Tuesday, 23 September 2014
Appointments to Board of Irish Museum of Modern Art: Statements
I would like to welcome the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, to the House. I think it is her first time in Seanad Éireann so I congratulate her on her appointment and wish her well in her new portfolio.
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh.
I welcome this opportunity to address the issues which Senator Thomas Byrne has raised in his speech in the Seanad today. The Irish Museum of Modern Art, IMMA, is Ireland's leading national institution for the collection and presentation of modern and contemporary art. The museum presents a wide variety of art in a dynamic programme of exhibitions, which regularly includes bodies of work from its own extensive collection. Its award-winning education and community programme increases awareness and understanding of the visual arts by creating innovative and inclusive opportunities for people to engage with the museum's exhibitions and programmes, both as audience members and participants.
IMMA is a major part of our cultural offering and, as such, is extremely important to the tourism industry. Its beautiful setting in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, coupled with its diverse and innovative exhibition programme, enable it to attract very significant numbers of visitors each year.
The year 2011 was the last time at which IMMA operated for the full 12-month period at the Royal Hospital site with visitor numbers of 363,000. Following a €4 million refurbishment programme, I see no reason the 2014 figures will not match, if not exceed, this number.
IMMA was established in 1991 as a company limited by guarantee and not having a share capital. The number of directors shall not exceed 15 and they shall hold office for a period of five years. There is no remuneration payable to IMMA board members and on the record of this House I would like to thank them for their commitment and hard work on a pro bonobasis.
Following a recent visit to the Irish Museum of Modern Art, as Minister, I took a decision to make two appointments to its board to allow for better regional representation on the board of such a significant institution with a national remit. From time to time, my Department has invited, and will continue to invite, expressions of interest in vacancies on bodies under its aegis. As Minister, I am not confined in making appointments to those who make expressions of interest. It is open to me as Minister to make appointments outside of this invitation process once I am satisfied that the ultimate appointees have the relevant experience.
In considering potential IMMA board members, I was and am conscious of the balance of talent, experience and skills among existing board members, the skills need of an institution such as IMMA - one of our premier national cultural institutions, which also has a commercial dimension - as well as age, gender and regional balance.
Taking cognisance of all of the above, I appointed both Mr. John McNulty from Kilcar, County Donegal, and Ms Sheila O'Regan from Ardagh, County Limerick, to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art on 12 September last. Mr. McNulty is a self-employed businessman who brings 15 years' business experience to the IMMA board. He is involved in the local tourism and cultural committee in Kilcar and has a track record in promoting culture, heritage, the GAA and the Irish language. He has been actively involved in local heritage events and heritage restoration projects in south Donegal, as well as festivals such as the Fleadh Ceol and is currently driving a three-year Irish language development plan for the area.
Ms O'Regan was the curator of the Palatine Museum in Rathkeale, County Limerick, for nine years. She has an M.A. in local history from the University of Limerick. She is a member of a number of local community and voluntary groups, and her previous experience includes time as a research librarian and a field survey representative with the ESRI. She was a founder of the local community radio station, West Limerick 102FM, and is currently a producer and presenter for that station. Her experience includes service on the boards of Rural Bus and West Limerick Resources.
I am satisfied that both Mr. McNulty and Ms O'Regan possess the appropriate balance of skills and expertise to effectively serve on the IMMA board. I wish them every success in their tenure.
I suppose that last word of the Minister's is probably the most unfortunate one of her presentation. I refer to the word "tenure". What is the tenure of this appointee Mr. McNulty? His tenure appears to be to get him over the hill and through the gap for a Seanad election which is going to happen in a couple of weeks. That is the tenure the Minister is talking about here. Let us look at the context of this. This debate is not about Mr. McNulty.
It does appear that the Minister appointed someone to the board of IMMA a week before he was nominated to run on the cultural and educational panel of the Seanad. I speak as one who knows about the qualification process for Seanad elections having been told that I could not qualify for the agricultural panel and that I was to run instead on the cultural and educational panel. That was from the officials of this House.
