National Orchestras: Discussion

At a previous meeting, we considered the issue of orchestra services at RTÉ on foot of a petition. To help us further consider this matter, I welcome Mr. Aodán Ó Dubhghaill from RTÉ, the head of RTÉ Lyric FM and RTÉ Orchestras, and Mr. Rory Coveney, special adviser to the director general of RTÉ, and Mr. Mathew Horsman of Mediatique, co-author of the recent review of RTÉ's orchestral services.

I advise our witnesses to turn off their mobile phones as they interfere with the sound system and will interfere with the broadcasting of the meeting. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give to the committee. If, however, they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I also advise them that the opening statement and any other documents submitted to the committee may be published on the committee website after the meeting.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I invite Mr. Ó Dubhghaill to make his presentation, which we will follow with an interactive question and answer session.

Mr. Aodhán Ó Dubhghaill

Go raibh maith ag an gcoiste as ucht an chuiridh domsa a bheith anseo inniu chun an ceol in Éirinn a phlé I thank the members for inviting us here today to discuss the public petition concerning the future of RTÉ’s Orchestras. I am joined here today by my RTÉ colleague, Mr. Rory Coveney, and Mr. Mathew Horsman from Mediatique, which completed the review, entitled "RTÉ Orchestras: Ensuring a Sustainable Future", with Ms Helen Boaden.

The petition to Minister for Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Josepha Madigan, came on foot an announcement by RTÉ that it would conduct an independent review of its orchestral provision. The fact the petition garnered such support, and that is has been presented for the formal consideration of the Oireachtas, is testimony to the importance of this issue. RTÉ concurs with that position, and we welcome the opportunity to discuss the findings of that review with the members here today. As members will be aware, this review was conducted against challenging financial circumstances facing the organisation, and these circumstances persist.

Members may have seen that just last week the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, RTÉ’s regulator, having completed a statutory five-year review of both RTÉ and TG4, recommended:

at a minimum, that RTÉ should receive an increase in its annual public funding of €30m per annum. Given the urgency of RTÉ’s current funding position, the increased level of public funding recommended should be available to the broadcaster immediately.

In presenting its recommendations, the BAI has taken account of the fact that, notwithstanding its frequent funding recommendations to Government in the case of RTÉ, there has been no television licence fee increase in more than ten years. RTÉ's total income decreased by approximately €100 million per annum, or 24%, between 2008 and 2016. Commercial growth has been modest since 2016 and the television licence fee system remains unreformed.

As Mathew from Mediatique will explain shortly, orchestral music in other countries is typically supported by a variety of public funding mechanisms and grants at national, regional and local government level. In Ireland, by contrast, full-time orchestral music is dependent on just one public funding source: the TV licence fee. While RTÉ orchestras have been relatively protected, their budget has declined by 11% in that period, much more than other areas of RTÉ's output. We now have significant vacancies in our orchestras and have had to sharply reduce commitments to touring and educational activity. Morale within the orchestras has suffered, as has the overall public value of our orchestral provision.

As the review was triggered we were looking at more cuts to budgets and were finding it difficult to see how we could accommodate even the current level of provision. There was no possibility of the increase in budgets that would be required for the orchestras to return to full strength and undertake touring and education programmes. Put simply, RTÉ commissioned the Boaden review because it was clear to us that, as far as the RTÉ orchestras were concerned, the status quo could not continue. Although there might have been some erroneous assumptions made that this review was intended to reduce orchestral provision, there was a wholly correct observation in the following statement:

The implications of these cuts are shocking, especially given that Arts and Music Education in Ireland is already severely underfunded, and one of the worst systems in the whole of Europe. Something needs to be done to preserve and develop these orchestral institutions.

It was within the spirit of exploring viable solutions to address this situation that RTÉ commissioned the review.

RTÉ is aware of the importance of our orchestras within the wider cultural life of the nation and the role we have played in this for the past 70 years. The issues raised, as evidenced in the online petition and the Mediatique-Boaden review, affect not just RTÉ but Ireland as a whole. The review carried out in-depth analysis of the options facing us, ranging from outright closure to a merger to retention with full funding restored. Critically, the review concluded that neither of the two orchestras should be closed. In fact, they suggested both orchestras should be brought back to full strength. It became clear to the review authors, as they consulted widely, that there is widespread support for the retention of both orchestras, across the orchestra sector, among all political parties and within Government but, owing to the review, there is also now a wider understanding and recognition of the challenges facing RTÉ with much more constrained financial resources.

The review outcome and key recommendations are consistent with the analysis of previous reviews such as the PIANO report. It recommended that the National Symphony Orchestra, NSO, be either established as a cultural institution in its own right or move to become part of the National Concert Hall. A key provision of the review is that it promotes RTÉ’s role as a key orchestral media partner, through ongoing stewardship of National Concert Orchestra and close affiliation with the NSO in the future. It recognises the balance between RTÉ’s financial constraints and its public service role in promoting music, arts and culture.

