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Historic treasure trove of Assembly artefacts languishing in storage

By Rebecca Black

Published 23/11/2016

Jim Allister
Jim Allister

A treasure trove of items from some of the most important moments in Northern Ireland's history remain locked away in a Co Antrim storage facility.

The artefacts - which were presented to the Northern Ireland Parliament and later the Assembly - include the table upon which the Act of Union was signed in 1800, the Speakers' state robes, a gilded throne, silver maces, a special Union flag which was presented to the former Northern Ireland Parliament in memory of Senator James Baillie and a framed letter from the Duke of Edinburgh.

The extent of the volume of items which remain in storage has come to light following Assembly questions by TUV leader Jim Allister.

Mr Allister asked about a number of specific items, including the Union flag and letter from the Duke of Edinburgh, as well as a collection of a bottle, goblets and saucers in blue pottery.

He asked whether they were still in the ownership of the Assembly, and if so, why they were not on display.

The Northern Ireland Assembly Commission confirmed the items are all in a specialist storage facility in Dunmurry.

The situation has not changed from a similar Assembly Question which was asked by DUP MLA Adrian McQuillan in 2010.

Revelations then sparked public debate over why the items were not on display.

Some of the most historic items include the mahogany table on which the Royal Assent to the Act of Union was signed and two jardinieres reputedly made from the timbers of the ship the Mountjoy, which famously breached the boom on the river Foyle during the siege of Londonderry in 1689.

Other more recent items in the Assembly's collection in storage include a selection of fire damaged items recovered from the Parliament Buildings fire in January 1995.

There are also a number of stranger items held in storage by the Assembly Commission.

These include a cigar lighter which was presented to Stormont by the Royal College Of Nursing in 1960 and a silver egg timer with the crest of Northern Ireland on it.

Some of the items are out on loan, such as a portrait of former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Basil Brooke to the Viscount Brookeborough, and a portrait of Queen Lydia de Burgh to Hillsborough Castle.

Meanwhile, a number of famous artworks adorn the walls of Stormont, including a portrait of the late Ian Paisley.

Earlier this year Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir revealed that the Northern Ireland Civil Service Art collection numbers more than 1,400 works - and are mostly kept in storage.

He said then he wanted to see the art displayed in public buildings such as hospitals.

He said: "I am determined to ensure the collection is more accessible and can be viewed by a wider audience. I wish to understand its cultural importance and ensure it is preserved for future generations. I am considering refreshing the collection in a way that will help support emerging local artists."

Mr O Muilleoir was responding to an Assembly Question asked by Sinn Fein MLA Oliver McMullan.

A spokesperson for the Department of Finance said it was hoped historical items could be more widely displayed.

"The minister has brought together local experts to ensure the government's art collection is enjoyed by as wide an audience as possible. They will present their findings to the minister shortly."

Belfast Telegraph

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