Tuesday, 26 June 2012
National Cultural Institutions: Motion [Private Members]
That Dáil Éireann:
— endorsing the positive contribution that a thriving arts and culture sector makes to Irish society as a whole;
— acknowledging the value of our cultural heritage;
— recognising the impact on the economy and jobs of our wider arts sector, contributing €4.7 billion to the economy and directly and indirectly supporting 79,000 jobs;
— noting that in the period 2005 to 2010 alone more than €1.1 billion was invested in the sector;
— highlighting that these funds facilitated a transformation in our national, regional and community arts and culture infrastructure, performance venues and film and television production capacity;
— recognising the need to protect and promote our cultural heritage as we approach the centenary of the 1916 Rising;
— accepting that there should be a consultation process with the national cultural institutions before any changes take place in their governance structure as a result of the public service reform plan;
requests that a cost-benefit analysis of proposed changes to the sector be published;
agrees that independence and autonomy of this sector is crucial, that political interference should be avoided and that the "arm's length" principle should remain;
accepts the necessity for an independent recruitment process for the CEO vacancies in some of the national cultural institutions and that these positions should be filled without delay;
acknowledges the detrimental effects the proposed mergers of cultural and arts institutions would have on our cultural infrastructure and heritage; and
— the proposed merger of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the Crawford Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Ireland;
— the proposed merger of the National Archives and the Irish Manuscripts Commission; and
— the proposed merger of the National Library and the National Museum.
I wish to share time with Deputy Robert Troy.
This motion is important because it recognises the positive contribution a thriving arts and cultural sector makes to society as a whole. It is important to state for the record that the previous Government indicated its intention to produce a Bill on amalgamation. However, it consulted the directors of the National Archives and the National Library and the chairman of the Irish Manuscripts Commission and asked for their observations. It is important to put on the record that the general scheme of the Bill was not approved when Fianna Fáil left office and no changes were agreed by Government. That said, I acknowledge that much of the momentum for this emanated from the bord snip nua report. In my view, the policy as articulated was wrong and I set that on the record of the House.
We have consulted widely with the arts sector and have observed and reflected on the public debate that has arisen recently. Following that process, our Front Bench introduces this motion in a genuine way that is designed to try to change tack and course before it is too late. This motion reflects our belief that it would be irresponsible not to publish a cost-benefit analysis of the proposed changes before proceeding. Having listened to and researched the views of stakeholders and experts in the field, we believe the independence and autonomy of this sector is crucial and must be maintained.
The outstanding and valuable role that arts and culture play in our national life and the sector's potential to develop further is threatened by what I believe to be a short-sighted approach by the Government. This Government has failed miserably to appreciate or harness adequately the potential of the arts and creative industries as a powerful tool towards economic renewal. Furthermore, by its shoddy treatment of and broken promises to this sector, this Government has not grasped that the arts are part of our national identity and go to the core of our Irishness. This sector deserves our respect and encouragement and does not deserve to be short-changed or kept in the dark.
The Government should think very carefully about moving in an arbitrary and cynical manner in terms of merging long-standing and valuable cultural institutions as part of a quick fix or counter-productive strategy to make savings. We on this side of the House will oppose that. The motion gives the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan, the opportunity to state unequivocally he will not support any plans to merge cultural institutions as this would undermine their independence and damage our cultural heritage. I urge the Minister to do so even if that means finding the political courage to say "hands off", because independence in this sector is crucial.
I have met representatives from the sector. They realise reform is necessary. They will co-operate with reform, but the red line is independence. Ireland's arts and culture are not an optional extra or an expendable luxury but are intrinsic to our make-up as a nation. Our cultural heritage and artistic talent are recognised and appreciated all over the world. This gives Ireland a unique and valuable brand that provides us with a real competitive advantage in a globalised world. In the middle of a world recession, we should be leveraging this great national resource, not pulling the rug from under it.
On this side of the House we will listen very closely to the Minister's speech, as will countless arts and culture organisations. No rationale or detailed explanation has been offered as to what benefit merging these cultural institutions will bring. Even more perturbing is the Government's failure to engage in any meaningful discussion with the cultural sector about its agenda. Proposals that threaten the very edifice of our national cultural architecture cannot credibly be imposed by Government without taking on board the views of stakeholders. The Minister needs to listen and engage. He must also reflect on the long-term damage that will be done by removing the autonomy of boards which have a sole mandate to protect cultural institutions, discarding years of built-up expertise and putting the governance of cultural institutions at the behest of a Department which has numerous other priorities.
This action will certainly make it easier to impose a severe cutbacks regime on our cultural institutions. It will facilitate those who cannot see beyond "fumbl[ing] in a greasy till/And add[ing] the halfpence to the pence". The reality, however, is that this approach can only cost the State revenue rather than generating it in the way our arts and cultural sector has been doing all along.
We all recognise the need for efficiencies in a time of economic recession. The cultural institutions are willing to play their part and have expressed a willingness to collaborate and work together where cost savings can be shared. The last thing we need, however, is shotgun amalgamations which are not grounded in detailed consideration and strategic planning or even respectful consultation. I look forward to hearing how the Minister intends to square the public service reform plan published on 17 November 2011 by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, and take in conjunction the Government's statement on State agency rationalisation and the pre-election promises of Fine Gael. The campaign run by Fine Gael in 2011 was the most dishonest election campaign the country has ever seen. We know now about the broken promises on Roscommon hospital, the "not another red cent" for the banks, the pledges given to students, the breast care centre in Sligo and the unit for the elderly in Lifford. It is a list that continues to grow. Another stand-out deception to add to this shameful catalogue is Fine Gael's pre-election promise that cultural discussion will be driven up the agenda of Government and that the arm's length principle will be respected. In his remarks, the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, might have the good grace to admit the cynicism and shallowness of those pledges.
Fine Gael's pledge that cultural discussion will be driven up the agenda of Government has been replaced by the sad reality of obfuscation and a deficit of dialogue. It is worth pointing out to the Minister the recent remarks by Senator Fiach Mac Conghail, the Taoiseach's nominee to the Seanad, and the director of the Abbey Theatre, our national theatre. Speaking in the Upper House on 24 May, he stated:
There is a crisis in the way culture and our living heritage is administered by the Government. This is not about money but about the lack of vision and public consultation in the way our national cultural institutions are being treated in a profoundly secretive and cavalier way.
I also look forward to hearing the views of the Labour Party Members of this House. Senator Bacik has strongly defended the arm's length principle, stating on 7 June:
I think it is important that the Boards and Directors of all the national cultural institutions, such as the National Museum and the National Library, should remain at arms' length from Government, in keeping with the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997, introduced by former Arts Minister, Michael D. Higgins. In this way we will ensure the maintenance of their reputation, both national and international.
It is good to see the Labour Party Senators showing some independence of thinking in recent times. On this motion, however, nobody should be surprised to see Labour Party Deputies follow more slavishly the Tánaiste's instructions to prop up Fine Gael, irrespective of which party principles are abandoned. That has been an all too regular pattern in this Dáil. This motion is a test of the political courage of the Labour Party Deputies. Will they support Senator Bacik's defence of the arm's length principle, something that has been agreed by all for many years and by successive generations in the House?
