Dáil debates

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Report on the Arts: Motion

 

3:40 pm

Photo of Niamh SmythNiamh Smyth (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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I move:

That Dáil Éireann shall take note of the Report of the Joint Committee on Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht entitled 'The Arts Matter', copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 15th May, 2019.

As a member of the Joint Committee on Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, I welcome this opportunity to open the debate on this important report. The joint committee has a wide remit, as is evident in its title. However, the one key term missing here is "the arts". For fear of giving the impression that the arts may not matter, the committee took it upon itself, as part of its 2018 work programme, to explain the theme "The Arts Matter". Over the course of nine meetings, the committee accommodated 30 witnesses, representing Departments, public and private arts agencies and individual artists over a period of approximately one year. The witnesses were chosen to represent those areas in particular where the arts continue to be most vulnerable. These pertain to governance, the Irish language, education, music, society, and festivals. The witnesses, along with our society at large, were all in agreement that the arts do matter. That being the case, the committee wished to ask why the arts are still marginalised and often shoved to the side and away from the mainstream when it comes to funding, educational programming, workers' rights and wider society in general. The committee learned a lot from its deliberations and from the presentations it received.

During its deliberations we learned how strong people are who are working in the arts, how difficult it can be to set up and access funding programmes and how the arts are still inaccessible to large tranches of society in Ireland today.

I will now focus on the committee's engagement on the topic. The report we are discussing reflects the several themes that were discussed as part of the committee's deliberations. They are governance and funding in the arts, the arts and education, music in Ireland today, the arts for all, national arts festivals, the Creative Ireland programme and why the arts matter, with general observations.

In its first meeting on the topic in January of last year, the committee heard from representatives from the Arts Council as well as the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht on governance and funding in the arts. The committee discussed what could be done to strengthen the protections that exist for those working in the arts sector. The second meeting took place in February 2018 and discussed the theme of arts in education and subsequent meetings between February and the end of 2018 looked at the following topics: music, arts in society, arts festivals and the Government's culture-based Creative Ireland programme. Four Irish organisations were also invited to present to the committee. The strong message that we heard was that an Ghaeilge should be central, but it was disappointing to hear that is not the case currently. In the final meeting of the committee on The Arts Matter, which took place in January of this year, members heard from contemporary artists, to discuss more generally why the arts really matter. The witnesses expressed the view that while the cultural and artistic legacy of Ireland continues to be present, it is threatened by a world that has become more virtual and artificial.

All these meetings allowed the Oireachtas joint committee to gain a deeper and broader understanding of the Irish arts sector and the challenges it faces. Discussions with representatives of Departments and agencies involved in administering and funding the arts highlighted a need for a deeper commitment at policy level to longitudinal research in arts participation. That would provide real evidential data on the impact of the creative arts for all of society in building informed strategies to meet the needs of a changing society.

The report's recommendations reflect the main priorities of those from the arts sector who presented to the committee. These concerned, in the main, stronger commitment at Government policy level, greater arts officer presence across more local and regional areas, ample funding for arts funding bodies, initiatives in education, access to the arts for all, stronger arts strategies for the Irish language, arts education from an early age and improved tax incentives to assist those wishing to contribute to the arts. A total of 28 recommendations are set out in this report, under the following headings: Government policy, education, an Ghaeilge, young people, society, access and arts festivals.

I wish to place on record some of the report's key findings, which reflect the main priorities of those from the arts sector who presented to the committee. There is a need for commitment at Government policy level to longitudinal research in arts participation, which would provide real evidential data on the impact of the creative arts for all of society in building informed strategies to meet the needs of a changing society. Another recommendation is to restore staff and funding to arts funding bodies, representative organisations and individual artists to 2008 and 2009 levels. A further recommendation is to provide a new examination of models of intervention throughout the primary and secondary school cycles that will result in stronger art literacy in order that the contribution of artists to education can be further understood, valued and acknowledged. Immediate steps should be taken by the Department of Education and Skills to establish a more structured approach to music education partnerships guaranteeing that all children receive a quality music education regardless of their socioeconomic background or the part of the country in which they grow up.

The three key Departments with responsibility for the arts, namely, the Departments of the Taoiseach; Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht; and Education and Skills, should adopt a joined-up approach in the development and implementation of the Arts Council's Creative Youth plan by setting up a development unit, or support for a similar resource. That is something I feel very strongly about, especially given my previous work as an arts education officer for Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board. The first time two Departments worked collaboratively was when the high-level implementation group was first brought together and the arts in education document was produced. That was the Minister's Department and the Department of Education and Skills. We see the fruits of that now in what is being delivered through the Creative Schools projects right across the country. Artists are going into schools and working along with art teachers instead of the old way of expecting primary and secondary school teachers to be masters of all trades and to deliver everything. That was not possible and it was not fair to the students or the professional artists who are eager for work. I have always made the point that there is a wonderful opportunity for them, in particular through the education and training board sector. There are 16 education and training boards across the country and they provide a useful vehicle for the Department to engage with and continue to roll out creative skills.