This appointment was then used as grounds to run on the cultural and educational panel. It is likely that this individual will get elected and the best of luck to him. Presumably, however, his tenure - to which the Minister referred - will then come to an end. That will show the disgraceful nature of the appointment.
The other context for this debate and the Minister's actions concerns the referendum of last October when the people were promised reform. They were promised that things would be done differently and that the old ways had gone. Well, not only have the old ways not gone, but things are worse than ever.
Questions arise that the Minister must answer. The Minister has not really answered the question about Mr. McNulty's qualifications for the job, although she has answered his qualifications for the Seanad. On its website, IMMA states that members of its board are artists. I do not know whether that applies to Mr. McNulty.
Who gave the order for this job to be given? Certainly, the talk doing the rounds of these Houses today is that there were instructions from the Government and the Fine Gael Party for this appointment to be made. For the Minister to take instructions on an important role such as this would be a gross breach of her responsibility as a member of the Cabinet. Was the job publicly advertised, or are the rumours that this person got the job without applying for it - that he got a phone call saying "You can go on IMMA" - true? These things add up to one conclusion: that this appointment was part of an electoral ploy. I do not know whether the Minister has looked at the Standards in Public Office Code of Conduct for Office Holders in respect of appointments to boards, but I have to say that my view is that she has skirted its requirements.
That is a pity, because there are so many other things to talk about in respect of this. The people demanded reform last year. They have got absolutely nothing in terms of Seanad reform. They got one meeting. The leaders of the parties got one meeting with the Taoiseach. What has happened? Business has carried on unabated and now our foremost gallery and museum for modern art, which was only established around 30 years ago, is being used to railroad through a candidate for the Seanad election. This does severe damage to this Seanad and to IMMA. I believe it is doing severe damage to the Minister, and it is about time she thought carefully about this, listened to what we are saying on this side and withdrew the appointment.
I do not wish to rise to the political charges that were made by Senators Byrne and Healy Eames on the Order of Business. The Minister has answered perfectly in respect of the qualifications of the people who have been appointed. It has nothing whatsoever to do with by-elections to the Seanad or anything else. The Senator is living in cloud cuckoo land.
I know this is a slightly inauspicious introduction, but I congratulate the Minister on her recent appointment as Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. I look forward to working well with her over the next while. She knows my track record. However, I wish to put a few points on the record. I am not making a personal statement regarding the two appointees. By the look of them they are two very qualified people, but I do not think they are qualified for the Irish Museum of Modern Art. It is a contemporary art gallery and one that has an international reputation. I am disappointed that near the start of her speech the Minister linked the appointments with tourism. Initially, the Irish Museum of Modern Art was there to curate, exhibit, conserve and collect modern art for the 21st century for the citizens of this country. Yes, tourism is important, but the primary aim of the Irish Museum of Modern Art is to engage with contemporary art and our citizens so that our citizens understand what extraordinary work both Irish and international artists are producing. That is the pinpoint.
I understand this might be outdated, but the limit on the number of board members is nine. By my calculation, adding two brings the number to 11. I know a Government decision was made around two years ago whereby the cap on members was nine. We are now at 11, so I would like confirmation as to whether there were vacancies or whether this broke with a particular Government decision regarding extending the numbers from nine to 11. Second, did the Minister have a formal meeting with the chairman of the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the director regarding the skill sets required? We know that the pressure on all arts organisations, including the Abbey Theatre, is with regard to fund-raising and philanthropy. I want to know whether fund-raising or philanthropy was considered as part of the skill set when making these two appointments. I want to know whether the Minister or her officials met with the board or the chairman in examining what skill sets might be required to enhance and support the growing reputation of the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Those are the questions I would like to see answered.
I also welcome the Minister to the House on her first occasion here and congratulate her on her recent appointment. I want to put two things on the record. They include my own support for IMMA. It does wonderful work and, as Senator Mac Conghail noted, has an international reputation in the area of contemporary art, which deserves to be protected and safeguarded. The second thing I want to put on the record is my serious concern about the manner and timing of the recent board appointments, including the particular appointment we are discussing. I am not making any personal comment about the appointee but I believe it creates an unfortunate perception and does not seem to be in keeping with the political reforms that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Government have introduced. I do not in any way wish to place the responsibility necessarily on the Minister, but I echo Senator Mac Conghail's questions about the numbers on the board and ensuring that there is an appropriate spread of expertise and skill sets on it.