The Government's, in particular Fine Gael's, lack of empathy with or understanding of our arts and culture are in contrast to the policy of our party. Our policy is that Ireland's unique culture has long played a key role in defining us as a people and promoting a positive view of Irishness around the world. We do not need and will not support forced marriages of convenience for our cultural institutions. A new generation of Irish people are making their mark among the most renowned and respected artists in the world and we believe they deserve to be encouraged and supported. From our writers and musicians to our architects and animators, Irish people continue to punch far above their weight on the international stage. This reflects well on our nation. Fianna Fáil believes we should be particularly conscious of the potential of the sector to provide opportunities for self expression and participation which can help to lift people's spirits in a time of economic difficulty. We also appreciate the economic potential of the arts and creative industries and their role in supporting enterprise and innovation in the economy as a whole. This is reflected in the motion which highlights the important fact the wider arts sector contributes €4.7 billion to the national economy and directly supports 79,000 jobs.
This is not merely rhetoric from our party's perspective. Investment in arts, culture and the film sector in the period 2005 to 2010 came to more than €1.1 billion. In that time there was an unprecedented investment in national and regional arts and cultural infrastructure, performance venues and film and television production capacities. It was money well spent. Visitor numbers to the national cultural institutions grew by more than 75% and participation rates in the cultural and arts activities have increased.
This motion reflects our belief that it would be irresponsible not to publish a cost-benefit analysis of the proposed changes before proceeding. Some of these mergers were announced in budget 2009 but having listened to, researched and reflected on the views of stakeholders and experts in the field, I reiterate our belief that the independence and autonomy of the sector is crucial and must be maintained. It has also been pointed out by the national campaign for the arts that experience from Canada and New Zealand indicates it costs millions to resource such mergers. We should try to learn from the mistakes of others. The views of Professor Diarmaid Ferriter also merit respect and I respect him as a historian and a person of principle. He has written compelling articles, particularly in The Irish Times on 29 May, on the different functions carried out by the National Library and the National Archives. I will not go through the detail of what he wrote but he identified the fundamentally different role and function of the National Library, on the one hand, which is the great custodian of our literary and estate manuscript collections, and the National Archives, the focus of which is solely on archives, most of them the files of Government Departments and so on. The Minister should engage with the country's historians before proceeding with any decision to merge the National Library, the National Archives and Irish Manuscripts Commission. The views of Professor Ferriter are worth reflecting on. In my view, that was a clarion call to shout "stop" and for people to take stock, review and reflect.
Put simply, as this motion acknowledges, there would be a detrimental effect on our cultural infrastructure if the proposed mergers of these cultural arts institutions were to go ahead. Senator Mac Conghail who spoke about this recently in the Seanad talked about "a tsunami of desecration and potential undermining of the whole cultural infrastructure of our nation". He is another person for whom I have respect, given his role in the arts and culture in recent years. We should all listen carefully to what people of that calibre and reputation have to say. I urge the Minister to accept the motion.
I am delighted to speak on this motion on the arts and culture. My party and I thought it important to facilitate the House with an opportunity to debate this important sector given the debate that is currently taking place outside the House. I welcome and thank the Deputies from other political parties and none who have signed our motion in support of arts and culture and also acknowledge that the Members of the Upper House will debate a similar motion tomorrow. I welcome the visitors in the Gallery. The numbers present highlight the concern of many people within this sector.
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 annually with very healthy projected double-digit increases year on year. The Gathering in 2013 exemplifies a new tourism dynamic in which our cultural attractions, reputation for delivering outstanding artistic experiences and our cultural heritage will play a significant role.
While not to diminish the value of economic activity and the importance of national solvency, we all live in a society, not an economy. Contrary to popular belief, the arts are not a minority interest. Recent figures show that 66% of the adult population are art attendees. The Government has been at pains to say it is working extremely hard to rebuild our international reputation, a reputation that while in opposition it did not care much about when everything it did was politically motivated.
Irish artists are internationally acclaimed, many having received very prestigious awards. The Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney recently received the Griffin Poetry Prize for his lifetime achievements. Similarly, Brendan O'Carroll and other Irish actors brought many BAFTA awards back to Ireland earlier this year. All these enhance our prestige and keep us in the spotlight.
This year, the Imagine Ireland festival in the United States has sent thousands of artists to 40 states and they will join with hundreds of thousands of people and this will generate multi-million dollars worth of positive media coverage.
Apart from the brand awareness which the arts create internationally, the arts play a pivotal role in our communities. Recently members of the arts and culture committee received many presentations from various arts groups, varying from inner city groups that work with the disadvantaged, help create a sense of identity, confidence and help others live out their lives creatively to rural arts projects of which the same can be said.
Sustained investment in infrastructure and capacity during the past decade has created a dynamic arts sector that produces in excess of 12,000 arts events and festivals annually. When I think of my constituency I think of the magnificent work been carried out by the Mullingar Arts Centre, at which I attended an event on Saturday night and there was a full house, the Backstage Theatre in Longford and the Dean Crowe Centre in Athlone. These are all venues supported by the Arts Council in conjunction with their local authorities and without such support they would not be in operation today.
A group that encompasses international, national and community culture is Comhaltas CeoltóiríÉireann. Down the years Comhaltas has promoted respect for all traditions on this island. To underline this, Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann will be held in Derry next year where all traditions will be involved. Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, which will be held in Cavan this year for the third year, attracts attendances of up to 300,000 people and generates €40 million for the host region.
As we approach a decade of commemoration, it is timely to take stock. We must recognise the fundamental importance of cultural value as a component of public value. Our pre-eminence on an international scale in terms of our cultural heritage has been a significant contributor to our national identity, pride and prestige.
The national cultural institutions are our independent guardians of our cultural heritage. The role of cultural institutions as political, institutional, cultural and social repositories of our collective history is vital to mediating and interpreting our history in order that it is widely appreciated and understood. These institutions, many of which precede the founding of the State, will play a central role in mediating the experiences of 1916. It will be a damning legacy of this Government if these institutions, so central to the narrative of our journey before and since Independence, were profoundly comprised as we approach the centenary of these many significant events in our national history.
In light of this it is extremely disappointing that the Minister failed to engage in a swift, meaningful and purposeful consultation with the national cultural institutions. This is not an accusation coming from an Opposition TD but it is what is been said about the Minister by the sector. Meaningful consultation is essential for all effective reform. The complete absence of an official framework through which the sector could effectively contribute to the formulation of effective and positive reform is of grave concern. Consultation, such as it has been, has resulted from the political pressure in recent weeks. In fact, many believe that were it not for the resignation of Professor Ferriter from the National Library, this issue would not be receiving the attention it deserves.
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. Sound governance, intellectual rigor and creative autonomy at the helm of our institutions is more important than political expediency or short-term budgetary outlooks, especially so in the decade of commemorations. The then Minister for the Arts and now President Michael D. Higgins, introduced the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997, allowing the National Library appoint its own independent board with the required expertise. The current proposal would require existing Labour Party Deputies to rescind this legislation.
The directors of the national cultural institutions have a significant cultural leadership role. The sector insists on an open, transparent and independently adjudicated competition for director positions of each national cultural institution. I do not mean to say that the newly appointed chief executive officer of Culture Ireland is not qualified for the post but it was an internal competition. What happened to the commitment in the programme for Government to ensure that all public appointments would be open to external candidates?
If boards are merged or subsumed I ask where would this leave the plans for such a recruitment process and the succession plan for each and every national cultural institution. How will our national cultural institutions respond to the challenges of the decade ahead if there is a leadership vacuum, given that by this time next year, four of the national cultural institutions will have been effectively decapitated, the National Library, the National Archives, the National Museum and Culture Ireland? How does the Department propose to provide these institutions with the competencies, expertise, networks and vision formerly provided by independent directors and boards? I ask what will be the cost of these boards. Many people who served on the various boards offered their expertise for free to an institution which they loved and wished to see develop. Independent boards are better placed to seek philanthropic donations and funding and they offer sound corporate governance. If the proposed mergers go ahead, it will lead to an erosion of institutional independence and an over-reaching on the part of the Department in the work of these institutions. I question whether the Department even has the capacity to take on the additional work.
