Seanad debates

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill 2018: Second Stage

 

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

12:30 pm

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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We now proceed to deal with all Stages of the Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill 2018 with the time allotted to group spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed eight minutes, the contribution of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to reply to the debate. Committee and Remaining Stages will be taken immediately thereafter. The Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, is very welcome to the House.

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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The Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill 2018 was initiated in the Dáil on 6 November 2018 and passed all Stages on 11 December, to the point where I present it to Senators today.

This is a short, technical Bill which has one important objective, namely, to increase the statutory limit on the cumulative capital outlay, commitments and liabilities that can be advanced to Screen Ireland, formerly known as the Irish Film Board, from €300 million to €500 million.

Section 1 of the Bill sets out to amend section 10 of the Irish Film Board Act 1980, as amended, by increasing the maximum amount of any investments, loans, grants, moneys and guarantees, less recoveries, provided by Screen Ireland to fund Irish film-making from €300 million to €500 million. The proposal to increase the limit on advances is an enabling provision. Funding of Screen Ireland is of course subject to the normal Estimates procedures as set out by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The proposed legislation will therefore not mean any additional costs to the Exchequer as Screen Ireland’s budget is set by the Oireachtas each year.

As is the case with some statutory bodies which receive public funding, a limit was set by statute on such outlays when the Irish Film Board Act 1980 was first enacted. This limit must therefore be reviewed by the Houses of the Oireachtas every five to six years. In this way, the Oireachtas can monitor cumulative capital funding to this statutory body each time the limit needs to be increased. Since the Irish Film Board Act 1980 was first enacted, the funding limit was adjusted upwards on five occasions. It is now proposed to increase this limit from €300 million to €500 million to allow Screen Ireland to continue to operate within an appropriate statutory limit. When the total 2018 capital allocation of €14.2 million is drawn down, it will reach €295.86 million and the limit permitted within the legislation will almost have been reached. The 2019 capital allocation would breach the statutory limit in the absence of new legislation. Accordingly, I am very keen to advance the process of amending the legislation to increase this aggregate further.

Section 2 cites this Bill as the Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill 2018 and together with Irish Film Board Acts 1980 to 2011 will be cited the Irish Film Board Acts 1980 to 2018. Screen Ireland is the national development agency for Irish film-making and the Irish film, television and animation industry and works within the framework of the Irish Film Board Acts 1980 to 2011. Its statutory remit is to assist and encourage the making of film in the State and the development of a film industry in Ireland. Screen Ireland supports these sectors by providing investment loans for the development, production and distribution of film, television and animation projects. I am pleased to report that €20.04 million is to be allocated to Screen Ireland under the Budget Statement 2019. This is an increase of €2 million on the 2018 figure.

I am glad to report that budget 2019 included an announcement that section 481, which is the Irish tax incentive for film, television and animation, has been extended to 2024. A time limited regional uplift of 5% is also being introduced for the film tax relief. Evidence of the necessity for this legislation is borne out by the activity of Screen Ireland in recent times. In the past seven years, Screen Ireland has assisted the development of a total of 140 feature film projects, 120 documentaries and 30 animation projects. It has also supported over 140 projects for distribution and has seen the development of some 700 projects in the period.

Screen Ireland aims to support and promote Irish film, television and animation through fostering Irish artistic vision and our diverse creative and production talent, growing audiences, and attracting film makers and investment into the country. Recent years were significant in terms of Irish creative talent and the Irish screen industries, not only for the commercial and critical plaudits of Irish film both at home and abroad, but also their breakthrough onto the international stage.

As an agency under the aegis of my Department, Screen Ireland is committed to operating to the highest standards of corporate governance and has put in place an approved code of governance framework which consists of a suite of governance documents setting out the policies, procedures and responsibilities which determine how Screen Ireland conducts its business.

