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Plans to hang portraits of female politicians in Leinster House stall after TD’s intervention

A decision on the permanent location for a recently-unveiled portrait of Senator David Norris is also on hold pending further discussion by the working group

Plans to hang portraits of a number of female politicians in Leinster House have been put on hold following the intervention of Fine Gael TD Michael Ring.

The Co Mayo-based politician was appointed to an advisory group on portraiture and other art in Leinster House in July.

At a recent meeting of the group Mr Ring criticised a number of its previous recommendations, including plans to display a portrait of Sarah Cecilia Harrison, the first female member of Dublin City Council, in Leinster House. The suggestion to display a portrait of Ms Harrison was made by Green Party leader Eamon Ryan and was initially backed by the working group, established in 2021, prior to Mr Ring’s appointment.

Part of the group’s remit is to achieve gender balance in the commissioning and display of portraits and the acquisition of art works. It makes recommendations about commissioning and displaying artwork in Leinster House to the cross-party Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, which has the final say in conjunction with an art adviser from the Office of Public Works (OPW).

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However, Mr Ring is understood to have taken issue with some of its recent recommendations, according to sources familiar with the group’s deliberations. The Mayo TD suggested at the meeting that it would be advisable to return to the former protocol whereby only portraits of people who have held the offices of taoiseach, tánaiste and ceann comhairle, or sitting presidents, are displayed in Leinster House.

Mr Ring questioned why a portrait of the first female member of Dublin City Council had been chosen, saying there was no logic in singling out Dublin over, for example, his native Co Mayo.

A number of other planned portraits are now on hold, including one of Senator Eileen Flynn, the first Traveller to serve in the Oireachtas. A decision on the permanent location for a recently-unveiled portrait of Senator David Norris is also on hold pending further discussion by the working group.

The portrait of Mr Norris was part of a series paying tribute to four of the longest serving members of the Oireachtas, with plans for portraits of Margaret Mary Pearse, a sister of Patrick Pearse who served in the Seanad for more than 30 years; former minister for agriculture Paddy Smyth, who served as a TD from 1923 until 1977, the longest spell in the history of the State; and Róisín Shortall, the longest serving female TD.

Mr Ring did not respond to queries. Other Oireachtas members who have served on the working group since it was formed include Fianna Fáil arts spokeswoman Niamh Smyth; Fianna Fáil senator Mark Daly; Sinn Féin TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn; Independent Senator Victor Boyhan; Seanad Cathaoirleach Jerry Buttimer; and Ceann Comhairle Sean Ó Fearghaíl. An OPW art adviser also sits on the working group.

A first departure from the protocol came in 2018 when artist Noel Murphy was asked to create a painting of all 53 sitting female members of the Oireachtas.

In another effort to correct the gender imbalance on the Leinster House walls, the OPW asked Mary A Kelly to create a photographic montage of all the women elected to the Seanad between 1922 and 2022 as part of the Vótáil 100 centenary.

More recently the working group supported plans for a bust of David Trimble to be erected in Leinster House to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement. It has also proposed adapting a space in Leinster House as an exhibition room to display art. Part of the advisory group’s remit is to suggest modern art works other than portraits for display in locations such as the Leinster House dining rooms, which would be rotated every five years.

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