Archaeological Dig by Prime Minister’s Office

Prime Minister's Office Archaeological excavation

Archaeologists are currently excavating one of the busiest locations in downtown Reykjavík: the Prime Minister’s Office, RÚV reports. Digging in the lot behind the office began around two weeks ago. Clay fragments are among the artefacts that have already been unearthed at the location, and experts say relics from the earliest period of settlement are likely to be found at the site.

Excavating before building

A blue-painted plywood wall has been erected on Bankastræti alongside the Prime Minister’s Office with information on the excavations as well as plexiglass windows to allow passers-by to peek in on archaeologists at work. The information panels also show pictures of the new building which has been drawn up for the site. Once archaeological remains are removed, a new structure will be raised on the lot that will house part of the activities of the Prime Minister’s Office.

“We now expect to find traces of maybe 25 or 30 buildings because, according to sources, there were numerous houses here in the 18th and 19th centuries,” explains Archaeologist Vala Garðarsdóttir. “Remains of older structures have also been found here under the Prime Minister’s Office when it was renovated in 1998. Remains of a building that had a tephra layer [evidence of a volcanic eruption] dating back to 1226 were also found.”

Farms and jailhouses

Construction on the Prime Minister’s Office began in 1765, and it was originally built to be a jailhouse. There are plenty of historical sources that describe the lot and building inspection records dating back to 1854. “There is naturally such a rich history which tells us so much,” Vala stated. “We are going to try to record it as well, both with the sources and the artefacts.”

The northernmost section of the lot belonged to Arnarhóll farmstead, and its possible that remains of larger farm buildings could be discovered on the lot. The dirt has already revealed some interesting artefacts. “A lot of broken pottery, glass, medicine vials, wood, and a lot of hewn stone that people used for building foundations and more,” Vala stated.

The first phase of the excavation focuses on the area by Bankastræti street, and wwill end in January. The next phase, closer to Hverfisgata street, will end by next fall.

New Extension Planned for Prime Minister’s Office

A new extension to the Prime Minister’s office on Lækjargata in downtown Reykjavík is intended to be finished within the next four years, Vísir reports. The new extension is intended to replace the current offices, which are currently located in six different locations downtown.

About thirty proposals were submitted to a competition to design the new extension. The competition coincided with the one hundredth anniversary of Iceland becoming a sovereign state. The winning design was submitted by Kurt og Pí architecture firm.

Guðrún Ingvarsdóttir, the director of the Government Construction Contracting Agency (FSR), says that preparation of the land use plan and design is underway and will take two years. Guðrún explained that exploratory archeological excavations will be carried out on the site of the future extension so that the construction can get underway in a timely fashion when the planning phase has ended. Construction should begin in 2021 and Guðrún says that it should be ready to be moved into in 2023.

The Prime Minister’s office has been bursting at the seams for decades, necessitating five buildings to be rented to house the overflow that can’t be accommodated in the current building. This is, obviously, inefficient and impractical.

Guðrún explained that the new extension, which will be two storeys, will include offices for 60 employees, meeting rooms, reception areas, media facilities and more. There will also be a small parking facility in the basement of the extension for visitors. The committee adjudicating the design competition stated that they believe the design fits well with the original Prime Minister’s Office, which is located in one of the oldest stone houses in the country.

Images of the winning extension proposal can be viewed here.

Protesting Asylum Seekers Invited to Meet with Government

Asylum seeker protest Reykjavík

Asylum seekers who have been protesting in Reykjavík in recent weeks have been invited to meet with representatives of the Prime Minister’s Office, Vísir reports. The meeting, scheduled today at 3.00pm, will be hosted by the Icelandic Red Cross.

Elínborg Harpa Öndunardóttir, an activist and member of No Borders Iceland, told Vísir that a diverse group of asylum seekers would discuss their demands at the event. She added that emphasis will be placed on ensuring some 50 asylum seekers who have been part of the ongoing protest receive substantial review of their cases.

The protesting group has published a list of five demands, including substantial review of all asylum applications, equal access to healthcare, and the closing down of Ásbrú refugee camp in Keflavík.

Police arrested two protesters and used pepper spray on others yesterday evening in Austurvöllur square. In a statement on their Facebook page, Reykjavík Police have stated the pepper spray was seen as the mildest response to deescalate a conflict that had arisen. Asylum seekers assert their protest has been peaceful and had called for no such measures. The protest is ongoing.

Samtökin ’78 Receives ISK 15 Million for Outreach and Education

The Icelandic government has signed an agreement with Samtökin ’78, Iceland’s LGBTQ Association, earmarking ISK 15 million [$124,709; €109,968] for expanded education, services, and consulting related to LGBTQ issues. Vísir reports that the agreement, which will be in effect for one year starting February 15, was signed on Thursday by Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Samtökin’s chair, María Helga Guðmundsdóttir.

Samtökin’s ‘78’s funding has been increased from the ISK 12 million [$99,767; €87,974] it received in 2018. (That year, its funding was actually doubled from what it received in 2017.) The new agreement stipulates that Samtökin’s funded projects will be carried out in close collaboration with the Prime Minister’s Office of Equal Rights. At the same time it announced its agreement with Samtökin ’78, the government also announced a similar arrangement with the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association, which will receive state funding in the amount of ISK 10 million [$83,139; €73,312] in the coming year.

The additional funding to Samtökin ’78 is intended to promote an LGBTQ-friendly society and increase the visibility of the LGBTQ population in Iceland. Funded services will be aimed at people in the LGBTQ community and their loved ones, as well as public service professionals, i.e. people working in the government and schools.

Under the terms of the agreement, Samtökin ’78 will be responsible for yearly meetings with educators who teach gender, equality, and LGBTQ studies at all levels; annual meetings with elected officials and public policy experts who are working on equality and LGBTQ issues; establishing international collaborations with sister organizations in the Nordic countries; and participation in the annual Congress on Gender.

The Icelandic government has placed a great deal of emphasis on equality issues and per its policy statement, aims to ensure that Iceland is on the vanguard of LGBTQ issues. The Prime Minister’s Office is currently working on a number of policies related to LGBTQ issues, including a pending bill on sexual autonomy.

Equality Matters Moved to Prime Minister’s Office

Equality matters will be moved to the Prime Minister’s as part of a restructuring of the ministries, RÚV reports. The change will take place when the matters of the Ministry of Welfare will be split up into the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Healthcare.

The goal of the changes is to have a clearer division of labour as well as giving a clearer political focus on the matters. The current government believes that the restructuring allows them to prioritize the matters of equality, social affairs, and healthcare. Matters of structure will also be transferred from the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to the Ministry of Social Affairs.

The ministries will now be ten in total, an increase from nine. The Minister of Social Affairs will become the Minister of Social and Children’s Affairs, which is intended to reflect the government’s emphasis on children’s and youth’s matters. It is estimated that the changes will take place around the turn of the year. The changes will be proposed to the Icelandic Parliament soon.