Seanad debates

Tuesday, 24 January 2023

National Cultural Institutions (National Concert Hall) (Amendment) Bill 2022: Second Stage

 

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

2:30 pm

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Martin, is most welcome to the House for this most important legislation relating to one of our most iconic cultural institutions.

Photo of Catherine MartinCatherine Martin (Dublin Rathdown, Green Party)
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On the day that is in it, I will take the opportunity to congratulate all our Irish Oscar nominees. I am so delighted that "An Cailín Ciúin" has made history today as the first Irish language film to be nominated. Beidh sé go hiontach ár dteanga dhúchais a bheith á cur os comhair an tsaoil mhóir oíche na nOscars. I also congratulate Paul Mescal and Colin Farrell for their best actor nominations, and, of course, Brendan Gleeson, Barry Keoghan and Kerry Condon. The record number of Irish nominations is a testament to the strength of Irish culture and arts. Déanaim comhghairdeas leis na daoine go léir a ainmníodh. Gan amhras, léiríonn siad go léir cumhacht na hÉireann mar fhórsa cultúrtha.

I will return now to another stronghold of Irish arts and culture, namely, the National Concert Hall, NCH. Is Bille tábhachtach é agus tá áthas orm é a chur faoi bhráid an Tí. The purpose of the Bill is to provide the legal framework to support the transfer of the National Symphony Orchestra, NSO, and choirs from RTÉ to the National Concert Hall. This legislation represents a critical step forward for the concert hall as Ireland's national cultural institution for music by making explicit the role of the orchestra within that institution and formalising the relationship that has been in place since the establishment of the concert hall.

It also strengthens the State's indemnity for the loan of international art, ensuring that our citizens can continue to enjoy access to important international exhibitions. Since the National Symphony Orchestra performed at the inaugural concert of the National Concert Hall in 1981, the orchestra and concert hall have been inextricably entwined in the public consciousness, most notably through their Friday night concerts. The NSO was founded by RTÉ in 1948 at a time when there was intense demand for broadcast orchestral music. Since then, however, the nature of media and its consumption have been transformed. This, coupled with the acute operational challenges facing the orchestra, has raised questions as to the appropriateness of its continued location within RTÉ. There was also a growing recognition that the orchestra could no longer reach its fullest potential within the structures of a public service broadcaster.

In response to these challenges, RTÉ commissioned a report from consultant, Ms Helen Boaden, which was published in April 2018. It recommended that the orchestra become a national cultural institution in its own right or be positioned within the NCH and funded directly by Government. The report also proposed that the orchestra be restored to its historical levels of staffing and activity. For my part, this recommendation is critical to achieving greater engagement with audiences, developing education programmes and expanding the reach of the orchestra.

In July 2018, the Government agreed that the NSO should be brought within the concert hall's remit. The Department commissioned a report that estimated the full operational costs of the orchestra to be approximately €8 million per annum. To support this process, my Department established an oversight group and a working group comprising representatives from the orchestra, choirs, RTÉ, the concert hall and the unions. During this process, it was agreed that the RTÉ Philharmonic Choir, RTÉ Cór Linn and RTÉ Cór na nÓg should also transfer to the concert hall given the collaborative nature of their work. Protecting the staff and ensuring that their rights were maintained was a key consideration throughout the stakeholder engagement. The Department engaged a financial consultant to provide advice on pensions and benefits to transferring employees. Following extensive consultation, all queries relating to the employees terms and conditions and pension entitlements were fully addressed. Having completed the consultation, the Government approved the transfer of the orchestra and choirs from the RTÉ to the NCH on an administrative basis on 24 January 2022. This transfer was affected on the advice that sections 7 and 9 of the National Cultural Institutions (National Concert Hall) Act 2015 were broad enough to include the transfer of the NSO as part of the broader function of the hall to promote and support the performance of music. The transfer also complied with transfer of undertakings (protection of employment) regulations, TUPE, where transferring members of the NSO and choirs were guaranteed to retain the terms and conditions the enjoyed in RTÉ.

Although the transfer was affected on an administrative basis within the existing legislation, I believe that our objective of a strengthened orchestra requires additional legislative underpinning. To that end, the Bill specifically provides for a new function for the concert hall for the management of the orchestra. It also provides for a voice for the orchestra at the highest levels with the inclusion of a new board member with orchestral expertise. I am pleased to inform the House that today, on the one-year anniversary of the transfer, the National Symphony Orchestra is in the process of being restored to its full playing complement. My Department has since provided sanction to the hall to recruit a music librarian and six musician posts on a permanent basis as well as more than 20 fixed-term player contract positions while the orchestra reviews its long-term needs. This is in addition to a significant number of additional support positions to meet the programming and other needs of the orchestra.

