Dáil debates

Thursday, 6 October 2022

National Cultural Institutions (National Concert Hall) (Amendment) Bill 2022: Second Stage


2:20 pm

Photo of Catherine MartinCatherine Martin (Dublin Rathdown, Green Party)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Dlí tábhachtach is ea an An Bille um Fhorais Chultúir Náisiúnta (An Ceoláras Náisiúnta) (Leasú), 2022 agus tá áthas orm é a chur faoi bhráid an Tí. The purpose of the Bill before this House is to put the necessary legal framework in place to support the transfer of the National Symphony Orchestra, NSO, and choirs from RTÉ to the National Concert Hall. This legislation represents a critical step forward for the National Concert Hall as Ireland’s national cultural institution for music. It will also cement the role of the National Symphony Orchestra within that institution, formalising and enhancing the relationship that has been in place since the establishment of the concert hall.

When the National Concert Hall was officially launched by President Patrick Hillery on 9 September 1981, the symphony orchestra performed the inaugural concert with a programme that included Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and the premiere of Seóirse Bodley’s Ceol: Symphony No 3. Since that time, the NSO has been the resident orchestra at the concert hall and its Friday night concerts are an important fixture in the classical music calendar and a central pillar of the concert hall’s annual programme.

The NSO has long been a primary force in Irish musical life, with live performances of symphonic, choral and operatic music as well as popular and traditional music, new commissions, recordings and broadcasts on RTÉ and abroad through the European Broadcasting Union. The symphony orchestra has also toured widely, both nationally and internationally, to great acclaim. Despite these successes, the NSO has been faced with a number of operational challenges over the past number of years. The symphony orchestra was founded by RTÉ in 1948, at a time when there was intense demand for broadcast orchestral music. In those days, public service broadcasters tended to create their own orchestras to satisfy demand, which was more flexible and cost-effective than hiring external orchestras for recording. Since then, however, the nature of media and its consumption have been utterly transformed, which is something that I am currently addressing more broadly through the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill. With respect to the orchestra, it has become clear in recent times that it could no longer reach its full potential within the administrative and financial structures of a public service broadcaster.

In response to the challenges faced by the orchestra, RTÉ commissioned a report from consultant Helen Boaden of Mediatique, a strategic advisory firm specialising in the media and communications industries, to review its two orchestras, the NSO and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, and to provide recommendations for their future structure, activities and funding. The report was published in April 2018 and its main recommendation was that the NSO should either become a national cultural institution in its own right or be positioned within the National Concert Hall, NCH, and funded directly by the Government. The report also proposed that the NSO should be restored to its historical levels of staffing and activity, to include regional performances and educational programmes. Given the vital role of the orchestra and the choirs in the Irish musical landscape, this Government has shown its commitment by working with the orchestra, the concert hall and RTÉ to effect the changes envisaged in the Boaden report and to ensure that the orchestra is supported into the future by effecting a transfer to the NCH, our national cultural institution for music.

Getting to this stage has taken significant time, resources and commitment from all involved, including the players and staff of the orchestra, the concert hall team, RTÉ and Government Departments. I would like to take a moment to reflect on the engagement, effort and vision of the individuals and bodies involved. Without that commitment, we would not find ourselves here today considering this Bill, we would not have the NSO embedded within our national cultural institution for music and we would not be looking at a bright future for the orchestra at full strength in its long-term home at the NCH.

Over the past four years, the Government has considered this matter on a number of occasions. In July 2018, following the publication of the Boaden report, the then Ministers for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Communications, Climate Action and Environment brought proposals to the Government regarding the future of the NSO. At that meeting, the Government agreed that the NSO should be brought within the concert hall’s remit and authorised the initiation of discussions on the implementation of the report’s recommendations under the aegis of an oversight group. At the same time, the Department commissioned a report that estimated the full operating costs of the orchestra to be approximately €8 million per annum.

In response, my Department immediately established the oversight group and an associated working group with RTÉ and the NCH to look at all the issues relating to the proposed transfer. These groups featured representatives from the orchestra, the choirs, RTÉ, the NCH and the unions. During the consultation process, it was agreed that the three RTÉ choirs, the RTÉ Philharmonic Choir, RTÉ Cór Linn and RTÉ Cór na nÓg, should also transfer from RTÉ to the NCH with the NSO, given the complementary and collaborative nature of their work. Along with the orchestra, the choirs are provided for in the Bill before the House today.

As part of the consultation process, the Department also engaged a financial consultant to provide one-to-one advice on pensions and benefits to all of the transferring employees. Following this extensive period of engagement, all queries relating to the employees’ terms and conditions and pension entitlements were fully addressed.

Having completed all of the consultation and preparatory work with the agreement of all of the principals involved, the Government approved the transfer of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and choirs from RTÉ to the NCH with effect from 24 January 2022. The Government also approved the drafting of the Bill before the House today to ensure a robust legislative underpinning for the concert hall incorporating the functions of the orchestra and choirs.

In tandem with the drafting of this Bill, the transfer of the NSO from RTÉ to the NCH took place on an administrative basis on 24 January of this year. This transfer was effected by contractual agreement between RTÉ and the NCH, and on the advice that sections 7 and 9 of the National Cultural Institutions (National Concert Hall) Act 2015 were broad enough to include the transfer of the NSO as part of the wider function of the NCH to promote and support the performance of music. The transfer also complied with transfer of undertakings and protection of employment, TUPE, provisions in that transferring members of the NSO and choirs were guaranteed to retain the terms and conditions they enjoyed in RTÉ.

It is not enough just to transfer the NSO to the NCH. I am committed to seeing the orchestra return to full strength and take its place at the heart of Irish music and cultural life. I want the orchestra and choirs not only to survive, but to flourish. To that end, I am pleased to inform the House that, since transferring to the concert hall, the NSO has been in the process of being restored to its full playing strength. Over the last several months, my Department has sanctioned the NCH to fill a number of vacant positions within the orchestra and choirs. This includes three section leaders, a music librarian, a principal bass trombone and a percussion section leader, all of which are permanent positions. The National Concert Hall is now in the process of recruiting for these roles, ensuring that the artistic vision for the orchestra is another step closer to being realised.

