Wednesday, 13 May 2015
Cultural Institutions: Motion
I welcome the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, to the House. This is a great opportunity for us to discuss her wide-ranging remit. This motion was to have been moved by Senator Landy who has an intense and profound interest in a range of areas that he wanted to address the Minister on today but, unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, he cannot be with us today. I offer his apologies. This was outside his control.
“That Seanad Eireann:
commends the Government:- for the work done to maintain services in the National Museum, National Library, Natural History Museum and National Gallery, in the face of the economic difficulties experienced by the country since 2008;
- for the continued high value being placed on the educational merit and appeal of these institutions as international tourist attractions;
- for continuing to support the policy of not imposing admission charges to the above institutions, thereby encouraging public access; and
- for continuing to support and sustain our national heritage sites and attractions countrywide;further commends the Government:- for continuing to acknowledge the role and importance of our natural heritage in terms of education, biodiversity and amenity in reference to Special Areas of Conservation, nature reserves, wildlife and habitats, protected species and our National Parks and heritage sites; andcalls on the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to:- outline the Government’s proposals to bring forward a plan to further enhance the above institutions through initiatives such as upgrading the buildings, preserving library books and records, assisting in digitising publications and establishing a shared storage facility for TCD, UCD, and the National Library of Ireland.
I will try to dovetail Senator Landy’s concerns with my own. One of the issues he wanted to raise is the cultural and economic importance of this campus and its importance for the country’s heritage. It includes fabulous institutions such as the National Library, National Gallery and the National Museum. We cannot overemphasise how the Irish cultural disposition punches above its weight and has a footprint worldwide. For example, when I see Senator Ó Murchú I am reminded of the influence of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann around the globe. The Book of Kells, the National Library, the National Gallery and the artists and authors who have so fabulously filled the corridors of these fine buildings with such outstanding works are all important. The Minister is in the hot seat because she is the custodian of this cultural archive and these cultural institutions. It falls to her at a difficult time in Cabinet and in government to fight her corner for Irish culture and heritage when there are diminishing resources and competing demands on those limited resources. We commend the Government and the Minister on doing a good job.
I am always fascinated that such fantastic premises as the National Library, the National Gallery and the museums are free of charge. It is fantastic to see droves of people, particularly young people and students, filling the corridors and queueing up every day. There was a temptation to put a modest charge on access, which was resisted. It is fantastic that anyone and everyone can engage and see the fabulous exhibits, books, paintings and so on.
While visitor numbers continue to rise, however, the funding for institutions such as the National Library has taken a significant hit. The preservation and archiving of ancient manuscripts and books have been put on the back burner. There are concerns that irreparable damage can be done to valuable manuscripts, books, paintings and so on, and while there is a big restoration job going on in the National Gallery, it would be remiss of us not to say priceless records and manuscripts are archived which are not being preserved and maintained to the standard required. We will have to consider that because they pay their way in current terms. The National Library, the National Gallery and the National Museums have hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. They are a huge boon to our economy and a huge part of our tourist attraction.
It seems bizarre that these buildings. which I pass every week, are closed on bank holidays. I could understand in a normal week that they might not open every Monday but for families, tourists and people on a day off it would be worth considering having such fabulous attractions open on bank holiday Mondays. I do not know what could be done about that.
It is important that the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has a strong interaction with other Departments to ensure the Minister knows what they are up to and that they have a symbiotic relationship to support one another. For example, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport recently launched a worthy initiative, Ireland's Ancient East, which is a trail from the Boyne Valley through the country. It must not have checked in with the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht because it left out Laois almost completely. There is a tranche of attractions and ancient heritage sites there, such as the Rock of Dunamase and Abbeyleix heritage town, which has the distinction of being the place where the carpets for the Titanicwere manufactured.In modern terms, it has been established that Abbeyleix is the ancestral home of George Clooney, the film star. These things could have been incorporated into what is a work in progress and not yet the definitive project. I ask that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport liaise with the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht so that it does not overlook places such as Laois when drawing up these plans and programmes. It would be remiss of them to do so. As tourists fly into Dublin and flock to Kerry, Mayo, the Cathaoirleach's county and the fantastic attraction of the Wild Atlantic Way, it would be well worth their while to stop for a day and a night and spend some time in Laois and in the midlands, exploring our wonderful heritage sites and attractions.
In that spirit, we had a timely briefing from the Heritage Council, which asked us to hear about its work and the enterprises it is conducting. It is a fantastic organisation carrying out fantastic work in communities. Its budget has been slashed from €22 million in 2008 to €7 million today. It has kept its administrative costs to 20% of its budget, which is commendable by any standards, considering what other organisations gobble up in that area. Now that things are starting to improve, there is a reasonable expectation that we will restore the budget for the Heritage Council so that it can roll out the Irish Uplands Forum, the rural towns and villages network, the heritage officer network and other national landscape strategies. As one of the few European countries not to have done so, we are remiss in not having developed a sufficiently robust national landscape strategy. If I am incorrect, I am open to correction.
One part of the programmes sponsored and supported by the Heritage Council is the National Biodiversity Data Centre. It is an amazing open resource for everyone to tap into, with records and databases of our wonderful national biodiversity. We often pay lip service to it, but it is not just an aspiration. We must honour our commitment to protecting our wildlife, our flora and fauna and our biodiversity. Even if we want to be selfish about it, the National Biodiversity Data Centre estimates that Ireland's biodiversity contributes €2.6 billion to the economy. That is quite significant and is not small change. If ever we needed an impetus to ensure we respect our flora and fauna and our wildlife, we should make sure we do not undermine or under-resource these organisations. It would be remiss of me, in that spirit, not to take the opportunity to make reference to my local community in Cullenagh, Ballyroan, County Laois, which is in the throes of a protracted legal battle with the State forestry agency, Coillte, about the development and planned imposition of wind farms on top of people's homes in the area I come from. In that context, it is the view of the community and its eminent legal team that the development will result in Coillte's being in breach of the habitats directive. It is a serious matter, as the directive is not an aspiration. The habitats directive is prescriptive and serious and must be taken seriously. If this development goes ahead, it will pose a serious threat to the freshwater pearl mussel, which is a protected species. We cannot allow one arm of the State to be in breach of the habitats directive. When the Minister has an opportunity, I ask her to continue her support through the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the heritage officer network for ensuring that the Department is fully apprised of the implications and supports the community in its High Court appeal and challenge, particularly in respect of the breach of the habitats directive and the threat to a world-renowned endangered species, the freshwater pearl mussel. I think the Acting Chairman for her forbearance, as I had to race through a broad spectrum of issues. I look forward to the reply of the Minister and her contribution.
I second the motion.
I welcome the Minister to the House. Senator John Whelan has covered much of the topic from a national perspective, but I will stick to local issues in County Roscommon, where the spend on arts, culture and heritage is €640,000 annually. Many arts festivals receive funding from Roscommon County Council, such as the Boyle Arts Festival, and festivals based on historical figures, such as the Percy French festival in Castlecoote House, the Douglas Hyde conference in Ballaghaderreen, and the Douglas Hyde interpretive centre in French Park, which is run well by Ms Deirdre O'Gara. Others are the William Wilde Festival in Castlerea and the Roscommon Drama Festival. Through the county librarian, Mr. Richie Farrell, and the heritage officer, Nollaig Feeney, Roscommon County Council creates an arts plan with the help of Mary Mullins every year. The purpose-built arts centre, which is well run by Avril Dooher, is a hive of activity. King House in Boyle sees a lot of investment from Roscommon County Council and has subsidised workspace for developing artists. We also have the world-renowned Moone Boy, Chris O'Dowd, from Boyle. The council provides bursaries to developing artists. Heritage week is a big week and involves many volunteers and local authority support. It is worth visiting the Rathcroghan Interpretive Centre in Tulsk, County Roscommon.
As Senator Whelan said, since 2008 the Heritage Council has had its funding cut by 66%. As a result, it can only deliver 33% of the projects delivered in 2008. The Heritage Council would be happy if, over six years, a programme was put in place to ensure funding was brought back to 2008 levels. There is also Clonalis House, Castlerea, which is well worth visiting. We have many historical sites and heritage sites and, to some degree, if it was not for Roscommon County Council, the county would be neglected.
