Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland public pays £77k for artefacts they're not allowed to see

By Allan Preston

An historic collection of Stormont's artefacts is to be unveiled to MLAs and the media - but will be kept hidden from the public, it has emerged.

The valuable art, furniture and other items is currently being held in a specialist Co Antrim storage facility in Dunmurry under dust covers.

Since 2011 it's understood the taxpayer has paid for storage fees of £76,715 - nearly £13,000 a year.

TUV leader Jim Allister wrote to the Assembly Commission about showing the artefacts and, following a meeting on January 31, the administrative body has agreed to arrange a viewing of the items.

But the MLA said he was disappointed there were no plans for a full public exhibition.

"I have been interested in getting the dust covers off the historic artefacts held by the Assembly and getting them on public display for a considerable time," said Mr Allister, who first began inquiries in 2012.

The hidden treasures include a ceremonial sword, a model of Thiepval Tower, a collection of clerks' uniforms and portraits of former prime ministers JM Andrews and Lord Craigavon.

"I have repeatedly pressed the Commission to put these items on public display and, while I believed that initially the response was going to be favourable, this has proved not to be the case," Mr Allister explained.

He added he was pleased to finally see the items, but called for the Commission to go further.

"I look forward to viewing the items with the press, but I am deeply disappointed that the public are to be denied the opportunity to see artefacts which are part of the history of Northern Ireland," he continued.

"The Commission needs to explain why it has been dragging its feet on this issue until now and why it still isn't allowing the public to see items which are hidden away in warehouses at taxpayers' expense."

Mr Allister explained he was advised in June last year of the high storage costs involved.

"It's long past time that people got to see what their money is being spent on to keep hidden," he commented.

An Assembly spokesperson said: "The Assembly Commission has no current plans to arrange a public display of items that are currently held in off-site storage."

In 2016, when Mr Allister previously raised the matter, items of interest were understood to include the table used to sign the Act of Union in 1800, silver maces, a gilded throne and two jardinieres believed to be made from the timbers of the ship, The Mountjoy, which famously breached a protective boom on the River Foyle during the Siege of Derry in 1689.

Another item is a special Union flag presented to the former Northern Ireland Parliament in memory of Ulster Unionist Senator James Baillie, as well as a framed letter from the Duke of Edinburgh. The Stormont art collection is thought to include over 1,400 works, with most in storage. Still on display in the Assembly Buildings is the 2010 portrait of the late Ian Paisley by the Irish artist David Nolan.

The oil on canvas portrait with the late First Minister in a coat and hat hangs on the first floor, giving visitors the impression he is watching over the Great Hall.

Another, The House will Divide by Noel Murphy, was unveiled in 2003 showing all 108 MLAs. This was inspired by a 1921 work by William O'Connor depicting King George V opening the very first Northern Ireland Parliament.

Belfast Telegraph

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