Thursday, 6 December 2018
Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill 2018: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to introduce the Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill 2018 to the House. The Bill was initiated in the Dáil on 6 November.
This is a short technical Bill which has the important objective of increasing the statutory limit on the cumulative capital outlay, commitments and liabilities that can be advanced to Screen Ireland, formerly known as the Irish Film Board, from €300 million to €500 million. As in the case of some statutory bodies which receive public funding, a limit was set by statute on such outlays when the Irish Film Board Act 1980 was passed. The limit must be reviewed by the Houses of the Oireachtas every five to six years. In this way, the Oireachtas can monitor cumulative capital funding to this statutory body each time the limit needs to be increased. Since the Irish Film Board Act 1980 was first passed, the funding limit has been adjusted upwards on five occasions. The Irish Film Board (Amendment) Act 2011 increased the limit to €300 million and it is now proposed to increase the limit to €500 million to allow Screen Ireland to continue to operate within an appropriate statutory limit. When the total 2018 capital allocation of €14.2 million is drawn down, it will reach €295.86 million and the limit permitted within the legislation will have almost been reached. The 2019 capital allocation would breach the statutory limit in the absence of new legislation. Accordingly, I am very keen to advance the process of amending the legislation to increase the aggregate figure further.
The proposal to increase the limit on advances is an enabling provision. The funding of Screen Ireland is, of course, subject to the normal Estimates procedures. Screen Ireland is the national development agency for Irish film making and the Irish film, television and animation industry and works within the framework of the Irish Film Board Acts 1980 to 2011. Its statutory remit is to assist and encourage the making of film in the State and the development of a film industry in Ireland. It supports these sectors by providing investment loans for the development, production and distribution of film, television and animation projects. I am pleased to report that €20.04 million is to be allocated to Screen Ireland in budget 2019, an increase of €2 million on the figure for 2018. I am also glad to report that budget 2019 included an announcement that section 481, the Irish tax incentive for film, television and animation, had been extended to 2024. A time-limited regional uplift of 5% is also being introduced for the film tax relief.
Evidence of the necessity for this legislation is borne out by the activity of Screen Ireland in recent times. In the period since 2011, it has assisted the development of a total of 140 feature film projects, 120 documentaries and 30 animation projects. It has also supported over 140 projects for distribution and seen the development of 700 projects in the period. My Department recently commissioned international audiovisual consultants Olsberg-SPI with Nordicity to examine the sector. Its report entitled, Economic Analysis of the Audiovisual Sector in the Republic of Ireland, was published last June. The consultants measured the economic value of the audiovisual industry and made recommendations to support its future growth. The report showed that the audiovisual sector had contributed €1.05 billion to Ireland’s economy in 2016 and supported employment of 16,930 full-time equivalents, of whom 10,560 were in direct employment. The largest contribution to employment came from the film, television and animation sub-sector which generated 11,960 full-time equivalent jobs, of whom just over 7,000 were in direct employment, including cast and crew. The report confirms that the audiovisual sector supports thousands of jobs in Ireland and that there is significant potential for further growth in the years ahead.
Government investment is vital to build on the many success stories I have outlined. In April this year I was joined by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance in launching the Investing in Our Culture, Language and Heritage plan for the period 2018 to 2027. It is an overarching capital investment plan which proposes funding of €200 million for the audiovisual industry and media production through Screen Ireland in the next ten years. The subsequent audiovisual action plan which I launched last June as part of the Creative Ireland programme has the potential not only to increase the number of full-time industry employees to an estimated 24,000 but also to grow its gross value to nearly €1.4 billion. The plan is informed by the aforementioned Olsberg-SPI with Nordicity report which sets out a detailed economic analysis of the audiovisual sector and provides an invaluable framework for the growth of the industry in the coming years. A steering group has been set up which will prioritise measures, oversee implementation and monitor risks and report regularly to me as Minister.
Screen Ireland aims to support and promote Irish film, television and animation through fostering Irish artistic vision and our diverse creative and production talent, growing audiences and attracting film makers and investment into the country. Recent years were significant for Irish creative talent and the screen industries, not only for the commercial and critical plaudits of Irish film both at home and abroad but also its breakthrough onto the international stage. In terms of international recognition, the Irish film and screen industries have been recognised in the last decade, with 20 Academy Award nominations since 2008, with three wins; nine Golden Globe nominations since 2008, with one win; 17 Emmy Award nominations since 2008, with seven wins; and nine films at the Cannes Film Festival since 2007, with three wins. There has also been a consistent presence at major international festivals such as the Sundance, Berlinale, Tribeca and Toronto festivals. In the past few years Irish talent has been a consistent presence at the Academy Awards ceremony, with Nora Twomey’s debut animated feature, "The Breadwinner", leading the Irish charge at recent ceremonies, alongside other nominations of Irish talent, including Saoirse Ronan, Consolata Boyle, Martin McDonagh and Daniel Day-Lewis. The industry’s current flourishing is the result of years of investment in creative film making talent by Screen Ireland.