The task of restoring the NSO also necessitates investment in the orchestra's capital infrastructure. It has recently come to my attention that some of the orchestra’s musical instruments are no longer fit for purpose and require replacement. My Department is now making a substantial capital investment in the orchestra’s equipment with the purchase of a range of instruments. This investment in world-class instruments will ensure that the NSO can operate to the rigorous standards required of international orchestras.

Given the long-standing collaboration between the two, I am delighted that the choirs have joined the orchestra in transferring. The philharmonic choir has since been renamed the National Symphony Chorus in recognition of this historic relationship. This choir was established in 1985 and is made up of volunteer singers who rehearse on a weekly basis. The children’s choir, Cór na nÓg, was founded in 1987 and comprises children aged ten and older who perform on special occasions including new year's day celebrations. Cór Linn, which was formed in 2018, is made up of young singers aged 15 to 20 and serves as a bridge between the other two choirs. Cór Linn rehearses together weekly and performs a wide and varied repertoire from classical to pop. I take this opportunity to recognise the remarkable contribution of these three choirs to Irish music, much of which is undertaken on a voluntary basis. It is wonderful to see emerging musical talent being developed in such a considered way.

All of this investment is taking place within the overall redevelopment of the NCH as part of the implementation of this Government’s national development plan. With the Office of Public Works, the concert hall has developed exciting plans for the redevelopment of the Earlsfort Terrace site which I hope to bring to the Government shortly. The redevelopment plans will enable the NCH to meet the needs of 21st century performing artists and audiences. The works will include a new state-of-the-art main auditorium, world-class stage facilities for visiting musicians and resident organisations and artists, increased availability of creative spaces for the next generation of composers and musicians and new public facilities for audiences.

This journey of consultation, transfer and investment has brought us to today and the presentation of the National Cultural Institutions (National Concert Hall) (Amendment) Bill 2022 to this House. At the outset, I acknowledge the contribution of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media in its examination of the general scheme of Bill. Following meetings between my officials and the committee about the content and intention of the Bill, the committee opted not to undertake prelegislative scrutiny and, therefore, no recommendations have been made for incorporation into the Bill.

The purpose of this Bill is to update the legislation for the NCH to recognise the role and position of the NSO and choirs within the concert hall and, crucially, on its board. The Bill will bring the orchestra and choirs within the statutory framework of the concert hall and will also provide for appropriate reporting and accounting to me and onwards to the Oireachtas without impacting on their artistic freedom. The Bill also provides for the legal transfer of all undertakings related to the orchestra to the concert hall as well as amending the Broadcasting Act 2009 to reflect the transfer of the orchestra from RTÉ.

I will now introduce the specific provisions of the Bill. The Bill is divided into four parts. Part 1 deals with general provisions such as the Short Title and definitions of terms in the Bill. Part 2 provides for the transfer of functions, staff, property and liabilities relating to the orchestra and choirs from RTÉ to the NCH. These provisions date from the transfer day of 24 January 2022. This Part amends the National Cultural Institutions (National Concert Hall) Act 2015 by inserting a number of new sections into the principal Act.

Section 4 provides for the transfer of functions relating to the orchestra and choirs from RTÉ to the NCH on the transfer day. It also provides for the transfer of any administration and business in the performance of those functions. Sections 5, 6, 7 and 8 are technical in nature and provide for the transfer of all undertakings, staff, assets and liabilities relating to the orchestra and choirs to the National Concert Hall on the transfer day. Section 9 substitutes the name of the National Concert Hall for that of RTÉ in any legal proceedings relating to the orchestra or choirs while section 10 provides that every act done by RTÉ or the NCH in relation to the transfer prior to the commencement of this part shall be deemed valid and effectual for all purposes.

Part 3 of the Bill sets out a number of amendments to the principal Act to reflect the integration of the orchestra and choirs into the everyday operation of the NCH. In this regard, the critical section is section 11, which amends section 7 of the principal Act by adding a new function, "to maintain and operate an orchestra and a choir", to the functions of the concert hall.

Section 12 builds on this by including the orchestra as a core consideration in the corporate governance structures of the concert hall. It does this by amending section 10 of the principal Act to increase the membership of the board from eight members to nine. This additional board member is required in the legislation to have experience of and expertise in the development of orchestras. This provision is considered essential in ensuring that the appropriate expertise is present on the board at all times to support the work of the NSO and choirs.

Following on from the increase in board members provided for in section 12, section 13 is a technical amendment to increase the quorum for board meetings from four to five.

The final part of the Bill, Part 4, amends the functions of RTÉ as set out in section 114 of the Broadcasting Act 2009. Section 14 replaces RTÉ’s previous function to manage orchestras and choirs with the function of managing a concert orchestra only. This reflects the current situation where RTÉ retains responsibility for the National Concert Orchestra, as recommended in the Boaden report.

Although largely technical in nature, this Bill represents a very important step in the journey that the NSO, the NCH, RTÉ, myself and my colleagues have been on for the past number of years. It is the culmination of a broad commitment by everyone involved to build a stronger orchestra within a dedicated national cultural institution for music. I would particularly like to thank the staff of both RTÉ and the NCH for all their co-operation and advice in preparation for the transfer. I also welcome the orchestra and choirs as they take their place within the hall.

In some ways, the Bill represents the end of one journey with the transfer of the orchestra and choirs but it is also the first step in a much more important journey, as we turn our minds to how to build and enhance the NSO and NCH to ensure they are fit for purpose in an evolving environment and are at the heart of music in Ireland for generations to come. When President Hillery opened the NCH in 1981, he described it as "the realisation of a dream long cherished". This Bill brings that dream, shared by music and arts lovers nationwide, ever closer to reality.

