Museums: Impact and Value

Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:15 pm on 23rd March 2011.

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Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin 4:15 pm, 23rd March 2011

The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer will have 15 minutes in which to propose and 15 minutes in which to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who wish to speak will have five minutes.

Photo of Declan O'Loan Declan O'Loan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I beg to move

That this Assembly approves the report of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure [NIA 38/10/11R] on its review into the impact and value of museums in Northern Ireland.

I welcome the report and had something to do with instigating its subject matter. Before commenting on the substantive matter, I, as Deputy Chairperson, wish to express my gratitude to the people who contributed to the inquiry. I offer my appreciation to the Committee secretariat for their work in arranging the evidence sessions for the review and for drafting the report. I also express my appreciation to the Assembly’s Research and Library Services for the quality research and analysis provided to the Committee and to Hansard for its patient and accurate recording of the evidence sessions.

The Committee is grateful to all those who provided written and oral evidence during the review. I also thank my Committee colleagues for their commitment and for the constructive and collective approach that they all adopted in trying to understand the complexities of assessing the economic and social impact and value of the museums sector.

Museums are one of the key spending areas for the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. The Committee has taken a considerable interest in that sector, having undertaken a previous inquiry into the need for a museums policy and now this review. The first inquiry recommended a museums policy. That came to fruition on 10 March 2011 with the publication of the first museums policy, which, of course, is the property of the Department. The Committee contributed significantly to that policy and endeavoured to ensure that the Committee’s recommendations for a museums policy were taken on board as part of the policy’s development.

At the launch of the museums policy, the Minister, Mr McCausland, referred to the contribution that museums can make to the economic, social and cultural life of this region. That sentiment is shared by the Committee. This report is timely, given the publication of the museums policy, which, in the Minister’s words:

“provides a necessary framework that will enable our museums sector to harness its resources and maximise its impact on our society.”

The review builds on the Committee’s 2008-09 inquiry, and the report acknowledges the importance of assessing the economic and social value of museums. Some might ask why. We are in the midst of the toughest economic conditions in living memory, and it is fair to say that the museums sector might not necessarily be the first port of call when we, as politicians, economists and policymakers, think of ways of getting the economy going again. That impression prevailed among stakeholders during the Committee’s first museums inquiry, and it continues to prevail. Put simply, the museums sector is not high enough up the Government’s agenda.

I turn now to the summary of our findings. Despite that prevailing view and an apparent lack of data, the Committee was presented with compelling evidence that indicated that the museums sector is a key driver of the economy. It makes positive social and economic impacts, and it is a critical part of the region’s infrastructure. The museums sector makes a contribution of more than £16 million to the economy, provides employment for almost 1,000 people and purchases services from local businesses, including small craft businesses.

The museums sector also gives a big boost to tourism. For example, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) estimates that there were around 990,000 visits to museums and art galleries by residents and visitors in this region in 2009. It is estimated that 28% of those visits, or around 277,000, were made by people from outside this region. Those figures give a measure of the role that museums play as part of the experience of visitors to this region. It is clear from the evidence that the museums sector also has wider social and economic benefits in areas such as cultural tourism; education and lifelong learning; supporting the knowledge economy and creative industries sector; providing an environment in which to explore a greater understanding of, and respect for, culture, history and heritage; and contributing to a positive image of this region. The Committee came to the firm conclusion that the Executive need to acknowledge that the museums and heritage sector is an important industry in Northern Ireland that has the potential to assist economic growth.

In the light of the constraints of the forthcoming Budget period, not only do the Executive need to acknowledge the important role of the museums sector but they must commit to examining, across Departments, the economic and social value of museums so that programmes that have the potential to fully maximise the social and economic contribution of the sector to the economy can be informed. If we are to make that case, the statistics need to be available. To date, some good research has been commissioned, but a consistent methodology has not been used, making it difficult to measure the economic, social and cultural impact of museums. The Committee recognises that there are many challenges in undertaking that work, ranging from the difficulties in measuring many of the intrinsic benefits to the resources that are needed to undertake that type of work, as the Department and the museums sector expressed. Some of those challenges were highlighted in the last major research into the subject, which PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) carried out in 2008.

