Arts Bill, 2002: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I compliment my predecessor, Deputy de Valera, on the preparation of this Bill. Deputies will understand that I have only recently taken over this portfolio and that there are some details of the Bill's provisions that I would like to consider in more depth. I may, therefore, wish to propose some adjustments to the Bill on Committee Stage.

An Agreed Programme for Government aims to ensure cultural activity is available and accessible to all and commits to the enactment of a new arts Act to provide for a more inclusive definition of the arts and also to map out on a statutory basis a new relationship between artists, the Arts Council and the Minister. The proposals in the Bill are not solely about a reorganisation of the Arts Council. The proposals are as much about defining for the first time in legislation the role and functions of Government and the Minister in relation to the promotion of the arts both inside and outside the State.

The past five years have seen a quantum leap in the level of Government support for the arts in Ireland. The subvention voted by the Oireachtas for the Arts Council in 1997 was €26.44 million. In the current year the amount is almost €48 million, an increase of about 80% on the 1997 figure. In the same period there has been an unprecedented programme of capital development for the expansion of existing cultural spaces and the creation of new ones. The millennium wing of the National Gallery of Ireland, the Museum of Country Life in County Mayo, which is part of the National Museum and the Chester Beatty Library now located in Dublin Castle have all been recipients of prestigious awards in the recent past. Through the Government's ACCESS capital programme, under which allocations totalling €45.71 million over the five year period to the end of 2004 were announced last year, and its predecessor, the CDIS, a mosaic of high quality venues has been created for artistic creation and experience in partnership with local authorities and private groups.

The Bill before the House is the product of experience gained with having a Minister representing the arts at the Cabinet table. The proposals sought to take into consideration a comprehensive period of consultation with the arts sector in its widest definition culminating in an intensive weekend session early last summer. Key players in the arts sector formed working groups to consider in depth the key issues. All those who had responded to the earlier open invitation were invited to an open forum. We have come a very long way since 1951 when the first Arts Act set up the Arts Council as the vehicle through which Government supports the arts in Ireland. The council is now well established as the major driver of artistic development in this country. The Irish arts sector today is much bigger, more dynamic and more diverse than has ever before been the case. This has happened for a number of reasons. The increasing level and quality of State support has undoubtedly made a big difference and the more general changes in Irish society – of which the arts sector is a part and from which it very often draws its creative inspiration – have also had an influence.

In 1951, we were as a nation probably quite inward-looking, although we were by no means alone in that levels of communications and access to travel in those days made everyone more locally focused, whatever country they lived in. Ireland today is a vibrant, dynamic, modern and more outward looking society. We are continually exposed to other cultures and ways of doing things. Indeed, Ireland itself is well on the way to becoming a multi-cultural society. This diversity of cultural influences, when combined with the rich mother lode of our native artistic tradition, gives us a wonderfully rich and diverse base from which to draw in the pursuit of artistic endeavour. All of this has had a profound impact on artistic Ireland. It is no longer valid to view the arts as merely another product of economic growth. While this is an element we recognise the role of art in Irish society as a desirable end in itself, as giving meaning to our existence. People are now more involved in the arts. Some are continuing with traditional disciplines, but others are pushing out the boundaries with experimental and innovative work, including work based on new technologies that have developed in recent years.

For a country of our size we are incredibly rich in our contemporary talent and in our artistic heritage. Artistic Ireland, it is fair to say, has had a profound influence on all who live here. It is my objective, through these legislative proposals, to ensure that the environment exists to build on what has been achieved to date. Artists challenge, inspire, entertain and enrich the society from which they spring, in which they live and work and from which they draw their inspiration.

As the Minister whose responsibility it is to deliver State support to the arts sector, it behoves me to ensure that the complex mix which com prise the present-day environment for the practice of the arts are balanced together to give a coherent whole. Significantly increased resources have become available, and thus accountability and efficiency must be afforded due priority. The sector is bigger, so the structures for dealing with it must work well. That which is traditional must be nurtured, while the dynamism and freshness of the new must also be given their due place.

When enacted, this Bill will define Government's role in relation to the development of arts policy; update the structure of the Arts Council; and clarify and rationalise the council's relationship with Government. The Arts Act, 1951, as amended by the Arts Act, 1973, currently regulates some of these areas. There have been dramatic changes to almost all areas of Irish life since the existing legislation was enacted. Since 1973, the political, cultural, administrative and artistic landscapes have changed dramatically. In addition, the 1951 and 1973 Acts were enacted in a context where there was no Minister with specific responsibility for the arts – which has of course changed – and the Bill recognises this for the first time in legislation.

The formulations of many of the provisions of the Arts Acts of 1951 and 1973 relating to the functioning of the Arts Council are novel and the opportunity is being taken to bring them into line with what are today standard provisions relating to the functioning of statutory authorities. However, the Bill proposes a number of key changes that I will outline to the House in more detail. "The arts" will be defined, for the purposes of the Bill, in a way that continues to refer to constituent art forms, but will be sufficiently flexible to include traditional as well as emerging and innovative art forms and art forms in any language. This definition endeavours to encapsulate in legal language the outcome of the consultative process to which I have already referred.

As I have already said, the position regarding ministerial responsibility for the arts has changed fundamentally since the 1951 and 1973 Acts were enacted. The arts portfolio forms a key part of my remit as Minister for the Arts, Sport and Tourism. The Bill therefore defines the functions of the Minister in this context. As Minister, I will have overall responsibility for the promotion of the arts both inside and outside the State. In performing this function, it is important that I be appropriately advised and that broader policy considerations be taken account of. The Bill therefore provides that, in performing my functions, I may consult with the Arts Council, and with such other Ministers, public bodies, or other persons as I consider appropriate. As the Minister with overall responsibility for the promotion of the arts, I will be empowered to give a direction in writing to the council requiring it to comply with policies of the Minister or of the Government. Such a direction may include a requirement that the council prepare and submit to me a plan specifying strategies or measures that it proposes to adopt in relation to the arts during a specified period. I do not think anyone can credibly argue that the Minister with responsibility for the arts and for securing substantial funding for them should not have a clear and substantive role in the formulation of the State's policy on the arts. However, while these provisions recognise this legitimate role for the Minister of the day, they will not affect the independence of the Arts Council regarding individual funding decisions. Indeed, statutory recognition is given in the Bill to that independence.

A great deal of arts activity takes place at local level and local authorities can greatly influence the welfare of the arts and the level and nature of artistic activity within their administrative areas. Many local authorities already do excellent work in this regard and it is important that the potential impact of the authorities on the arts be optimised and that these efforts dovetail as far as is practicable with overall Government policy.

Section 6 of the Bill, therefore, requires local authorities to prepare and implement plans for the development of the arts within their functional areas and in so doing to take account of Government policies on the arts. Local authorities may provide financial or other assistance to stimulate public interest in the arts, promote knowledge of the arts, or improve standards in the arts. To ensure overall coherence, the arts activities of other public bodies must also operate within the parameters of Government arts policy. Section 7 requires public bodies, in doing anything that relates to the arts, to have regard to such Government policies.

Section 9 of the Bill broadly restates the functions of the Arts Council. The council is given a wide-ranging remit which includes the stimulation of public interest in the arts, the promotion of knowledge, appreciation, practice of the arts and assisting in the improvement in standards in the arts. The council can make recommendations to the Minister on matters within its remit and will generally act as an expert resource for other Ministers and public bodies in relation to the arts. This approach is fully in keeping with the approach of the council itself in recent years, during which it has sought to deepen and strengthen its role as a development agency for the arts, in addition to the effective disbursement of arts funding, which of course continues to be one of its primary functions.

