Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht
Irish Film Board: Chairperson Designate
I welcome Dr. Annie Doona, chairperson designate of the Irish Film Board. I draw her attention to the fact that, by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against a person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I also advise her that her opening statement and any other document she submitted to the committee will be published on its website after the meeting.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
Dr. Annie Doona:
I thank the cathaoirleach and members of the Joint Committee on Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht for their invitation to address them. I am delighted to be here on behalf of the Irish Film Board. We sent the committee copies of our strategic plan and catalogue for 2016. I will address my vision for and outline my credentials as chairperson designate of the Irish Film Board. I have been acting chairperson since June 2015, following the passing of Bill O'Herlihy, prior to which I was a board member for two years. The current board will finish its term in 2017. Therefore, I will be chairperson for a short period.
I am president of the Institute of Art, Design and Technology, IADT, a higher education institute specialising in the creative and cultural industries, and have a background in film and the cultural sector. The IADT includes the national film school and associated programmes.
I have extensive board experience. I was a board member of the National Digital Research Council, Institutes of Technology Ireland and Dún Laoghaire Adult Education Board. I was secretary of my daughter's PTA for three years. Those members who have been involved with PTAs will understand the experience one gains in that regard. Therefore, I bring to the board extensive experience in the creative and cultural sector. I also bring a particular focus on diversity and gender equality, something the board was interested in pursuing and which has been a particular passion of mine.
It is an incredibly exciting and prosperous time for Irish film. The committee will have seen our film catalogue for 2016. The Oscar nominations received in 2015 and the awards we received, nationally and internationally, were tremendous, not only in terms of the economic benefits to Ireland from the Irish film industry but also in terms of the social and cultural benefits and Ireland's reputation abroad as a nation of great storytellers and film makers. I am excited to be part of a film industry that is so interesting and thriving. In 2015-16 Irish films took in over $147 million at the worldwide box office and already this year the new crop of Irish films, including "The Young Offenders" which is set in Cork, "A Date for Mad Mary" which is set in Drogheda and "The Siege of Jadotville", are doing incredibly well at the box office. As chairperson, I look forward to seeing successes equal to those in 2015 and I hope international awards and accolades in 2016. This achievement is the result of continued investment by successive Governments and the Department in film and the arts. We note that Culture 2025 is up for discussion. We have representatives involved in that discussion. As a film board, we are delighted to see the arts and culture being given such a central position in the programme for Government, which is welcome. Continued investment is important, not only to produce home-grown talent, but also to extend film-making and film studios into the regions.
We continue to support festivals. We support the Dingle and Dublin animation festivals, the Galway Film Fleadh and the Cork Film Festival. It is important to me, as chairpersons, that film-making is not Dublin centric but is enjoyed and has economic benefits in the regions. Section 5 of our document is entitled, carpe diem- seize the day - because what we need to do now is capitalise on that success. What I have done with the board in the development of our new strategy is outline in section 6 a number of things that are important to our continued success. They include the economic benefits, including the growing number of jobs and the new film studios in Limerick; the importance of training and education which, obviously, sit well with my background in higher education; and building audiences, both in Ireland and internationally. Earlier this year we were in Cannes where it was delightful to be approached by people from so many countries looking to participate in co-productions with us.
I must mention "Star Wars" which has been important in highlighting the fantastic landscape and locations available in Ireland for film companies. We want to increase inward investment and productions. We like participating in co-productions, not only with UK companies. We have also worked with Canadian companies. We work with companies in countries all across the world and want to continue doing so.
In terms of training and further education, my institution includes the national film school, but, clearly, there is a real need to develop the film-making talent of the future across the industry, not only actors but also those who work in front of and behind the camera. It is good that Screen Training Ireland has become part of the Irish Film Board while I have been chairperson in order that there is a coherent approach to training.
I will finish on the issue of funding.
It requires long-term investment to produce a movie and to develop the talent. Lenny Abrahamson is a good example of that. He has been supported from very early days from his earliest films such as "Adam and Paul" through to his internationally acclaimed success with "Room" but we require that continued investment and confidence in the film industry. We are looking to the Department and the Government to continue that support. We are delighted to see such a good reference in the programme for Government. We are developing animation and film - all of the things I have spoken about - and I hope the committee has taken the time to read our statement. I again thank the committee for allowing me as chair designate to address it.
Ms Maura McGrath:
I was honoured when I was contacted by the Minister and asked whether I would accept the position of chair designate of the newly-appointed board of the National Concert Hall given that it had recently been established as a statutory body with a new board. I hope that after this short reprise today, I can give the committee some sense of why it is fundamentally important.
