The Irish government has announced a new expert committee to prepare national guidelines for cultural institutions in handling items of unknown provenance in their collections and to advise the government on policy in restitution and repatriation of heritage.
The committee is led by Donnell Deeny, the chairman of the UK government’s Spoliation Advisory Committee and a member of the Court of Arbitration for Art in The Hague. Other members will include museum workers, members of the civil service, legal and ethical experts and members of claimant communities, the Department of Tourism and Culture said in a press release dated 20 June.
“The restitution and repatriation of cultural heritage is a complex and sensitive issue, and one that is increasingly coming to the fore worldwide,” said Catherine Martin, the minister for tourism and culture. “That makes it all the more important that we provide structures and guidance to support our cultural institutions in navigating this terrain.”
The committee will look at developments in other countries and examine best practices in the areas of provenance research and restitution, the release said. Its tasks also including assessing “the scope of potentially contested cultural heritage collections and materials within Ireland.” It is not yet clear whether it will concentrate solely on colonial-era heritage or whether art lost due to Nazi persecution may also fall under its mandate, a spokesman for the Department of Tourism and Culture wrote in response to an emailed inquiry.
Other countries have set up similar commissions to advise on heritage in European museum collections acquired during the colonial era, or are in the process of doing so, including Belgium, the Netherlands and Austria.