I compliment both the Leader of the House and the Minister on so speedily acceding to the wishes of Seanad Éireann in inviting the Minister to the House. This was very gracious, and I exonerate the Minister. It is fairly obvious that the orders came from the top. The Minister is new and I wish her well in her Ministry, but I believe she had to do it. The first part of her speech was carefully drafted euphoric waffle which has nothing to do with the issue. She ended by saying: "I see no reason why 2014 figures will not match if not exceed this number." Well, they are not coming to see Mr. McNulty. They are coming to see works of modern art. It does not surprise me, coming from Fine Gael. I remember how, many years ago in this Seanad, Deputy Shane Ross, who was then a Senator, persuaded me to sign a motion objecting to double-jobbing - people being in the Seanad and in the local councils. I signed it. Within three months, he was in Fine Gael and on the council and was raising the issue of local sewerage, so that is the way things go.
With regard to the argument that it has nothing to do with Mr. McNulty, of course it has everything to do with Mr. McNulty. It is to do with his qualifications. If one appoints somebody to a position, one wants to know what his or her qualifications are. It was not clear from what the Minister said - I am not sure if she will have an opportunity to reply - whether Mr. McNulty actually applied. I do not believe he did. From everything I have heard today, it sounds to me as though he did not apply, so it is extraordinary that he got a job for which he did not even apply. In respect of his business qualifications, I understand that he runs a petrol station, so I am not sure if they are going to take the Tesco route and open a petrol station in the Irish Museum of Modern Art. The last part of the Minister's speech referred to Ms O'Regan, who was not the subject of anything that was said here this morning.
Finally, I would like to say that nothing could put in clearer context the Taoiseach's attitude to Seanad Éireann than this utterly rigged and disgraceful election. He is talking about expanding the university constituency to 850,000. This is absolutely unheard of in a parliamentary election, yet he stands over and rigs an election with 250 voters or fewer. I am very glad that my colleague and friend Senator Bacik uttered what I suppose was the strongest protest against this that she was capable of in her current position. That shows that there are still a few standards left in the Labour Party.
I compliment the Minister on the balance of skills and experience of these two people that she has read out to us. The concern seems to be only with the gentleman, not with the lady, but this man is already involved in culture, heritage, tourism, the GAA and the Irish language. He is eminently qualified, and I am delighted-----
I am delighted he has commercial experience, because I very much disagree with the appointment of people who just have expertise in a particular area. One must bring balance to a board, because its bottom line is-----
As I know from other spheres, there are bottom lines and other things to be considered in this day and age. This is preferable to appointing someone who has expertise in just one individual area. The Senator should not smile-----
Senator Norris should know that there are already three people on this board. One of them is a senior counsel, one is a former Labour Party councillor and one is a company director.
The Senator could well ask about them.
The Minister is very welcome and I congratulate her on her appointment. It is highly regrettable that her first visit to the Seanad has been met with this type of, and it is the word on the street, a good scam. As Senator Bacik said------
The word on the street, unfortunately, is that it is a good scam by Fine Gael. As Senator Bacik said, the perception is definitely unfortunate in this regard.
I have one or two questions that I would be delighted if the Minister would answer to clarify a few things. She is in the privileged position of being able to put official information on the record of Seanad Éireann. Was she aware, or unaware, at the time she made this appointment that Mr. McNulty was going to be a Seanad candidate? If she was aware then why appoint someone who would have to stand down once elected? As we know, there are only 226 votes in the Seanad election which Fine Gael dominates, and the Government will dominate them. Therefore, he is a sure thing to be elected. That is the unfortunate undemocratic facet of elections like this one.
Gabh mo leithscéal. Within two to three weeks of his appointment he will have to stand down. This surely creates the greatest cynical stroke of politics in recent times.
