Ar an gcéad dul síos, ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a ghabháil leis an Aire as ucht an phíosa reachtaireacht t-uasteorainn seo. Fáiltím roimh an dá mhalairt atá ann: an le caiteachas Bord Scannán na hÉireann a mhéadú, agus roinnt eagrú i gcúrsaí foirne.
I pay tribute to the Minister for this Bill and I wish her well. This is the Minister's first legislation in this area. I welcome the Bill's reorganisation of staff and the raising of the upper level in relation to the certified expenditure by Bord Scannán na hÉireann. I cannot oppose much of the Minister's speech in so far as it describes much of my own practice. Another interesting parallel is that I introduced my first Bill, the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act, 1993, within a similar period of time. The Minister referred to what was done between January and May 1993, my first five months in office, including the funding of the Irish Film Board, the establishment of STATCOM, the establishment of an independent commissioning unit in RTE when I lifted the cap, changes in section 35 and the commitment to Teilifís na Gaeilge. We must consider about seven measures together to understand the impact which occurred in early summer 1993. In an area where there is such cross-party support, it is not useful to say who was responsible for particular measures. I was the Minister with responsibility for film in two Governments with different complexions.
I refer to the memory of Tiernan MacBride who was outside the House to welcome me on the day I was appointed. I remember he had a placard suggesting a film board. I met him previously in 1987 when funding was removed from the Irish Film Board. The board was not disestablished as the Minister suggested but rather funding was removed from it. I do not claim to have re-established the Irish Film Board but to have funded it. When we funded it, we decided to give it a particular emphasis.
There is cross-party support for the Bill's proposals and I support much of what the Minister said. Instead of confining herself to proposals in this short Bill, she was correct to take the opportunity to give us an idea of the direction which she wishes activity in the industry to take. I assure the Minister she has my support for much of this and I will spend some time suggesting areas of scope for cross-party support.
The seven measures adopted in those first six months, to which I referred earlier, had critical effect and would not have been possible without the working group's report handed to me by the then Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds. This provided a basis from which to depart. Other work, including that by Film Makers Ireland, was crucial. The film community had kept faith in the possibilities of film during the period 1987 to 1993 which was as dead as a door nail. We need not argue about it given that total expenditure on production in those six years was under £12 million. I am glad expenditure is being maintained and has been increased this year as opposed to last year even though the number of projects has fallen. It is also important that the indigenous component is being maintained. The film making community, those who assisted it and the working group made so much possible.
There is a difficulty in the relationship between the Minister with responsibility for film and the Minister for Finance in any Government because of the structure of the thinking. I inherited a situation where the received wisdom was hostile to film in that it was considered neither an industry nor a service. It reflected a certain rigidity and paucity in thinking. Historically, the first Irish Film Board was badly treated in the way people commented on it and it should have been given a chance. The failure of nerve was a political one. There was also a suggestion that one could look at the commercial side of finished film which would suffice instead of at the arty farty types producing films.
The best reforming legislation that will be introduced after this short Bill will be, I hope, a departure point for film makers. I will put my points positively to the Minister and suggest where I might assist her. I have had the benefit of negotiating with Governments of different complexions on a new Department. For example, when dealing with ceilings on staff numbers, the position of a new Department and the bodies for which it is responsible is entirely different from that of an established Department responsible for bodies which have existing baselines. It is nonsense to suggest a Minister could, for example, move the National Museum to its new facilities with new expertise on the existing baseline. I sympathised with the Minister, wished her well and told her she will have my co-operation in trying to resolve the industrial relations difficulties.
It is, however, an impossible task in that one cannot do new things on imaginary baselines.
One can justify expenditure to start things up because one is doing new things. In the case of the National Museum, there is a list of reports the length of my arm which have not only expressed disappointment but have condemned outright the neglect of the museum. The Minister spoke about what she inherited but that is what I inherited.
The film section in the Department, which employs some of the founding members of the Irish film industry, is totally understaffed. If one wants to talk about possibilities in a new area, one should accept that point. I would support an approach by the Minister to the Department of Finance in that regard. I was glad the small number of staff employed by An Bord Scannán was referred to. Perhaps no smaller group of people has given such a huge administrative outturn. If one looks at the total amount spent on salaries versus the amount handled and processed, the ratio is extraordinary. We, as citizens, are getting incredible value for money.