Screen Skills Ireland is a division of Screen Ireland and the national training and development resource specifically created for the film and television industry.Screen Skills Ireland is investing in people and skills and has developed and delivered over 60 courses and provided training for 1,558 individuals in 2017. Targeted and strategic training has been developed for the animation sector which is growing at an exponential rate. In addition, work based learning initiatives grew through participation in "Red Rock" and "Nightflyers", the VFX animation traineeship, the graduate traineeship programme and the new assistant traineeship in Kilkenny with Cartoon Saloon supported by SOLAS. It is fair to say Screen Ireland has undergone major change and development, both domestically and internationally, in recent years. Its vision is of a vibrant, creative and sustainable film, television and animation industry, with diverse voices, talent and opportunities. It speaks to and connects Irish film culture with audiences at home and abroad.
Screen Ireland is committed to addressing the issue of gender inequality in film making and screen content, in particular the roles of writers and directors. It will work towards achieving the target of 50:50 gender parity by 2020 in creative talent working in screen content. I am glad to report that there was a significant increase of 62% in the number of applications received, with female talent included, and an 82% increase in funding awards with female talent attached in 2018 when compared to the 2017 figures. Screen Ireland works with the industry towards ensuring dignity in the workplace in a number of ways across training and industry support. In response to reports of harassment in the audiovisual industry and in the light of the growing Me Too movement, Screen Ireland issued a statement highlighting its policy of zero tolerance towards the abuse of power within the workplace aimed at empowering industry practitioners to speak out against any abuse of power that they may experience within their own industry. In an increasingly competitive international environment I am glad to say Screen Ireland has been able to continue to effectively discharge its vital role of promoting the indigenous film industry and marketing Ireland as a location for international productions.
Our cultural and artistic identity as a nation gives us a competitive advantage that now more than ever must be exploited.
As I have stated, the benefits of high levels of film and television production in Ireland will include increased international investment in the economy, increased employment in the sector, positive spin-off effects on the promotion of Ireland as a tourist location, and the improvement of Ireland as an industrial location for all aspects of creative endeavours.
I appreciate the Deputies' co-operation in expediting the enactment of this short and technical but very important Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.
Fianna Fáil will support this Bill. As is the case with some statutory bodies that receive public funding, a limit was set by statute on such outlay, in this case when the Irish Film Board Act 1980 was enacted. The limit must be updated by the Houses of the Oireachtas every few years. The Bill is technical in nature and will allow Fís Éireann to raise the ceiling of the aggregated support provided to the film industry to €500 million. In recent years the Irish production sector has expanded in a positive way. This is a result of a number of big-budget TV dramas produced in Ireland, which started with "The Tudors" more than a decade ago. As a result, Ireland is the 17th most popular location in the world for filming TV shows and movies according to a recent study. Considering the size of Ireland by comparison with some countries which ranked higher than ours, this is something of which we can be very proud.
Fís Éireann is playing an important role in ensuring that this success translates into the development of our own indigenous sector. I note the high level of interest in the new writing development loans earlier in the year as an indication that these productions have led to a growing level of interest.
I wish to take this opportunity to note in particular the high level of female protagonists and producers in Irish film in recent years. Last year, seven out of ten Irish films had a female protagonist. This is something of which we can be proud. The monitoring that Fís Éireann has undertaken is of great value. However, I note that the number of female directors has stayed relatively stagnant at just over 20%. Further effort on the part of the Minister may be warranted to address this.
Tá mé ag tacú leis an mBille Bord Scannán na hÉireann (Leasú) 2018. Tá sé tábhachtach go ndéanaimid cosaint ar an infheistíocht atá déanta go dtí seo ag muintir na hÉireann sa ghnó scannáin. Tá sé tábhachtach go leanaimid ar aghaidh leis sin agus go ndéanaimid cinnte de go mbeidh infheistiú ó chomhlachtaí lasmuigh d'Éirinn agus ó chomhlachtaí in Éirinn sa ghnó seo ach go háirithe.
Is cuimhin liom nuair a toghadh mé i dtús báire go raibh ceist mhór faoin rud díreach atá faoi chaibidil againn anseo i section 481 agus an faoiseamh a bhí ar fáil dóibh agus go raibh dainséar ann ag an am go raibh go mbeimis ag fáil réidh leis. Is ceann de na cinntí maithe a rinneadh ag an am gur tugadh cosaint dó agus gur cuireadh leis ó shin. Inniu táimid ag déanamh iarracht cur leis na féidearthachtaí ghnó na scannánaíochta ach go háirithe chun a dhéanamh cinnte de go gcuirfimid leis an €1 milliún luach a deirtear go cuireadh le i 2016.
Tá a lán fostaithe ann sa ghnó agus aithním sna tuairiscí maidir leis an ngnó seo in Éirinn, go bhfuil beagnach 17,000 fostaithe. Sin a deir an tuairisc ach ní chreidim í agus tiocfaidh mé ar ais chuig an ábhar sin níos déanaí sa mhéid atá le rá agam.
The film industry is obviously a very important part of the cultural, artistic and economic life of Ireland. We have huge potential as a location and as a centre of creativity and artistic endeavour, as well as all of the other skill sets that those within the film industry, and some who have been shut out of it, can contribute if allowed. This legislation is welcome in that it helps to ensure that we can compete. When I was first elected, the danger was that if we got rid of section 481, we would allow other countries to steal a march on us. I do not think we have managed to get as much benefit as possible from the State's investment in the film industry. That is what section 481 does. It is an investment that encourages foreign and Irish companies to invest through a tax benefit.