This proposal highlights the cultural policy vacuum created by this Government and profoundly compromises the capacity of these institutions to deliver on their core mission of providing public access to our cultural assets. In the absence of a cost-benefit analysis and a vision statement, we do not know how these new proposals will deliver a better service, offer better access to the public or increase the visitor numbers to these institutions. I urge all Members to support this motion and I look forward to listening to contributions from the Minister and other Members.
I wish to share time with Deputies Noel Grealish and Mattie McGrath.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to contribute to this debate on the arts. I will support the motion because the positive contribution of the arts to society has not been recognised and at times has been misrepresented. Our cultural heritage has a significant impact on the economy of the country and many Irish artists are famous on the world stage. I support the national campaign for the arts in its efforts to protect and develop the significant talent pool in this country. I support the indirect and direct employment provided by the arts and creative industries with a total of 95,649 jobs. I also welcome the positive contribution of the 5,500 full-time jobs in the audiovisual sector, with more than 560 small and medium enterprises operating in this sector. I welcome the significant contribution by the arts sector to tourism, investment and jobs. The arts provide an investment of €4.7 billion to the economy.
I wish to pay tribute to those who provide art therapy in schools in poor and disadvantaged areas, thereby assisting children at risk. Recently published reports have highlighted the need for caring for children at risk. I also pay tribute to those involved in music and drama who develop the arts in poorer communities. Such activities and involvement lift the communities and develop self-esteem among the people.
The anniversary of the battle of Clontarf will be commemorated in 2014 and the 1916 Rising commemoration will be held in 2016. Such events will provide significant potential for tourism and the arts.
A nation which does not nurture, protect and develop its artists is a nation without a soul and a nation lacking direction. I urge all Deputies to support the motion tomorrow night at 9 p.m.
I do not get many opportunities to speak in the House.
I thank Deputy Finian McGrath for sharing his time with me so that I may speak on this important motion. I am fortunate to represent an area in which the arts have deep roots. In the late 1990s, Galway city was the fastest expanding city in Europe and key to this expansion was the appetite for exploration of the arts. Reputations were built and businesses blossomed. Figures show that the Galway Arts Festival is worth in excess of €20 million to the city and county. Over 150,000 people attend the festival, with more than 50% being visitors from outside Galway. The Galway Film Fleadh has the same capacity to draw in excess of 20,000 people to the city and it is worth in excess of €5 million to the city every year. The Galway races attract more than 170,000 people to our city and it is worth in excess of €60 million. This year, the final leg of the Volvo Ocean Race will finish in Galway, and it will bring in excess of €70 million to the city. I thank John Killeen, the president of the Volvo Ocean Race committee, and Enda Ó Coinnean the chief executive officer, for their tremendous work. I hope Deputies, Ministers and the Taoiseach will visit the city during the event.
Top productions are being staged in Galway theatres. Last year the Town Hall theatre and the Druid Theatre Company benefited to the tune of €150,000 from the Arts Council. I acknowledge the support given by both the previous Government and this Government to the Arts Council and also to the Volvo Ocean Race. The list of events is endless. Galway City Council also provides support to the arts and culture by means of the allocation of funding to the many projects which have helped to create a solid reputation for Galway city and county and which is recognised nationwide and throughout the world.
Galway has excellent third-level facilities. Earlier this year, NUI Galway announced an investment of €75 million in the creation of three world-class research buildings, including the arts, humanities and social services research building. An extension costing €8 million is being developed for the Millennium building. The vice president in charge of capital projects at NUI Galway, Ken Warnock, noted in January that the university was currently investing €750,000 per year in Galway.
If Galway is to be the postcard for the west of Ireland then it is vital that this postcard does not become a collector's item. It is our responsibility as public representatives to do everything possible to allow the arts, culture and heritage sector to flourish.
I compliment the Fianna Fáil Party for tabling this motion and I thank the Deputies for sharing time with us.
I believe in a society that values creativity, imagination and expression. The arts enrich our lives. Everyone should be given the opportunity to participate and enjoy the arts and to appreciate the value of the arts, which is more important.
I come from a proud county, south Tipperary - Tipperary now - where we value our arts, culture and heritage. The Minister was in Tipperary last week in Athassel abbey looking at the wonderful architectural heritage and praising the work in south Tipperary under the chairmanship of Michael Fitzgerald and arts officer, Lisa McKenna. They have done excellent work and I am shocked to think the Minister is the same man who is introducing this-----
I have the floor, Minister. We know what you are doing.
South Tipperary arts centre did brilliant work with many household names such as Comhaltas CeoltóiríÉireann and Brú Ború. The Minister was on Matt Cooper's show earlier today - chuala méé sin. The Minister is not marking Jimmy Barry Murphy now; it is a different situation. The Minister talks about jobs. I compliment Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú and his bean chéile, Úna, for the arts, culture and heritage they have promoted in south Tipperary, right beside the Rock of Cashel. They give so much expression to so many young people in music, song and dance and folklore. They have an archive covering the whole country.
We also have the Clonmel Junction Festival, which does tremendous work, Coláiste Cois Suire in my village and an Éigse for Séamus Ó Maolchathaigh this weekend. Huge work has been put into it in my local village of Newcastle. I compliment everybody there and on the research done on the brilliant book An Gleann agus a Raibh Ann. Sin é an tír atá ann and the Minister should leave us alone and support the arts. He should not be like every other Minister in this Government. Whatever arrogance has got into them over the year, they just want to destroy what is good and attack anything people enjoy and from which they derive creativity, support and stimulation. We should be supporting these groups.
The Minister is trying to amalgamate three bodies that are doing great work. We already have boards that should be abolished and an bord snip recommended that we get rid of quangos. This area is not where that policy should be focused. These groups are willing, ready and able to amalgamate or co-operate to the fullest extent. They are not costing any money. The value we get from them as taxpayers is how they attract foreign direct investment, film making and tourists who come here to enjoy the arts. The cultural institutions that have served us so well must be left alone. The National Art Gallery, Irish Museum of Modern Art, IMMA, and the Crawford Art Gallery have expressed their desire to work more closely in the future.
We have seen what has happened with Lá Fhéile Pádraig, our patron saint's day, which can command audiences of millions worldwide. The same is true of the activities and attractions of the GAA. The Bealtaine Festival is one of the most recent festivals and hundreds of thousands of people took part. People might be downtrodden financially but they are ready to express themselves culturally and, indeed, economically by creating and generating jobs. The Taoiseach, like the rest of us, is promoting The Gathering, but these groups cannot be suppressed. The centenary commemoration of the Rising will take place in 2016 and there will be many other commemorations, including in Tipperary. We must support and enhance them. The Minister must allow the Irish people who have such a wealth and depth of culture, energy, passion and enthusiasm to express those qualities. They should not be further downtrodden.
I support this motion as it raises important points regarding the manner in which the cultural heritage sector is coming under pressure from the cuts that are being imposed. It will be argued by some that museums and other cultural infrastructure are in some way luxuries that we cannot afford to support to the same extent during an economic downturn. Some would even argue that they perhaps should not be supported at all. If that were the case, culture would revert to becoming once again the preserve of the wealthy who can afford to buy cultural artefacts. In fairness, Dublin and other cities are witness to the fact that wealthy people such as the Carnegies were willing to spend considerable amounts of money providing libraries and other facilities to people who would otherwise not have been able to afford books or to pay to see paintings or historical material. It is, therefore, essential for a variety of reasons that funding for the cultural heritage sector is maintained.