A bugbear of mine from a cultural point of view is a point I raised with Senator Ó Murchú. We do not acknowledge the contribution of Irish dancers when they represent us on the world stage. There is no funding provided for them. Last month, the Irish dancing world championships were held in Montreal, but many dancing schools could not bring all their children, including some who could have qualified and possibly won a world championship. These schools are putting Ireland on the map. When the world dancing championships are in the country, it is a massive event and much money is spent. People use it as a holiday. We are developing tourism products, and more investment would contribute more. For rural counties such as Roscommon, if we do not have tourism we do not have a lot more. I compliment the staff of Roscommon County Council on what they are doing. I would like the support of the Minister for Roscommon. Much good work is being done and much of it goes unnoticed. It is all about funding.
In this debate, my party will not be the Opposition. We are all in this together.I welcome the Minister and compliment her on the manner in which she has adopted the role. Her portfolio is the soul of the nation. Senators Whelan and Kelly made powerful contributions. What was particularly impressive was the passion behind those contributions. It was a reminder that heritage is not just about museums; rather, it belongs to the people and inspires their spirit. It motivates us to action. It also gives us a sense of pride in who we are as a people. Everybody here has felt that pride at some stage. Even though we are a small nation, the treasure we have when it comes to heritage is amazing.
I was also impressed by the contributions of Senators Whelan and Kelly in that they gradually went back to their own localities. There is a feeling that our heritage should be centralised. We all know where heritage is cultivated and nourished, namely, down among the people. I come from a small town with a population of 3,000 people, Cashel. When I am at home, I look out the window when I get up each morning at the Rock of Cashel, which reminds me immediately of the antiquity of our race and of the richness of that antiquity.
We are very fortunate in Comhaltas to have a cultural centre called Brú Ború. The centre not only holds exhibitions but also showcases the living tradition. It is organic; it grows and is passed from one generation to the next. Communities focus on that strength. The motion is very much directed towards the national cultural institutions. I compliment the Minister on making an extra €2 million available in recent times in that regard, because it underlines the commitment to our culture and heritage.
There are aspects of love which are sometimes forgotten. There is a small laneway, Dominic's Street, near the Rock of Cashel, where one can find the Cashel Folk Village. It was built by one man who has since gone to heaven, Martin O'Dwyer, but it is still there. The artifacts and memorabilia in the museum are unique. Those involved will not mind me saying that they are not secure in the manner in which they are there. What they have achieved is wonderful. I recall as a young person getting an invitation to go to a local Church of Ireland church when it was not the done thing for Catholics to do so. I was invited to visit what I understood to be a small library, namely, the Bolton Library, one of the foremost libraries of its kind in Europe. It was lovingly and carefully secured and protected. Eventually, it was properly presented, but it is now in danger. There is even a suggestion that it might leave the town of Cashel. I have written to the Minister about the prospect that the library, which is unique, might be taken from Cashel. If it was brought to Limerick or anywhere else, it would be, for the people of Cashel, like cutting off a limb.
If the Minister ever happens to be in the Cashel area, I would be delighted to take her to these spots and give her afternoon tea, because I genuinely feel that the treasures in the town are unique. Senators Whelan, Kelly and I have mentioned what is happening locally. As the Minister knows, the proposed diaspora centre has been shelved, to which I say, "Thank God," even though it is a strange thing to say. When the Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, came before the House, he made the same point as the Minister about centralising everything. These things are best done at a local level, where is a human aspect, love, time for conversation and a sense of reality about what we are discussing. The diaspora centre would have been grand and would have been, in a sad way, almost like a Disneyland. When it comes to heritage, that is not what we need. I apologise for being jocose initially, but I would love to take the Minister to three or four areas, such as the Bolton Library, the Rock of Cashel, Brú Ború and the folk village, so she could see what a population of 3,000 people have cultivated. We have been influenced and inspired by that. I know for a fact that one will find the same story in Kerry or anywhere else. That is why I am so glad we are having this debate. I am also glad it did not follow the usual line of looking for extra money. It is not about looking for extra money per se; rather, it is about having a dialogue and engagement, and rethinking where we are as a people.
Heritage is not clinical or frozen; it is living. That is why we are so lucky as a people. When I look back through history, particularly at the challenges that we have faced, I find how we overcame them interesting. I always cite one example, namely, the Young Irelanders, which is focused on our songs, folklore and history. It wanted to galvanise us as a people and make us realise that we were as good as everybody else. I sat in the dining room with a delegation comprising people from both traditions from Northern Ireland today. We discussed exchanging the Orange and nationalist traditions, which we had started in Derry when 430,000 people came to the Fleadh. I received an invitation before Christmas to visit the Orange Lodge outside Derry, meet loyalist bands and talk to them. When we got beyond the labels and tags, we found we had much in common. That is what heritage is about, and that is why I am glad the dialogue is taking place today.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to address the House on the important contribution that our culture and heritage make to Irish society. I believe that our cultural heritage, which encompasses the arts, our cultural institutions and our natural and built heritage, is vital to our national identity and well-being. As well as being of vital intrinsic importance and a great source of national pride, our cultural heritage is also a major source of employment and economic activity and is key to promoting Ireland's image abroad and attracting inward investment.
A society that values the arts is a more successful and prosperous one. I am committed to enabling support for, and access to, the arts, culture and Ireland's rich heritage for Irish people and visitors alike. A core objective for me, therefore, is to sustain and support these sectors, while seeking to promote and maximise their societal and economic potential. Our rich heritage, unique habitats, diverse artistic and cultural sectors and, of course, our national cultural institutions all have a key role to play in this regard.
The motion provides an important opportunity to acknowledge the work carried out by our national cultural institutions. Despite significant challenges in recent years, our cultural institutions have worked hard to maintain their services to the public, and to protect and make our national collections accessible to the greatest extent possible. It is a credit to the management and staff of these institutions that they have increased their visitor numbers from 2.9 million in 2008 to 3.2 million in 2014.
Funding for the arts, culture and film contributes to sustaining the arts and national cultural institutions, but also leads to job creation in these sectors.My Department's allocation of €156 million for arts, culture and film in 2015, which includes almost €59 million for the Arts Council, is recognition of the importance of this sector. After six years of continuous cutbacks, I was delighted to have maintained resources for the national cultural institutions at the 2014 level in this year's budget. The era of cutbacks is finally at an end. After the budget, and following discussions with the Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin, I also secured an additional €2 million for the cultural institutions this year. This funding was provided to directly address the concerns expressed by the cultural institutions, in particular the National Library and the National Museum.
In the latter part of last year, there were suggestions that one or more of our cultural institutions would have to consider charging for admission in order to help deal with financial constraints. I would like to state very clearly, as I have before, that I fully support the policy of free admission for our cultural institutions. Introducing charges would be a retrograde step and I believe it would have a negative impact on visitor numbers, which is a trend experienced elsewhere.
As the economic situation continues to improve, I want to see that all the national cultural institutions will benefit in future years. However, the national cultural institutions themselves need also to build on the reforms, innovation and alternative funding sources which were developed in response to the economic crisis. These new ways of doing business must play their part in addressing the infrastructural needs of the institutions, in partnership with Government.
Notwithstanding the reduction in funds, the Government has made significant progress in terms of capital investment in the institutions. There is a major €30 million-plus project moving into its final phase at the National Gallery as part of its master development plan. I have visited the site at the gallery and know it is difficult to appreciate the scale of the works until one sees it for oneself. It promises to transform the National Gallery into one of the finest gallery spaces in Europe. Major refurbishment works are to commence shortly to redevelop the Kevin Barry Rooms at the National Concert Hall as part of the Government's investment under the Ireland 2016 centenary programme. The Irish Museum of Modern Art re-opened in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in 2014 after major refurbishment works there. In addition, tenders will be invited shortly for the first phase in the redevelopment of the National Archives headquarters at Bishop Street, which will dramatically improve storage space and conditions there, and address a long-standing and critical deficit.