These have been challenging years for music in Ireland as the pandemic severely restricted our opportunities for live performances. During this time, the NCH and NSO have worked diligently to provide online and outdoor concerts, concerts with limited capacities, and other events. Even in the darkest days of the pandemic, they kept making music for people to enjoy. This Bill, I hope, supports that instinct to keep making music for people to enjoy. Mar a dúirt an tUachtarán ag Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann i mí Iúil:

Lig dúinn ceiliúradh a dhéanamh ar cheol ... na hÉireann i ngach cruth a thagann sé, agus lig dúinn athcheangail a dhéanamh leis an gceol, agus an tábhacht atá ag baint le taispeántas beo agus muid ag ceiliúradh ár gcairdeas le chéile.

As such, I am delighted to bring this Bill before the Dáil and I look forward to hearing the contributions throughout Second Stage. I commend the Bill to the House.

2:40 pm

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Cuireann Sinn Féin fáilte roimh an mBille seo. Tá sé ag teacht le fada. Tá súil agam go n-éireoidh agus go mbeidh an t-ádh leis an National Concert Hall, an t-oirceastra, Cór na nÓg agus Cór Linn, chomh maith leis an gcór nua, the National Symphony Chorus agus iad bogtha. Tá sé seo tar éis tarlú cheana féin. Tá an bogadh tar éis tarlú agus tá an reachtaíocht ag teacht i ndiaidh an athraithe. Tá sé tábhachtach go dtuigeann daoine é sin.

Tá sé go maith go bhfuil sé seo tarlaithe agus go bhfuil todhchaí amach roimh an ngné seo de cheol agus amhránaíocht na hÉireann, chun go mbeadh sé flúirseach ní hamháin san institiúid thíos an bóthar uainn anseo ach mórthimpeall na tíre, mar atá luaite ag an Aire. Tá sé tábhachtach nach bhfuil aon snobaireacht ag baint le ceol d’aon sórt ar an oileán seo agus go bhfuil sé ar fáil do chuile dhuine go bhfuil spéis acu sa cheol. Tá deartháireacha agam gafa leis an gceol ach níl ceol ar bith nó aon expertise agamsa maidir le ceol ach amháin, cosúil le gach duine eile, go mbainim sult as nuair atá sé timpeall orm.

Bhí sé go maith le linn tréimhse na dianghlasála, agus sa tréimhse mórthimpeall ar Covid san iomlán, go raibh ceol á chothú i ngach uile áit agus in áiteanna nár shíl muid go raibh sé. Bhí daoine a bhí glasáilte ina dtithe féin ag seinm cheoil dúinn agus á chraobhscaoileadh agus leithéidí na hinstitiúidí náisiúnta ag cuidiú leo, chomh maith leis an Aire agus an Chomhairle Ealaíon, chun déanamh cinnte de go raibh gliondar éigin le baint as an tréimhse sin.

I welcome the Bill. I have no expertise in music other than having brothers involved in it. That is where my expertise in terms of music extends. This legislation has been promised for a while. In fact, the effect of it has already taken place in that the NSO has already moved. It has been under the control of the NCH for a while and RTÉ has been relieved of the burden, as some in RTÉ felt it was, of the NSO. It is good that the move also included the National Symphony Chorus, as it is now called, Cór na nÓg and the newly founded Cór Linn. I congratulate all those performers and the management. Hopefully they now look forward to quite a fruitful number of years ahead of them and even longer. I also hope they will get the required investment, as the Minister mentioned. The Minister referred to the investment needed to bring equipment and musical instruments up to the level that is required to compete on an international stage. Investment is also required to put across the music we have in our communities throughout Ireland.

One of the key points is that we need to ensure the musical talents in Ireland are harnessed. Over the years people have tried to forge greater links to ensure there is a pathway for young musicians to full-time employment or into the likes of the NSO. We need to ensure there is a throughput and a pathway. Some of that is through making sure schools have the musical instruments, the teachers and the wherewithal to train those students, whether in classical music, traditional music or other music forms. That needs to happen on a greater scale. Music cannot be pushed to one side within the school curriculum. It is important for us as a small nation that our individuality and our music is enhanced.

In my area, there are a number of schools with music programmes. They are in Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, areas and have outreach to Departments and so on. As the Minister says, we need the best equipment but that is not always possible for a poor school in the likes of Cherry Orchard. Other Ministers have visited St. Ultan's School and Rosary College in Crumlin, where pupils are learning instruments that would not normally be associated with working-class areas. I have had the pleasure of listening to them on a number of occasions and they are on par with anything I have heard anywhere else. That should be harnessed. The only way of harnessing it is to make sure they have the equipment and the time from a very young age, or sometimes older, to enjoy music. If they enjoy co-operating together, that is the benefit of an orchestra but if they do not want to co-operate and instead have an individual pursuit as a musician, that can be encouraged as well. For the new institutions and the institutions that have been transferred to the National Concert Hall to survive, we need to have that throughput, whether through the primary schools or secondary schools, and make links with universities as well.

There was a comprehensive report on the transfer. That is where we are coming from in this legislation. I do not think the Minister will find any opposition. We are all looking to encourage the transfer and greater investment, and to encourage the NCH to ensure that all institutions within it such as the chorus or the NSO put on a programme that runs throughout the regions as much as possible or on our airways - be that through specific broadcasts or a different format permitted by new technology. Hologram concerts are now taking place and perhaps these can be considered to ensure where the full orchestra has to remain in Dublin, a performance can be broadcast to different venues at the same time. This might be something that could be looked at. I have been to a number of concerts in the past couple of years that stand out. Only recently, I attended an event in the NCH marking the Civil War. It showed the range of different talent we have in Ireland such as the singers and the orchestra. This should be encouraged. There is nothing like sitting at a performance of an orchestra where the conductor is building up the music to a crescendo and the sound reverberates throughout the building. That is something to behold. I do not ever expect us to go back to the days when an orchestra sat in the cinema playing music while black-and-white silent films played but it shows that from day one, the different types of media work well together. We have all the new technologies that do not require that and orchestras are expensive to run so I would not expect every theatre to have it. However, I expect that every musical venue could make a bid to be included in a programme whether that was for the full orchestra to attend or a reduced section. It is truly a national cultural institution and these are truly national orchestras and choirs.