Good governance requires effective procedures for the definition of responsibility and accountability, allocation of budgets, defining expected outputs and outcomes and clear procedures for monitoring performance. My Department has in place with Screen Ireland, an oversight agreement and a programme delivery agreement. The oversight agreement defines the respective roles and responsibilities between both parties as required under the code of practice for the governance of State bodies while the programme delivery agreement sets out the targets and outputs on which performance is measured. In addition, agencies under the aegis of my Department including Screen Ireland have to provide assurances on a regular basis that they are in compliance with employer obligations under the Employment Equality Acts 1998 and 2015, the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, and the Employment Equality Act 1998 (Code of Practice) (Harassment) Order 2012.

The updated code of practice for governance of State bodies includes a periodic critical review for State bodies, which means that they will be subject to periodic scrutiny and assessment. Any issues arising therefore will be considered in due course in the context of a planned periodic critical review of this agency along the lines envisaged in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform’s code of practice for the governance of State bodies 2016.

Photo of Michelle MulherinMichelle Mulherin (Fine Gael)
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Senator Gerry Horkan has eight minutes

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister. This is not my area of responsibility generally but I am delighted to be speaking on the Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill 2018. I acknowledge that the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, has covered very comprehensively what the Bill is trying to do and let me assure her that my party will be supporting the Bill. As is the case with some statutory bodies that receive public funding, a limit was set by statute on such outlay when the Irish Film Board was set up in 1980 and the Irish Film Board Act 1980 was enacted. The limit must be updated by the Houses of the Oireachtas every five to six years. It is as outlined by the Minister largely technical in nature and will allow Fís Éireann to raise the ceiling for the aggregate support provided to the film industry to €500 million.

In recent years the Irish production sector has expanded positively as a result of the inward production of big budget TV dramas, including programmes such as "The Tudors", "Vikings", "Penny Dreadful" and others, while also experiencing a golden age of home grown creativity in a diverse range of feature live action and animation production. Fís Éireann has played a very important role in this growth. The Fianna Fáil Party acknowledges that there are significant concerns however, regarding work practices in the industry and while it is not directly related to this Bill, the supports for both performers and workers in the industry have come under increased scrutiny in recent months. Although these issues fall outside the remit of the Bill, we believe the Government should continue engagement with representatives with a view to ensuring appropriate practices are in place where State funding has been provided. We will be hosting a briefing on the issue with representatives of the sector early in the new year.

I will certainly not be holding up the passage of this Bill. I appreciate that Minister is busy, as are Senators. We have six items on the agenda today and many more tomorrow and Thursday. We are here until 7 p.m. on Thursday, so I wish the Bill a speedy passage.

Photo of Michelle MulherinMichelle Mulherin (Fine Gael)
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Senator Warfield has eight minutes.

Photo of Fintan WarfieldFintan Warfield (Sinn Fein)
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Sinn Féin will also support this Bill. It is a short, technical Bill that allows for the maximum amount of any investments, loans, grants, moneys and guarantees, less recoveries, provided by Screen Ireland to fund Irish film making to be raised from €300 million to €500 million.There have been five predecessors to this Bill with similar effect in terms of raising the ceiling for investment, which highlights the high levels of activity in Irish film. Screen Ireland, formerly the Irish Film Board, IFB, has seen the Irish film industry go from strength to strength in the last decade in particular. While we are certainly holding our own in the global market, funding has yet to return to 2008 levels. The austerity years saw the IFB's budget cut by 44% from €20 million to €11.2 million in 2014. Budget 2019 has seen Government investment move towards 2008 levels, reaching €18 million. This is very welcome, as is the extension of section 481. However, I call on the Minister to be cognisant of the issues raised during the Second Stage debate in the Dáil. The working conditions of artists is an issue that needs serious consideration. While the industry itself has endured under-funding, it has still managed to produce creative works of global acclaim. Often there is an acceptance of the precarious nature of work in film. I studied film in Galway Mayo Institute of Technology but precarious income leads to precarious lives. Many in the industry lack financial certainty and cannot plan their future as a result. Much of the endurance we see across the arts is offset by a 17,000 strong workforce who largely work in the sector because of their creative passion. However, that is not a substitute for regular and secure income. We must try to ascertain how best to support those who make Irish film world renowned.

