A national heritage group has said it would work for free to ensure the upkeep of Russborough house, if it meant avoiding the proposed sale of historical paintings in July.
The works, which were left in trust to the people of Ireland by the late Sir Alfred Beit, are being sold to establish an endowment fund to ensure the long-term future of the house.
Chairman of the National Conservation and Heritage Group Damien Cassidy told the Irish Independent that members of the group would work on a volunteer basis to maintain the site.
“It worries me greatly to see the reasoning of Minister Humphries. It sets a ridiculous precedent. If all comes to all our voluntary workers could be sent down to Russborough to aid in upkeep on an unpaid level.
“This government could take a lesson from Kilmainham, when people were willing to give up their time and their money for the sake of preserving cultural treasures.”
In the 1960s, hundreds of volunteers worked free of charge in a major programme to restore the Kilmainham Gaol over a six-year period.
Minister for the Arts Heather Humphreys will meet with representatives from Russborough House this week to discuss the proposed sale of Rubens paintings next month.
She said: “I have spoken to the chairperson of the Alfred Bite Foundation Judith Woodward, and I am going to meet with her because I need to be sure that all of the options have been considered.
“But one thing I want to be very clear on is that I really don’t have a role in this and I do not have €10m at my disposal to purchase these paintings as much as would like to.
Minister of State for the Office of Public Works Simon Harris added that the state has no legal authority over Russborough House or its assets.
He said: “There is a legal reality that this house is not in state ownership, the paintings are not in state ownership, there is a trust in place and that trust has a legal responsibility to carry out its decisions and the state must respect that.
“What I want to see happen is that there would be a dialogue in relation to the future of Russborough and in relation to making sure that every single avenue is explored.”
W hat exactly does the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht do? Aside from launching books written by other people? According to a recent report, spoken Irish is diminishing in the Gaeltacht and, after months of appeals from heritage bodies, news of the disposal of paintings from Russborough House has hit the airwaves - when it reaches Joe Duffy, it has become national crisis.