Over the year, it also came to my attention that some of the orchestra's musical instruments required replacement. My Department has since provided substantial support to the concert hall for the purchase of a range of international quality instruments. All this investment is taking place within the overall redevelopment of the National Concert Hall as part of the implementation of this Government's national development plan. The concert hall, with the Office of Public Works, OPW, has developed exciting plans for the Earlsfort Terrace site. I was delighted to announce the Government's approval in principle of the project last month. The redevelopment plans will create a fit-for purpose 21st century auditorium that will establish the concert hall as the cultural institution for music, providing for new public spaces, new learning and participation facilities and spaces to support music resource organisation that are essential to our music ecology and much more.

The Bill includes an amendment I introduced on Committee Stage in the Dáil. Section 14 amends the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997 to increase the limit of the State's indemnity for the loan of cultural objects from outside the State from €190 million to €1.6 billion. The original figure is no longer fit for purpose as it does not account for the significant appreciation in the values of artworks and cultural artefacts, nor for the recent growth in opportunities for important touring exhibitions to come to Ireland. Currently, our cultural institutions must arrange commercial insurance, which is a significant additional overhead. The State indemnity enables our cultural institutions to meet the requirements of international museums and collectors, making Ireland a more attractive candidate for high-profile exhibitions.

Returning to the detail of the detail of the Bill, I acknowledge the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media and its examination of the general scheme.The purpose of the Bill is to bring the orchestra and choirs within the statutory framework of the concert hall, providing for appropriate reporting to me and to the Oireachtas. It also provides for the legal transfer of all undertakings related to the orchestra to the concert hall as well as amending the Broadcasting Act 2009 to reflect the transfer of the orchestra from RTÉ.

I will now introduce the specific provisions of the Bill. The Bill is divided into four Parts. Part 1 deals with general provisions such as the Short Title and definitions of terms in the legislation. Part 2 provides for the transfer of functions, staff, property, and liabilities relating to the orchestra and choirs from RTÉ to the NCH. These provisions date from the transfer day of 24 January 2022. This Part amends the National Cultural Institutions (National Concert Hall) Act 2015 by inserting a number of new sections into the principal Act.

Section 4 provides for the transfer of functions, administration and business relating to the orchestra and choirs from RTÉ to the NCH on the transfer day. Sections 5 to 8, inclusive, are technical in nature and provide for the transfer of all undertakings, staff, assets and liabilities relating to the orchestra and choirs to the NCH on the transfer day.

Section 9 substitutes the name of the National Concert Hall for that of RTÉ in any legal proceedings relating to the orchestra or choirs while section 10 provides that every act done by RTÉ or the NCH in respect of the transfer prior to the commencement of this part shall be deemed valid and effectual for all purposes.

Part 3 sets out a number of amendments to the principal Act to reflect the integration of the orchestra and choirs into the operation of the NCH. In this regard, the critical section is section 11, which amends section 7 of the principal Act by adding a new function for the maintenance and operation of an orchestra and choir to the functions of the concert hall.

Section 12 builds on this by including the orchestra in the corporate governance structures of the concert hall. It does this by amending section 10 of the principal Act to increase the membership of the board from eight members to nine. This additional board member is required to have expertise in the development of orchestras, ensuring that the appropriate expertise is present on the board at all times. Following on from that, section 13 is a technical amendment to increase the quorum for board meetings from four to five.

As I outlined previously, in Part 4, section 14 amends the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997 to increase the limit of the State's indemnity for the loan of cultural objects from outside the State from €190 million to €1.6 billion.

The final Part, Part 5, amends the functions of RTÉ, as set out in section 114 of the Broadcasting Act 2009. Section 15 replaces RTÉ's previous function to manage orchestras and choirs with the function of managing a concert orchestra only.

Although largely technical in nature, the Bill represents the culmination of the journey that the NSO, the NCH, RTÉ, myself and my Department have been on in recent years to build a stronger orchestra within a dedicated national cultural institution for music. The legislation represents the beginning of a new chapter, as we turn our minds to supporting the orchestra and the concert hall to thrive in an evolving environment and to remain at the heart of music in Ireland for generations to come. When President Hillery opened the National Concert Hall in 1981, he described it as "the realisation of a dream long cherished". This Bill brings that dream, shared by music and arts lovers nationwide, closer to reality. Mar a deireann an seanfhocal, is fearr súil romhat ná dhá shúil i do dhiaidh. Táim cinnte go bhfuilimid go léir ag cur ár súile romhainn leis an mBille seo. I am delighted to bring the Bill before the Seanad. I look forward to hearing the contributions throughout Second Stage. I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister for opening her address by referring to the great success of Irish people who have been nominated for the Oscars - Brendan Gleeson, Colin Farrell, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan, and the director Martin McDonagh for "The Banshees of Inisherin"; and "An Cailín Ciúin", the first Irish language film to be nominated for an Oscar, which is truly a great achievement. I congratulate all those involved.