Flexibility will be required from orchestra members, but the recommended approach provides a sustainable means of restoring the orchestras to former strength and the basis for a new creative vision. RTÉ was acutely conscious that any decisions that followed the review were not to be for it alone to make. The overall funding and governance arrangements for orchestral provision in Ireland are as much a matter of public policy as they are considerations for RTÉ. The support of Government, therefore, will be essential if orchestral music in Ireland is to flourish and if the recommendations of the review are to be implemented.

In July, the Cabinet considered the review and its recommendations. We included the statement issued by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, in the materials we sent to the committee. It will be seen that the Government has decided that the National Symphony Orchestra is to come within the remit of the National Concert Hall. In addition, the Government authorised the initiation of discussions on the implementation of the recommendations of the review. Those discussions are to be led by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, through both an oversight group and working group and the relevant stakeholders, RTÉ and the National Concert Hall, and with appropriate wider consultation.

There has been initial contact between the various stakeholders and the terms of reference for the groups is now being finalised. We hope to begin the formal discussions shortly. That is where things stand today. We thought it would be useful for the committee in considering the petition, and the related issues it has raised, to hear from the authors of the Boaden/Mediatique review about their findings and their analysis. Ms Helen Boaden, unfortunately, could not be here but Mr. Mathew Horsman of Mediatique is here to give a brief overview of the outcomes of the review. We will take questions after that, if the committee wishes.

I propose we hear the submission from Mathew. I am dispensing with the formalities here, so forgive me for referring to the witnesses by their first names. It is just the way we operate this committee and it is much easier. Does Mathew want to add to that and give us his overview?

Mr. Mathew Horsman

We submitted a lengthy presentation to the committee before. I hope it was useful for those who had a chance to look at it. It has quite a lot of the data that is in here. I will give some observations and then go straight to questions, if that makes sense.

Please go ahead.

Mr. Mathew Horsman

My company, Mediatique, with Ms Helen Boaden, was asked to do this report back in November. We spent several months talking across the market, to many different people in orchestral music and classical music and most, if not all, of the stakeholders with some skin in this particular game concerning the future of orchestral music in Ireland. As we started the process and went through it, we were aware that the review was coming at a time of financial challenge for public service broadcasting. RTÉ, throughout this period, and for some time before, had been facing funding pressures with the licence fee as well as commercial revenue weakness. That was exacerbated by the structural challenges faced by media companies. I refer to the new entrant challengers such as Amazon, Facebook, Apple, all of the things that people talk about.

When we set out to do this work, we also understood two other important contextual issues. One was that there were no countries or markets in the world where orchestral music is not publicly funded. There is no commercial funding model for orchestral music - there is always a public funding element. We were also aware, however, as we went through the international benchmarking, that Ireland was very different from many markets. It had only one form of public funding, that is the licence fee, and the only full time orchestras in Ireland were both operated by RTÉ. That was the background for the report.

The question we were asked to answer was not whether one should shut orchestras or merge them. The question was about whether we sustain the provision of orchestral music in Ireland and that was what we set out to answer. We did international benchmarking but I will not go through the detail because it is in the pack. We looked at a number of sources of evidence, including stakeholder interviews and data from surveys asking people what they thought. There was widespread support for orchestral music, even among those who do not necessarily consume it. People also believed there should be an element of public funding, so there was a good measure of support in the survey. We also did much financial modelling and checking across the market for market sizing and context for all this. While we were completing the recommendations, which I will finish on, it was very clear to us that the challenge for RTÉ was huge.

Between 2008 and 2016, the last year for which we had data at the time of the report, income decreased by 24%. The orchestras were actually quite protected in that period, being down by 11% and so less than the overall hit RTÉ took. From looking at the situation, however, it was difficult to see how RTÉ could continue to fund the current level of provision, given the demands on the licence fee and commercial revenue, let alone increase the orchestras' traditional touring and educational activities back to historic levels. We did think those traditional touring and educational activities were very important in respect of the overall situation of orchestral music in Ireland.

We concluded the orchestras were so important that they were more important than RTÉ. Even though our job was to answer a question put to us by RTÉ, our answer became more complicated because RTÉ did not have, within itself, the full answer. We felt that answer should, therefore, be a statement that both orchestras should be safeguarded, they should be brought back up to their traditional strength and they should again tour and do educational programmes but that only the concert orchestra should remain within the control and direct operation of RTÉ as a traditional public service orchestra. The National Symphony Orchestra, living up to its name, would be a true national symphony orchestra either as a cultural institution in its own right or through the evolving status of the National Concert Hall. It was a natural partner through its operations and facilities.