In the course of the consultation I understand that much debate surrounded the appropriate size of the council. The Arts Council, as currently constituted, has 17 members and, understandably, there were opposing views as to whether this was too big or just right. A 17 member council structure originally sprang from a desire to include practitioners of as many art forms as possible so as to bring a high level of practical expertise to the decision making process of the body. The council in its current formulation has undoubtedly served the arts in Ireland well. However, there is a downside to any committee structure with a large number of members and smaller tighter structures have real advantages in terms of efficiency and sometimes of flexibility. Accordingly, the Bill provides that the Arts Council be reduced from 17 to nine members.

Another possible disadvantage of the present system was that a completely new membership could be appointed every five years causing problems of continuity that can make it more difficult for new members to pick up the strings of where their predecessors left off. To overcome that, it is proposed in the Bill to introduce a system of rolling membership. That means that half the ordinary members of the council will change every 30 months, rather than the membership having the possibility of being changed in its entirety every five years. The proposed new system should make transitions from one set of council members to another much more gradual and seamless. In recognition of the fact that the membership of the council will be smaller than heretofore, the Bill proposes a system of three statutory standing committees which are provided for in section 21.

The process of consultation to which I have already referred revealed that those involved in traditional arts are dissatisfied with how their sector is faring under existing arrangements. Whether justified or not, this group appears to have a strong sense that its sector has been treated less well than it deserves and arguments were advanced for either a new and separate traditional arts council or the ring-fencing of a substantial portion of the Arts Council's funds for traditional arts. However, others argued strongly against these suggestions on the basis that it would be inappropriate to separate any particular art form or set of art forms from the remit of the Arts Council and that the arm's length principle is potentially an uneasy bedfellow with the concept of ring-fencing in this context. The Bill reflects an effort to strike an acceptable balance by requiring the Arts Council to establish a standing committee on the traditional arts which shall make recommendations to the council in relation to the advance of moneys to those involved in the traditional arts.

Given the increasing importance of local authorities for local artistic endeavour, the Bill proposes that the council establish a standing committee on local authorities and the arts. The third statutory committee proposed will advise on artistic innovation. The objective was to maintain an effective focus on new and emerging art forms, including those based on new media and new technology. The remainder of the Bill consists of standard provisions which are normal for any legislation regulating a State body, such as the Arts Council, and I will briefly outline these provisions.

Section 1 contains the Short Title and commencement provisions. Section 2 contains definitions. Section 3 provides for the payment of expenses incurred by the Minister in the administration of the Bill when enacted. Section 4 pro vides for the repeal of the Arts Acts, 1951 and 1973. Section 5, to which I have already alluded, sets out the Minister's powers and functions. Section 6 provides for the preparation and implementation of local arts plans by local authorities. Section 7 provides that public bodies shall, when doing anything relating to the arts, have regard to Government policies on the arts. Section 8 provides for the continuation of the Arts Council as a body corporate. Section 9 sets out the functions of the Arts Council. Section 10 allows the Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Finance and after consultation with the council and any other Minister of the Government, as he considers appropriate, by order to confer additional functions on the council.

Section 11 covers the membership and structure of the Arts Council. Section 12 covers resignation, removal from office and disqualification from office by members of the Arts Council. Section 13 provides for the filling of casual vacancies on the council. Section 14 provides for the remuneration of the chairperson and members of the Arts Council. Section 15 deals with the appointment and terms of office of the director of the council. Section 16 lays down procedures for the meetings of the Arts Council. Section 17 covers certain restrictions on holding office as a member of the Arts Council or as a member of the council's staff. Section 18 provides for declarations of interest by members of the Arts Council. Section 19 covers declarations of interest by members of the council's staff. Section 20 prohibits the unauthorised disclosure of confidential information by members of the council or of standing committees or by members of the council's staff. Section 21 provides for the appointment by the Arts Council of standing committees. Section 22 allows for the appointment of additional committees by the council.

Section 23 allows the Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, to advance moneys to the council from funds provided by the Oireachtas. Section 24 allows the Arts Council, in carrying out its functions, to advance funds to such persons as it considers appropriate and provides that the council shall be independent in the performance of this function. That enshrines in legislation the long-standing understanding in that regard. Section 25 requires the keeping of proper accounts by the Arts Council and for their submission to the Minister after audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Section 26 requires the submission of an annual report on the council's activities to the Minister, who will lay copies before each House of the Oireachtas. Section 27 allows the council to accept gifts of money, land, or other property.

Section 28 allows the appointment of staff by the Arts Council and deals with the terms and conditions of such staff. Section 29 provides that the rates of pay of council staff shall be in line with Government policy and directions issued by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Finance. Section 30 deals with the superannu ation of council staff. Section 31 allows the Minister to require the council to furnish specified records or documents.

The Bill proposes some important changes, while continuing with those elements which have served us well for many years. There will now be a recognised and well defined role for the Minister responsible for the arts. The Arts Council will continue and although it will now have a more specific obligation to operate within a framework of overall Government arts policy, its independence in individual funding decisions will now have statutory backing. I commend the Bill to the House.

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment to a position with responsibility for the arts. Given that he comes from County Kerry which has a huge tradition in the arts, it is appropriate that he represents the arts. As both of us come from Kerry, I hope we can play a major role in developing the arts in our county. The arts are thriving in Kerry and that will help both of us to take a practical look at the future development of the arts there. I also compliment the work done by the Minister's predecessor during her term in office. She was accessible, innovative, easy to approach and co-operative. Her work in the arts should be recognised.

Some people feel it was a mistake to dismantle the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands because it brought together and focused attention on the arts, heritage, culture and our language. I will refer to that change later in my contribution. People with a genuine interest in the arts are concerned about such a seismic shift. I do not know if that change was carefully considered. It behoves me as Opposition spokesperson to ensure that the arts are not marginalised in the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism. I understand the Minister also has responsibility for Bord na gCon and the Irish Horseracing Authority. He is responsible for a big Department. I am not aware that a Minister of State has been appointed to share those responsibilities.

Two Arts Acts have been enacted since the foundation of the State. The first was enacted in 1951 and the second was enacted in 1973. That means the Arts Bill, 2002, may be the only opportunity the House will have to assist and encourage the development of the arts through legislation for a generation. What we do today will probably decide the direction the arts will take for the next 25 to 30 years. New art forms will emerge through new technology during that time. We must grasp the opportunity to get the Bill right. I will table several amendments on Committee Stage to try to improve the Bill after consultations with a variety of people.

I have studied the history of the development of the arts since the foundation of the State and recall the contribution of my party, when in government, to them over the past 80 years. The Garda and Army bands were established in the 1920s, both of which have made a huge contribution to the country, music and the arts in various ways. The first State subsidisation of an English language theatre took place in 1925 with the award of £800 to the Abbey Theatre. Significant funding was also allocated to Irish language activities in schools at the time. During that formative period of the State it was the first Cumann na nGaedheal Government which set up all the institutions and established the system which has proved so successful up to the present day.

The establishment of the broadcasting service in 1926 led to the creation of music groups which would in time become the RTE concert orchestra, the national symphony orchestra and the string quartet. In 1928 visual art was commissioned, illustrating the Shannon hydro-electric scheme. In 1949, under a coalition Government, following a period of 16 years out of office, a study was commissioned of the state of the arts in Ireland under the direction of Dr. Thomas Bodkin, former director of the National Gallery. In his report Dr. Bodkin expressed his views frankly on the condition of the arts in Ireland at the time. The report stated no country in Europe gave less to the cultivation of the arts than Ireland. It also highlighted the lack of instruction in art in our primary and secondary schools and universities. The 1951 Arts Act was a product of the report and its main objective was the establishment of An Comhairle Ealaíon, the Arts Council.