The investment is welcome and needs to continue. We also need to look beyond what is covered by this legislation. Other musical forms are not captured by the NCH. We need to make sure they have the same type of funding and protection this legislation gives the NCH. While Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann does tremendous work in respect of traditional Irish music, to my knowledge, we do not have a national traditional music ensemble that is fully paid for by the State. We do not have a national rave. It is something we may need to look at to see whether that can be captured in the future through the NCH or whether we need different ways of ensuring that there those who are best at music can be encouraged. While we have had the debate, the basic income for artists and the cnuas, that is not always available to the best in our society when it comes to music and, therefore, they must often leave our shores to work abroad. If you have the best, be that a céilí band, sean-nós or whatever form of music it is, you should try to capture those people, hold them here and work for the national good - paid obviously. The idea is to pay them a wage that can sustain them and their music can be enjoyed by as many people as possible. We have gone away from the old days where everything was put on a record or CD and people bought that to enjoy their music. We are now down to Spotify and people do not always pay artists. They are, therefore, not as well paid as they were in the past if they had a successful album. It can be more difficult for artists because they must get themselves known, which means they must issue their music for free or have the luck of the draw.

I encourage the Minister not to stop at this legislation but to continue and ensure there is proper investment. The main issue, which was teased out during pre-legislative scrutiny, is to make sure there is no liability on RTÉ in the future following this move and to ensure that all the terms and conditions enjoyed are transferred to the NCH and enhanced. Those affected by this with whom I have spoken are happy that this is taking place. The Minister has given reassurances and RTÉ can concentrate on producing good programming. We also need to ensure that not only does it continue to produce good programming, but it also gives an airing to good music coming from the NCH so that we are not all dependent on having to attend the hall in person. One of the best concerts I attended was one where the NCH had reached out to my local community and put on different people who would not have ever been on a stage but were encouraged to sing their stories and their families encouraged to attend. I would say 99% of those in attendance had never been in the NCH before. That is something we should not say about any of our national institutions be it the NCH, the National Gallery or the National Museum. The public need to know that they are welcome. We also need to look at a mechanism to encourage them. In other jurisdictions, when tickets are left over or are not selling, they are made available free of charge to ensure seats are full but also to target working-class audiences or audiences who are more remote and cannot get to venues. I welcome this decision and wish the transfer well. Hopefully, year-on-year, we will see it enhance music in Ireland and more young people going through into national cultural institutions.

2:50 pm

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Tá fáilte roimh an mBille seo. Is dócha nach bhfuil deacrachtaí ag duine ar bith leis agus tá achan rud ráite faoin am seo ag an Aire agus ag an Teachta Ó Snodaigh, mar sin níl mé cinnte caidé a bhfuil mé chun a rá. I generally find an ability to fill space. This is relatively straightforward.

Photo of Catherine MartinCatherine Martin (Dublin Rathdown, Green Party)
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It is an unusual situation.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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We all support the idea of what has happened. This is retrospective legislation. If I was unfair, I could probably make a complaint about that but that would probably be a stretch. We all like the idea that the NSO will be situated within the NCH. I quite like the idea of the three associated choirs feeding into each other. I suppose that is something that needs to happen with regard to the orchestra.

It is similar to what Deputy Ó Snodaigh said. The Minister has dealt with the issues of pay, conditions, pensions and all those necessary parts and has provided the capital expenditure necessary to ensure an orchestra that is fit for purpose and that nobody is wanting for the sake of having the correct instruments and everything else necessary to do business.

It is great to be here among the cultural boffins in Leinster House. I probably should make a slight claim myself: I made it to grade 5 piano. My mother had great notions for me but it did not quite work out.

I will follow up on what Deputy Ó Snodaigh said on the importance of music communities that have been well removed from classical music experiencing increased engagement. We have the possibility to do that on a regional basis. We have the prospect of virtual performances, alongside being able to visit. There would be no harm in making the journey to the Táin theatre in Dundalk, or the Oriel Centre in what was Dundalk jail. That would be welcomed by many. It is necessary that we make those connections and make this normal, as Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, for communities that were removed from it. We need to make that happen. It is a benefit for all of us throughout society. It is an easy ask that we can deliver on. It is a matter of making sure the resourcing follows the basic plan.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh spoke about the difficulty for artists in making money. He spoke about Spotify and the new ways by which musicians are paid. That has created certain difficulties. It would be remiss not to deal with the issue in front of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight yesterday regarding section 481 funding for films and TV. There was support for it but there is a need to examine it. There are questions as to who owns the intellectual property and issues regarding pay and working conditions. The State has put €4 billion in and we need to know where that investment is, from the point of view of ensuring we have a viable film industry to continue into the future that offers quality employment. There are still question marks about a situation where a producer pulls down the money and the money goes into a designated activity company, DAC. That DAC does its business and afterwards some intellectual property may exist and we are not entirely sure who owns it. The Minister needs to examine that.

3:00 pm

Photo of Verona MurphyVerona Murphy (Wexford, Independent)
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I am sure that was music to the Minister's ears. Deputy Gannon is next. He has three minutes.

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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I will not be that long. I welcome the Minister's contribution and, especially, the transfer of the NSO and the choirs from RTÉ to the NCH.

At its best and when done correctly, the NSO is an invaluable reflection of Ireland’s musical and cultural heritage, and there is probably no home more suitable than the NCH, which, when done correctly as it often is, is a champion of the arts.

The addition of the orchestra and choirs will reaffirm the concert hall as a world-class venue and institution, and I am delighted that they will be designated adequate funding and state-of-the-art facilities, allowing them to provide the best services they can.

Now that the future of the symphony orchestra and choirs has been secured, it is important to evaluate the services the concert hall provides. On a Friday or Saturday evening, all over Ireland people are not thinking about going to the NCH. Some communities feel removed from what it provides. If we are honest about that, we can seek to counter it. The NCH has made great strides in diversifying the performances on the stage, but that is not often reflected in the audience. There is work to do and I am sure the Minister is very capable of doing it. It is important that it diversifies its schedule to reflect the varying interests of the public, or it risks being seen as an elitist institution. Sometimes, in the past more than the present, some parts of our artistic community have been that. I recognise the great strides made and hope that continues.