The Minister argued for an equivalence between the section 35 initiative and the refunding of the Screen Commission. I referred earlier to a number of other factors, including independent commissioning in RTÉ, the arrival of Teilifís na Gaeilge and the establishment of the training initiative and STATCOM, which must be taken together. Section 35, which is important in many cases, is at its best when integrated into what is made possible by the Irish Film Board. In fact, the Minister adverted to this by listing films which were the work of Irish directors. The most satisfactory outcome of my time in office was the number of Irish directors. The tax incentives were becoming locked into the indigenous film making sector. The Irish cinematic space was, therefore, being strengthened.
The Minister spoke about the glitzy Hollywood image which was a bit of a conversion because she recommended that to me when I was Minister and suggested that high expenditure foreign films were necessary to create training opportunity. I always believed in the indigenous sector and had many reasons for so doing. The industry will remain after comparative advantages have disappeared in the long term. It is the way of the future. It was also a fine basis on which to argue in a European context for a specific European cinematic space.
When the atmosphere is right for film making things happen. Kevin Rockett's publication on Irish cinematography is of immense significance in this regard. There is no point blaming a particular administration for not putting the archive together. Between 1987 and the early 1990s people who attended international conferences had apologies ready as to why nothing was being produced. There were one or two good years and then suddenly there was a huge volume of production. I commend the Minister on referring to the films which have received the approval of international critical panels, including "I Went Down" which has won many awards, including one at the San Sebastian Festival.
This is the real test. Younger and older directors are now confident to go abroad with their work. Certain measures must be taken to advance this progress. The Irish Film Board should be treated as a special case, ring-fenced and given additional staff. There is also a case for expanding the board on the basis of suggestions put forward by the staff. I enjoy much greater freedom now that I am no longer Minister. When I was Minister I was criticised for conceding on some aspects of the original INDECON report on the film industry, "A Strategy for Success Based on Economic Realities - The Next Stage of Development for the Film Industry in Ireland". Rather than wait for the end of the review period we should seek to have provision made in the Finance Bill for the proposals in the later INDECON submission which succeeded the report. I make this point in a positive way. The report referred to a review period but the later submission presented to me by Mr. Gray, the economist who guided INDECON, put forward proposals which the Department put to the Department of Finance. These proposals should be put to the Minister for Finance in time for inclusion in the next year's Finance Bill.
We should proceed with the establishment of the commission. To ensure a balance the commission should be strongly influenced by film makers and take account of budgets and film making of different sizes. Members of the film investment community may be more articulate but they already have a voice through IBEC and it would be wrong to put them in the same category as those who make films. While they all should be involved, I agree with the Minister on the importance of the funding alliances established between RTE and the Irish Film Board, between the Irish Film Board and Teilifís na Gaeilge and between the Arts Council, the Irish Film Board and Teilifís na Gaeilge. Such alliances are to be recommended. My points are made by way of positive suggestion on what should be achieved in the short term.
I have a difficulty with the reference in the Minister's speech to the industry think-tank. It is good to hear that the industry is thinking but I am not sure if the proposals put forward by STATCOM, which represents the various agencies, the Irish Film Board, RTE and FÁS and has built up experience over several years will become the baseline for the think-tank. What will the think-tank do with these proposals and why was it not capable of putting forward proposals before this through the semi-State agencies on which it is represented? In some cases it has a majority of representatives on the board of these agencies. Why does the work of one body have to be ended and handed on to another? I am not clear on the logic behind this.
I am glad the co-production agreement I initialled with the Australian Ambassador will shortly be debated in the Australian Parliament, after which it will be signed. If 22 of the 40 members of the Council of Europe have signed the European Convention on Cinematic Co-production does it mean they have ratified it and that this will lead to a shorter time span for finalising co-production contracts? The Attorney General's office and the legal affairs office undertook much tortuous work in the production of the Australian agreement and if it was used as a model the other co-production agreements could be finalised more quickly. I am looking at the matter from the outside but I imagine the time span would be shorter if one used that model rather than waiting for ratification of the Council of Europe initiative.
The Minister said that by the end of the year 44 feature films and series, 20 documentaries, 20 shorts and 13 animations will have been made with the assistance of the board. This is an incredible record. Thirty four of the 44 feature films and series have had Irish directors and 25 have had first time directors. That is the basis for future progress. There is nothing as fickle as those who invest money to avail of a tax break. All these people are interested in is whether the Revenue Commissioners will issue the tax certificate and whether they will get the tax break. They do not mind if the film is made in the bush in Australia or in Ballyhaunis.
