From Irish Political Review: September 2008

Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, Inst And Social Responsibility

Readers may not be aware that The Royal Belfast Academical Institution, known as Inst, backs on to the premises of the Belfast Historical & Educational Society, a charity. Last year construction works at the school caused serious damage to the premises of BHES and the school consistently refused to take responsibility for repair work. Below is a letter which the Belfast Historical & Eductional Society sent to Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, the Chairman of the Board of Governors of Inst.

He chose not to indulge in the civility of a reply, but a letter reproduced below was apparently sent on his instructions.

The cost of emergency repairs to the BHES was £16,000, and meeting this has delayed the production of further volumes of the writings of the founder of Inst.

Belfast Historical And Educational Society Limited
12th June 2008
Dear Sir Kenneth Bloomfield,

I enclose a letter from David Morrison, which was sent to the Principal on 19th March. It may be that we should have contacted you, rather than the Principal, when your building works caused us a serious problem on Saturday 28th July 2007. Your contractors were using a mechanical stone breaker to break up the floor of a building they were demolishing. This caused severe shaking in No. 33 Athol Street. You should have been aware that the nature of the ground in this area exaggerates any vibrations. Luckily there was someone there at the time: they rushed round to the school - but all the gates were locked. It took about half an hour to attract the attention of the workmen. The Foreman, Michael Crozier, stopped the work at once. As it was, the side wall parted from the rest of the house at the upper level and was in imminent danger of collapse. Belfast council put an immediate Protection Order on the place.

We informed the School of what had happened and suggested that it would save a lot of trouble all round if the contractors who had caused the problem simply put the matter right. But that offer was rejected.

When the Principal refused to engage positively with us, we set repair works in hand and sent you a bill in March 2008. We received no reply from you.

It seems to us that Inst has acted irresponsibly throughout this affair. You caused the damage and then sheltered behind your legalities and expert advice. You probably will spend as much on these as meeting our modest bill would entail.

I suppose this is the way of the world these days. It is certainly not the ethic of Protestant Belfast which was prevalent until modernity began to bite. You calculated that we were small fry, that the house was old and that therefore we would find it difficult to prove liability in court. Also, that we would not be able to afford the professional help we would need to establish our case. Inst boasts of its values, including inculcating a sense of responsibility. I suppose it’s a case of ‘Do as I say . . .’

All I can say is that William Drennan would have been ashamed of you. I have some knowledge of him - and of Martha M’Tier - having spent many hours with them in the PRO. The Belfast Historical & Educational Society, a charity which is based in 33 Athol Street - has set itself the task of reproducing William Drennan’s Selected Works. Three volumes have so far appeared and a fourth is in preparation. It is to be entitled Citizen Of Belfast. And, curiously, this volume is to carry documents about his involvement in the founding of the Academy. I think readers will be interested to find out something about the subsequent development of Drennan’s philanthropic effort. The school he founded nearly wrecked the premises of the Society which is bring him to a modern audience and has left it with a large hole in its finances! Ironic, isn’t it?

So this letter is for your information, in case you and the Board of Governors are not aware of this unfortunate affair.

Yours sincerely
Angela Clifford (Secretary, BHES)

letter from RBAI

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