I will address the issue of the proposed merger of the three art museums and galleries, of the National Archives and the Irish Manuscripts Commission and of the National Library with the National Museum. Despite the reasons that have been given, and will no doubt be offered again this evening, the mergers are purely designed to save money. They will also, in the opinion of those most familiar with the institutions concerned, have a malign impact on them. The National Library and the National Archives play a crucial role in historical and other research in this country. Their ability to provide that service has already been restricted by cutbacks which have affected staffing levels and, consequently, access by the public to the materials under their care. Subjecting them to cost cutting mergers will further exacerbate the damage that has been done. While that might appear to be a minor issue in comparison to the overall impact of the austerity programme, restricting access to research material will have a damaging affect on the level of university work and, indeed, on the production of new historical and other research by people who use the National Archives and the National Library. I second the call in the motion to reject the proposed mergers.
The motion also refers to the not insignificant economic impact of the arts sector and the large number of jobs which are dependent upon it. That is something that could be expanded. Cultural tourism is a growing area and one that is still under-developed in this country. We could also take a leaf from the book of the American New Dealers of the 1930s who invested considerable resources in developing the American cultural heritage through the collection of folk music and so on. There are many areas of our cultural heritage, including cultural sites and source materials, that remain under-developed and under-researched. Investing money in doing that would not only enrich our cultural resources, but would also create jobs directly, boost cultural tourism and contribute to creating other jobs.
Mo bhuíochas do Fhianna Fáil gur chuir siad an rún seo síos. I will first declare an interest as I am a director of Féile an Phobail, the west Belfast people's festival, which is an unpaid position. I cannot imagine life without the arts, without music, dance, theatre, writing, language, our customs and traditions and all that makes us a people. Gan seo bheimís gan anam. Sin mo bharúil in aon chor.
I commend Professor Diarmaid Ferriter on his principled stand in protest against the Government's proposal to merge several key national institutions. However, the Government does not appear to have any intention of listening to or of allowing the views of the cultural sector into its considerations. It appears that the Government believes that it, and only it, will determine the future of our nation's cultural and artistic heritage. This is wrong. The arts in any society are unique because they encompass all that is creative and good about the human condition. They occupy a special place which should be guarded, protected, independent and free from political interference.
The National Cultural Institutions Act 1997, which was initiated by President Michael D. Higgins when he was Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, envisaged such safeguards. However, since the McCarthy report and since the Government started implementing austerity measures, there is real concern across the arts and cultural sector, among scholars and in civil society about the future of the arts. I formed the view some time ago, and before he was appointed the Minister, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, was well disposed to the arts. In fairness, he is a fine writer, an artist in his own right and a proud Kerryman steeped in Cumann Lúthchleas Gael.
Tá sin ceart. Sin mo bharúil agus tá a fhios sin ag an Aire fosta.
However, I take this opportunity to remind the Minister that apart from the intrinsic value of our culture and its components, the arts and cultural sector makes an important contribution to the tourism industry. It is just bad economics to undermine the sector. Community arts projects, local libraries and other grassroots institutions lift people out of themselves, enrich their lives and empower them. Recently on the world stage, Terry and Oorlagh George's Oscar winning film, "The Shore", was a great example of how this island produces winners. As we face a decade of commemoration, it is imperative that the Minister recognises the central role of culture and the arts in shaping Irish identity.
I am also part of another organisation, the Bobby Sands Trust. It has put historically important archival material from the H-blocks and the Armagh protests into the National Archives. I am sure there is other archive material dating back to the Black and Tans war, the Civil War and what happened to Unionism in this State. There is a need to join that with what is happening in the Six Counties.I urge the Minister to join with the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure in the North, Caral Ní Chuilín, in discussing an all-lreland strategy to use the arts and culture in the promotion of understanding and national reconciliation.
In concluding, I will quote from the mission statement of the National Archives of Ireland. It states: "...the Archive's holdings relate to all parts of Ireland...and provide essential source material for people seeking to understand the political, economic and social forces which have shaped our nation." It is imperative that we preserve and safeguard this. In all that we do, the safeguarding, protection and preservation of imagination and creativity must replace any notion of a State-centred oneness or bureaucratic control over these fine institutions. I commend the motion and thank Fianna Fáil for tabling it. I ask the Minister to support it also.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
"endorses the positive contribution that a thriving arts and culture sector makes to Irish society as a whole;
acknowledges the value of our cultural heritage;
recognises the impact on the economy and jobs of our wider arts sector, contributing €4.7 billion to the economy and directly and indirectly supporting 79,000 jobs;
recognises Ireland's obligation under Article 27 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states: 'Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits';
notes the many successful initiatives by Ireland's national cultural institutions which contribute to the enhancement of Ireland's reputation abroad and among the diaspora;
— the statement in the Programme for Government 2011 - 2016 that the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht 'will make strategic policy formulation the primary function of the Department, with line agencies and bodies responsible for policy implementation'; and
— the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht's Statement of Strategy 2011 - 2014 mandate 'to foster, promote and support Ireland's world-class artistic and cultural strengths, at home and abroad';
— the 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;
— the following five major commitments to change are enshrined in the Public Service Reform Plan:
— placing customer service at the core of everything we do;
— maximising new and innovative service delivery channels;
— radically reducing our costs to drive better value for money;
— leading, organising and working in new ways; and
— strong focus on implementation and delivery;
— 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 Placenames Commission, the Heritage Council and Culture Ireland; and
— the institutions referred to above are currently constituted in a variety of different structures; and notes:
— the vitally important social, academic, cultural, heritage, tourism, economic and artistic functions performed by Ireland's National Cultural Institutions, including in the context of Ireland's reputational recovery;
— the importance of all our national cultural institutions in delivering a cultural programme in support of the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union 2013, the Decade of Centenaries, 1912 – 1922 and for the Gathering Ireland 2013 event;
— the importance, furthermore, of periodically reviewing organisations, especially in regard to value for the taxpayer and efficiency of service delivery to the public;
— the €47 million allocated to the National Cultural Institutions in 2012;
— the continuing underlying growth in visitor numbers to the National Cultural Institutions;
— the extensive consultation undertaken by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in response to the Public Service Reform Plan;
— the Government's commitment that, in bringing forward any governance reforms that may be required to realise the goals of the Public Service Reform Plan, it will support the programming and curatorial independence of the National Cultural Institutions; and
— the Minister's intention to conclude his response to the Public Service Reform Plan as soon as possible and to consult with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in relation to bringing these matters to Government."
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 Privmate 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.
If artists, writers and choreographers are the trustees of civilisation, our cultural institutions are the keepers of that civilisation. The desire to make and experience art is an organic part of human nature. Without it, our lives are impoverished and our sense of community is diminished. Our national cultural institutions enrich and enhance all of our lives. Some have done so for more than a century and a half, as in the case of the National Gallery. My objective in Government is to make the arts and culture part of our national script and a central and essential part of the narrative about the character of a new, different, changed and better Ireland.
The subject of this evening's debate arises in the broader context of the Government's public service reform plan, published by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, last November. That process constitutes a central part of bringing about necessary reform in the way we do things. It is important to note that, in a time of tight resources and when we have to maximise the use of every cent taxpayers give to every institution, no organisation is above examination for reform. The periodic examination of organisations, especially those receiving money from the taxpayer, is a healthy and necessary exercise.