In an industry such as this there are always concerns, problems and issues. I will propose an amendment on Committee Stage providing not just for a passing examination but for a full report into the terms and conditions of workers. The most recent economic analysis of the audiovisual sector in Ireland that I have seen suggests that we are supporting the employment of nearly 17,000 people. In all of my dealings with them, people who work at various levels of the film industry, including carpenters, security men, drivers of cars and trucks, stunt men, directors and those who polish the finished product so that we can see it, say that sometimes the calculation of the number engaged in the film industry is skewed. Sometimes people work twice or three times in a year. They are counted twice or three times in the accounts because they work for different companies as various films or opportunities come up. They are recorded as working full-time. They might work for six months for this company, three months for another then somewhere else for a further month. There are often quite long gaps between engagements. That is recorded as though three people were employed. It is a concern.
There are also huge concerns about those who are not recorded. To this day there are many workers serving indefinite internships without pay. There are those who are titled trainees but whose traineeships do not have end dates. I do not know whether all of the trainees are accounted as full-time personnel in the film industry. There is a job of work to be done in ascertaining exactly how many are working at a given time. Then we can properly assess the value of our contribution to the film industry here and abroad.
There are also questions about whether we are getting the full value out of our facilitation of the film industry. Some of the criteria or application forms could be tweaked so that more foreign money might be spent on film production. Sometimes that funding goes askew via Irish-based companies. I am told that for a foreign film company to avail of this, it must have an Irish producer, an Irish address or whatever.
The cost of going through some of the Irish companies may be greater than directly employing or recruiting staff. Those issues have been raised with me. I have not checked the veracity of the claims but in the absence of any indication to the contrary, it is key that they be addressed.
The issue of terms and conditions must be considered. Are workers paid overtime when the filming of a shoot which is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. and finish at 6 p.m. is extended until 10 p.m. by the director? I have been told they are not. If one complains, one will be blacklisted and not hired for the next set or film. This is a small island and it is a small industry, which makes it very easy to identify malcontents. Actors may be affected by such decisions, but those who do much of the real work - I do not suggest that acting is not real work - in terms of the heavy lifting of creating sets-----
-----or having responsibility for transport or health and safety, those without whom the actors would not have a stage or location, must sometimes work long after the producer has gone to bed.
There are many aspects to the industry. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht examined this issue. Several issues were subsequently raised with members of the committee involved in producing its report, as well as with other Members who have a long-standing interest in the area. Organisations involved in the film industry want changes and we need a forum in which to listen to them. We must be able to ensure that action is taken where necessary and that legislation is in place to protect these workers, as is the case in every other industry in Ireland.
The Bill relates to the Irish Film Board, but I wish to raise an important associated issue. As I stated, many of those involved in the film industry are temporary workers. We should examine how the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection treats and accounts for those workers. A difficulty arises for many such people in dealing with the Department, whether through the local social welfare inspector or the private companies which are now supposed to seek full-time work for people, when they are awaiting the next production. There can be several months between productions. Very few people in the film industry seamlessly transition from one production to the next. There is downtime. The Department should be mindful of the benefits that accrue to Ireland from the documentaries, dramas and other films that are produced here. It should consider its treatment of those who are genuinely working in the film industry and can prove that through membership of Equity or another union representing film industry workers.
As I stated, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has looked at issues to do with internships and so on. It should give detailed consideration to whether there is a proper internship structure within the film industry such that there is no abuse of workers' rights, such as charging young people who wish to be part of the film industry to be on set, and that proper rates of pay and working hours are in place. Those in the trade understand that shoots may run over time, but workers deserve to be compensated for additional hours worked, as would be the case in any other employment. That is of some relevance to the Bill because companies involved in some of the big shoots in this country refuse to go over budget even if that means that workers are left short. The disregard that is sometimes shown for workers in the industry is totally wrong.
There is no mechanism to resolve human resources grievances in the industry. To whom does one go in such a situation? One may go to one's union, but, as companies are set up on a film-by-film basis, the shoot may be completed and the film released by the time one's complaint is heard.
The promotion of the Irish film industry is of primary importance. There has been an absolute éacht and tremendous work in terms of what Ireland has produced in recent times. We could and should produce far more, given our history and creativity. We can tell stories and act and sell those stories in the medium of film to the best in the world. There should be a greater concentration on home-grown films rather than depending on big film companies to come into the country. Not very many of them have done so. Many people lauded the fact that Star Wars was filmed in Ireland but in reality that formed a minuscule part of the film, although it presented Ireland in a very attractive manner and was very beneficial to the tourism industry on the west coast. The production was not wholly filmed or edited in Ireland. It is probably true that no film is produced in one location from start to finish.
The recent changes in terms of locations and studios will probably attract more and bigger productions but we must also protect our investment, as well as the terms and conditions of those involved in the industry. We must ensure that recipients of funding under section 481 do not abuse that in any way, such as by making a killing for themselves while workers are not being fully paid. We struggle to address issues in many other aspects of our economy such as health, social welfare, housing and so on.