I can assure the House that I will continue to make the case for further investment in our national cultural institutions, as the economy continues to recover, so we can address the key challenges that remain. I am particularly aware of the issues facing the National Library in terms of storage, both in Kildare Street and regarding potential off-site storage, and improving such facilities will be among my priorities should additional resources be made available to my Department. I take Senator Whelan's point regarding the closure of our cultural institutions on bank holiday Mondays. The opening hours are being reviewed constantly, but, as I said, I take the Senator's point and will consult again in that regard.
I would also like to mention the arts in education charter which the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, and I are committed to implementing. A high level implementation group, chaired by Professor John Coolahan, was established to oversee the implementation of the arts in education charter. I am delighted to report that the arts in education portal will be launched next week. The portal will be the key national digital resource for arts and education practice in Ireland. This significant development arising from the arts in education charter is a joint project involving both Departments. The charter also sets out a partnership approach, with the setting up of local arts education partnerships. Already in 2014, the Cavan-Monaghan ETB has established its local arts education partnership model, setting a really great example for the rest of the country. These partnership models should play a supportive and facilitating role for local art initiatives.
The programme for Government 2011-16, along with my Department's statement of strategy, has the overall goal of promoting and developing Ireland's world-class artistic and creative strengths at home and abroad, and maximising their societal, economic and reputational value for the country. Developing a national cultural policy is central to these aims. My Department is currently working on a draft discussion paper to underpin a national cultural policy, Culture 2025, the first ever such policy in Ireland. Culture 2025 will set out the Government's high level aims and policies in the area of culture for the period up to 2025, and I know there is considerable interest in the policy among Members of this House. The intention is to start a wide-scale consultation process with relevant stakeholders and the public on the key priorities that the Government should consider in developing a cultural policy for the period up to 2025. I am pleased to inform the House that the first phase in advancing this process will take place in the coming weeks, with the holding of an initial workshop under the auspices of the Royal Irish Academy. I am confident this will greatly assist my Department in launching its public consultative document on Culture 2025 shortly. I thank the RIA for its positive contribution on this matter.
With regard to the decade of commemorations, I was delighted that the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste joined me to launch the Government's Ireland 2016 centenary programme in the National Museum, Collins Barracks, on 31 March last. Ireland 2016 is a national and international initiative to remember the pivotal events of 1916, reflect on our achievements over the past 100 years, and look ambitiously to our future. The 2016 centenary programme is extensive and all-inclusive, and covers seven key strands: State ceremonial, historical reflection, an teanga bheo, youth and imagination, cultural expression, community participation and global and diaspora. Ireland 2016 is an invitation to everyone on the island of Ireland, and to the global Irish community, to shape and engage in a diverse range of historical, cultural and artistic activities. The national cultural institutions and the Arts Council, along with my own Department and the Department of Education and Skills, have developed extensive programmes of arts and culture events.
I note the reference to digitisation in the motion before the House this evening, and this is something I am particularly keen on. Digitisation uses the most modern of technology to make old or even ancient material accessible to as wide an audience as possible. The National Library and the National Archives, in particular, are embarking on an ambitious digitisation programme as part of Ireland 2016. The library, for example, will make more than 20,000 items available online, which will enable people here and around the world to engage with and be part of 2016.
A community engagement programme, led by the local authorities, will result in further events being added to the Ireland 2016 programme from across the country. The Ireland 2016 team from my Department is currently holding a series of county by county workshops to stimulate ideas and activities for the commemoration. I am very pleased with the response to date, which has been very positive and constructive. People are engaging with the process and I want as many people as possible to engage with it. The Government will continue to work to ensure that all of these commemorations are inclusive, respectful and appropriate.
The arts have a way of reaching out and speaking to people by pushing out the boundaries and forcing us to challenge preconceived ideas. I sincerely hope the commemorations will also provide our diaspora with a sense of ownership, alongside Irish citizens, in this collective commemoration of our shared history. I hope that many people will return to Ireland and take part in this unique programme of events. It would be wonderful to welcome our extended family to Ireland for this special time. As Senator Ó Murchú said, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann has really reached out in terms our heritage, in particular our musical heritage. I will have to quote again the fantastic example in Cavan, where musicians from all the different parts of our heritage are coming together and playing together. That tradition continues to live on in Cavan and it was only a couple of weeks ago that I had occasion to hear them play together. It is a legacy Comhaltas has left in Cavan in that musicians from all different traditions come and play together, which is great.
Turning to our natural heritage, Ireland's renowned natural beauty, unique landscapes and habitats are equally important and intrinsic to what makes us Irish.Tourists, artists and citizens alike have drawn inspiration from our natural heritage for centuries. I see a huge role for our national parks, our nature reserves and all our protected areas in tapping into and exploiting the opportunities here. It is my intention to encourage and facilitate, to the greatest extent possible, public access and appropriate visitor use in these parks and reserves in a way that promotes responsible interaction with our natural heritage and supports sustainable tourism.
The protection and enhancement of our natural heritage, including the six State-owned national parks and 66 nature reserves managed by my Department, bring much needed economic stimulus and employment opportunities to rural communities. The challenge is, of course, in doing this in a way that is consistent with the ethos of these protected areas as natural, and often wild and rugged, places. We must also respect the conservation and biodiversity considerations that must underpin our management of our natural heritage.
My Department is very close to finalising the mid-term review of the implementation of our biodiversity plan. Biodiversity provides us with food, clean water, building materials and other essentials that we simply cannot live without. It underpins vital economic sectors such as agriculture and tourism. Biodiversity, ecosystems and natural resources are our natural capital. There is increasing recognition that economic prosperity depends on maintaining and enhancing this natural capital. For example, my Department has worked very closely with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to ensure that the new GLAS scheme delivers for farmers in protected areas, as well as for the biodiversity of those areas. Many of our habitats are internationally important due to their scarcity elsewhere in Europe. We have 429 special areas of conservation throughout the country, from raised bogs to coastal sand dunes. In addition, 154 special protection areas seek to provide safe breeding and wintering grounds for large numbers of sea birds and water fowl, both resident and visiting. It is my belief that further significant conservation, social, health and economic benefits will come about if we continue to appreciate the value and explore the true potential of our natural heritage, particularly for rural areas. The challenge is to understand the broad value of our natural heritage, and to integrate and harmonise its management and protection with often unseen and unappreciated social and economic benefits.
I also want to acknowledge the work of the Heritage Council and heritage officers at a local level in engaging and empowering communities to value and protect our heritage. I increased the Heritage Council's funding this year, and as the economy continues to improve, we will be in a better position to further increase its funding. Our heritage is so important to us. It gives us a sense of who we are and where we come from. As a member of a local heritage group, I fully appreciate the importance of small grants and how they can make such a difference to communities across the country in helping them to protect their heritage. The Heritage Council has done a great job in engaging communities and developing a sense of pride in their heritage. As has been said, it must all be done on a local basis.
A number of issues were raised here, which I will address. Senator Whelan raised an issue regarding freshwater mussels. I will look into that and return to him. I agree with Senator Ó Murchú that one must work at local level to protect and maintain heritage. The national landscape policy has gone to Government for approval. It is currently being translated and will be published within a few weeks. Senator Kelly spoke about Irish dancing. I have met with the committee members who organised the world Irish dancing championships. I have also set up a meeting between it and Fáilte Ireland. I value what it does, which is significant in terms of tourism in this country, and I will be following up with them in the future.
It is a privilege and an honour for me to serve as Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and to work hand in hand with such dynamic and creative sectors to build on and sustain our cultural heritage, both artistic and natural. I look forward with great optimism to the further enhancement of these sectors and hope sincerely that we can continue to work together to support and protect our cultural heritage.
Fáiltím roimh an Aire. For my colleagues and friends in the Labour Party, to whom I am very close politically, I want to reiterate that this is not in any way a personal attack, but I find this Private Members' motion to be sloppy, badly written and lacking understanding of the level of difficulty faced by the national cultural institutions. I acknowledge that the Minister has responded in terms of funding for the 1916 commemoration. I congratulate her on the launch of the commemoration with the Taoiseach and Tánaiste. It was a wonderful affair, which captured the imagination. There was a real sense of self-confidence in the room and among the community, with the Government finally showing a sense of leadership, but also inclusivity. I congratulate the Minister from the heart on that. It is important that I say that, because I would not want her to get any mixed messages.
