Arts Bill, 2002: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the Bill and congratulate the Minister on his initiative, particularly for the support and encouragement it gives to traditional arts. By encouraging traditional arts we are not only safeguarding our cultural heritage, we are widening the appeal of the arts generally. A people proud and conscious of their culture will be more open to and understanding of other forms and modes of expression.

As we approach the referendum, which I believe will help facilitate the enlargement of the EU, it is particularly relevant that the Minister is putting structures in place which will encourage individuality and difference in a very positive way. It will help Ireland retain and develop its distinct cultural voice. This is necessary not just in an enlarged European Union but in a world made small by financial and media empires which in one way or another, by design or not, encourage homogenisation. That levelling process and reduction to a mean can only be resisted and defeated by nations whose people believe in themselves and have strong traditions and culture. Hopefully that self-confidence will be seen not only in the arts, but will express itself in our acceptance of exceptionality and excellence. In education there is an increasing tendency, notably in England, to ensure that everyone succeeds. Exam standards at university level are being lowered, leading one to wonder what happens when everyone has a double first.

Ultimately it will not be economics which will distinguish the Irish, Danes, Belgians, Dutch and other small countries from one another and their larger neighbours. They will be distinguished by their individuality as expressed in their traditions and the strength and depth of their cultures. Despite, or perhaps because of, our turbulent history we are lucky to have passed down in music and by word of mouth traditions, skills and attitudes that strongly distinguish us. As a consequence we have a literary legacy that is the envy of the world. Our writers and poets have repeatedly drawn on those traditions, given them new life and meaning and broadcast them to the world.

It is enormously encouraging that the Minister has chosen to underline the importance of our traditional arts by establishing a standing committee and ensuring that two of its members sit on the Arts Council. His initiative will give new heart to every branch of the traditional arts. I hope this new development will also encourage the Arts Council to spend more time and money supporting small groups and organisations throughout the country. Such bodies are making genuine attempts to bring high art out of its gilded palaces and to the public at large.

The largest medieval monastic ruins in Europe are in Kells, County Kilkenny. The ruins lie on a beautiful site beside the King's River, seven miles from Kilkenny city. For the last four years a committee of three local residents, in co-operation with the local community, has hosted a sculpture exhibition featuring sculptors such as Barry Flanagan, Lyn Chadwick, Elizabeth Frink and Peter Randall-Page. They are major international artists who have exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the world. At the same time, 20 young Irish artists exhibit their own work. Aidan Dunne inThe Irish Times described Kells as one of the highlights of Kilkenny Arts Week.

Approximately 4,000 people visited the exhibition on its opening day this year. The organisers believe between 12,000 and 15,000 people visited the exhibition over its two week run. Most of these people would never visit the IMMA, a contemporary art exhibition or a gallery because these are seen as intimidating spaces, available only to those who are familiar with them or can afford to visit them. Perhaps that is how some of the high priests of the art world prefer it.

Art, by its nature, is elitist and I have no complaint about that. However, those of its administrators who are paid and whose institutions are funded with public money should make a greater effort to educate and enlighten. Kells does that. No one is intimidated at Kells. Children play around the pieces while fathers and mothers look and sometimes poke at the exhibits, wondering, speculating and learning. A great deal of what they see is challenging and thought-provoking, but they and the artists love it.

Sculpture at Kells has everything the Arts Council could ask for – international quality contemporary art, work by emerging young artists, community involvement and huge crowds of visitors. The only thing Kells does not have is a sensible amount of Arts Council funding. Nearly as many people visit Kells in a two week period as visit the IMMA in six months. I do not know how much public money the IMMA receives, but I do know how much is given to Kells and also how much it needs. Kells is run on a shoestring budget, which covers costs for the transport of pieces – within Ireland and abroad – security, artists' fees and expenses, insurance and brochures. The total comes to approximately €30,000, a remarkably small sum for such a large exhibition.

As already stated, I do not know how much money the IMMA receives and I am not complaining about it. However, Sculpture at Kells, which attracts approximately 15,000 visitors in two weeks, received €10,000 from the Arts Council this year. This is a derisory sum and it is disgraceful that so much effort and success has attracted so little reward or recognition. Perhaps the Arts Council does not like to acknowledge or be reminded that so much can be done with so little. The people of Kells may not thank me for placing this information on public record. After all, next year, when it is hoped to feature five major Irish sculptors, Kells will again need Arts Council support. I look to the Minister to ensure that this is given and in far greater measure than this year's paltry offering.

I wish to make clear that I have no difficulty with money being given to the arts, nor do I have any difficulty with such money being spent on projects that do not show a financial return. I understand and accept that this is often the case. In ancient times, storytellers and artists always had a place at the Ard Rí's table. Beauty and creativity should be celebrated and the profit comes from the enhancement of people's lives. How would the Ard Rí have felt if an artist had arrived with a retinue of handlers and administrators, all of whom wanted to sit at the top table even if, incidentally, the artist was obliged to sit on the floor?

Administrators are necessary, even if it always seems that there are too many of them. By and large, they try to do a good job but too often they are employed because of their expertise and not because they are professional administrators. As a consequence, the public funds given to them are often inexpertly distributed. We need to ensure that the bodies we fund are lean and mean, with the experts balanced by people from a commercial background. We also need to ensure that administration and the funding of pet projects do not absorb the lion's share of what is available. That aim will not be easily achieved. The high priests will not like it. I am sure clouds of incense will confuse and complicate and there will be tension. However, I urge the Minister to persist and take whatever steps are necessary, if indeed they are necessary, to ensure that we get value for money – something which is very necessary in this era of belt-tightening.

I have used Kells as an example. However, I am sure there are many such places throughout the country which, if given a little funding and advice, would advance the cause of art in an efficient and practical way. In my constituency, the internationally recognised Butler Gallery needs more space and money. It cannot house its growing important collection and, for many other reasons, the space it currently occupies is not ideal.

I wish to draw the Minister's attention to the controversy caused by a recent exhibition at the Butler Gallery of work on video, which some people found challenging. As a result of their concerns, the Garda nearly closed the exhibition because it breached certain sections of the Censorship Act. The Act apparently requires that all works on video or film be submitted to the censor. This has serious implications for museums and galleries, particularly because these mediums are increasingly being used by students and artists. The legislation in Britain makes an exception in respect of art of this nature. In my opinion, the legislation in this country which deals with this area should be scrutinised and updated.

I also wish to draw the Minister's attention to another local issue which is relative to the legislation and the question of funding. I want to highlight the work undertaken by the Young Irish Film Makers, a project which employs young teenagers to produce, cast, film and edit movies. It has involved young people, North and South, in the film business and worked with people from the European Union and the United States. The Young Irish Film Makers have done an extremely good job for that form of art in this country. They may be based in Kilkenny, but their work has a national and international appeal. However, they receive an extremely low level of funding which causes serious difficulties on a year to year basis. Without the support of FÁS and other State agencies, they would not be able to continue their work. I believe they have an equal right to be considered for increased funding from the Arts Council or through any appropriate measure the Minister might introduce. Art of this nature, produced at local level, helps teenagers to appreciate other forms of art.

The Minister should consider the activities of the Young Irish Film Makers and the way in which this project is funded. I would be delighted to invite him to visit Kilkenny Castle on 26 October to attend the first showing of their latest film, which follows on from their previous feature "Under the Hawthorn Tree".