My motivation for seeking an appointment in the first instance arose not just recently but from a very firm belief in the importance of music throughout all the stages of people's lives. If I can give further commitment, devotion and passion to that, this would be very significant. In respect of governance, which I know is part of the essential requirement, I have extensive board governance experience across all sectors and have had quite a few involvements in school, sport and culture-related situations as well as more local situations. More particularly, I served on the outgoing board for its final 18 months in the lead up to the legislation, which gave me a deep understanding of the challenges. However, it did not quench my appetite in terms of wanting to come forward. I think all members of the committee know that the National Concert Hall occupies a unique place in the cultural landscape, not just of Dublin, but of the entire country. We want to expand and develop this further and make everybody proud of such an important and iconic venue.
I know some people are always interested in details and, naturally, today is no different. The turnover of the National Concert Hall is €7 million per year, of which 70% comes from our own activities and 30% comes from grant-in-aid. It is important to point out it was this model that allowed us to continue as a vibrant organisation even in the teeth of recession so we are grateful for that. It was not without its challenges for the senior team and the chief executive officer, CEO, but the quality in terms of performance did not deteriorate, although perhaps the facilities have become a bit worn and tired.
The unique role of the National Concert Hall in our national cultural landscape has been underpinned by the legislation passed last year. We are grateful for the duality of confidence that everybody showed across both Houses in supporting that. The legislation commits us to be seen worldwide as one of the great venues for music while playing a pivotal role in the music and cultural life of the Irish nation. As members are aware, we have been home to the RTE National Symphony Orchestra in recent years. Not unlike other European cities that have brought together synergistic cultural organisations - with Bilbao being a particular example - concentrating and having similar organisations resident in the National Concert Hall is very important for us and we want to develop that.
I am conscious of time but just as my colleague here has said, 2022 will be important for us. We are very conscious of the historic attachment of the National Concert Hall to Earlsfort Terrace where the previous treaty was signed. We are delighted to say that the refurbishment of that room, which is now known as the Kevin Barry room, has taken place. That was the first major refurbishment in quite a while. It is worth a visit if members have not been there.
That addresses the current situation. The venue hosts over 1,000 events every year. It is almost a 365 operation. As a result of that, it is obviously going to need significant refurbishment but having said that, we had an audience last year of over 320,000, which is very significant from a participant and patron point of view. It will not be any surprise to the committee to hear that the development and refurbishment of the National Concert Hall is a priority for me as chair designate, the board and the senior management team. Specifically, we are looking at the refurbishment of the main auditorium, which is currently a 1,200-seater. Priorities include an additional 500-seat space for further recitals, a dedicated education centre and rehearsal space for the RTE National Symphony Orchestra, improving public access because we want to be more diverse and participative to include all audiences and, more particularly, ensuring we have the proper infrastructure to facilitate digital distribution for our concert and education work, which is a Government strategy and is of primary importance to us given other educational and artistic endeavours. We are aware this will require a major capital investment but we feel that as a national cultural institution, it is appropriate that we should look in the first instance to the State. However, we also will look at other activities of sponsors and benefactors that we will enlist and enrol in that effort, in the same way we will enlist and enrol in broader audience participation as part of that. We are also working with the OPW, which played a significant role in the refurbishment of the Kevin Barry room, on a master plan to look at what can be done to develop a centre for music with international standing of which we will all be proud.
The ambition of the new board is to see the full potential of the National Concert Hall come to fruition over the next five years leading up to 2022. With the refurbishment plans complete, we believe it will be a musical centre with international standing of which we will all be proud. In addition, we like to think that we would have an outreach beyond Dublin so that we would be able to touch, enlist, enrol and invite other audiences of all ages. We think that is a fundamental remit under the Act. Moreover, we will broaden our audience beyond through the digital initiatives. I hope it will be a centre worth visiting even for people who might not be of a musical persuasion. If one looks at some other iconic venues throughout the world, one will see that sometimes someone will visit the Sydney Opera House or La Scala, Milan, just for the sense of being there. We are looking forward to our main auditorium being resplendently refurbished. Our CEO is working with the OPW on a very detailed and granular plan for that. Above all, the aspiration is to be seen as a worldwide venue, one of the great venues for music, of which we can all be proud. It may appear to be strategic and ambitious - and it is - but as William Shakespeare said, in dreams come responsibility. The board will not be found wanting with regard to rigorous governance and careful management of all that is invested in us.
