Dáil debates

Thursday, 7 November 2019

4:50 pm

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

I thank the Minister for her reflections on the contributions in respect of the report. Music generation is one of the projects that have been happening across the country for several years. Cavan and Monaghan ETB was one of the more recent ETBs to successfully come on board in that regard. Having spoken to some of the project workers there, I know that it is slow to get off the ground but they are engaging with Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. It is important to highlight the wonderful work done by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann across the island through engaging with small communities. It does phenomenal work with children through lessons and Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann which takes place in various towns and brings an economic benefit to those localities and counties. Music generation offers the opportunity to have such an impact. I know the Minister cannot fund every organisation but it is welcome to see it being pursued by Cavan and Monaghan ETB.

The Minister will remember that at a recent meeting of the committee I asked whether she would engage with the local arts and education partnership of Cavan and Monaghan ETB. It was disappointed not to receive funding from the Department in the most recent round of funding for arts education. I told the Minister that I knew that from a professional point of view it is doing wonderful work. I asked the Minister to engage with Joanne Brennan, its arts education officer. If such engagement with the partnership is not under way, I ask that the Minister or her officials facilitate it because the partnership could learn from the reason for its application being unsuccessful, while the Department could learn from what the partnership has been doing extremely well for many years.

It would be remiss of me not to mention Dr. Katie Sweeney. She has done terrific work on the arts in education portal which has brought arts education providers, schools, creative artists and teachers in contact with each other and opened up a world for people who may have previously been working in silos.

That is a welcome development in the delivery of arts education in our schools and communities. It gives arts professionals the opportunity to link with schools and ETBs, thereby providing an opportunity for employment for them. As many of my colleagues mentioned, the hard fact is that professional artists will most likely have spent four years doing a degree in NCAD, Crawford College of Art and Design, Limerick School of Art and Design or any of the wonderful colleges that provide fantastic third level education but when they come out, what is there for them?

A number of months ago we attended the Theatre Forum presentation. The artists came from many different disciplines, including visual, performing and literary arts. They told harrowing stories about what life is like. They are essentially self-employed. They face challenges such as lack of childcare and lack of healthcare. They face an abysmal future in respect of owning a home. That particularly affects artists working in urban areas, such as Dublin, Limerick and Cork. Living in those cities is essential for them to deliver their work. It is a catch-22 and a vicious circle. They must be in urban areas to be able to engage with other practitioners and galleries and to participate in the arts community. It is isolating for artists living in more rural parts, such as Cavan and Monaghan, where they are limiting their opportunities. The artists who want to progress and develop their careers must live in urban areas. However, increasingly because of high rents and their inability to get a mortgage, they are being pushed further out, thereby limiting their work opportunities.

Regarding their working conditions, childcare is a major problem for them as is healthcare. On professional development and making progress, sustainable employment is not always possible for them. If they are thinking about having a family and owning their own home, some artists leave this particular career path because they can never go to the bank and provide the financial back-up that banks now require for people to get mortgages. We need to take a hard look at how to address that issue.

Many of my colleagues mentioned the amateur arts. The Arts Council has a specific role to ensure professional artists get the professional support and access to developing their careers. For those in amateur arts, there are many drama festivals, as Deputy O'Loughlin mentioned. I am thinking of Shercock Drama Festival, Maudabawn Drama Festival and Cavan Drama Festival. They can be the glue that hold communities together. In some cases, people might not otherwise know their own neighbours. Rural communities are good at having drama groups.

They have interactions with other community groups across the country through one-act drama festivals. They go on a circuit and provide great entertainment for many audiences. We need to see if there is a way of nurturing and supporting that. Communities get together to provide meals and accommodation for them when they arrive. The Arts Council cannot support that because it has a different remit. We should also look at how we can support amateur drama groups and others in visual arts, which are very important.

Yesterday representatives of Free Market appeared before the Joint Committee on Rural and Community Development to talk about their research. Departmental officials will be well aware of the research Free Market has done in small towns. They are the small-town champions and they have done magnificent research. Voluntary groups such as Castleblaney regeneration committee are doing phenomenal work to try to ensure they are at the forefront grasping any funding opportunity that the Department presents. Free Market is a group of artists, curators, architects and planners who come from a creative background and who have much to offer with their knowledge and experience. They presented hard evidence at yesterday's committee meeting and I commend them on their work.

While the Joint Committee on Rural and Community Development is a different committee, it is amazing how they all link into each other. The message we got from the Free Market representatives is that various Departments are trying to do the same thing. We need a research-based team such as Free Market in some third level institution. Community groups in towns and villages could go to such a research-based organisation and identify the size of the town and the challenges they face. The organisation could then show them a model that is working well and how to apply for funding. Volunteers would not become exhausted reinventing the wheel trying to do the same thing other community groups might have been doing for the past ten years. The representatives of Free Market presented hard research. They gave the example of single Scottish town partnerships that work well. A conversation is taking place between the Departments with responsibility for housing, local government, arts and transport. This Parliament needs to move towards the model Free Market presented to the joint committee. I encourage the Minister to sit down with the representatives of Free Market. I compliment Ms Miriam Delaney and Mr. Laurence Lord who presented at yesterday's committee meeting. They have done invaluable research from which we can all learn.

I thank my colleagues on the committee who sat through numerous meetings. I particularly thank those who made presentations to the committee. All the artists, performers and literary artists who came in appreciated the opportunity to be heard and to have their concerns and challenges raised. It is now incumbent on us to do something about them and to implement the recommendations in the report. I am sure I speak for all my colleagues in saying the Minister will have cross-party support in delivering as many of these recommendations as we can. I thank the Minister and my colleagues for attending today.


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