Photo of Shane CassellsShane Cassells (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister for her presentation and outlining the provisions of the Bill on the National Concert Hall. It is exactly one year on today from the agreement that has paved the way for the Bill and the formalisation of the relationship between the NSO and the NCH.

The Minister mentioned the challenges the symphony orchestra was facing and the Boaden report of April 2018. It gave me cause to look back on notes from that year because we dealt with the Boaden report in the committee in October 2018. At the time, I recall that the head of RTÉ Lyric FM and the RTÉ orchestras, Mr. Aodán Ó Dubhghaill, told the committee that RTÉ had seen its total income decrease by approximately €100 million in the period 2008 to 2016. He also referred on that particular occasion to the licence fee still being unreformed. He outlined that budget cuts of some 11% had left morale in the orchestras at a low ebb, and that RTÉ had to sharply reduce commitments to touring and the educational activity of the orchestras. He stated that the review concluded that neither of the two full-time orchestras should be closed. That was the reason we were dealing with the report at the time. There had been petitions from members of the public who cared about the orchestras and the cultural history of this country and believed that an effort must be made to save them. The recommendation was that the NSO should be established as either a cultural institution in its own right or become part of the National Concert Hall. I noted in my contribution at the time the fact that both orchestras, as well as being intrinsically linked to the NCH, did have a record of touring. As a local representative, I was privileged to welcome the orchestra to the Solstice Arts Centre in Navan, which I opened. The overall aim of the decision regarding the transfer is to enable the orchestra to be established as a world-class orchestra, which with the NCH would provide a creative, imaginative programme strategy that would greatly enhance the offering of the combined organisation to the public. It is important to note that in last year’s budget the Minister alluded to the cost of running an orchestra and that approximately €8 million was transferred to enable the transfer of the symphony orchestra and the choirs to the NCH, which would largely equate to the estimated running cost of the NSO.

The finalisation and formalisation of this process comes at the perfect time. It is in conjunction with the vision the Minister and the then Taoiseach, now Tánaiste, Deputy Micheál Martin, announced before Christmas on the redevelopment and enhancement of the NCH. It is a superb vision for a superb space, one that is enjoyed by all of us. In the month of December alone, I attended three different performances, ranging from the “Sunday Miscellany” Christmas performance, which on that occasion used the RTÉ concert orchestra, acoustic sessions and the collaboration with the orchestra by the internationally renowned composer, Brian Byrne, who just happens to be from Navan.

As we do, the Minister values the cultural history, resonance and significance of the symphony orchestra, concert orchestra and the choirs. The process that started on this day last year, to ensure their survival was a proud day. It was a good day for the cultural integrity and history of this country. In conjunction with that, the Government and the Minister are investing in the physical edifice, which is so intrinsically linked. When we looked at all of this following the Boaden report, most people had intrinsically linked the symphony orchestra with the building. We have a perfect collaboration and coming together as well as the securing of the future of the symphony orchestra and the enhancement of the physical edifice of the National Concert Hall, which it occupies and brings to life.

Many have spoken in the past about things that have been done wrong. This is a significant step for the enhancement of our orchestras and the cultural stamp they leave on this country. I pay tribute to the Minister. I look forward to the swift progression of the Bill.

Photo of Micheál CarrigyMicheál Carrigy (Fine Gael)
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The Minister is welcome.I want to echo her comments about what has been a great day for the film industry here in Ireland when we see the nominations. I see that Paul Mescal has been nominated for a best actor award. One of his first films, “Drifting”, was filmed by two young lads from Granard in County Longford, Robert Higgins and Patrick McGivney from Harp Media. Their film, “Lakelands”, which was filmed at home in north Longford, won an award at the Galway film festival and it is featuring at the Santa Barbara film festival in the first week of February. It is based around the GAA back home in north Longford but it has gone international. It is important to put on the record the support from the various arts offices, but critically from Screen Ireland, to a lot of these productions. It is the investment that has been put in by the Government that is seeing days like this and success like this, which needs to be acknowledged.

The Bill makes sense. Some of us in this Chamber can be a bit critical of RTÉ but it makes sense that RTÉ concentrates on television and radio, and that things like the orchestra and the choir would be transferred to the National Concert Hall, where the vast majority of the performances are and where the expertise is based. It is only from now on that we will be able to see both the choir and the orchestra enhanced and expanded. That is important and it is a very sensible move to make.