One of the basic principles of the 1951 Act was that, while art and artistic activity should be encouraged and supported to the greatest possible extent by the State, it should not be directly controlled by the State. This approach – the arm's length principle – which was not uncommon in other countries, has prevailed under various subsequent Governments. However, this principle is threatened by the Bill before the House in view of the powers being given to the Minister in the direction of the Arts Council to which I will refer.

The 1973 Arts Act was introduced at a time when Fine Gael was the main coalition partner in government and the membership of the Arts Council was increased from seven to 17. In that regard, in the Bill before the House, the Minister is reverting to the 1951 membership level. The 1973 Act also established three committees, one to advise on painting, sculpture and architecture, one to advise on music and one to advise on drama, literature and cinema. Unlike the three standing committees which the Minister is now establishing, the previous committees did not have legislative status and were more of an advisory nature.

In 1984, when my party was again in government, section 32 of the Finance Act allowed for tax relief on contributions towards the advancement of the arts in Ireland, which was quite an innovative measure. In 1994 increased funding was provided for the development of arts and culture infrastructure through the CDIS programme. This provided some very fine facilities in County Kerry, such as the cultural centre in Listowel, in which I am involved. The 1995 Finance Bill provided that persons who donated heritage items could credit the value of those items against certain taxes. The Cultural Institutions Act, 1997, provided a new legislative structure for the operation of Ireland's national cultural institutions.

I have demonstrated that Fine Gael and previously Cumann na nGaedheal made major contributions to the arts in many ways. In my capacity as Fine Gael spokesperson on the arts I hope to ensure that tradition will be maintained. I intend to be very proactive in this area, being conscious of my roots in Listowel, which is regarded by many as the literary capital of Ireland. The former President of Ireland, Mrs. Mary Robinson, once referred to it as the Athens of Ireland. Accordingly, I have a great deal to live up to.

I know of no society that can live without the arts. The arts represent us all in our ability to live outside ourselves, to imagine, create, respond, communicate locally, globally, aesthetically, emotionally and culturally, yet we have consistently failed to recognise their importance. We are quick to recognise ourselves economically, yet we do not see or understand the artist in each of us. My feeling about the arts is neither a deep philosophical one, nor a complicated one – it is quite simple. We are better off for having them around us because we are somehow more human, more alive, more receptive. If we are serious about the arts in Ireland, we must show that we take them seriously.

How can a country not take the arts seriously when it has a Nobel prize winner living and writing in its heart, when it has produced poets, playwrights and novelists who are read and performed worldwide and when it has actors, singers and performers envied throughout the art world? How can a country that has film, music and song leading world artistic thinking, that has just created an international visual expanse in its national gallery and that has opened up the doors and remit of its national museum not take the arts seriously? How can a country that knows its tradition of language and literature, a country where story and legend and myth are the heartbeat of the nation not take the arts seriously? I sometimes wonder, however, if we really take them seriously or if we just pay lip service to the great national resource which flourishes all around us, waiting to be developed.

In view of our cultural heritage I am disappointed that in many respects what we are discussing is not really an Arts Bill but rather an Arts Council Bill. Perhaps it should be renamed accordingly. Instead of relating to the arts it relates more to the organisational structures through which the Arts Council will work and the future relationship the council will have with the Minister at the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism. Its main effect seems to be to give the Minister a major say in the future direction of the arts, which may not be a desirable outcome. The fact that the council will now deal with a Minister at the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, as opposed to a Minister at the former Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, is noteworthy in itself.

The arts now constitute a smaller part of a large Department and are separated from the Department with responsibility for the Irish language and the Gaeltacht. While the arts and the Irish language are now divorced, a real appreciation of the role played by the Irish language in our artistic and cultural development and heritage must not be underestimated or, worse, lost.

Section 21 provides for the establishment of standing committees, which is a new structure for the Arts Council. It is proposed that one of these committees will be concerned with traditional Irish arts. It will apparently advise on the distribution of all funds in the traditional arts area but it is not clear if this will entail assisting and advising the council on matters concerning Irish language arts. Areas such as broadcasting, publication, prose, drama and poetry in the Irish language include art and artists who are at the cutting edge of contemporary arts and who are internationally recognised. It has been said that a serious disservice would be done to the arts generally and to such practitioners in the Irish language if they were arbitrarily considered to be traditional arts. We must not forget that it is in the Irish language arts that most give an Irish dimension to our culture, yet the conservation and promotion of the Irish language and its arts is not reflected in the Bill. A basic and essential cultural domain is ignored and overlooked. In the absence of particular care and attention and the cherishing of courageous developmental action, the Irish language arts will not survive.

The role of the arts is not simply to encourage tourism or trade. The arts stand alone and they offer a definition of where we are as a society and a people. It has been found that artistic endeavours organised for purely artistic purposes are generally better attended and more successful than those developed exclusively as tourism initiatives.

The autonomy of the arts, especially from their departmental bedfellow, tourism, must be recognised and protected. The Minister has a major responsibility to ensure that they do not become fused into tourism and be seen as an economic vehicle, which they can be, rather than a cultural one. We must not return to the days when people thought of the arts with a Bord Fáilte mentality, as constituting an extension of the shamrock. They are far more than that and our attitude must not be blinkered or influenced by any new found policy change making them merely a major economic force rather than promoting them for their intrinsic value.

The proposal to substantially reduce the number of members of the Arts Council is far reaching. If the Bill is passed, the membership of the council will be reduced from 17 to nine, consisting of a chairperson and eight ordinary members. However, section 21 provides that the council establish three standing committees to advise on matters relating to the traditional arts, the activities of local authorities in relation to the arts and artistic innovation. Each standing committee will have five members, including a chairperson to be appointed by the Minister from the members of the Arts Council. Of the remaining four members, two are to be appointed by the Minister and two by the council. This means that the Minister will make six additional appointments to the original nine appointments to the council. It is possible that other than the chairperson, the members of the council may not be represented on these committees. This must be examined to ensure that it will serve the needs of the arts in the best possible manner.

The provision that members appointed to the standing committees may not necessarily be members of the council will create a possible further six ministerial appointments, bringing the total to a possible 21. It also means that the proposed structure could become cumbersome and ineffective. In the past the Arts Council was generally independent, which is probably why it clashed with so many Ministers. Even where there were political appointments, others represented various sectors of the arts. In this instance I foresee that appointments to the newly structured council will be political. The Minister or his successors will appoint those who are loyal to his party, which would be a dangerous development. It could mean that if the Minister makes a direction to a council made up of well known members of his party, they will take much greater notice of it than if they were independent. This will have to be addressed on Committee Stage.

There should be at least two members of the Arts Council on each standing committee. If representations are made to a standing committee whose membership has only one representative from the council in the form of the chairman, difficulties may arise in the relationship of the committee to the council. On Committee Stage we will have the opportunity to consider these and other aspects of the proposed structure for the council.

If the Bill is passed without amendment it will represent a seismic shift in the future work of the Arts Council. It has been suggested that to restructure the council in the manner envisaged will dissipate the energy and vision of the body as a whole and it will possibly encourage a factional approach to the promotion of the arts across the country, which is undesirable.

However, if my suggestions on the formation of standing committees are accepted but the Minister does not change the proposed structure, then we must question the absence of a standing committee on education. It is currently envisaged that there will be three standing committees, on the traditional arts, the role of local authorities in the arts and on the innovative arts. If my proposed amendment on Committee Stage is accepted, which will provide that the membership of each standing committee should contain two members from the council, the numbers envisaged will allow for the creation of a standing committee on education.

Education is paramount to the future development of the arts in this country. Everything starts at school and the provision of a standing committee on education would help to ensure that in the arts, all of our children would be cherished equally. This would be in line with the spirit of the Constitution. The Arts Council's arts plans for 2002-06 recognises that due to the poor provision for the arts in formal and informal education, the opportunities for people to experience and engage with the arts are limited. The plan has detailed specific proposals to enhance the arts experience of young people. It suggests that local authorities and other local agencies be used to disseminate best practice models of arts in schools and that in conjunction with the National Youth Council of Ireland, the capacity and scope of the national youth arts programmes should be expanded.

