HL Deb 15 March 1973 vol 340 cc517-8WA

asked Her Majesty's Government when the Observatory at Armagh was instituted and by whom; what is its relationship with Armagh County Museum; and whether its continued support from public funds can be assured, when responsibility for matters relating to it transfers from the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Education of Northern Ireland.


Armagh Observatory was set up by the then Archbishop of Armagh in the Armagh Observatory and Museum Act 1791. It was given an endowment by the Archbishop and placed under the control of a Board of Governors appointed by the Archbishop and the Dean and Chapter of Armagh. By 1938 this endowment was no longer adequate for the Observatory's needs and the University and Collegiate and Scientific Institutes Act (Northern Ireland) 1938 empowered the Ministry of Finance to pay grant to the Governors of the Observatory for the purposes of the Observatory and Museum. This Act also provided that the Governor of Northern Ireland and the governing body of the Queen's University of Belfast should each appoint a member to the Board of Governors. The Observatory now has little revenue other than the Ministry of Finance grant. The Ministry has no functions with regard to the Observatory other than the giving of the grant, and the Observatory operates as an independent academic body.

Although the full title of the Observatory is the Armagh Observatory and Museum its present use is solely as an Observatory. It has no link with the Armagh County Museum which originated in a collection by the Armagh Natural History and Philosophical Society and was handed over to the Armagh County Council in 1930. The County Council opened the collection to the public in 1937 as the County Museum. The Director of the Observatory is Dr. E. M. Lindsay, O.B.E., M.R.I.A. and its most distinguished staff member is Dr. E. Opik. The Observatory runs a planetarium nearby which is, however, financed separately and receives no grant from public funds towards running costs.

The effect of Article 3 of the Museums Order (Northern Ireland) 1973 is to transfer the source of Government grants from the Northern Ireland Ministry of Finance to the Northern Ireland Ministry of Education. This is part of the general transfer of responsibility for cultural functions which will take place on April 1, 1973. It will not affect the level of grants to the Observatory.