Private Members Motion, seeking to protect State investment in arts and culture

Last week in the Dail the Finna Fail party put down a motion under Private Members Business, seeking to protect State investment in arts and culture, which was supported by members of Sinn Fein and a number of independent deputies. The debates were held in the Dail over 2 evenings on June 26 and 27 and in Seanad Éireann on the afternoon of June 27. I attended the first debate as did many members of the wider arts community. Among those in the public gallery to show their support were writers Ann Enright, Colm Tobin, Willie White CEO of the Dublin Theatre Festival other members of the National Campaign for the Arts. It should have provided a good indication to all political parties how serious the arts community view the latest threats posed to arts organisations.

Just over a month ago historian Diarmuid Ferriter, resigned from the National Library of Ireland’s board, in protest at Government policy on culture, partly due to Government plans to amalgamate the National Library of Ireland with the National Archives

In the Irish Times article on May 28th Prof Ferriter pointed to an “irony” in the Government working on a decade of centenary commemorations to mark the foundation of the State while it was “intent on doing untold damage to the very institutions which are the custodians of so much of that history”,

Spokesman on arts and heritage, Robert Troy, said there was serious concern among the arts sector about proposals from Government on mergers and changes to governance structures to a number of Arts organisations.

Robert Troy TD speaking in the debate on June 27th said:

The recent Indecon report shows that the arts provide significant direct and indirect employment. The arts sector supports 21,300 jobs and contributes €306.8 million in taxes but when the wider creative industry, such as film, animation, archives, museums etc, is included, the arts support 79,000 jobs and contribute €4.7 billion to the economy annually. Cultural tourism, according to Fáilte Ireland, now accounts for a spend of more than €2 billion pointed out the arts sector supports 79,000 jobs and is contributing almost €5 billion to the economy, directly and indirectly”

Speaking on proposal to merge cultural institutions he pointed to the lack of cost benefit analysis have not been published, he said

“Given where we currently are fiscally, the sector recognises the need for budgetary discipline and embraces the principle of reform. The galleries, the National Gallery, IMMA and the Crawford Art Gallery, have submitted a document on where greater efficiencies can be achieved through shared services while at the same time retaining their own independence.

“It is essential that reform is evidence-based and takes account of international best practice. It is essential that a thorough cost-benefit analysis on the proposed rationalisation of the national cultural institutions is conducted rigorously and in the public domain. I pose the question to the Minister as to why a cost benefit analysis has not being carried out and, if one has been carried out, to identify the savings that these mergers would generate. There are 113 national archives in the world and only two of them are merged with a national library. The recent Canadian merger of these two institutions ended up costing an additional Canadian $15 million. The independence and autonomy of the sector is crucial and political interference should be avoided at all costs”.

“For more than 60 years, Governments have adhered to the arm’s-length principle. Successive Acts have enshrined the principle of independence of our cultural institutions. That freedom is especially important in the arts, where the competencies, expertise and networks at both director and board level of cultural institutions are critical”.

In Minister Deenihan’s opening remarks he said

I am pleased to be here this evening to contribute to this debate on our national cultural institutions. It is a healthy sign of a vibrant society, an engaged legislature and a robust democracy when a Private Members’ business debate is about arts, culture and our cultural institutions even if the tone of the debate has been rather negative and not well informed at times”.

Minister Deenihan stated that Public Service Reform Plan published by Government in November 2011, sets out a range of reform initiatives designed to reduce duplication, support the delivery of services to the public, and put in place the structures, processes, ways of working, technologies and capabilities needed by the public service today.

Bodies listed in the Public Service Reform Plan include the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Crawford Art Gallery, the National Gallery of Ireland, the National Archives, the Irish Manuscripts Commission, an Coimisinéir Teanga, the National Library of Ireland, the National Museum of Ireland, the Place names Commission, the Heritage Council and Culture Ireland.

Mr Deenihan said the State funding for these institutions amounted to more than €48 million this year and must be utilised as effectively and efficiently as possible. But no organisation was above examination or reform and will be bringing reform proposals to the Government in the near future.

The motion was defeated as expected but there were some good contributions by TD’s and senators in support of the value of the arts and protection of arts organisations over the course of the debates. Minister Deenihan is right in saying no organisation was above examination, but there has been no meaningful discussions with the cultural institutions or cost analysis published. In his opening address on June 26 Michael Martin acknowledge that much of the momentum for amalgamation of arts institutions emanated from the Bord Snip Nua Report (during FF/Green administration) policy as articulated was wrong and he wanted that on the record of the House.

Culture Ireland is one of the smallest (less than 10 people) and one of the most efficient cultural institutions doing tremendous work to promote Irish cultural abroad it is currently without a CEO and its future in considerable doubt. Significant State investment in the sector (€1.1bn between 2005 and 2010 alone, under FF administrations) has “facilitated a transformation of the national arts and culture infrastructure. Irish artists are internationally acclaimed, cultural tourism, according to Fáilte Ireland, now accounts for a spend of more than €2 billion annually and is increasing year on year.

With a number of significant centenary events are approaching it essential that those arts organisation maintain their own cultural autonomy – if it isn’t broken don’t fix it.

The text of both Dail and the Seanad debates can be found here June 26 and June 27 and the Seanad Eireann debate

For more information how you can support the arts contact The national Campaign For The Arts

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Categories: Theatre

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