Wednesday, 6 November 2019
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
22. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the funding provided for the Travellers' Journey exhibition at the National Museum in Turlough Park, County Mayo, in each of the years 2017, 2018, and to date in 2019; the funding provided for tinsmithing and Cant, the traditional language spoken by Irish Travellers in each of the years 2017, 2018, and to date in 2019; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45467/19]
I wish to ask the Minister about her Department's approach to the inclusion of people from the Traveller community in funding for the arts and why, when I tabled a question recently in this respect regarding Traveller artists specifically, it was unfortunately referred by the Minister to the Department of Justice and Equality?
The question covered elements of funding that are disbursed by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
The Traveller community has a rich culture, with unique traditions and crafts which are an integral part of the heritage of this community. My Department and several of the bodies under its remit have a number of initiatives to support the recording and celebration of Traveller culture and heritage, including the Travellers' Journey exhibition presented by the National Museum of Ireland. A sum of €150,000 was allocated to the development and realisation of the exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland in County Mayo in 2018. The National Museum is funded from my Department's Vote and the allocation for the Travellers' Journey exhibition accounted for some 50% of the museum's exhibition development budget in 2018. The exhibition, which ran for a year, was opened in July 2018 by President Michael D. Higgins and included a series of events and talks on aspects of Traveller culture and identity. The National Museum has also been involved in a number of other events and initiatives in recent years in partnership with the Traveller community and is in the process of establishing a steering group of museum staff and representatives of the Traveller community to inform its permanent exhibitions and the representation of Traveller culture and heritage in its upcoming history of Ireland galleries.
On 18 July last, I launched the permanent national inventory of intangible cultural heritage, celebrating living cultural heritage practices in Ireland. This initiative represents official State recognition of cultural practices all around Ireland, two of which are Traveller tinsmithing and Cant or Gammon, the traditional language spoken by Irish Travellers. The development of the national inventory of Ireland's intangible cultural heritage is an integral part of my Department's work under the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which requires signatory states to recognise, protect and promote the living cultural heritage of their countries. Following on from the launch, my Department showcased a number of the traditions on the national inventory over the three days of the 2019 National Ploughing Championships. One of the exhibitors was the renowned tinsmith, Tom McDonnell, who exhibited the craft and skills of tinsmithing in my Department's marquee, drawing huge interest from visitors to the marquee.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
The national inventory is not a funding programme, but an initiative to celebrate and work with practitioners and agencies in Ireland to recognise, promote and safeguard these key living cultural heritage practices. My Department is working with its expert advisory committee to examine how it can most effectively work with both custodians of the valuable cultural heritage practices on the inventory and existing agencies to raise awareness of and safeguard these practices for generations. The next meeting of the committee will take place this coming Friday.
In view of the Minister's response, which quotes extensively from documents and publications by her Department concerning her Department's funding for Travellers and Traveller artists, I would like her to apologise to the Traveller community for refusing to take pretty much the same question on 3 October and having it transferred to the Department of Justice and Equality. From what the Minister just outlined, I note that she is now going to establish a committee on Traveller culture in the National Museum. What Travellers want to see is a sub-committee of her Department established to address Traveller artists, musicians, performers, playwrights and people who make television programmes. I am sure the Minister has met many of the people involved. I would like to hear from her the reason she refuses to engage with Travellers, other than in terms of programmes she has inherited rather than created.
There is nothing to apologise for in the context of the question to which Deputy Burton referred, which was transferred from my Department to the Department of Justice and Equality. The Deputy referred the matter to the Ceann Comhairle. There is a very simple reason for transferring the questions and we wrote back to the Ceann Comhairle yesterday to explain it. I believe my Department also gave the Deputy some further information on the matter. The simple reason is that the Department of Justice and Equality is the lead Department in overall terms on Traveller culture, identity and heritage, with the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, having responsibility for this area. While the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht participates in the national Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy steering group, it is only one of a number of Departments delivering on the commitments included under the heading of Traveller culture, identity and heritage which is supported and valued within Irish society. As I said, the Department of Justice and Equality has the lead role for the overall strategy. In his reply to Deputy Burton on that occasion, the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, noted that my Department is responsible for specific allocations of funding in certain areas to which Deputy Burton alluded. The Department has provided details of funding for specific projects in arts and heritage for the Traveller community in response to previous parliamentary questions.
The Minister's explanation is seriously deficient and it is also an insult to Traveller artists. When other artists the Department deals with raise issues, are they referred to the Department of Justice and Equality? I have no issue with the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, who is excellent in his role. I made that clear. I will read out what the Ceann Comhairle said in his letter to me.
I can understand the frustration of transfers of PQs such as the one cited by you. [This was funding by the Department.] You make a cogent argument in your letter to me as to why the PQ should have been answered by the Minister for Culture rather than the Minister for Justice.
The Minister has made remarks on previous occasions about Traveller housing and other issues related to Travellers. As the Minister with responsibility for culture, why will she not directly answer questions on Travellers, including the question she previously rejected? Why will she not set up an interdepartmental committee in her Department to bring together Traveller musicians, actors and writers as well as other Travellers who are artists?
I beg to differ with Deputy Burton. It is certainly not coloured by my own views on Travellers. I am sure Deputy Burton is not suggesting that. We have written back to the Ceann Comhairle on the matter. The national cultural institutions, which are under my Department's remit, and the Arts Council, have a number of initiatives to support the showcasing and celebration of Traveller culture. They are supported by funding from my Department. I trust that should clarify the position on the Department's role in the implementation of the Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy, to which I alluded. There was a reason for the approach taken in respect of the question tabled by Deputy Burton. I also provided the Deputy directly with information on specific projects in arts and heritage for the Traveller community, funded by my Department. Suffice to say, it is something that we are very aware of in my Department. Going back to the national inventory of intangible cultural heritage, tinsmithing, Cant and Gammon have now been recognised and protected for future generations.