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Museum can't betray our trust

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 30/04/2015

Photographs taken by a concerned member of the public showing the apparently poor conditions in which some museum artefacts have been stored
Photographs taken by a concerned member of the public showing the apparently poor conditions in which some museum artefacts have been stored

If there was one place in Northern Ireland that you would expect to take the best care of historical artefacts then it would be a museum. But as the disturbing photographs published in our newspaper today demonstrate, that would appear to be misplaced faith.

Sources claim that some artefacts given to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum were taken back by their owners because of the way they were being stored. And it is also claimed that other potential exhibits have been allowed to deteriorate because of poor storage conditions.

The facility's overarching body, the National Museums Northern Ireland, admits that a tiny proportion of its collections are held in storage which could, and should, be improved. It says that only concerns about 1% of its collections.

Even taken at face value, that is simply not good enough. Museums are the guardians of our heritage, taking in cultural, social, natural history and manufacturing exhibits. They preserve a window on our past, sometimes stretching back thousands of years, and they are entrusted with priceless and/or unique artefacts.

The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum has a particular relevance to Northern Ireland life as its collections show the way we used to live and the innovation and development of transport in the province.

However, it seems that some of the vehicles given to the museum to care for were discovered in very poor storage conditions which were threatening the survival of the vehicles. That was a betrayal of those people who had donated their precious belongings to the museum.

Storing artefacts of any kind is a very specialised science and concerns over the state of some storage facilities at some museums here have been raised in the past by the Auditor General. That should have been sufficient warning to ensure that all facilities were brought up to the required standard.

Our museums are wonderful attractions and extremely popular with the public. They hold many more exhibits than they can ever show at one time and that means they should take the optimum care of those items being stored.

It is imperative that Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin investigates what has happened at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. If serious problems over storage are discovered, she should demand that immediate action is taken to rectify the situation.

Belfast Telegraph

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