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Conservation lobby warns Eire heritage at crisis point

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The listing of historical buildings in Northern Ireland is in crisis due to a lack of funding and political interest, two major architectural heritage organisations have claimed.

The Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF) and the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society (UAHS) say there will be very few buildings of historical interest left if both policy and culture is not reformed urgently.

The director of the AHF, Jonathon Thompson, said there was no history of maintaining architectural heritage in the province and that no one, including the government, took it seriously. One estimate is that up to four times as many buildings are de-listed each year than are listed. 'If a listed property is found damaged, instead of a prosecution and a fine, the Northern Irish Environment Office often simply de-list the property, ' he said.

The criticism follows concerted efforts by campaigners to stop demolition last month of one of poet Seamus Heaney's former homes in south Belfast. The UAHS argued that anywhere else in the UK the Nobel Laureate's house would have been listed and saved.

Thompson added that there were also major problems with the enforcement of the regulations in Northern Ireland: 'If someone does something to a listed property then there is little chance of them being caught or prosecuted, ' he claimed.

UAHS secretary Rita Harkin echoed Thompson's comments. She said: 'There is a massive lack of political will to do anything about it. The department that is supposed to police the regulations is severely under-funded and has only four building conservation officers for the whole of Ulster.'

However, Nick Broman, director of the Architectural Heritage Department in Northern Ireland, rubbished that view. He said: 'Many buildings are being listed and we are carrying out a new survey of buildings to make the job more efficient. But the last survey in the 1970s was largely a failure due to the Troubles and it does make our job of prosecuting offenders difficult, ' he added.

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