Other Questions. - Cultural and Artistic School Activities.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

6 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands if she will provide details of the formal meetings between officials of her Department and the Department of Education and Science regarding the commitment in An Action Programme for the Millennium to modify the school curriculum to place more emphasis on cultural and artistic activities. [19709/98]

The programme for Government, An Action Programme for the Millennium, contains a commitment to modify the school curriculum by placing more emphasis on cultural and artistic activities. The Deputy will appreciate that the question of bringing forward amendments or changes to the curriculum is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science. However, I assure the Deputy of my continuing concern as Minister charged with the promotion and development of the arts to seek to ensure an adequate and appropriate emphasis on the arts within our educational system from primary level right through to third level. In this regard I have had ongoing bilateral discussions with my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, on this matter. Recently we decided to establish a formal liaison committee between our two Departments and An Chomhairle Ealaíon, whose terms of reference are to assess the development and implementation of the school curriculum in the context of helping to ensure the curriculum places more emphasis on cultural and artistic activities as promised in the programme for Government. This committee will have its first meeting in the near future.

I am grateful for the Minister's reply. I do not have difficulty accepting the Minister's commitment, but my question asked for the details of the formal meetings between officials of her Department and the Department of Education and Science. How many meetings took place?

As the Deputy will appreciate, we wanted to talk Minister to Minister, as Ministers with responsibility for education and the arts. I said on a number of occasions that I would like to see far greater emphasis on drama and music in particular from primary school level. When talking about education, we are talking about a holistic approach and to that extent it must incorporate the arts.

I know the Minister for Education and Science has a particular interest in this because he showed a great commitment to the arts long before he became a Minister. It was along those lines that we discussed how best to proceed. We then decided to set up a liaison committee not only between the two Departments but we also included An Chomhairle Ealaíon because it has a direct connection with the Department of Education and Science in terms of supplying certain services with regard to the arts and younger people. The terms of reference are to assess the development and implementation of the school curriculum.

The Deputy will also be aware that there has been a comprehensive review of the arts plan because I was able to deliver on the £26 million for this year which meant the present arts plan would conclude one year in advance of the time proposed by the last Administration. Of course we need another plan and we need to examine the last plan to see how we can improve on it. That will be the basis for the new plan. Major public consultations took place and there were also consultations with the community generally. I mention this because during the extensive public consultation process concern was expressed by the arts community about the place of art in the school curriculum. This view will be made known during the consultations and will no doubt be reflected in the arts plan. It will bolster my view and that of the Minister for Education and Science that it should translate into the curriculum, especially for younger people.

I appreciate what the Minister has done in this area. I was able to increase arts funding from £10.1 million to more than £20 million. I have already congratulated her for securing £26 million. Is it the case that there have been no formal meetings between officials in her Department and the Department of Education and Science and that the first meeting of the new committee is to take place next week or shortly thereafter?

The important thing was to agree the terms of reference to enable matters proceed. I have acknowledged on previous occasions, and do so again, the commitment of Deputy Michael D. Higgins to the arts and what he did for the arts when he was Minister.

A shining light.

As far as I am aware no such committee was established between the Department of Education and the Department of Arts, Culture and Gaeltacht to look at and encourage the role of arts in the curriculum. When in Opposition I said I would like to see the establishment of such a committee and I am now doing that. I look forward to the, no doubt, learned recommendations that will be made by the working committee and the work done by An Comhairle Ealaíon.

The Minister answers like somebody driving to Donegal by way of Dingle. She has painted a rosy picture of what she and the caring Minister for Education and Science believes should be in the curriculum. However, after 18 months she has only established a liaison committee which has yet to meet. The Minister will spend the remainder of her term in office fighting administrative battles in the trenches. Unless she gives this matter the priority she and the Minister for Education and Science believe is necessary, there will be no need for a liaison committee to arrange endless meetings and discussions. In the meantime it is important that the views of both Ministers be communicated to An Comhairle Ealaíon.

How long does the Minister envisage the process of change before we see the implementation of her views on music and drama in the curriculum? Will she indicate those of her proposals which the liaison committee will ensure are included on the curriculum? What are her views on this, besides the inclusion of music and drama?

I am amused by Deputy Kenny's remarks. On the one hand he says I did not establish a committee in time to deal with this matter while on the other hand he is asking about the need for a committee which can hold endless meetings without reaching a conclusion, when I can make the decisions myself.

That is what the Minister said in her reply.

The Minister for Education and Science and I have held bilateral meetings on this to decide that the terms of reference will be tight to ensure a follow through. I am not one to establish committees for the sake of it. Everybody in political life finds themselves fighting in the trenches, even if it produces a great deal. The Deputy can peruse some of the answers I have given to previous questions on my work for the programme for Government and in implementing commitments I made to the programme and when I was in Opposition.

The Minister has only produced the terms of reference.

Which is greater progress than was achieved in the four and a half year term of the previous two Governments.

The Minister is in charge.

That is correct, and I am taking action.

Culture was dropped from the programme.

It may not be the action the Deputy might prefer, however, he was a Minister in the last Administration and should have had some influence over decisions taken then.

The Minister is in charge, yet nothing has happened.

We wish to ensure this committee will look at every aspect. I am a career guidance teacher and am interested in the holistic approach to education. I am also a psychologist and am lucky to have been able to go through the education system and to have got these qualifications. I say this to assure the Deputy that I am interested in education and am only too well aware of my obligations as Minister for the arts in this. I hope to be able to marry both in submitting views to the committee, which, in due course, will come to the Deputy's attention.

Is there a plan to ensure that the inclusion of educational and European language programmes on the available air time on Teilifís na Gaeilge, which is a valuable resource, will be considered by the liaison committee and included in its terms of reference?

The question of European languages and the importance of Teilifís na Gaeilge is separate to the question before me. I have a moral responsibility to put forward the views of my Department on what should be included in the curriculum. I have no right to change the curriculum, that is a matter for the Minister for Education and Science and his Department. That is why we have established a committee. If the Deputy has views on this matter he can channel them through my Department.

Does the Minister accept that she and the Minister for Education and Science are pursuing a mutual goal albeit from separate angles?

Did the Minister request the Deputy to ask a question?

It has been proven that music helps the development of a child's language skills, co-ordination and early learning skills. Many minor problems relating to special needs could be overcome in this way, which is to the advantage of the Department of Education and Science.

The Minister's role is to bring culture to people through music.

Culture was dropped.

I include culture and musical ability, etc. People like me have come through the education system with a Masters degree in music, etc. Does the Minister agree that both she and the Minister for Education and Science are pursuing the same goal and that both have an important contribution to make to the development of children, music, drama and other arts facilities?

I agree with the Deputy in that it is important to see what can be done from a number of different angles to make a concerted and co-ordinated effort in that regard. The arts can play a very important role in the development of children with special needs, for example, the Ark does very important work in children's theatre. I was happy to attend a performance at the Ark last night. It was good to see the participation of young people and children from the audience, which is surely what education is about. It is something the Minister for Education and Science recognises and the Deputy is right to say we are working in a concerted and co-ordinated way to achieve these aims.