The report highlighted potential social benefits, including those associated with tourism, education, health, regeneration and social inclusion. However, it did not proceed beyond phase 1, because of a lack of sufficient data to carry out a meaningful assessment of the economic and social benefits of investment. We call on DCAL to take note of those findings, to urgently update the research infrastructure and to put in place a more frequent evaluation framework.

Although the challenges of assessing the economic and social impact of the value of museums are widely acknowledged elsewhere, the review, nevertheless, found that this region lags behind others in that area of research. Since at least 2005, museums bodies in England and Scotland have sought to establish a consistent methodology by which to measure and demonstrate the economic and social value of museums. Clearly, therefore, there are lessons that can be learned from elsewhere. It is not a question of reinventing the wheel; those lessons can be applied so that a consistent methodology can be established to measure and demonstrate the economic and social value of museums. Any such agreed method needs to look beyond the direct benefits. It goes without saying that indirect benefits to the local economy should also be factored in. Those benefits include indirect employment, goods and services and associated goods. That has yet to be quantified across the museums sector, but it is likely to be substantial.

At the beginning of my speech, I acknowledged the importance of the museums policy in moving this important work on. It provides the necessary framework for the outworkings of the review. The Committee welcomes the policy’s intention to incorporate the value and impact of museums into the museums policy, including the economic value of museums to tourism, but it regards it as crucial that any intelligence gathering on that should emerge as part of the key actions that flow from the museums policy.

Finally, the Department has cited cost and a lack of resources as obstacles to undertaking the work. The museums sector has stated that there are many challenges in assessing the value and impact of museums. In response to that, the Committee says that, given the positive impacts that will result from undertaking a thorough assessment of the museums sector, not least in improving the understanding of the wider public and those who shape policy, the Minister simply cannot afford not to advance work in that area. It supports the development of the museums and heritage sector, which, as I outlined, brings with it massive benefits to cultural tourism, the economy, lifelong learning and the creative sector. I commend the report to the House, and I seek support for the motion.

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP 4:30 pm, 23rd March 2011

At the outset, I declare an interest as a member of Belfast City Council. As the Deputy Chairperson of the Committee said, tourism is vital to the Northern Ireland economy. Cultural tourism is of particular significance in the city of Belfast, which is the region’s tourism and transportation hub. Some 50% of the world’s tourists travel as cultural tourists, and many of them come from Ulster’s huge diaspora, including those of the Ulster-Scots, Scots-Irish and Irish Gaelic traditions, in the United States and Canada in particular.

Museums provide a great opportunity for Ulster to tell its story. I understand that there are 42 accredited museums in Northern Ireland, over two thirds of which do not charge an entry fee. Museums can provide a greater understanding of Ulster’s culture, history and heritage. In the worldwide market, Northern Ireland has to deal constantly with problems of perception and reputation. Museums and their displays, therefore, are vital to the marketing of our Province.

Therefore, accuracy, presentation and balance are vital in what museums display for those in our community and those who travel to this place.

Northern Ireland Tourist Board statistics for 2009 found that 47% of out-of-state visitors travelled to visit friends or family and 26% travelled to see attractions in Northern Ireland. Visit Britain suggests that 21% of visitors travel the world or to any given region because of music. Visitors will come to this part of the world because of people such as Van Morrison and — for Mr Robinson’s benefit — Ruby Murray and the huge reputation for music that they have left for our capital city.

We have had huge investment in museums in recent years. The flagships of that were the Ulster Museum in Belfast, the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Cultra and the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh. As I said, cultural tourism is vital in bringing visitors to our museums. However, museums can and will play a hugely important role in education. Given our divided society, museums must be committed to accuracy and balance. Interpretation, therefore, is of considerable importance if not vital. Museums must be part of our aim for a shared future and shared space as we move Northern Ireland towards being an increasingly normal society, one that is tolerant and at peace with itself.

During evidence sessions of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure, I stressed to National Museums Northern Ireland and the Museums Council that a joined-up approach was vital. We are a small place with a small population, but, nonetheless, in the role that it has played on an international scale, Ulster — Northern Ireland — has been hugely significant in respect of its history, culture and heritage. Whether it be built or industrial heritage, politics, culture, military campaigns or commerce, our reach and influence has extended to other nations, particularly the new world of the United States, to which Ulster gave 17 presidents. The great seal of the United States was designed by an Ulsterman, and the declaration of the United States was printed by an Ulsterman. Our contribution to the world is hugely significant for such a small place; in my view, it is more significant than that of any other place.

