Sinn Féin spokesperson for Gaeilge, Gaeltacht, Arts and Culture has described as ‘disappointing’ the decision of the Minister of State with responsibility for Electoral Reform and Heritage, Malcolm Noonan TD, and his Government colleagues to reject his amendment at Committee Stage of the Historic and Archaeological Heritage Bill 2023 to positively work for the repatriation of heritage plundered under colonial rule.
Green TDs Steven Matthews and Francis Noel Duffy, Fianna Fáil’s Paul McAuliffe and Joe O’Flaherty, and Fine Gael’s Bernard Durkan all voted against Amendment 51.
Teachta Ó Snodaigh, who previously chaired the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, said:
“The Irish state, given our own colonial history, should be committed to decolonisation at home and abroad and a beacon of solidarity in the world.
“That includes the decolonisation of our museums and galleries, and the restoration of cultural heritage to its rightful owners.
“Our amendment was a simple one: where heritage was taken through theft, plunder, deception, colonial practices, or other unethical methods – or where there is doubt surrounding its provenance – the Minister should be obliged to actively endeavour to secure its repatriation to Ireland, or if the heritage is in Ireland but originated elsewhere, the Minister and any relevant state-funded institutions should be required to cooperate with requests to return it home.
“Great work is already underway by the National Museum of Ireland to restore the outstanding Benin Bronzes to their rightful owners, but rather than leaving it up to institutions, there should be a state-wide policy approach committed to repatriation.
“By cementing this principle in law, not only would we be delivering on the aims of Article 10 of the Valletta on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage which we have ratified but been slow to implement, but we would also be placing ourselves firmly in the camp of nations like Greece and India in demanding the return of what was unjustly taken, including the likes of the Elgin Marbles and others.
“The majority of ethnographic collections from around the world in Ireland were acquired during the heyday of the British Empire, where there was no consideration given to the need for consent from the nations, civilisations and communities who produced them and to whom they had and still have such meaning and significance.
“Priceless Irish gems like the Bell Shrine of St. Conall Cael from Inishkeel in Donegal, stolen in the 1800s, also remain held by the British Museum in London, and the British Library reportedly holds in the region of 200 manuscripts in the Irish language.
“Signing up to repatriation of colonial plunder means doing the right thing for others, and also demanding we are given back our own treasures, based on the principle of reciprocity.
“It is disappointing that the Green Party, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael all voted against this amendment at the Select Committee. I hope that they will reconsider this amendment along with other amendments to give added protection to our heritage at the Report Stage when the Bill returns to the Dáil.”