Ms Catherine Heaney:
I am from a political wilderness on the border of Meath and Westmeath. While I was growing up, we often voted in Meath and would then switch to vote in Longford-Westmeath and sometimes just Westmeath. The constituency is now Meath West so I am sure the Chairman will be familiar with the place. It is called Killua. For those members who are not familiar with the townland of Killua, it has a very rich hinterland in terms of its history and heritage. I grew up beside Killua Castle, which was built in the late 1700s by the Chapman family, which was the landlord family at the time. The Chapmans installed a variety of monuments around the area, including a monument to Sir Walter Raleigh. As children, we thought that this was where the first potatoes were planted in Ireland so the next time, members are eating their plate of spuds, they can think about Killua. It instilled in me a great sense of interest in my local heritage, community and culture. Killua is not far from the cairns of Loughcrew.
I do not know if members have ever been to Loughcrew but it probably has the most incredible monuments in the whole country. It is a beautifully peaceful place and quite uncrowded. The OPW has done restoratory works there recently so it looks even better.
As a child I was a keeper of history. I used to fly around on my bike talking to old people. When I was 11 I got a scrapbook which I filled with mementos, letters and stories which I was able to get people in the area to tell. I have always had a deep interest in history and in what forms our heritage and culture. I was beyond excitement when I was invited onto and asked to chair the board of the National Museum. It is an incredible privilege for me to do this job.
I have provided members with a paper showing where I come from and what I have done to date. I have not had a lot of free time since I took on this job but I spend a fair amount of it visiting museums as that is my hobby. I will visit a small county museum and, when abroad, I visit national museums. They are my go-to places, the first stop when I arrive in a new place. I had the pleasure of visiting Skansen, which is the oldest folklore museum in the world on a little island just outside Stockholm. It showed me what can be done with very little. There was a huge area of interactivity and great facilities for children in its outdoor museum where one can see deer through a gate. I am also a mother and an aunt to a whole army of children who are all under the age of ten, which is around about the age of reason. Museums can play a very important role in giving them a sense of history and of understanding and belonging so I have a consumer eye on the museum.
I am lucky to have a strong client base. I work for myself in a company called DHR Communications. We have a great team and are lucky to have many clients in the heritage and culture sector. I will be high-tailing it up the road to Bellaghy in Derry tomorrow because I am working on the opening of the Heaney homeplace project. I am very excited to be part of that.
I am highly involved in corporate social responsibility and have done some academic research and lectured at Columbia University in New York on the subject. I hope that some of the learning and ideas I have around corporate social responsibility and how we can deepen partnerships with the business world will help to develop the museum over the coming years. I am a former member of the Heritage Council and served as the chair of its finance and audit committee for a couple of years. I will also bring my business management and leadership attributes to the role of chair of this board.
It always surprises me how few Members of the Oireachtas I see in the museums or in the National Library or National Gallery. If I am meeting a politician, I suggest the cafe at the National Library or the National Museum and they often tell me it is the first time they were there. Accordingly, I invite all members of the committee, including absent members, to visit with me. We will organise a tour of the museum at a time that suits them. I would very much like them to be able to come along as it is very important. There would be a huge benefit as it is very crowded and tough around here and it would do wonders for members' head space for them to take a walk around the museum. We have four public sites, two at either end of Leinster House, one at Collins Barracks and at the Museum of Country Life in Mayo. The Oireachtas is very crowded at the moment and there are several committees so we could take a committee meeting to one of those sites, provided due notice was given.
The museum has a collection of over 4 million objects but only approximately 3% are on public display. If we had more resources we would be able to display more material. Our collection is housed in the collections resource centre in Swords, which is a very important piece of our infrastructure and a place where we can care for and develop the collections. I have not been there myself but my parents had a farm and we had two muscovy ducks. They were black and white and quite ugly but they admired themselves at the front door. Their names were Ned and Rita but the fox got Rita and the drake was heartbroken so we decided to donate him to the museum. I am hoping I will be reunited with Ned the muscovy duck when I go to Swords.
The museum has excelled in growing visitor numbers, including over the course of this very deep recession. The staff and the preceding board need to be commended on being so resilient despite incredible cuts. The museum's budget has been reduced by 40% over the past eight years and there has been a 25% reduction in staff. In addition, we started from a very low base because the cohort of staff we have at the National Museum is at less than 50% of its equivalent in Scotland. It is a very serious issue for us. We are in discussions with the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Government over the use of the ceramics room, which is one of our only public spaces in the Kildare Street site, and this is putting more pressure on us and on our staff. It is a critical issue for us, particularly coming up to the budget. We have laid our budgetary ask before the Minister and I will be happy to furnish the committee with a copy. Funding and staffing are our biggest challenges and we are at a critical point in regard to those.