The socio-economic benefit of museums is underestimated and most certainly undervalued. In my view, diversity is a strength for Northern Ireland, not a weakness. We should be proud of our traditions, whether orange, Ulster Scots, Irish Gaelic or the new communities that have come to settle here, and use that diversity to sell Northern Ireland as a unique tourist destination. Museums are part of that selling of Northern Ireland.

Given the fiscal situation that prevails in our nation at the moment, increased collaboration among National Museums Northern Ireland; the Museums Council; the Visitor and Convention Bureau; the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, in selling Northern Ireland in the Republic of Ireland; Tourism Ireland, in selling Northern Ireland nationally and internationally; local councils; and regional tourism partnerships is absolutely vital. It is essential in delivering a tailor-made, holistic approach to museum provision, so that museums are there and are welcoming to everyone and offensive to none, inclusive of all and exclusive of none.

Photo of Pat Sheehan Pat Sheehan Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Museums are, without doubt, a vital facility for the whole community. They are places from which we can gain a greater understanding and respect of culture, history and heritage. They support people in formal education and are undoubtedly of great assistance to creative industries.

There is a need for research in order to enhance the lifelong learning and educational aspects of museums. Those aspects need to be monitored, maintained and improved on. Quality museums need to be supported by quality research. Given that fact, there is a need for a consistent research methodology to ensure that museums provide people of all ages and abilities with an interactive venue in which to learn.

During the review, references were made to the contribution that the museums sector makes to the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects. W5, which comes under the museums umbrella, in the Odyssey is an excellent example of that. Museums NI referred to its learning programmes that support the STEM agenda; however, it also explained that it has not yet reached a stage at which that can be measured. Therefore, there is a need for a consistent methodology.

There is also a need for libraries and archives to be brought under the same methodology to ensure that educational programmes complement one another and there is no duplication or additional costs. There is a need for educational authorities and establishments to use the potential of museums and work with the sector in developing a research tool to meet the needs of those in education or those who wish to learn more.

That is all that I have to say. I commend the report to the House.

Photo of Ken Robinson Ken Robinson UUP

Mr Humphrey covered all the areas that I was going to cover, so I will not regurgitate them. I pay tribute to the staff and members of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure. I thank those who made submissions, which enabled us to carry out our work on the review of museums.

Museums’ work should not be seen as something that stands in isolation. If there is one area that should not be put into a silo, it is the work of museums. Their comprehensive work complements that of the Public Record Office, the work of our schools and of the Tourist Board and the work that goes on when the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment groups go overseas to bring jobs here. It is an opportunity, as Mr Humphrey said, to provide a coherent, comprehensive and clear picture of what Northern Ireland is and was and how it came to be.

It is important that all those elements be covered; that is why research is vital. Cultural tourism is an open goal. People come here as visitors, sometimes with friends, because we have a unique experience, and museums play a vital role in the overall jigsaw. When visitors get here, we have to ensure that there is a critical mass of experiences for them. Museums and the Public Record Office all have a part to play in giving people a clear understanding. We are operating against a background of 30-plus years of media perception of Northern Ireland, a picture that does not truly reflect what happened here, why it happened and how we have come through it. Today is the last day of the current mandate, which is living proof of what can be done to get rid of the false picture and send out the real picture. The role of museums is vital.

Mr Humphrey referred to the diaspora. Whether it is the Irish diaspora or the Ulster-Scots diaspora, there are millions of people who can trace their roots back here. They can trace the reasons for their ancestors moving from this piece of land across the globe. That is an open door. Reference was made to the balance of costs, but costs have to be balanced against opportunities. The costs are minimal compared to the opportunity and the potential of tourists coming here and having an experience that sends them away better educated and with a better understanding of what happened here in the past and the potential for us in the future.

We could show more clearly the industrial heritage that we developed in this part of the world. I am afraid that that industrial heritage — I think that the Minister will agree — has, sadly, almost disappeared. One has to root around to find traces of it. Given our place a century ago in the world economy, the British economy and the empire’s economy, how did that happen? We have to rediscover that, and the museum is perhaps the place to help us to do that. Let us research more fully into the potential.