We did not come down on one side or the other. That was something for the players and stakeholders to decide. We felt that something that would give the NSO independence from RTÉ would safeguard its future. We also thought that would give both orchestras the chance to have a renewed creative vision and to work together. I will underline, as my last comment here, that we had some suggested funding outcomes, but that is, again, for the stakeholders to decide. We suggested there needs to be an ongoing contribution from RTÉ, even to the NSO, in the form of what we called the broadcasting fee. That was because it was important that the RTÉ continues to support the orchestra. There would, however, be a shortfall if we were to get the kind of outcome we wanted, and that we think is desirable in Ireland, of returning to historical levels. The Government would be asked to step in to meet that shortfall. Our recommendation was that would occur and I was pleased to see, around the time the report was published, that the Government agreed that these were interesting recommendations and worth taking on board.

I call Deputy Cassells.

I welcome the three witnesses. I thank them for the presentations and the discussion we are having on the National Symphony Orchestra and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. I greatly value both. It is, perhaps, often forgotten that the RTÉ Concert Orchestra has a presence beyond Donnybrook and the National Concert Hall. I was delighted last year to welcome the RTÉ Concert Orchestra to my own home town of Navan. As part of its programme, the orchestra played a gala concert to mark the tenth anniversary of Solstice, our own arts centre in Navan. A native son of Navan, Mr. Brian Byrne, was conducting that night. It was greatly valued by our patrons and indeed by the people of our county.

Days and weeks of practice, however, were required for people to enjoy those two hours of entertainment and pleasure on that Friday night. There is the rub in respect of funding in this budget week and the discussions we are having to sustain a valued cultural contribution to our country. I am familiar with the issues Mr. Ó Dubhghaill has raised about income. I looked at the report and the €100 million drop in total revenue over the past ten years is something I, and the Committee of Public Accounts, have pressed when we have discussed this. I refer to the need for an honest appraisal by all bodies and for them to state they will stop dodging the bullet and actually deal with the funding issue for our national broadcaster and all of the other activities that entails. If we do not do that, as a result of the conversations here today, there is an overhanging threat, implicit in the background, to the future of our concert orchestra.

The challenges other platforms are posing to commercial income, as Mr. Horsman has said, because of where commercial partners are now going as opposed to the traditional areas, has to be taken into consideration when funding is being decided for RTÉ and all that it provides. On the review itself, as Mr. Ó Dubhghaill said, I welcome how it has brought a spotlight onto these issues. It has, perhaps, also shown that there is greater public awareness than people anticipated. The statistics produced are interesting in respect of those 35% who have attended an RTÉ Concert Orchestra performance, and some people attended more than once.

That is a very encouraging statistic. The listenership for orchestras on Lyric FM is at 16% every month. There are strong percentages there for what is a very niche market. It shows a greater public awareness than perhaps many people thought. It is interesting to have that debate and it shows the value of having the review because it underscores the commitment to keeping funding.

Assuming we can get past this impasse and services are retained, how can we make sure we do not come back to this again? How do we ensure that it grows and that there is not this threat of a part-time orchestra and so forth? Mr. Ó Dubhghaill talked about the flexibility that would be required from orchestra members. He might elaborate on that somewhat. He spoke about synergy and the work of the National Symphony Orchestra coming within the remit of the National Concert Hall. How has all that panned out and how is it coming together? What are some of the challenges the witnesses are facing? I welcome them, thank them for the work that has been done and assure them that I will be advocating for the funding that is necessary to make sure we protect and grow a valued part of our culture.

Mr. Aodhán Ó Dubhghaill

The future provision of orchestral music in Ireland is so much in everybody's hands here at the moment. Whether we are able to go to Navan, Cork or Limerick in the future is all dependent on future funding. We currently do not have that funding, which does not allow us to get outside the Pale. That is our big ambition for both orchestras. My daughter has a music school in Macroom in County Cork and is teaching 150 pupils. Those kids need to be able to see and be part of the future of orchestral provision in Ireland.

My own background is in music. The orchestras are 70 years old and I have been part of them for at least 40 years, which does not augur well for my future. As well as being able to bring the big repertoire to people - the Beethovens, Mozarts and Bachs of the world - we also have to be able to encourage our own indigenous musicians, composers and conductors. Without the funding, we cannot do that. We have heard of people like Seán Ó Riada, Bill Whelan or Shaun Davey. The members may not know those names but they will know the pieces. They will know "Mise Éire", "Riverdance" and "The Brendan Voyage". All these pieces that have gone on to international acclaim over the years have come through our orchestras, musicians, composers and conductors. That is what we need to protect for the future and that is what we are trying to do with this report and its outcomes.

