Special Report 62: National Museum of Ireland   Press Release

The Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr John Purcell, has today published a special report on the National Museum of Ireland.

Background to the Examination

The National Museum of Ireland, which dates back to 1877, became a fully autonomous non-commercial semi-state body in 2005. Its role is to manage Ireland?s national collection of heritage objects. It falls under the responsibility of the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism which has overall policy responsibility for the preservation of the nation?s cultural heritage. 

Main Findings 

The examination found that there was a need to

  • improve the safeguarding of the collections
  • devise policies covering acquisitions and disposals
  • provide better access to the collections
  • modernise the management of the Museum

Collections Management

It is estimated that there are almost four million objects in the national collections of which an estimated 1.5 million have been sourced from archaeological excavations. The Museum does not have a formal collections management policy and this has contributed to ever expanding collections, a situation which has been exacerbated by the rate of growth of material coming into the Museum?s care from archaeological excavations in recent years.  

The examination found that more modern recording systems and inventory checks could be used to underpin the safekeeping of the objects. Of the 911,000 objects which lend themselves to being recorded in detail, only 30% are electronically recorded at present. Moreover, the Museum does not perform any systematic inventory checks to confirm the location of its objects. Storage conditions are a concern in view of the heritage value of the material.  While improvements have been made in recent times, the examination noted that many artefacts continue to be stored in poor conditions. The pressure on space would suggest that a more discriminating approach to the acquisition, de-accessioning and disposal of objects may be necessary.

About 85% of overall conservation department input goes to preparing objects for public display, resulting in limited time being available for any preventative conservation. Object condition audits, which are not being carried out, could focus the type of conservation work to be undertaken in the future.

Accessibility of the National Collections

Accessibility in terms of opening hours could be improved. The Museum opens to the public for 38 hours per week, which is relatively low when compared with other museums, nationally and internationally.  Access to the collections by researchers is complicated and the Museum needs to streamline these arrangements.

Developing electronic access to collections and modernising the Museum?s website to cater for the provision of information about the collections could also enhance public access.

Management of the Museum

Considerable additional investment is planned for the Museum. In order to ensure that this additional funding (?30 million) which is being made available under the National Development Plan 2007-2013 is applied to optimal effect, the Museum needs to finalise a strategy statement and develop comprehensive acquisition, de-accessioning and exhibitions policies so as to effectively fulfil its mandate as a leading national cultural institution. It also needs to develop a better set of indicators to measure its performance in key areas and implement a risk management system. Progress in these areas would greatly enhance the Museum?s prospects of achieving accreditation under the Heritage Council?s standards programme for the museum sector. An assessment of the Museum?s performance against these standards is set out in Chapter 5 of the Report.   

Notes for Editors

The Comptroller and Auditor General is an independent constitutional officer with responsibility for the audit of public funds.  He reports to Dáil ?reann. 

The full text of the report is available on the website of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (go to www.audgen.gov.ie)

For further information about the report, please contact: John Maher at (01) 603 1003 or at john_maher@audgen.irlgov.ie