One great stride contained in this Bill is the announcement of the new education and outreach centre. I hope that the facility will be used to give back to the local community. Specifically, working-class communities and communities towards the margins have not had access to instruments of the highest quality or to the tutoring required to attain the level of ability needed to perform on that stage. If the National Concert Hall is to truly meet the standard of being national, we need to invest in that. We have extraordinary artists at every level and offering diverse types of performance. That needs to continue, but the type of music played in the NCH requires investment outside the building. It requires going into schools and giving children access to instruments their parents or guardians could not afford. That has to be the target. It is opening up that range of artistic expression to communities previously excluded from it. There is nothing in this Bill to oppose; hence our contributions will all be short. However, the aim must go beyond that.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Mine is not.

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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Is it not? The Deputy's are never short. The aim must transcend the Bill and go into the intention of opening our National Concert Hall to communities who have not felt it as a home or place where they can perform their works. I am excited to see how it develops. I commend the Minister on bringing forward the Bill and on the work she has done in her Ministry, and I look forward to hearing how it progresses.

Photo of Marc Ó CathasaighMarc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party)
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I am relieved that Deputy Ó Murchú has left the Chamber because I was intimidated by the stellar heights of grade 5. I could manage the right hand and the left hand but playing two hands together at any given time always eluded me. Preparing for this debate I read through the Boaden report. It begins with a series of quotations from different periods in Irish life, starting with one from a Department of Finance memorandum of 1937, which states:

...public attendances at Symphony Concerts, and consequently the necessity for such public concerts, has become smaller and will continue to decline. Is it any part of the State’s duty to resuscitate a Victorian form of educational recreation[?]

That jumped out at me. I very much believe it is the State's duty to step in in respect of cultural and artistic institutions, and would not characterise them as " a Victorian form of educational recreation".

I believe Miriam Lord has imposed a de facto moratorium on Seamus Heaney quotes and, therefore, I will turn to Oscar Wilde, who said a cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. While I do not wish to impugn the character of the official who wrote that memorandum in 1937, it speaks to a certain type of cynicism because national cultural institutions such as the NSO and the NCH come at a price, often a significant one. I strongly believe it is a price worth paying because their cultural, artistic and emotional value and the value they have within a nation of holding a mirror up to ourselves and helping us understand our place in the world is many times greater than the price we pay for it.

The Minister is to be commended for acting on the chief recommendation of the Boaden report, which argued that the "National Symphony Orchestra should be a national cultural institution, in its own right or within the National Concert Hall". The NCH is the right home. I agree with Deputy Gannon that we need to make sure the doors of the hall are open to everybody and that everybody in society understands it is their National Concert Hall. I know the Minister appreciates that this orchestra deserves and needs to be put on a firm footing for the future for a number of reasons, as laid out in the report. The report identified that the status quofunding model under RTÉ, which was dependent on TV licence funding, was untenable.

According to the report, we place too much cultural responsibility in one place - RTÉ - by having both the concert orchestra and the symphony orchestra there. That built a fragility into the system that was ultimately putting both orchestras at risk. Then underfunding and underresourcing also had repercussions on the nature and the quality of the work that both the NSO and the chamber orchestra were able to undertake, including the overall number of events. Deputies Gannon and Ó Snodaigh referred to regional touring and the outreach component. Those have been stripped back in stark contrast to other European public service broadcaster, PSB, orchestras where adequate provision for both regional and youth audiences is seen as fundamental to a successful PSB orchestra strategy. It should not be seen as elitist. Everybody within our society should have that ability to experience what it is to sit in front of a live orchestra. It is really quite something, as Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, when to sit in front of a live orchestra and hear the instruments literally play in concert. The NSO is my orchestra and it is the Minister's orchestra; it is all of our orchestras. I want to be able to see it in the National Concert Hall but I want to be able to see it in County Waterford too, and I am sure that the Minister would like to be able to see it in County Monaghan. Getting the resourcing there so that they can bring back the touring is so important.

Another important aspect that we should not lose sight of is that playing in our national orchestras is a career and should be viewed as a career. I am lucky to be married to a professional performing artist. She got past grade 5. She is not an instrumentalist so I do not have a conflict on this and she is not an orchestral player, but I do know the level of skill, commitment and passion required to play to that level. It is a lifelong commitment. If musicians have gone into the business of playing in an orchestra to get rich, they have made some bad decisions because it is not a get-rich quick scheme. These people do not do it for the money but for the love of it. They do it because they know the difference between the price of something and its value but that should not mean that they do it for nothing or next-to nothing. For all that, they deserve to be well paid and to have security in their employment. The Bill does a lot of that by putting the NSO in its new home it puts the orchestra on a firmer footing facing into the future. I hope and expect that it will result in additional resources and staffing and I welcome the Minister's details on those additional positions that have been put in place to bring the orchestra back to its full complement that it so richly deserves and to help grow that outreach programme to make sure that it is an orchestra for everyone in Ireland and that it is a concert hall for everyone in Ireland. That outreach and educational remit is so important.

With regard to the choirs, the RTÉ Philharmonic Choir, RTÉ Cór na nÓg and RTÉ Cór Linn have moved across. Those are voluntary choirs. There is space in a country of our size for a professional performing chamber choir that would be a small outfit. We have Chamber Choir Ireland, which was previously the National Chamber Choir, but there is room to expand on that and to put it on a firmer footing.

The Minister will know that the well-being framework is my hobbyhorse and I have often spoken about it. It is the business of being able to distinguish between the price and the value of a thing and how GDP is a very poor measure of how our economy and our society is doing. I strongly believe that there should be a separate artistic, cultural and linguistic indicator built into that well-being framework so that we can begin to measure metrics such as how many people are getting to hear the NSO or how many people are getting to attend the National Concert Hall, and how many people are going to Croke Park. That is an important aspect of life and our national politics and it is something that we should be working on.