If I can read the visitor figures correctly from this distance, in 2001, there were 800,000 visits. Within three or four years, the figure had grown to well over a million. Why do they come? Is it cultural tourism? In open amazement, I look time and again at the Twelfth of July parades, which, in certain areas, are portrayed as threatening. If you stand in Belfast, you will notice the number of overseas visitors who come to see that parade. On that day or on following days, is there an opportunity for museums to look at what triggers those celebrations and put them in context? That could be explored. We know that several thousand people come here regularly for such festivals or for music festivals. I do not know whether the Ruby Murray appreciation society is coming this year, but I hope that Mr Humphrey’s PR will be helpful. Working together, the Executive and DCAL can drive the whole thing forward.

In our review, we have simply pointed out areas where we think progress could be made or where we could build on good practice. However, after the election, it will be for the Minister’s successors and the Executive to drive the process forward. We can no longer afford to allow things to drift.

Before I forget, Mr Deputy Speaker, I declare an interest as a member of Newtownabbey Borough Council. There is a very fine museum in Newtownabbey, which you can see if you go to Mossley Mill. The Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure had the benefit of that experience. You can also bring your fishing rod. Recently, a 7 lb trout was fished out of the mill dam. So we are doing our bit for tourism and the museums.

Mr Deputy Speaker, up till now, you have been very patient with me. I commend the review to the Assembly.

Photo of Kieran McCarthy Kieran McCarthy Alliance 4:45 pm, 23rd March 2011

Coming fourth or fifth, there is not much left for me to say. Nevertheless, I will make an effort to fill the gap. I welcome the report, and I hope that, by the end of the evening, it will have received the Assembly’s approval.

As has already been said, museums contribute more than £16 million to the local economy. The Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure’s report, with its 16 recommendations, should help to increase that revenue substantially and, through the work of all our museums, provide real interest for residents and visitors alike. I am glad that the Minister is present, and I hope that, after May, he or his successor will initiate the 16 recommendations in the report.

At this point, I take the opportunity to sincerely thank all the Committee and research staff for their dedicated work in assisting members of the Committee to produce this very detailed and informative report.

I want to say a few words about the need for greater research to ensure that museums continue to be shared spaces. We have heard a lot about shared power and so forth, which is exactly what we want to see. Nevertheless, I want to talk about shared spaces. I will provide the Assembly with some facts and figures. There are 42 accredited museums in Northern Ireland, comprising 20 local authority museums, 10 independently run museums, four national museums, seven National Trust properties and one university collection. That is a lot of shared space, which we must make every effort to preserve.

As has been said, more than two thirds of museums in Northern Ireland do not charge an admission fee. As long as that is the case, we can hope for increased footfall, which is good for everyone concerned. Like libraries, museums provide a safe environment for all. Unfortunately, shared spaces in Northern Ireland are all too few, but, hopefully, we can rectify that as time goes on.

Museums provide important venues in which greater understanding of and respect for culture, history and heritage can be explored by all without fear or recrimination. Consistent and better focused research will enable the museum sector to address inconsistencies and imbalances. Without that research, museums could lose their special status as shared spaces, and that is something that we do not want to see.

This is an important report. On behalf of the Alliance Party, I give it our full support.

Photo of Nelson McCausland Nelson McCausland DUP

I thank the Chairperson and members of the Committee and the Assembly staff for the time and effort that they have put into preparing this important report. I also thank all the organisations that submitted evidence and views on the issue. I am aware of the presentations that the Committee received as part of its review and am grateful to the Committee for having given my officials the opportunity to make a presentation on the subject.

As the Minister with responsibility for National Museums Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Museums Council, I have followed the Committee’s deliberations on the value and impact of museums with considerable interest. Indeed, the review took place just as the first ever museums policy for Northern Ireland was being finalised. I welcome the debate and the valued contributions from Members, who will understand that it is for my successor to consider the report’s recommendations in more detail and to incorporate them into the Department’s work as appropriate.

The report confirms the important and valuable contribution that museums make to the economic, social and cultural life of Northern Ireland. My Department’s current public service agreements help to emphasise the value of museums at the highest levels of government in Northern Ireland. Our museums are vital for tourism and are a key driver of the Northern Ireland economy. Several of the Members who spoke previously highlighted that aspect of the importance of museums. National Museums runs four of the top 10 visitor attractions in Northern Ireland, and 10% of visitors to the Province visit a museum. Our museums welcome in excess of 1Times New Roman'; ">∙5 million visitors each year, with 28% of those visitors from out of state. I note the Committee’s findings that the museums sector contributes more than £16 million to the local economy, provides employment for almost 1,000 people and purchases services from local businesses, including small craft businesses.