However, although it is not the Minister's fault, this has been one of the worst Governments since the foundation of the State as regards supporting the arts. This is not just about funding, and the catastrophic cuts of up to 40% for all the national cultural institutions, including the Abbey Theatre, of which I am director. I want to put that on the record, in case there is any perceived conflict of interest. I am talking about the various public sector curtailments that make it very difficult for cultural institutions such as the National Library of Ireland and the museums to hire curators, librarians and archivists because of the recruitment ban. This has stunted them.
This motion contains a misspelling. It mentions the "National Arts Gallery". I do not know what that is. This is the Labour Party, which created the first Ministry for the arts, which was occupied by the current President, Michael D. Higgins. I am disappointed by the ill-informed response to a major crisis. Not only has funding been cut over the last four years, which we understand, but the cuts are savage. While the Government pays lip service to the idea that culture is there to support Ireland abroad and to give us good standing, we cut the artists' standard of living, so that they are emigrating because they cannot afford rent in Dublin. They are moving away from conurbations. Culture Ireland's funding has also been cut. The state of the individual artist in this country today, 99 years after the Rising, is characterised by penury, a lack of support from the State and a lack of planning.
On the other side, the sword of Damocles is swinging over the so-called amalgamations of the various national cultural institutions. The Minister did not mention this, so I assume it is not happening, but the clock is ticking because we are now in May. There was no mention of this in the Minister's speech and there is no congratulatory note in the Members' motion regarding any amalgamation or sharing of services by the National Gallery of Ireland, which is its official title, the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the Crawford Gallery. I have no issue with shared services, and I congratulate the Minister as there have been some wins in that respect. There is a Bill before the House on that and there is a second Bill dealing with the amalgamation of the National Museum and the National Library. Will new boards be appointed to both those organisations? They have been waiting in the wings, atrophying, because there is no leadership at governance level. These boards have been waiting to see whether they will be amalgamated. They have been crying out for cultural leadership. The Minister has time to look at that. This House was very clear in its message to the Government that these amalgamations should occur.At least the Labour Party should have the honesty to commend the Minister for not proceeding with that legislation. Another Bill is undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny, namely, the national cultural institutions Bill which relates to the National Concert Hall. There is not only a catastrophic cutting of funding but also a catastrophic disemboweling of the very essence and structure of some of our most important cultural institutions, which predate the State. The National Museum predates the State and yet it does not have proper governance; its board is in a kind of limbo or purgatory. I would like to hear the Minister's comments on that. Although the Minister has significantly supported the commemorations, we need to invest in and restore funding to national cultural institutions. There should not be hypocrisy whereby we pay lip-service to individual artists. I feel a little embarrassed for us in that regard.
There is no mention of the National Archives in the motion, where there is a crisis around storage nor is there mention of the challenge facing the National Archives around the Irish 30-year rule given the British Government's 20-year rule. The British Government will release papers after 20 years and will have its propaganda and spin on Irish history out before we can release our documents. We will have to wait another ten years and it will be skewed. The 1986 National Archives Act is way out of date and yet some of the sections have not actually been implemented. I am disappointed in the Labour Party for not addressing these crises in the National Archives, particularly the storage issue. I would like to hear a comment on Bishop Street, the home of the archives. What capital investment might occur there?
Although I stand by my criticism of the Minister and the Government, I commend her on the national commemoration and the national cultural policy. The Minister has developed a draft discussion paper, the first phase of which will be launched shortly with the Royal Irish Academy. This is a historic development which the arts and cultural sector was seeking. On the one hand, the Minister has shown strategic support and leadership while on the other hand, the Government has caused devastation to the state of individual artists in the country and has sent mixed messages around what I would call the desecration of the national cultural institutions when it comes to legislation. I look forward to hearing the Minister's comments.
I welcome the Minister and thank her for her remarks and genuine commitment to the arts, culture and heritage. I do not think Senator Mac Conghail remembers that this economy almost collapsed as a result of how the last Government handled it. There is only so much funding to go around. People in another form of art, sports, do not complain because they have had their funding cut; they get on with the job. The arts feel more of an entitlement, judging by the Senator's comments. I certainly did not intend saying anything like this today but feel it is my duty to respond.
I welcome the motion my Labour Party colleagues have proposed. I have spoken a number of times on the importance and critical role of the arts, culture and heritage. When many of my friends from the United States come to Ireland, they are mesmerised by our history, art, culture and heritage. Theirs only goes back to 1492 when Christopher Columbus founded the United States. I have the feeling that our arts, culture and heritage is more appreciated by our overseas tourists than it is by our own domestic tourists. I would like to see Irish people utilise all the facilities provided in this wonderful country.
The Minister has ensured there was no reduction in funding in 2015 in arts, culture and heritage and secured an additional €2 million for the national cultural institutions. There is ongoing support given to the national cultural institutions and work is continuing on a number of key capital projects. For example, work continues on essential refurbishment of the Dargan and Milltown wings of the National Gallery and it is expected that the newly refurbished and extended buildings will open to the public next year. The Minister has said she has seen it and that it will be spectacular when completed. We all look forward to that.
As regards the National Concert Hall, major works are due to commence shortly to redevelop the Kevin Barry room as part of the Government's investment under the Ireland 2016 centenary programme. Senator Whelan made reference to the National Archives, although I do not know if Senator Mac Conghail was in the House at that point.
I agree with Senator Whelan that capacity needs to be improved and it needs to be safeguarded. The Government has agreed to provide funding this year for phase one of a development planned at the National Archives headquarters in Bishop Street. The Office of Public Works will shortly go to tender for this project and it is anticipated that works will begin in the middle of this year. This will greatly increase the storage capacity at the National Archives.
The motion commends the Government for the continued high value placed on the educational merit and the appeal, as international tourist attractions, of our cultural and heritage institutions and for continuing to support the policy of not imposing admission charges, as outlined by the Minister. I agree wholeheartedly with this. It is of huge importance to encourage visitors to Ireland. Young backpackers coming here could be turned off going to the museums and galleries. In other cities, such as Amsterdam, Paris and New York, there are entrance fees so it is encouraging to see they are free of charge here.
The motion also commends the Government for continuing to acknowledge the role and importance of our national heritage and special areas of conservation, nature reserves, wildlife, habitats, protected species, national parks and heritage sites. The Department is working closely with Fáilte Ireland to enhance tourism. The natural beauty and culture of Ireland are key reasons for visiting. Biodiversity and ecosystems play a major role in keeping that image alive. Ireland has key assets such as protected structures, sites of scenic and scientific importance and national parks which can be utilised to further support our tourism efforts. Ireland's Ancient East aims to deliver over 600,000 overseas visitors to the east of our country, from the north east of the Boyne Valley right down to the Wexford and Waterford coastlines, by 2020. This is a living history project which will balance the Wild Atlantic Way in the west, animating the culture and heritage of our country. Included here are world attractions like Newgrange, which is older than the Pyramids. In fact, the entire Boyne Valley is full of historic passage tombs, monastic ruins and bloody battlefields.
Cross-departmental co-operation is vital in emphasising the importance of our arts and heritage assets. For instance, the arts in education charter is a positive initiative and involves the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Department of Education and Skills and aims to improve access to and participation in the arts for children at an early age. Likewise, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport co-operates on relevant matters. By investing in our heritage and cultural institutions, our nature reserves, walking trails and national parks, we enhance visitor experience. The Government is continuing to invest in and enhance our arts and cultural institutions.The Department is providing funding of €547,000 to the Arts Council to help fund the 2015 community-based heritage grant scheme. This scheme, which supports continuing conservation and the development of heritage through local community based groups, is expected to generate a total investment of more than €1 million.