Reference is made to finance in various sections of the Bill. The impetus behind the legislation could end up as so much wishful thinking if the appropriate level of funding is not dedicated to supporting the initiatives in the Bill. I have no doubt that the Minister will do his best in the context of current financial circumstances and the forthcoming budget to fulfil the major aspirations set out in the Bill.

I wish to draw his attention to the last paragraph of the explanatory memorandum which relates to section 31 of the Local Government Act, 1994. I serve on a local authority and I am aware that while there are many worthy art projects, of one kind or another, in my locality, it is never possible to extend the kind of financial support required by any individual project which comes before us for consideration. It is wishful thinking to state that when the Act comes on stream, local authorities will be able to fund such projects. In reality, no funding is provided. The money required to help local groups is not available in the necessary amounts to sustain a project from year to year. In the context of this legislation and the finance that is available at national and local level, the Minister would assist the arts if he focused on the local scene in each county and if he supported, in a more realistic way financially, that section of local government which deals with funding the arts.

I welcome the Bill and I welcome the opportunity to bring these issues to the Minister's attention. On Committee Stage he should put as much focus as possible on funding the arts across the sector.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Harkin and Ó Snodaigh.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I support most of the actions proposed in the Bill in terms of the adjustments to the Arts Council. However, one issue in the Bill is a matter of serious concern to me and many people throughout the country, that is, the proposed formation of a standing committee for the traditional arts. Unlike the committees dealing with other aspects of the arts, it will have particular responsibility for recommending funding for people or organisations within the traditional arts and music area. This is a deeply flawed suggestion and I urge the Minister to change it.

Any Minister who would assume responsibility for appointing a majority of the members of a board which would control our traditional arts is taking on a responsibility of which any politician should be wary. There will never be any praise, just a lifetime of opprobrium for a Minister who puts himself or herself in that position. The phrase "our traditional arts" is ridiculous because painting and pottery are traditional arts. Our definition of "arts" has changed in recent years, thankfully. It has moved from a split definition of the arts whereby one part of the country listened to traditional music while the other part listened to classical music. That is no longer the case. Our traditional music is enjoyed across the country, in large and small homes and in every corner of society.

What is special about our traditional music is that it is a living tradition, unlike some of the musical traditions in central and other parts of Europe which have died. Ours is a living musical tradition which is evolving, creative and changing. It is impossible to confine it by a standing committee. The Minister comes from Kerry which is a great centre for this music. If one hears Steve Cooney playing a Kerry slide with one of the Begleys, is it traditional or is it contemporary? It is a world away from how it was played 20 or 30 years ago. It is exciting and makes one dance. It is fantastic music but it is contemporary, not traditional. It is part of a world music tradition and is one of the most popular forms of world music.

When Martin Hayes takes a tune from his father he is living on a tradition, but then he draws the notes out and turns the tune inside out. He can bring it to a jazz tune and back to a traditional one in a single session. One cannot cage it. Would "Riverdance" have been seen as traditional or contemporary? Would the Minister's appointees to the board have approved it? We do not know. The decisions regarding funding are best left within the proposed Arts Council structure. By all means have a standing committee to examine how traditional music is developing and where funding might go. However, the Minister should not have the majority of appointments within any such committee. It should be a broader based committee involved in constant discussion with the people in the sector. Traditional music is also an industry. Many people are involved in it and groups such as Altan and Dervish travel throughout the world. These people are sometimes the leading players in bands across the world and they have different needs from those playing in a local session.

Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann was influential in seeking this proposed change. The organisation does fantastic work and is a strong force in the Minister's constituency. Its branch network is not necessarily strong in every part of the country but in some places it is a fantastic force. Where local people pass on a tradition, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann teach it to others in the great collective way of traditional music. However, it also has another organised structural or administrative side which should not have a strong role in terms of deciding where funding should go in traditional music or defining what traditional music is or how it should be defined in the future. Looking at the consultation process that led to this Bill, there is a sense on the part of people involved that Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann had a strong say in it and that the supposedly open consultation process, including meetings in Dún Laoghaire and elsewhere, never recommended the standing committee proposed in the Bill.

The majority of people I know in the traditional music sector are deeply concerned about the nature of this committee. I urge the Minister to consider amending the provision on Committee Stage. By all means, have a separate standing committee, but traditional music should not be any different from classical music, painting or any of the other arts which are constantly evolving and changing. If we try to cage it, we will kill it. The Minister should be wary of that. It is akin to the Minister trying to appoint a majority of members to the board of the GAA and thinking it is possible to hold on to what is so great about the GAA. Traditional music has the same roots in Irish society but it is a plant that moves in many different directions. It works best when it is left to its own strong local centres. Certainly, we should fund it. The Arts Council has a poor record in funding this area to date but that is no reason for turning around the structures that have worked.

The Arts Council, and this includes the traditional arts area, must be kept at arm's length from political control. It is only then that artists are properly free and can be of use to society by speaking back to us about what is happening in society. The Minister taking excessive control of the traditional arts will kill that voice, not just for Irish people but for people across the world. I ask the Minister to consider reviewing this on Committee Stage. It was not his responsibility when it was drafted. I was surprised to see it among the first Bills brought before the new Dáil. The Minister has a responsibility to the people of Kerry, Ireland and the world to ensure we do not kill our fantastic and ever evolving musical tradition.

My initial reaction on reading this Bill was to wonder if it is an arts Billper se or a Bill, the main function of which is to establish a revised version of the Arts Council. While section 2 defines “arts” and section 9 describes the general functions of the council, the rest of the Bill deals mainly with the membership of the Arts Council, the mechanisms for appointing and removing such members and standing committee members, funding, reporting, auditing, staffing and so forth. These are necessary but I was disappointed that the Bill contained no vision for the promotion of the arts, to make them more accessible, and no vision for the role of art or the artist in Irish society. That concerns me and I hope it is not an indication of a downgrading of the arts or a narrowing of the visionary possibilities afforded by a strategic promotion of the arts.

While the Bill does not address this issue, it is strange to see arts, sport and tourism gathered together under a single Department. There are much greater synergies between arts and heritage or arts and culture than between arts and sport or arts and tourism. It is vital that the arts are not just seen as a recreational activity. Although that is one of the many categories into which they fit, it is still only one of them.

There should be an arm's length approach between the Arts Council and the Minister or Government. The new Arts Council will have a membership of nine comprising a chairperson and eight other members, all of whom will be appointed by the Minister. There are three standing committees, each consisting of five persons, three of whom – in other words, a majority – will be appointed by the Minister. It seems extraordinary that, with so many bodies representing the arts throughout the country, ministerial appointees will effectively control both the Arts Council itself and the standing committees.

If anything, the arts should challenge our vision of the world. If the Arts Council and its three standing committees are going to reflect the Minister's views, then the future of the arts will be restricted, to say the least. The arts are all-embracing, covering many different forms of expression and, therefore, a council whose function it is to promote the arts, must reflect that diversity of thinking. Perhaps the Minister will have this vision. I hope so, but what guarantee do we have that his successors will be so enlightened?

I urge the Minister to reconsider the method of appointing members of the Arts Council and its standing committees. He should devise a mechanism to ensure that the broadly based area termed "the arts" can be represented and can make a real contribution to the promotion of the arts in Ireland.

I also wish to deal with the issue of the arts in education. The word "education" may appear in the Bill, but if it does I did not spot it and there was certainly no specific reference to the role education can play in promoting, experiencing, introducing and appreciating the arts.