In response to Deputy Ó Snodaigh in the Dáil, the Minister cited that the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill as a means of combatting precarious work practices in film and has done so again this evening. While that legislation may have some impact, it does not apply to those working on different projects for different employers and who are unsure of the period of employment from one project to the next. One possible solution to this is the extension of the artist's social welfare scheme, which is the responsibility of the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, who has just been with us in the Chamber. Consideration should be given to extending that scheme to workers in film and other performing arts, as a scheme that recognises artists as self-employed and supports them to produce and exercise creativity in a sector that does not offer consistent employment. There are no advertisements in The Irish Timesfor workers in art, film or culture generally. While I appreciate that the scheme is not within the remit of the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, I hope her Department is engaging with the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection on the artist's social welfare scheme which needs to be expanded.

I understand amendments tabled by Deputy Ó Snodaigh to provide for an annual report from Screen Ireland on workers' conditions was not accepted under standing orders. I would encourage the Minister to consider requiring Screen Ireland, the Arts Council and Culture Ireland to report annually to her Department on the issues relevant to their respective areas. In 2009, the heritage sector had an impact worth approximately €1.5 billion and created 24,000 jobs. In 2010, the wider arts sector, excluding film and video, had an impact of €1.4 billion and created 10,000 jobs while in 2015, the audiovisual sector had an impact of €1.1 billion and also created 10,000 jobs. However, one of the problems that we face is that these figures come from different years and that is part of the challenge in understanding the value of our culture. If we want to best equip the Minister and her Department when it comes to budget time, it would be wise for the aforementioned agencies to regularly report on the impact they are having so that we can reward them properly.

Artists themselves are mobilising around these issues. Just last week I attended a theatre forum event on working conditions and the National Campaign for the Arts has been particularly vocal on this. We must have a conversation in these Chambers about this. Recently published CSO statistics show that artists earned 3.5% less in the first quarter of 2018 than in the first quarter of 2013, despite fairly consistent and gradual increases in funding over the period. I look forward to hearing the Minister's views on these issues.

Finally, in her opening statement she said that Screen Ireland is committed to operating to the highest standards of corporate governance and has put in place an approved code of governance framework which consists of a suite of governance documents setting out the policies, procedures and responsibilities which determine how Screen Ireland conducts its business. Does this also apply to those to whom Screen Ireland allocates funds?

Photo of Michelle MulherinMichelle Mulherin (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister to the House and acknowledge the import of her speech. I support the objective of the legislation before us. Funding of €20.4 million has been provided in the budget and tax breaks remain in place to encourage film making, animation and all that our fantastic artists have to offer, which I welcome. This is an area that can grow and flourish in the global village. Irish culture and the Irish approach to creativity is renowned internationally. In that context, this Bill is very welcome. The Minister is a great advocate for the arts and film. I compliment her and her Department on their work on Vótáil 100 and the creative side of that commemoration.

I agree with some of the points made by Senator Warfield. In order for the film industry to grow and become the type of industry of which we can be proud, all stakeholders must be treated properly and fairly by international standards. We must strive to achieve that. What is the return to the Exchequer from its investment in Screen Ireland? What is the spin-off in terms of jobs and the geographical spread of those jobs? It is well know that the creative economy can be developed further and I would like that development to happen in rural areas as well as in cities. Even in the most far flung and remote areas of Mayo, the amount of creativity that exists on so many levels is astounding. There are many professional artists as well as people who are just generally interested in art and creativity and the fusion of their energies leads to more creativity. It is really inspiring. I ask the Minister to provide more details on what is happening on the ground in terms of the facts and figures supporting the investment that the Government is rightly making in film in Ireland.