I want to be optimistic as, by nature, I see the glass as half full. We are looking to develop a master plan for the next 15 years, which will be crucial to inform the future and our vision for the National Museum. Culture 2025 has a great little nugget about multi-annual funding and multi-annual budgets. The cultural sector and its institutions need that kind of back-up so that they can think ahead and plan for our cultural infrastructure.
I thank the incoming board of the National Museum and I feel the public appointments process has proven very robust. There is an excellent range of skills on my board and I have enjoyed working with its members. The Minister did a great job in the final selection to put in place such a mixture of skills. This will be very important in building our way forward for the next couple of years. Is pribhléid mór í bheith anseo. Déanfaidh mé mo dhícheall agus mé ag obair leis an músaem. Ba mhaith liom go mbeimid ag obair le chéile. Déanfaidh mé iarracht bheith ag caint leis an gcoiste an t-am ar fad. This is not just a once-off. I would like to be here once a year, even informally, to discuss our challenges and how we can work together to deliver a better infrastructure in our cultural institutions and, particularly, in the National Museum.
Míle buíochas faoi sin. Bhí sé an-suimiúil freisin. Má tá smaointí ag na cathaoirligh ainmnithe ar na tionscadal ar a bhfuil siad ag obair, is féidir leo iad a sheoladh chuig an gcoiste agus cuirfimid isteach inár gcuid pleananna iad. If they have any information or wish to make a submission which they feel needs to be part of our thinking we would be very receptive to that.
In many ways, institutions such as these are the jewels in the cultural crown of the country and are something of which most people are immensely proud. It is a really big day when one visits one of these two institutions, and consuming the wonderful output of the film industry in Ireland is also extremely important. They are very high-profile elements of what we are about. They have a transformative effect on society in general, both in the way it consumes them and in the way they give people an opportunity to reach their potential in particular sectors.
It is very important that governance is of the very highest level. I appreciate the great detail given to the committee by the witnesses and wish them good luck with their work.
I wish to start with a number of general questions, which can be addressed to each of the different sectors. The Waking the Feminists campaign was very important in terms of bringing the issue of gender diversity in the arts to the fore. Another very important issue is socioeconomic diversity. When I was appointed as my party spokesperson for this area, I tabled several parliamentary questions to try to get a good understanding of the delivery of our services or at least, the opportunity to consume them or be part of them, for people at all socioeconomic levels. I ask the witnesses to speak to that issue as it relates to their areas. How do they ensure they are proofed in that regard?
Regional development is one of the core objectives of this committee. Unfortunately, when one looks at the spend, it always seems to be concentrated in Dublin, partly because some of the institutions are physically located in the capital. In that context, I am very interested in the outreach programmes to which the witnesses referred earlier. I know, for example, that in the Solstice Theatre in Navan there is a wonderful exhibition that includes four or five items on loan from the National Museum and which turns the space into a different type of experience. I ask the witnesses to explain how best we can get into the nooks and crannies, not just with the Galway and Cork film fleadhs and so on, but further afield.
It is very hard to estimate the value of an item without engaging in some sort of comparative work. I am thankful the witnesses made reference to various institutions abroad and the work they are doing. What is international best practice, particularly in the European sphere, in terms of outputs in the different areas? How do the Irish institutions measure up? What elements of that best practice do they expect to bring into their own spheres?
I ask the witnesses to respond to those three general questions first and then we can move on.
Dr. Annie Doona:
I am quite happy to start. Waking the Feminists was a really important watershed moment for Irish society. I am a member of the International Women's Forum, the Women's Executive Network and Women in Film and Television Ireland and have a personal history of many years of campaigning on gender equality, diversity and access to education. It is something I am very passionate about. Around the time that the Abbey Theatre was dealing with the Waking the Feminists movement and Lian Bell and others were working in that area, the new Irish Film Board, under my chairmanship, was also discussing gender diversity. What we realised was that we had something to say about that too. Last year we produced a six-point plan around gender diversity, which we published on our website. That plan looks at gender diversity but obviously in our strategy, we are looking at diversity in general. The six-point plan deals with education, training, awareness and with the unconscious bias that exists in the film industry along with all other industries. We were out of the traps pretty quickly after Waking the Feminists in producing a plan. What we have been doing since then is qualitative work, including running seminars on diversity and inclusion in film. We have also been doing quantitative work, collecting statistics on the number of films we are funding that have women directors and cinematographers and the number that represent issues such as regionalism, diversity, the Irish language and so forth. We have become very aware and I would like to think that part of that is because of me, in my role as chair, saying this something about which I am passionate but I also had a board and executive in the Irish Film Board who were very keen to do this as well. If members look at the Irish Film Board website, they will see that, every quarter, we are making progress in terms of diversity.