As always seems to happen, some people abuse tax reliefs for their own benefit. The tax relief in question was set up specifically to attract companies to Ireland, enhance our home-grown industry and ensure we have first-class opportunities for all in the film industry, including those involved in making dramas and documentaries. We have proven we are capable of matching the best in the world. I will raise these concerns.
There is a short period in which to submit amendments. We have until 11 a.m. tomorrow to submit amendments before returning to this Bill next week. If I have not formulated those amendments, I do not intend in any way to delay the passage of the Bill but I want to make sure it is stated that my party and I will not tolerate some of the abuses I have heard about in recent weeks, some of which I was aware of before now through friends and colleagues who work in the industry. We have raised this matter in the House in the past. There is an onus on the Minister not only to pass this Bill but also to act on some of the points I have raised and that other Deputies may also raise to ensure the industry will be a fair one and that we will get the best out of it in many senses.
Film, whether for cinema, television or small personal screens, is probably the most popular cultural activity, not only in Ireland but also on the planet. In that sense, having a screen or film industry in Ireland is very important in terms of the country's capacity to respond in cultural terms to the modern world and modern life. Almost every European country, and most other countries, seek to have a film industry.
The context of this Bill is raising the maximum aggregate amount of investment, loans, grants or moneys provided from €300 million to €500 million. That is broadly welcome. What is lacking in the Department, however, is a sense of current policy other than in a very narrow commercial sense. The Minister is in her job for quite a while now. Has she come to any view, as Minister, as to how the industry should be developed? We need to move on from the model that former Minister Michael D. Higgins established in the 1990s, which has been enormously successful. We need to move on with development. There has not been much information from the Department other than programmes that taxpayers find very difficult to understand. The Irish Film Board went out of existence quite a long time ago. I do not understand, therefore, why this Bill does not refer to Screen Ireland. Screen Ireland is inclusive of the broader industry because people consume the product in a variety of ways in addition to traditional film shown in traditional cinemas.
Let me outline what I would like to know in the first instance. In terms of the structures of Screen Ireland, why not have a project board that addresses in a formal way the issues concerning training, because this is where it starts, and also apprenticeships, including recognised apprenticeships, in the film industry? Has the Department any proposals on new apprenticeships so the many young people interested in working broadly in the screen, film and audiovisual areas will have an opportunity and structured way in which to seek to develop a career in the industry? Would the Minister be prepared to implement this structure directly through this legislation or in the form of ministerial regulations?
As we all appreciate, the difficulty with film is that it is project based. Staff move from project to project. Therein lies the problem, particularly for people starting off in the industry. I refer to how they get training, education and appropriate experience in a way that is constructive for them as individuals and also constructive for the future of film in Ireland. There should certainly be a trade union-based industry in Ireland. If we do not have a structure, there is a risk that employees in the industry, especially in the early stages and in certain elements of the industry, will end up in very precarious employment while some of those on top will end up in very lucrative employment, most frequently self-employed people on contracts of limited duration for the length of a project. We need to think about that and reflect it in the Bill. The Minister needs to do so in order that those who have the objective of securing the tax reliefs and tax breaks will have a structure available to them by which they are made aware of what is necessary to proceed properly and treat people properly.
There was a disturbing report on film on "Prime Time" recently. We have all been approached by people on the production side and those working in the industry about concerns they have about terms and conditions of employment.
An issue arises about regional supports and how the industry is placed around the country. For instance, some supports are not necessarily available in the Cork area. Has the Minister considered this? Will she tell us what the problem is there? There are other parts of the country that might like to develop a film industry but it is a bit opaque as to how they might go about doing so. Private studios are being developed around the country. With the State having agreed to the disposal of Ardmore, what is the Minister's view, from a policy perspective, on how the State should continue to be involved? Is the State just the awarder of grants and tax breaks or will it have a more central role in the industry?
In Fine Gael, there is an ethos of privatisation of everything and minimum regulation of everything. In this case, however, we need to hear from the Minister her take on regulation and the involvement and expression of the involvement and interest of the public in this area given that the public, through the tax system, ultimately ends up being a significant contributor.
People have raised other issues with me. I know the industry itself has done a lot of work on this, but what is the position regarding children on set and how are they protected when working on set? I know that guidelines have been produced for films, but the Department, given its role, needs to be a leader in this regard. I do not know whether the Minister has seen, been consulted on, or carried out her own consultations on the guidelines for children on set, whether they need to be encoded in a form of regulation to provide for appropriate and maximum protection for minors on sets, and how this should be approached.
I wish to ask about another feature of the industry which has received a lot of attention in recent times. I refer to the gender pay gap. We are all aware of the fact that there has been worldwide disclosure on the gender pay gap in the film industry, including in areas such as Hollywood that we would most associate with the film industry on an international scale. There has also been such disclosure in companies such as the BBC, which is heavily involved in film, and recent disclosures in RTÉ on gender pay parity. Does the Minister have a policy on this? Should we have a code that is reflected either in ministerial regulation or in the Act itself? I want to hear from the Minister what her policies are in this regard. This all fits into the broad ambit of employment policy and the conditions and protections that exist in the industry.
