The Northern Ireland Civil Service art collection came into being in 1963 when the then Prime Minister, Captain Terence O’Neill, proposed the acquisition of works of art to enliven otherwise dull Government offices. This continues to be the overall purpose of the collection. The principal purpose of the collection is to decorate the offices of Ministers, senior civil servants and public access areas of Northern Ireland Government buildings.
Since 1997, the Department of Finance and Personnel has worked in co-operation with the Office of Public Works in the Republic of Ireland in exhibiting art works from public buildings managed by both Departments. These exhibitions have comprised artworks taken from the two Collections based on particular themes each year, such as paper works and emerging art. The exhibitions provide an opportunity for the wider public to view art works, which normally decorate public buildings. Over the years, they have toured extensively throughout Ireland.