Government Buildings in Dublin
Government Buildings is a large Edwardian building enclosing a quadrangle on Merrion Street in Dublin, Ireland, in which several key offices of the government of Ireland are located. Among the offices of State located in the building are:
- Department of the Taoiseach
- Council Chamber (cabinet room)
- Office of the Attorney General
- Department of Finance
- Department of Public Expenditure and Reform
Parts of the building, which was formerly the Royal College of Science for Ireland, have served as the seat of Irish government since 1922.
The building that was to become Government Buildings was the last major public building built under British rule in Ireland. The foundation stone for the building was laid by King Edward VII in 1904. It was built on the site of a row of Georgian houses that were being controversially demolished one by one as the new building was erected. The building itself was designed by Sir Aston Webb, a British architect who was later to redesign the facade of Buckingham Palace. The final completed building was opened by King George V in 1911.
It may have been intended for use by the Royal College of Science, but it soon attracted the attention of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland's Dublin Castle administration. It was chosen to be the location for the first meeting of the new Parliament of Southern Ireland, created under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, in June 1921. The planned State Opening of Parliament proved a fiasco, as only four members of the House of Commons of Southern Ireland and a minority of members of the Senate of Southern Ireland turned up. The Houses were adjourned sine die (although under the Anglo-Irish Treaty on 14 January 1922 “a meeting of members of the Parliament elected for constituencies in Southern Ireland” met to ratify the Treaty).
With the coming into existence of the Irish Free State in December 1922 Leinster House, the headquarters of the Royal Dublin Society, located next door to the Royal College of Science, became the provisional seat of the Free State's parliament, Oireachtas of Saorstát Éireann. The Executive Council of the Irish Free State immediately commandeered part of the college as temporary office space. Two years later the Free State decided to buy Leinster House outright from the RDS. Government usage of part of the Royal College of Science also became permanent.
Original government buildings (1922–1991)
From 1922 to 1991 the former College of Science building was divided between a number of bodies. The wing to the right of the main entrance (the north wing) was used by the Department of the President, later in 1938 renamed Department of the Taoiseach. The Attorney General, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and other offices also occupied that wing of the building. The south wing was occupied permanently by the Department of Finance. The centre block of the courtyard under the dome was still used by the Royal College of Science, and later when it merged with University College Dublin, by students from the Faculty of Engineering. Over the decades, some departments moved out to purpose built offices, leaving the north wing for the Taoiseach, Government Secretariat and Attorney General.
Current Government Buildings
In the mid-1980s, increasingly unhappy at the cramped office space, Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald decided to convert the entire building for government use. This policy was implemented by his successor, Charles Haughey, who had the state sell a block of Georgian houses across the road, which up to then had been in state ownership, for £17 million to fund the rebuild. A new engineering faculty was also built on University College Dublin's Belfield campus at tens of millions of pounds.
Much of the original interior of the original building was gutted to facilitate the creation of a state-of-the-art new government office. Haughey finally moved into the new building in 1991. Critics of the expenditure, at a time when Ireland was in financial difficulties, nicknamed the building the Chaz Mahal. However criticism of the redesigned building soon died away and it won major architectural awards for its design, with world leaders like British Prime Minister John Major praising it to then Taoiseach Albert Reynolds when he visited the building to meet him. The entrance hall is dominated light streaming through Evie Hone's critically acclaimed stained glass window, My Four Green Fields.
The new building included a state-of-the-art suite of offices for the Taoiseach and his staff, a set of visually striking committee rooms, new offices, canteen facilities, a helicopter pad and a new press briefing room. Originally the Office of Public Works had planned a new cabinet suite of rooms also. However the Government opted to continue to use the Council Chamber which had been the cabinet room for all Irish governments since 1922.