It also ties in with the announcement that was made before Christmas by the Minister, the Taoiseach and the Government to support what is a hugely ambitious project to make the National Concert Hall one of the world’s great centres for music, culture and arts. It ties in with the proposals for the national theatre. A number of the committee members met with the directors in the Abbey Theatre prior to Christmas to discuss plans there and the commitments from the Government to turn that into a national theatre that we can be proud of on an international scale. The plans that are in place to face that onto the River Liffey will set out Dublin as our capital. When both the theatre and the concert hall are finished, they will stand out worldwide. It is important that we put in that investment. It is ambitious but we are an ambitious Government and we have an ambitious Minister in place. We have the right Minister in the portfolio who is prepared to drive on these projects.

As I said, it is a flagship project for the country to develop the concert hall. It is part of our national development plan so the commitment is there from the Government to enhance the arts in this country, which is important. It is a sensible decision that we are making today to move it over to the National Concert Hall on what is one of the great days for Irish arts, when we see such a significant number of our films nominated for Oscar awards. I commend the Bill.

Photo of Fintan WarfieldFintan Warfield (Sinn Fein)
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The best gig I was ever at in the National Concert Hall was Frances Black - I am serious about that. I welcome the Minister to the House. It was a pleasure recently to visit Robert Read and the team in the National Concert Hall and to get a tour of the site. There is so much potential there, particularly for the secondary venue in addition to the main auditorium. It is the type of size that Dublin seriously needs. Vicar Street has a 1,500 standing capacity but when we go smaller than that, there is really only the Button Factory and Whelan's. There is absolutely a need and I think the National Concert Hall is the place that could fulfil that need, particularly if, as the Minister said, it wants to be at the heart of music and if it wants to be the primary music institution in the State.

Obviously, we will be supporting the Bill. It is a bit of a shame that the orchestra could not reach its full potential in RTÉ, and there are reasons for that. It will cost the same amount, no doubt, but I welcome the fact it will now have a full complement of members. I know from some colleagues in the Musicians Union of Ireland of the issues over the years, and the full complement of members is certainly one issue, as well as the instruments, as the Minister has stated. I commend her on that.

I welcome the capital development. I would ask if the figures identified in the national development plan and Project Ireland 2040 need to take account of inflation, and the Minister might comment on that point.

I want to flag that there are concerns around some of the events like the Haunted Dancehall event that took place in the National Concert Hall under the national cultural institutions licence, as well the Pride events in Collins Barracks. I commend the National Museum of Ireland on using the cultural institutions licence for public events. There is concern that the proposals in the Department of Justice’s Sale of Alcohol Bill on the cultural amenities licence would not improve on the national cultural institutions licence, and that we would be essentially taking away some of the benefits of that licence if we were to go down the road of the cultural amenities licence. I would welcome the Minister's comments on that. We would all support more use of that national cultural institutions licence. It was great to see the concert hall use it recently but there are concerns about the changes to legislation.

Sin é. I thank the Minister for coming to the House. I welcome the Bill, which we will be supporting.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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I want to say a couple of things about the Bill. It does make sense for RTÉ to be divested of responsibility for the National Symphony Orchestra because I think RTÉ has to concentrate on the day job, so to speak, of getting its own finances in order and seeing its role as a broadcaster. I am strongly in favour of public sector broadcasting. I regard one of the frightening things that is happening in the United Kingdom as an agenda on the part of the Conservative Party to bring down the BBC, which is one of the great institutions of that jurisdiction, and we in this country should remember how important public service broadcasting actually is and how important it is to conserve it and improve it. If a narrowing down of the focus of the RTÉ authority enables it to concentrate on the day job of public service broadcasting, I am happy to do that.

There are two points I want to make in regard to this legislation. First, it will improve the financial position of RTÉ notionally and, second, it will improve its concentration on its mission statement. I want to reiterate something which I have spoken about for six years now, since becoming a Senator again, and that is the whole question of financing public service broadcasting. I really believe the Government is funking that issue. It would make far more sense to stop all this interminable advertising on television and radio, reminding us about the need to have a television licence, the cost of collecting it and the cost to RTÉ of unpaid licence fees, and so on, and if that revenue flow was realised by reference to residential property tax and, in the case of commercial properties, by using broadcasting facilities, such as hotels and places of entertainment, and their local authority rates.It is almost impossible to ethically work out, if you look at some matters on your tablet at home, whether you are breaching the requirement for a TV licence. By the same token, there is the absurdity that some families who go for a holiday for two weeks per year to Bunclody, Brittas Bay or wherever else it may be in Ireland, are theoretically obliged to apply for a second TV licence for that premises just because they bring a mobile TV set with them.