I am also conscious of the fact that throughout the country there are now many overall media, film, arts and culture courses that involve film as a constituent part in further education and in third level, college and university education. The project-based nature of the industry, however, means it is very hard for people to get a start in it. People who come from families that may already be in the industry have a head start because they know where they are going, but others can find it very difficult to get a foothold. If we want to build up a sustainable cadre of people in Ireland who can express their creativity and their talents in the industry, it is very important there is a pathway for people to become involved in the industry in which they have spent a significant amount of time training or working for degrees, including postgraduate degrees. Again, the same issues arise worldwide. What is the Minister's policy on educational and training courses for the industry? Some are private; some are public. I hear suggestions from time to time that there may be too many courses and not enough employment available for all the people doing them. What is the Minister's and the Department's view on this?
I have raised with the Minister on many occasions the issue of Luggala, the home of the late Garech de Brún, who did so much for culture, music, film and the arts in Ireland. That estate, the 5,000 acres in the Wicklow Mountains, has been the scene of quite a few famous films and occasions. I and other Deputies have asked the Minister to consider acquiring the estate on behalf of the State. I realise and appreciate that this is almost exclusively a Fine Gael Government, that Fine Gael is averse to public ownership of additional assets and that its small number of coalition partners do not seem particularly interested in being involved in this at all. Luggala and its surroundings are very famous in Irish film history. Has the Minister in any way advanced her examination of the State taking Luggala, especially the land, into public ownership? I think we are all concerned that private property signs have been erected in recent months on the approach to an area which until now people have been free to access and which, as I said, is very much associated with films and film-making in Ireland.
I did not get a copy of the Minister's script. Does she have one available to give to us? I would like to know the details of policy as she has considered and developed it since she came into the Department. It is important that the Minister fills us in on these details.
This is a very important debate. I queried the description of this Bill as a technical Bill at the Business Committee, where it was originally suggested the Bill be taken all in one go, through all Stages, without pre-legislative scrutiny. The argument put forward was that it was a technical Bill and, therefore, it was justified to short-circuit the normal legislative process. Any short-circuiting of the legislative process, for almost any reason, must immediately raise questions, to which answers must be given. Sometimes it is justified, and I am not casting aspersions, but we must always check these things. A Bill that extends the loan capacity of the Irish Film Board by €200 million is definitely not technical. It is a very big decision to extend the board's loan capacity.
I accept that the annual allocation of money is decided as a budgetary matter. We have had these discussions with many bodies we have set up, particularly in recent years, such as State agencies and so on with loan capacities. They have been scrutinised very heavily and there has been pre-legislative scrutiny and all Stages necessary to scrutinise and amend Bills that deal with this matter. Since its inception, the Irish Film Board has lent out €298 million, I think, and, because it has reached the limit, we must now extend its loan capacity to €500 million. That is a hell of a lot of money and it requires serious debate.
Given we are so close to the wire, I do not want to push the Irish Film Board and, consequently, the entire Irish film industry over a cliff of no funding - I doubt anyone does - which is what would happen if we stopped or delayed this Bill. However, it should not have come to this. This debate should have begun earlier and there should have been more serious scrutiny of the Bill. I welcome the fact that the Government, the Business Committee, the Ceann Comhairle and so on agreed to split the debate into at least two sessions, whereby we take Second Stage today and Committee and Remaining Stages on Tuesday, but this gives only until tomorrow to table amendments.
That is not a whole lot of time for people who may be watching this and who are very interested in what is going on to submit amendments-----
-----to this Bill. There are many people watching this. I can tell the Deputy that for a fact. There is much interest in what is going on in the Irish film industry at the moment. Let us be honest, there is also a great deal of dispute about what is going on in the film industry. We need to resolve it because the film industry is very important. As I said as a preamble to all of my interventions on this issue, of which there have been quite a number over the past year, I want to see the Irish film industry seriously supported by the Government. I want to see more investment in the industry to allow us to operate even more effectively on the international stage and utilise the enormous talent existing in many areas in this country, whether it is writing, directing, producing, stagecraft, building stages, making props, lighting, wardrobe or make-up. We have all of those skills in abundance.
The industry has produced wonderful successes and many fantastic films, actors and directors who have given a small country like ours a disproportionate impact on the global stage. I would not want to do anything but support, promote and strengthen the State and public support for the industry. I also want to commend the Minister, Deputy Madigan, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe. In response to some of the issues I raised in recent months, I was contacted by senior officials in the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, as well as officials in the Revenue Commissioners, in the Department of Finance and in the office of the Minister for Finance himself, to discuss these issues. I welcome that there seems to be a very serious effort by a number of Departments to engage with the concerns I have and that have been raised with me to get a film industry that works for everybody and takes us to new heights of film production with all of the associated skills. I welcome all of that.
We do, however, have to address the issues, the disputes, the conflicts and the problems in the industry to ensure that it does achieve what it is capable of achieving. There are problems in this regard. To cut a long story short, what we need to do is to get to the facts of what is actually happening in the industry. There is a problem in trying to do that. We are not getting to the facts of what is going on in the industry. It is slightly disappointing to me, as a great fan of the arts, to discover through various interactions in the past year that there is ruthless competition in this creative industry. That is disappointing. We would have hoped there would have been more harmony and co-operation. There is, however, a hell of a lot of competition.