I am pleased that the report recognises that the value of museums to Northern Ireland is much wider than can be expressed solely in monetary terms. Museums play a primary role as the custodians and conservers of our heritage. They protect the fundamentals of our history in perpetuity, and that is tremendously important. Their collections are then available for, among other things, inspiration, learning and enjoyment. Our museums, for example, contribute to education and lifelong learning through enhancing delivery of the curriculum, through providing inspirational learning experiences and through outreach work. Recommendations 6 and 12 are particularly relevant in that regard.

Museums are an important part of the overall process of positioning Northern Ireland as a forward-looking and progressive place, a place that people will want to visit and live in and a place for investment, with a rich past and a positive future. Museums can help to promote and enable creativity. Their artefacts, collections and programmes help develop new creative content, services and experiences. I am pleased that National Museums is running events throughout March as part of the recently launched “Creativity Month”. That is very appropriate.

Good museums make an important contribution to a shared and better future for our entire community and society. That future is based on the principles of equality, diversity, interdependence and mutual respect. Culture and identity are important facets of life in Northern Ireland. We have a diversity of culture of which we can be proud and that inspires interest around the world. As Mr Robinson said, it is a unique experience for visitors who come to Northern Ireland. Museums can help us to understand our diversity and our interdependencies. As such, they have an important role to play in creating a shared and better future for Northern Ireland, a point that Mr McCarthy raised. Collaboration between museums and communities can provide a vital role in understanding that shared history, heritage and culture.

I am also pleased that the report recognises the important role that improved partnership arrangements, whether at the highest departmental level or with arm’s-length bodies, can play in enhancing the value of the museum sector. The Committee wants the museum sector to work co-operatively to improve data collection in Northern Ireland. That will allow the use of evaluation techniques to emphasise the value of our museums to society, and it is important that the techniques used are consistent across the museum sector. Given the breadth and variety of the museum sector in Northern Ireland, the work required to ensure that data are collected comprehensively and consistently should not be underestimated, nor will it necessarily be straightforward to select consistent tools to demonstrate the economic, social and cultural value of the museum sector. As Members are aware, the Department is already taking forward its own four-year economic and social research programme, which will address many of those issues. That programme will also assist with the implementation of museums policy.

The report draws attention to shortcomings in the currency and relevance of research data in the museum sector. I want to assure the House that my Department recognises that access to high-quality, up-to-date and relevant research is key to shaping and successfully delivering on its strategic priorities. To ensure that the link between evidence and policy development is strengthened, the Department has established a social and economic research and survey programme that aims to strengthen the available evidence base. The programme is managed by a research board and is jointly led by the head of economics and the head of research and statistics. Those professional staff will have a key role in taking the programme forward. They will work with other bodies in the cultural sector in Northern Ireland, and the board will specify research issues, select projects, steer research and quality-control research outputs. Where appropriate, the programme will consider the recommendations in the report.

The museums policy was launched on 9 March 2011. Implementation of the policy has already started, and that will be an important mechanism for considering the recommendations in the report. I have always been keen that a clear framework be put in place for the long-term development of our museums. In fact, as a member of the Committee, I originally identified the need for a museums policy in 2008. The policy was developed by my officials in partnership with National Museums Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Museums Council, and I believe that it can contribute to increasing the impact and profile of the sector in Northern Ireland.

After consultation with the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure, the value and impact of museums was highlighted as the first section in the final policy. That emphasises the value of the sector in Northern Ireland. I am delighted that the Committee’s report is complementary to the museums policy, and I thank the Committee again for its input throughout the policy’s development process. Two of the goals set out in the museums policy are particularly relevant: to clarify how and what museums, both individually and collectively, contribute to local and central government objectives; and to gather up-to-date research on the sector in support of policy implementation and strategy development. Work on those goals during the policy implementation process will consider the recommendations in the report.