Another recommendation related to the need to encourage much stronger co-ordination of arts festivals to facilitate programming and administration in enticing authors to attend and in recruiting volunteers. I thank all those who appeared before the committee for the valuable insights it gained over the course of its engagement on this topic. The report highlights the issues raised and the recommendations contained in it set out how these might be addressed. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.

3:50 pm

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak to the motion and I thank Deputy Niamh Smyth for introducing it. We are all in agreement that arts and culture are of the utmost importance in the life and well-being of our country. I share the objectives of the Oireachtas joint committee to develop the arts and cultural sectors. Arts can be a great driver of social change and they confer great benefits on society in general. I also welcome The Arts Matter report. I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for their work in completing a comprehensive narrative based on the wide-ranging consultations they undertook over a 13-month period. I note the report is informed by the committee's consultation with witnesses called before the committee from Departments, State agencies, arts and culture organisations, Irish language organisations and educational institutions.

The Government's recognition of the importance of the arts is underlined by its commitment to double spending on culture, heritage and the Gaeltacht by 2025. Total funding in the Department for the arts and culture sector will increase by 2% in 2020 from €189 million to almost €193 million. Primary support for the arts is delivered through the Arts Council and it has increased in recent years. Arts Council funding will reach €80 million in 2020. That is an increase of €5 million or 6.7% over 2019. Capital funding of €1.2 billion has been earmarked for culture, heritage and the Irish language in accordance with my Department's ten-year capital plan, under Project Ireland 2040. That includes investment of €460 million in Ireland's national cultural institutions and €65 million for cultural and creativity infrastructure nationwide. Work on the National Library of Ireland and the National Archives has already commenced, while other projects are progressing, including a new €4.7 million capital investment scheme for arts and culture centres across the country. The cumulative impact of the funding increases is testament to the commitment to double Government spending in the arts and culture sector.

I will address the 28 recommendations in the committee's report under the seven broad headings, which are Government policy, education, the Irish language, young people, society, access and arts festivals. Deputy Niamh Smyth referred to the first recommendation which relates to Government policy. It recommends undertaking "longitudinal research in arts participation, which would provide real evidential data on the impact of the creative arts for all of society in building informed strategies to meet the needs of a changing society." A working group has been established to research and commission a report on the establishment of a strategy for the Irish language and the arts. Members of the group include representatives from my Department, Údarás na Gaeltachta, Ealaín na Gaeltachta, TG4, the Arts Council and Foras na Gaeilge.

Recommendations 2, 6, 7 and 8 relate to areas dealt with by my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, whose officials are engaging with my Department on a range of programmes, including the Creative Ireland programme and the decade of centenaries.

I understand from the Minister that the school curriculum at primary and post-primary levels provides a broad, balanced approach to the range of subjects for study. His Department also supports activity outside of schools which includes the non-mainstream music education bursary and significant funding for Music Generation.

Recommendation 2 seeks greater representation of local authorities and local authority arts officers in the 16 education and training boards, ETBs. As part of the Creative Ireland programme, I understand the Department of Education and Skills is piloting local creative youth partnerships in three ETBs, Kerry, Laois-Offaly and Limerick-Clare. The purpose of these partnerships is to establish networks which enable information sharing and collaboration between local creative youth service providers, including local authorities, to bring about better use of existing resources, practices and initiatives in each ETB area.

The Creative Ireland programme has provided a platform for the Department of Education and Skills to further embrace arts and creativity and provide new ways for children and young people to engage with and be exposed to the arts. The programme builds on the 2015 arts in education charter which was agreed between my Department and the Department of Education and Skills. My Department has regular contact with the local authorities and arts officers through a number of channels which are critical to the Creative Ireland programme.

Recommendations 3 and 4 seek the restoration of staff and funding to arts funding bodies, representative organisations and individual artists to 2008 or 2009 levels. I remind the House that the 2009 allocation to the Arts Council was €73.3 million. This compares with the 2019 allocation of €75 million and the 2020 allocation of €80 million. Since the Taoiseach's commitment to double funding of the arts was announced in December 2017, the annual allocation to the Arts Council has been increasing, which can be regarded as significant progress.

The Creative Ireland programme works with many Government Departments and agencies to ensure that culture and creativity are embedded right across Government policy and given due prominence, thus addressing recommendation 9's call for cross-Government actions. Using these three guiding principles of creativity, collaboration and transformation, the programme works across Government and has made significant progress.

With regard to education, recommendations 10, 11, 12 and 13 relate to music education. I understand from the Minister for Education and Skills that, as part of the school curriculum at primary and post-primary levels, students are offered a range of artistic subjects to study, including music. At post-primary school, students are being given more freedom in their areas of study through the new framework for the junior cycle. New specifications in music and visual art are designed to provide more freedom in letting students study what they find interesting. The transition year programme, which is taken by more than 70% of all students, offers broad scope for students to explore and engage in arts-related areas, especially music. At leaving certificate level, students can continue to study music and art.

Programmes of professional development for teachers help to develop and augment their capacity to deliver the arts in classrooms. This includes teacher-artist partnership in primary schools, where artists visit schools to work with teachers who they have collaborated with during the summer break. At post-primary level, the arts in junior cycle initiative offers professional development for teachers to support innovative and imaginative ways of engaging with the arts and learning in the junior cycle curriculum. The Department of Education and Skills provides significant funding for Music Generation. As part of the Creative Ireland programme and the national expansion of the Music Generation programme, five new music education partnerships have been established this year in Kerry, Kildare, Longford and Tipperary. In addition, the non-mainstream music education bursary is supported by the Department of Education and Skills for organisations to apply for annually. The bursary has been valued at €100,000 for the past three years.

