Many important Irish art treasures have been auctioned and sold abroad because of weak legislation.

Director of the National Gallery of Ireland James White thinks because Ireland is a relatively poor country, in order to raise revenue there has been,

A steady passage of important works of arts, silver, glass, furniture, sculptures, early Celtic objects, paintings, everything over the years.

The Irish government is gradually coming to the conclusion that tourism is more lucrative than selling art treasures. 

Should we not really try to keep as much as we can in the country, so that the country houses, the museums the nature itself, the landscape, everything will the be more exciting and attractive to the foreign visitor.

James White considers the Documents and Pictures (Regulation of Export) Act 1945 does little to safeguard Irish art treasures. To highlight the ease with which works of art can be exported from Ireland, journalist TP Kilfeather applied for and was granted an export licence for 'Saint Mark's Square, Venice' by Canaletto part of the National Gallery of Ireland collection.

White believes there needs to be a balance between heritage protection and the interests of the owner. He would like to see the Irish government introduce a system whereby Irish cultural bodies and institutions would be given the opportunity to bid so that the owner would not suffer. A person who owns a picture worth £100,000 should be entitled to get their money.

I'm a great believer in freedom of individuals to get their fair share.

Keen to invest in art, buyers from America, Germany, Asia and Saudi Arabia are stripping the contents of Irish great country houses. To meet the demand London's two leading auction houses Christies and Sothebys have permanent representatives in Ireland.

Art auctioneer Brian Coyle of James Adam and Sons Limited thinks Irish people should take more interest in their cultural heritage.

I think we need more education in Ireland to encourage people to appreciate that these things are worth buying and they will enhance there lives by having them in their homes.

Coyle also believes 1945 Act should be tightened up to protect Irish cultural heritage. An effort should be made to prevent too many things leavening the country, while also providing opportunities for Irish people to buy these objects.

There’s only  a limited supply of goods in this country and this is why it's very important that we keep here, not just the finest things but everything we can in fact, rather than deplete the total stock of articles in this country.

This episode of 'PM' was broadcast on 21 April 1978. The reporter is Áine O’Connor.