Having said that, films could not be made without such investors and their interests have to be taken into account. However, it must be put in context. After section 35 was amended and when further amendments were being negotiated some irresponsible people in this community circulated publicity leaflets in North America, thereby almost bringing everything that had been done to its knees. I very rarely travelled abroad when I was Minister but on the one occasion I visited the United States I spent much of my time trying to undo the lies which had been printed by British tabloids about the Irish system. That was assisted by the fact that people who were fund-raising for investors wrote letters to client bases in the United States and Canada stating that they must invest because section 35 was nearing an end. Section 35 was simply amended. It is to the credit of the officials who worked with me, particularly Mr. O'Grady who travelled to the United States with me, that we replied to those articles, explaining the changes that took place. In referring to section 35 I am not scoring a point. All Ministers want the most favourable regime for film. I am simply saying that in terms of finance, in light of what we now know, a finely tuned system would have my support. There are ways of devising such a system which would minimise the tax leak and maximise returns in terms of job creation and expenditure in the economy.
Tax concessions such as section 35 concessions are of most benefit to those on higher incomes. It is yet another tax break for those who can afford to pay tax. One cannot be indiscriminate in dealing with this matter. It behoves us to have a finely tuned system. If, as has been the history of the Irish film industry, it creates jobs, new skills and partnerships with various institutions, such concessions are justified.
I agree to some extent with the point made by the Minister when in Opposition that changes made on foot of the INDECON report, addressed at Irish investors, miscalculated the nature of United States investment in the film industry. We are talking about an internationally competitive market and that investment could be won back by making changes.
We are discussing the Irish Film Board, and Deputy Carey is right in referring to the imaginative nature of the reports produced by it, of which there are three. In the last report dealing with the period 1995-6 a number of specific proposals were put forward. Lelia Doolan made a number of points which deserve consideration. I join with others in paying tribute to her, her successor, Louis Marcus, and all the members of the board. A number of interesting proposals which deserve consideration were put forward on the future of the film industry. There is reference, for example, to education. It is important that the Department of Education co-operates with other Departments. If new films are to achieve mass audiences and rise against the tide, as is required in Ireland and Europe, media appreciation and reading of film should be included in the school curriculum. It is a powerful tool of citizenship to contextualise films, documentaries and so on.
There is also reference to training. As Irish film production increased in recent years we regularly exported pieces of work to Britain. There should be a link between pre-production and post-production facilities to achieve as many skill formations and create as many jobs as possible. I agree the purpose of the film commission is to ensure representation at home and abroad, to be representative of what is happening in the cinema at home and at the same time attract such industrial products as will result in the best training modules. The commission, which should not be ridden with bureaucracy, should be established as soon as possible. There should be flexibility to ensure the best people work in it.
The Minister referred to films that won international awards. People who qualify from film courses have cards printed stating "Film Producer", but standards and excellence are important. There is great value in external validation of films, as in the case of "I Went Down", because they are validated by juries who know the system. On all the films mentioned by the Minister, the reviews were positive. The jury's view is important but it is also important that films be commercially successful.
I am glad the Minister agrees with me about the attraction of the cinemobile which visited the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's area. I visited it as it moved to various villages along the Border and to say it received an enthusiastic reception is an understatement. The cost involved in such a project is very high, about £200,000, but the effect would be enormous. It is what was one time vulgarly called a budget sweetener, and was recommended as such. All of us from rural Ireland remember what it was like to go to the pictures. It is sad to think of what happened all those buildings where films were shown, although there is now a recovery of seat sales through omniplexes and so on. The cinema was a crucial part of our lives, as it is in many countries, particularly northern Europe. It is important legislation in this area receives support. The Minister should indicate to her colleague, the Minister for Finance, that there is cross-party support for exceptional measures in this area to secure employment and create new opportunities.
We could all get excited about what could be done to ensure Ireland is populated by people who are not simply consumers of images made by others but who make films on their own terms. It is important that resources are made available to that end. The number of people working in this area would fit in three modern telephone kiosks, it is certainly far fewer than the number of people of high grades working on aspects of the single currency. People have to be realistic in doing new things. It was very difficult to do something new when one's Department was treated the same as any other Department in respect of staffing, expenditure and whatever. What can be done in this area is important not only for employment and industrial reasons but for cultural reasons. There is a meaning to cultural diversity and the right to make one's own films and show them as expressions of oneself is an aspect of that cultural diversity and a powerful tool of democracy. I hope there will soon be a response to the list of items which occur to me as the next consolidating and developing steps in Irish cinematic activity and the industry.