It seems to me that the fairest and most rational way to finance public sector broadcasting is to give up the notion of a licence because it is impossible to license phones, laptops and tablets in any rational way. The former Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte, talked about people living in a cave who do not have access to these things and was dubbed the man in charge of the cave tax project at the time. Let us be honest; it is almost impossible to say that any household is not receiving what might broadly be described as visual broadcast services through various devices in the house. It seems to me that the most rational way of recovering money to subsidise public service broadcasting would be to apply it to every home in the country, no matter what. There are very few people who have abstained completely from any connection with public service broadcasting. Even the people who get public service radio broadcasting are no longer required to pay for a radio licence but the TV licence covers it. The time has come for us to get modern and efficient and to stop the incessant advertising on the radio and television about the requirement to have a licence and the good news that this advertisement is brought to you by the Government of Ireland, which always amuses me, as if this to try to improve Government popularity. We should face up to that.

On the National Concert Hall campus, I am old enough to remember going to a freshers exhibition in University College Dublin, UCD, in what is now the National Concert Hall, which was then a big empty space used for study and exams by UCD. The National Concert Hall has its limitations and I would encourage the Minister to think big on this and to use that extensive campus, which has the Iveagh Gardens at the back of it and the old medical schools of UCD to one end, to generate an even better hall than the present one. I would strongly support any way that can be done within the budgetary envelopes for capital expenditure.

I support the purpose of the Bill, which is sensible. If RTÉ is concentrating on the day job, that calls into question whether RTÉ 2FM is necessary. There are plenty of radio stations providing that service. I do not know whether it is a financial breadwinner for RTÉ or whether it costs more than it receives in advertising revenue. There are a vast number of music stations in competition with it and unless there is a strong case for its retention, I suggest that it be disposed of in order that the core function of public service broadcasting can be concentrated on. When we look at the output of RTÉ, at its best it is very good. I am not suggesting that it should be a channel for pointy-headed intellectuals but there are huge opportunities to improve our knowledge and deepen our culture by using and subsidising public service broadcasting and giving RTÉ adequate resources with which to carry on that function. It is for this reason that I strongly support this legislation but I ask the Minister to consider whether the time has not come to grasp the nettle of the TV licence and to recover the same revenue and even more revenue through the change I have spoken about.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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I thank the Minister for coming to the House. I too want to be associated with her words of congratulations to the Oscar nominees. It is truly remarkable that we have 14 Irish nominees spanning five films. Go háirithe, tá an-chreidiúint ag dul go Cleona Ní Chrualaoi agus go Colm Bairéad agus luaim a hiarrachtaí chun dul chun cinn a dhéanamh lenár dteanga dúchais trí mheán na scannán. Huge congratulations, déanaim comhghairdeas ó chroí with them in particular.

I warmly welcome the Bill, particularly the enhancement of the National Concert Hall with regards to the transfer of the National Symphony Orchestra and the three choirs that were previously with RTÉ. We are all aware of how important a role the National Concert Hall has played over many years in providing a platform for orchestral and choral performance and for soloist and classical music but huge credit is due to the National Concert Hall for how it has broadened the number of musical genres it has covered, particularly in the last decade. Senator Warfield touched on the Haunted Dancehall event that it held last October, which showcased up-and-coming electronic and experimental artists. That is music we would never expect to hear in the National Concert Hall but it was wonderful that it embraced such diversity. I applaud the National Concert Hall and urge it to do more of that into the future.

On the transfer of the National Symphony Orchestra, the RTÉ Philharmonic Choir, Cór Linn agus Cór na nÓg, I am conscious that there were a lot of concerns when this was first mooted following the publication of the Boaden report. In particular, the RTÉ group of unions was concerned about their participation and with regard to the number of vacancies and funding for the orchestra in particular. There is a real sense and a greater assurance that there will be more funding, which is good to hear. It is also good to hear that the current vacancies are to be filled. I am aware, however, that there are significant management issues relating to the orchestra, which will definitely need to be ironed out if the true potential of the orchestra in the National Concert Hall is to be fully realised. It is a matter for the National Concert Hall but we cannot allow matters to escalate any further and they will have to be dealt with.

I refer to the potential of the National Symphony Orchestra. There is huge opportunity to ensure the orchestra located in the National Concert Hall can reach out to diverse and previously untouched communities that would never have had an orchestra come visit them. There are a number of striking points in the Boaden report. It states that when Ireland's public service orchestra is compared with those in other countries, there is a lack of touring opportunities and fewer occasions when people outside the main urban centres ever get to attend a live orchestral event. There is also the lack of a mandate for a required number of broadcasts per year.I would love to see the National Symphony Orchestra's remit being developed with regard to broadening the appeal of orchestral work. The redevelopment plan for Earlsfort Terrace and the National Concert Hall is very welcome. In particular there is a great opportunity to broaden even further the number of musical genres that can be accommodated in the new facility.