In terms of diversity, we have focused on gender but we also have been looking at the regions. The Irish Film Board is based in Galway, with some staff based in Dublin. We have been looking not only at Cork and Galway but also at festivals deep in the regions and at the development of audiences. What are the stories that the regions need to hear? I mentioned "A Date for Mad Mary", which is set in Drogheda. It may only be up the road, but not many films have come out of Drogheda. Moreover, "The Young Offenders" is set in Cork, we have had the Dingle Film Festival as I mentioned earlier and we are working with the regions to develop film and film festivals. The regional, diversity and equality agendas are very important in terms of telling stories about the breadth of experience in Ireland. We are not Dublin-centric but are telling stories about people who have diverse lives and diverse experiences. Through our six-point plan around gender and our commitment to diversity in our strategy, we are really focusing on that. That is filtering out into the industry. People are realising that we do not want to tell one side of any story. We want to tell stories from across the diverse range of the population in Ireland.
In terms of the international scene, the Chairman's question is very interesting. We do a lot of co-production work with Canada, the UK and other countries. Successful films like "Room" and "Brooklyn" were co-productions. We are used to seeing what is good practice elsewhere and where we need to benchmark. We do a lot of benchmarking against countries like Sweden, for example, which has a very vibrant industry and is very strong on the issues of equality and diversity. We look at good practice in Canada, we attend the international film festivals, we are in constant dialogue with others and are part of European film projects through Eurimages and so forth. We are constantly examining good practice in the industry and finding ways to work with and learn from others. The committee can be confident that the board and I are doing that.
Ms Maura McGrath:
I will address the feminist question first and then the questions on outreach and socioeconomic diversity, which are particularly important. It is interesting to note that 60% or 70% of the audience of the National Concert Hall is female, so from that point of view, women are very well represented. However, if one looks at the artists, the picture is different. When the National Concert Hall was developing the Composing the Island project, for example, very few female composers were included at the early stages. I cannot give the committee a percentage change in that regard but if members look at our current calendar of events, there is a very equal distribution with regard to artists representing both genders. That is one element of the issue, in terms of providing role models in terms of performance and participation. This issue is addressed in our strategy, in terms of the National Concert Hall being a diverse organisation at operational level and through its outreach programmes and this is something about which we will be more deliberate as we move forward. In my own personal experience, I have been very passionate with regard to equality across all areas and am committed to continuing that. For me, it is part of the way we live and the way we behave.
The question of socioeconomic equality and making the arts available to everyone is interesting. One of the wonderful things about the National Concert Hall is that, from a price point of view, it recently was made affordable for people, which is extremely important. I am not sure, not having researched the issue, but I think there are some concerts which are offered free of charge. Socioeconomic considerations, from an attendance point of view, are very important. I do not think price is a prohibitor because we have many ways of looking at it but at the same time, we are a commercial organisation in part and so must think about it from that point of view.
Outreach is a major consideration for the National Concert Hall, in terms of getting to wider audiences, including those from different socioeconomic groups. In that context, digitisation is very important in terms of offering virtual opportunities. Children sitting in classrooms all over this country should be able to switch on and watch the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, for example, playing in the concert hall, at little or no cost. That is where we are coming from on that issue.
Ms Catherine Heaney:
I will start with the question on diversity. One of the very worrying elements of our museum, particularly on the Kildare Street and Merrion Street sites, is neither has access for people with mobility issues. It is very disappointing this still is the case in 2016. This issue is on the table for our board and I have raised it in the Houses of the Oireachtas and with the Government during our discussions on the use of the ceramics room to facilitate Seanad Éireann.
The board is conscious of this. Our cultural institutions must be open and publicly accessible, regardless of people's abilities or otherwise.
