Tuesday 25 October 2016

Arts Minister Heather Humphreys expresses concern over future of Russborough House

John Brennan

Published 07/09/2015 | 19:22

Heather Humphreys
Heather Humphreys

The Minister for Arts has expressed her concern over the future of Russborough House.

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Minister Heather Humphreys explained that “it’s no longer about the paintings, it’s about future of the house now [and] it’s the long term future of the house I’m concerned about.”

Russborough House, close to Blessington in Co Wicklow
Russborough House, close to Blessington in Co Wicklow

Ms Humphreys made the comments on Monday at the National Library of Ireland’s annual review.

These comments come after the Minister confirmed that she had written to the Department of Finance to consider changing tax regulations to entice potential donors to purchase paintings from the Beit Foundation.

“I did write to the Minister for Finance to raise the matter [regarding a change in tax regulations] with him” she explained.

The Arts Minister is currently awaiting a response from the Department of Finance regarding the request.

Valuable paintings for sale: Russborough House
Valuable paintings for sale: Russborough House

Damien Cassidy, Chairman of the National Conservation Group, was critical over the decision to contact the Department of Finance, and admitted that he felt that “the Minister is in an invidious position of having to suit moneyed people.”

The Beit Foundation is the charitable trust charged with the upkeep of Russborough House.

A Rubens at Russborough House
A Rubens at Russborough House

The proposed sale of the six paintings earlier this year caused public outcry.

This was apparently done in an effort to raise the funds required to prevent the closure of Russborough house – the 16th century estate in Wicklow.

The foundation has previously said that the closure of Russborough house is inevitable without the sale of the paintings or some ongoing financial support from the Government.

Mr Cassidy also raised concerns over this, questioning whether or not state funding of the house would continue in perpetuity if it began.

More favourable tax regulations may tempt potential donors to purchase the works of art and prevent their sale abroad.

However, speaking on the current rate of tax relief, the Minister explained that “80pc is a very generous tax relief.”

But would not be drawn on whether she felt the correspondence with the Department of Finance would bear fruit.

With the future of the house being by no means guaranteed, Minster Humphreys stated in no uncertain terms that “€15m is a lot of money.”

The Minister did state that she had “set up an interdepartmental group and they have met, and intend to meet with Russborough shortly to look at all the options and look at how we can go forward to ensure the security of the house into the future.”

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