Photo of Frances BlackFrances Black (Independent)
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The Minister is very welcome to the House. I hope she and her team had a nice break over the Christmas period. I would say it was a well deserved break. I want to be associated with the congratulations to the Oscar nominees, especially "An Cailín Ciúin". It is one of the finest films I have ever seen. Even thinking about it makes me emotional. It is powerful and I recommend that anybody who has not seen it do so.

On our first day back in session, it is lovely to be speaking about unmistakably good news. The Bill formalises and reinforces a process that has already been completed, namely, the transfer of the National Symphony Orchestra from RTÉ to the National Concert Hall. It is a process that has generated a great deal of optimism and goodwill and could signal a revitalisation of the orchestra's capacity and connection with the public.

The Minister's commitment of funds to secure the continued existence of an important part of our collective cultural heritage sends a very positive signal that Ireland is a country that values music and the people who make it. I always say that music is so important because at its best it is a powerful emotional experience that we can share with our friends and loved ones and with total strangers. When a great show ends and the applause dies down the audience sits in a moment of silence readjusting to normal life. I have lived that experience many times. In a society that can feel increasingly automatised and so many factors drive us towards consuming vacuous media at home by ourselves, coming together to hear live music is restorative and life informing. As a performer myself, I absolutely love it and I am sure the Minister has experienced it herself.

Supporting the arts is not just about an abstract notion of preserving culture or even the direct tangible maintenance of performance. It is about preserving public spaces that allow for the collective experience of joy and exhilaration that art and music can inspire in us. I am very hopeful that the move to the National Concert Hall and the funding provided to facilitate it will contribute to the orchestra being restored to its former glory. The orchestra was becoming a little bit run down in the latter years of its residence in RTÉ, with dwindling numbers and even several years without a principal conductor. This decline in staffing was an act of abject cultural vandalism. It is heartening to see the Government take action to reverse it. I hope this move will see the orchestra restored not only in number but also in morale and ambition.

TU Dublin academic Dr. Adrian Smith wrote an article about this transition that was very helpful in bringing me up to speed with the recent history of the orchestra. He mentioned the demoralising effect of the reliance on freelance performers to make up most of the unfilled vacancies. This is a very important point. Music has often been a precarious and uncertain profession. If the orchestra is in receipt of public funding, it should be employing musicians on good, secure contracts. Employers paying people with State money should model the ethical and responsible practices to which we would aspire to see throughout the labour market. The recent pandemic showed just how vulnerable musicians are to losing their livelihoods. Thankfully, the Minister listened when musicians and performers banded together to ask for help in that instance. Otherwise we would have emerged from the Covid restrictions into a barren cultural landscape. The withdrawal of pandemic era supports from musicians before the sector fully recovered from the impact of Covid has been a real blow for many in the unfunded sector.

I celebrate unreservedly the increased support for the orchestra and the Arts Council. The basic income for artists pilot scheme is an exciting and innovative idea. The Minister has a lot to be proud of. I have to say though that I do think about the uncertain future faced by many unfunded musicians. I worry that they do not get the support they need. Sometimes there is a reductive understanding of classical music as an elite pursuit. Steps have been taken to make it more accessible to modern audiences. Orchestral performances of iconic film scores and the presence of orchestras at popular musical festivals are innovative. Democratic methods are broadening the appeal of classical music.

It is also important that the orchestra can travel and play in various parts of the country. This is a shared asset. The largest possible section of the population should be able to benefit from it. An open and welcoming culture of music appreciation and learning has the potential to bridge cultural divides and inspire people to pursue their passions. I warmly welcome the Bill and I congratulate the Minister, her staff and the team in the Department on all of their efforts in this area. I also thank my colleague Senator Warfield for his lovely compliment.

Photo of Aisling DolanAisling Dolan (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, on our first day back to discuss this national cultural institutions Bill. Today has seen the highest ever number of nominations for Irish artists and films at the Oscars. It is an incredible feat and we are very proud of it. We are proud of "An Cailín Ciúin" and "The Banshees of Inisherin". "The Banshees of Inisherin" showcases the most stunning landscapes. Coming from the west I will speak proudly about it. It features Inis Mór on the Aran Islands and Achill Island in Mayo. It looks amazing. It is a film that is comic and dark at turns but the landscape at each and every turn takes our breath away. As part of her remit, the Minister is looking at how to encourage tourism in Ireland. One of the elements she is looking at is a global invitation programme. Given that Ireland is now on the world stage at the Oscars, with our language, culture and landscape, it is time to make an impact with tourism.

