The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence wrote to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney T.D. and to the board of the American Irish Historical Society on February 25 to express its disappointment at its decision to sell its headquarters on 5th Avenue in New York.
The building has for the past 80 years been a landmark and emblem of the strong, historical and cultural links between the U.S. and Ireland, the Committee said in a statement on Thursday.
Charlie Flanagan TD, chair of the Joint Committee, said: “Members of the Committee agreed to write to the board of the American Irish Historical Society to express our disappointment at the proposed sale of their building on 5th Avenue in New York and state our support for retention of this iconic building.
“The importance of the society and its headquarters in the heart of New York, to the Irish American community, cannot be under-estimated.
“The Committee has urged the board to work closely with the Irish embassy, the Irish consulate and the Irish community in New York and the entire U.S., to make every effort to ensure that this building, as one of the last great centres of Irish American history, artefacts and culture in New York remains available to people of New York, the U.S., Ireland and the world.”
The American Irish Historical Society has had its headquarters at 991 Fifth Avenue on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in New York City since 1940. On January 21, a press release revealed that the building had been placed on the market for $52 million.
Within a few days of the building hitting the market, the Irish Consulate in New York City said publicly: “We are concerned and disappointed to hear of the news that the Society intends to sell this building.
“We urge the Board of the AIHS to reconsider this decision, and we stand ready to engage in finding a constructive solution that meets the needs of the community and other stakeholders.”
Later, on February 4, Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said that the potential sale of the landmark building was “a deeply disappointing development."
An online petition organized by the local Irish American community appealing to the Attorney General of the State of New York to block the sale of the building has gained more than 6.8k signatures in just three weeks.
More recently, Irish actor Liam Neeson joined more than 40 other prominent Irish and Irish Americans in a joint letter to New York State Attorney General Letitia James which said in part: “We believe that severing the society from its time-honored location, which for over eight decades has hosted leading thinkers, writers and artists from Ireland and Irish America is a tragic mistake that once made can never be reversed.”
It continued: “In hope of preserving this unique part of our heritage for the generations to come, revitalizing its mission, and opening its doors to new audiences, we respectfully ask that you use the authority invested in your good offices to provide relief to our community by committing to: disallowing the sale of 991 Fifth Avenue; ensuring that the society's valuable collections of books, artifacts and manuscripts be accounted for and preserved; overseeing proper governance of the American Irish Historical Society.”
The sale of 991 Fifth Avenue is being managed by Paula Del Nunzio at Brown Harris Stevens, who says: “Simply put, this opportunity to acquire a building of this caliber directly on Fifth Avenue is one that may never occur again.”