With regard to the Irish language, tuigim go maith tábhacht na n-ealaíon mar a bhaineann siad leis an nGaeilge. Recommendations 15, 16, 17 and 18 relate to the funding of artists and arts organisation working in the Irish language. Ealaín na Gaeltachta Teoranta is an organisation set up specifically to fund the Irish language arts. It is jointly funded by Údarás na Gaeltachta, the Arts Council and the Department to promote the development of the contemporary and the traditional arts in the Gaeltacht. It provides services and grant schemes to support the development of arts organisations and individual artists as well as initiatives that help build the capacity of and infrastructure for the arts in the Gaeltacht.

Recommendations 14, 19 and 20 relate to policies in the Gaeltacht division of my Department. An example is the grant of up to €325,000 made by my Department to Ealaín na Gaeltachta to promote a programme of activities in the traditional arts for young people throughout the Gaeltacht over the 2018 to 2019 school year, which addresses a commitment in the five-year action plan for the Irish language. A working group has been established to research and commission a report on the establishment of a strategy for the Irish language and the arts. Members of the group include representatives from the Department, Údarás na Gaeltachta, Ealaín na Gaeltachta, TG4, An Comhairle Ealafon and Foras na Gaeilge. This research will cover a comprehensive audit of what is currently available, the various organisations operating in this domain and the access and services available to the public. It will cover an audit of the education, training and development opportunities from preschool to postgraduate and adult education available in the sector; an assessment of the economic, social and linguistic impact of the arts on the Irish language; and an audit of the current and potential sources of funding available for the language-based arts.

With regard to young people, recommendations 21 and 22 speak to the need for a separate production award and a commissioning process for artists with disabilities to create new work for children, young people and their families as well as implementation of the Arts Council's creative youth plan. I note Deputy Smyth's acknowledgement of the merits of creative youth. Through this plan, which falls under the Creative Ireland programme, my Department is working in partnership with the Departments of Education and Skills and Children and Youth Affairs and the Arts Council. A working group meets regularly to ensure the commitments under Creative Youth are being met. This is a very successful forum and it is also used to discuss new and innovative approaches to the arts, creativity and education. In addition, an expert advisory council, chaired by Dr. Ciarán Benson, has been established to guide the direction of creative youth and to assist the working group.

Other programmes being delivered as part of Creative Ireland are designed to help further develop arts and culture in schools. This is being done through the creative schools and creative clusters programmes.

As recommendation 23 relates to tax legislation, it is a matter for the Minister for Finance. The recommendation suggests amending tax legislation to allow tax benefits for private citizens who donate to arts organisations. Under Section 1003 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, private citizens can obtain tax relief for donations to the State of items of significant cultural value. In 2018, cultural works to the value of €4.4 million were donated to the State. The implementation of this tax incentive is under review. Other existing tax reliefs for arts, culture and film include the artists tax exemption scheme under section 195 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997. Film tax relief is available under section 481 of the Act and the Film Regulations 2019.

With regard to access, recommendations 25 and 26 relate to universal access. The arts are for everyone, so must therefore be accessible to everyone. The Arts Council funds organisations such as Disability Ireland to provide audio description and captioning for the hard of hearing. It also funds touring and usually provides the resources for the receiving house to hire in audio description and caption technical material as well as for any conversion required.

Recommendation 26 calls for a network of performance venues where audio description, captioning and Irish Sign Language could be made available, as well as suggesting parameters for the provision of access at commercial arts venues. I fully intend to continue to work with all stakeholders on this to make accessibility to the arts a cornerstone of departmental and Government policy.

Recommendations 27 and 28 relate to new work and stronger co-ordination of arts festivals.

The council has a significant festival support programme for more than 150 festivals every year. It also allocates funding to larger festivals such as the Dublin Theatre Festival, Babaro Children's Festival, Kilkenny Arts Festival and Waterford Spraoi. I would like to acknowledge the other governmental stakeholders, such as the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and Fáilte Ireland, in regard to the promotion of festivals around the country.

I hope I have given a flavour of the significant advances made by the Government in the arts in the five months since the publication of the Oireachtas committee report and, indeed, before that, and I very much welcome all the work that has gone into this report. The Government will continue with significant investment across the arts, delivering ongoing dividends in the industry in line with the overall objectives of Project Ireland 2040. I again thank the committee members for their work in preparing this report. The arts can play a critical role in enriching the lives of all the people of Ireland and it is right that we, as Oireachtas Members, reflect on how best we can support those opportunities for engagement with the arts for the greatest number of people.

4:10 pm

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the committee and the committee secretariat. I had the luxury of being Chairman of the committee when it finalised the report, although I was not Chairman when it was initiated. It is very a valuable piece of work, in particular in regard to the insights we gained from the artists and those who came before the committee, and their wisdom is reflected in the report, which should be read as widely as possible. Some of the recommendations are quite simple and can be delivered straightaway, as some have been, which I welcome and acknowledge.