I want to pick up on a couple of issues raised by members of the Committee. In, perhaps, quite a folksy way, they served to show the affection that Committee members have for museums. I think that that reflects the wider affection for museums in Northern Ireland. I was reflecting on the fact that the greatest days of Ruby Murray were in the early and mid-1950s, and I am impressed that Ken Robinson can remember those days well and looks back on them as days that he very much enjoyed.

Therefore, to encourage him, the little museum in the Oh Yeah centre, in the centre of Belfast, includes a section on Ruby Murray, so he can be assured that the story of Ruby Murray is well covered in the telling of the story of Northern Ireland. I have no doubt that Mr McCarthy also looks back to those days with affection.

I also noted his reference to the importance of “contextualising” our cultural diversity. It was an important word that he used. By way of example, of course, he referred to the way in which museums can help to contextualise the Orange celebrations for the many visitors who come to Northern Ireland in the month of July for those celebrations.

In fact, that touches on something that I highlighted some months ago about the importance of reflecting the culture of Northern Ireland, including the tradition that Mr Ken Robinson identified, inclusively and comprehensively in our museums. In fact, I think that I said that it should be done in an inclusive way, reflecting not only the Orange tradition but that of the Ancient Order of Hibernians so that the diversity, complexity, complementarity and all of the things that help to make a shared future, to which Mr McCarthy referred earlier, are reflected in the story of the museums. If they are to be shared spaces, they must be inclusive and comprehensive and reflect our diversity.

Mention was also made of our industrial heritage. It was the industrial heritage of the province of Ulster that made Northern Ireland what it is today in a whole range of ways. It impacted on us politically, socially, economically and even, in a sense, religiously. Therefore, there is a tremendously important area of our history that needs to be reflected in our museums in telling the story of our industrial past. There is an agreement across the board, across the House and across the Committee that inclusivity of representation in museums, a comprehensive approach and diversity are important principles.

Through the successful implementation of the museums policy, we can increase the impact and contribution of our museums by creating a more co-ordinated and sustainable sector. The museums policy is the vehicle through which the economic, social and cultural value and contribution of our museums can be further enhanced. That will enable this valuable sector to maximise its impact on our society and help to create a shared and better future for all. I want our museums to harness their strengths and diversity, to maximise their resources and to support economic, social and cultural development in Northern Ireland. I welcome the report, and it is an important step in that process.

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin 5:00 pm, 23rd March 2011

I call the Deputy Chairperson of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Mr Barry McElduff, to wind up the debate.

Photo of Barry McElduff Barry McElduff Sinn Féin

I thank Declan O’Loan, Deputy Chairperson of the Committee, for the role reversal on the motion and debate. He stepped in at short notice —

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

I apologise. I called you as the Deputy Chairperson. Mr McElduff is the Chairperson of the Committee.

Photo of Barry McElduff Barry McElduff Sinn Féin

That was not my point at all. My point was to thank Declan for helping me by proposing the motion. It falls to me to wind it up. I apologise for my absence at the beginning of the debate. Sometimes, I pride myself on time management, but that did not seem to work on this occasion.

As Chairperson of the Committee, I reiterate the Committee’s thanks to all who contributed to the inquiry, whether through written or oral evidence. I also thank the staff in the Assembly secretariat for their assistance during the review, particularly the Committee Clerk, Lucia Wilson; the Assistant Clerk, Emma Patton; and the team. I place on record my appreciation of the contribution that was made by the various organisations that submitted evidence. I thank the Hansard staff, who were very attentive to us in the inquiry. I also thank the Assembly’s Research and Library Services, particularly Dr Dan Hull for his expertise. Whether from the museums sector, the heritage sector, academics or our Research and Library Services, the breadth of knowledge and research expertise that was made available to the Committee during the inquiry was invaluable and helped hugely in the preparation of our report. I trust that when they study the report, they will see their contributions reflected in it.

I am grateful to Members who contributed to the debate. In his opening remarks, the Deputy Chairperson, Declan O’Loan, referred to the changed economic realities. During these hard times, we must be innovative in our approach and put our assets — in this case, our museums — to best use. There is huge untapped potential for museums to help to grow the tourism industry, which could be a vital source of income in future. Not only do museums benefit the economy, they contribute to wider society through lifelong learning and education, supporting the creative industries and providing an environment in which to explore and respect history and culture. However, the lack of understanding and acknowledgement of the museum sector sparked the need for the review to ensure that the museum sector is placed higher up the Government’s agenda.

