaráin. When the Taoiseach invites guests he has to put them up in expensive hotel suites in the city centre. Barrettstown Castle is about 40 miles from Dublin.

Mr. P. Barry: Is that what it is?

Mr. B. Desmond: Since I do not know the castle, I hesitate to indicate precisely what the premises should be used for. I hope that in his Estimate speeches in the future, the Minister will be able to report progress to us on this property. I hope that other Irish families who have houses on their estates, some of which are in quite good condition, and some of which are not occupied, will follow this good example and make the properties available not only to the Commissioners of Public Works but also to the local authorities and other statutory bodies for public use, for public enjoyment and for the cultural and environmental enrichment of all our people.

[1722] Mr. C. Murphy: I want to join in the expression of thanks by the Taoiseach and the Government to a constituent of mine for this very generous gift to the Irish people. I cannot speculate on the use which will be made of Barrettstown Castle as I do not know its size or proportions but I know it will be put to very good use.

Mr. Wyse: I want to thank Deputy Barry, Deputy Desmond and Deputy Murphy for their contributions. I visited this estate and I was very impressed by its whole setting. Deputy Barry mentioned a residence for the Taoiseach. I agree with him. We are prepared to consider any suggestions for the use of this house. It would be a pity if suitable use were not made of it. It consists of 520 acres and about ten acres are laid out in gardens. The castle is furnished luxuriously. I could not give an estimate of the value of the furniture but it is very high. The future use of the castle may be discussed until the trustees are appointed. I will be delighted to keep Deputies informed of progress made.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill put through Committee, reported without amendment and passed.