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Manx National Heritage Respond to Tynwald Debate 21 July 2006

The Chairman of Manx National Heritage (MNH), Martin Moore, and Minister Hon. Alex Downie MLC, have made a strong statement deploring what they consider to be the “unjustifiable and unsupportable” accusations made in last week’s sitting of Tynwald with regard to MNH.

Chairman, Martin Moore, said:

“I was disappointed by some of the comments of some Tynwald Members in the Tynwald debate, who clearly had no evidence whatsoever for some of the erroneous claims they were making. I am afraid that these unjustifiable comments appear to have been motivated by personal political agendas rather than anything that can be supported by a proper analysis of the work which MNH does on behalf of this community’s heritage, all around the Island. I expected a much more seriously considered contribution from the political representatives about something as precious as the future of our national heritage”.

During the debate, a claim was made by some Members in Tynwald, and particularly in Hazel Hannan MHK’s Motion, that MNH lacked “political accountability”.

Hon Alex Downie MLC considers such a charge to be “ridiculous” and the product of a long-time grudge against the work of MNH, despite the success of the development of the House of Manannan in Mrs Hannan’s constituency, which Mrs Hannan vigorously opposed at the time.

Mr Downie said:

“It is quite ridiculous to imply that MNH lacks political accountability. There are four national politicians representing Tynwald on the Trustee body of MNH, including the Speaker, a representative of the House of Keys, and myself and the Chief Minister who sit in the Council of Ministers. It is also possibly the only forum on the Isle of Man where representatives of Local Authorities sit down to discuss important issues with a range of national politicians. There are also representatives of the business sector, the Department of Education, the National Trust, local learned societies and other specialists. It is therefore a uniquely valuable forum. That is more political representation than anywhere else in Government”.

Mr Downie continued:

“I feel that Mrs Hannan’s recent Resolution in Tynwald is one of a long line of issues she has targeted at MNH, and it seems a pity when MNH have provided so many community opportunities in Peel and the West of the island. I hope that she will provide evidence to substantiate her claims to the Committee. MNH has delivered successful project after successful project, and generally increased the whole profile of our heritage profile. I think the general public will see this political pragmatism for what it is.
In my view, and I have been a Trustee for a number of years, and can also speak with many years’ experience of other Government Departments, the MNH Trustees are totally accountable and undertake their work with the utmost integrity.
Although the work of MNH is largely funded by Government, the Trustees have always provided an objective and independent source of advice to Government. They have always acted honestly and truthfully on behalf of the best interests of the national heritage – some people don’t like that in politics – but to my mind, it is essential in a community like ours that we have this independent and knowledgeable voice. Who else will speak up for the preservation of our heritage? Not, I think, any formal Department of Government – that is why the Castles and the Laxey Wheel and the Old House of Keys were transferred out of Government and into MNH – and what a transformation they made of those sites which are now major national assets”.

Chairman, Martin Moore indicated a further concern as a result of the attack in Tynwald. He said:

“We have already had two expressions of concern from potential benefactors who are considering major financial donations to MNH as a public charity. I am talking about the potential of millions of pounds. They do not want to see such contributions disappear into a politically controlled organization. Each year, through many bequests, legacies, and donations, the Government receives considerable added value to the investment it makes in the work of MNH through these private donations. It would be very hard to think of another area of Government’s investment that benefits from such overwhelming public support, while at the same time enhancing the concept of our national identity and heritage internationally.
Our Friends organization is the largest such supporting organization in the island, with over 5,500 members. In the past, when Government has considered taking political control of MNH, there has been clear public disapproval. All past reports by Government have concluded that the Island is very well served by the work of MNH with its independent Trustee body, on which there is strong political representation”.

Mrs Hannan’s Tynwald Resolution, amended by Mrs Craine, asked the Committee currently investigating the possible re-structuring of Government, chaired by former Clerk of Tynwald, Robert Quayle, to look at the MNH constitution with a view to enhancing political accountability.

Mr Moore and Mr Downie indicated that MNH will be making a full submission to Mr Quayle’s Committee, emphasising that MNH is subject to exactly the same controls and regulations as any other area of Government, and refuting the unsubstantiated claims made in the Tynwald debate. Mr Downie said that he was supportive of Mr Quayle’s Committee and stated:

“I know that the Committee will view the work of MNH with some impartiality and not be caught up in any personal agendas which were apparent listening to some of the issues raised in Tynwald. The work that MNH has done in recent years has united the community and given us a new platform for promotion. It is a classic example of Freedom to Flourish”.

Mr Moore concluded his statement by saying:

“I think the people of the Isle of Man are well aware of the state and perception of our heritage ten or fifteen years ago. Since then, MNH has rescued Rushen Abbey, the Sound and Niarbyl for the nation, when the previous private ownership had denied the rights of public access. We have achieved ownership of the Calf of Man, restored and redisplayed Castle Rushen and the Old House of Keys, built a major new heritage interpretation centre in Peel, which has stimulated further work to restore Peel Castle. We have enlarged and almost completely redesigned the main Manx Museum in Douglas. We have helped to establish and support the work of the Centre for Manx Studies which has done so much to improve our knowledge of our own national history and to educate our students in their own country’s achievement.
In recent years, MNH has transformed the perception of our island identity through our heritage. This fact has been recognized in a number of recent major surveys, including the Chief Minister’s Branding Committee surveys and the Government’s own Quality of Life surveys. All these surveys prove that our heritage is a major component of our quality of life and our national identity for the future.
The work of MNH has established an international reputation of quality and integrity for the Island’s heritage and has been the stimulus for many thousands of people visiting the island. While we welcome scrutiny to prove our integrity and accountability, we hope that Government will, after further consideration, again endorse the excellent service it receives from the MNH Trustees and its professional staff, and allow that independent work on behalf of the community to continue without unnecessary political interference or attempts at control”.

Manx National Heritage has won a range of international awards for its work, and was the first museum organization to win the British Museum of the Year Award twice, first for the Manx Museum development, and then for the House of Manannan in Peel.

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