At one stage I worked as a mathematics teacher and while the arts did not feature in the maths curriculum, nonetheless, I was aware of the huge potential of the arts in education generally. The arts have the potential to help to ensure that education in its widest possible sense can lead students forward, awakening not just the mind but also the spirit. They can stimulate creativity and facilitate many different forms of expression, as well as promoting a holistic approach to the development of the entire person. The arts have the potential to ensure that schooling, and education generally, achieves the objectives I have outlined.

While the arts should form an integral part of the school curriculum, particular opportunities exist in transition year where they can be fostered through music, art, dance, drama, mime, artistic expression courses and other pursuits. Transition year has the flexibility to allow teachers to incorporate many different facets of the arts into the secondary school curricula. If the Government is serious about promoting such ideas, then the arts must be central to the educational process.

I am pleased that the Bill envisages a role for local authorities in community art projects, but adequate resources must be made available to enable the authorities' functions to be properly fulfilled. I am concerned that while local authorities will be well equipped to prepare plans for the development of the arts within their functional areas, they may experience some difficulty in implementing such plans due to a lack of resources. However, I do not wish to be too pessimistic about this point.

I lived in County Leitrim for 12 years and found a vibrant artistic community there. The arts in Leitrim are supported by a number of community and voluntary groups, as well as agencies and the local authority which has played a major role. The north Leitrim men's arts group is a successful community arts initiative. It comprised a group of men with no background in artistic endeavour who successfully completed a painting course. The project enhanced their self expression, self esteem and their quality of life. This type of initiative must continue to be supported under the aegis of the Arts Council.

The vibrant artistic community in Sligo also deserves to be properly resourced so that the arts can continue to play a significant role in enhancing the quality of life for local people there.

Don chuid is mó, tacaíonn Sinn Féin leis an mBille seo, mar tá sé thar am an reachtaíocht ealaíona a athrú agus a thabhairt chun dáta. Fáiltím roimh aon bhogadh i dtreo aitheantas a thabhairt do luach na n-ealaíon agus don ról lárnach atá acu i bhforbairt agus cur lenár sochaí.

Aithníonn muid chomh maith go bhfuil gá le tuilleadh tacaí Stáit do na healaíona traidisiúnta – na healaíona Gaeilge san áireamh – gné den ealaíon nach bhfuair an maoiniú caoi thar na blianta.

Among other measures, the Bill establishes three permanent standing committees: one concerning traditional arts, another for local government and the arts, and the third for new art and innovation. I welcome unreservedly the trend towards the promotion of arts at local authority level, and hope that this will extend into increased promotion of community arts and to greater funding by local authorities of all aspects of art, including bursaries, scholarships and commissioning.

I also welcome the clear identification of the need to cultivate and promote the traditional arts, which this Bill does for the first time. Previous Acts wholly omitted the traditional arts, and the pronouncements, funding decisions, policies and actions of the Arts Council over the decades and generally ignored them. This attitude is reflected in the unacceptably paltry proportion of funding received by the traditional arts sector – a shameful 1% of the arts budget. It is hardly reflective of the sector's national significance.

Separating the traditional arts from other arts, as this legislation seeks to do, carries risks, however. Some people have raised legitimate concerns that the separation of traditional arts from new arts can lead to an unhealthy ghettoisation that could have the effect, albeit unintended, of undermining the traditional sector by consigning it to heritage arts, rather than recognising it as a living tradition.

Traditional arts are evolving, developing and adapting as our society develops and adapts to the new millennium. This fact must be recognised in the provisions of the legislation. As the Bill moves towards enactment, care must be taken in developing the remit of the other standing committees on local authority and the arts and artistic innovation to avoid any suggestion that tradit ional arts play no role there. Traditional arts are as contemporary as any other arts and also play a significant role in local artistic endeavour. Indeed, the PriceWaterhouseCoopers report on the consultation process, which preceded this debate, stated: "Art is art, including traditional Irish arts".

Some concern has been voiced about the definition of traditional arts in the Bill. They must, of course, be interpreted in the broadest sense, and the definition should be arrived at through a process of broad consultation with all relevant parties, as soon as possible, to assist the functioning of the Arts Council and its standing committees.

Irish language advocates have criticised the Bill, as it stands, for its failure to even mention Irish language arts, much less grant them equal standing. This must be corrected on Committee Stage.

I share Deputy Eamon Ryan's concern as to why only the traditional arts sub-committee will be able to make recommendations on the advance of moneys. That matter will also have to be addressed on Committee Stage.

The Bill's provisions establish firm ministerial control over the Arts Council and other bodies in terms of policy. The Bill stipulates that all council members will be ministerial appointees, and it reduces by almost half the number of members currently on the council. Arts Council members can also be removed at the Minister's discretion. Given these provisions, the arts community has expressed concern about the Bill's potential for excessive ministerial control over the council. Sinn Féin also believes the Bill could have the effect of creating unnecessary and inappropriate political control over the arts. We therefore call for additional measures that would further increase the independence, but still maintain the accountability, of the Arts Council.

We are disappointed that the Bill does not address the elitist structure that Aosdana has become, nor the fact that many who have a substantial independent income are still in receipt of State moneys, while there are hundreds of struggling artists, writers and performers who are surviving on very little or living in poverty. I hope this will be addressed by future reform of the Arts Council and in future arts policy.

We are also concerned that this Bill fails to legislate regarding arts education or to set out the basis for necessary co-operative links with the Department of Education and Science, despite the Minister's stated intention of doing so when the Bill was first placed in his portfolio. We welcome the Minister's indication of willingness to entertain some changes to the Bill on the next Stages, given the varying concerns raised in all sectors of the arts and the need for direct involvement of artists in formulating policy. We hope there will be ongoing consultation with all sectors concerned, both during the passage of the Bill and, following its enactment, during its implementation.

As the Minister said, the programme for Government aims to ensure that cultural activity is available and accessible to all and commits to the enactment of a new arts Act to provide 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.

I want to see real ministerial responsibility. People are complaining about political influence or political interference in the arts. I actually want to see more ministerial influence and positive interference because at present there is a great need for someone to take a grip of the entire arts sector and give it a fair shake down.

I approach this from a musical background and I preface my remarks with that in mind. I am delighted that the arts have taken centre stage on the legislative agenda so early in this term. The Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, stated in his opening speech that "The Bill before us is the product of experience gained with having a Cabinet Minister representing the arts at the Cabinet table.". This single role no longer applies and, as a person with an arts background, I am very annoyed about this. The area of the arts is a huge sphere as are tourism and sport. When one starts adding all the different elements together, it is difficult, even for the Minister, who has a great interest in all of these issues, to give the arts the dedication they need. This is so because there has not been enough dedication down the years. The Minister is going down an incredibly difficult road trying to overcome these difficulties because the arts are now being delegated into a dispersed Department.

It might have been better to have linked the arts to education, which is also a huge field. RTE came before the arts committee of the previous Dáil complaining – I suppose "complaining" might be too strong a word – about the issue of funding for the concert and symphony orchestras. I put it to them that people in County Donegal and other places which are far from the schools of music in Dublin, Kerry, Cork or Galway, do not come into contact with orchestras and do not get to see at close quarters what a violin, never mind an oboe, looks like. If the 100 piece concert orchestra came to the new theatre in Letterkenny and groups of three orchestra musicians spent the day visiting 33 primary schools in the area, these would benefit from a session getting to know what three instruments look like and how they are played. The Department of Education and Science could give something towards that aspect of the visit which would probably cover the cost of the orchestra coming to Letterkenny in the first place and, therefore, the concert that evening would be financially viable. I proposed that as a solution to two problems, the lack of music in the schools and the funding for the orchestra's tours. I tried to raise that issue by way of parliamentary question, asking what plans the Minister had to discuss the matter with the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and the Minister for Education and Science, but I was told that it was not the Minister's responsibility. Instead of there being two Departments involved, it would now take three Departments to deal with the suggestion I proposed in the previous Dáil term. Under this legislation, the Minister seems to be moving towards reaching out to other Departments. I agree that the Minister must reach out to other Departments because they definitely come into this equation.