The Government's legislative programme for the spring and summer of 2015 lists two national cultural institutions Bills. The heads of the Bills have been agreed by the Government and texts are being drafted. The national cultural institutions (No. 1) Bill seeks to revise and update the governance arrangements in regard to the National Gallery of Ireland, National Museum of Modern Art and Crawford Gallery in Cork. The purpose of the national cultural institutions (No. 2) Bill is to revise and update the governance arrangements in regard to the National Library, National Museum and National Archives of Ireland, including shared services. While these Bills are still at the drafting stage, I welcome the introduction of new legislation on sharing services as it makes sense to have research and archives material for these institutions located at one site.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire fosta le linn an díospóireacht seo ar chúrsaí cultúrtha. Tá sé i bhfad níos leithne ná sin. Táimid ag caint faoi institiúidí cultúrtha ach tá gach gné de shaol na hÉireann fite fuaite leis an gcultúr, anseo i mBaile Cliath agus ar fud na tíre, na Gaeltachtaí ina measc.
This is a wide-ranging and broad debate. Culture does not stop at the boundaries of the Pale but extends to every part of Ireland, as I will explain presently. Ireland is traditionally a land of the baile fearainn or townland. We have a rich cultural identity and heritage which extends across the globe. Our diaspora plays a key role in the development of Irish culture abroad just by being Irish.
As a realist, I appreciate that the downturn in the economy affected all institutions of State, including the cultural institutions. It is important that the fruits of recovery are spread across all State institutions and Departments, including elements of our cultural heritage such as galleries, museums, arts centres and theatres. As the Minister indicated, however, culture extends much wider than institutions. I listened to her contribution in my office and noted her comment that funding will be made available for the provision of additional services for the National Archives. This is a welcome step, as Senator Eamonn Coghlan noted. Protecting our archives by providing adequate facilities for them is pivotal because they provide a rich source of vital information on the Ireland of yesteryear.
As we approach the centenary of the 1916 Rising and the events that led to the formation of the State, we face a major opportunity and challenge. The Minister must face this challenge head on. We have a great opportunity to place Ireland in a positive light at the centre of the global stage. We can do this by recognising the country's past and shared traditions and developing a country that looks outward and forward. The Minister alluded briefly to the centenary celebrations and may have more to add on the progress made in plans to mark the centenary of the Rising.
Heritage does not belong to any institution or organisation but to citizens. As we mark the centenary next year, it is important to share our heritage, culture and national language, an teanga Gaeilge, with the future generation, the children in every school, whether in inside or outside the Gaeltacht areas. While work may be taking place in this area, the Department must work with the Department of Education and Skills to create a stream of cultural identity within the primary school curriculum. At present, it is very much up to teachers to promote and develop this issue, which should be examined.
I note Senator Eamonn Coghlan's keen interest in sport in school. It is also necessary to create a wider curriculum offering for the Irish language. I do not share the Fine Gael Party's philosophy on Irish. Dancing, story telling and other traditions need to be embedded in the curriculum in a way that makes the Irish language and culture interesting subjects for children as they grow up. This issue should be addressed as part of the centenary celebrations.
The development of Irish language colleges in the Gaeltacht areas could be a great expression of our identity. The Department, in conjunction with the Department of Education and Skills, is responsible for the funding of Irish language colleges. Let us celebrate next year by promoting the Irish language in a manner that allows children from underprivileged backgrounds to visit the Gaeltacht on scholarship schemes. While schemes are available this year, let us do something radical next year by affording many more children an opportunity to visit Irish speaking areas to learn the Irish language. I am sure Senator Ó Clochartaigh will agree with my proposal, fear de chuid Chonamara.
Senator Ó Murchú referred to the issue of community. Heritage needs to be developed through community funding. I welcome the allocation of €500,000 to the Heritage Council this year. Members meet weekly with representatives of various heritage groups which would like to develop local projects. It would be great if the small amount of funding available to such groups were to increase next year.
The Minister referred to the issue of biodiversity. While special areas of conservation, SACs, and special protection areas, SPAs, may not be directly related to this debate, they are referred to in the motion. I understand the Minister of State, Deputy McHugh, may have spoken to the Minister about an area of 5,000 ha. in County Donegal which was designated a special protection area without prior consultation. The current approach to this issue needs to be reviewed. The decision in respect of the area in Donegal was taken by the Minister's predecessor, the Minister of State, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan. Instead of designating good farming land as special protection areas without proper or meaningful consultation with landowners, we should adopt the approach taken by Portugal, Spain and France to implementing the same European directives. The authorities in these countries engage in meaningful public consultation with landowners and if they fail to secure their agreement on designation, they designate other areas, specifically areas of commonage. This approach should be adopted here because it is wrong to prevent a farmer who has been cutting silage for 30 years from continuing to do so. Farmers must feed their animals in winter. A common sense is approach is needed.
I am grateful for an opportunity to speak to this wide-ranging and timely motion, especially as the centenary celebrations approach.
I welcome the Minister and the opportunity to speak on a wide-ranging motion concerning services in a number of cultural institutions and arts and cultural policy generally. The text has been framed broadly to enable Senators to speak on a range of issues that fall within the Minister's remit. I commend my colleagues, Senators Whelan and Kelly, on tabling the motion on behalf of Labour Party Senators. The Senators will respond to contributions at the conclusion of the debate. I also apologise for the spelling mistake in the title of the National Gallery.
The timing of this debate is good as the Heritage Council held a major Oireachtas briefing event in Buswells Hotel earlier today. I am conscious that many Senators, including me, have spent a good deal of time listening to presentations on the diverse work being carried out under the auspices of the Heritage Council. Previous speakers made - as I will make - the case for increasing funding to the Heritage Council to ensure it is able to plan for the future.Like many other cultural institutions and arts bodies they suffer from an inability to plan for the future on a multi-annual basis. The Heritage Council made a very strong case today for increased funding and for the great benefit to Irish society and to many communities from the work done under its auspices. I spoke to individuals from different organisations, ranging from the Irish Landmark Trust to the Burrenbeo Trust in County Clare. I am familiar with the work of the Burrenbeo Trust through my work in Ballyvaughan where I help to run a law and politics school in the Burren College of Art. I also spoke to people from the Bere Island community group and from Wicklow, dealing with the uplands there, and others about a range of initiatives, including the discovery programme run by the centre for Irish archaeological research, which is doing very important work in digitising some of our immense cultural heritage. Their work is very important in preserving our heritage for future generations. It also has tangible and practical benefits in supporting and facilitating job growth and the development of tourism in communities. It makes the very powerful case that for every euro spent by the Heritage Council the Irish tourism industry generates €4.40 in increased tourism revenue. In terms of practical and intangible benefits the case it makes is very important.
As the Minister said, many of us have an interest in the national cultural policy. I welcome the fact that the Department is working on the draft policy, in line with the programme for Government, to underpin a national cultural policy, culture 2025, the first ever such policy. The Minister spoke about the wide-ranging consultation process due to begin in coming weeks with the Royal Irish Academy involved in holding an initial workshop. Can the Minister give us more information on the timeframe for the development of the policy? How long will the public consultation go on? How widely will the information be disseminated? Will there be invitations to particular institutions and bodies to make submissions or will it include the public? I am conscious that the Minister will not have an opportunity to respond in this debate but I may write to her office.
Senator Mac Conghail spoke about the programme under a previous Government for mergers and amalgamations of national cultural institutions. I commend the Minister for not pursuing that programme at the more developed level, which was very damaging to the institutions and to the arts community in Ireland generally. I have said many times that it was a very ill-advised policy.
In the motion we commend the Government for continuing to support the policy of not imposing admission charges to the institutions. I am glad the Minister has reiterated her own support for that free admissions policy. Senator Eamonn Coghlan put forward the situation very clearly about the broader funding of the arts in terms of the difficult economic situation facing the Government. The Minister said the era of cutbacks is over, which all of us, as citizens engaging with arts and cultural institutions in our daily lives, welcome. We also welcome the detail she gave us on the programme for commemorations. We have spoken several times in this House about that. I have spoken in particular about the need to ensure the military aspect of the commemorations is not over-emphasised at the expense of the social, economic and cultural climate and context in which the Rising took place. RTE and Dublin City Council are to be commended for their Road to the Rising event on Easter Monday, which had enormous appeal. There were tens of thousands of people in Dublin city centre and queues out the door of places such as Liberty Hall to hear talks about the social, economic and cultural context of the Rising. It was a very wide-ranging event and the sort of event we can learn from in developing our commemoration programme.