Regarding inclusion, entry to national museums is free of charge. Sometimes, the queue at Blanchardstown shopping centre on a Sunday, from the Navan side in particular, is longer than at the museum. It is up to us to encourage people to change the way they do their business on a Sunday afternoon. There is a wonderful free exhibition in Collins Barracks on the 1916 Rising and if members have not seen it, I recommend it to them. It is full of artefacts that represent individuals from 1916, for example, cigarette packs, playing cards, etc. They were retrieved from Kilmainham Gaol the night before the executions and are engaging. The 1916 Rising commemorations have been brilliant in engaging children in school. I cannot understate the power of engaging children early in appreciating culture. This helps the process of inclusion, as it opens their minds and attitudes to other things. For this reason, it is incumbent on us and politicians to talk more about engaging and appreciating culture. It is not aloof - it is for everyone. This something about which I feel strongly.
I turn to the issue of best practice. The museum probably led the decentralisation programme, as we have been located in County Mayo for nearly two decades. We are proud of this. We loan to county museums. There may be issues with museum practice and ensuring the museums to which we loan are competent and have the capacity to look after artefacts. There are also associated cost issues.
I have a couple of topical questions, the first of which may be for Dr. Doona. The Solas Galway Picture Palace building is in the public consciousness. Approximately €9 million of public money is wrapped up in it, yet the project is not complete. For the best reasons, the Irish Film Board was involved in trying to get it under way. Is Dr. Doona confident that the State's investment is protected? What is her opinion on the issue of non-compliance?
I will give Dr. Doona a couple of seconds to think about that matter and will ask Ms Heaney about something else. Recently there has been a discussion in the media about the HR element within the National Museum of Ireland. I understand there are difficulties in its finance department regarding a number of individuals who are bringing High Court cases against the museum. Another individual was either made redundant or took redundancy recently. Is it possible to fix what is happening? It obviously has a cost for the State because, from the outside, there seems to be at least an allegation of dysfunction that is leading to HR difficulties. There is also a cost for the High Court cases - perhaps Ms Heaney might give us the details - that are being taken to try to resolve the issues involved.
I have a question about the National Concert Hall which received approximately 300,000 or 350,000 visitors.
Dr. Annie Doona:
I am happy to answer the question. The Irish Film Board's view is that the Picture Palace will be a tremendous asset to Galway. A few minutes ago we discussed the importance of the regions and not being Dublin centric. Ireland's only dedicated arthouse cinemas are in Dublin, which does not serve the regions well. The vision was to change this. Galway is a UNESCO-designated city of film and hosts the highly successful Film Fleadh every year, but it is short of the right environment and the right space. Our belief is the cinema is badly needed. We are frustrated and disappointed that the project has taken so long to come to fruition and by some of the ways in which it has been rolled out. A considerable amount of public funding has gone into it. The Irish Film Board was a minority funder, but we nevertheless had to be careful. In our three years of dealing with it the board has engaged in due diligence and followed due process in investing money and knows exactly what is happening with it. There are issues with the recession and the Picture Palace, but our concern is that the building should be finished, the Department should invest money and that there should be excellent governance. We had some concerns which we articulated about the length of time it was taking and some of the issues that occurred along the way. We believe in the project and want to see it finished as it is important for the people of Galway. We have been frustrated. The building is needed and we have invested money to have the project finished.
Dr. Annie Doona:
With the Department and the city council, we have had to attach conditions to the invested funding to ensure the project is finished. The Department has been clear on that point. The funding is contingent on certain people being involved and certain things being put in place. I am confident.
Ms Catherine Heaney:
Unfortunately, I cannot give a figure for the costs involved. The Chairman will appreciate that, being a new board that was only appointed in June, we have met only twice. There are a few historic issues associated with the personnel at the museum. It is something of which we, as a board, are conscious. Recently we set up our standing committees. At our November board meeting we will examine issues of personnel governance, etc. It is on our agenda. I can report to the Chairman on the costs by letter to be shared with the rest of the committee, as I do not have them to hand.
Ms Maura McGrath:
The Chairman's question on unique attendances was interesting. This week I discussed the matter with our CEO, Mr. Simon Taylor. Last year 2% of attendees came from Northern Ireland, approximately 2% from elsewhere in the United Kingdom, roughly 30% from outside Dublin and the remainder from Dublin. Interestingly, 50,000 attended children and family-related events. Our intention is to spread our outreach. We will have a unique opportunity to do so because, at some stage in the refurbishment, we will need to close the main auditorium. Rather than moving to elsewhere in Dublin, we see an opportunity to move around the country into unique venues with the National Symphony Orchestra and other performers.
Gabhaim mo bhuíochas leis na finnéithe agus cuirim fáilte roimh gach duine anseo. I had the pleasure of studying film and television production in GMIT in Galway. Those three years outside Dublin gave me an insight into the need for a greater regional spread. When I continued to wake up to the Dublin traffic report, it felt like I was still at home.