I must declare my interest in this matter. I have an honours B.Mus degree, a Masters of Philosophy in Music, a PGCE in music, an LTCL in performance and Grade 8 in four instruments, three of which I got on the same day when I was in fourth year in secondary school. My success in music was achieved despite my geographical location, far from the schools of music, far from the orchestras and far from the opportunities enjoyed by the children of parents who could afford to send them to schools of music. I achieved that success because my mother was a musician and came from a musical background. I owe my musical achievements to her, not to primary or secondary school or university. It was not that we had plenty of money to go far afield for lessons and, needless to say, at the time there were not many music teachers available in my locality. I received no instrumental tuition, bar the short time when there was a local town band and I subsequently went to the band in Derry when our own band collapsed.

What equivalent do they have in the North? I have many relations teaching in primary schools and secondary schools, not as school music teachers but as peripatetic music teachers who come in to give free education to the children in terms of instrumental development.

I studied music in Belfast rather than Dublin because I got free tuition in three instruments as part of my course. If I had come to Dublin, I would have had to pay for the performance aspect. If I had studied art in the universities of Dublin, Cork or other cities of the State, I would expect to have to paint and painting would be part of my art course fees. If I had studied science, I would expect to encounter a Bunsen burner. Therefore, it is unbelievable that the cost of instrumental tuition would not be covered by the fees in a third level music college.

When I taught in England or in the North, arts meant music, theatre and art. I taught them as either single subjects or combined subjects, depending on the school concerned. However, music meant listening, composing and performing. In my time at school, music meant listening only. That is no reflection on the teacher but on the resources available and on the school's priorities. One cannot pretend to teach music without providing some element of composition and performance.

How will we create people who perform for others if we refuse to invest in local young people, a percentage of whom will stay in our communities and teach? How will we do this in regions like north-east Donegal which is so far from the perceived centres of Dublin, Cork or Galway – often people do not realise that my home is 20 miles further from Galway than from Dublin – unless we embrace the Border facilities, which is beginning to happen? How will we get people to play instruments other than the piano if we cannot offer support for people to buy instruments to form brass and reed bands or orchestras? The current supports for school instruments, which come under the Department of Education and Science, are either insufficient or are not being thrust at the schools. At Easter 1997, when I left the school in Derry in which I taught, I had about £40,000 sterling at my disposal to spend on instruments for the school, together with an already fine selection of resources and a number of peripatetic teachers who came in to teach individuals. Where are our priorities? The gap, between that £40,000 in funding and what we would be given here, needs to be looked at.

Music is not all about making young musicians. One lesson I learned from my time in Belfast was that it is proven that children's physical dexterity, rhythmic development, speech development and numeracy development are all improved through music. If primary schools focused more on music, would there be the same level of dyslexia or similar complaints arising in the seven plus age group? We do not need experts to teach this music. Anyone can sing songs, clap hands or bang drums. When I had £40,000 at my disposal in a school in which I taught, I spent £5 on dowelling rods which I chopped and sanded into 30 sets of wooden blocks. This cost very little money but created enormous fun and excitement for the children. The people who taught me when I studied for the postgraduate certificate in education gave me insights into how to do a great deal with little money and my pupils got more fun from the wooden blocks than from the very expensive keyboards which I also purchased, and I had more fun teaching with them. One does not have to be an expert to teach music. One simply needs a little incentive to find music where one might not have known it existed. We must give people the vision to see that music is important and not beyond their capabilities.

The Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism must work with the Department of Education and Science to sell the message that education and the arts are interlinked and that there is a value for both in co-operation.

I do not make my living from music but my life has been enriched by my exchange with it. Nowhere in the world is a musician shunned. Music has taught me much about teamwork and patience and has given me an emotional outlet. If I am in bad form I can take out my frustrations on the piano rather than on another person and this has been healthy for me. If music can be healthy for me it can be healthy for other people.

Should I be penalised for living in Donegal? I am delighted we have a new location for artistic expression in the Grianan theatre in Letterkenny and I am also delighted that a number of people teach music in the county and go beyond the call of duty to provide opportunities for others. Working in the field of arts in Donegal is a labour of love as much as a livelihood. We have a youth orchestra in Donegal but it survives despite the system and not because of it. This must change.

I am not happy with the current structure of the Arts Council. The representation on the board of the council does not have a sufficient geographical spread. There is no representative from north of a line from Dublin to Galway, the traditional border which I often encounter. This leaves a large section of the country with no representative and no one who can tell the story of the Border counties. Those involved in the arts in the Border counties are like children standing outside a sweetshop but who have no money to spend. A couple of miles up the road from us we see what is provided for primary and secondary schools in Northern Ireland. The Arts Council should hear from a representative of the Border region. There are as many experts there as anywhere else.

When did Inishowen last see the impact of the Arts Council? When did we have a seminar hosted, a concert sponsored or a music publication financed? When was our collective view sought? Where or to whom has the huge increase in funding gone? The Arts Council budget has risen from €26.44 million in 1997 to €48 million this year. Is the Arts Council elitist and should it be? If, as the Minister says, the Arts Council is the vehicle through which the Government supports the arts in Ireland and if it has come a long way and is well established as the major driver of artistic development in the country, I have missed this and the region I represent would like to know more about the activities of the Arts Council.

Small performers are not being supported. The Donegal County Council arts officer does much work with the tiny budget available to him but how can a young person who shows potential make progress if his only option is to find a teacher in Dublin? Does anyone realise the time and expense involved in travelling to Dublin for music lessons? Nevertheless, people in Donegal do this. I speak to many people who have been told by adjudicators at local feiseanna that their children have talent and should pursue further musical study but who cannot afford to take a full day once a fortnight to take a child to Dublin and to pay for music lessons.

The Royal Irish Academy of Music examination fees increase constantly. The academy is a wonderful institution and it is good to have it. However, does the academy seize every opportunity to give young people the chance to reach the heights that a little nurturing would yield? Young talent should be encouraged so that Ireland can derive benefit from it in the future.

The Royal Irish Academy of Music and the Irish Permanent have recently co-operated in a scheme for high achievers. I commend the academy and the Irish Permanent for this initiative but the scheme is not perfect. Children who perform exceptionally well in the academy's practical exams are advised of this by letter and are called to audition at a location anything up to 100 miles from their homes. This involves a day's travel for themselves, their teachers, their parents and their accompanist. The successful few may be asked to perform at a concert at another venue equally far away and a smaller number are then selected to perform in Dublin where they might receive a monetary prize. Each occasion involves expense for the young person's family. Would it not be better, after the examination, to send pupils a letter of congratulations, invite them to perform at a concert of high achievers in Dublin or at a regional venue and ensure that all involved are at least afforded travelling expenses? I hope this suggestion can be considered, as the current dragging out of the process does not serve any purpose, with people expected to attend at venues where public transport is frequently not available. The initiative of rewarding success is welcome but young musicians should not be asked to climb a metaphorical Everest as well.

Can the Minister, in conjunction with the Minister for Education and Science, talk to me about the non-recognition of the performing arts course in Sligo? When will the north west achieve the recognition it truly deserves.