The public service reform plan aims to deliver enhanced service efficiencies and a more focused and democratically accountable public service. The plan notes that the Government also recognises that shared services have the potential to transform the competitiveness of State bodies, and will actively pursue this issue. Sharing of back office administrative functions such as human resources, IT, payroll, procurement and other services will offer significant long-term savings in the operation of State bodies generally.
My Department has adopted the following broad approach towards the implementation of the reform plan in so far as it relates to bodies under its aegis: the establishment of a high level reform committee to oversee the process of implementing the Government's decisions in these matters as effectively and efficiently as possible; written consultations and meetings with bodies, as appropriate; consideration of previous evaluations, where relevant; consultation with key stakeholders; examination of submissions made; and meetings with the directors and senior management of bodies, as appropriate.
We do a lot of things well in Ireland. In the realm of arts and culture we are world class but one thing we could do better is to have a calm and cool debate about the future direction of organisations that are funded by the taxpayer and are in place to serve the nation. I know and understand these institutions. I have engaged with them throughout my life. My door is always open to those who wish to share their views on the future direction of these institutions, and our arts and culture policy more generally. It is a matter of regret that some chose not to use that door and, instead, chose to address me indirectly through the media. I also want to be clear that the public service reform proposals are not in any way a reflection on the dedication, professionalism and commitment of the staff or those who serve on the boards of the institutions involved.
The national cultural institutions, which hold, manage and expand nationally and internationally important collections of art, literature and diverse artifacts on everyone's behalf, are vitally important components of Ireland's academic, cultural, documentary and archaeological heritage. These institutions are the custodians of our past, chroniclers of our present and the arbiters of our future. Some recent commentary has suggested that I am planning to effectively dismantle these organisations. That was repeated here this evening. I am planning no such thing nor, for that matter, is the Government. I want to make that clear.
My Department funds these institutions, not as much as I would like but as much as I can. This year, eight core institutions, including the galleries, museum, library and archives, will receive a total of more than €41 million. That is approximately one third of the arts, culture and film budget of my Department. In addition, the Abbey Theatre will receive more than €7 million, approximately one ninth of the current Arts Council allocation.
These institutions are world class in what they do. They rank ahead of many illustrious international peers. I accept fully that they could do more with more money. However, the funding challenges that I face in my Department are significant. Deputy Martin, as part of a number of Governments, created the conditions that left me in this position.
The challenge I am faced with is how to ensure that Ireland's national cultural institutions can optimize the funding they receive from the taxpayer and be equipped to deal with the range of issues which will arise in the future.
One of the simplest ways in which we can help the institutions to work in a more effective, efficient and co-operative way is to encourage them to share or draw on common services. Many of the institutions have individual marketing and human resource departments, while institutions also purchase services like security and insurance which may, if pooled, drive down total spending over time. That is a common sense approach to co-operation and reform.
The three main galleries - the National Gallery of Ireland, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, and the Crawford Gallery - have put a detailed proposal together on how support and operational services can be shared, and this is being considered. It goes without saying that the remit and independence of each of these institutions would not change under these proposals. The National Gallery would continue to show historically important artwork while the Irish Museum of Modern Art, IMMA, would retain its focus on contemporary work. Importantly, the institutions concerned would continue to decide what to exhibit and where to exhibit it.
There has been much recent commentary about the National Library, the National Museum and the National Archives, and we had a repeat of that here this evening. I would point out that the National Archives is part of my Department. It is headed by a director with statutory independence, advised by a voluntary board whose members offer their time pro bono, and in this structure does excellent and independent work. It has shown the way on-line to all cultural institutions, with its award winning digitisation of the 1901 and 1911 census returns. The National Archives raised €0.25 million in philanthropy in the past 12 months to fund a digitisation project.
Mention was made of Diarmaid Ferriter. While he resigned from the National Library board he remains on the National Archives Advisory Council. I am glad he chose to remain on the National Archives Advisory Council. Clearly he has a lot to offer.
The National Museum and the National Library, institutions in existence since 1887, worked in a similar way until 2005. I am considering a range of options for these institutions such as whether the sharing of support functions can streamline the way they operate or whether they would operate more efficiently if those support functions were delivered by my Department which, for example, already manages human resources functions for other institutions, such as the National Archives.
Importantly, at a time of ongoing economic difficulty, I want to examine the governance of institutions and consider how boards or advisory groups might perform a more outwardly proactive and international role in terms of fund-raising and philanthropy. In this time of diminished funding from the taxpayer, it would be imprudent of me not to examine all of the structures to see if they are fit for the new reality we face in arts and culture funding in the 21st century. These institutions are our national collective memory, our cultural treasuries, and our legacy to future generations. In a situation where these institutions are funded virtually 100% by the taxpayer, the Government has a responsibility to subject them to periodic review.
Some commentary in this House and outside has focused on the curatorial and programming independence of the institutions. There is no question of them being undermined. Our counter motion recognises and supports this independence. There has been ongoing contact and engagement with the cultural institutions since the Government published its public service reform plan last November. That contact is continuing. I personally met the chairs of all national cultural institutions, along with the Arts Council and Culture Ireland, to discuss these issues and hear their views. Therefore it is inaccurate and disingenuous to say consultation has not taken place. It has.
Before I finish, I cannot allow this evening to pass without remarking that the authors of this motion appear to have forgotten their own recent history.
That is somewhat ironic given that their motion focuses on our national cultural institutions, which are themselves the guardians of both our history and our historic treasures.
I acknowledge, that as Deputy Martin said, the previous Government, in the budget of 2009, proposed structural changes to the national cultural institutions, although I understand that was done without any consultation with the institutions beforehand. Then it went on to prepare the heads of a Bill to make that change happen.
In 2010, the previous Minister made appointments to the boards of institutions for "a period of five years or until the restructuring of the institutions takes place, whichever is the sooner". Therefore, she had every intention of carrying out this reform as part of the Government of which Deputy Martin was part. Now, the Deputy is trying to distance himself from that decision.
Reform was clearly on the agenda, but that is conveniently forgotten for reasons of political expediency. I have been in this House for a long number of years and whenever there was discussion on the arts, there was magnanimity. People bought into it and we supported the arts. I was the spokesman on the arts for a number of years and was always positive. Although I was in opposition for years, I did not use that as an excuse to do nothing for the arts. I have been steeped in the arts for the past 30 years and I have the projects to show for it. Nobody can question my commitment to the arts.
Anyway, reform was clearly on the agenda, but that is conveniently forgotten now, for reasons of political expediency. Nonetheless, I will continue with the process which is under way to examine all reform options before me that are part of the public service reform plan. I cannot accept the idea that examining the possibilities here amounts to an attack on the cultural infrastructure of the nation, as suggested by some. The idea that any organisation or institution should be above examination for reform is a recipe for a bad deal for the taxpayer who funds it.
As I said at the outset, the periodic examination of organisations, especially those receiving money from the taxpayer, is a healthy and necessary exercise. The national cultural institutions perform a very important role and manage, on our behalf, a resource which is literally priceless. I want to ensure that they can work in the most effective and efficient way possible and that they can cope with the challenges they will face in the future. It is my intention that our cultural institutions emerge stronger into a more certain future following this process, so that for the coming generations they can continue to preserve our past and inform our future.
Mention was made of the Government's commitment to the arts. The Taoiseach appointed two people who are here this evening, Senator Fiach Mac Conghail and Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell. Obviously, they organised all those in the Visitors Gallery to attend this debate. It shows how magnanimous the Government is that it appointed these two people as representatives of the arts.
I am in office just over a year. We have been left in very difficult financial circumstances, but I reduced funding to the Arts Council by just over 3% last year - the smallest reduction since 2008.