I commend the Minister for her work and ask her to ensure that funding for the sector increases in future years, that we continue to work to enhance the status of the national cultural institutions and preserve them as important institutions, and that funding is disseminated to local communities under the auspices of bodies such as the Heritage Council. I look forward very much to the roll-out of the national cultural policy.
Tairgím leasú a 1:
Molaim an leasú seo atá curtha chun cinn ag Sinn Féin. Táimid ag cloisteáil cuid mhaith faoin mholadh ó Pháirtí an Lucht Oibre, ach go háirithe, in san rún seo. I ndáiríre, téann sé i gcoinne an réalachas atá ann ó thaobh an staid ina bhfuil na hinstitiúidí náisiúnta seo agus ba mhaith liom é sin a chur ar an taifead. Ós rud é go bhfuilimid ag déanamh trácht ar chúrsaí Gaeilge, agus thagair an Seanadóir Ó Domhnaill do chúrsaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta, tá sé fíor-thábhachtach go mbeadh an Gaeilge lárnach in saol agus insan obair ar fad a dhéanann na hinstitiúidí seo. Faraor, tá droch-taifead ag an Ard-Mhúsaem, ach go háirithe, maidir le hAcht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla agus cur i bhfeidhm an Achta sin. Tá súil agam go mbeidh an Aire in ann dul i ngleic leis sin mar is í an Aire ar a bhfuil cúram na hinstitiúidí agus cúram na Gaeilge chomh maith céanna.
To delete all the words after “calls on the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to” and substitute the following: - “invest in and restore funding to our key cultural institutions; and
- develop a national cultural policy that recognises the fundamental role of cultural access in citizenship.”.
It is an accepted fact that the arts make a crucial contribution to society and that a nation’s cultural history should at all times be protected and preserved. After all, a country that does not know its own history or that is not familiar with the people and events that shape its collective psyche is in many respects akin to a stranger who, having no idea where he or she has come from, is unable to find his or her way forward. Unfortunately, Ireland’s key cultural institutions are in a state of cultural neglect and disarray due to a shocking lack of public funding and Government-inflicted death by a thousand cuts.
There is a certain irony in today’s Private Member’s motion. Only last month the President, Michael D. Higgins, a long-term member of the Labour Party stated that a 40% cut in funding for the arts and the budgets of our key cultural institutions is an illustration of the peripheral place they occupy in Irish society. While I have no wish to disagree with the President, it is more accurate to say that if it illustrates anything it is their peripheral position in the Government’s order of priorities. The President went on to say: “There can be no doubt that Irish artists and cultural institutions have, along with many sectors of Irish life, suffered significantly during a period that reaped the rewards of speculative economics and the austerity that served as a response.” Cuts of up to 40% have virtually decimated many of our key cultural institutions and left them struggling to survive. I support every word that Senator Mac Conghail said.
Next door, in the National Gallery and the National Library, the same exhibitions run for months on end. Volunteer staff work as ushers and assistants and there is a decidedly run down air to the places. The opening hours of these institutions are seriously curtailed and in Cork and Dublin such key attractions are closed on Sundays and bank holidays. With all due respect, today’s motion congratulating the Government on the work done to maintain services in the National Museum, National Library, Natural History Museum and the National Gallery and commending it for continuing to acknowledge the importance of our natural heritage to education is difficult to take seriously.
The National Museum and the National Library, which stand on either side of Leinster House, on Kildare Street, seem to exist on the edge of extinction with moments of hope succeeded by the realisation that they exist in a universe indifferent to their fate. It is truly ironic that these beautiful buildings, physically so close to the centre of political power, in reality inhabit the back of beyond. The National Library is a disaster waiting to happen in that most of its collections are not even covered by a sprinkler system, so a fire could destroy them at any time. Most Irish universities now have vastly better storage facilities for precious materials than the National Library does. International practice is for collections to be stored off site in secure, waterproof and fireproof buildings, but in Dublin the 1890 building and its adjuncts still house the bulk of the evergrowing collection in primitive conditions.
The photographic archive in Temple Bar is in danger of closure because cutbacks have made staffing levels unsustainable. Acquisitions have all but dried up.
The National Museum, meanwhile, has had to close galleries because it does not have attendants to supervise them. It has ended guided tours at its natural history branch and its branch for decorative arts and history at Collins Barracks.
There is a simple explanation for all of this and that is money. In 2008 the library and the museum got €30.8 million in public funding between them.Last year, they got €17.9 million. All publicly funded organisations have suffered, but these cuts are particularly savage. We need the Government to produce a plan, and it needs to do so forthwith, but the plan must be backed up with resources. Surely what we need to do is to decide if we want to have cultural institutions we can be proud of as a nation. If the answer is "Yes", then we need to draw up such a plan to ensure proper funding at its core and a cultural policy that recognises, promotes and fosters the fundamental role of cultural access in citizenship.
I wish to mention some local initiatives. I welcome the fact that the Government has improved its plans for the commemorations. That was triggered by the fact that Sinn Féin published its own programme and embarrassed the Government into upping its game on the issue. I welcome the proposal to develop Teach An Phiarsigh in Rosmuc but, as I have said for a number of years, I am very concerned that it will not be ready in time for the commemorations. I understand that a compulsory purchase order is being considered for the land. Planning permission, tendering and carrying out the work on the building is way behind schedule. Could the Minister clarify what negotiations are ongoing with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Donohoe, on funding from Fáilte Ireland to finish the project?
Reference was made to national monuments. We have a national monument in Connemara, which happens to be on private land, namely, Ballynahinch Castle, which is on the lake in Ballynahinch. It was the home of Grainuaile fadó. Scaffolding was erected around the castle recently. I raised the issue with the Department. It is my understanding that as a national monument the Minister should have signed off on the work before any scaffolding went up on the site. I have asked departmental officials about the matter but I have not received a straight answer. Could the Minister indicate whether she signed a ministerial order allowing the project to proceed, two months in advance of the scaffolding works going up around that national monument? Was the National Museum also approached and did it give permission before the scaffolding work commenced? The castle in question is in private ownership. It is owned by a very big business man who is well known to a lot of people who listen to the national media. It is very important that the policing of our national heritage is being done properly and that the National Parks & Wildlife Service, NPWS, was also advised in advance. I would be very grateful if the Minister could give a direct answer on the issue, as I have not received one to date from the officials I have contacted, and the matter is very important.
The Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, is very welcome. I compliment my Labour Party colleagues on this worthwhile motion with which I agree. I compliment the Minister on everything she said, with which I also agree. More and more citizens now recognise the value of our heritage, including natural heritage, national parks, nature reserves, special areas of conservation, special protection areas for birds, Natura 2000 sites and built heritage - national monuments, historic properties, repositories of national collections in the National Gallery, the National Museum, the National Library and the Crawford Gallery not just for their intrinsic importance in and of themselves and to the story of Ireland and its people but also their importance in attracting international visitors to our shores, thereby generating economic activity. Threats to this heritage, including access, resonate strongly among citizens. I refer, for example to the threat of closure of some of the collections in our national institutions due to lack of adequate resources.
There is also a threat to our wildlife heritage as a result of gorse fires or the introduction of invasive species in the countryside. Recently, all of Mangerton mountain was burnt and certain other mountainous areas as well. I understand we are out of line with Northern Ireland and other places in that regard. While burning must be controlled, it is necessary for regeneration and growth. Many people have made representations to me on the matter and I am anxious to pass them on to the Minister. Perhaps we could move the date for burning back to 15 April and get in line with the North and with Britain. I urge the Minister to take the suggestion on board and to give it consideration in due course.
We have heritage gems such as our national parks, of which Killarney National Park is foremost, where both natural and built heritage are conserved and protected by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Killarney National Park consists of 26,000 acres and historic buildings such as Muckross House, Muckross Abbey, Killarney House and Ross Castle and attracts more than 1.5 million visitors annually. The park and buildings need to be adequately resourced in order that they can continue to provide inspiration and enjoyment for our own citizens and increasing numbers of international visitors.
