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Leinster House restaurant could have been a temporary home for the Seanad

Immediate structural works are needed at Leinster House, beginning with the senator’s chamber.

The National Museum of Ireland, neighbour to Leinster House, was chosen as the best temporary location for the Seanad.
The National Museum of Ireland, neighbour to Leinster House, was chosen as the best temporary location for the Seanad.

THIRTEEN PLACES WERE considered for a new home for senators before the final controversial destination of the National Museum of Ireland was chosen.

One of the more interesting finalists was the members’ restaurant in Leinster House, an exclusive dining room with white table cloths and a TV screen. The huge room was the location of the count for the Seanad in the past.

Other venues shortlisted as a new home for senators George’s Hall in Dublin Castle; the North Wing of Royal Hospital Kilmainham; the Mansion House, Dawson Street; Trinity College Dublin, and the RDS in Ballsbridge.

The 60 members of Seanad Éireann are to move next door to the heritage museum while serious construction and infrastructure works are carried out to three floors of the old building.

‘Hugely difficult and traumatic’

The plan to relocate to the museum drew criticism from the outset when a former director of the museum said that curators had been found ‘weeping’ at the news.

An Taisce also released a strong statement on the move, saying ”the museum has no spare space for the temporary convenience of vagrant Senators”.

Today, Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl said that he took their views seriously, and that he understood that the move would be “hugely difficult” and indeed “traumatic” for staff members.

He said that this was due to the “smash and grab” relationship that had happened before – the Dáil chamber was previously intended as a lecture hall for academics, but its use changed in 1922 upon the creation of the free state.

Thirteen locations were considered for the senators’ move, but with considerations to the services needed, the security requirements, and cost effectiveness, the museum was considered the best option.

The senators are to be housed in the Ceramics Room of the museum, and will also use the Japanese Room, which is adjoined to Leinster House. A door was recently discovered in the walls connecting the two buildings, meaning that no extra works will be carried out to create a link between the two buildings.

16/12/2016. Restoration of Georgian Leinster House The Ceramics Room. Source: SAM BOAL

The agreement is to last until the end of 2018, as senators want to be back in the chamber for the 2019 centenary, but the construction could take longer, as the extent of the work is still unknown.

Ó Fearghaíl acknowledged that art and heritage institutions had felt “disproportionately penalised” because of the financial crisis and said that a new forum between the cultural institutions around Merrion Street and Kildare Street would be created in order to strengthen the links between curators and politicians.

As payment for using two rooms, the museum has been promised €500,000 in additional funding – and a lift, which they have been asking for for years.

But that same lift is causing some problems.

File Photo TDS VOTED yesterday to give themselves pay hike, despite ministers and junior ministers forfeiting the wage increase. The last-ditch effort by Sinn Fein to halt the Source: RollingNews.ie

Last week it was ruled that a planning application would have to be submitted for the proposed lift, as it was originally thought that the Office of Public Works (OPW) could bypass that process if it didn’t change the “character” of the building, which is a protected structure.

That original plan proposed the lift be wedged between Leinster House and the National Museum of Ireland, near an entrance that linked the two buildings.

But that wasn’t going to work, as it would have been within the grounds of Leinster House, and because of that, inaccessible to the public.

Now it’s unclear where the lift could go, with one member of staff saying that the senators could be back in their newly renovated chamber and no construction on the lift made.

There is also the problem of where the lift would stop off, as although there is a ground and a first floor at the museum, there are many staircases and steps leading into different exhibitions and rooms, meaning that finding the levels that the lift would access is tricky.

The museum is also hoping that the lift will reach the basement so that they can bring artefacts up to the ground and first floor without having to use staircases, which can make things tricky.

IMAG2233 This old entrance in the National Museum used to link to Leinster House. It will be knocked through to create the new entrance to the Seanad's temporary home. Source: Gráinne Ní Aodha

They’ve been asking for a lift for years now, and as part of this deal, are more likely to get it – if they can find somewhere to put it.

As part of the agreement between the museum (NMI) and the Houses of the Oireachtas, it says that “arrangements will be made for the provision of the lift… at a location to be agreed between the Office of Public Works and NMI management within the lifetime of the current project”.

Concerns

But there are worries that the extent of the move will mean that politicians will continue to use the rooms after the proposed two-year timeline.

The extensive works carried out at the museum involve a set-up to film Seanad debates, a press centre and lighting arrangements.

There are other worries too around security, noise drifting from the chamber into the museum and health and safety measures which also need to be clarified before the senators’ move to the room in the autumn of next year.

Read: Staff ‘weeping’ over plans to temporarily rehouse Seanad in wing of National Museum

Read: Seanad to temporarily relocate to National Museum despite objections

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