Seanad debates

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

3:30 pm

Photo of Fintan WarfieldFintan Warfield (Sinn Fein)

I am absolutely horrified by the lack of funding for culture in the budget. In particular, only €1.25 million in new funding is allocated to the Arts Council. I am sure we will discuss the broader issues with the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in the coming weeks, but I am glad the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, is here today, so that I can focus specifically on the funding aspect.

A thriving cultural economy is built on the work of people from many different backgrounds who have the talent to create art that expresses our culture. The policy challenge we face is one of ensuring that this group of people is as diverse as possible in the context of rising property costs and insurance prices and rapidly declining incomes for artists. Not only are artists poor but they are getting poorer, even as the cultural sector becomes more valuable. The harder it becomes to live as a working artist, the more voices we exclude from our cultural landscape. The more cultural pursuits become a playground for the economically privileged, the greater is the strengthening of the divisions and inequalities in our society. Is the Minister of State satisfied that our attractiveness as a location for foreign direct investment should be built on the backs of people who earn €12,000 or €13,000 a year?

The difficulties people in the sector are experiencing have been outlined by the Arts Council, Visual Artists Ireland and by the 400 or so artists who signed the Abbey Theatre letter to The Irish Timesearlier this year. Nothing in this budget addresses artists' earnings. Instead, a press release was issued today in which the Minister claims that Arts Council funding is at its highest level in ten years, at €5 million. In fact, from what I can gather, €3.75 million of that allocation relates to responsibilities that were shifted from the Department to the Arts Council. I can identify only €1.25 million in new funding for the council. I hope I am wrong about this but it appears to me to be an accounting exercise and more of the spin I have come to expect from Fine Gael. I predict a wave of anger from artists in the coming days. Rearranging the books between the Department and the agency for the arts is not something for which the former should receive credit. It is something that might be done during the summer, not on budget day.

How does the provision in the budget align with the Taoiseach's commitment in 2017 to double funding for the arts over the next ten years? Three budgets later, current spending has increased by only 17.5%, from €130 million to €153 million, which leaves a long way to go to the 100% increase we were told to expect by 2027. An additional €1 million is allocated to the Heritage Council. Does Fine Gael have something to tell us about its view of the heritage sector? Heritage Council funding used to be at €20 million but is now at only €3 million, including the increase in this budget.It seems all our communities that wish to preserve their heritage must do so now through Fáilte Ireland. It is important that investment decisions are not solely driven by visitor numbers and bed nights, and although the natural and built heritage is a major contributor to the work of Fáilte Ireland, heritage is in itself valuable to the communities that guard it. It is valuable to our society.

I know if I return to performing arts in the morning, my most valuable asset would be a United States visa. Creative people and artists cannot afford to live in this city and all the while cultural spaces are being lost to the development of hotels. We are told tourism will be hardest hit by a hard Brexit. Do we need all these hotels and will the guests who come have any culture to experience?

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