The Arts Council also recommends that capacity in arts organisations should also be expanded to enhance the experience of primary teachers in arts programming. These suggestions are especially important when we consider the report, The Arts in our Schools, undertaken on behalf of the Association of Principals and Deputy Principals. At the outset, the importance of active support and encouragement for the arts in education is clear. The report states that while a properly structured and integrated arts education programme will produce more sensitive and perceptive students, it will also stimulate learning, creativity and enhanced self esteem. The report states: "We must bring art and the artist into the classroom. If we do not make this an absolute priority, we are moving towards a cultural wasteland." Unfortunately, the findings of a survey undertaken by the NAPD in November 2000 make for depressing reading.

With regard to music as a taught subject in second level education, an astounding 48% of single-sex boys' schools make no provision for teaching music at junior certificate level. As if that were not bad enough, at leaving certificate level 74% of single-sex boys' schools do not offer music at all. These appalling figures are, however, not replicated to the same degree in single-sex girls' schools where 10% do not offer music at junior certificate level and 17% do not offer it for leaving certificate. The number of co-educational schools that do not offer the subject is disturbingly close to 50% for both junior and leaving certificate levels.

Turning our attention to art, the report found a higher provision of art as an examination subject than music across all sectors. However, 25% of boys' schools and 8% of girls' schools make no provision for art. It is quite obvious from even the most cursory examination of the research findings that the provision of art and music in second level education is outrageously gender biased. Males have a significantly higher chance of completing their education cycle having had little or no artistic input or interaction. This makes depressing reading, as much for the fact that we have seen this documented so frequently in the past.

The 1979 Benson report referred specifically to the poor state of music in the education system; how little has changed in the past 23 years. Report upon report has found that arts education is insufficient or virtually non-existent. The Benson report, quotes directly from the 'Design in Ireland' report, stating: "The Irish schoolchild is visually and artistically among the most uneducated in Europe." This is a damning statement, a condemnation of past failings, but also a premonition of future cultural non-engagement and stagnation.

The Government must tackle the appalling state of the arts in our education system, and the Arts Bill, 2002, should reflect the priority that this issue must be given. If the standing committees, inherent in the restructuring of the Arts Council, are approved, a committee with responsibility for education could effect real change for the benefit of primary and post-primary students. An urgent examination of how we might gender-proof arts education is also required, and is something that this standing committee could examine and advise upon. It is interesting to note the importance that was attached to education in the arts by the previous Administration. The proposal to convene a special committee to examine the role of the arts in education made little headway and eventually fizzled out.

As well as considering these matters, we must examine certain principles that the Arts Bill, 2002, will replace, if it is enacted without amendment. When the Arts Council was established in 1951 it was provided in the Arts Act of that year that the President of Ireland – not the Taoiseach, nor the Minister – would appoint the director of the council. This was a clear recognition that the function of the Arts Council should be separate from the workings of the government in office at the time. At essence was the realisation that the Arts Council would be independent in its role. Under the terms of the legislation of 1973, the position of Chairman of the Arts Council was established, and the legislation provided that the Taoiseach would make the appointment. In this way, the working of the Arts Council was brought closer to the Government, however the function of the council remained unchanged.

I will get an opportunity on Committee Stage to raise the many issues I did not get a chance to raise here today. I support the involvement of local authorities in the arts. However, there is no point giving them a role unless it is accompanied by funding. The Minister only has to contact the arts office in Kerry to realise how paltry funding is for the arts there. Many questions have been raised by this Bill in regard to the autonomy of the Arts Council in the future and the actual, or perceived, interference by the Minister.

I congratulate the Minister on his new brief. I have met the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, quite frequently this week. I have been told it will not happen again for a long time that we will have so much with which to contend in this area in one week.

I fully accept that the Bill before us is not one of the Minister's own making, but he has had to take it on board. It is an appalling Bill. It is a housekeeping instrument more than anything else. We could do so much better by the arts than this. It is 29 years since the last Arts Bill was introduced in this House and the previous one was in 1951. If history is to teach us anything then clearly it will be a long time before we re-visit this area again.

The Minister should withdraw the Bill. I was shocked when I saw it had been five years in gestation. Five years of consultation was distilled into this Bill and all we get is 31 sections – some six pages. We can do fundamentally better than this. If the Minister is appointed to a position in the next government it will, no doubt, be to a different area of responsibility, and if he wants to leave a fitting legacy in regard to the arts then it should not be a Bill of this ilk. He needs to go back into consultation to bring forward an appropriate response to the needs of the arts sector.

No more than for the Minister, the arts is a new field of expertise for me, as the new Labour Party spokesperson on the arts. I read about the consultation that had taken place, the focus groups that were set up and the community groups that had contributed. Much was made of the great enthusiasm out there for the proposed new Bill. I am sure those people are not as enthusiastic about what has been achieved.

It worries me to think this legislation will control the arts world in Ireland over the coming years. It is all about control. While there are other aspects of concern, the all-consuming power of the Minister is most worrying. The Minster must be consulted at every hand's turn. The Arts Council will be unable to boil a kettle of water without consulting the Minister. This is a very distressing development.

It is something of a disappointment that the Government put arts into the same portfolio as tourism and sport. It shows that it is still treating the arts as a type of Cinderella area, uncertain what to do with it, as if it does not deserve autonomy. This is the second time the Government has moved arts from a Department in its own right and thrown it in with other areas of responsibility. Arts runs the risk of becoming the poor relation to sports and tourism. This could happen very easily if we are not careful. This country has virtually gone mad over a soccer tournament and if the arts must compete with that type of enthusiasm, I am not certain it will win out or get the attention it deserves.

It would have been preferable to create a Department of arts and culture on its own as it would give the arts the status they deserve in our society. The arts have an inherent value and I firmly believe that they warrant a dedicated Department of their own. We saw the benefits of that approach when Deputy Michael Higgins was Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. The huge vibrancy within the arts society when he was in charge of it was tangible. One could nearly feel it. People still talk about his enthusiasm for the area, his dedication to the subject and his concentration on the issues. That is something else which we need to sit down and seriously examine.

It should be said that this Bill, good or bad, is the work of the Minister's predecessor, Deputy de Valera. For some reason the Bill, which fell with the last Dáil, has been reintroduced. I could understand if it were worth reintroducing, but it is not. It fails abysmally.

It is now 29 years since the last Arts Act was put in place and it is about time we had a new one. The arts, culture and cultural policy in Ireland have gone through many transformations in that time and it is now appropriate that we re-examine the legislation which governs it and which will affect this important sector of Irish society.

I praise Deputy Síle de Valera for putting in place a discussion forum which allowed individuals and organisations across the arts sector to air their views and in the process stimulate a good debate. I have heard nothing but good about it. That debate was very worthwhile. People felt they had an involvement and had ownership of their particular area. They felt that their view was worth listening to and that they could contribute to the development of the arts.

That discussion enters an entirely new and more decisive phase as we begin to debate this Bill. The Minister outlined in detail what is contained in the Bill. The definition of the arts contained in the Bill is very disappointing and to some extent shows a lack of imagination on the part of those who drafted it. The definition of the arts is very limited and rather meaningless.

This Arts Bill is about a new Ireland because there is a new Ireland, but it has no vision, imagination or energy. Where are we going? What are the arts in Ireland? How do we intend to ensure that they flourish? Where is the freedom for artists? For example, an unemployed concert pianist who goes to the local employment exchange is still asked why he or she is not out there looking for a real job. There is still no recognition of it as a worthwhile career in which people should be supported. Where in the Bill is there reference to the welfare of artists? According to the terms of the Bill, it is the function of the Minister to promote the arts, both inside and outside the State. Surely it is the function of the Minister to ensure the welfare of artists in order that they are not in a position whereby they must take up jobs to which they are unsuited and which will ensure that they cannot function as artists. Where is that function outlined in the Bill?