As a member of the Select Committee on Education and Science I used every opportunity to develop the role and significance of music in education, from music as therapy to music on school buses. The links at an interdepartmental level between arts and education will show how seriously the Minister is pursuing his brief and I am confident he will make a difference, above and beyond the legislation before us today.

I welcome the Minister taking a hands-on approach to the promotion of the arts inside and outside the State. I was interested to learn that the Arts Council recently granted money for five publications, two of which were in Armagh. I commend the all-Ireland nature of the way the money is dispersed. When I worked in Belfast there were a number of different places where I could seek finance. I suggest we develop reciprocal arrangements with funding agencies in Northern Ireland, which seem to have more money at their disposal.

The Minister is empowered to give directions to the Arts Council to prepare and submit a plan. There should be a regional policy of financing young bands and orchestras. Sports grants have done much to help regional and local sports facilities. If every county knew that money was available for arts facilities they would quickly find ways to spend it. Money could readily be spent by local bands. Any band could easily spend €100,000 on new instruments and uniforms and I do not know how many bands there are in County Donegal. Great work is being done with the tiny amounts of money that are coming into the county but much more needs to be done. It must first be recognised that local bands are of use and of importance.

When I was a member of the Donegal County Council arts committee I introduced a bursary system whereby a small amount of money was put aside for five categories of the arts. An annual competition was held for the award of an arts bursary. Such recognition of achievers is important.

I welcome section 6 of the Bill which requires local authorities to draw up arts plans and will allow them to have an input into Government arts policy. The promotion of artistic standards, of knowledge of the arts and of public interest in them is well and good but more basic activity is required. We must give money to those who are trying to help beginners. We are very good at recognising those who have achieved great heights but how can a learner proceed from grade one to grade eight and into the system? We will have an input. Promoting knowledge of the arts and improving standards and public interest is useful but measures will have to be more basic than that. Funding must be given to those trying to help beginners. We are good at the other end. We recognise people when they have achieved great heights but we should be concentrating on how they get from grade one to grade eight and into the system. That is where funding is required. Money should be provided where we hope to see development.

On section 9, the Arts Council should be given a reasonable spread whatever about reducing the number of people. There is a lot within this Bill. I am glad the Minister will take on board comments made on Committee Stage. I congratulate all those in Donegal involved in the battle to develop the arts. They are working hard and need support and funding. Investment will pay dividends. I hope the Minister takes my comments as constructive.

The Arts Bill, 2002 is the first significant piece of legislation on the arts since 1973 and, as such, it must be seen in a positive light. It repeals the Arts Acts of 1951 and 1973, sets out the parameters for the State within which arts policy will be formulated over the coming years and defines the over-arching structures through which this policy will be defined and delivered. While the Bill is to be broadly welcomed as a means to update the development and promotion of the arts, there are some areas of sections 11 and 21 that are highly problematic and detrimental to the arts in my constituency of County Clare. Section 21 provides for three standing committees on the arts to be established and to focus on the three district areas of the traditional Irish arts, innovation and the arts and local authorities and the arts.

There are a number of serious issues arising from the provision of these standing committees. Clare is the home of traditional music in Ireland. There is much disquiet in the county about section 21(10) of the Arts Bill, which gives the standing committee on traditional Irish arts the power to recommend those to whom the Arts Council will provide funding. The other two committees will not have this power. I am worried that, as the legislation now stands, the five members of the standing committee on traditional arts will be able to define the make-up of traditional music, and make funding recommendations accordingly. This is so even if their definition of what is traditional is contrary to the Arts Council's funding priorities or definitions.

Traditional music has historically been under-funded by the Arts Council but this mechanism is not the way to address the problem. Traditional music is the cultural lifeblood of Ireland and it needs the support of Government to continue and flourish. However, to isolate it from other art forms is not to safeguard it. The annual Willie Clancy festival in Milltown Malbay, which attracts untold thousands from every corner of the globe to one of the greatest traditional music spectacles in the country, is one example. The idea of categorising our music in this way is the opposite of what we want and to fund it along these lines is even more outrageous.

That Irish traditional music will stagnate in isolation rather than continuing its evolution is the message from County Clare. Irish music and artists should be supported on the basis of quality performance rather than on the standing committee's definition of Irishness or tradition. The Glór centre in Ennis is the national centre for the performance of Irish music and dance. It is an asset of which the people of County Clare are very proud. However, Glór and the other music festivals in County Clare should be free to programme on the basis of quality alone. To fund them in this way is not the way forward. The traditional arts have been too low on the Arts Council's priorities to receive the funding they merit. That is where both the problem and the solution lie.

This is a funding problem and needs to be addressed within the structures of the new Arts Council, rather than being provided for in the legislation. The proposal for the standing committee on traditional Irish arts will not reassure anyone in that sector that funding for those arts will be in any way enhanced. Given that this committee of five can arrive at a definition of tradition that may contradict the Arts Council definition, and can recommend funding on that basis, this proposal will further undermine the credibility of the council in the area of traditional arts funding.

Unlike the situation which existed prior to this legislation, the Arts Bill is structured so that the Minister and the Department can facilitate the new Arts Council in employing officers and policies in particular areas. Traditional arts funding should be made a high priority through this channel. The recommendations in the PricewaterhouseCoopers report on the Arts Bill submissions suggest that logic and fiscal rectitude are the answer to the problem of traditional arts funding, and they are to be found inside the existing structures. This is fully reflected in the Bill before the House and I call for the provisions of section 21(10), that allow for a standing committee on traditional arts to decide which persons shall receive funding from the Arts Council, to be removed without delay from the Bill. The standing committee should have the same powers as the other committees, which is the power to advise on policy and other matters relating to the traditional arts.

There are clear criteria in the Bill for making up the three standing committees. This is to the further detriment of the legislation. The Oireachtas, on this and future readings of the Bill, should look closely at the basis of the standing committee system. The criteria for establishing the proposed standing committees need to be established. There should be some mechanism for the council to be advised on specific policy areas but the reason that the three current areas are selected above other areas, such as education, is unclear. There may be a case for removing the standing committee system completely from the Bill. This is something that has been repeatedly put to me and it would be remiss of the House not to investigate it.

A case can be made for including a mechanism to review the standing committee remit on the arts in Ireland. What is relevant for three committees now may not be relevant in five or ten years' time and we should allow for this. There is also a case to be made for appointing committees with new remits such as education and the arts, an area that seems to be particularly lacking. I support any call in the Bill to have such a committee established. However, any committee that provides policy guidance and advice to the council should not have the power to recommend funding.

The basis of the standing committee system and the criteria for establishing standing committees needs to be identified by the Oireachtas to allow for the coherent enlargement of this mechanism. The Oireachtas should closely examine section 21 to establish whether there are proper criteria for establishing standing committees of the Arts Council, and whether the area of education and the arts should, among others, be added. In doing so, the Oireachtas should consider whether the standing committee system as proposed should be removed from the Bill and whether a review system should be included.

In providing for a separate traditional arts committee, this Bill implies that there is a distinction between innovative, or contemporary, and traditional arts. This is a false and retrograde distinction, as Irish artists working with traditional art forms routinely contemporize and innovate. Examples such as Altan, Riverdance, Christy Moore and Micheál Ó Súilleabháin, not to mention Martin Hayes and Seán Keane from County Clare, bear this out. Section 21 leaves open the question of whether innovation in traditional forms will be recognised and valued in the committee's terms. It implies that such forms may be deemed to be worth funding.