It is a bit like politics, indeed. We might have hoped, though, that the arts would have been slightly different. We need to try to address some of these problems. The key to getting to the bottom of it is trying to find out what is going on and resolving the issues rather than what has been happening. There has been a slagging match between different factions with accusations, counter-accusations and allegations from one sector against another
One of the issues has evolved. It is very important because it is the condition of section 481 tax relief. I will read it for the Minister who has come in to replace the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, whom I hope will be back. The condition of getting section 481 tax relief, worth €70 million or €80 million a year, is that it acts as an effective stimulus to film making in the State through, among other things, the provision of quality employment and training opportunities. We should stress that in addition to that €70 million or €80 million from section 481, last year there were also €12 million worth of loans from the Irish Film Board. That amount varies between €12 million and about €15 million. That is a great deal of money and it is conditional on producing quality employment and training.
It is the obligation of the State, public representatives and the various Departments that oversee these funds to see if that is happening. That is the law. We need to find out if that is happening. The first step in doing that is to find out how many people actually work in the industry and how many people are trainees in the industry. I am referring to registered employees and trainees. We do not really know that figure. The Olsberg SPI report, for example, did help to make progress on answering how many people are involved in the industry. At the all-party Oireachtas Joint Committee on Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht, and its report in January 2018, the Irish Film Board stated that there were 17,000 full-time equivalents working in the industry. Many workers from the industry came in after, however, and stated that there were actually almost no full-time jobs in the film industry. We therefore have a claim of 17,000 full-time equivalents on the one hand, and have workers who are experienced in the industry for many years stating there is almost no full-time employment for most grades in the film industry.
There is a big gap between 17,000 and almost none. What is the answer? The Olsberg SPI report begins to move us a little bit in the direction of answering this question. We discovered from that report that the 17,000 figure takes into account areas such as radio, video games, commercial advertising, animation, people who work in RTÉ etc. The 17,000 figure is not an accurate picture of what is going on in the Irish film industry at all. It includes all sorts of other areas. Now, let us get to the truth. How many people are actually working in the film industry? When it is broken down a little more, we are told further down in the small print of that report that there is an employment base of 6,300. That is considerably less than 17,000. That translates into 3,260 full-time equivalents, but full-time equivalents are not jobs. How many people, therefore, can we estimate actually work in the film industry? The answer is that we do not really know. It is probably somewhere less than or close to 3,000. Some people would put the figure at as low as 1,700 or 1,800 people.
That is a big difference. How many people are trainees? Can we track them? Do we know at what stage of their training they are at? No, we do not, because there is no training structure. Nobody knows when the training begins, how it is accredited, at what point a trainee is finished or at what point he or she becomes qualified in a particular grade or category of employment within the film industry. I understand there are about 77 different grades and categories in the industry, just to make it even more complicated. Recently, a worker from the industry informed me that there was a register of trainees a few years back. It actually had the names of the trainees. I suggest to the Minister that we need the names of the people who are registered trainees so that we can track who is a trainee, whether they are moving from one production to another, progressing through their training, becoming qualified and then having a career in the industry.
We also need to know who are the experienced workers in the industry and if they are gaining quality employment. I refer to the accusations of people being blackballed if they ask for direct PAYE employment as opposed to being categorised as contractors or subcontractors.
Recently, on a “Prime Time” special, allegations were thrown around that particular groups of workers, represented by the Irish Film Workers Association, IFWA, and the GMB trade union, which were making demands for more direct employment in the industry were, in fact, a troublemaking faction which just wanted to control it and a bit dodgy. I am not in a position to judge any of it. However, insofar as I have interacted with these groups, all they have asked for are conditions with which I am familiar in the construction industry, namely, direct PAYE employment on the basis that everything else is precarious. Rather than engage in accusation and counter accusation, the film industry and the Irish Film Board, in particular, need to be able to explain why it was not just the IFWA and the Irish Film Board which stated there was an issue of blacklisting, precarity and lack of continuity in employment. In January in a direct response to me and Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell when asked if there was blacklisting in the industry the Equity representative said:
One need only look at the results of the survey that Equity published at the end of 2016 regarding the issues of bullying and harassment to see that what the Deputy is referring to is true. People are terrified of rocking the boat in any way, shape or form when they are in a precarious situation in work. One of the questions on the survey asked whether respondents had ever experienced or observed any form of bullying or harassment. Something in the region of 65% to 70% of people said “Yes”. The next questions asked if they reported it. Of that 70% of respondents who had said “Yes”, roughly 70% said that they did not report it for fear of not getting the next job.
That is from the actors. By the way, the Minister and I have been invited to a meeting next week in Stoneybatter of the theatre actors who are complaining about the same precarity and lack of security. Even those who are called the creatives in the industry are saying there is a serious problem, as well as transport workers, stage crew and so on. Whatever accusations can be made against them, they all have been working in the industry for decades. They can show the productions on which they have worked but say they are facing blacklisting. They go further in stating a relatively small group of companies receive the bulk of Irish Film Board grants and loans, as well as section 481 tax relief, but take no responsibility for their employees. Although some may have received between €30 million and €40 million in recent years in various forms of public support which I am glad they have received, they have virtually no employees. They take no responsibility for the people who work for them because of the special purpose vehicle, SPV, structure, which means that their official employer is a company which appears and disappears like a mushroom. Everybody knows that behind the SPV, the disappearing company is actually a parent company which is the one which applies for and receives section 481 tax relief. Who are the employers? One cannot have quality employment if one does not even know who the employers are. In fact, there are no employers because of the SPV structure, but that needs to be established. Following on from it, in order to resolve some of the issues, one needs to have a more representative Irish Film Board. It should involve producers, directors and actors, but it should also involve PAYE workers and those in non-management grades, including those in areas such as transport, stage crew and so on to ensure a broad diversity of management and non-management grades that actually have an input.
As Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, there is a serious question as to whether we need to open up section 481 tax relief to foreign producers. Is this an issue that is hampering internal investment? There is evidence that some of the big productions that could have come here did not come because of the particular way the industry is set up. There is also evidence that the structures are different in other countries. Why was “Game of Thrones” filmed in the North rather than here? If we are putting €300 million through the Irish Film Board and providing up to €1 billion in section 481 tax relief, is there something a bit odd that the State does not have any film assets of its own? It does not own any machinery and has just sold off the last bit of the national studios at Ardmore to a private company. Imagine if we had no Abbey Theatre or municipal theatres and it was a completely free floating industry. Imagine if the national theatre became a place which only appeared to put on a play and then disappeared with nobody having jobs. We would find that a bit odd. However, we are told by certain sectors of the film industry that this is the only way one can structure it. I do not accept that for one minute. We had Ardmore Studios which made a big impact on Irish cinema.
These matters need to be examined. I am glad that we are having this important debate. I know that the Minister and the Minister of Finance are genuinely engaging. However, I will be submitting amendments to have a review clause inserted into the Bill to examine issues such as employment numbers, quality employment, and better and broader representation on the Irish Film Board. As a condition in passing the legislation, we need the Government to commit to dealing with these issues within a set timeframe to address the concerns raised and overcome some of the conflicts and give the film industry the boost and support it needs to thrive in the future.
The Minister has stated this is a straightforward technical Bill which will have no impact on the Exchequer. That is because the funding to meet the extra loan capacity of €200 million will not come directly from the Exchequer. While I was not as involved as Deputy Boyd Barrett in the discussion in the past year about working conditions in the film industry, I have met workers in it to discuss the issue. The mind boggles when one hears a figure of 17,000 fill-time equivalents. However, from talking to workers on the ground, the actual experience totally contradicts that number. When I met several film industry workers, they pointed out that the Irish film and television industry was heavily funded by the taxpayer. The money is distributed to companies in the form of tax relief and by the Irish Film Board which gives and lends money to Irish production companies which never seems to be returned. They also informed me that money was given for feasibility studies for productions which might never take off. Who is accountable for the expenditure of all of this money?
Section 481 was included to create equality and fair employment in the film industry. Hoever, there seems to be little of it. Contractors have been brought in to undermine the terms and conditions of workers. Many of the contractors have been operating illegally for several years. Some of them facilitate the shadow economy and have gained a favoured position with production companies as they have done work at a cheaper rate. However, no checks have been carried out by the production companies to ascertain where taxpayers’ money has gone. There is also the major issue of individuals being bound to false trainee schemes for which there is no curriculum and no start, middle or end date.
These schemes seem to have no promise of a job upon completion.
Another common practice in the industry is contractors operating as the heads of departments and dictating to employees as if they were the employer. It is no secret that some of these individuals are the ones who insist that honest and outspoken employees be blacklisted. The recent "Prime Time" report was a hatchet job. The workers I have met are fighting for their livelihoods, so they will be boisterous in their arguments and in how they approach issues, but they are certainly not aggressive agitators, as was put forward in that "Prime Time" report. These men and women are being displaced for voicing legitimate concerns. They have worked in the industry for more than 20 years and know that there is trouble in every department, from costuming and cameras to props, art, locations, hair and makeup, construction, driving and so on. They claim that the industry needs to change. Production companies seem to believe that they do not have to give workers any right or follow any requirement by law, the law being the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2003 and the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. The companies give rights and follow the requirements on paper when they apply for grants, but not on the ground.
The people whom Deputy Broughan and I spoke to told us that they had worked in the industry for a long time and had seen bullying, blackballing and the consistent concern of crew members that they would not be on the next job if they asked for their basic rights and entitlements under the law. These people, who have families, children, mortgages and bills, are fighting for their livelihoods in this industry, which can well afford to pay workers a decent amount and offer them decent, quality and long-term job security.
It is a scandal that taxpayers' money could be used by an industry that perpetuates bogus self-employment. It is not acceptable. It is not for the Opposition to determine how to resolve this issue. We will assist, but it must be done by the workers, employers and Government in accordance with industrial laws.
The Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection has launched an investigation into bogus self-employment. I have requested that the workers affected in the film industry be invited to the committee. I do not know how our investigation would support the Minister's interest in this situation, as we would be inviting people from a number of industries, including English language teachers, in which respect there has been a catastrophe in recent days. It is important that we invite workers from the film industry who have been impacted by this situation. The committee will investigate whether there is rampant bogus self-employment in the industry and how that might impact on workers, and determine how to feed its examination into the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection's investigation into such jobs.
