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.