The National Concert Hall is a place much loved by people all over the country. For years, I worked just off Baggot Street in Dublin. I used my lunch hour to try to fit it all in and see some of the lunchtime events at the National Concert Hall. For a very competitively priced ticket of €5 or €10, I could see a symphony orchestra. I was able to come out of my day of work at lunch hour and sit down and see 40 to 50 people play music just for me - and for everyone else who was there. Over the past 20 years that I have known it, the National Concert Hall has gone out of its way to make music accessible. Whether it is Debussy, Ravel or Sibelius, or whether it is discovering the joy of Tchaikovsky in full symphonic flow, this is what the National Concert Hall is for. It is an absolute jewel that we have in Ireland. I appreciate what is done to make it accessible.

I would like to ask the Minister about apprenticeships and how people might be able to get involved. There are music partnerships, including Music Generation, in the local authorities in Galway and Roscommon. There are ways in which children get to learn about music. There is an amazing town band in Ballinasloe. Phenomenal people have come from our town, including Eímear Noone who went on to be a female composer at national and global level. Music is very important.

I acknowledge that the Bill will bring the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, Cór na nÓg and RTÉ Cór Linn from RTÉ to the National Concert Hall and I will appreciate seeing them come together. I want to ask about increasing the size of the board by just one member. Is this sufficient? Will board members have enough wherewithal to manage four different groups considering the amount of work they do already?

I thank the Minister. I am looking forward to this development. The National Concert Hall is not just about classical music. Coming up very shortly is "Radiohead, A Jazz Symphony". All I can say is that I am really looking forward to it. I thank the Minister and I look forward to discussing the other Stages of the Bill.

Photo of Catherine MartinCatherine Martin (Dublin Rathdown, Green Party)
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I thank the Senators for their contributions. I am encouraged by the engagement we have seen on the Bill and the various issues related to it.This Bill represents a crucial stage in the journey of both the National Symphony Orchestra and the National Concert Hall. The transfer of the orchestra and this Bill mark an important next step in addressing the challenges for the orchestra as highlighted by the Boaden report and in delivering the National Concert Hall's vision of being an inspiring and world-renowned music destination. The NSO, as Ireland's premier orchestra, is central to delivering on this vision which, coupled with the ambitious redevelopment plans for the concert hall announced last month, will see it transform into the pre-eminent centre for music in Ireland. I am proud to say that I have already provided the necessary sanctions to bring the orchestra back to full strength. I am putting in place the necessary funding for investment in new and much-needed instruments for the orchestra.

In the time allotted to me, I will try to address as many issues as possible, as raised by Senators. If I do not address the issues they raised, I will get officials to contact them. I welcome Senator Cassells's intervention on touring and the opportunities that redevelopment will present. As the concert hall is currently developing plans for its relocation, which will be finalised as the project nears construction, it will inevitably require alternative spaces for performance, rehearsal and administration. While the details are still being worked out, the concert hall's plan will be worked out based on a similar level of activity to that which currently happens. It is also looking at what opportunities might emerge from this period of relocation, especially with respect to engaging new audiences around the country and new locations within Dublin. As such, I believe the Senator can expect more touring as we restore and revive this important building and institution.

Senator Sherlock raised management issues. We are working closely with the National Concert Hall to ensure a smooth transition. We are supporting a change management process and I understand a dedicated consultant has been appointed to support this process.

Senators Black and Sherlock raised the matter of filling the NSO vacancies. Before the transfer was effected earlier this year, there was uncertainty regarding the funding model for the orchestra. This impacted the orchestra both operationally and with regard to recruitment. As I said earlier, the NSO was below the playing complement to perform the full classical repertoire, which led to a reliance on casual musicians to supplement the orchestra for nearly every single performance. On the transfer day, 54 musicians and nine ancillary staff moved from RTÉ to the concert hall. Since then, the National Concert Hall has worked diligently to begin the process of returning the orchestra to its full playing strength. This has included much internal discussion on the development of a specialist recruitment process that will best serve the needs of the orchestra. The recruitment of musicians to a permanent position in a national orchestra is far removed from the typical process of interviews or testing that one might see in another field. It involves players auditioning both individually and on a trial basis with a larger orchestra. It can take several months to ensure that musicians of the highest calibre are recruited.

Over the last seven months, my Department has sanctioned the filling of a number of a number of vacant positions within the orchestra and choirs. These included permanent posts such as music librarian, orchestra leader and first violin, as well as section leaders for percussion, double bass, horns and timpani, as well as a principal bass trombone. I feel I am back in the classroom teaching the four families of the orchestra. The National Concert Hall has also received sanction for 26 fixed-term guest musician contracts and contract extensions for four choral co-ordinators, along with a number of support staff to support the orchestra's important work. It is my intention that we will approve more permanent posts this quarter as we balance the immediate needs and long-term vision for a restored orchestra.