I am being parochial, but I very much look forward to the Minister’s next visit to both Muckross and to the opening of Killarney House. I note that €7.25 million of State funding has been expended on Killarney House, from both the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and through the tourism remit of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, through Fáilte Ireland. It is a significant investment that must be protected and enhanced, as I am sure the Minister will be concerned to do, as it will come under the management of her Department and the National Parks and Wildlife Service. There are some very good personnel employed, but more will be needed. A proper budget must be put in place, in addition to proper planning and staffing. I look forward to the Minister opening Killarney House. I am not sure when she will be able to do that. I believe the interpretative centre for the park is being installed there. Could the Minister enlighten us as to the state of play in that regard? If it is not due to happen then I hope it will happen shortly. The much valued furniture belonged to the Earls of Kenmare and Castlerosse and to the McShain family. I very much look forward to their memorabilia being in the rooms in that house which will tell the story of both the McShain family, the man who built Washington, and of the Earls of Kenmare who lived there. I also look forward to hearing from the Minister when she thinks the opening will take place. This will be such an iconic attraction in Killarney. I look forward to seeing the golden gates open again. The house is in the town. It brings the park into the town and the town into the park. It will be a tremendous attraction when it opens. Every organisation in Killarney and every citizen is looking forward to it tremendously. The sooner the opening takes place the better. I accept there may be some logistical problems. In her response I look forward to the Minister outlining the exact position and bringing us up to date.
The Minister is very welcome. I am pleased we are having such a debate which affords us an opportunity to explore the issues in full. I very much welcome the update the Minister provided, in particular the update on the national cultural policy. I echo Senator Bacik’s question. I accept the Minister does not have an opportunity to respond to us today as she has had her speaking turn, but it would be great if she could follow up on the matter.
I thank the Minister for the e-mail she sent to Members with an invitation to participate in the local authority workshops as part of Ireland 2016. I suggest that the Minister would send it to some national organisations also. I sent it to one or two myself, as they will then filter it down to their local level. I got welcome feedback to the e-mail and I suspect the information on the initiative has not reached as far as it should. In order to increase local participation, contact can be made with national organisations who can pass on the information at branch level. My background is youth work and children in youth organisations. They certainly want to play a role in the commemorations.
In terms of Senator Mac Conghail’s contribution, I very much heard his awareness of the economic recession. At times, the position we have taken in the Seanad have made it very clear that we understand it. I heard him speak about governance, accountability, transparency and the importance of the arms-length principle. That is very much what is at stake in this regard.
I was disappointed when I saw the motion. Three national cultural institutions were mentioned. It was almost like a parent with eight children identifying three as favourites. Why pick those? I thought perhaps the others would be addressed in the recommendations but they only referred to the National Library of Ireland. To be honest, there was some confusion. I will declare, as I have done previously in the House, that I have a soft spot for the National Archives because I am very much involved with working there, and with the National Library of Ireland because of my personal interest in genealogy.I do not understand why the National Archives, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the National Concert Hall, the Chester Beatty Library and the Crawford Art Gallery are not included in the motion. They have all had to face cuts for one reason or another.
I have a keen interest in family history and I welcome what the Minister said about the development on Bishop Street. It is excellent to hear. I am all too well aware of the importance of keeping our archives and heritage. The National Archives are legally charged under the National Archives Act 1986. The significance and importance of its function in the interests of democracy, transparency, truth and justice cannot be understated. To share a personal experience about truth and the importance of having factual material, because very often we can distort history as we go forward, from my experience of researching my family history I knew the story of how my great aunt fled Ireland with her then two year old child in 1929, abandoning her husband and ancestral home in County Clare. One can imagine how the story read to me. By researching at the National Archives I found in the District Court records how my great aunt tried on several occasions to seek the court's protection from her husband who assaulted and abused her. When she could not get a remedy from the court she was left with no alternative but to escape to England. When I shared this with her daughter, who is now in her 80s, I cannot put a price on the relief, understanding and closure these archive records provided.
To understand and interpret our history appropriately we need to ensure archive material is properly stored and easily accessed. The motion speaks about digitisation. I attended the excellent Heritage Council briefing today and I support everything Senator Bacik said on it. In 2013 we spent €5.9 million on the entire operations of the National Library of Ireland. The Dutch spend €5 billion annually simply to store the digital version of their national library. They invest in this because they have put a price on it. In Ireland there is a belief that we value our cultural heritage, but we need to show we can invest in it. At the very least we should develop plans so that as money comes onstream everybody knows where it is going, where we will invest it and what is the policy for investing in our institutions.
I mention ARIADNE in regard to archaeology, which is very interesting given the discovery programme in Ireland. It works at EU level, developing a singular infrastructure for the storage of archaeology material. If we have too many pilot projects the data set and archiving programme become obsolete. We need to have this at European level. My difficulty is that Ireland has not invested a cent in this and may end up being excluded from a European project on storing archaeology data. Ireland is great at promotion. When I first brought my husband to Ireland I brought him to Newgrange and he was wowed with what we have on our doorstep. We do not fully appreciate it. People travel to Italy to see sites. We are not storing or putting infrastructure in place. We must ensure whatever data storage infrastructure is put in place, whether for archives or archaeology, is at a level at which we can network and use it, and that as systems update we can be part of it.
I welcome the Minister. After a day down in the dungeon dealing with bankers and accountants it is wonderful to be in this beautiful room discussing cultural matters. We are fortunate to be here in the building that was once the RDS cultural centre and where the art college was located. We have the National Gallery, two museums and the National Library beside us. Many people throughout the country are not so fortunate, and we must extend this cultural experience, which we get almost subconsciously every day living in this wonderful location in a cultural capital.
I commend Senator O'Keeffe on what she is organising for the 150th anniversary of the birth of W.B. Yeats. Already we can see what a success it is with wonderful supplements in the newspapers. When I was in the Minister's constituency I dropped into Paddy Kavanagh's place in Inniskeen, where Paddy read his own poetry. It was such a wonderful experience.
All of these cultural experiences enrich us, even after bankers cleaned out the country between 2008 and 2010. We will rebuild it and in the rebuilding, the sectors which did not cause our difficulties should be better treated than those which did. I would like to see a measure to find the four or five sectors which caused the difficulties and address the problems directly. As I say in Trinity College, many things went wrong but Brendan Kennelly's poetry did not cause deterioration in 2008. Let us concentrate on the sectors which got us into this mess as part of the correction. One of the great debates we had was when Seamus Heaney's wife, Marie, and his friends came to the House for tributes to him, which the Leader organised. It was wonderful. It was like a book of poetry as everybody joined in with their favourite pieces of Seamus's poems.
As we rebuild after what happened to us, a suggestion has been made that orchestras and players in receipt of Arts Council grants should hold rehearsals in shopping centres and schools to bring the music and players to the wider community who might not necessarily go along to the National Concert Hall or the Abbey Theatre. It would be relatively inexpensive to do this. They must rehearse somewhere. If children could see all of the instruments in the orchestra and have them explained to them and meet the musicians it would be a wonderful development.
I commend Senator Ó Murchú for all his work as a distinguished musician and member of the Seanad. We must rediscover our soul after what happened to us. I hope there will be a strong cross-Border element. Traditional music is something people on both side of the Border have in common and it is an element well worth developing. Anything that brings the divided country together is, of course, extremely valuable.
I am delighted the Labour Party Senators tabled this motion. We have so much to be proud of, including all of the Nobel prize winners in literature and the credit they brought the country and how well they represented us. In the great cities of the world there is almost always an Irish play being performed. Our music is also renowned. After the nightmare period, as the amendment tabled by Sinn Féin states, we need to build up these institutions again and realise that for relatively small expenditure we can do an amazing amount of good for national morale as we forget about the bankers and accountants and get together in our culture, music and poetry.
The Minister will always have warm support on these benches and we wish her well in her endeavours. I thank her for the work she has done for the centenary celebrations. There is a terrific spirit which has been tapped into and which bodes well for the future.
