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Written Answers. - Paintings on Lusitania.

Wednesday, 12 June 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 466 No. 7

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 40. Miss Quill Information on Máirín Quill Zoom on Máirín Quill  asked the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  the steps, if any, he proposes to initiate to seek to recover items of artistic value on behalf of the National Gallery of Ireland in view of the fact that the owner of the wreck of the Lusitania has now been legally determined; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12154/96]

Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht (Mr. M. Higgins): Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins It will be recalled that in the spring of 1995 there were media reports concerning the wreck of the Lusitania, to the effect that a number of valuable paintings had been taken on board the ship for transport to Ireland by Sir Hugh Lane, the then Director of the National Gallery. It was speculated that these paintings — which were named — had survived intact on the seabed in lead cylinders. I immediately initiated an investigation into the matter. Some circumstantial evidence exists to indicate that a painting, once attributed to Rubens but later assessed as a workshop production from the “School of Van Dyck” may have been on board the Lusitania but, if so, this would have been the property of another passenger, a Mr. Williamson. The main evidence available is a copy of the ship's manifest indicating that Sir Hugh Lane had a case of oil paintings on board. No evidence could be found to substantiate the claim that the paintings were stored in lead cylinders.

The investigations which I initiated show that there is no foundation in fact for the media reports concerning named paintings. All were found to have been sold to persons other than Sir Hugh Lane. Several are currently in public collections, including a painting by Titian entitled “Man with a Hawk”.

An Underwater Heritage Order was placed by the Commissioners for Public Works in respect of the Lusitania on 25 January 1995 “on account of its historical importance”. The order requires, without prejudice to the rights of the [1866] owner of the wreck, a licence to be obtained first to dive within the site of this wreck. Should any item from the wreck be retrieved the find must be handed over to the receiver of wreck under the provisions of the Merchant Shipping (Salvage and Wreck) Act, 7993. In the event that any cargo items are recovered, the State would have the option of making a claim for them at that stage.

As the Deputy has alluded to, the Irish High Court decided in May 1996 that a particular individual is the owner of the wreck of the Lusitania. The State did not contest this claim but has made a counter-claim asking that the individual in question not lay claim to any items of cargo that might be retrieved in the future. While the position is technically sub judice, I would like to take the opportunity to express the hope that outstanding legal issues can be resolved by agreement and to the satisfaction of all those who have shown such a close interest in the subject of the Lusitania.

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