Thursday, 6 December 2007
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, for his presence. I also thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise this issue.
I declare my interest in that I was a member of a marching band when I was young. I am a musician by background.
No, it was a brass and reed band. Some of my best memories of having fun in my youth date from that time, even though we were often out in the freezing cold and dressed in the most hideous uniforms it was possible to find with instruments that were very old. Some professionals had difficulty playing the clarinet I had. I think that is what made me a very good musician on the clarinet. I subsequently got a licentiate performer's diploma on an instrument that was much easier to play.
People turn to music at almost every event in life. It is a part of births, deaths, parties, celebrations and festivals. Musicians are expected to appear at these events at their own expense in terms of travel and time. This is especially true of marching bands, which do not appear by magic, yet we expect them to exist magically and appear when we need them. No one asks how these bands survive for the rest of the year and people get upset if no band is available for an occasion.
It costs money to buy and repair instruments, get uniforms and music, travel to events, rent a location to practise, get a teacher and cover insurance costs. Bands must get involved in fund-raising. Many bands are involved in marching band competitions and give a lot of pleasure and a sense of occasion to community events. Coming up to St. Patrick's Day there will be a great demand for bands. From the experience in my town, it is not possible to get a band on many occasions although in the past there were up to a dozen bands available for any given parade or festival.
There are opportunities for music libraries and instrument banks that can assist bands in terms of being better resourced. I urge the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, to bring to the attention of the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the value to the community I have outlined.
I began my contribution by saying I was a member of a band and I went on to make a career out of it. Currently, I am probably involved in a dodgier career than my previous one as a teacher. The people I deal with now are much more difficult than any of the children in my classes.
The emotional and social value to children who are members of these bands cannot be underestimated. Children in bands get a chance to work together. If three people in a band are playing three different instruments they have to listen to each other. They cannot just decide to play their piece of music when they choose. Band members have to learn to work with each other. These skills are valuable life skills. Members of bands also make lifelong friends and their pastime can develop into a career. I do not say we should have a great many marching bands which can produce musicians and entertain people, but it is a by-product.
We have a fundamental devaluation of music and the arts in this country. People appreciate music but this does not always extend to financial support. Insufficient funding is available currently for the arts. That said, I acknowledge the significant increase in the Arts Council budget on an ongoing basis. I hope the Minister of State will announce it is part of the solution in terms of setting up a scheme for marching bands to address the cost of buying and repairing instruments, getting uniforms, tuition, music, travel costs, venue rental and insurance.
I am pleased with the work done by marching bands around the country. Support must be given to these bands to ensure they are there when we want them and their numbers do not become fewer, as has been the case. Otherwise it will be seen that Ireland will have lost more than just marching bands when the situation is evaluated in future.
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir.
Government policy on the arts is set out in the programme for Government and will be elaborated further in the Department's statement of strategy 2008-2010 which is being developed. The Government's objective is to encourage and support the strategic development of the arts in local communities, both geographic and communities of interest, for the disadvantaged and for minority groups.
The Government's objective is to support national economic and societal progress by enriching the quality of life of the people of Ireland by facilitating the promotion and sustainable development of the arts and culture. To accomplish this the Government seeks to create an environment that enables arts and culture, including the cultural institutions, to flourish through the provision of an appropriate legislative, policy and resource framework.
The Department has received numerous requests over the past year from pipe and brass bands and music schools seeking small amounts of funding to purchase musical instruments. The Minister consequently proposed a Supplementary Estimate for the Arts Council, which was approved by the select committee last Tuesday. This includes funds for a community music programme. This will be a pilot programme to be run by the Arts Council. The scheme will be aimed at providing funding for musical instruments, etc. to bands and music schools throughout the country and will be open to all bands, including marching bands. The scheme will provide much needed support for local community music groups for whom no formal funding programme exists. The council has estimated that the cost of the pilot scheme will be €250,000.
The Department, in addition, has taken a direct role in providing grant aid to the arts and culture infrastructure and has provided substantial funding for the capital development of facilities in all regions in recent years, having regard to factors such as sustainability and community requirements.
The main vehicle for such capital funding is the arts and culture capital enhancement support scheme, ACCESS, under which more than €75 million has been granted to 107 arts and cultural facilities to date since the scheme commenced in 2001. The ACCESS scheme is a key element in the Government's regional arts strategy and has improved greatly participation in the arts for large numbers of people nationwide. The scheme has been widely acknowledged as a significant intervention in the provision of quality cultural spaces.
When applications for funding under the next round of the ACCESS scheme are invited through advertisements in the national newspapers it will be open to any group, including marching bands, to apply should they have a project that complies with the terms of the programme.