Senator McDowell knows that the future of media commission made 50 recommendations about media in Ireland, including public service broadcasting. I recently published an implementation report in respect of that. I committed to the Government that I will get back to it on the question of reforming the licensing system. I assure the Senator that the future of public service broadcasting and a strongly functioning media sector is a key priority for me. He commented on opportunities for the site itself. We will bring back that fresher life to it. As he knows, before Christmas I was delighted to announce Government approval in principle for the vast overhaul and redevelopment of the concert hall. It is an exciting project which will deliver the expansion, refurbishment and remodelling of the main auditorium, increasing the overall space by 40% to 1,500 sq. m. It will have additional balconies and an extension to the rear which will provide access and services essential to the concert hall. It will add about 150 to 225 additional seats depending on the configuration.

The redevelopment will renovate and open up the main entrance foyer, creating a multi-function modern space with new access to historic marble stairs, universal access, an enhanced reception, booking offices and other services. It will remodel the old medical library as a new rehearsal hall for the National Symphony Orchestra because it currently rehearses in the main auditorium, which limits the opportunities for daytime performances. Refurbishment of the 1865 block, including the John Field room and the provision of new dressing rooms, offices, a canteen, library, studio and other services, includes the refurbishment and restoration of the historic and currently vacant 1865 site to include musician facilities, performance, rehearsal and practice spaces, storage and side-stage areas. Overall, the changes will upgrade a massive 16,300 sq. m of the Earlsfort Terrace site. They will protect and restore this heritage asset and create the necessary infrastructure for the much-expanded national cultural institution for music, which I think will get global attention when it is completed.

Senator Warfield asked about the costs of such a project. It is a flagship project under the national cultural institutions investment programme. It will represent the largest single investment in a national cultural institution in a generation. While the appraisal to date has provided a robust estimate of costs, the actual costs will be established when we go to market. Given that the project still has to go to tender, it would not be appropriate to make an estimate public at this stage. The budget itself will continue to be elaborated and refined as the process proceeds through the planning and detailed design stages and ultimately when it goes to tender.

Senator Warfield raised concerns about the cultural amenity licence in the legislation which is before the Joint Committee on Justice today. I am aware of concerns about it. My officials are engaging with the relevant stakeholders.

Senator Sherlock raised the importance of reaching diverse audiences. I highlight, as she did, the incredible success of the Haunted Dancehall event. Other Senators raised that too. It was an electronic music night at the National Concert Hall, supported by my Department as a pilot event for the night-time economy. This pilot demonstrated the exciting potential of the National Concert Hall to serve as a centre for all types of music, to embrace all audiences and to reach out to all walks of life. When I visited the concert hall recently, the board members were hugely animated by what happened that weekend, its success and the opportunity to access entirely new demographics. I hope to see much more of that.

Senator Dolan raised music support and outreach in general. As she mentioned, Music Generation would be key to that.

As I outlined today, the National Cultural Institutions (National Concert Hall) (Amendment) Bill 2022 is a technical Bill. It provides for the transfer of functions from RTÉ to the National Concert Hall as well as an increase to the limit of the State indemnity for the loan of international artworks to nine of our cultural institutions.

I thank Senators for their engagement today. My officials have noted all the issues they raised. I am sure these will become part of our considerations if related to the Bill. I have heard other concerns that may be outside the scope of this Bill but are relevant to my portfolio. I request that any Senators who intend to table amendments to the Bill give departmental officials sight of their amendments at an early date so that, where possible and appropriate, they can be given due consideration.

As I said, this Bill represents an important step in the journey of the orchestra and the National Concert Hall. It is a critical part of the National Concert Hall's ambitious vision for the redevelopment of symphonic music in Ireland, with the restored symphony orchestra taking its place in a 21st-century concert hall. This legislation will enable the National Concert Hall to commence the process of returning the orchestra to full strength and empower it to deliver on the recommendations outlined in the Boaden report. I acknowledge the hard work of my officials in preparing the Bill, which I am pleased to introduce to the Seanad. I look forward to making steady progress and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Photo of Micheál CarrigyMicheál Carrigy (Fine Gael)
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Next Tuesday.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 31 January 2023.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Shane CassellsShane Cassells (Fianna Fail)
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Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar athló ar 5.59 p.m. go dtí 10.30 a.m., Dé Céadaoin, an 25 Eanáir 2023.

The Seanad adjourned at 5.59 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 25 January 2023.