The role of the Minister is very worrying. I wish to express my concern at what I regard as a serious dilution of the arm's length principle between the Minister and the Arts Council in this Bill. As a member of the board of directors of the Cork Opera House who has been at loggerheads with the Arts Council on funding, I would still agree that the council must be independent and at arm's length from Government. Even though there are times when I have disagreed with it, I still think the element of independence is vitally important.

During her time in office, the former Minister, Deputy de Valera, had what could only be described as a difficult relationship with the Arts Council. As Deputy Deenihan stated, the Arts Council has had difficulties with many Ministers. Perhaps it is because it insists on its independence that it has had those difficult relationships, but it has been right to so insist. However, I am concerned that this legislation is a crude attempt to put manners on the Arts Council. I believe that parts of this Bill will not lay the ground for a good working relationship between the Minister and the Arts Council.

Before the Bill was published we got a foretaste of its contents from the former Minister in a document entitled Towards a New Framework for the Arts, where she set out her views in a very plain fashion. That report stated:

There is broad acceptance in the arts community and among all key arts development agencies that the arm's length principle has been appropriate to the arts environment in Ireland. There have, however, been concerns expressed on issues such as accountability and transparency and these issues should be considered in the review of the arts legislation.

I do not see that here. In addition, the report went on to talk about the dangers of the arm's length approach, "including the withdrawal of cultural decision-making from genuine public view or accountability and a potential neglect by Government of a sector which is does not control". Of all the matters in the world that one needs to control, expression of the arts is not one of them. It is reasonable to say that this was a very strong statement of intent on the part of the former Minister and could only be regarded as a shot across the bows on the part of the Arts Council and its governance of cultural policy.

Under this legislation there is a straight choice made, favouring an arts policy that is dictated by Government rather than one which is driven by an arm's length approach. The Bill is quite clear on this matter. This is outlined in the explanatory memorandum which states that the Bill provides "that the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands shall promote the arts, both nationally and internationally, and gives recognition to the role of the Minister in formulating overall State policy on the arts". At the same time the Bill states that the plans and strategies of the Arts Council will be required to comply with Government policy on the arts. If this is not direct interference, then I do not know what is. When both of these statements are juxtaposed, it is quite clear who is the master and who is the servant. I regard this as a backward step which will do nothing to foster positive working relations between the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism and the Arts Council. It cannot be a reasonable working relationship if they are simply in the role of being subservient to Government policy and the Minister.

It is unfortunate that the Bill proposes to exert a greater degree of control over a State body, the Arts Council, which has made a significant contribution to the development of arts and cultural policy over many decades. I would prefer if the Bill was designed to ensure that the relationship between the Government and the Arts Council was one of partnership rather than of subservience. It would be preferable if the Government set down clear principles which would act as a cultural policy framework within which the Arts Council could operate. That would be acceptable. These principles would reflect the Government's objectives in the area. Such a structure would allow the Arts Councils and other organisations to play a policy-proposing role.

I welcome the proposal to reduce the membership of the Arts Council from 17 to nine. Anyone who works or participates on a committee tends, as a rule, to work more efficiently when the membership is set at a feasible level. Large committees always run the risk of becoming unwieldy and unmanageable and find it quite difficult to reach a consensus.

However, the positive benefits of a slimmed down Arts Council will be undermined significantly by the creation of three standing committees to advise the Council on matters relating to Irish traditional arts, activities of local authorities in respect of the arts, and artistic innovation. This will simply mean taking people off one committee and replacing them with other people on three new sub-committees within the council according to section 21 of the Bill.

However, I am more concerned that, under this section of the Bill, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism has the power to appoint three of the people to sit on these standing committees, including the chairperson of each standing committee. It is quite clear that these committees are structured to ensure an amount of power and influence in decision making, which the Minister will retain. The proposed structure is a recipe for bad relations between the Minister and the Arts Council because the Minister will effectively be interfering in the day to day business of the Arts Council.

Regarding the three committees being proposed, what is the reasoning or thinking behind the creation of one pertaining to traditional Irish arts? This committee, unlike the other two, will be the only committee to have the power to make recommendations on the advance of moneys to any person relating to the traditional Irish arts. This is beyond me although I think I know what is behind it.

Why is the Minister now introducing a form of protectionism into the traditional Irish arts, be it music, dancing, song, writing or poetry in all its forms? All Irish artists that I know, who are prepared to be innovative and sell their wares on the world stage, are quite prepared to operate in the same fora as other artists. They are convinced that they have a product and talent which will ensure they have sufficient work and that their music is heard.

Deputy Deenihan spoke about Listowel in a way that only somebody from Listowel could. I could speak in the same way about Cork as I am sure the Minister could about Cahirciveen. However, the one thing that struck me about the late John B. Keane, and the reason why I admire him more and more as time goes by, was his conviction on certain issues when it was neither profitable or popular. I recently heard his interview concerning the Language Freedom Movement. I am sure that if he were here to read this Bill he would attend another meeting in the Mansion House and the same opposition that met him there in respect of the Language Freedom Movement would meet him in respect of the Bill.

Are we now going to have a committee that will push for a separate Arts Council in regard to traditional Irish arts? Are we going to have a separate committee that will determine who gets funding from the Arts Council in relation to traditional arts? If those people who apply are not kosher or do not come under the definition of what the committee considers strictly to be the traditional arts, are they to be excluded? I find this very worrying and cannot explain it. Why would the Minister do this at a time when Irish music and all forms of Irish art are the darlings of the world? We will now have people – I think the Minister knows who they are – ensuring that Irish music and all Irish art forms go back generations. There will be nobody raising their hands while dancing to an Irish jig. We will go back to strictly Irish and that worries me. I ask the Minister to take a second look at the issue.

With regard to local authorities, I could not agree more with Deputy Deenihan. Cork has been very fortunate in being awarded the honour of European capital of culture for 2005, but we have no additional funding. The section dealing with local authorities should use the word "shall" rather than "may". If the Minister legislates for it, we will get funding, as he and I know. Therefore, the lukewarm approach taken in this Bill in respect of local authorities is very deliberate. The arts budget for any local authority is appalling. We are fighting over crumbs with people who desperately want to make a living in the world of arts and culture.

I warn against putting the three standing committees on a legislative footing given that it will be many years before we see the introduction a new arts Act. I am concerned that these committees will be sewn into the Arts Council structure until such time as there is new legislation. It removes a significant amount of flexibility and room for manoeuvre from the Arts Council. I am not convinced that this has been well thought out and I do not know what the rationale is behind the creation of the committees. Arguably, it could be said that the Government does not trust the Arts Council. That is what this Bill is clearly saying. Consequently, the Government wishes to build in its own majority into each of the three committees to ensure the Minister will get his own way. This is also made quite plain in the Bill.

Section 21(11) states:

The Council shall in the performance of its functions take into account any advice given to it by a standing committee in so far as it relates to any such function.

In other words, the Minister pays the piper and in this case the Arts Council must play his tune.

This Bill represents a wasted opportunity. It is poor legislation and it is a misnomer to call it an Arts Bill. It is really a Bill designed to shackle the Arts Council to ensure it will do exactly what the Government wants. The Government is not very imaginative in respect of the arts.

This Bill, if passed, will shape the future of State support for the arts for the next 25 years. On this basis, I urge the Minister not to make changes that he feels will place the Arts Council in a strait-jacket from which it will be unable to free itself until new legislation is introduced. The Arts Council should be structured in such a fashion that it can deal with the changes that will inevitably take place in all sectors of the arts over the coming years.