In the university system funding for arts and social science subjects is a fraction of what the expensive subjects cost. In hard times, when trying to balance budgets as the Minister, Deputy Noonan, is trying to do, we can do many cultural things which would not cost the budget greatly. The Heritage Council and Michael Starrett made a presentation in Buswells Hotel. The small projects they have in very remote places, such as Bere Island in County Cork, are valuable in that they involve local people. There is a spirit there and it is up to us to assist the Minister she taps into it. I cannot think of anything which would be better for national morale.
I welcome the Minister. Perhaps the Heritage Council might like to do a project in the basement of Leinster House at the banking inquiry because we seem to have been there for quite a while and we will be for quite a while ahead.As Senator Barrett rightly says, it is indeed a great pleasure to be in the light, to see the world outside and to celebrate all the activities in the Minister of State's Department by supporting this motion. It is good to hear the Minister of State being so strong about the fact that we do not want to see people having to pay for admission to our own cultural institutions. This is really important and it is good to hear. Our culture is who we are and it is in our DNA. As Yeats might have said, it is in the deep heart's core; it is part of everything we are as a nation and as individuals.
I refer to the capital investment projects, including the ongoing project in the National Gallery of Ireland. The IMMA project is almost at a conclusion, and I look forward to seeing that space when it opens. I refer to the announcement that UCD's Newman House on St. Stephen's Green is to become the Ulysses Centre. That is a particularly lovely project, although it will take some years, which will celebrate Irish writing. It is called, appropriately, after James Joyce's famous work. There is much activity in this regard. People may think culture is just about the music and the poetry, but we need to have the infrastructure to support it.
In the 21st century, people's expectations have grown. Visitors from other countries expect beautiful cultural centres, as they see in other countries. We have some beautiful buildings in Dublin, as Senator Barrett highlighted, and also around the country. It is very important to be ready to add to them, to restore them and to recreate them. This is an important remit of the Department.
I assume I will be expected to talk about Yeats 2015, so I will not disappoint. At the halfway mark of the year, I thank the Minister of State and his Department for having the foresight to make the leap to support this unprecedented project, because we have celebrated one of our writers for a whole year and allowed the contemporary cultural wealth of the country to surround itself in that reconnection with Yeats. I can say without contradiction that so far it has been going very well, with projects coming on stream all the time. Every week, several new projects come to us that were not originally part of what we had set out to achieve. This shows that the project is bearing fruit. People are looking to reconnect and they are inspired by Yeats, as he would have wanted them to be. The idea behind the year was exactly that: to try to reconnect and to encourage people to stand proud and to celebrate Yeats and, of course, others of our great writers. However, in this, his 150th birthday year, he is our focus, and as he is our first Nobel Prize winner, that is entirely justified.
We are looking forward to the Yeats Day festival at the heart of the event in Sligo on 13 June. We have a terrific programme, including the coming together for the first time of the national poets of Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, England and Ireland at the Poet Laureate and National Poets event. Delightful to say, they are all women, but that is just a coincidence. This is the first time they have come to Ireland, and it is also the first time these posts have all been held by women. We will have lovely small events, including events for three-year-old children, and the Poet Laureate reciting poetry. This is all happening on the same weekend, along with other activities such as a sea trail walk, a wine and sausage event and beautiful music. The fleadh musicians will be there and we will have a street festival. There will be wonderful new works on display at The Model, including the Psychic Lighthouse exhibition. There will also be a candlelit salon with all sorts of speakers, including Conor Brady, who will talk about his novels in which he has included W. B. Yeats as a character, which will be entertaining. Like all our great cultural ambassadors, Yeats has that capacity to connect people.
I note that the Dublin dance festival will celebrate with the Bastard Amber project in the Abbey Theatre, also inspired by Yeats. "The Only Jealousy of Emer" is part of the Dublin literary festival, with a lovely photograph on the front of The Irish Timesyesterday to celebrate it. Finally, I cannot not sit down without mentioning Prince Charles and his visit to the west of Ireland next week. Yeats will very much form part of his journey between Galway and Sligo. There will be Yeats in Galway and Yeats in Sligo. It is really important that we connect to tell the story of Yeats across that coast and also to link it with Dublin.
There is also a lot happening around the world. The Minister of State is aware that his colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have been very supportive. Events are taking place in more than 25 countries to celebrate this special year. We have shown that we have the capacity to stand on the global stage and to punch well above our weight in terms of our cultural capabilities. This is at the core of the work of the Department. As Senator van Turnhout said, amid all the dilemmas and the challenges we face in terms of storing artefacts from our archaeological heritage, we have so much to celebrate and so much of which to be proud. This is what gives us all the reason to keep going and to proceed into the future. We are looking forward very much to 2016 and to the Minister of State's Department's input. I note that much work is already being carried out in this regard.
I am looking forward to the Seanad's celebration of Yeats. The House of Lords is having an event two days after Yeats Day. I talked to the Speaker of the House of Lords, who is a fan of Yeats and has read a Yeats poem for us. She is delighted to host an event, and I know this House is also planning an event.
We must keep the arts at the centre of everything we do. Our culture is who we are and why we are. The Minister of State is always afforded a warm welcome in this House. I look forward to seeing the details of the 2025 plan. It is very encouraging to see a long-term plan beginning to emerge. The Minister of State has faced many challenges in recent years and I thank him for his efforts.
I thank all our colleagues for their contributions to this wide-ranging, robust and honest debate, which has been important for the Minister of State to hear. We are very fortunate in the Seanad, and it is one of its strengths that the vocational skills and expertise of Members come to the fore at this time. We are very fortunate to have Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú, who heads up Comhaltas, one of our finest institutions, and Senator Fiach Mac Conghail, who is the head of another pillar of our cultural institutions, the Abbey Theatre. I love when Senator Ó Clochartaigh and Senator Ó Domhnaill contribute as Gaeilge, another cornerstone of our heritage and our culture. I must also mention Senator Susan O'Keeffe's contribution about the fantastic Yeats programme.
No one has a monopoly or absolute ownership of the arts and heritage. Our cultural legacy is wide-ranging and it goes ó ghluain go gluain, into every household in the country, and it belongs to all our citizens. The debate was by its nature broad-ranging and expansive. The Minister of State's remit covers a wide spectrum from bogs to books and everything in between. Every single institution deserves high praise and has to be given as many resources as we can afford. The genesis of this motion came from Senator Denis Landy, whose primary concern was the National Library of Ireland and the National Archives. He was so disturbed by what he saw that he moved the Private Members' motion. I asked him to expand the motion to include other institutions, and it has given the House the opportunity to have an extensive debate. Senator Landy is unavoidably absent today.
The Minister of State was not invited to the House to be praised by Senators but, rather, so that we could respectfully challenge him to address the draconian cuts in the arts, heritage and cultural sector. We are all aware of the cuts and we will not pretend that everything is fine. Currently, only 1% of the National Library of Ireland collection is adequately conserved and protected. It is operating with ten staff, and they cannot deal with all the demands imposed on them with such a staffing level. The same applies in other institutions. I was delighted that the Minister of State spent so much time in his comprehensive address to the House on the issue of biodiversity and habitats, which is another contrasting part of his remit.This is an issue that is very near and dear to my own heart. I will hold the Minister to coming back to me with regard to the EU habitats directive and the role she and her Department have in that. I do not know whether I want to place the burden of the future of the freshwater pearl mussel solely in the Minister's hands, but I hope we will not find ourselves in the position that the only place we can see this species and others is in museums. It is important that we put as much emphasis on our natural heritage resources, habitats, species and wildlife as on our built and cultural heritage, all of which are well recorded in song and verse and on stage and screen. I thank all our colleagues for their contributions and the Minister for taking the motion in the spirit in which it was intended and addressing it in such a thorough fashion. We will continue to challenge the Minister and the Government to restore the funding and resourcing of all the areas that fall within the remit of the Minister's expansive portfolio across arts, culture and heritage.
As fewer than five Members have risen I declare the amendment lost. In accordance with Standing Order 61, the names of the Senators dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Seanad.
As fewer than five Members have risen I declare the question carried. In accordance with Standing Order 61 the names of the Senators dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Seanad.