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister to the House. I also welcome the Bill which I will be supporting through the various stages. It has been shown clearly that huge dividends come from investment in film and the wider audiovisual sector and not only in terms of the employment created and the money generated. The sector has grown substantially and even when other sectors were shrinking, Irish film continued to thrive, win awards and win recognition. As I said, the dividends are not just financial. Film expands our ability to tell stories, ask questions and offer perspectives on the shared human condition and the very specific local human condition.It is extraordinarily positive for Ireland that our film makers, actors, storytellers, and some the social questions posed by Irish films have had a huge impact internationally. They have shaped Ireland's reputation and, in many cases, international conversations. There is huge value to the investment in film in economic, social and cultural terms on a local, national and international level. With this Bill, we are raising the ceiling for an individual investment from €300 million to €500 million. I support this proposal. This is part of a quality agenda, in terms of ensuring that what we produce and invest in is of the highest international standard. However, with that quality agenda there must be an agenda in respect of the quality of employment. Earlier this year, this House passed the Competition (Amendment) Bill 2017. It is important in that it allows those working in the creative industries, including the film and audiovisual industries, to organise and campaign together for better conditions because people in these industries are moving from project to project, with gaps of unemployment in between. It is appropriate that as we approve the raising of this ceiling, which we hope will lead to many brilliant cultural projects that raise the roof in various settings, we would also seek a raising of standards. I accept it was not possible for the Minister to accept the amendment put forward by Deputy Ó Snodaigh in respect of standards in the industry but, perhaps, she would indicate her plans and intentions in this regard, beyond an amendment. The Minister in her speech spoke about employment standards within public bodies such as Screen Ireland, which I appreciate, but we need to look to the question of standards within the wider industry and how, as we raise our investment in this area, we raise regulatory expectation for standards within the sector. It is important that there are routes through the sector and that projects in receipt of significant public investment would provide opportunities for people, as they move from project to project and move from trainee to higher levels. We must have ladders of progression reflected across the sector if they cannot be reflected within individual projects.

Gender equality and Vótáil 100 were mentioned. Some of the many commemorations we had of the year have been in the audiovisual area. Some wonderful films were produced by the Oireachtas unit and others. On gender equality, if film making is one of the ways that we internationally tell our stories, we must ensure it reflects the diversity and creativity of the nation. It is appropriate that we increase our expectations from Screen Ireland in respect of gender. I acknowledge Screen Ireland has committed to a 50:50 gender balance by 2020. I ask the Minister to indicate how she is engaging with Screen Ireland and the sector on the issue of gender equality. The Minister also referred in her speech to Employment Equality Act 1998 (Code of Practice) (Harassment) Order 2012. In terms of our public bodies, we should be seeking to ensure that they not only comply with the law but strive for the highest standards in terms of their policies in regard to dignity in the workplace and so on and that they would set a template of expectations for the wider industry.

I support this Bill, which I am sure will move rapidly through its Remaining Stages. I ask the Minister to indicate how she proposes to ensure this sector is a quality sector not only in terms of output but in terms of the experience of those working within it and how we can move that forward together.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister, Deputy Madigan, to the House. I welcome also the Bill and that for which it provides, in particular the tax relief up to 2024. The Minister has visited Troy Studios in Limerick. It has been a good news story not only for Limerick but for the region as well. It provides employment for people from the surrounding counties and an excellent apprenticeship programme. Limerick Institute of Technology, the University of Limerick and the education and training boards have collaborated with the studio in providing this training. Many graduates from Mary Immaculate College have obtained work in the industry. The film "Nightflyers", which was produced by an American company, was filmed at Troy Studios. The studio recently applied for planning permission to raise its roof so it can accommodate four studios. The tax relief provided for in the Bill is a great incentive from which we will derive huge benefit in terms of development of the regions and job creation. Many film producers have been considering working with Troy Studios. This tax incentive will open up a lot of doors. That tax incentive, along with the talent and many studios we have here, will encourage film producers from abroad to come here. While there have been many films produced at Ardmore Studios and at other smaller studios, this industry is expanding. I compliment the Minister and her Department on their foresight in terms of the scope and interest in this area. It is great those who study drama and the arts will have opportunities here in the film industry. I again thank the Minister for bringing forth this Bill, which, as I said, will enhance the regions and will put not only Limerick and the mid-west but Ireland on the map because it will bring film companies here. Ten episodes of "Nightflyers" were filmed at Troy Studios. I understand the company is considering returning to that studio again, which is welcome.