Mr. Rory Coveney

I would like to thank the Deputy for his support in another committee in respect of our overall funding position. Many of those issues have been well rehearsed in the last year particularly in various Oireachtas committees. The director general and a number of others are in front of another committee next week to talk about some of the more pressing issues around our ongoing difficulties in respect of deficits and financial sustainability.

As Mr. Ó Dubhghaill said somewhat passionately, he has lived this for many years. It is about trying to protect and sustain something. The petition rightly says that something needs to be done. We are at an impasse or crossroads, not just in respect of RTÉ more broadly but specifically in respect of the challenge around sustaining two orchestras. The review has attempted to create a road map for a sustainable future. What happens next is important. As Mr. Ó Dubhghaill said, these are not decisions just for us to make. We have been heartened by the reaction of Government. It was swift in supporting all the findings of the review, which has implications in terms of finance and governance for people other than just us.

The Cabinet considered the review in total and the recommendations therein in July and made an important decision around the ultimate home of the NSO. There are two options in the review, as Mr. Horsman stated, and the Government came down on the side of joining the National Concert Hall and the National Symphony Orchestra in one cultural institution into the future. That has challenges, of course, but there is logic to it. It is the current physical home of the NSO. There is no doubt that there are significant challenges for the hall to absorb the very big new responsibility of running the National Symphony Orchestra, not least the number of people in it. It is growing its head count very significantly - in fact, it is tripling.

There are associated governance arrangements in respect of the legislation that underpins the National Concert Hall. Some of that may need to be adjusted and the board structure of the hall itself may need to reflect the new responsibilities. Ultimately, as the review recommended, there is a new funding mechanism which would require a grant of some kind to be delivered, most likely through the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, a continued funding relationship between RTÉ and the NSO and, obviously, commercial income generated from the performances as well. All of that is to be worked out over the next year or so, along with the physical transition in terms of employment rights and everything else. That process between RTÉ and the National Concert Hall is to be managed by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, which has been mandated by Cabinet to do so. It is chairing the respective working groups to get this done in a way that works for everyone. So far, so good.

I should also say that this has been very difficult for the musicians from the outset. They have had their future dangled in front of them and uncertainty about their future has been around for some time in RTÉ. The review understandably made everyone somewhat nervous. There is a plan and there now appears to be support for it. We are hopeful that all the stakeholders can deliver it as soon as we can.

I welcome the witnesses. The timing is pertinent. It has been a very difficult number of years across so many parts of the State. To hear the Minister saying yesterday that the State has balanced its books should mean that we can be much more optimistic about how we support cultural and other very important parts of our State and how they function. Now is the time. We should all acknowledge that there seems not to be real disagreement here about the ambition of the petition, what RTÉ is saying or what we are hearing from Government.

Mr. Coveney touched on something just now. Are there people who are not happy with the proposal for the symphony orchestra to move from RTÉ and into the National Concert Hall? Where specifically are those challenges? The phrase "full-time" was used although it is not in the text of the statement. I want to ask about the broader provision of orchestral music in the State. In Cork, for example, we have the Cork Symphony Orchestra and the youth orchestra. The witnesses stated that Ireland has the worst model. Could they give an example of best practice of the progression, from young people starting to learn through to the schools of music - Mr. Ó Dubhghaill mentioned his daughter's school - to the institutions, the voluntary orchestras and ultimately - I do not want necessarily to say it is tiered but the witnesses know what I mean. Are there other models of a better progression?

Has consideration been given to other orchestras within the State, whether youth or adult, which are not currently provided for by RTÉ?

Mr. Rory Coveney

I will deal with the first questions and Mr. Ó Dubhghaill and Mr. Horsman will deal with the second and third questions. I cannot speak for everyone, but within RTÉ's cohort of musicians and orchestral management it is reasonable to say there are mixed views on what has been proposed. However, there is pretty strong agreement that the status quo is untenable. There is a cohort of people who would rather remain in RTÉ and a cohort who cannot wait to get out of it. A majority are optimistic about what is to come, but want to see it done properly. Mr. Horsman has spoken to many stakeholders outside RTÉ to get a sense of their views, but it is reasonable to say there is a mix of opinions. Most people are optimistic, particularly if the plan is delivered as seems to be proposed.

Mr. Aodhán Ó Dubhghaill

The members referenced the other orchestras in Ireland, such as the Cork Symphony Orchestra, the Irish Chamber Orchestra and the Irish Baroque Orchestra. There are quite a few around Ireland but none are full-time or fully employed. RTÉ's orchestras are the only two full-time orchestras in the country. Many musicians have the ambition to get into different orchestras. Cork Symphony Orchestra is really very strong at the moment. There is an orchestra at the University of Limerick which is turning people away at the moment. These are not full-time professional musicians. They want to play music and have had some sort of musical education in their backgrounds, but may not want a full-time professional role. The only full-time professional roles in the country at the moment are with RTÉ's orchestras.