3:10 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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This is a good news story without a shadow of a doubt. It secures the future of the National Symphony Orchestra. For a period, its future existence was imperilled. It is positive that it is being put on a statutory framework after the transfer earlier this year and that it is being matched with additional money to reinforce that and try to bring it up to full strength. I commend the Minister on that. The NCH is a very good home for the NSO and the choirs, the RTÉ Philharmonic Choir, RTÉ Cór na nÓg and RTÉ Cór Linn. All that is very positive but it is also worth pondering some of the lessons of the difficult period that the orchestra went through where it had to fight for its existence. I do not want to claim huge knowledge of it but I was aware of the campaign when it was worried about its existence. I refer the Minister to a good article I read in preparation for the debate, which she may have read herself but it is well worth reading. It is by Dr. Adrian Smith, assistant lecturer in musicology at the TU Dublin Conservatoire. He makes a number of comments that should have a bearing on the Minister's attitude to this issue and hopefully have. From some the comments she made in her contribution, I think she is aware of at least some of these issues. RTÉ has said it has mixed emotions about the transfer. Dr. Smith suggests that maybe that is not the full truth because the problem was that RTÉ saw the symphony orchestra as a financial burden and that was a problem. That is because of the financial pressures that RTÉ felt and that resulted in the orchestra being understrength and not having a main conductor for quite a while. When the RTÉ Philharmonic, as I think it was originally called, was set up, it had 62 members of the orchestra. That went up in its heyday to 89. There has been some improvement but Dr. Smith's article, which was written earlier this year, suggested that it was only at approximately 72 and, therefore, was well short of the numbers that it needed and that it had at its height what he describes as the golden era of NSO in the early 1990s. It then took a major hit, as the arts generally took a hammering, during the austerity period. The NSO felt the impact of that with a considerable reduction in numbers. Dr. Smith argues that unless we get the NSO back up to the numbers it had in its heyday, it will be below what is required to perform the full repertoire of classical programming. He suggest the lack of numbers led to an over-reliance on freelance or casual performers where the full-time performers did not know from week to week or from month to month who they were performing with and that this seriously undermined morale among those in the orchestra and the conditions needed for creativity. That is an important insight. We have what we are now rightly seeing as a national cultural institution; a vital part of our heritage and, to use the language of Maura McGrath, the chairperson of the National Concert Hall, "the custodian of Ireland's musical heritage".

It is a very important thing to be the custodian of Ireland's musical heritage. In that important role we need to really value that institution. We need to value the performers and ensure they are paid properly. As Deputy Ó Cathasaigh said, they may not be in it to get rich, but they need to live. We cannot have vital parts of our national cultural institutions, in this case our musical heritage, being placed in a precarious position. Some of those involved in the NSO are in precarious situations and are operating not only to their detriment but also to the detriment of the full-time musicians and also to the detriment of cohesion. Therefore, the conditions that lend themselves to creativity, which is what all this is about, are being undermined.

The Minister referred to wanting to get the orchestra back up to strength and providing an additional €8 million to do so. It is critical that we engage with the performers to ensure that is actually the case. We need to get it up to the strength needed so that it is secure into the future and we are not over-reliant on people operating on a freelance or casual basis where there is a turnover of people. That is undermining the cohesion and creativity of the NSO.

Adrian Smith's article goes on to suggest that certain things should be done. Now that we have made this positive move, the orchestra needs to build a new sense of identity. He suggests that it should be given its own website in order to project its identity. This also relates to the positive changes in the NCH over recent years. As he puts it in the article, there was a time, maybe that still lingers, when the NCH may have been seen as a little bit snooty and a bit "up there". We need to work to undermine that perception. I must confess to my shame that I think it was only about eight or nine years ago I first walked into the National Concert Hall to see Martin Hayes and I was incredibly impressed.

3:20 pm

Photo of Catherine MartinCatherine Martin (Dublin Rathdown, Green Party)
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That is great.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Obviously, Martin Hayes is brilliant. The NCH has worked to overcome that perception and is very committed to doing so and to showcasing not just classical music but also contemporary music and projecting itself outwards. In this case the NCO and choir are projecting outwards that they exist, and that they and the concert hall are there for everybody. However, we need resources to do that. They should be given those resources to develop their audience and to ensure that as well as the classical repertoire, we are also constantly nurturing new contemporary music and ensuring it gets its opportunity for exposure.

As previous speakers have mentioned, there then follows the whole question of reaching out beyond the physical limits of the building to project out what goes on in the NCH and what the NSO and the various choirs do. They need to project those things out to communities and parts of the country that do not often get exposed to them. That again requires resources and support but they are also vital.

This is a good news story and very positive. However, we need be conscious of the lessons. For a period, there was a real possibility we might not have a National Symphony Orchestra. Let us remember these dangers exist if art, culture and music are seen as financial burdens rather than integral parts of our society. It is about our identity, the cohesion of our society, and what is truly valuable and worthwhile.

In that regard let us also extend out the lesson that we have learned from this episode, and in this case a positive final result for the NSO, to other areas of culture and heritage. I said this during the budget debate. I do not know if the Minister will have the chance to respond. Other musicians and performers who do not come under the NCH or the NSO were extremely disappointed with the budget. The Minister may be aware that the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland, MEAI, which is part of a cross-party group that meets regularly in Leinster House campaigning for certain things prior to the budget, was extraordinarily disappointed with the budget.

In my contribution on the day of the budget, I noted that the overall budget for arts and culture is down by 5% this year, according to the Estimates book at least. The overall budget for the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media is down by 8%. While we have a good news story here, we have cuts elsewhere and specifically a 5% cut in arts and culture. That is disappointing and also flies in the face of commitments given by the previous Government - to which I presumed this Government would have been equally committed - to increase the proportion of Government spending on arts and culture every year. The Government in place from 2016 to 2020 committed to double this expenditure and to move it towards 0.6% of GDP. It flies in the face of that to have a cut in the overall level of expenditure on arts and culture in this year's budget.