William Humphrey was the first Committee member to speak after the Deputy Chairperson. He stressed the importance of cultural tourism, saying that museums are a vehicle for the region to tell its own story. He also said that museums’ socio-economic benefits are underestimated and that there is a need for greater collaboration between National Museums, the Museums Council, the Tourist Board and local councils in delivering a holistic approach to museums.

Pat Sheehan referred to lifelong learning and educational aspects. He said that museums are vital to the economy, education and the creative industries and that they provide a place where learning can be interactive. He said that quality museums need to be supported by quality research, and several Members made that point. He said that a research tool would ensure that the educational aspects of museums are more readily met.

Ken Robinson said that museums’ work should not stand in isolation and should complement work in other areas, such as that of DETI and PRONI, all of which play their part in providing a clearer understanding of our history. He said that millions of people worldwide can trace their roots to this place. That point was also made by William Humphrey. Mr Robinson pointed to the tourism potential that goes with that. He said that more could be done to display our industrial heritage and that the Executive and DCAL could drive that work forward. He also said that that work should not be allowed to drift.

I believe that that might have been Ken’s last speech in the Chamber, as he does not intend to contest the next Assembly election. Is that correct?

Photo of Barry McElduff Barry McElduff Sinn Féin

I would like to place on record the Committee’s thanks to Ken Robinson as a valuable contributor to all aspects of the Committee’s work over the past four years. As an educationalist, he often kept us right on grammar and such things as well.

Kieran McCarthy quantified the financial value of museums to the local economy; however, he said that more research was needed to refine that. He emphasised, as Kieran would, that museums are a shared space. He referred to the fact that there are 43 accredited museums in the region, more than two thirds of which have free admission. He asked for a more consistent and better-focused research approach to enable the museum sector to address any inconsistencies in other research that has already been undertaken.

Photo of Kieran McCarthy Kieran McCarthy Alliance

I congratulate Barry for being our Chairperson during the Assembly term. In fact, he has been Chairperson of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure since 1998 and has performed that role very well.

Does the Chairperson agree that investment in the Ulster Museum has been a fantastic success and has created a real economic lifeline for museums in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Barry McElduff Barry McElduff Sinn Féin

I absolutely agree with the Member that the Ulster Museum is a fantastic success. It has won many iconic awards, and it has been recognised as a museum that deserves such accolades. I congratulate the team that delivers services at the Ulster Museum.

I am appreciative of the fact that the Minister was present throughout the debate. In his contribution, he made sure that we were aware that his time in office is limited and that it will be up to the incoming Minister to address the recommendations. He emphasised the important economic and social impact of museums and described museums as a key driver in our economy. He made the point that four of our museums are in the top 10 visitor attractions in the region, thereby emphasising their importance to tourism. Like Kieran McCarthy, the Minister quantified the annual benefit of museums to the wider community as £16 million.

The Minister is pleased that the report recognises the value of museums in much wider terms than simple economic terms. They provide inspiration and learning opportunities. He referred in particular to recommendations 6 and 12. He talked about museums promoting creativity, and he emphasised the role of museums in cultural diversity and a shared and better future. He also spoke of the collaboration that exists between museums and called for more such partnership working in the sector in the future.

The Minister gave commentary on research evaluation techniques, and said that they should be consistent. He also said that work to collect data should not be underestimated. He referred to how research should be progressed, and he said that recommendations should be looked at, where appropriate. I thank the Minister for his contribution, which I have not covered adequately.

Today represents the conclusion of the Committee’s review into assessing the value and impact of museums. As we come to the end of this mandate, I hope, as do other Members, that it does not signal the conclusion of interest in this subject by a future CAL Committee. In that regard, the Committee recommends that the incoming Committee requests a response to the report from the incoming Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure. It is another legacy issue.

We hope that the report has helped to highlight the contribution that museums do and can make to our society. We are calling on the Executive to take note of the importance of this sector and on the incoming Minister to draw on the expertise that exists in the sector to provide the means for focused research to be carried out on the value and impact of museums. Our museums sector deserves nothing less. I commend the report to the House and ask Members to support the motion.

Question put and agreed to.


That this Assembly approves the report of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure [NIA 38/10/11R] on its review into the impact and value of museums in Northern Ireland.