Mr. Mathew Horsman

There is a vibrant and extensive provision of music, including classical music and lots of traditional Irish music. Some 80% of the orchestral music market, in terms of the money generated or spent, is RTÉ, whether through the licence fee or RTÉ's commercial income by way of commercialising elements of the orchestras. Every 80 cent per euro spent comes from RTÉ. There is a critical breakdown of this on page 4 of the pack we have provided. We point out that there is also a little bit of Arts Council funding for some of the other groups, some non-RTÉ commercial income, adding up to just 5% of the total market, and some other small public grants. When so much rests with a single provider a very unbalanced market is produced. That was the main observation in the market sizing analysis we started with in this process.

Many stakeholders we spoke to outside RTÉ have been around long enough to remember the PIANO report from some years ago which recommended that the National Symphony Orchestra be set up as an independent orchestra outside RTÉ. We were mindful of previous reports while carrying out our work, but we very much responded to the current set of dynamics. We did not seek to parrot the contents of older reports. From our perspective, it was interesting to hear repeatedly from stakeholders that we need two orchestras because they are the magnets of the sector. To safeguard it they believed the National Symphony Orchestra should truly be a National Symphony Orchestra, independent and set up as a separate entity. That view was expressed widely among those we spoke to. There were different points of view and differences of opinion, but most people subscribed to that idea. Many, however, wished to reserve judgment and see the detail, which is what this process is about.

I dtús báire, cuirim fíorfháilte roimh an Uasal Ó Dubhghaill, an Uasal Horsman agus an Uasal Coveney. In welcoming the presentation, I wish to say that we greatly value the RTÉ orchestras. I had the pleasure of being in Philadelphia during the summer, where I visited the Kimmel Centre for the Performing Arts. A friend of mine, John Cohen, is a cellist with the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra. There is a perennial funding issue across the world.

RTÉ, in its five-year plan, committed to the ongoing vibrancy and long-term success of the orchestra. In terms of funding, is it the case that we are already paying for the orchestras through the licence fee? Mr. Ó Dubhghaill referred to seeking extra money from the licence fee, and the director general of RTÉ has said the same. Is the case that we fall back to the same old solution of increasing the licence fee? Pat Rabbitte, when he was Minister, propose a model to change that. It costs €4 million to maintain the orchestra and RTÉ has a statutory obligation to do so. Is that correct? The Government provides X amount of money and RTÉ provides Y. Is there a model whereby RTÉ could make money from commercial activity or naming rights? I am just asking the question. The witnesses have probably discussed the matter ad nauseam, and I apologise if there is an obvious answer.

There is widespread support for retaining both orchestras. I thank Ms Sarah Joyce, who is in the Gallery, for the petition. She is a part of the Dublin Youth Orchestra. The taxpayer will always want to know what it is costing him or her. We need to recognise the value of this and provide money for it. The Minister received a 13.5% increase in the arts budget. Is there scope to receive monies from the Creative Ireland funding announced earlier this year? We are all conscious of the need for reform, but if the orchestras are placed under the jurisdiction of the National Concert Hall, as the Boaden review suggests, how can growth of the orchestras be prioritised given that there has been an attrition of musicians? We have to provide certainty for them. How will it be prioritised, even if that means the National Concert Hall could potentially incur a financial loss?

Mr. Rory Coveney

The Senator is correct to state that the perennial answer is to increase the licence fee. It frustrates some people, but our primary position on the licence fee has been that it is losing €60 million a year because it is not being collected properly.

We have a low rate of collection.

Mr. Rory Coveney

It is both expensive to collect by international standards and is very poorly collected in terms of the number of people who evade it and the number who avoid it. The system of collection is in dire need of reform. That is even before the price is raised, increasing the burden on households from its current rate of €160 per annum. If the licence fee was being collected optimally, to European averages, would we be having this discussion? I do not know. Perhaps we would be, but RTÉ has had deficits for seven of the past nine years. We have made enormous cutbacks across areas of our output. In factual programming and television our investment has reduced by 38%.

I am conscious of time restraints, so we might just stick to the petition.

I do not want to disagree with the Chair, but it is important to understand that it may have an implication for what we are discussing. I take the point and I-----

Mr. Rory Coveney

The orchestra sits within a set of obligations that RTÉ has. It has many obligations, including news, drama, comedy, children's programming, radio services and Irish language services. We are constantly juggling these responsibilities to provide optimum value to audiences.

It is in this context we must consider the orchestras. If one were to think about them on their own, one could have one view; if one thinks about the overall responsibility and the diminishing funding envelope, it is a slightly different perspective.

The model that has been proposed is not about the licence fee; it is about a third source of income, that is, a direct Exchequer grant of some kind being channelled to support the NSO under new governance arrangements within the hall. Senator Buttimer is right to point out the concerns about the independence of the NSO within the hall and its financial independence should another downturn come. These are all concerns which we share and which will form part of the discussions with both the Department and the NCH over the next year as we try to chart a future for ourselves.

