I had a long and detailed telephone conversation with an official from the Office of Public Works (OPW) on Tuesday regarding the art works that have gone missing from Leinster House.
While the official was courteous and genuine in her attempts to explain the situation it was obvious that there are glaring contradictions surrounding the whole scandal.
According to this official the number of art works missing is nowhere near the 38 reported by the Irish Independent and several have been located since Christmas.
She did, however, inform me that some items have been missing for decades.
I was informed that the Art Management Office has been carrying out a continuous cataloguing of state art work since its establishment in 2000.
This involves cataloguing works aquired since the foundation of the state and even works that were left behind by the British administration.
In other words, prior to 2000 there was no oversight whatsoever of state art works. It was, apparently, open season for anyone who wished to help themselves.
Since 2000 however, I was informed that a very tight system of control was in place that involved the following procedures.
A data base for all art work. This system allows officials to instantly identify the exact location – building, floor, room – of all items.
All items (or at least the more valuable items) are digitally photographed, measured, described in detail and assigned a unique serial number.
Building managers are directly responsible for all items under their care. The OPW provides a list of all items to each building manager outlining exactly what items they are responsible for.
When an item arrives in a building the building manager signs it in. When an item leaves the building the building manager signs it out.
When an individual (official or politician) requests an item the building manager obtains it from the OPW. The transaction is noted on the OPW data base and the building manager receives a formal letter from the OPW outling the exact details of the items delivered.
All art works within Leinster House are controlled/monitored by this system.
Very impressive but the contradiction is obvious – If the system is so efficient why did dozens of items go missing just two years ago, years after the ‘effective’ control system was put in place?
The official denied that dozens of items had gone missing. The Irish Independent had got its facts wrong and several of the items have since been located.
A number of other excuses were mentioned.
We have a tiny staff and very few resources.
We are responsible for several hundred offices throughout Ireland.
Our inventory system is ongoing so an item may only be discovered as missing after a full inventory rotation (approximately one year).
We respond by writing to the building manger asking him to check it out.
Most disturbingly, the official said that the first response by the OPW when art items go missing is to presume that the items have been misplaced or innocently moved to another location.
The possibility of theft is seldom a serious consideration.
What we see here is a typically Irish two-faced bureaucratic system which on the surface claims to be efficient and accountable while at the same time studiously ignoring the fact that serious damage is being done to state/citizens interersts.