The Minister inherited this Bill. I know he did not have much time to look at it, but I appeal to him to withdraw it. We can do an awful lot better than this. This is not a time for retrenchment. We should be looking to the future, which is bright in respect of the arts in Ireland. The Minister could leave after him legislation worthy of the arts in Ireland, which this Bill is not.

I am sharing my time with Deputy Finian McGrath.

I congratulate the Minister on his new brief. He has an historic opportunity to amend the mistakes made by his predecessor in bringing the Bill forward in this format. Like some of the previous speakers, I echo my disappointment at the separation of arts and culture. Arts cannot exist without culture and vice versa. It will be difficult to create a definite identity in terms of our artistic and cultural heritage if the two areas are promoted by different Departments.

This Bill, as it stands, is flawed. It provides the Government with more control, not less, over the arts. The arts do not operate in a controlled environment. In pushing this Bill we may be creating, to exaggerate slightly, an environment akin to Eastern Europe of the 1950s, with its Stalinist control over creative self-expression, or the USA during the McCarthy era, where people who thought differently were labelled "reds" and lived in fear of their lives.

There are some positive developments in this Bill. I welcome the reduction in Arts Council membership and the introduction of rolling membership to enable proper continuity. However, in a single stroke this one welcome feature has been destroyed by section 21, which provides for the council to establish three standing committees. Why is there a need to set up three so-called standing committees? Art should stand on its own merit. It should not be protectionist, but should have intrinsic cultural value. Who decides what is covered by the term "Irish traditional arts", for example?

In relation to local authority arts activity the Bill is more specific, but this is a further drive towards centralisation because local authorities do not have the funding nor the creativity to promote the arts in their own right. South Dublin County Council, whose area I come from, has run a highly successful Per Cent for Art scheme which has promoted local artists working in a variety of media. If the new Arts Council is to have too much input into that process, we will in effect be creating a centralised authority and removing power from local authorities. While to some extent I welcome the Arts Council's role of speaking on behalf of those involved in the arts, it will have one hand tied behind its back because of ministerial control. Who designates the three sectors? Who decides, for example, whether new art and innovation is new and innovative? It is possible to take something new, add it to something old and fuse the two. Is that new, or is it a new way of saying something old? What is new art? What is innovation?

This Bill effectively castrates the Arts Council. If a cat is castrated it becomes docile. It wants to stay close to home and not go out and explore new territory. Art is all about celebrating the old and celebrating diversity, but it is also about discovering new territory. This cannot be done without the freedom to explore.

I welcome the publication of this Bill, which is intended to update the existing arts legislation and make it more relevant and appropriate to the present day. We all need to examine carefully what has happened to the arts over the last 20 years. We urgently need to bring the arts – traditional music, language, drama, mime, street theatre and the activities of different cultures – back to the ordinary person. We need to end the current exclusion of ordinary people from the field.

We particularly need to develop the arts at primary school level. Schools and community groups in disadvantaged areas need to be funded properly. The current feeling is that these groups receive a few crumbs from the table and this is not good enough. After-school art projects and art therapy, among other things, can no longer be allowed to exist on shoestring budgets. Schools in the inner city and in disadvantaged areas have been obliged to close down projects in art therapy because they were €2,000 to €3,000 short. Art therapy is particularly effective for dysfunctional and disruptive children who are crying out for help and it will prevent many of them ending up in prison. We must escape the Dublin 4 mind-set which says the arts are for the rich. Many community-based festivals such as the St. Patrick's Day parade and the Galway Arts Festival have gone out of their way to include the poorer sections of society. This needs to be developed further.

Poetry and creative writing can be used in disadvantaged communities to help with literacy problems. Over the last 20 years I have seen this at first hand in my own school. Children who have major difficulties with reading and books can gain confidence from music and poetry, especially when it is relevant and written by people who are based in the working class, so that within a matter of months they want to join the reading groups in their classes. Let us use the arts as a resource for helping children, particularly those with a disability, and to lift their self-esteem and confidence. I welcome the section which gives specific recognition to the independence of the Arts Council's decisions about the disbursement of funding. This is a positive step, but all decisions on funding should be transparent.

On a more critical note, I have major reservations about reducing the Arts Council membership from 17 to nine. I caution the Minister that while 17 might be top-heavy from a bureaucratic point of view, nine is definitely too low to represent most groups and prevent elitism. I urge the Minister to consider my proposal of 12 members. The council needs to be balanced, strategic and transparent. That is the way forward.

In section 6, dealing with local authorities, I am concerned about the use of the word "may", as in "may provide financial or other assistance". That is a bit windy and lacks strength. It would be better to use the word "should" and I hope the Minister will change this. I have outlined my concerns and my criticisms. I urge the Minister to reflect further and to introduce an Arts Bill that shows balance, professionalism, creativity and concern for the poorer sections of society. Above all, we need a Bill with teeth to develop the arts in this country. I wish the Minister well with his new portfolio.

The Deputy has some minutes left, as Deputy McGuinness is not in the House.

I might develop some of the points I raised earlier.

I understood you were sharing time with Deputy McGuinness.

No, he was sharing with me. I had ten minutes, of which I gave six to the Independent group.

In that case the ten minutes is concluded.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach. Is ceart labhairt faoin Bhille seo. Tá rudaí maithe ann agus molaim a lán atá sa Bhille. There are many good things in the Bill. It recognises the increasingly central role played by the arts in our society and I welcome the fact that it brings the 1973 Act into line with contemporary concerns by attempting to define the arts in more inclusive terms. Also welcome is the emphasis on the crucial role local authorities can play in promoting the arts. However, this is surely a role that will require more resources at local level if it is to be successful. The powers conferred by the Bill upon the Minister and his Department give rise to a number of questions. Perhaps the Minister, in his response, could address these points.

Can we be sure, in practice, that the emphasis on the policy-making role of the Minister is not in conflict with the assurances of the continuing independence of the Arts Council? This is a critical issue. We read quite frequently about intense controversies, not just in Ireland but all over the world, involving the artistic community and Ministers or Government Departments. If we are to err, it should be on the liberal side so as to allow the artists and the Arts Council to have their heads. The Minister or Department should interfere very rarely. The balance in this Bill could be redressed somewhat to allow more independence to the Arts Council.

Can the Minister explain the rationale for the creation under the Bill of three new Arts Council standing committees in the areas of traditional arts, innovation and local authorities given that the Arts Council has to date been autonomous in its choice of policy priorities, committees and advisers? Is the Bill prescribing too much for the Arts Council? While I appreciate that there is scope in the Bill to set up other committees, by giving these standing committees recognition in law, the Bill is determining the arts in too strong a way. It should be left to the Arts Council to make these decisions. How will the new standing committees and departmental policies represent artists of all disciplines who continue to contribute so much, often on slender resources, to the enrichment of the culture of the country?

A number of contributors asked what arts mean to the people. I suppose that, if the people like it, it is art and that is it. If they want the activity, they find it brings pleasure to them and they enjoy it, it is an artistic form. Many people believe that attending a classical music recital or a painting exhibition is the exclusive domain of the middle classes. What is important in arts policy and is enshrined in the Bill is that local authorities have a budget for promotion of the arts locally. If one travels throughout the country, one will see many fine museums and art galleries. In Drogheda, which I am sure the Minister will visit and where he will be very welcome to the local arts centre, we have a dynamic inter-relationship between the local authorities, Louth County Council and Drogheda Borough Council, and the local community through a state of the art centre whose construction was funded by the local authority and the jobs in which are funded through community employment and FÁS schemes.