Festivals such as the one in Feakle in east Clare promote and encourage innovation in traditional music. One cannot be separated from the other in Feakle and such a dynamic has to be recognised in the Bill. Different types of music should not be kept in different compartments – that is not how the music world works. Similarly, Irish music and Irish artists should be supported on the basis of quality of performance, rather than on the standing committee's definition of Irishness or tradition. It is unwise to isolate one genre or style of Irish music. I am extremely concerned that the Arts Bill, 2002, will separate Irish music from other musical and cultural activities. It would be wrong to put Irish music in a cul-de-sac where it will languish without access to other music and art forms.

Section 21 is divisive, as it will undermine innovation in traditional forms, as well as the Arts Council itself. To enshrine this proposal in legislation is to enshrine division and to seriously damage the role of the Arts Bill in the development of the traditional arts. Alternative solutions need to be examined on Committee Stage. Given the serious concerns of artists and arts administrators in relation to the provisions of the Arts Bill, I ask that the committee be open to taking oral submissions on section 21 as part of its Committee Stage deliberations. The legislative process, which has the potential in this case to benefit the arts, will be incomplete if this is not done.

Section 11, which I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, dictates that the council shall consist of nine members, rather than 14 as is the case at present. As a representative of County Clare, I am concerned that this proposal will mean that a full regional representation on the board will not be possible. The problems I have already outlined will be compounded by the fact that a broad spectrum of art forms will not be represented on such a small board. Section 11(1)(b) has to be amended to provide for a higher number of council members if this deficiency is to be remedied. I suggest that the House consider the insertion of a section asserting that the composition of the board of the Arts Council should reflect the regional dimension of arts participation in Ireland and the wide diversity of Irish art forms. Such an amendment would mean that the membership of the Arts Council could be maintained at closer to 15 than nine.

I propose to share my time with Deputy Andrews, with the agreement of the House. I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Arts Bill, 2002, which is long overdue. Many years have passed and the arts in Ireland have seen many changes since significant legislation was passed in this area. In essence, this Bill sets out to define the role of the Government in developing arts policy. It also makes changes to the structure of the Arts Council and clarifies the relationship between the council and the Government. While I realise that every section will be the subject of a full and detailed examination on Committee Stage, I wish to highlight one or two key sections which are of particular interest to me and to those with whom I have spoken in recent times.

I commend section 6 which requires local authorities to "prepare and implement plans for the development of the arts". This highly innovative and forward-looking proposal will be one of the key elements of the Bill when it is implemented. As a member of Laois County Council, I found it thoroughly worthwhile some years ago when local authorities were asked to draw up heritage plans. Everybody involved benefited, as the people of the county could see that matters of heritage were taken seriously at a local level. The involvement of local authorities in drawing up such plans is excellent and I am sure it will lead to sustained development of the arts. I am particularly pleased that a standing committee has been established under section 21(1)(b) to deal with the development of the arts through local authorities. It is important that the legislation does not merely establish the Arts Council and ask local authorities to prepare and implement arts plans, without backing up these proposals. I am pleased that the standing committee will liaise with the local authorities and, above all, help to ensure that the plans are implemented as quickly as possible.

There has been a vacuum in this area until now. The Laois Arts Festival will run between 24 and 31 October this year and will include children's events, cinema, comedy, dance, traditional music, rock music, visual arts, ballet, literature and theatre. Funding for the festival has been provided by the Arts Council, Laois County Council, the Laois Leader programme and theLeinster Express. Many contributions have also been received from the private sector. The performance of arts in County Laois was greatly enhanced some years ago when the Dunamaise Theatre was opened in Portlaoise. There had been a great vacuum in the county until then, as those who wished to participate in the arts, whether as performers or spectators, had to travel outside the county. The people of Laois had quite a low participation rate in the arts, but the Dunamaise Theatre in Portlaoise provided a much needed boost. The role of the local authorities will be enhanced by this Bill in so far as they will be specifically charged with drawing up and implementing arts plans. I hope this will mean that arts festivals and similar events will not only be protected, but that they will go from strength to strength. I appreciate and welcome the increased involvement of the Government, through the local government structures.

The Arts Council has not looked after the traditional arts sector as we would wish. The former Minister, Deputy de Valera, sought submissions on this issue some months ago and I know the detailed submission I made at that point was carefully considered along with several hundred other such submissions. I do not know how many other Members of the Oireachtas took the time to make their opinions known, but I was pleased to do so in view of the need for improvement in this area. The essence of my submission at that time was that there should be a formal structure for the traditional arts. I may have even asked for a separate council to deal with the traditional arts, but I am happy with the outcome of the public consultation process. The Arts Council will be legally required to establish a standing committee on the traditional arts. I am glad the new committee will be empowered to make recommendations on funding and policy. This historic measure must be implemented as soon as possible. The Bill's approach will not separate the traditional arts from the rest of the arts world, but will ensure that they have the separate identity they need.

Perhaps the traditional arts have been overlooked in the past as a consequence of élitism, but we are moving away from such problems. The arts are for all the people of Ireland and not just for a select group. The involvement of the local authorities will help to further develop the arts for the general public. On previous occasions, the Arts Council only allocated 3% of its budget to the traditional arts, which was a significant mistake. I am pleased there has been decisive Government action on this issue.

Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and other groups will be involved in the consultation with local authorities. There are seven active branches of CCE in County Laois and they make a major contribution. The original arts legislation did not refer to the traditional arts but the Bill corrects this. Membership of the Arts Council will be reduced from 17 to eight members and a chairperson, which will make it more effective.

The traditional arts comprise a wide variety of activities including songs in both Irish and English, instrumental music, dance and storytelling, recitation and dramatic forms in both Irish and English. Their strengths have been their roots in the community, continued usage over time, their central role in the community's heritage and the way in which they inform the identify of the community. They must be fostered and I welcome the proposed establishment of a standing committee for the traditional arts.

There is much more to the arts than the traditional arts and I have given the example of the ambitious arts festival in County Laois as a result of the tremendous work of voluntary committees. I hope the burden on their shoulders will be lightened in the years ahead through more direct involvement by local authorities in the provision of funding and additional staff. We are pleased that local authority staff have been appointed in the arts but I look forward to an increase in numbers in the future, thereby, helping to ensure as many people as possible participate in the arts.

I thank Deputy Fleming for sharing time. When taxpayers' money is expended, there should be accountability and the notion of value for money is associated with all expenditure. The arts have a capacity to improve society and discharge an important social function and, in this context, there is accountability. If arts have this potential, we have a duty to open up the coffers generously. However, the arts must be different in some ways. Pressure could be exerted upon the Arts Council to justify spending in the context of reduced spending on more worthy social aims.

However, there are tangible environmental, social and economic benefits of the arts upon which we should not be afraid to comment. There were 180 students in my year when I sat the leaving certificate but only four of us took music as a subject. That reflects the peripheral nature of such activities in society and the way in which the curriculum is devised. Musical and artistic interests can only be fulfilled outside the school and of the 180 students in my year, the vast majority were obsessed with one form of music or another but they had no outlet whatsoever in the school curriculum to indulge those interests. There are many non-State funded arts organisations filling the gaps and I hope the wider definition of arts in the legislation will fill these gaps in terms of funding.

Deputy Harkin made a comment earlier which set me thinking about whether sport should be included under the Department's umbrella. It is appropriate that arts and sport should be covered by the same Department although it is difficult to measure the value and benefit that would accrue from investment in these areas. The Arts Council should engage in a process of developing community identity in a real way. Society is less a collection of individual communities than was the case heretofore and the council could direct its attention to the areas where performance, display, creation and participation can allow communities to communicate and develop shared identities.