I will focus on two areas, namely, recommendations 3 and 4. Recommendation 3 states: "Restore staff and funding to arts funding bodies, representative organisations, and individual artists to 2008-09 levels." Although the Minister said there has been some move towards that restoration, Arts Council funding in 2008 was €82 million and this year it is predicted to be €80 million, and while that is welcome, it does not take account of the significant inflation involved. We are going in the right direction but, at this stage, we need to be back to those levels because, if we are not, it is very difficult for those funding bodies to deliver fully on their programmes or to imagine other programmes beyond them. This, therefore, is a key desire.

Recommendation 4 states: "Release a substantial part of funding promised by the Taoiseach in December 2017 when he reaffirmed Government’s commitment to double funding of the arts over a seven year period." We have not seen that to date but the seven years is not yet up and, hopefully, he will not be Taoiseach for the full seven years, although we will let the electorate decide that.

One of the key findings of a recent survey by the Theatre Forum was that more than one third of artists and creative practitioners earn less than the minimum wage, with 74% of performing artists and creative practitioners relying on other sources of income. If that is the case, it means we do not get the full benefit of their art production because they are distracted by having to work to earn a living and pay the bills. Four fifths of the jobs they are working in are precarious jobs, which means it is difficult for them to plan and means they are always trying to figure out where the next buck is coming from. It also means they will always have difficulty trying to pay mortgages or to have the sources of income required for them to have a home and have the stability that is needed to be an artist in Ireland.

There was much discussion at the Theatre Forum about how artists are placed front and centre at many State events and tourism initiatives. That is pageantry without substance if we chronically under-fund artists and do not create the opportunities for them to have a secure income. There is a long way for us to go before artists in this country would answer ,"Yes", if asked whether they have a secure and stable income. This is one of the areas we should concentrate on.

The Taoiseach committed to doubling arts funding over seven years and, three budgets later, the funding has increased, which I accept. However, funding for culture has increased by 17.5%, which is a long way from an increase of 100%. We have a long way to go and, hopefully, that can be acted on and delivered within the timeframe he set out, or earlier, if possible.

As the Minister will be aware, we are near to bringing arts funding bodies to pre-recession levels yet we continue to lag behind our European counterparts. Even in regard to the target for the Arts Council, we spend much less on culture in GDP terms than many of our European counterparts. While the Government remains consistent in stating this is the commitment, that does not fully ring true when one examines the budget and how it is delivering for artists who are struggling to make ends meet. Without painters, dancers, performers, musicians, writers and storytellers, there will not be film, television and radio, although perhaps after yesterday, we will have difficulty with RTÉ anyway. There will be nothing on the stage, nothing on the walls, nothing to attract the many people who come to Ireland to enjoy our culture and nothing for communities to enjoy. There is no culture without the people and, specifically, no culture without artists. That is why the arts matter, a point I will return to shortly.

I referred to film and actors. Based on our committee deliberations, I know a report was produced on the film industry which made several recommendations, some of which have never been acted upon, although that was not the fault of the Minister in one instance. Nonetheless, we need sustainable jobs and we need to invest in the future. We need to encourage, nurture and promote art for the benefit of all whether in film or theatre. Artists need to benefit in order that society, our young and not so young, as well as tourists, can benefit. The Exchequer benefits from all of that, as was clearly outlined to us in Theo Dorgan's piece, which I hope to quote before I conclude.

While I am not an artist or musician, I come from a family of musicians, artists, sculptors and publishers, so I have an understanding of those who have suffered the consequences of not having a wage. Friends of the family struggled with their art and struggled with having no funds for periods of time, so I know how difficult that is. I also know of artists and musicians who left our shores and we did not benefit from their imagination for many years until they returned, although in some cases they did not return.

We therefore need to try to ensure we encourage, or find mechanisms to encourage, those who can earn a living in order that we value the arts. In so doing, we will say the arts matter. If the arts matter, we must ensure we protect them.

I return to what Theo Dorgan said in the report:

The artist is one of us, and their gift to us is the generous and necessary work they do in cultivating, exploring and demonstrating, day in and day out, the unstoppable and exhilarating power of the imagination. It is very much to our shame that while we profit from the work of these artists, while we glory in the achievements, we are content that most of them are ruthlessly condemned to live in poverty.

He went on to explain in a very enlightening way why the Department should respect and value artists a lot more. He offers us one example:

The Indecon Report of 2011 tells us that, of the €68 million assigned to the Council [that is, the Arts Council] that year, €47 million came straight back into State coffers as PAYE, PRSI and VAT from organisations kept in being with the aid of Council grants. The difference is €21 million, so that represents the State's investment [in the Arts Council]. The return to the economy directly attributable to the work done by those organisations, and the artists whose work they showcased and employed, was €148 million. So you give me 11 and I give you back 148 — tell me, in those circumstances, would you offer me double the next year, treble [the income]?

There is a lot more in the report. I ask the Minister with responsibility for arts, culture, heritage, the Gaeltacht and whatever else you are having for dinner to ensure that the Minister for Finance in particular and those in Revenue look at the Indecon report and this report to see the value of investment in artists and the arts. They get such investment back on the double, treble and more. Any investment in the arts pays us dividends, as a society at least, but if we are to bring it down to the brass tacks of finances, it also gives a much larger return than the return on many of our other investments.