The problem is, if the people do not come to arts centres or to the arts, the arts must be brought to the people. We need much more investment in local communities through outreach programmes. We need to go into the poorer areas of cities and towns and into the concrete jungles and bring to them the experience of the whole spectrum of the arts. We need to interact with young people, especially those who feel excluded from society, who are not given any resources in their communities and who have no choice but to become involved in drugs, crime or vandalism. We need a much more progressive policy of reaching out into these communities. We need to bring musicians and other practitioners of the arts into these communities – someone mentioned poetry – to show them what a wonderful, rich and fantastic heritage we have in Ireland. People in these areas do not feel part of society and they believe it does not care about them. This progressive policy will make a difference.

Another development which I have noticed in my community is involvement with senior citizens' groups. In Drogheda we have a cottage hospital in which there is a senior citizens' group in the day care centre. It is a progressive and useful society with painting competitions being held and artists coming to visit. It is fantastic to see pensioners in their 70s and 80s painting scenes of their childhood or environment. It gives them a great sense of belonging and of being part of the community to produce something so fine and wonderful as a painting of a plant, flower or tree in their back garden or street in the community. There is an important outreach programme in County Monaghan of bringing art to the psychiatric hospitals. As a member of a health board I have visited psychiatric hospitals where the majority of patients never have a visitor. To have an active arts programme in these institutions is a significant and worthy thing to do. The North-Eastern Health Board has a progressive and active policy in this regard which I would like extended nationally. It brings light into the world of the people to whom I refer and brings their world to us.

Local authorities are under-funded in supporting the arts. The Bill requires them to provide support but does not necessarily provide funding for that through the Arts Council. Perhaps that could be clarified. Local authorities tend to be hidebound with bureaucracy and do not tend to be dynamic organisations. The appointment of arts officers to many local authorities is changing the face not just of communities, but also of local government. That is worthwhile.

The issue of arts in education is broad. The old art class was where everyone ended up who did not want to do home economics, woodwork or metalwork, despite these being arts in themselves. Modern teaching of art in school is of a very high standard. The interaction between teachers and students from my experience has been first class. We are changing as a society. We are showing more tolerance of and respect for the arts and are becoming more involved. Communities are becoming more involved.

John Thaw through his television programmes made classical music popular for many people because, when he listened to the classics, so did many ordinary people. We need to have many more public concerts in our cities and towns. I know there is a progressive policy in the Arts Council of promoting excellent musicians to visit arts centres, but I would like a much more sustained programme of public concerts.

Our weather is not always clement, but I do not see why we should not have some classical music sessions in shopping centres, for example. I do not see why we should not have more on the street involvement between the artistic community and shopping areas. We must bring the arts alive and, while the Bill goes a long way towards doing that by giving certain statutory powers to the Arts Council, we need a little more imagination. I would like a brave new world in the arts where we get out more and become more involved.

I would like in our policy towards the arts generally a more sustained campaign between public and private enterprise. While I acknowledge that a number of wealthy companies contribute significantly to artistic life generally, I would like a much more sustained programme and greater involvement of companies and wealthy individuals in society. I would like to see them give much more to the arts. An active policy through the Minister's Department could be constructive and helpful in this regard.

For most people life is a humdrum, two dimensional affair of family and work. The arts brighten up people's lives. The world I would like to see would be a much livelier and three dimensional place. We have many fine museums and art galleries. Although I know it is not easy, I would like some of our finer paintings brought to provincial centres. I know there may be a problem with insurance. However, not everyone can go to the art galleries or museums in Dublin. I would like to see a policy where we could bring the arts to our local community. Molaim an Bille seo. Tá rudaí maithe ann agus tá rudaí nach bhfuil mé ró-shásta leo ach is tosnú maith é.

I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on this Bill. I congratulate the Minister and wish him well in his new post. It is appropriate that a Member from his particular part of the country should grace the Department. I am sure he will do well and he may be assured of good constructive comment from this side of the House.

The Bill will take into account the changes that have taken place in society over the past 25 years, particularly the changes in appreciation of the various forms of the arts. There has been a change, too, in appreciation of art. When I was younger art exhibitions in rural areas were unheard of, but they are now commonplace and the standard is high. Art needs to be nurtured and encouraged. In a Department where I was once Minister of State art and local enterprise were encouraged. The Department encouraged people with time and energy to spend time improving their skills and flair in this area. For a small amount of money a huge degree of appreciation was achieved by both those participating and the public.

The area of art in school needs further attention. It is amazing that so many young people have a natural flair. While a lot of work is done in schools, the Minister and his Department could do a lot more and work with the Department of Education and Science to encourage those with ability to proceed along those lines. Everybody has a flair for something. Some are good at maths, some at music, some at painting and so on. We should try to encourage people with a forte in any particular area. In the future I hope this can be done to a greater extent than it has been done in the past. There is huge scope for enjoyment, participation and funding for something which is beneficial, pleasing to the eye and a source of satisfaction to the person who has done the work.

For several years I have endeavoured to table questions to the Minister in respect of a particular form of the arts – the circus, which is not as prominent as it used to be. I know that it is debatable whether a circus performance is an art form, but I believe it is. When I tabled questions I was given the old story that it was a matter for the Arts Council and that the Minister had no responsibility to the House. I know it is possible to answer parliamentary questions in the House in respect of bodies where, although they are autonomous, the Minister has a function in determining their policy. This attitude that has developed in the House of separating accountability in the House from the performance of the organisation is wrong. It is bad for the image of the House and bad in terms of public appreciation for what we do. It needs to be changed. It makes life easy for Government, but is still wrong.

We have all received correspondence during the years pointing out various cultural changes and developments that have taken place that affect the circus. We have been left in a situation where there may not be the same space for circuses to perform, where there is no longer the same appreciation for the circus that there used to be, there is no longer the same revenue to be generated and the overheads have grown dramatically. A circus on tour now involves huge costs. We are conscious of the need to preserve the arts for future generations. It is important then that we should keep in mind the vulnerability of some forms of the arts in our modern environment and try to ensure help is offered.

Sports, recreation and the arts have an affinity with each other. Culture used to be incorporated in this area. I do not suggest that the Minister opposite lacks culture. The part of the country from which he comes is an area of countless cultural activities. There is scope for incorporating culture in the area covered by his Department. It is important to recognise that we have many demands competing with each other. There is competition for money from the Department from each section. Sports, recreation and the arts all make their own demands and I hope culture will also fall within that remit. Competition forces some activities to the side. I urge the Minister to keep that in mind.

Along with other speakers, I agree that it is important for art to be brought to the people and that it is promoted in all parts of the country. As my colleague, Deputy O'Dowd, said, there is no sense in having objects of artistic interest unless they are on display and people can see and enjoy them. Access should be readily available but that is not always the case. I hope that, in the course of his tenure, the Minister can take a long, hard look at the deployment of art in its various forms with a view to ensuring that it is not just in city centres and that access is available nation-wide.

The various local authorities now promote the arts and heritage and it has been recorded on canvas and in stone and wood. It occurs to me that the need to link up with local authorities is obvious in the promotion of art. A suitably qualified person is needed in each local authority area to liaise in a meaningful way with the Arts Council to facilitate a contribution from the locality that will benefit the nation and, at the same time, receive comment, guidance and assistance, as necessary, so as to bring the scheme together as opposed to allowing local artists travel the road alone or over-supervising them to a stifling extent.

I notice the Minister seems anxious to close. Is he just resting – perhaps having an artistic slumber?

Even Homer nods, or so I am told.

Occasionally, they say. With every new Administration come different Ministers who have different ways of administering their Departments. The Minister's predecessor did a good job in the Department. The opportunity arises for him to put his stamp on the Department in a way that is beneficial to all and will provide a good and useful legacy for the future.

It is vital to promote the arts at a local level as well as introducing the means to do so. I do not know what the Minister proposes to this end in schools and colleges, but it is important that he examines this matter at an early stage.