Hopefully, some of the arts organisations represented here tonight will benefit from that. I look forward to hearing suggestions about how we can move forward. Nothing is decided yet, but I want to hear positive proposals here this evening and tomorrow.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue. It goes without saying that of all people, the Minister's commitment to the arts cannot be questioned. As a Deputy in a neighbouring constituency to his and having inherited part of the constituency he had, I know of his commitment to Listowel and Tralee and I know he is by no means afraid to stand up for the arts community.
This motion is quite cynical, particularly in light of the way it has been tabled. Until recently, I was a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment, Transport, Culture and the Gaeltacht. We engaged with local authorities with regard to how the arts could be part of local authorities. Many of those speaking here extolled the virtue of what they believed should be done, but none of those people was seen at the committee meetings. That is regrettable, because the committee provided a great forum. It was chaired by our colleague, Deputy Ciarán Lynch and provided an opportunity for Deputies of all sides to bring forward suggestions and question those involved in the arts
However, these people did not attend the committee and for them to come in and table a motion this evening is just a cynical exercise and is trying to beat Sinn Féin in a race to the bottom. That does nothing for the arts.
What the Minister said is right. We are in the middle of a consultation process and it is a bit ironic and premature for anybody to try to pre-empt the Minister's decision. That is particularly the case when it is a party that is trying to restructure itself and to present itself as credible. It is ironic that it will come out and oppose the consolidation and rationalisation of back office services without coming up with any credible solutions as to where to find the €15 billion for the hole it created. Week in and out we come in here for Private Members' Business and listen to Fianna Fáil oppose everything. That is grand, because Fianna Fáil must take on Sinn Féin. However, while Fianna Fáil opposes everything, it never comes up with a positive suggestion. All I would like to see is to see is ------
It would be nice if they came in every now and again and put forward a proposal. I come from a county that is not synonymous with the promotion of tourism. We do not have the mountains Deputy Deenihan has in Kerry and do not have the lakes found in the midlands. However, we have small but very good local arts community initiatives all over the county. These are driven by two people in Limerick County Council, to whom I must pay tribute. They have very small budgets, but are able to achieve a lot. In relative terms the cuts brought in as part of last year's budget were not excessive and not beyond what other Departments have had to take. Ultimately, we need to get back to reality. We have cultural institutions that are second to none, most of which are open to the public six or seven days every week and which are free of charge. I compliment the Minister and the cultural institutions, many of which are managed by the Office of Public Works. Many have a significant voluntary input as well. We should reconsider the motion and in this regard I welcome the amendment proposed by the Government. The Armageddon situation from some on the Opposition benches to the effect that the Fine Gael and Labour Party Government is trying to do away with the arts does not stack up.
They have come up with some good lines before but, even for them, that is a good one. They must have been scratching their heads when they put together the motion. They opted not to engage with the committee set up to consider the issue or with the Minister. They should accept the fact that there is a budget deficit of the order of €15 billion from which savings must be made and they should come up with suggestions. I believe Fianna Fáil accepts this but I am unsure about the Independent Deputies and Sinn Féin.
I tabled 15 parliamentary questions last week relating to the number of non-governmental organisations and other bodies that have been merged, scrapped or subsumed into other Departments or organisations to make savings.
It is important to have an informed debate. We should realise that a significant amount of money has been invested by the State in cultural institutions. None of these is being closed and none will have their services reduced from existing levels. The Minister is simply proposing a rationalisation of the back office services to cut out duplication and multiplicity and to make savings for the taxpayer in order that we need not make them in other Departments. The Minister should be complimented on this and supported on it rather than the usual grá mo chroí from the Opposition of opposition for opposition's sake.
As a Deputy for Galway I know at first hand of the positive impact the arts and culture sectors have on our communities and our country. Galway is fortunate to have some of Ireland's best known festivals and arts organisations, including the Galway Arts Festival, the Clifden Arts Festival, the Galway Film Fleadh, the Cúirt International Festival of Literature, the Baboró International Arts Festival for Children, the Druid Theatre Company, Macnas and Fíbín Teoranta as well as the top-class Galway City Museum and countless other groups. These organisations not only boost our economy by providing employment and attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors, but they enrich our communities and protect and promote our linguistic and cultural heritage.
Galway is closely associated with the arts and has a reputation as an artistic centre. One need only walk down Shop Street on a summer's day to see the buskers and street artists entertaining the crowds of tourists. The Clifden Arts Festival, officially opened last year by the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, will hold its 35th festival on 29-30 September and everyone in the House is welcome to a wonderful ten days in Clifden and Connemara. The world famous Galway Arts Festival runs this year from 16-29 July followed by the wonderful Galway Races. This is the line-up for a summer and autumn of culture and sport in Galway, all of which is preceded by the final of the Volvo Ocean Race beginning this weekend. The arts is concerned with identity. It stimulates debate, encourages exploration, showcases our nation on the world stage and informs our actions on many other levels, including policy formulation.
One example of this is Galway playwright Tom Murphy whose works are currently being staged by the Abbey Theatre and in Galway and London by the Galway-based Druid Theatre Company. Many of the Murphy's plays, including "The House" are concerned with emigration and its effects on communities, those who left and those who stayed, and on Irish identity. Although "The House" concentrates on emigration, it also encourages us to reflect on the effects of domestic violence through a minor sub-plot. It exemplifies the power of the arts to prompt debate and inspire action in a way no official publicity campaign could.
Naturally, the arts and cultural sectors cannot be treated separately in the context of our financial difficulties. Almost all areas of spending must be examined and savings must be realised if we are to reduce our deficit. The Fianna Fáil Party motion refers to its investment in the sectors between 2005 and 2010 but it ignores the reality of 2009 and 2010 when significant cuts were implemented. For example, the grants for the National Archives and National Library of Ireland are specifically referred to in the motion but they were cut by 16% and 13% respectively. This was matched by a cut of 18% in the allocation for the National Museum of Ireland and a 48% cut in the cultural infrastructure budget in 2010. Had better management of the public finances taken place during the past decade it is doubtful whether such cuts would have been necessary. The creation of separate boards of directors for various State-supported organisations such as the National Museum and the National Library of Ireland is also open to question.
A balanced approach in terms of reviewing the financial support from the State is important. It is encouraging to note that the public service reform plan adopted by the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, is based on liaising and consulting with the various organisations, on meeting collectively and individually and on examining not the content or artistic approach but the models of administration, management and governance. I welcome this approach.
I acknowledge the excellent work carried out by the cultural and arts institutions referred to in the motion. Their work in safeguarding our cultural and artistic legacies and in retaining these legacies in tangible forms requires great skill and professionalism. Their work is at the heart of securing the transmission of culture to new generations. I pay tribute to the staff of this sector for their remarkable curatorial and allied skills.
All this endeavour has a measurable economic by-product. Overseas tourists have a yearning to encounter and experience the artistic and cultural sensibilities, temperament and genius of this part of the world. This is why 3.5 million overseas visitors engaged in cultural and historical visits while in Ireland during 2008. I read with interest a recent report by The Heritage Council entitled The Economic Value of Ireland's Historic Environment. The key finding of this report was that our historical environment supports almost 40,000 jobs and accounts for approximately €1.5 billion in gross value added to the economy. Similarly, research by the National Campaign for the Arts shows that the total of direct and indirect employment supported by the arts and creative industries amounts to 79,000 jobs. Direct Exchequer revenue from the cultural and creative sectors in 2008 was approximately €1 billion. The Minister, Deputy Deenihan, is fully aware of these figures and of the economic value of the sector as well as the other values to which I referred earlier. No decision on the merger of arts and cultural institutions can or should be taken in isolation from these facts.