4:20 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The title of the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is The Arts Matter. Politicians are quick to say they believe the arts matter whenever the issue is discussed, but when one actually looks at the level of support the State gives to the arts, it suggests that in reality the political system does not think the arts matter. It does not treat the arts as if they matter because the level of funding for the arts is abysmal. There is no gainsaying this. The level of funding in this country is well below the EU average which, as people in this Chamber well know, is 0.6% of GDP. In Ireland we are talking about 0.1%. Considering how this country's international reputation at every level rests to a very significant extent on our achievements in the arts - poetry, literature, theatre, music and other art forms - this is a pretty serious indictment of the political system's lack of commitment to the arts. As Deputy Ó Snodaigh intimated, and as others here have said before, people are very quick to jump into photographs with artists, to turn up for the big press occasions and to go to the high-profile events. The level of support given to the arts, however, is abysmal and the plight of the artist is even more abysmal.

The levels of poverty and precariousness and just the struggle to survive among artists in this country are extreme and do not suggest that the political system really thinks artists and people who work in the arts, including theatre, literature and film, the latter of which I will discuss and have discussed on many occasions, matter when it comes down to brass tacks. The facts in this regard are stark and were fairly well aired by Theatre Forum earlier this year in the Dáil arising out of its survey, which told us that 80% of people surveyed exist in a precarious state of employment. They do not know from job to job whether they will have another job. How do they get mortgages? How can they even be sure they will be able to pay their rent? What about healthcare? Of course, artists are not the only people in precarious situations; precarity in employment and lack of income and employment security are huge problems in many sectors. However, the arts is very much one such sector, in which 80% of workers, according to the people surveyed, were in a precarious position. Of PAYE jobs in the performing arts, 60% pay less than average industrial earnings, with the survey finding that the annual wage of two thirds of those surveyed was under €23,000. The artists, the people who work in the creative field and in the arts generally, are treated very badly.

Just before I got up to speak, I was scribbling down something that was sent to me. It gives an indication of one particular sector. I have made the point again and again that the Government needs to take quality employment seriously. I have argued that film funding, which amounts to €80 million per year, and more if Screen Ireland is added in terms of tax relief, be conditional on giving real rights to workers in the film industry. I will quote to the House three clauses from a contract for a film crew member working on a film being made now, a film that will almost certainly be in receipt of section 481 tax relief. This is what film crew have to put up with:

Clause 10: Your working hours will vary depending upon the needs of the film as the company shall notify you from time to time. On each date on which you are required to provide your services you agree to make yourself available to service the requirements of a normal ten-hour shooting day plus one hour for lunch or a continuous 9.5-hour day with half an hour for lunch.

This is in black and white and a clear breach of the Organisation of Working Time Act.

Clause 5: The provisions of the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977-2007 shall not apply to any termination of your engagement, consisting only of completion of specified purpose.

One cannot do this. One cannot tell people that the Unfair Dismissals Act does not apply to them, but this is what one must sign up to to get a job in the Irish film industry. These films are funded by and completely dependent on public money. The contract goes on:

You will have no entitlement to be paid your salary during a period of your absence due to illness except at the discretion of the company.

This is another clear breach of workers' entitlements. These are the sorts of contracts flying around in the Irish film industry.

What are we going to do about this? I have been talking about this for two years. The people who publicly came out and blew the whistle on this have been effectively blacklisted out of the industry. That is what is going on and nobody seems to want to do anything about it. It is a case of not upsetting the applecart. It must stop. That is the film industry but, of course, that is just one example of the general contempt with which artists, performers and other people working in the arts are treated.

What can we do about that? In the area of film, let us do what the Indecon report of 1995 said we should do. If we are going to put a lot of public money into the Irish film industry, it should be directed towards creating companies of scale. State aid to the arts is absolutely necessary and should, in my opinion, double or significantly increase. EU directives on state aid to the arts clearly state that it must be given on condition of creating viable companies of scale with a permanent pool of employees.

Lest anyone tries to throw dust in people's eyes, I want to stress that, when I or workers in the arts refer to a permanent pool of employees, that does not mean that those workers expect to be employed 365 days a year even if there are no films being made or work to be done. That is not what they are saying and it is not what I am saying. Those workers should not be in a completely precarious position from project to project.

Everybody accepts that there is a project-to-project character to work in film and many of the arts, but workers should carry over some rights and entitlements from one production to another, particularly when the employers are often the same from one project to another and are in receipt of large amounts of public money. People who work in the arts should not be in a constantly precarious position when the same producers are getting money again and again but setting up different designated activity companies, DACs, to shield themselves from any responsibility for their employees. That is what is going on. Producers are telling the Government to give them money on which they can claim tax relief because they will create quality employment. When workers ask those producers for their rights, they are told that the producer is not the employer and that the worker is employed by a DAC that does not exist anymore because it finished when the previous film did. That is unacceptable.

