THE NATIONAL MUSEUM — THE BOARD OF VISITORS’ VIEW There has been much discussion of late about the problems besetting the National Museum, including an edition o f RTE's current affairs programme 'Today Tonight' in October which was entirely devoted to the Museum. Here Aidan Walsh outlines the point of view of the Board of Visitors of the National Museum of Ireland.
'Since its transfer to the Department o f the Taoiseach in 1984 the National Museum has made considerable progress. Funds have been made available for the renovation of the building, temporary contract staff have been employed and other resources have also been found to meet short-term needs. Most significantly the Museum has been accorded a higher priority than ever before by government. Nobody could claim however that this increase in resources and goodwill has undone the damage caused by the years of neglect. The Museum is still confronted by the same problem which has beset it for many years — its unsuitable administrative structure.
It is clear to the Board of Visitors that the National Museum needs a governing body which would act as a tier between it and government in the same way as the Arts Council operates for the creative arts. A governing body would give the Director of the Museum the real authority and independence of action that he needs to carry out his professional duties without undue and unnecessary reference to government departments. Such reform would allow the Museum once again to command the respect of the nation, encourage sponsorship and restore it to a place of pride in the cultural life of Ireland. A new Board composed of distinguished people from various cultural and business fields would also open up new areas of support and contact which the
Museum could tap to its advantage.
The particular form that such a body/administrative structure should take would have to be worked out through consultation with all parties concerned. The Board o f Visitors is recommending that it be abolished and replaced by the new body. A new governing body would give the National Museum a degree of autonomy which would allow it to defend its point o f view vigourously on financial, cultural and ethical matters. The present system seriously hampers the Museum in this respect, it is tied to the Civil Service procedures o f administration, a system designed for the business of government, which is quite different to the administration o f a cultural institution. Indeed the very procedures which make the Civil Service system suitable for the conduct o f the affairs o f State can actually conspire against the good administration o f a cultural institution, especially in relation to its dealings with the public. Despite the goodwill and commitment of the Civil Service and all others involved in the Museum's affairs, the present system will continue to hold it back. Furthermore one cannot find a parallel for this direct control of a major museum in any comparable European state.
If the Director and staff are to be in a position to argue the Museum’s case and take it forward with confidence, they need a new administrative structure to work through. The Board of Visitors believes that the absence of such a structure has led to the present parlous situation where the National Museum is probably worse off now than it has ever been in its long history.’
ANGELS AT WORK On the 28th November 1989 a major exhibition of Early Christian metalwork opened in the British Museum. Entitled 'The Work of Angels’, it has been planned since 1985 by the National Museum of
Ireland with the British Museum. It is under the patronage o f the Irish Government with significant commercial sponsorship from Aer Lingus which is giving the red carpet treatment to the transport o f objects in conditions of the highest security. The exhibition concerns objects of insular metalwork from Ireland, Britain, Scandinavia, France and Italy. It has a special emphasis on the technological background to the making of metalwork and will feature the results from excavations at workshop sites including recent work such as that carried out at Armagh by Chris Lynn and at Moynagh Lough crannog by John Bradley where excavation is still ongoing. Significantly the exhibition aims to fit the high-quality metalwork displayed into its contemporary social context.
A lavishly illustrated catalogue with full text is being published by the British Museum with major contributions from Susan Youngs and Dr Paul Craddock o f the British Museum, Dr Michael Ryan and Raghnall O Floinn o f the National Museum and Dr Daibhi O Croinin of University College, Galway.
The exhibition moves from London to the National Museum o f Ireland, opening in Dublin on the 5 May 1990 and then moving to the National Museum o f Scotland in Edinburgh in October 1990.
DISPUTE MARS ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY WORK One o f the more useful innovations in recent years by the Office o f Public Works in Dublin, the Sites and Monuments Record Office has recently felt the force of the assertive style of management current in these islands. Staff members have become increasingly bitter at a decision to take a prestigous county survey from their control and hand it to the Archaeology Department in UCC.
The background to this dispute goes back to 1985 when, in what was