One glaring shortcoming is the treatment of our material culture, in particular our meagre efforts to preserve our technological and industrial past. I have raised this issue previously in the Dáil and with individual Ministers and stakeholders. I have worked for many years to build a partnership for the creation of a national railway and industrial heritage museum in the grounds of the great Inchicore railway works. I am pleased to report that Irish Rail, Dublin City Council and the National Museum of Ireland have expressed their support and they are beginning to work towards a plan for the realisation of such a facility. I hope the Minister and the Government will lend their support to this long overdue project. I believe that outstanding examples of our industrial crafts and great moments in our history of technological innovation are worthy of retention and celebration.
The notion that the Government has an ulterior motive in taking these necessary and difficult decisions is cynical. It reflects the selective memory of the Fianna Fáil Party, which is keen to use the arts and culture sectors to paper over its political shortcomings and short-sightedness. These decisions can only be properly understood in the context of the economic catastrophe in which a Fianna Fáil Government landed us and the disastrous blanket bank guarantee of September 2008 to which Sinn Féin added its signature.
The Minister, Deputy Deenihan, is doing his best to ensure that what money we can afford to allocate to the arts and heritage is used as efficiently and effectively as possible. If savings can be made through the sharing of services and the reform of governance, it will help to avoid other cuts which might have a more detrimental impact on the excellent work of our arts and cultural institutions. I support the Minister in his work.
This is a time of enormous flux and uncertainty for the country and its citizens but certain constants remain, among which are our cultural, literary and artistic heritage. The ongoing debate about national identity and sovereignty that continued today with the publication of the Van Rompuy pre-summit report - I am speaking in the right debate - has profound importance for the country but, arising from what is happening in Europe, we may at some point in the future decide it is in our national interest to pool more of our political and economic sovereignty. While we have already done so to a considerable extent we may yet agree to pool more. However, we will never have to pool or give up any aspect of our cultural or artistic heritage. It is ours and the only threat that exists to it is the possibility that we may fail to protect and nurture it sufficiently. That is entirely in our own hands and there will be no one else to blame if we fail in our responsibility.
The Minister correctly pointed out that the House has traditionally taken a non-partisan approach on this issue. All the parties in this House that have been in government have acted to protect our cultural and artistic heritage. At a time of severe financial crisis we have to work together to ensure this work is not undone in any way, even unwittingly. We should assess reform proposals carefully and sensitively because what we are dealing with is more precious than practically anything else.
The issue of the independence and autonomy of the cultural institutions has been raised. I support those who say they should be valued and maintained. The legislation introduced in 1997 by the then Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, President Michael D. Higgins, was progressive in nature. As he pointed out, every report commissioned since the 1920s concluded that the departmental structure was a poor basis for managing and developing the National Museum and the National Library. We should be slow to do anything that might change or undermine the autonomy of either of those institutions.
Deputy Martin could not resist the opportunity to cut quickly to the political advantage he thought he might extract by suggesting the Government is acting dishonestly. The Deputy comes from a party that made a premium out of dishonesty. There was a time when it was impossible to know whether one could believe anything that party said. There were even times when one assumed the truth was the opposite of what it said. We are carefully, honestly and rationally considering what we have to do in respect of all our institutions, including our cultural institutions. Deputy Martin utterly lacks credibility when he claims that his party was about to take the same approach but never got around to it and is now opposed to it. He should look to his own party when he speaks about honesty.
Sinn Féin is deeply concerned about the proposal to merge the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the Crawford Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Ireland. We are also opposed to the proposed merger of the National Archives and The Irish Manuscripts Commission, any change in the arm's length principle or any proposal that would interfere with the independence of key artistic and cultural institutions. These proposals, if carried through, would have a lasting and detrimental impact on the arts and cultural sector in Ireland. In this sense the proposals are clearly not thought through. They are little more than an exercise in optics by a Government that is obsessed with reducing the numbers of quangos and cost cutting, even when such a strategy makes no sense.
Even though the Government has not produced any information in terms of a cost-benefit analysis or head count reductions to justify the proposed changes it is hell bent on embarking on a process of amalgamations, mergers, dissolution of independent boards and non-renewal of vital leadership roles. However, the real elephant in the room in terms of the Minister's proposals is that the State's arts and cultural institutions are not and never were quangos. They are part of the DNA of the Irish State. Their very uniqueness is what makes us who we are as a people. The arts and cultural institutions are, in essence, the key producers of Irish identity. At a time of fiscal austerity, cutbacks, mass unemployment and national despondency the arts offer a valuable creative outlet for people. Just over 1.2 million people regularly engage in artistic or creative activities. Approximately 2 million people, or 57% of the adult population, are regular arts attenders. In a mature society that values expression and creativity the arts have the potential to enrich lives. They make us more human and help us to think about the world and our place in it in a more imaginative, innovative and abstract way. In this time of great harshness and fiscal cruelty we should be protecting and investing in the arts.
Irish artists enhance our international reputation through movie screens, bookshelves, theatres and concert stages. This presence, for which Irish artists regularly win internationally recognised awards, plays an important role in creating and sustaining Ireland's global reputation and, in turn, drives tourism from abroad. Approximately 1.6 million overseas tourists attended museums and galleries in 2010 and a further 433,000 attended festivals and other cultural events. Cultural tourism is worth over €2 billion to the Irish economy and is the only growth area of the tourism market. At a more fundamental level the arts and cultural institutions are priceless. The arts have a humanising effect on society by bringing softness, imagination and creativity to communities that have been forgotten in economic and infrastructural terms by those in power. The arts have the potential to soften urban wastelands and give hope and human solace to people who feel betrayed by the political system. If the Minister visited the National Museum or the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork he would do so without paying not because he is the Minister but because these institutions are free of charge to everyone. This fact makes them unique and valuable in societal terms.
I realise the Minister has a personal interest in the arts and I acknowledge his hard work and dedication to the sector but he needs to respect the arm's length principle by immediately engaging in a process of consultation with the national cultural institutions and to meeting representatives of the National Campaign for the Arts. I ask why he has thus far failed to establish an independent recruitment process for the CEO vacancies in the key cultural institutions. These positions are crucial to the day-to-day operations of the institutions. I call on him to establish immediately an independent recruitment process to fill the vacancies without further delay.
Who will benefit from these proposed mergers and, by extension, the abolition of autonomous governance of cultural institutions? It will hardly be the taxpayers and the general public. Instead, as Diarmaid Ferriter has noted: "Those in power will have undermined the very thing we need to prize and cherish at a time of national crisis – the robust, independent protection of our culture and history, a history that is founded on its libraries and archives and the preservation of its public and private documents." The heritage and culture of Ireland belong to all of the people on the island of Ireland. The Government of the day has a responsibility to preserve and foster this heritage. It is the caretaker of our cultural and artistic heritage and its role is to safeguard and preserve it for the next generation. This is particularly important as we begin the decade of commemoration and enter a new era for our national identity. It is imperative that we have independent, robust and well funded national artistic and cultural institutions. Only then can the various commemorations be seen as an opportunity to revisit our past with the express aim of building a more equal and caring society.
Mergers of archives and libraries require investment and should not be seen by short-sighted bureaucrats as an opportunity for cost cutting and savings. For example, the merger of the libraries and archives in Canada cost CA$15 million. No one in the National Archives of Ireland and the National Library of Ireland objects to the idea of shared resources or co-operating in common fields of interest but the two bodies perform very different functions. The Minister must acknowledge this and must recognise that their unique character makes these institutions invaluable national assets. The library has custody of our great literary and estate manuscript collections and is an important public resource.