I have focused on the issues in the film industry that reflect a more general problem. We could employ thousands of artists, performers, writers and so on, give them a living income that would let them pursue their creative endeavours and ask them in exchange to work in education, mental health and schools for a number of days or weeks per year. That way the artists would give something back to and enrich different sectors of our society in the areas of mental health, community projects in disadvantaged areas and so on. In exchange, those artists would get a living income so they would have some sort of security of employment that would allow them to pursue their arts and live a proper existence where they could pay their rent and maybe get a mortgage and so on. The artists are the people who produce the arts sector. If we do not treat them properly, we are not acting on the principle that the arts matter.

I appeal to the Minister to recognise those points and honour the artists, creative workers and people who work in those industries, including shooting crews. They deserve respect and proper treatment.

4:30 pm

Photo of James LawlessJames Lawless (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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I am grateful for the opportunity to share a few brief thoughts on this report in this debate. I welcome the report and it is important that focus is placed on the arts and the supports that are required in terms of funding, Government structures and regulatory frameworks and how they all might work together to support everything from our small town or village festivals right through to professional artists and all the difficulties that attend to their livelihoods. It is a positive report but we must go further and begin to implement some of the actions outlined within. We must come up with further avenues for funding and support.

I have a particular hat on because I have an interest in research policy in general. The following applies to the arts as much as it does to history, economics, geography and other humanities subjects. There can sometimes be a tendency for Government policy to support research that is perceived as being commercially valuable or useful and that has a particular outcome in product development, be that a new widget, microchip or a new business process approach. It is every bit as valuable, if not more, that we invest in discovery research and frontier activities, be that a new artistic endeavour, historical manuscript or piece of archaeology, because those not only broaden the depth of human knowledge but also broaden the mind. A student who has successfully mastered the creative arts and humanities, who can take a history problem and apply creative thinking to why one particular side won or lost a battle, go far beyond the dates, facts and figures involved, and apply a creative analysis, is well equipped to deal with the challenges that life might throw at him or her in any walk of life.

I recently attended my local university, the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. The president of that college, Dr. Philip Nolan, told me about a student who had pursued a PhD in graphic novels. I remember the Batmanand Arkham Asylumgraphic novels although I have not read them for some time. This particular student conducted a PhD study in the art of the graphic novel. That might have appeared to be an arcane cul-de-sac of knowledge to pursue, but that student was headhunted by Google or another of the large tech firms because the labyrinthine processes that could navigate and describe a graphic novel turned out to be very apt for navigating the World Wide Web and the processes, loops and nodes that intersect within the Internet. That is proof that we find productivity and output, including commercial output, in unexpected quarters and it is always worthwhile advancing the font of human knowledge, advancing ourselves, and improving our educational attainment and the discovery process. It is worth funding that. It is worth funding for its own sake. There is a commercial metric that is sometimes applied too bluntly by the Government, but even using that base criteria, we can find that unexpected outcomes flow.

I am delighted to see some recommendations in the report around small town and village festivals. We all know the main streets in our local towns and villages, particularly our provincial main streets, are suffering. There are empty buildings in many cases and there are issues such as rates, rents and parking. There is a litany of issues that I will not go into now. Our main streets must be rediscovered and become new places that we imagine in different ways. Retail Ireland has coined the expression "weekend experience, midweek convenience". That means that our old main streets may not be the shopping centres and malls of the past or the places to get a pound of sausages or a pint of milk on a Wednesday evening, but they may instead become places where people congregate on a Saturday afternoon, a Friday night or a Sunday morning. They could be a part of a coffee shop culture whereby people gather to exchange views and debate in a public square. That is hugely supported by the development of festivals.

I was privileged to be involved as chair of the Midsummer Arts Festival when I was the mayor of Naas. That was an example of how we helped the rejuvenation of Naas town by putting a festival on the map one weekend a year. Many other groups put festivals on in the same town at different points on the calendar. We have seen success in the likes of Kilkenny, Galway and Dún Laoghaire. Many towns have taken this and run with it and have far more esteemed festival traditions than we have at present in Naas. We aspire to that because it is a formula for rejuvenation and reinventing our town centres as cultural hubs and as places to meet, gather, congregate and engage in cultural activities. I am delighted to see that specifically called out in the report as a recommended outcome.

The Minister and committee should examine how the funding models flow for those festivals because it is not always transparent or apparent how to attain funding and get support for those festivals. There are multiple potential different agencies to approach, including the Arts Council and others, but it is not always clear, coherent or consistent how one particular festival can draw down funding when another cannot.

I commend the report and my colleague, Deputy Niamh Smyth, who has been to the fore in working on the committee, the report and the recommendations therein. I also commend the rest of the committee and I wish the report and its implementation every success. I look forward to further consideration and, I hope, when the Midsummer Arts Festival is convened next summer, we will have funding to draw down and supports in place as a result of this.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this report. I commend the Chair, the committee and my colleague, Deputy Niamh Smyth, who is passionate about the arts and the benefits they can bring to society and all of our communities. There were nine meetings of the committee and it came to the conclusion that arts do matter. They matter hugely in our society and country.

If the Government agrees that this is the case, the Minister should commit to the implementation of the 28 excellent recommendations contained in this report.

