Dáil debates

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Financial Resolutions 2018 - Financial Resolution No. 4: General (Resumed)


12:40 pm

Photo of Niamh SmythNiamh Smyth (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I am disappointed that the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, is not here and I would appreciate it if the Minister and Minister of State opposite, Deputies Shane Ross and Patrick O'Donovan, respectively, would relay to her my thoughts on the budget.

As spokesperson on arts and heritage, I looked forward with real expectation to budget 2018, hoping for a new era for the arts, as did the arts community more widely. The budget was to see the fulfilment of promises made again and again in the most public and high profile way to put culture at the centre of Government and public life. It was to be a real beginning of a new era, not simply in terms of financial allocation, but in terms of political prioritisation and, above all, real respect. I ask the Minister, Deputy Ross, if he has time to listen to me. It is very important for the arts. This is a huge portfolio on which a lot of people depend. At the heart of the issue of how this budget is being received by artists is not money, rather it is respect. During the recession, cuts came and artists bore them. Arts organisations made do with less, but got on with it regardless.

Being an artist is not a job. It is not a career. It is a vocation. One does not give one's life to art to make money; one makes art for life. It is the innate drive that inspires every artist. In experiment, failure and, occasionally, in success, astonishing works of art are made. Arts and culture are essential to living a full life and they have much to offer our communities. Ultimately, they make for a better society. Arts and culture are essential to positive citizenship and give language to thoughts we otherwise could not articulate. In Dáil Éireann today, we are speaking of the economy. Behind this budget are volumes of reports and years of events. Can anyone think, however, of a more profound or truer summary of the recession we went through and what led to it than Donal Ryan's great book, The Spinning Heart? In this decade of commemoration, has any history been written that equals, let alone surpasses, Seán O'Casey's trilogy of great history plays? Where else but in art, song, fiction, visual art, music and dance can we really find the means to articulate great joy or awful grief? Art is essential to citizenship, but we cannot articulate what we really feel and think about it. It is essential for life.

The expectations of artists around this budget were based on the belief in promises solemnly made and that the Government too shared this profound sense of the vitality and potential of art, and of culture more widely, in our life. The expectation was that a fractured, almost broken relationship, was to be repaired. The expectation was that Government had at least listened to and genuinely heard the real pain within the arts, not just as to monetary cuts, but on foot of a sense of disrespect. The expectation was that bygones would be bygones. The expectation was that there would be a new beginning. These expectations were not just about money, but, much more importantly, about real feeling and genuine respect. This was expected to be, at last, a new and happy day.It was not to be. The bare fact of budget 2018 is that the allocation has not matched the announcement. The deeper truth is that artists feel, yet again, that they have been used as a platform and a backdrop to enlarge a State that has little or no real feeling or respect for them at all.

In the summer of 2014, there was a sudden and unexpected promise of a national cultural policy. Years have gone by, but nothing has appeared. The promise of a national cultural policy was, in any event, overtaken by the plan for Creative Ireland. This great public brand-making and festival of announcements, glossy documents and videos would be the vehicle and the means to put culture at the centre of national life. Some were concerned that against an insidious use of the arts as backdrop for political projects, Creative Ireland had no clear or effective governance. There was no transparency about how spending decisions were made. The Minister will recall that I asked, on many occasions, how the allocation for 2017 could be accessed by arts organisations, whether there was an applications process and what were the criteria. There were none. There was only a political project, albeit one that held out hope and which promised an enlarged budget. We waited, but we have been disappointed and artists are dismayed. The chair of the Arts Council spoke for all when she expressed her deep disappointment at the paltry increase for the council, which is the main and essential support for the arts in Ireland. The council's grant for 2018 will go from €65 million to €68 million, which is stand-still money representing an unrealised expectation. The announcement of Creative Ireland remains just that, an announcement. It now lies with the national cultural policy in a field of unrealised expectation.

I will not use my own words, but will quote instead words used by the National Campaign for the Arts, or NCFA:

The National Campaign for the Arts today expressed deep disappointment at the minimal increases for the sector in Budget 2018. This is despite the Government greatly raising expectations in the last year through its high-level initiative Creative Ireland whose stated aim is to raise the priority of arts, culture and creativity across Government, and the Taoiseach's campaign pledge to double investment in the sector.

This is not political comment. It is a real reaction and it conveys genuine hurt. The NCFA went on to say:

Budget allocations to key organisations are modest, in particular the Arts Council moving from €65 million to €68 million, an uplift of just 5% compared to last year's increase of 8%, and equally disappointing in percentage terms compared to Culture Ireland’s increase from €3.5 million to €4 million and the Irish Film Board from €16.5 million to €18 million. These figures fall far below expectations.

They are the bare facts but they do not convey the sense of hurt and disbelief at broken promises. The arts today remain on the sideline; they are not at the centre. There is a fundamental attitude of disrespect. The Government parties see the arts as an occasionally useful platform, but have no fundamental regard or feeling for them at all.

Those at the centre of the Creative Ireland project are now at the centre of the Taoiseach’s political communications project in Government Buildings. It was a seamless passage and an apt one. From attempting to undermine the independence of the national cultural institutions, to promising a national cultural policy as a diversion, to creating Creative Ireland as a cadet school for the biggest show in town, which is Government Buildings, there is a consistent train of thought. It is of the artist as an extra in a world that sees politics as show business, and in which the ultimate political aspiration is to be star of your own movie. The multiple video clips of Ministers "performing" as politicians over the past few days was a cartoon of politics. It is a caricature of what was promised to artists and the creative industries.


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