ARCHITECTURAL HERITAGE FALLING INTO NEGLECT: THE ROYAL Hibernian Academy (RHA) has strongly criticised the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) for failing to take steps to protect historic buildings owned by developers whose multi-million euro loans have ended up in the State’s “bad bank”.
A statement – signed by its president, architect Des McMahon, four former presidents, 23 members of the academy and five associates – described this “conduct of omission as in itself an act of vandalism . . . totally inappropriate in this day and age”.
The signatories include some of Ireland’s leading artists – painters Pauline Bewick, James Hanley, Eithne Jordan, Brett McEntagart and Patrick Pye; and sculptors Rachel Joynt, Carolyn Mulholland, Áilis O’Connell, Vivienne Roche and Imogen Stuart.
They said they were “extremely alarmed at the continued deterioration of our architectural stock of historic and conservation merit”, such as the former Hume Street Hospital, which adjoins the RHA gallery at Ely Place, recently stripped by thieves.
The artists accused Nama of “not taking its legal responsibility seriously in regard to appropriate protection of several historic buildings currently under their ownership” and said its “response to our approaches to them . . . has been evasive and ambiguous”.
Nama sent a letter to the secretary of the RHA “not admitting that they owned such properties and not making any commitment to safeguarding them”, according to Mr McMahon, who was chief architect for the GAA’s acclaimed redevelopment of Croke Park.
He said the issue had been raised at the academy’s April meeting and “the general view was that if this was a painting or piece of sculpture, there’d be no question of them saying that they only own the loan attached to it, not the painting or piece of sculpture”.
Referring specifically to Nama, he said: “There should be no ambiguity whatsoever about a body that’s technically our national agency taking steps to protect our national architectural heritage. And as I understand it, they are legally obliged to do so.”
Painter Maeve McCarthy, who drafted the statement, said section 141 of the 2009 Act that established Nama gave it the authority to seek “entry and maintenance” orders in the District Court to secure any building “at risk from trespassers or vandalism”.
A spokesman for Nama reiterated the agency had merely “acquired loans which are often secured by properties, but it has not acquired the properties themselves. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that Nama has a direct responsibility in this area.
“Nevertheless, where the agency is aware that a debtor is not honouring their responsibilities in this area, the agency has directly taken action with the property owners or with the relevant authorities to try to ensure that the properties are properly secured.”
Ms McCarthy said she had a studio on the top floor of the RHA gallery and could see thieves stripping lead from the roof valleys of Hume Street Hospital last February “and walking out through the front door with it and all the copper piping they took”.
Along with her brother Peter, she started a campaign to save the building by contacting Dublin City Council, TDs, councillors, An Taisce and the media, including using Facebook. “We’re outraged by what’s been happening, and we just can’t let the vandals take over.” She noted that when the council issued an enforcement notice under the Planning Acts, it was served both on developer Michael Kelly, who had bought the former hospital for €30 million in 2006, and on Nama, requiring repair works to be carried out by April 29th.
“There is security now at Nos 3-8 Hume Street, but no roof repair, so it will get a court order after that if the work isn’t done. It is a scandal that Nama, the bankers, developers and those in authority do nothing while our heritage is plundered and destroyed.”
Ms McCarthy also expressed concern about Belcamp College, on the north side of Dublin, which was recently ransacked and set on fire – “that’s also in Nama”, she said – and about the fate of Aldborough House, on Portland Row, which is vacant.
Other historic properties she identified as in danger include two houses in Henrietta Street, owned by Dublin City Council, and others in James’s Street and Thomas Street owned by Liam Carroll, whose property group collapsed with debts of €1.3 billion. For more information, visit facebook.com/savehumestreetfromdestruction