The arts enrich all of our lives. People sometimes tend to think of the arts in the abstract, but they should not do so. Creativity is fundamental to every one of us and to every part of the lives of every human being. The capacity to imagine, to create and to explore must not be taken away from us. We often see this incredible capacity in children and young people. If it is unfortunately not nurtured, it has no place to strive and thrive. We must ensure it is nurtured.

The arts enable and empower us to reach our human potential. Those who do not have an opportunity to explore the creative parts of themselves are losing out on a big part of life. I put it to those who might not accept this argument that they cannot ignore the economic benefits of the arts. The 2009 Indecon report, which assessed the economic impact of the arts in Ireland, absolutely showed what those benefits are. While the arts are valued, there has been a lack of commitment and investment. If the State is to realise fully the potential of the arts, its statements of support for the arts must be backed up by the investment of public moneys. It was interesting to read in The Arts Matter that when Ms Garry Hynes spoke at the committee about the need for the Government to increase arts funding across the board - we all acknowledge that the arts are underfunded - she put it slightly differently by suggesting that the Government should "be funding its own citizens to make art in its own country". I could not agree more that arts funding is needed in communities and societies. It is shocking that a third of all performers earn less than the minimum wage and that 74% of our actors rely on other income.

The forms of creativity and culture that are contained within the arts are absolutely essential to our well-being. They give us different ways of looking at the world. They have a huge societal value. Deputy Lawless spoke about our festivals, which are of great importance for our communities, for our sense of place and for our sense of pride. Equally, I am thinking about the tools that our theatre groups and our youth theatre groups, including Kildare Youth Theatre, which is based in Newbridge, and Griese Theatre Company, which is based in Ballitore, have given to young people as they try to navigate their lives. They explore many topical societal issues, for example relating to sexuality, direct provision, immigration and domestic violence, through the form of theatre. I have been to see a number of productions in which young people have collaborated and improvised to use the arts as a means of discussing what is important to them, including the societal issues they want and need to be concerned about. The arts are helping to give them a voice and helping them to work through some of their thoughts and concerns. The opportunity to do this on a European and global level, as Peter Hussey has done with Kildare Youth Theatre in a number of European countries, is invaluable for our young people as they seek to navigate the challenges of the world.

The arts are an incredible gift that we love to talk about outside of our country. The legacy of our poets and writers is absolutely incredible. As we acknowledge and embrace the achievements of such people, it is equally important to help our struggling artists, poets and writers. The arts officers in our local authorities are really good and have a great knowledge of their subject. Every arts officer I know is passionate about the arts. In particular, I would like to mention Lucina Russell and her predecessor, Mary Lenihan. To be honest, they have worked miracles with the small amount of funding that has been made available to them. They have helped us to embrace our culture and to create our own culture. Culture changes all of the time.

I would like to speak about amateur dramatics. Given that 74% of our actors need to have another form of income, it is no wonder that amateur drama is thriving and doing so well. It gives opportunities to people who might love to pursue a career in the acting world, but absolutely cannot do so. The amateur drama scene is absolutely incredible. I was reared on it as a child. The week-long drama festival was the highlight in Rathangan every year. It gave us an opportunity to listen and learn about other places and other worlds. For one week a year, we had a chance to see how people in other parts of Ireland and other parts of the world were living, thinking and exploring the world.

When my father was 27, he wrote a play called "Straws in the Wind", which was performed at the time. He loved the world of the arts and the world of poetry. He also applied his creative arts to politics. Fifty years after his play was performed, a friend of mine, Mario Corrigan, who is the local archivist in Kildare County Council, contacted me to say he had found newspaper clippings about it. As my father had just passed away a few months earlier, we felt that putting on his play once again would be a wonderful way of celebrating his passion for the arts. A local drama group put on the play for three nights in our newly refurbished community centre, which my father had played a fundamental role in organising and getting the funds for. One of my brothers played one of the parts in the sell-out production, which raised funds for the community centre. As my father's child, I watched and listened along with my family and indeed the community. It was an incredible way of looking back on how our society had been 50 years previously. Basically, the play is about the impact of industrialisation on a rural agricultural village. There were many lessons we could learn from the play about the continuing impact of such changes on small towns like Rathangan. The play was also about the impact of change on a family. It was a wonderful way of viewing my father's thoughts on fatherhood because there is a strong father in the play. I was a baby when the play was written and my sister was a month old. Another nine children came after that. It was amazing for all 11 of us, and for my mother, to see my father's thoughts on stage. I mention all of this as an illustration of the importance of the arts at an amateur level. The arts can give us a snapshot of a moment in time and an opportunity to record what is happening within a community, a family and a society. Being able to look back on the production of this play has given us a deep insight into ourselves and those who have gone before us.

The recommendations in this report are excellent. Fundamentally, the arts matter hugely. The arts are about ourselves, promoting ourselves and listening to ourselves. I hope the Minister takes very seriously the recommendations that have been made by the committee. An opportunity was missed in last month's budget. We absolutely need to take these recommendations on board.

4:40 pm

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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I will try to deal with some of the contributions of Deputies. I appreciate the comments they have made. I am delighted to inform Deputy Smyth that the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, through Creative Ireland and the Department's Gaeltacht division, is supporting Ealaíon na Gaeltachta and the Irish-language arts policy.