I do not know whether I can support the Bill. As Deputy Boyd Barrett mentioned, it is a proud industry because people can watch a big movie and say that it came from Ireland. The many people involved in the industry would make one proud. However, we cannot continue to facilitate an industry over which there are serious question marks. This issue does not just arise in the film industry, but right across the board. As the Parliament, we have a responsibility to tackle it.
There should be a register of employees, trainees and apprenticeships in the film industry. There used to be registers previously, so having them back would assist in protecting workers. The Irish Film Board is composed of producers, directors and actors, but not workers. I was about to say "directly employed workers", but they are not even directly employed in the film industry. They are in bogus self-employment.
The joint committee will play a role in the Department's investigation by investigating the allegations that have been made to the scope section of the Department and appealed to its appeals office by employers. I would have to think long and hard about this Bill and would support any amendment that strengthened workers' rights in the industry. If we are to give more leeway and opportunities to producers to make more money, that money must go into workers' pockets in the form of proper pay and job security.
There have been many contributions. I thank the Dáil and acknowledge Members' interest and support on Second Stage. I have taken note of the various views expressed and will try to answer some as best I can. It was heartening to witness the engagement on and interest in some of the issues that were raised. It showed the Deputies' collective interest in the audiovisual sector.
Deputy Smyth is not present, but she indicated her support for the Bill. I noted her positive contribution regarding the industry in general. She wants to see gender parity in the industry, which we will address by 2020 through many various measures.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh broadly welcomed the Bill. I acknowledge his points about section 481. The Minister for Finance has extended that relief to 2024. The Deputy also discussed terms and conditions and queried the statistics on the numbers employed.
Regarding the training regime, Screen Skills Ireland has responsibility for skills as the national skills development agency. Recommendations were made. Deputy Ó Snodaigh mentioned the joint Oireachtas committee report. Screen Ireland has put in place a sub-committee of its board to cover training and skills and to act on the recommendations listed in both reports. Through this training advisory sub-committee, Screen Ireland has commenced work on some of the recommendations, including business skills development, matching of skills with production growth and greater alignment with third level sector and network training.
Regarding Deputy Ó Snodaigh's comments on employment in general, my colleague, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, is introducing legislation that will improve the security and predictability of working hours for employees on insecure contracts, which is an issue that Deputy Boyd Barrett also raised. The joint Oireachtas committee made a number of recommendations and Screen Ireland is considering them. Both Deputies mentioned an industry forum. As they know, it is being worked on. We are trying to see how matters can progress in that regard.
Regarding section 481, officials from my Department are engaging with the Revenue Commissioners on the new arrangements concerning training issues.
Deputy Burton raised a number of queries. We are putting a significant amount of money - €1.5 billion - into the audiovisual sector, as well as €200 million into the audiovisual action plan, over the next ten years. Screen Ireland has 140 projects for distribution and 700 for development.
Many Deputies raised the issue of employment. In particular, Deputy Boyd Barrett spoke about how many people were employed or not employed. From our information, there are 16,930 people working full time in the industry. Since last year, there has been an increase in this budget of €2 million to €20.4 million.
Deputy Burton referenced the gender pay gap. We are considering a gender pay gap information Bill. She also mentioned Cork, but I will have to look into that matter to see what support she meant. There is a great deal of regional support in Limerick where Troy Studios is located. The Deputy acknowledged the importance of the Irish film industry, which I echo. She supports creativity and innovation, which is fine.
Deputy Boyd Barrett mentioned it mainly with regard to Screen Ireland and the training regime. About 60 courses in 2017 were run by Screen Skills Ireland. It provided training for about 1,558 individuals in 2017. More than 25 industry professionals availed of the bursary scheme and trained overseas. There was targeted and strategic training for the animation sector, which is growing at an exponential rate. Work-based learning initiatives are being implemented.
Disputes and conflicts were looked at by the Oireachtas committee. It proposed a forum. Some of my officials met Deputy Boyd Barrett last week regarding this Bill. There is urgency with regard to increasing the statutory limit so, from that perspective, it is a technical Bill. I agree with the Deputy that it probably should have been done before this, but it was not, so it must be done. Otherwise, we will not be in a position to do anything. There is time to bring forward amendments. If the Deputy wants to do so, that is at his discretion. The Deputy will know that my Department and Screen Ireland are examining the options, but there are challenges relating to all of these matters.
I thank the Deputies for raising the issues. Screen Ireland has a dual mandate to develop Irish film-making and audiovisual production talent that can engage audiences at home and abroad while maintaining and building the resources, craft and skills of the Irish industry by attracting international productions to Ireland. I think most of the Deputies would accept that we want to ensure that Ireland remains attractive to the film industry. An unprecedented amount of money will go into this area over the next few years. There is general goodwill in respect of this area in Ireland. In my opening remarks, I mentioned some Academy awards and Golden Globe awards we have won across the spectrum, including animation, which is a new and growing sector. Evidence of the necessity for legislation is borne out by Screen Ireland's activity in recent years. I outlined that earlier. The film and television industries are very labour-intensive and, by its very nature, any investment in production creates employment. Every euro invested by Screen Ireland in production produces a multiple return on that investment.
I thank the Deputies for their contributions. I hope this Bill will enable us to copper-fasten Ireland's reputation as a centre of excellence in all matters audiovisual over the next few years.