In the past 20 years Irish music and culture generally has carved out a niche for itself, not only in this country but all over the world, particularly in the United States and Europe. We are unique in the sense that we were able to sell ourselves through the media of music and song in a way other countries have been unable to do. The world of the arts can be used easily, conveniently and profitably to promote this country and its artists and it does not require much promotion once the system is off the ground. All that is required is that those who are performing do so at the highest level, that they have backup, advice and assistance available to them initially and that they can sell themselves in the world-wide marketplace as they wish.

It is important that the Minister pursues a course that is beneficial to interested parties in the future. If he does so, the country and its people will reap generous rewards. In the context of our debate on tourism yesterday, there is no better way to sell one's country than through this medium. It also presents an opportunity for the Minister to pursue his objectives in that area which I am sure will be complementary to the world of art.

I welcome the opportunity of speaking on this Bill. It has long been promised and has been described as major renovating legislation regarding the arts. It was necessary that the founding legislation of the 1951 and 1973 Acts be updated because they are significant in terms of their omissions. Neither, for example, recognises dance as an art form. Another interesting omission from that legislation was that the capacity for innovation in artistic activity was not sufficiently allowed for. However, this proposed legislation is seriously flawed in a number of respects. Since the removal of the word "culture" from the title of the Department of which I had the honour of being the first Minister – the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht – it is difficult to detect any movement towards a comprehensive policy regarding culture.

Culture is usually defined in an anthropological sense, as in UNESCO's Our Creative Diversity and the Council of Europe document In From the Margins. These refer to the totality of our lives – the way we are – and regard artistic activity as one form or expression of culture. It was a serious regression to remove the reference to culture from the title of the Department. When the Minister came to reform the 1951 and 1973 legislation, if he had done so within a definition of culture he would have arrived at a different kind of legislation. Having divided the Department, natural heritage has been returned to the Department of the Environment and Local Government, built heritage to the Office of Public Works – accountable to some place that is unknown – and broadcasting to the Department of Communications, the Marine and Natural Resources. All that is left in Mespil Road is an assistant secretary in the waterways section of a Department which was once known as the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht.

What is missing from the legislation is a vision of the kind of role artistic activity might play in Ireland. For example, in 1979 the Benson report referred to the importance of creativity. It made a powerful statement, which was not influenced by the parties on either side of the House, to the effect that creativity was social and that the capacity for creativity being delivered – as it is through symbolic behaviour – was available to every child. It was succeeded, in turn, by a set of reports on music, from Deaf Ears, the original, through to that chaired by John O'Connor while I was Minister, namely, the PIANO report on musical education. The general assumption or vision which ran through those reports was that creativity was very important, inherent in every person, old or young, and that all one needed to do was create the vehicles for its expression.

A major debate followed the appearance of these reports. There were people on one side who said one would have to sacrifice excellence if one was to celebrate community arts, while those on the other side stated everybody could be allowed to participate which would lead to a rise in levels across the board and that this, in turn, would mean that excellence would be assured, but at a higher level.

There have been reports on dance, music, musical education, access and creativity. One could expect that these would be reflected in reform of legislation in relation to the arts if we had in place a Department of Culture. What we have, however, is a Department to which the arts are attached as a subsection of a larger whole. In section 2(1) the arts are defined as "any creative or interpretative expression (whether traditional or contemporary)." The pity is, however, that this extraordinary use of the term "traditional or contemporary" is not repeated consistently throughout the legislation. For example, when it comes to dealing with artistic expression through the medium of the Irish language it is rather narrowly defined and not defined generally at all. The vision is limited. I suggest that the use of Irish in this way will lead inevitably to a kind of ghettoisation of the language as something which is in the first narrowing, linguistic and in the second narrowing, traditionally linguistic, meaning that it will then become preserved.

The Minister must explain the reason he was so anxious to abandon the arm's length principle. When the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht was being established in 1993 I considered the debates that took place throughout Europe on matters of this nature. In those debates artists generally stated the farther away one could keep creative expression from Governments, Ministers and Parliaments the better. They wanted a kind of artistic autonomy. However, when I wanted to bring into existence a Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht and justify that existence I did so by accepting the principle that the council which would allocate funding would be kept at arm's length from the agency of the State, the ministry or Department involved.

The principle to which I refer is not respected in the legislation before us. The membership of the council is being reduced from 17 to nine and the Minister will have responsibility for appointing the chairpersons of the three significant sub-committees. These sub-committees, in turn, are not treated equally. One will have the right to make recommendations in relation to finance, but the legislation is extraordinarily silent in relation to the other two.

The relationship of the Arts Council to other Departments is far from clearly stated. One of the most important issues facing any Minister – the current Minister has my support in a cross-party sense in this – will be the need to encourage the Department of Education and Science to deal properly with its responsibilities. If one drew a line from Drogheda across to Limerick, one would discover that everything to the left of it is seriously deficient in relation to musical education. There has been a campaign for many years by interest groups in Galway for the establishment of a school of music. There is a chair of music there which cannot be filled while, at the same time, people are obliged to travel to Dublin every weekend for music lessons. There is a serious deficiency in musical education.

I find it extraordinary that in its programme the Government states, in reference to education, that every child in the country must be given an opportunity of having access to the enterprise culture. However, the word "music" does not appear once in 34 pages. I hope the Department of Education and Science will be leaned upon to meet its obligations in relation to basic musical education. Those obligations will not be met by releasing 100,000 tin whistles on the country.

Or mouth organs, perhaps.

That is the kind of approach which, I am informed, is favoured and it is far from satisfactory.

In a curious way we have a terrible habit of continually astounding ourselves in terms of what we produce, etc. Ireland is among the worst countries in the western world in respect of musical education, in terms of the both the facilities and resources on offer. I once proposed a small pilot scheme – it horrified the Department of Finance which informed me that I was practically operating ultra vires– to gather up all the instruments lying unused in people's attics, etc., and make them available to others through the medium of a musical instrument bank. That is still a good idea.

The legislation is deficient in vision and I find its treatment of creativity and the Irish community to be very seriously limited. The relation ship between the Arts Council, as it is proposed, and other Departments is unspecified. With regard to the concept of the new international agency, perhaps this is a good idea and worthy of debate. The Department of Foreign Affairs no longer has the old cultural relations committee which was inadequately funded. The Department always defended that committee because it provided for a smattering of piano playing when its officials were trying to sell beef and fish abroad. However, the Department has called it a day and held up the white flag. It is now suggested that the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism will be responsible, nationally and internationally, for the promotion of State policy on the arts. I wish him well in this.

It is extraordinary that local authorities, which were given the capacity to assist the arts in 1974 – I stand open to correction on this – will not now be able to promote them without having regard to Government policy relating to the arts. That is an extraordinary intrusion into the decision-making of local authorities. Equally, the three sub-committees which fall under the remit of the Arts Council cannot propose anything without also having regard to Government policy relating to the arts. Why does the Minister need to have his hand stuck so far into the Arts Council when he is already reducing its membership from 17 to nine, taking responsibility for appointing its chairperson and the chairpersons of the three significant sub-committees and informing local authorities throughout the country that they cannot make proposals or take action without having regard to Government policy relating to the arts? Who will make the announcement in that regard?

The Government programme is silent on music, does not commit itself to any programme of access and fails to make reference to creativity, venues, dance or local authority funding. If the Government programme is silent on the matter, do we then do nothing? In respect of that question, we have the ubiquitous presence of the Minister for Finance who has managed to find himself, by agreeing to it, referred to in every section of the legislation. Section 14 suggests that remuneration by the council and allowances for expenses will be decided by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Finance.

However, the consent of the Minister for Finance runs right through the Bill. In that respect it is a very dull report.

Debate adjourned.