Dáil Éireann - Volume 672 - 28 January, 2009

Other Questions. - Natural History Museum.

Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism when the Natural History Museum will reopen; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2379/09]

Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress that has been made to secure emergency funding for the refurbishment of the Natural History Museum; the reason no refurbishment was progressed in the 18 months from the time of the [820] first accident in this building; the expected timeframe for the reinstatement of this building; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2257/09]

  Deputy Martin Cullen: I propose to take Questions Nos. 102 and 110 together.

An extensive refurbishment and redevelopment plan has been drawn up for the Natural History Museum at an estimated cost outside the scope and capacity of current budgets. In view of this cost and the extensive nature of the proposed plan and, as the reopening of the Natural History Museum is a priority, the Office of Public Works, at the request of my Department, is at present examining alternative approaches to facilitate reopening of the Natural History Museum at the earliest possible opportunity.

The National Museum of Ireland has commenced work on the documentation of exhibits in the Natural History Museum. The opportunity to address this work, which is provided by the closure of the museum, will be fully utilised. I also understand from the National Museum that it will display some of the natural history collection in the Riding School, Collins Barracks, from the end of April 2009. The style of the exhibition is intended to reflect the familiar vintage exhibition, using popular exhibits and some furnishings relocated from the Natural History Museum.

  Deputy Olivia Mitchell: The Minister should not start me on Collins Barracks. I will stick to the Natural History Museum. It is more than 18 months since the stairs collapsed in the Natural History Museum and it was closed. Some €15 million was put into the national development plan for essential improvements in the Natural History Museum, namely, a small extension, a lift and a little coffee area. The lift was essential from a health and safety point of view to bring people to the second floor toilet. This was planned long before the stairs collapsed. The reason we were told 12 months ago that the work on the museum could not even begin was that the repair of the stairs was to be incorporated into the extension and refurbishment work. Now we are being told the refurbishment and extension work will not happen. Where is the €15 million? Is it gone? Can we take it that this will not happen? When can we realistically expect the work on at least making the museum safe to begin?

  Deputy Martin Cullen: I hope the Natural History Museum will re-open this year. That is the plan. Obviously this is not in terms of the major investment which is part of the OPW budgets. If Deputy Mitchell puts down a question to the Minister responsible for that, I am sure she will get the answer. I am anxious that it does not remain closed. If we cannot proceed with the big project, let us do the next best thing. Can we get the facility opened? Can we get the visitor numbers back rolling through the property, make it safe, secure and presentable for the visiting public?

  Deputy Olivia Mitchell: I accept all that, but there is a conservation issue in terms of the heat and lighting controls in that building and this must be addressed. It is an issue of conservation, cost control and safety. Is the €15 million gone? That is my question. The Minister’s predecessor, Lord have mercy on him, promised a safety audit before that building would be reopened, and that is essential to establish confidence among the staff, never mind the visitors. Will that be done? Is the Minister satisfied the building can be reopened based simply on the repairs to the stairs?

  Deputy Martin Cullen: The Deputy’s questions are important and I suggest she will get a fuller and more correct response from the Minister responsible if she puts down a question to him. The budget for that project was in the OPW. It still has budgets, although they are scaled back like everybody else’s.

[821]   Deputy Olivia Mitchell: Is the Minister telling me has not even spoken to the OPW? Ultimate responsibility lies with him.

  Deputy Martin Cullen: I set out the situation in some detail. Of course I have spoken to the OPW, but the specific question the Deputy is asking me is not in my budget. I am directing her to where the answers to those specific questions lie. I am not trying to be evasive. I do not have that specific information. If Deputy Mitchell has put it down in the question I would have given her the answer.

  Deputy Olivia Mitchell: The Minister knows nothing about the Natural History Museum.

  Deputy Martin Cullen: Of course I do. I am the one who is getting it open, not keeping it closed.

  Deputy Olivia Mitchell: What has the Minister done? He has not even spoken to the OPW and does not know what the plans are.

  Deputy Mary Upton: It is very disappointing that this project has not been given a firm commitment. It is probably one of the most interesting and attractive tourist attractions, particularly for school children. Only this morning my colleague, Deputy Tuffy, told me her four year old daughter is very interested in dinosaurs and fossils and that she would particularly like to see them available. We have some other ideas on that.

  Deputy Olivia Mitchell: Bring her in here.

  Deputy Mary Upton: The natural history aspect of it is particularly significant. Are we happy about the conservation of the exhibits, given that this project is to be put on the long finger indefinitely? What happened to the part of the exhibition that was supposed to go to County Mayo?

  Deputy Olivia Mitchell: I think it went.

  Deputy Mary Upton: Did it go?

  Deputy Martin Cullen: In April of this year an exhibition will be put on in the Riding School in Collins Barracks and that will be warmly welcomed by those who want to visit this type of exhibition. They will use the popular exhibits from the Natural History Museum. In light of the economic circumstances, if it is not possible to proceed, I do not want the place to lie dormant. I want the Natural History Museum back in its home next door and that will be possible, albeit not on the basis of a totally refurbished building. However, it will be of a standard that will be safe and accessible to the public; otherwise, it could not possibly be opened.