Thursday, 19 November 2015
The Minister of State is welcome to the House. Amateur groups are currently rehearsing for performances in spring 2016, and recent changes in access to performing rights - the fact that the application process for performing rights for certain plays is no longer under the Drama League of Ireland but has transferred to an agency in London - are causing difficulty for new agencies, which do not understand the challenges for local amateur groups. One challenge is that the London-based agency will not grant rights to perform in community centres and parish halls. They will also only grant a specific number of performance rights and if groups are lucky enough to qualify for all-Ireland drama competitions, there can be delay in getting additional performing rights. We must also remember that local drama festivals are extremely important to local towns and villages. In my own county, festivals such as those at Kiltyclogher and Carrigallen are very important to local businesses and economies. We also have drama groups in Tubbercurry in Sligo. I know this is a difficult area for the Minister and I would appreciate any support and assistance she could give on this issue.
I thank Senator Michael Comiskey on behalf of the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht for raising this important matter and bringing it to the attention of Government. The Government's policy on the arts is to promote and strengthen the arts in all their forms, to increase access to and participation in the arts and to make the arts an integral and valued part of our national life. Art and drama, in all their forms, are very much part of the fabric of Ireland and our international reputation. Ireland has a proud tradition of amateur drama. Many of our performers, playwrights and directors started out in amateur drama and progressed to the likes of our national theatre, the Abbey, and other stages worldwide.
Primary responsibility for the promotion and support of the arts is devolved to the Arts Council, which provides significant support for drama in Ireland. The council, although funded by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, is statutorily independent in its day-to-day operations and specifically in its funding decisions. The Drama League of Ireland, in turn, aims to support, nurture and enhance the aspirations and activities of practitioners in the amateur theatre sector through education, training, advocacy and advisory services.
The issue of performing rights and their ownership is not a matter for the Department; nor, I understand, does the Arts Council have any particular role in the matter. This is essentially a commercial issue for agents representing writers.
In respect of participation in arts and cultural activities generally, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is currently developing our first national culture policy, which will be welcomed by all those involved in culture and drama. This provides an important opportunity for everyone to have their say on what we want to achieve in terms of our arts and culture over the next decade. The development of Culture 2025 will provide a chance for us to reflect on the important role culture plays in our lives. It will also create a platform to bring together cultural bodies and groups at local, regional and national level. Perhaps that will provide an avenue for the concerns mentioned by Senator Comiskey to be raised.
Of particular relevance is the 12% increase in the budget of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht for 2016. This will provide additional funding across a range of areas, including a new investment programme for regional arts and cultural centres and a boost in funding for the national cultural institutions and the Arts Council. This investment will be of particular relevance to amateur dramatic groups. This Government is working to assist arts and culture at all levels; however, it does not appear that either the Department or its statutory agencies have a role to play in how agents negotiate on behalf of writers.
I thank the Minister for his reply. It is a difficult issue and I know it is the Arts Council that has responsibility for it.I will take the Minister of State's advice on board and relay it to those who raised the issue with me. I welcome the news that more funding will be made available. It is important for local communities, towns, villages and small parish halls that they continue working with the arts. I thank the Minister of State for his reply.
I thank Senator Comiskey and acknowledge his interest in this important matter. The cultural policy being developed by the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, and her Department is Ireland's first ever such policy and will provide an opportunity for the viewpoints of everyone involved in cultural life to be heard, co-ordinated and structured into the national strategy. I will ensure that the Senator's comments are delivered to the Minister. Many groups around the country, in particular amateur dramatics groups, will benefit from the increase in departmental funding that was delivered in the Government's recent budget.