The focus of the National Archives of Ireland is solely on archives, most of them files of Departments, which are quite different kinds of records from manuscript collections. They are vital for understanding the political, social, and economic evolution of the Irish State. Furthermore, the slashing of the National Library of Ireland budget has been disproportionate; its funding has been cut by 40% and its staff by 38% from 2008 to 2012. Despite this, it has delivered on key aspects of public service reform and innovation. It hosted 1.2 million visitors last year, has promoted shared services, curated major exhibitions and made vast amounts of material available online.
This debate is not about money or approaches to the arts. It is about autonomous governance, public ownership and resisting the bureaucratic centralisation of the arts and cultural administration in Ireland. If this Government was serious about reform, it would do the opposite by allowing genuine, autonomous and transparent governance of the cultural institutions, with unpaid board members independent of party politics and experts in their fields. It would, without delay, meet the people who know best - the various artistic and cultural organisations and stakeholders. It would value independent advice and input rather than seeking to eliminate it. More important, it would desist from attempts to micromanage complex institutions with rich histories under the pretence of cost cutting. I call on the Minister to develop an all-lreland approach to arts and culture and to remember that there are sometimes very rare institutions whose societal value far exceeds any monetary value.
I thank Fianna Fáil for tabling this Private Members' motion. I add my voice and that of Sinn Féin to endorsing the ongoing positive contribution made by the arts and culture sector to our economy and our society. Arts and culture should not be seen as an add-on or an afterthought. Arts and culture is about who we were, who we are and how we see ourselves. Our culture is not stagnant but is evolving and changing all the time.
The cultural and creative industries are varied and dynamic. They include performing arts, visual arts, heritage, film, television, radio, books, photography, dance and music. The sector has made a massive contribution to our economy. In Ireland, it created 79,000 jobs and contributed €4.7 billion to our economy in 2011. On an EU-wide level, the cultural and creative industry represents 2.7% of Europe's GDP, which is higher than the real estate, food, beverages and tobacco industries. In Dublin, the Temple Bar Cultural Trust continues to put culture and arts at the centre of the capital's economy. Temple Bar supports 400 businesses and had a turnover of €676 million in 2009. One of its most successful projects was Culture Night, an experiment in opening up cultural venues to the public in Dublin. This was a collaborative effort involving the art galleries and theatres staying open late into the night and street performers replacing traffic on the streets. It was so successful that it is now an annual event in Dublin and has become an all-Ireland initiative, with culture nights taking place in Carlow, Cavan, Clare, Cork, Belfast, Derry, Letterkenny, Drogheda, Gaelteacht areas, Galway, Kerry, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Leitrim, Limerick, Mayo, Offaly, Tipperary, Sligo, Strabane, Westmeath, Wexford, Wicklow and Sligo.
Arts and culture also has a very important role in rebuilding people's lives and in tackling the consequences of Dublin's drug crisis. RADE is an innovative and imaginative community-based drug rehabilitation project in Dublin's south inner city. Some 21 participants are involved in the programmes of art, drama, creative writing, film and relapse prevention. The programmes involve some of Ireland's leading contemporary artists across all art forms. Artists work closely with participants, guiding them through the processes of awareness, creativity and discovery that are at the core of the arts and expression. RADE's mission is to engage drug users within the arts and therapeutic supports and provide a platform for their artistic expression. To date it has produced films, plays for radio and theatre and art exhibitions.
In the heartland of my constituency, there is the Tallaght Theatre Group, the Rua Red cultural centre, the civic centre, Tallaght Alternative Arts and Entertainment, music and dance groups and a wide range of community-based activity. Our next goal in the Tallaght area is a ceathrú Gaeltacht. This is part of the development plan of South Dublin County Council. Hopefully, we can see it developing with cross-party support. It feeds into the níonra and the meanscoil in that area.
With the current downturn in the economy, it is too easy to use the recession as an excuse to simply cut back on funding to this sector. This is lazy and simplistic and must be resisted. The arts and cultural sector must be seen as a sector that requires co-ordination and investment. The Government must ensure proper and adequate funding is invested in our domestic cultural industry. It requires making our case to the EU. The seventh EU framework programme has €9 billion remaining out a total €50 billion while Horizon 2020 has €79 billion. The EU 2020 Creative Europe fund has €1.8 billion. There is also funding to strengthen the role of local and regional development, including the EU 2020 common strategic framework fund of €376 billion. Money is available.
Sinn Féin proposes a high level working group, possibly chaired by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaelteacht Affairs. The working group must bring together agencies managing EU programmes in Ireland and adopt a thematic approach on culture and creative industries. It should link in with practitioners and organisations in communities. It should develop interdepartmental partnerships and strengthen cross-Border links. It is time we saw the cultural creative industries as a means to create jobs, build communities and improve our quality of life but this will only happen with the right attitude and proper co-ordination. Responsibility for this lies with the Minster for Arts, Heritage and the Gaelteacht.
We are heading into a decade of centenary celebrations. I am a member of the committee chaired by the Minister. Another anniversary must be remembered within the next few days, the destruction of the public records office in the Four Courts in early July 90 years ago. It was the greatest cultural catastrophe that befell the State. Documents stretching back 700 years were destroyed, including the last of the remaining census records. Some were pulped during the First World War because of the shortage of paper. It shows the lack of value placed on our cultural heritage.
Some 90 years later, instead of looking forward to the ten years of centenary celebrations and the vision and opportunity presented to us, we are having a debate about pennypinching. Money cannot be saved because people know about the chronic lack of space in the National Archives of Ireland and the National Library of Ireland when we try to catalogue or display items. The dedicated staff in both institutions cover for much of the failure of the State. I have been there on numerous occasions to use the embarrassing clapped-out microfilm machines.
Several speakers referred to the investment that was made in this area, but the reality is that whatever investment was done was not nearly enough.
We are talking about very small savings here, and the question that must be asked is what we will ultimately end up with. The arm's length and independent status of these institutions is a positive aspect which allows each of them to contribute. Yet there does not seem to have been any serious consultation, including public consultation, on what is now proposed to be done. There is a real danger that we may end up destroying institutions that have been of fantastic value to our society, despite the underfunding they suffered over the years. Part of the reason I did not sign the motion is to do with the very important fact, as I have said, that money should have been invested during the good years. It is only when one visits facilities such as the new public records office in Northern Ireland that one sees the type of investment that was made elsewhere and the return on that investment, even if one is only looking at it from the point of view of cultural tourism.
There is much reference these days to that generic term "shovel-ready projects". If we are to encourage people to come here to do research and so on, then we must, in this year of The Gathering, look to the mothership notion to which David McWilliams has referred. In other words, we must have facilities that are properly resourced and properly functioning. The reality, however, is that we are not even thinking in that direction at this stage. None of us needs to be reminded that the country is in an extremely difficult economic position. However, there are areas in which we must spend money. The area we are discussing today is as worthy of investment as are capital projects such as railways and roads and it too offers a return on investment. As I said, we are facing into ten years of celebrations and commemorations, culminating in 2022. The great irony is that one of the events we will commemorate in that year will be the 100th anniversary of the terrible destruction of our public records office in the Four Courts, an unforgivable catastrophe for this State.
We must adopt a much broader vision which seeks to value that which is important, such as the independence and arms-length design of our cultural institutions. Incidentally, these institutions were inherited; we did not create them. The very least we should demand of ourselves is that we not do them any harm.