Funding is the elephant in the room, but, aside from this, what is the single greatest obstacle to the creation of a vibrant, indigenous sector? I am supportive of big budget productions coming to Ireland via section 481 relief, but should a greater ecosystem below that be built to support it? Is there scope for a smaller section 481, so to speak?
What is the breakdown of the Irish Film Board's infrastructure between Dublin and Galway? As Dr. Doona mentioned, Galway is a UNESCO-designated city of film, with 50 production companies and educational institutions providing courses and so on. Is there greater scope for collaboration with Northern Ireland Screen? Compared to us, significant funding for it is provided by the British Government.
I welcome the Minister.
Dr. Doona called for a return to the 2008 figures.
Has any indication been given or has there been any correspondence on that front? Regarding the national cultural institutions, this is part of a conversation I had recently. How can we really identify our national cultural institutions as national, and we spoke about this, if one multiplies the number of seats by the days in the year? Would that truly be national? It was touched on in the previous discussion. Can we better foster outreach programmes or engagement with people who do not necessarily participate in the arts? Culture Night is a huge example of how our citizens really have an appetite for cultural activity. How do we better bring that to them?
Dr. Annie Doona:
I will try to remember the various questions. Section 481 has been very important for the Irish film industry and we welcomed its roll-out and expansion. It helps us to compete internationally and helps us with inward investment and in developing the film industry that we want to see.
I think Senator Warfield asked me what will help create a good Irish film industry. There are a number of factors to that. One is education and training and the Senator mentioned the educational institutions in Galway. My national film school is IADT. There is a real need to grow and develop the next generation of indigenous film-makers, editors and producers. That will really help us. The issue of studio space, which is partly being addressed now, is very important. We have seen some productions go elsewhere because, we are delighted to say, the studios here are very busy. However, if we could expand that studio space and what is available for people to allow them to come here and bring that inward investment, as well as develop the industry, that would really help us.
We do a lot of work with Northern Ireland Screen. We co-fund projects with it, including "The Truth Commissioner". Northern Ireland Screen also provides funding to inward productions in Northern Ireland and promotes Irish film, so we have a very good relationship with Northern Ireland Screen and we want to continue that cross-Border working and development.
Funding is a big issue for us. Our funding was €20 million back in 2008 but now it is around €12 million. We got an additional €500,000 from the Minister last year, for which we were very grateful, but as I said earlier, film investment occurs over a long number of years, in individuals, in projects and in companies, so we could do so much more. We did a huge amount and got huge international acclaim with a small amount of money but we turned down projects. I will give the committee a concrete example of this. We have already had to halt the amount of money for animation film production this year because it has almost doubled from what we funded last year. The applications for animation feature films, on the back of the success of films like "Song of the Sea" is great but we do not have the money at the moment to fund those and we do not have the staff to do that work with the animation sector. We are doing as much as we can with a small budget. We genuinely believe that with a return to that €20 million funding, we would see much more film production, much more inward investment, more co-production and an even better, even stronger and more economically productive film industry.
Ms Catherine Heaney:
Yes, there is greater scope. It is not all down to funding either as leadership is required as well. The Minister is in the room. We have Culture 2025 and it is really important that she is not the only person flying the flag for that. Putting culture back on the political agenda is probably a shared responsibility of this committee. Culture has really taken a hammering over the past decade. It needs to come back on the agenda. We have talked about the importance of how culture can influence outcomes in life. That is why that political will is required. It is a shared thing. We should be in here not just once but all the time engaging with the committee. That would be a big help. There are also planks of Culture 2025 that concern the loaning out of collections and how we can facilitate that by ensuring best practice in managing collections. There is also clearly a funding issue involved in that. The other piece that is very exciting in Culture 2025 is the whole idea of collaborating. Even in the conversations we were having outside during our long wait to get in here, we were talking about how we can better collaborate. There are many different aspects in this regard.
The other great thing that we all need to embrace is digitisation and access to collections through digitisation. I have some experience with the National Library of how its digitised parish records have resulted in phenomenal engagement right around the country and abroad with our diaspora. That is a real gateway to engaging with our cultural institutions.
Coming back to the point I made at the very start about the importance of children and so on, when I went on a school tour, we would go to Kilmainham Gaol or the Natural History Museum. These days there are play parks and so on, which are great and easy to do. Birthday parties are easy to do. My son's eighth birthday is on Saturday and we are going to Dublinia. It is a whole new experience for Dublinia as it has never done a birthday party, so this is a real challenge for it. It is a bit about attitude as well as funding. All of us in leadership positions have a responsibility to pave that way.