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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I acknowledge Senators' support for the Bill and their recognition of the additional resources for Screen Ireland in budget 2019. I also acknowledge Senator Warfield's welcome of the performance of Screen Ireland in general. Last June, I announced that the national development plan provides for €200 million in funding over 20 years for this sector, which is unprecedented. Senators also acknowledged the provision in budget 2019 of €20.4 million for Screen Ireland.

I will try to respond to some of the points raised today. On employers and employees in general, existing employment legislation is applicable. There are no special exemptions for this sector. All employees are entitled to the legal protections currently provided for in law, as in the case of any other sector. Senator Warfield mentioned the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017, which I also referenced in my opening remarks. It seeks to improve the security and predictability of working hours for employees on insecure contracts and those working variable hours. This legislation responds specifically to a commitment in the programme for Government to address the problems caused by the increased casualisation of work and to strengthen the regulation of precarious work. This Bill has completed all Stages in the Dáil and is currently before Seanad Éireann. I compliment the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, for her work in this regard.I also pay tribute to the previous Minister, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, who is a Minister of State, the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Breen, and also Senator Gerald Nash, who has raised this issue and worked on it when he was Minister of State. They also conducted a study on the prevalence of zero-hour contracts and low-hour contracts. There is also the Workplace Relations Commission, which is an independent statutory body. Many of its core services include the inspection of employment rights compliance, the provision of information and adjudication on complaints. Notwithstanding all of that, I am satisfied that in general terms the industry does work to a very high standard, but we must ensure that everybody works in a respectful and supportive environment. As a Minister in this area I will try to ensure that happens.

Senator Warfield also mentioned the social welfare system. I recently spoke to the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, who was in the House earlier, about expanding social welfare protections to actors. I know the pilot scheme is confined to visual artists and writers but officials from my Department and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection are examining whether we can extend it in any way. I hope to be able to report back to the House in that regard.

Senator Mulherin is not present but she spoke about the regional value, which was something Senator Byrne mentioned as well. In 2017 a significant amount of money went into this area. The film and screen industries had a gross value added of almost €700 million in 2016, which is substantial. There was a total of 12,000 full-time equivalent jobs in the industry in 2016. More recent figures are available in the Olsberg SPI report for the combined film and screen industries.

Senator Higgins complimented the international aspect of the film industry. Even today, Cartoon Saloon was nominated for an Academy Award in the animation sector for "Late Afternoon". The animation sector is a thriving part of the film industry. We have had 20 Academy Award nominations since 2008 in the animation sector, nine Golden Globe nominations, 17 Emmy Award nominations and nine films in the Cannes film festival, some of which we won.

Senator Higgins also mentioned gender parity. Screen Ireland is committed to addressing gender inequality in Irish film-making and screen content, especially in the roles of writers and directors. It is working towards achieving the 50:50 target by 2020 of creative talent working in screen content. There was a significant increase of 62% in applications received with female talent attached, and an 82% increase in funding awards with female talent attached in 2018.

I will return to the regional uplift. Senator Byrne mentioned Limerick in particular and the good work that is being done there in Troy Studios. That is something we want to see replicated. That is the reason we provided a 5% uplift in the section 481 provision in budget 2019. Dr. Annie Doona, chair of Screen Ireland, commented that consistent Government support for the section 481 relief is imperative to enable Screen Ireland to promote Ireland as an attractive international destination for film and TV production. She specifically highlighted the 5% increase and said it will provide an additional incentive to increase Irish international production activity from Cork to Limerick and Galway to Donegal, developing jobs and investment across the regions. She said she also looks forward to working with the Government to ensure that the process of implementing section 481 continues to be improved upon. The film industry is growing. The Olsberg report states that it is hoped to double the turnover in the next five years. We must ensure there are standards and we are working with Screen Ireland in that regard. I appreciate the contributions from all Senators.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.