Seanad debates

Thursday, 26 October 2017

10:30 am

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, to the House. Senator Warfield has four minutes, or less, if possible, to outline his case.

Photo of Fintan WarfieldFintan Warfield (Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Minister of State for coming into the House. I raise the announcement by Fáilte Ireland that a funding agreement has been reached with local authorities. The new funding arrangement will replace Fáilte Ireland's annual regional festivals and participative events programme next year. Fáilte Ireland has informed applicants and promoters seeking that funding that they should now apply directly to the local authority.

I want to talk about diverse funding streams for the arts. It is important that we maintain those funding streams. Doing so protects creativity, ensures transparency and provides greater safeguards for artists in the event of Government cuts. This unique funding stream from Fáilte Ireland supports countless medium and small-sized festivals across the State that enrich communities, and it is a core part of existing structures. As it stands, Fáilte Ireland funds festivals it sees as strategic in nature. The size of the local authority has no bearing. Fáilte Ireland invested €2.3 million in 33 festivals and events this year. Those festivals were not spread across the 31 local authorities, so I wonder how the funding will now be distributed.

I have some questions for the Minister of State. Will he clarify if he has been briefed by Fáilte Ireland and if has met the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys? Will he give us assurances that the current programme will stay true to its objectives? Will he guarantee that funding allocations will be free from political decision-making and that the arm's length principle will be upheld? If a given local authority becomes a guarantor for administering this programme, will it take the opportunity to reduce its own arts budget in light of what may be seen as a surplus amount on its books?

Photo of Brendan GriffinBrendan Griffin (Kerry, Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Warfield for agreeing to defer this Commencement matter until this morning. It is much appreciated.

I thank the Senator for raising this matter, which is of huge interest to a large number of groups throughout the country whose members are currently recipients of Fáilte Ireland funding as well as their local authority funding. As Ministers, I and my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, set national tourism policy to grow a competitive and sustainable tourism industry. While our Department provides the funding for investment in tourism, it is not directly involved in the administration of funding programmes or in the development of tourism experiences. In that context, Fáilte Ireland has operational responsibility for these matters.

Senator Warfield will be aware that the Government’s tourism policy, People, Place and Policy, Growing Tourism to 2025, was published in 2015. It recognises the important role that local authorities play in tourism. That encompasses many elements, including infrastructural development, the provision of amenities and attractions, and the funding of events. Focusing on local government, People, Place and Policy, Growing Tourism to 2025 commits to an enhanced role for local authorities and recognition of the contribution of communities to tourism. Subsequently, the Department published the Tourism Action Plan 2016-2018. The local government sector is a key partner in regard to the action plan.

Arising from the action plan, Fáilte Ireland reviewed its regional festivals and participative events programme with a view to identifying a role for local authorities in the administration of regional festival funding in line with an enhanced tourism role for local authorities. The review has now been completed and Fáilte Ireland and the local authorities have established a funding agreement to bring greater focus to the development of regional festivals and participative events. This new funding arrangement will replace Fáilte Ireland’s existing annual regional festivals and participative events programme for 2018. Accordingly, Fáilte Ireland is transferring funding currently provided under its competitive regional festivals and participative events programme directly to local authorities, based on the equivalent 2017 funding awarded to individual regional festivals.

This new funding arrangement aims to simplify the application process for applicants. Organisations seeking funding for a local festival will now only have to apply to one State body rather than to two. All applicants and promoters seeking funding for 2018 should now apply directly to their local city or county council. Furthermore, local authorities' knowledge and experience of local assets, strengths and history at city and county level means they are best placed to target funding to those festivals and participative events which have the potential to attract additional visitors to local communities within their area. The local government sector already makes a significant contribution to the development of the tourist experience in each local area in numerous ways, including through supporting festivals and events. This new funding arrangement between Fáilte Ireland and the local authorities will strengthen that role.

At the heart of this is trying to cut out the duplication for who are in many cases volunteers making the applications. Given that Fáilte Ireland, relatively speaking, is administering smaller grants, the actual cost of administering the grants in many cases is higher than the grants being paid out. The local authorities, which have an enhanced role, have very good mechanisms and the local knowledge to administer the grants. That system is working well at local authority level.

I take on board what the Senator said in regard to the arts. I will discuss that with the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys. I have met Fáilte Ireland. I meet it regularly, as does the Minister, Deputy Ross. I believe this is the way forward in terms of how we administer grants, but I will liaise closely with the Minister, Deputy Humphreys.I will relay to her the Senator's observations and concerns as to how funding will be administered to recipients in future.

Photo of Fintan WarfieldFintan Warfield (Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Minister of State for his response and welcome his commitment to start that conversation with the Minister. His reply seemed to suggest the changes will not have any bearing on existing funding for the arts via local authorities. The arms length principle is an integral element of the artistic process and ensures good governance and freedom in the creation and curation of work. I recognise the importance of simplifying the application process. I thank the Minister of State for his assurances on this matter.