At least one group that is very disappointed in this regard are those jobbing musicians and performers represented by groups like MEAI. I would be interested to hear the Minister's response to this. I have been told that the funding provided during the Covid pandemic to local authorities to subsidise gigs and performances by musicians who were hit by the pandemic has now been withdrawn. While everybody is glad to see the additional money going to the Arts Council and the funded sector, there was absolutely nothing for the unfunded sector. When we say the unfunded sector, we are referring in particular to individual musicians, artists and performers who, as we know, struggle to survive. They often live quite an episodic and precarious existence but, just like the musicians in the NSO, they deserve our support.

They do what they do primarily because they love doing it. They are also a vital part of our musical heritage but they did not get the support and appear to have lost some of the support they had received during the Covid pandemic in the recent budget. As welcome as the transfer of the NSO to the NCH is and the commitment that the Minister is clearly showing to the NSO and the NCH, we need that commitment and support to go to all of those who contribute to what is a fantastic musical heritage and a fantastic array of musicians and performers, many of whom really struggle. The Government should rethink its support for those jobbing musicians.

This is the same idea that underpins the Minister's decision to support the NSO and give it a stable secure home in the NCH. As Deputy Ó Cathasaigh said, we need to recognise that although they do not make a fortune, it should be a career. Being a musician with all the skill involved in that should be seen and supported as a viable career. I would like that same logic to be extended to other areas of arts and cultural endeavour.

I do not know if the Minister had a chance to look at the discussions yesterday in the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, of which I am a member, where we had representatives of Equity, which represents actors and performers and we had representatives of film crews from the Irish Film Workers Association. Both groups stated that despite very significant amounts of money going in, approximately €100 million a year in the film tax credit - I do not know what the current figure is for Screen Ireland, but it could be in the range of €20 million to €40 million a year - that is not translating into the requirements for security and the proper vindication of rights and conditions for those who work as performers or behind the camera in the Irish film industry. Some of what they said should set alarm bells ringing. The Minister knows I have raised these issues repeatedly. Equity stated, essentially, the law is not being complied with in terms of the copyright and intellectual property rights of artists and performers. It pointed out that the main output they produce as actors and performers is films and suchlike, and that this is being exploited by film producers who benefit from public money through section 481. The performers are effectively forced to sign buyout contracts where they lose entitlement to the residual payments for their own performances. That is something they used to enjoy but have now lost. I asked Equity directly what happens if an actor or performer who wants to get on a film is asked to sign such a contract by a film producer who is in receipt of public money. The public money is supposed to be conditional on quality employment and training but if a performer is not willing to sign a buyout contract where he or she loses his or her right to residual payments, the Equity representatives simply stated they would not get the job. That is bullying.

I noticed the Minister was at the creative space event, which is very welcome, and that she wants to stop bullying, but film producers are bullying performers into signing substandard contracts or they do not give them work. The contracts are grossly substandard compared to the contracts actors and performers get in the UK, the North of Ireland or anywhere else. That is not on. Something needs to be done about it. The film producers should be forced to comply with the European directives. The European copyright directive states that buyout contracts should be the exception, not the rule. In the Irish film industry, they are the rule. Anyone who is not willing to sign up, or worse, anyone who starts to agitate about this situation, is blacklisted. There is nothing to protect people from being blacklisted. That was the other allegation made by the witnesses representing those who work behind the camera who attended yesterday's meeting. They testified to the fact that 40 people who had worked for 20 and 30 years in the film industry have been blacklisted. They have gone out of the industry in spite of having worked on film after film because they asked for recognition of their service in the industry. This relates to what Deputy Ó Cathasaigh stated. In other words, they asked the film producers to recognise that their job was a career. Even though the funding the film producers get is conditional on them recognising that, they do not. Every time a film produced with public money has been completed, the clock goes back to zero for everybody. A person could have 20 years' experience but the next time a film is produced it is as if he or she never worked in the film industry at all. The producers will take a person if they like them, but they will not take them if they do not. There is nothing to protect those workers. I ask the Minister to very seriously examine that because it must stop. We must protect, value, respect and show dignity to all musicians, artists, crew and performers.

3:30 pm

Photo of Catherine MartinCatherine Martin (Dublin Rathdown, Green Party)
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I thank the Deputies for their contributions today. I am heartened by the engagement we have seen on the Bill. The various issues raised will be considered further in the Department as the Bill makes its way through the House.

Having reflected on the contributions, I note that this is a technical Bill which provides for the legislation underpinning the transfer of the National Symphony Orchestra and choirs from RTÉ to the National Concert Hall. Its main provisions are to amend the functions of the National Concert Hall to include the management of an orchestra and choirs. It is an important recognition of the newly expanded remit of the National Concert Hall now that the National Symphony Orchestra and choirs have transferred to it and are operating fully within its administrative structures.

Second, the Bill will ensure that the board of the National Concert Hall is enlarged to include an additional board member and that at least one of the members must have experience of and expertise in the development of orchestras. This is a most welcome development, as it will endow the board with the knowledge required to fully support the orchestra as it is restored to its full playing strength under the National Concert Hall. The Bill also contains standard provisions regarding the transfer of staff, property, liabilities and legal undertakings in regard to the orchestra and choirs from RTÉ to the National Concert Hall.

The Bill provides for an amendment to the statutory functions of RTÉ under the broadcasting Acts. RTÉ is no longer required to manage multiple orchestras, but rather just the RTÉ National Concert Orchestra. The transfer of the NSO and this Bill mark an important next step in delivering the National Concert Hall's vision of being an inspiring and world-renowned music destination, accessible to all and enriching the cultural landscape of Ireland. The NSO, as Ireland's premier orchestra, is central to delivering on this vision which, coupled with the ambitious redevelopment plans for the National Concert Hall under the national development plan, will see it transform into the pre-eminent centre for music in Ireland.

