Context 163 - March 2020

28 C O N T E X T 1 6 3 : M A R C H 2 0 2 0 The attitude to architectural conservation and its importance has shifted within the Republic of Ireland over the past 20 years. A significant change came about with the introduction of architectural conservation officers (ACOs) into local authorities. We worked at the coal face of an industry that was new, helping the public and the planning authorities navigate the legislation. A great deal has changed in 20 years. Although the statutory duties remain the same, ACOs have redefined and widened their role in promoting a positive attitude towards architectural heritage and a better understanding of the importance of the built environment. The role and function of ACOs have contributed to delivering an understanding of local and national government priorities such as urban regeneration, adaptive reuse of historic buildings and action on climate change, which are all key elements of Irish Government policy. The role of the ACO within a local authority is to assess, advise and to promote the regeneration of historic buildings, towns and villages, helping to protect and enhance the historic environment, although the scope is far more than this. Our ethos and vision are very similar to the IHBC in establishing the highest standards of conserva- tion practice. The architectural conservation officer post was introduced at local authority level in 1999.Today 18 local authorities have ACOs.The role of con- servation officer was set out as a statutory role with a defined role of responsibility in line with Part IV of the Planning and Development Act, 2000. The role has expanded significantly and often goes far beyond the functions statutorily required by the legislation for protection of the historic built environment. Other conservation posts have developed in some local authorities to support the architectural conservation officer, such as executive and assistant architectural conservation officer. A handful of architectural conservation officers has been in the role since its creation. I have been in the role with South Dublin County Council since 2001, having studied and trained architecture and building conservation in the UK. I still find the job very challenging, but it provides me with great satisfaction. Colleagues in other local authorities and I found the role very isolating at times, so the Association of Architectural Conservation Officers (AACO) was IRENIE McLOUGHLIN The evolving architectural conservation officer The role of architectural conservation officers in the Republic of Ireland has developed over the past 20 years. One of them reflects on why she has stayed in the job for 19 of them. Architectural conservation officers at Kings Inns, Dublin, in June 2019 (Photo: Nessa Roche, DCHG)