I thank Dr. Doona, Ms McGrath and Ms Heaney for their presentation.
I come a rural community on the Mizen peninsula. I have seen the benefits of the Irish Film Board through the filming of "The Runway" and, most recently, "Star Wars" on Brow Head in Crookhaven, which provided an economic boost to a rural community. I urge that that continue because when "Star Wars" or "The Runway" comes to town, it is a huge boost to the local area, whether it be food outlets, local businesses or bed and breakfasts as accommodation is needed. It is a fabulous boost. I do not underestimate the economic effects it has on a rural community, especially off season. Dr. Doona talked about the funding of film boards. We have a film festival in Schull in west Cork, which is usually successful. Maybe it is an area that we need to look at going forward and one which needs further funding because it brings many people over a week-long period into a rural community, again off season, which is very important. The National Concert Hall and the National Museum are very much Dublin-based but I urge the witnesses to look at the rural communities to see how we can bring in the rural communities more.
I would take up Ms Heaney's offer that the committee might hold a meeting in Collins Barracks. With a name like Michael Collins, I would have a particular interest in visiting there. It would be very important in the year 2016, in the dying moments of the celebrations that have been going on, that we make that gesture.
Ms Maura McGrath:
Going back to Senator Warfield's question about outreach, Hans Christian Andersen said, "Where words fail, music speaks." I think that sentiment is behind the Senator's question. It is a very significant responsibility for all of us. I spoke earlier about outreach programmes. Whether it be through education, digitisation or the digital world, there is a huge responsibility to bring that into classrooms, which cuts across all socio-economic groupings. That is a fundamental responsibility. I listened to the Minister recently say that 800 schools will come online with broadband every year over the next three to five years. There is a golden opportunity to do that from this point of view. As I said earlier, there are wonderful opportunities from now through to our refurbishment to consider venues across the country and to bring what is currently on Earlsfort Terrace, but has not always been there, right around. There is a unique opportunity to do that in conjunction with the Department, which has a wider scope now.
Education can push one thing still further. The committee may be conscious of the research that has come out recently on the study of music and how it develops the brains of children in their mathematical perspective and the wider perspective. That is a very fundamental piece of research. It is almost like keeping fit and eating well. There is almost a further dimension to it. Music should be considered on the serious side, not just as an option. It can really enhance the opportunity for one's child going forward.
Dr. Annie Doona:
I will respond to Deputy Michael Collins. The regional aspect is very important for the Irish Film Board. "Star Wars" not only brought inward investment and tourism and filled bed and breakfast rooms, it also highlighted Ireland as a beautiful location and a good location to make films. The word got out that we have creative talented people at all levels, great locations and a Government that is interested in film and culture. I have a list of regional projects. "Redwater" was filmed in Waterford and is coming out soon, "The Breadwinner" was animated in Kilkenny and "Halal Daddy" was filmed in Sligo. This year, films have been made in and highlight a series of locations throughout the country, and we have put this in our submission. It is very important. "Star Wars" was filmed all along the west coast, not just in Kerry and Galway but all the way up to Donegal. The impact of this on economic tourism and in highlighting Ireland as a good place to make a film cannot be underestimated. We are very committed to this regional development.
I take Ms Heaney's point that she is new to her role, and I do not associate her with some of the difficulties that have happened. I wish her all the best of luck in trying to fix them. The human resources, HR, issues are of concern to me. Is she of the view that they have been fixed? It is happening in the financial unit of the particular organisation. Ms Heaney mentioned the massive financial challenges she has regarding cuts. Does she believe the financial oversight is 100% adequate? The staff includes agency workers, and normally they have a different contractual and financial profile from direct workers. How does this impact?
Ms Catherine Heaney:
I cannot answer specifically because I do not know the minute detail. As the Chairman appreciates, I am quite fresh to the role. We have just appointed our finance and risk committee in the past fortnight and it will meet in the coming week. I have proposed that it examines the oversight function, how our accounts are put together and the resources used to prepare our accounts. This will all be part of its remit. I would not like to offer an opinion when I do not have the adequate information to hand. If I am given a small amount of time to settle into the role and put our processes in place, I will be happy to report back to the committee on the matter.
I thank the witnesses for answering all the questions in the forthright fashion they did. I wish them all the best of luck with the interesting and energetic work they have and with its great opportunities in the next while. We look forward to having them back in the near future.
Although the Minister is here, we will notify her formally that we have had the opportunity to question the witnesses on their particular roles.