I have a key question for the Minister. Was she aware, or unaware, that Mr. McNulty was going to be a Seanad candidate at the time of his appointment? Government policy says that it is going to advertise these appointments. When and where was this appointment advertised? Did the successful applicant, or both applicants, apply in writing? I refer to Mr. McNulty and Ms O'Regan. Will a copy of the application be made available?
Those are my questions for the Minister. There is no other job in Ireland, like I said earlier on the Order of Business, where one could successfully win, first, without being appropriately qualified and, second, by suddenly getting an appointment a week beforehand to make one qualify.
I attended a banking meeting before this and the word at the meeting was "Gosh, if I got appointed to the Central Bank maybe I could suddenly have a job in banking." That is what this looks like. It makes a disgrace of this House unless we can have honesty and transparency. I look forward to the Minister's answers.
I very much welcome the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, to the House. Her appointment as Minister for the arts is an inspired choice because she brings a set of unique qualities to the Department which will create an equality within arts. She deserves enormous credit for making herself available for a debate following the motion that was passed today. Furthermore, the debate has brought quite an amount of clarity to this story which has developed from this morning's newspapers. I did not realise, but now I do, that both candidates in question, particularly Mr. McNulty, was and is a member of the cultural development committee in Kilcar. Culture is not all about Dublin; culture is about Ireland. Kilcar has a right to be proud of its culture and has an absolute right to develop its culture the same as any other area whether that is Dublin city, Trinity College or anywhere else. We have a responsibility to respect the citizens of Kilcar who try to emulate and respect their culture the same as anyone else and anywhere else.
As far as I am concerned one of the greatest elements of our culture is the GAA. From what I see here, the said same gentleman is a significant member of the GAA. We have spent the past number of Sundays appreciating what is unique in the world to Ireland, namely, hurling and Gaelic football. I would like to think that sport is part of our culture as well.
No, culture as well as sport. Tourism is important and Irish culture and art should be a part of the tourism product. We should be in a position where we and our Ministers can go abroad and promote the tourism of art, as well as the tourism of culture, in this country. Let us be frank, the gentleman is eminently qualified. I respectfully suggest that even if he never had the board position that he would be eminently qualified to contest the election on the culture and education panel. The debate has brought a lot of clarity and put the issue to bed once and for all for which I thank the Minister.
I would like to extend my congratulations to the Minister on her new appointment to arts, culture, the islands, heritage and whatever else. I appreciate her coming here. She has been very open, honest, clear and concise in what she has said.
When I think of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, I personally would not like to appointed to the board because I do not truck with modern art. I am not really interested in reclining parallelograms, spots in walls, black canvasses and twisted iron. I am more inclined towards great art like that created by Senator Mac Conghail's grandfather and others such as Osbourne, Lavery, Keating, Paul Henry and similar artists. It would not be a great appointment for me. I do not think that I am saying something ignorant. To me modern art has no explanation and at times we have hundreds and thousands of psychologists, sociologists and culturally aware people trying to explain it. When one has to explain things one is losing, as we know.
There is nothing like an honest explanation which is what we had here from the Minister. I take it as honest and thank her. She is a Minister and is, therefore, allowed to make appointments. We might not like them, certainly Fianna Fáil does not like it and Senator Thomas Byrne does not like it but she does not have to answer to Fianna Fáil or to the Senator. Fianna Fáil gave answers here for 12 years and look where it got us.
I thank the Senator. It is very important to speak about the arts. I am delighted we are doing so even though we are speaking about them controversially. We rarely get to speak about them here in the House and it is nice to speak about them regardless of what manner.
I will follow with great interest Mr. McNulty's contribution to the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Can I tell Senators when they talk about qualifications, if we were all to look at ourselves in the mirror and asked about our qualifications, even to be in here, some of them would be very questionable. In all walks of life - in the media, politics and education - some people are not in the job because of being qualified but for other reasons. That is the way of the world, it is the way of politics and I accept that situation. I shall leave everyone with that thought.
The Minister has been very fine, concise and open to come in here and give us such a wonderful explanation. I accept her explanation. It might not have been the way I would go about it but I accept what she did and accept his appointment. We will all watch with great interest Mr. McNulty's contribution to the Irish Museum of Modern Art over the next five years - I cannot wait.
