Seanad debates

Tuesday, 8 March 2022

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Arts Council

2:30 pm

Photo of Annie HoeyAnnie Hoey (Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House for this. I do not know whether he is aware of this or what awareness his Department has on this issue. We know that Covid has not been the only challenge that festivals and artists have faced. I will talk about the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival. Its funding had been increased by 50% in 2019, just ahead of Covid hitting. Obviously, we then had Covid and all sorts of things. My understanding, from my engagement with the team at the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival, is that the funding has now been cut by 100%. It has gone from an increase, pre-Covid, to absolutely and utterly no funding. Having done some research, I cannot see any other festival that has lost 100% of its funding from the Arts Council.

Obviously, this is very concerning, not just based on the fact that this is an internationally renowned festival. It is extremely popular and is held in very high regard. The Taoiseach and the Minister have attended it previously. It is considered one of the key LGBTQ playwright and theatre festivals in the world. It brings LGBT tourism into the city and creates an opportunity to give credence and voice to LGBTQ playwrights and productions that may not get that same opportunity in other countries.

Dublin Gay Theatre Festival has appealed on a number of grounds as to why its funding has been cut. It has sought answers and remedy to the situation. As far as it and I can tell, answers or information have not been forthcoming. There does not seem to be a reason to have cut this funding. It seems quite unusual to have just cut funding for no reason whatsoever, especially on something as crucial as LGBTQ issues.

I hope it is not due to the assumption that because we have marriage equality, we do not need to protect, support or enhance LGBTQ issues and voices in Ireland. I hope that is not the case. I know that some people, when we talk about LGBTQ issues, say that we have marriage equality and everything is grand.

Even if all was well, good and dandy for the LGBTQ community in Ireland, of which I am member, we could not agree that it was the same for LGBTQ communities the world over. This is an international theatre festival. It brings voices, productions and playwrights, globally, to Ireland. It is not just us gays who go to it. International LGBTQ people come to it. We could not, in good faith, say that the situation is the same the world over.

This theatre festival gives voice, credence and space to productions that would otherwise not have been produced, as far as we are aware. Certainly, a number of the people who have come to the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival previously have said they would not have had an opportunity to produce or bring forward these plays beforehand.

The festival is brilliant for tourism and bringing people to Dublin. As someone who used to work in theater, I know it is a great stomping ground. That stomping ground as a place to stretch one's play-writing experience and imagination and get international recognition is very important.

It is devastating that this funding has been lost. The people at the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival do not really understand why it has been lost. No answer has been forthcoming. Is the Minister or the Department aware of this? Do they have any plans to support this vital international gay theatre festival? It is running on no money and it is not good enough that LGBTQ productions and theatre are pushed to the side again.

Photo of Colm BrophyColm Brophy (Dublin South West, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I will take this Commencement matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.I thank Senator Hoey for the opportunity to discuss this matter. The Arts Council is the statutory body charged with supporting developing arts in Ireland. When it comes to funding the arts in any democratic state, the arms length principle is a fundamental tenet in Government funding of arts. The arms length principle recognises that it would not be appropriate for Ministers and politicians to be in a position to decide which artistic endeavours should be funded and which should not. For this reason, the legislation under which the Arts Council is constituted, the Arts Act 2003, includes a provision, at section 24(2), that ensures the council is independent in its funding decisions. The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, therefore, is statutorily precluded from intervening in how and to whom the Arts Council commits its funding.

I recognise and understand the sentiments behind requests to a Minister to intervene with the Arts Council on behalf of organisations that have been refused funding by the council, but I would defend the law in this case by saying that artistic freedom would suffer if Ministers could direct the council on who it should fund. The maintenance of this approach between the Arts Council and the role of the Minister also ensures that all funding decisions are above reproach. I understand that the Arts Council provides detailed feedback on unsuccessful applications and has an appeals process in place. I recommend that the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival adopt this approach.

Across its various funding schemes, the Arts Council supports more than 160 festivals annually. Through its festival investment scheme, the council makes significant investment in festivals nationwide. The addition of festivals supported under the arts grant and strategic funding schemes ensures that there is a flexible and comprehensive support for festivals in Ireland. The council recognises the distinctive role arts festivals play in sustaining a vibrant and sustainable arts profile at local level. Festivals provide opportunities for artists and audiences to experience new work and ways of making work.

There is no funding or revenue stream in the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media that provides funding to organisations which have been refused funding by the Arts Council and there are no plans to introduce one. However, the Department does operate a small-scale local festivals and summer schools funding scheme. The scheme is designed to support local cultural festivals and summer schools which are not in receipt of other essential Government moneys and which may not be eligible under funding criteria for larger scale events supported by Fáilte Ireland, the Arts Council or similar bodies. This scheme is currently open for applications on the Department's website. In addition, Senator Hoey may be interested to note that a number of local authorities support small-scale festivals, in some cases, under the all-of-Government Creative Ireland Programme 2017-2022, led by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.

Photo of Annie HoeyAnnie Hoey (Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister of State for his response but I am not asking that anyone directs the Arts Council to fund this festival or to change its funding system. The issue I am raising is that there seems to be no other revenue stream or way to fund this festival. The festival has gone through the appeals process and the issue is that process. The appeal is about the process, not about the decision. There is no way, as far as I can tell, for the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival to even find out why the funding has been cut. It is concerning that funding can be cut without any reason being given. That is very worrying. This festival has been running for 19 years, with 48 plays published, but now, after two decades of success, it is going to be left with nothing. This theatre festival was incredibly important, not just for Irish but for international LGBTQ theatre. It was good for queer voices and it is really important that it is supported and not left to collapse. I am just devastated to see that this is going to happen to such a brilliant festival.

Photo of Colm BrophyColm Brophy (Dublin South West, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank Senator Hoey for her remarks and reiterate, as I said earlier, that the council does provide detailed feedback on unsuccessful applications and that there is an appeals process. Obviously, there is a channel available to try to get information. I thank the Senator for raising the issue and I will convey her concerns to the Minister.