Does Mr. Ó Dubhghaill wish to add to that?

Mr. Aodhán Ó Dubhghaill

I just wish to thank Ms Joyce for the work she put into the petition and getting all the signatories she managed to get for it. It just shows everyone how passionate people are about our orchestral output and its future.

Mr. Rory Coveney

It would be great if we could get them to come to the hall.

Is Senator Buttimer okay with that? I will move on. I call Deputy Eugene Murphy.

I will be brief because much of what I wanted to say or ask has been dealt with. The witnesses are most welcome. Going back to the petition that came in, it was very important because it has opened up a new debate on the orchestras. I was just thinking of all the fantastic performances involving the orchestras, whether on "The Late Late Show" or with Daniel O'Donnell, Mike Denver or some of the pop stars. Amazing shows have been put on. I cannot think of the name of the guy from Mullingar with whom the RTÉ Concert Orchestra did one recently. It was fantastic. Right throughout the country there is huge - I will not say "recognition" as I think there is an issue with recognition - but acknowledgement of the good thing this is. I hope from what is happening here we will have further recognition of the orchestras. I am just looking at a piece of material about the RTÉ Concert Orchestra here, which states "Enhancing life through music's extraordinary capacity to communicate, motivate, uplift, educate and entertain is at the heart of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra." From my 20 years of involvement in media - producing, presenting and doing a lot of music at times - I can really appreciate that.

I have just one or two very brief questions. First, how many full-time musicians do the orchestras have? I do not know whether that has been clarified yet. Second, obviously, financial constraints perhaps in recent years have been an issue. If the orchestras had a substantial sponsor - I do not know whether they can get one; I am just asking - could they get out into the country more? I think this type of music would be a hit in every county. Obviously, the orchestras cannot be on the road every week of the year but I think this would be a significant area of creating more finance and getting better known. Everyone will talk about the orchestra when they see it on "The Late Late Show", "The Ray D'Arcy Show" or some other show or in concert with someone but I think it goes out of people's minds then. What the orchestras do is fantastic, and they are staffed by absolutely amazing people, so it could be very positive if they had the right financial backing.

They are the two things I would like clarified.

Mr. Aodhán Ó Dubhghaill

Both the models to which the Deputy referred, between sponsorship and actually getting people to back us in whatever way possible, are undoubtedly looked at constantly. We are always looking for new ways of bringing in revenue for both orchestras. The reality, however, is that the big companies are not out there any more. They are not sponsoring the arts specifically, but they are certainly not sponsoring orchestral output. It is getting more and more difficult to get anyone who is interested in such sponsorship. This is a global issue, however, not just here in Ireland.

The Deputy asked about the size of the orchestras. The National Symphony Orchestra had 81 players; it now has 68 players. The RTÉ Concert Orchestra had 45 players; it now has 40 players. We have started recruitment and started to fill some key roles, but to get back to where we were and go beyond it - the report recommends actually expanding the orchestras, back up to 89 players in the case of the National Symphony Orchestra - requires funding, and this is the big battle.

Mr. Rory Coveney

May I briefly add to that? The issue of sponsorship and commercial support is related to a clear future as well. An orchestra which is fully staffed, touring routinely and attempting more and more ambitious programming starts to become much more attractive to our sponsors as well. There is something of a virtuous circle here. If one gets a baseline level of funding that enables one to do very exciting things with two orchestras, other commercial opportunities open up. We have seen some of this in the concert orchestra in recent years. I am not sure if any of the members have been to the Jenny Greene gigs around the country, but they have been at the Live at the Marquee event in Cork four times now and are due back again. It is a 1990s dance retrospective with an orchestra, which is getting an enormous reaction. It is very different. It is not classical music per se but it is a very popular use of a concert orchestra and an example of what is possible when one has a clear creative vision.

Mr. Mathew Horsman

May I say one thing about cost that is important and inescapable? It is very expensive to run an orchestra and to take it on the road. Looking at the period we looked at, 2007 to 2016, the number of regional performances outside of Dublin by the NSO was 11 in 2007 and just three in 2016. There were 20 educational performances in 2007 and just 13 in 2016. This was because of the constant need to find cuts. The easiest thing to do is to stop travelling and to stay in one place. It was not the best outcome culturally or artistically but it was a necessity financially.