That kicked off last week with advertisements on TG4. Submissions are currently being sought from the public.

The Deputy also mentioned the creative schools project, an initiative of Creative Ireland. As she is aware, it is administered through the Arts Council and is going from strength to strength. Some 300 schools across Ireland are involved, with a particular focus on DEIS and special schools. As she stated, we are building on the work of others, including ETBs and the arts in education charter.

The Deputy also referred to restoring Arts Council funding to 2009 levels. I am glad to confirm that Arts Council funding in 2020 will exceed 2009 levels. Deputy Ó Snodaigh referred to the 2008 or 2009 funding figure of €81.6 million.

4:50 pm

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I referred to the 2009 figure.

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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It is important to note that figure included €6 million of capital funding, whereas the funding figure for the Arts Council for 2020 does not. There is a distinction to be drawn in that regard. One must bear in mind the €1.2 billion in capital investment. I acknowledge Deputy Ó Snodaigh's comments regarding the doubling of arts funding. The Taoiseach made that commitment and I want to see it happen. I see no reason for it not to happen. As Deputies are aware, there have been difficult circumstances this year due to Brexit but we are on the right trajectory, as I stated yesterday in the House.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh asked about the theatre sector report, as did Deputy Boyd Barrett. I do not wish to engage in a statistical debate on the matter but according to CSO statistics earnings in the sector grew by 3.3% in 2018, in line with the increase in earnings across the country.

Deputy Boyd Barrett raised issues relating to employment conditions in the audiovisual industry. He also raised them yesterday in the House. I know it is an issue about which he is passionate. He will be aware that it is currently the subject of an examination by the Workplace Relations Commission. That is not to say there are no challenges which we must consider. Certainly, the situation he described seems to be exploitative and should be reported to Screen Ireland because, if his information is correct, it is not something which could be stood over. I do not wish to comment on any particular film producers but the situation he described should not happen. If it has happened, we should not stand for it and it should be sorted out.

I point out to Deputy Lawlor, who has left the Chamber, that the Arts Council has a memorandum of understanding with the Irish Research Council to allow it to work with PhD graduates. I agree there is a dearth of research in the broad culture policy arena. The Creative Ireland programme supports a new online digital repository for arts in education research which was launched in October of this year.

Deputy Lawlor referred to festival funding. As Deputies are aware, there are three primary sources for such funding, namely, Fáilte Ireland, the Arts Council and my Department.

It was lovely to hear about Deputy O'Loughlin's father and large family all being involved in amateur dramatics. As she may know, for the first time in more than a decade, in this year's budget the Department was able to provide funding of €250,000 to amateur dramatic and musical societies. That is an acknowledgement of the work they do. I agree with the Deputy that they are embedded in each community, locality and constituency. Many people go on from them to further their acting and musical career and we wish to support such societies. I was very pleased to be able to do so.

As Deputies are aware, artists' salaries are not the responsibility of the Department. On this matter there is a principle of keeping an arm's length between the Department and the Arts Council, which independently decides what each artist and arts organisation receives. Ultimately, it is for the Arts Council to stipulate whether there is a minimum wage.

I appreciate Deputy O'Loughlin's comments on Youth Theatre Ireland. Peter Hussey, to whom she referred, has much experience in that area. Creative Ireland also supported the national amateur drama final in County Clare, which was a great success.

I thank the committee for producing this very comprehensive report. I very much welcome its publication. It is an important contribution to policy deliberation in the sector. As I stated, the arts should be imbued in the fabric of Irish society. All present are ad idemin that regard. On my travels, I have seen how culture and creativity in the arts play such an integral and pivotal part in other countries. This country punches far above its weight in terms of talent and output. We are doing all we can in this area. I reassure every Deputy who is present or went to the trouble of compiling or working on the report that I am endeavouring to do everything I can to support the arts. I enjoy the arts and they are of great importance for the individual and collective well-being of all members of society, no matter what their age. I will try to continue to support the arts as best I can. We have made significant progress through the years, particularly through the Creative Ireland programme, the increases in Arts Council funding and the matters to which I made reference yesterday in the House such as the Per Cent for Art scheme which had not been looked at since 1997 and goes a long way towards helping artists and also, it is hoped, the aesthetic around various institutions, buildings and possibly street art which will enhance everybody's lives from visual and economic perspectives.

The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, and I worked on the social welfare scheme which has been extended. It is a positive signal to artists. Deputy Boyd Barrett and others have made reference in the House to the precarious position in which artists may find themselves. We must try to support them in any way we can. I am endeavouring to do so and to find mechanisms whereby I can support them. Obviously, we do not want artists to have to avail of social welfare but, if they do they will, at least, be provided with a year in which they will not be subject to normal labour activation measures and will be able to work on their art. That is important.

I will continue to reflect on the recommendations made in this significant report. A large amount of work has gone into it. It was helpful for various agencies, Departments and witnesses to appear before the committee and have their say. Many of them are well known in the industry and it is important that they are listened to because they are at the coalface of this matter and know the challenges intimately. I thank Deputies for their contributions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Question put and agreed to.

The Dáil adjourned at at 5.50 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 12 November 2019.