It is in this sense that a truly independent Arts Council must be created to acknowledge the difference that exists between a Government's narrow search for value for money and the artist's search for something that is worthy in itself. We are not all arts critics but the Arts Council has served a useful social purpose throughout the State and that is central to the debate that the council must create. The council has developed its own arts plan and it is conscious of the debate between value for money and the value of art itself.

The council's website states: "We must encourage a situation where the long-term viability of organisations is underpinned by a mixture of supports from various sources and success with audiences". It is, therefore, not satisfactory that arts should be good as they must satisfy a large number of people and gain a wider audience. The council is conscious that arts funding must move from allocation by a single source and justify itself in terms of popular success. Its website also states: "It will mean greater clarity around the purpose for which grants are given and more effort being put into assessing their impact."

It is difficult to measure the benefit of arts funding and to produce a balance sheet that indicates there has been worthwhile investment. However, the council is conscious of that and I am glad the new arts plans and legislation provide changes in structure that reflect that debate. The arts plan states: "Arts planning should reflect priorities that are capable of testing by public consultation and measurement with reference to targets and outcomes". These are semi-commercial means of measuring the level of funding to be invested in the arts.

The amendment of the definition of the arts in section 2 is to be welcomed. The definition in the 1951 Act included the usual mainstream arts and it was barely amended in 1973 to include the word "cinema". The new definition casts the net more widely, although it omits the words "painting" and "sculpture" from the original definition, which might require explanation. The Dance Theatre of Ireland and Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann have their headquarters in my constituency and both organisations are delighted that dance has been included in the definition.

Section 24 mirrors its equivalent in the 1951 Act with one difference. It underlines the independence of the council and the disbursement of funds. This power is unfettered by the power provided in section 5(3), which allows the Minister to give a direction in writing requiring the legislation to comply with specified Government policy. The council shall comply with the direction under the section. I am not sure what is its purpose or in what circumstances the Minister would issue such a direction. This power may attract attention on Committee Stage. As a statutory body, the council is required to comply with legislation in the areas of employment equality and so on and the Minister might explain the section when he replies. Under section 6 local authorities are required to prepare plans for the arts and, in so doing, comply with Government policy on the arts whereas the Arts Council has to comply with Government policy without qualification.

Ireland was one of the first nations to establish an arts council in 1951 and this year a new arts plan has been drafted for the period 2002-06 with a budget of €314 million. A new Minister has been appointed and I wish him luck as we enter a new and exciting time for the arts.

I wish to share time with Deputy Healy.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

This Bill is the creation of the previous Minister in the former Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands and its proposals for the administration of the arts need to be questioned. I oppose the perception that the Bill is advantageous to the promotion and administration of the arts. It stresses the independence of the Arts Council but seeks to grant more powers to the Minister and to centralise politically areas that are already administered by the Arts Council.

The Bill ignores the opportunity to tackle the fundamental difficulties behind the widest possible expression of artistic activity, the democratisation of the arts. There are problems with the interference in Arts Council activities. The Bill seeks to give a guaranteed funding stream to traditional arts, music and culture. That is welcome but in introducing a specific reference in the legislation that concentrates on one art form, the Minister is risking the alienation of practitioners of other arts forms. If it is possible to dedicate a funding stream and decision making process to one area of the arts, why not do it for all of them?

The Arts Council is perceived outside Dublin as being based in and influenced by Dublin. The Bill misses the opportunity to take a regionalised approach to the arts. This approach has been effective in Britain, where the Arts Council works on a regional basis and access to funding is more widespread.

The Bill is insular in the way it views the practice and enjoyment of the arts in this State. We should take pride in our ability to express ourselves artistically at international level and I am disappointed we are not aiming for structures to reflect that. Film has had a stuttered history in the past decade and its potential has never been truly realised. By combining many elements of Irish artistic life, it could be more effective, from the writing of scripts to directing, from acting to set design and lighting.

This legislation should also tackle international representation of festivals in Ireland. Cork city holds international choral, jazz, film and folk festivals and in 2005 will be the European City of Culture. All those things happened in spite of the organs that should have been more progressive and enlightened in bringing about these events. I am worried that planning for the European City of Culture year is not as advanced as it should be and that the artistic community is not as involved as it might be. This should be addressed.

A greater onus has been placed on local authorities in the promotion of artistic activities in administrative areas. The council of which I have been a member for 11 years has a proud history of such work, with the highest per capita allocation of grants under arts legislation. By putting a greater onus on local authorities, however, without having it matched with greater remuneration and support from central Government, this will remain a pious hope. How can extra resources be provided at local level to meet the needs that exist in the local communities?

We must promote the arts and get rid of the perception that they are the preserve of the privileged. Much art can be enjoyed on a broad based level. Current structures and even those proposed in this legislation will not achieve this unless there is a change in the philosophy behind the arts and their place in society. I look forward to tabling amendments on Committee Stage that will change this Bill for the better.

There has been a blossoming of the arts in all areas in recent years. There is no doubt that the arts have moved from being seen as elite to a central part of every community. In Clonmel there are the South Tipperary Arts Centre, the new museum, the Gallowglass Theatre Company, Clonmel Theatre Guild and St. Mary's Choral Society in music. In other towns there are also such societies. It is right, therefore, that a new Arts Bill should be enacted. The regulation of the arts goes back to the Arts Acts of 1951 and 1973. Thirty years later we need new ideas on how the arts can be brought to local communities and made more accessible.

I welcome the Bill, although I have some concerns about it and I hope they will be teased out on Committee Stage. Some speakers have raised the extent to which the Minister and his Department will have control over the arts. Art, by its very nature, should be as independent as possible of political intervention. There is a provision in the Bill which halves the number of representative members on the Arts Council and it is a particularly worrying feature. The reduction in the number of members will not allow for a spread of regional membership or of the art forms that should be represented on the council, including performers, artists and organisations, and that will impinge on its ability to perform its functions.

A number of speakers referred to the provisions relating to local authorities in the Bill, which I welcome, given that many local authorities are already involved in promoting the arts. Tipperary (South Riding) County Council promotes the arts generally in the county through the South Tipperary arts centre, the Tipperary Excel centre in Tipperary town and many other local sites. However, an opportunity has been missed to provide local authorities with a mandatory responsibility for developing the arts. With that goes the question of funding local authorities to perform work in this area which will have to be addressed.

The place of the arts in education has not been given enough attention in the Bill. For too long young people have not had access to art and music through their normal educational experience, be it at primary, secondary or vocational level. The provision of an arts curriculum as part and parcel of the school and educational experience should be made integral to this legislation.

I hesitate to describe as amateur the many choral, dramatic and musical societies that are near-professional, putting a huge amount of time, effort and their own money into performing the arts in local communities. Over the years it has been brought to my attention that they have had little or no support from the Arts Council and that should be addressed in this Bill. For a long time there was very little in the way of art forms in many of our towns with the exception of these amateur musical, dramatic and choral societies and the work they have done, and are doing, has not been given enough recognition. Funding should be made available to these societies and their activities should be brought under the umbrella of this Arts Bill.