I will make a final point. We felt - Helen Boaden and Mediatique felt - very strongly that it was incumbent upon us to consider how to get to the point of funding certainty and to be realistic in what we said. We therefore thought realistically about the commercial revenues that were possible. In our modelling, worked on by my colleague George Smith behind me, we worked through what the commercial revenues might be, and in our assumptions they are higher than they have been, so we assume that with better functioning of and more excitement about the two fully staffed orchestras, they could make more money. There is a limit to this, however. This is how we focused on the amount of the gap. I refer to the XYZ calculation: X from broadcast fees from RTÉ, Y from the commercial world and Z from the gap, which would be a direct grant of some kind. We felt we had to do it properly because no country, even the most laissez-faire, runs an orchestral classical music service or segment without public money.

Is Deputy Murphy happy enough?

I am very happy with those answers.

I thank all the witnesses for their attendance and thank the petitioner for the opportunity to have this discussion, which is very helpful. There is widespread support for the two orchestras. Perhaps at times we take them for granted, but they are definitely not something anyone wants to see gone. I am very struck by the partner report, in which it says in respect of the demographics of the listenerships that the hardest group to reach are younger people. If the orchestras go to Electric Picnic, they will reach the younger people. That has been hugely positive and just shows that the RTÉ Concert Orchestra has been looking to actively reach out to a new audience in new ways. My starting point is a hugely positive one.

Most of my questions have been touched on so I will not rehash them. I was going to ask how much the orchestras actually cost because, between the report and the other piece, I do not have that information. I heard a figure of €4 million mentioned as to what will come in and heard that the Minister had input. Is that the shortfall? I ask the witnesses to answer these questions first and then I may follow on from them.

Mr. Rory Coveney

The short answer is that it is to be decided. The balance of payments between the various parties has been agreed-----

What is the actual overall cost of running the orchestras, though?

Mr. Rory Coveney

The fully loaded costs of the two orchestras in 2017 was, I think, just over €16 million. We will check that.

Did I hear a figure of €4 million mentioned as something that the Arts Council or the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht might be talking about putting in?

Mr. Mathew Horsman

On the modelling we did around the report - again, this is based on historical-----

Mr. Rory Coveney

Sorry. The figure is €15.5 million.

Mr. Mathew Horsman

We looked at what it would cost to run the two orchestras returning to their historical levels of staffing, touring and education, which we thought was an important litmus test.

We then calculated what a performance fee or broadcast fee would be. Our figures were published, so I think I am allowed to give them.

Mr. Rory Coveney


Mr. Mathew Horsman

The fee from RTÉ would be €3.5 million. The gap for that fully costed model was just over €4 million. We identified that €4 million as being a requirement for an ongoing direct public money backstop. We pointed out that if there are better outcomes commercially - I do not suggest things should become overly commercial, they must be driven by the creative vision of the orchestras and the audience - things could flex and change over time and there could be a benefit for all funding parties, which ultimately would be in the best interest of the music lover or someone going to a concert or listening on the radio. We did not try to carve those numbers into stone but they were a pretty good reflection. As we have said, it was incumbent upon us to be logical and rational about it. We thought that was approximately the order of magnitude that made sense in terms of the funding parties. That is where the figure of €4 million comes from.

I have a final couple of points to make. Suggestions were made by a politician in another committee here that RTÉ was perhaps using the orchestras to make a broader financial case. Personally I do not think that is borne out by the facts when one considers what the witnesses have outlined in their opening address. They mentioned a 24% cut to RTÉ and only an 11% cut to the orchestras, which shows that they have been relatively well insulated. I just wanted to give the witnesses an opportunity to respond to that point, which was put on the record in another committee in these Houses. If RTÉ had its choice, and if approximately €4 million was the figure that a State Department or the Arts Council was to put in to make up the shortfall, would RTÉ prefer to just get that €4 million rather than seeing a new entity created? If that had been the case, could it guarantee that the €4 million would be spent on the orchestras as opposed to getting consumed? I am sure that if RTÉ got an extra €4 million, many hands would be out from different areas within the organisation.

Mr. Rory Coveney

On the last question, the decision around the governance arrangements for the future of the National Symphony Orchestra was not for RTÉ to make on its own. Talking about a mixed funding model in which a direct Exchequer grant, commercial income and a proportion of RTÉ's public funding support the orchestra prompts the question as to where that newly-funded entity should sit. Two options were reviewed. Ultimately it was a choice for Government to either accept or not. The alternative is just to fund RTÉ properly. One could argue that if the licence fee collection system were fixed, some of these issues might go away. In fairness to Mr. Horsman, who may wish to comment, the report does deal with some of the more creative issues around the future vision of what the orchestra should do and around whether it is optimal in any event, notwithstanding the financial position that both orchestras should be within one organisation. Both views have their pros and cons, but this is not purely a financial decision.

On the issue of RTÉ using the orchestras' story as a way of highlighting its financial woes, it does not bear out. The review substantively dealt with the future of orchestras in great detail. We were at a crossroads. Frankly, the status quo around orchestras is not sustainable or tenable. We are obliged to do something, as the petition states. That something is now a roadmap. Does it highlight some of the broader issues that relate to RTÉ's funding and the cutbacks it has had to make over the last ten years? Perhaps, but that is unavoidable considering the scale of the change we have had to make in recent years.