Deputy Boyd Barrett raised concerns which I had somewhat addressed in my opening statement about staff. I have always recognised the need to build the staff up to full capacity. On the transfer, we had 54 musicians and nine ancillary staff, who moved from RTÉ to the National Concert Hall. Since then, the National Concert Hall has worked diligently to begin the process of returning the orchestra to its full playing strength. In recent months my Department has sanctioned the filling of a number of vacant positions within the orchestra and choirs - the music librarian, six musician posts, namely, the orchestra leader and first violin, as well as section leaders for percussion, double bass, horns and timpani, as well as bass trombone principal, all of which are permanent positions. The National Concert Hall has also received sanction for 26 fixed-term guest musician contracts, and contract extensions for four choral co-ordinators along with the HR staff support for this increased recruitment activity. The National Concert Hall is now in the process of recruiting for these roles through specialist classical music recruitment channels, to ensure the artistic vision of the orchestra is another step closer to being realised. We will continue to support the orchestra and the National Concert Hall to recruit permanent positions in 2023 and beyond.

In response to Deputy Ó Cathasaigh, the national well-being framework includes cultural expression as an important dimension of well-being. My Department, with officials from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of the Taoiseach are working together to identify new indicators to expand our understanding of culture and well-being in Ireland.

Also in response to Deputy Ó Cathasaigh, bringing the NSO and the choirs within the National Concert Hall provides access to greater administrative support in terms of programming, outreach, marketing and in-person operation. This also includes proximity to several other musical organisations. Chamber Choir Ireland and the Irish Baroque Orchestra were mentioned by the Deputy. That will provide opportunities for collaboration and much-needed joined-up thinking.

In terms of outreach, the Creative Youth element of the Creative Ireland programme is a key pillar of the next five years. It will bring investment from my Department and the Department of Education directly into schools across the country. As someone who taught in a DEIS school for 16 years, I understand the need to reach out and to give opportunities to be exposed to music of all genres but as Deputy Ó Snodaigh stated, also the opportunity to have access to instruments and to play them. That is a sentiment I share. Creative Schools has reached more DEIS schools since I became Minister. Deputies Ó Snodaigh and Gannon, and possibly Deputy Boyd Barrett as well, spoke about outreach. The National Symphony Orchestra will be involved in the National Concert Hall education programmes in 2023. The National Concert Hall already has an extensive outreach programme. For example, events are organised in children's hospitals around the country, as well as programmes for audiences with dementia. There is significant opportunity in the redevelopment of the campus. There is a vision for further outreach and additional education programmes. The National Concert Hall redevelopment is a flagship project in my Department. I envisage increased public access to music performances and programmes.

To respond to Deputy Ó Snodaigh in respect of traditional Irish music, we have a shared vision regarding the outreach of all music and I have it in buckets when it comes to traditional Irish music. I was delighted recently to allocate an additional €150,000 to the Fleadh Cheoil in Mullingar as a signal of the value I place on traditional Irish music.

On the point made by Deputies Ó Murchú and Boyd Barrett, SIPTU and Irish Equity have raised the issue of compliance with copyright legislation and, in particular, with the new EU directive on copyright as it applies in the audiovisual industry. It was raised at the meeting of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight last night. In the first instance, my colleague the Tánaiste is responsible for the implementation and compliance, and breaches of copyright are a matter for his Department. Copyright is a complex area, but I understand SIPTU and Irish Equity made some suggestions to the Committee on Budgetary Oversight regarding dealing with the protection of intellectual property within the film tax relief. I have asked my officials to follow up and meet with SIPTU and Irish Equity to discuss and examine those very issues.

To respond to Deputy Gannon and others on diversifying the concert hall, I might point to last weekend and the spectacular event with the haunted dancefloor experience in the concert hall. There were two very late nights as part of the night-time economy pilot. They went on until about 2.45 a.m. or 3 a.m., attracting very different crowds who had never before walked through those doors. That is what it is all about, namely, seeing the value of what we have at the heart of our capital city and reaching out to audiences of all sorts with all types of music. I visited the concert hall yesterday, and the board members were very excited about that weekend and loved that experience in the presence of the new audiences. I hope to see more of that with the expansion of the night-time economy.

Deputy Boyd Barrett asked about the budget. Arts Council funding has been doubled since 2017, which I did in the first budget I had, and we have that €6 million for the night-time economy. There is the game changer of the basic income scheme and we are leading the way as a country in how we value our artists, with every arts genre and every county included. Moreover, next year's culture allocation is 82% higher than that of 2020.

We are continuing to engage with stakeholders about the needs of the commercial industry, but the Covid schemes that were in place were a response to public health restrictions, when doors were closed and performers were not performing. This time last year, people could not go to nightclubs and there were restricted audiences. We were debating whether people could stand or sit and that led to restrictions for performers. By contrast, people can go out tonight, perform and enjoy performances. The supports were specific to Covid.

Nevertheless, I have that money for the night-time economy and the basic income scheme. We are continuing the engagement and those commercial venues will benefit from the horizontal supports. We are in different times compared with last year. They were Covid-specific supports when there was a shutdown in the sector. From the very beginning, we were trying to support online performances and so on, whereas now it is about the basic income scheme and developing the night-time economy. As I said, I have held on to the €130 million for the Arts Council, but we are continuing the engagement and we will meet some of the groups the Deputy mentioned.

To return to the Bill, as I outlined, it is a technical Bill that will provide for the transfer of functions from RTÉ to the NCH. I again thank Deputies for their engagement. My officials have taken note of the many issues they raised and I am sure these will form part of our considerations. I request that Deputies who intend to table amendments to the Bill give us sight of them because I would like to undertake as much constructive engagement as possible in advance in order that we can give them due consideration. The Bill represents an important step forward in the journey of both the orchestra and the NCH. It is a critical part of the National Concert Hall's ambitious vision for the development of symphonic music, with the restored symphony orchestra taking its place in a 21st-century concert hall. The legislation will enable the NCH to commence the process of returning the orchestra to full strength and empower it to deliver on the recommendations outlined in the Boaden report. I acknowledge the hard work of my officials in preparing the Bill, which I am pleased to introduce to the Dáil. I look forward to it making steady progress through the Oireachtas and commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.