I welcome the Minister and congratulate her on her appointment. She is very well thought of on all sides of the House. So far she has performed, in my view, quite well in her portfolio following on from the very good work of my fellow county man, Jimmy Deenihan, in his time in the Department.
I find this situation puzzling, confusing and somewhat disturbing. I wish Mr. McNulty well in whatever position he is in, whether he finishes up here or not. I do not know him and have never met the man. It is not the norm for me to talk about people I do not know. The genesis of this problem resides with the Taoiseach who has had a problem with the Seanad this entire term. He totally misread the views of the Irish people about the Seanad when he hoisted the referendum upon them. He did not come out too well out of the additional two appointees he put on the Seanad selection committee when Senator MacSharry, against all the odds, won a vote. He added two Members just to copperfasten the majority which was a bit cavalier.
We are all politicians and we know how it works, but this one seems to be particularly crude, insofar as the Government promised a new type of politics which would be open, transparent and not all the things that bad Fianna Fáil were involved with all the years back. The reality is that this is a stroke of some sort. I understand Mr. McNulty did not apply for or respond to the advertisement for the position, yet he was plucked from relative arts obscurity to be placed on the board of the museum. It would appear he is also the candidate who will very shortly, in the absence of some enormous calamity, win a position in the Seanad. His career in IMMA will be extremely short-lived. It does not add up. I am sure the Minister is in a position she would prefer not to be in, but she will need to be more forthcoming on this matter. Whatever we say here, the public's antennae are out on this and I am sure the media will be beavering away as well. The Minister should give us the whole story.
I thank all speakers for their contributions. I have absolutely no role in selecting candidates for the Seanad by-election, as this is a matter for Fine Gael and its executive council. However, it is my responsibility to ensure that people appointed to the boards which fall within the remit of my Department are capable of doing the job, have the relevant experience and are capable of making a valuable contribution to the running of the relevant organisation.
As I have previously outlined, Mr. McNulty brings considerable business experience to the IMMA board. I value the fact that he is a person with a background in business. He has also been involved in a range of local cultural and heritage projects and he is committed to the promotion of the Irish language. As I have outlined, I made two appointments to the IMMA board on Friday, 12 September. Ms Sheila O'Regan has served as the curator of a museum in Limerick for nine years and she also brings a wealth of other experience to the board. I wish to point out that vacancies existed on the board of IMMA. Legislation is required in order to reduce the number of members of the board, and this legislation is pending.
I reiterate that these individuals will not receive any payment for their role on the board.
It is important to restate that I believe in ensuring that boards include representatives from the regions. This is in keeping with my policy and desire to make the arts more accessible to communities throughout the country. I am confident that both Mr. McNulty and Ms O'Regan have the right skill sets to serve the board of IMMA well. I take this opportunity to acknowledge that all our cultural institutions have gone through a very challenging time due to severe budget cutbacks necessitated, unfortunately, by the economic collapse.
I will be arguing on behalf of the cultural institutions in the budget negotiations in the coming weeks. I intend to push ahead with various reforms of our cultural institutions. Access to the arts, culture and Ireland's rich heritage is vital for preserving our society and national identity and for helping to promote Ireland's image abroad. The arts, cultural heritage and creative industries make a major contribution to our economy and to sustaining and creating jobs. Cultural tourism, to which these sectors bring so much value, has a significant contribution to make to Ireland's economic recovery and the rebuilding of Ireland's reputation on the international stage.
I will be happy to come before this House to discuss these reforms in detail and to discuss the arts and cultural policy. I look forward to hearing the views of Senators.
- Ivana Bacik
- Terry Brennan
- Colm Burke
- Paul Coghlan
- Martin Conway
- Maurice Cummins
- Michael D'Arcy
- Aideen Hayden
- Fiach MacConghail
- Marie Moloney
- Mary Moran
- Tony Mulcahy
- Michael Mullins
- Hildegarde Naughton
- Mary Ann O'Brien
- Marie Louise O'Donnell
- Tom Shehan
- Jillian van Turnhout
- Katherine Zappone