Mr. Aodhán Ó Dubhghaill

I should just say that RTÉ is not walking away from either orchestra. We would still be very much involved with both the National Symphony Orchestra and the concert orchestra. It is not a case of RTÉ doing this review to walk away from something. It is about the future of both orchestras.

I have a few questions myself. In practical terms, how do the oversight and working groups work? What are the groups' modalities? Do they meet on a regular basis? When do they reach their end state? What is the timeline for the completion of that work?

Mr. Rory Coveney

The short answer is that I do not know. There are draft terms of reference, which have not been concluded yet. Neither group has met formally yet. There have been initial discussions with the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. I cannot answer the Chairman right now. We are hopeful. There is a broad gap between the two. The oversight group will largely deal with governance issues, funding, and any legislative changes that are necessary to enable the safe landing of the NSO within the remit of the National Concert Hall. The working group will deal with some of the more practical issues around the transfer of undertaking process and the management of staff from one institution to another. As I said, the final terms of reference have not been agreed yet, nor have timings for that matter.

I do not wish to put words in anybody's mouth and I seek the witnesses' viewpoint but it could be argued that the process is still somewhat nebulous. We have the recommendations. They are very clear. There seems to have been a political welcome and the political mood music - forgive the pun - from the Ministers, Deputies Madigan and Naughten, has been quite positive, if their statements on 5 July and 28 April are anything to go by. There seems to be a clear sense of wanting to engage and wanting to work through to a solution. If I am interpreting the witnesses correctly, we still have something of a gap in terms of how the oversight group works and what the timelines are. It would be very useful for us, when I conclude proceedings here today, to not close any petition, pending further information in respect of the actual process, and to seek more definitive timelines in that regard.

Mr. Rory Coveney

We would be in a very different place today if there had been no reaction from the State or, indeed, if there had been a hostile or a "you are on your own lads" type response. We are taking the Ministers at their word. As I said, the Cabinet and Government have considered the review formally, have accepted it in principle, and have made a specific decision around the future home. The details of the funding, how it will happen, when it will happen, and everything else are yet to come out. I like to believe we are in a good place but we share the Chairman's concerns. This is by no means a done deal. There is a gap between lip and cup as they say. We very much want to get up and running on the details.

On the point Mr. Ó Dubhghaill made earlier on the stream from Cúil Aodha, Baile Bhúirne and places like that, we have gone from "Mise Éire" right up to Jenny Greene. If one is talking about cultural output and the value, it is very difficult to put a monetary value on something which is so deeply imbedded, cultural and ingrained in the Irish psyche. I believe there is a clear thread between "Mise Éire" and Jenny Greene and people bopping about at Electric Picnic. There is that thread. The tie that binds is the orchestras. We should not lose sight of that. It is important that we, as individual Members of this Oireachtas, ensure that we find some mechanism to support their continuation in every way that we can.

I believe I can reasonably speak for my fellow members here when I say that it is for us to give further consideration to what the witnesses have brought to us here today. It has been a very valuable contribution to our understanding. I know there are other mechanisms through which that can be done in this House but the Committee on Public Petitions is the one mechanism we have in which the citizen engages with us. When the citizen engages with us, raises this important issue and garners so many signatures, it is incumbent on us to ensure that we take some of the messages the witnesses have delivered today and feed them back into the political landscape. There is tremendous goodwill. The campaign around loving our orchestras is resonating deeply with anybody who has an appreciation of the cultural output of RTÉ. I thank the witnesses for their contributions here today. They have been very valuable.

We will give this further consideration now. We are definitely more educated by virtue of our deliberations with the witnesses today. There are further questions concerning the process, to which this committee must give more consideration. Everybody has largely welcomed the report. I believe that the report is very digestible and easily understood. We just need to further interrogate the workings of the oversight and working group and perhaps hold a further discussion.

Mr. Rory Coveney

We are a key stakeholder in this process but there are others. It may be worth thinking about the role of all of them and, indeed, the Department. The Department has been mandated by Cabinet to chair the transition process and chairs both groups. It may be useful for the committee to talk to them at some point but that is up to the members to decide.

I appreciate that.

Mr. Rory Coveney

We are happy to be part of that process.

We will give further consideration to this matter at our next meeting. If we need to invite more witnesses or stakeholders in then we are free to do so. This debate is an important first cut. We wanted to give this particular petition a public airing because of the importance of the subject matter and today's meeting has been a very positive first step in that sense.

It is my duty now to finish these proceedings and I thank the witnesses for their appearance here.

The joint committee adjourned at 2.45 p.m. until 1.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 24 October 2018.