I welcome the inclusion of traditional Irish art forms in the Bill as it is time to recognise and embrace them through the Arts Council. I fully agree with the statements that have been made about these art forms. When the word "traditional" is used, we always think it refers to that which is of the past, which is history, but Irish traditional art is a contemporary art form drawing on the past and showing us the way to the future. Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann has very much welcomed the provisions in the Bill, but I am unsure that the standing committee system is the right vehicle through which to support Irish traditional art. Whatever the vehicle is – and it will be discussed on Committee Stage – recognition and support of these arts through the legislation must be supported on all Stages of debate in this House and included in the Act passed by the Oireachtas. The Bill was unanimously welcomed by the several hundred delegates from here and abroad who attended the Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann annual congress in Cultúrlann na hÉireann. Comhaltas is a huge national organisation and will hold its annual fleadh cheoil in my home town, Clonmel, in 2003 and 2004. The organisation has developed traditional art in all its forms over the last number of years to the point where they now have mass support and a large number of young people are involved in various forms of music, song and dance. The fleadh cheoil in Clonmel in 2003 will be attended by something like 250,000 visitors, 10,000 performers and in the region of €15 million will come into the local economy which is why it is time that this form of art was properly supported and funded.

The matters I wish to see addressed on Committee Stage are those of direct control of the arts by the Minister and the Department, arts funding, mandatory responsibility for local authorities, the arts in education, the reduced size of the Arts Council and the implications for regional and artistic representation as well as the question of funding for amateur arts.

I wish to share time with Deputy Fiona O'Malley. I welcome the Arts Bill which will make existing arts legislation more relevant and appropriate. The Bill will revamp the Arts Council which will continue to be the main State agency for the promotion and development of the arts.

This legislation recognises the council's independence in terms of the allocation of funding while requiring it to establish three standing committees, one to cover arts activities of local authorities, one to cover Irish traditional arts and one to cover new art and innovation. As a local authority member, I welcome the requirement that such authorities prepare and implement arts plans within their geographic areas. Some local authorities already do that and I congratulate Sligo County Council in that regard. It will be to the benefit of the arts in general that this is now a requirement for all local authorities. I also welcome the provision that local authorities may provide financial assistance to stimulate public interest in the arts. I would like a specific requirement that local authorities provide financial assistance. I congratulate the many arts officers who are doing great work in their areas at present.

The Minister has taken an innovative step in setting up the standing committee on traditional art. There has been an overwhelming response from the public following the publication of the White Paper. More than 50% of the submissions relate to Irish traditional arts. Irish traditional arts were not given any specific mention in previous arts legislation, namely, the Arts Acts, 1951 and 1973. The Bill corrects that omission. I note with interest that there is no definition of traditional arts. I assume that was done deliberately as the imposition of a rigid definition might result in a particular element or section of traditional art being excluded as it may not have been considered at the time of passing the legislation.

However, there is a body of opinion which feels the definition of traditional arts in the legislation would be of benefit. Perhaps the definition used by UNESCO may be appropriate. UNESCO defines traditional arts as the totality of tradition based creations of a cultural community expressed by an individual or group and recognised as reflecting the expectations of the community in so far as they reflect its cultural and social identity and its standards and values which are transmitted orally by imitation or by other means. Its forms are, among others, language, literature, music, dance, games, mythology, rituals, customs, handicrafts, architecture and other arts. In addition to these examples, account should be taken of traditional forms of communication and information. It encompasses everything for which traditional art stands.

The setting up of a distinct standing committee to deal with new art innovation is a bold step forward and reflects the exciting developments occurring in the arts in Ireland today. While there is a repository of artistic achievement in Ireland, art, by its nature, should be at the cutting edge of society. It should challenge society and provoke us all. At times we may not agree with it, but if we are engaged by art in its many diverse forms, it has already succeeded. I look forward to the work of the standing committee.

The second area to which the Bill relates is the Arts Council. That primarily deals with its composition, functions and membership. The introduction of rolling membership will be of great benefit to the continuity of the council. One of the areas where the Arts Council has done great work is in the distribution of funding to all artistic endeavours throughout the country. I know from first hand experience the help and encouragement such funding has given to various art developments in Sligo and Leitrim. It has been a great boost to a variety of endeavours, ranging from theatre to visual arts and literary performance.

There is one area to which I would like to draw the Minister's attention and it would be of great help in the further development of the arts. The Model Arts and Niland Gallery in Sligo is one of the newer exhibition spaces in the country. It is home to a permanent collection of Irish art, including the greatest number of Jack B. Yeats paintings in the world. It is entirely appropriate that the collection of Yeats paintings is housed and exhibited in Sligo. The monetary value of this collection is immeasurable, but the artistic value is immense. It has acted as a focus for many exciting exhibitions. The gallery is housed in an old model school which has been totally revamped. It now has appropriate staff, superb exhibitions and storage and security practices which rival any other exhibition space in the country.

Under section 1003 of the Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997, approved body status is a designation whereby persons donating heritage items of a certain value to an approved body may claim relief to the value of that item against their liabilities for taxes. This designation currently lies with the five national collections, all of which are housed in Dublin. The Minister, in consultation with the Minister for Finance, has the authority to approve other bodies for the purpose of this relief. The board of the Model Arts and Niland Gallery, which is a municipal gallery in Sligo, has applied in the past for approved status. Denial of this status seems counter to the Arts Council's philosophy of strengthening arts and heritage provision in the regions. That philosophy is shared by the Minister who comes from the artistically rich County Kerry. My belief, which is shared by the board of the Model Arts and Niland Gallery, is that denial of approved status may negatively impact on its ability to acquire objects which should remain in the area for the benefit of the viewing public and thus contribute as a focus of its collection in addition to the active exhibition and research programmes it undertakes. Granting this status will not impact negatively on the acquisitions practice of the national collections. On behalf of the people of Sligo and Leitrim, I ask the Minister to consider granting approved body status to the Model Arts and Niland Gallery.

I congratulate the Minister on this worthwhile Bill. There is an exciting time ahead for the arts in general, particularly in Ireland.

I welcome the introduction of the Bill. It is 30 years since an Arts Bill was introduced in the House and a lot has changed in Irish society and in art practice during that time. Identifying arts and culture is probably the most significant and central element in the evolution of a nation. The arts are also important from an economic and social perspective. We are fortunate to have an internationally recognised musical and literary tradition. Before I was elevated to the House, I worked in the arts in London. During the mid 1990s I was at the coalface of contemporary cutting edge practice. Irish theatre and literature were often the best there was around at the time. The status granted to artists by the Finance Act, 1969, was applauded and deeply appreciated by arts practitioners because it gave artists status in Irish society, which was envied by people in other countries.

I welcome the provision in the Bill to reduce the size of the Arts Council. The reduction in the number of its members from nine to seven and the introduction of a rolling membership system will contribute to the easier and better running of the council. I also welcome the inclusion of the functions of a local authority in developing the arts and art practices. Perhaps the Minister should go further and make it mandatory for local authorities to develop the arts. I have some reservations about the Bill. I am sure everyone agrees that the arts have been well served by the Arts Council, which has operated on the principle of keeping things at arm's length. We should continue with that. I am concerned about the development of standing committees. They may take away the freedom and independence of the Arts Council to develop its own priorities. Priorities may be imposed through the three standing committees.

I have always subscribed to Ciarán Benson's philosophy which he outlined in his book entitledThe Place of the Arts and Irish Education. His philosophy is to make the arts part of everyday life and not a refuge from it. The best way to achieve that is through the education system. I lament the fact that the education system has not been incorporated in this Bill. We should investigate how this could be done on Committee Stage. Bringing the arts into the curriculum would make them part of everyday life.

My other slight reservation about the Bill concerns the definition of the word "arts". There is no need to differentiate between traditional and contemporary arts. It makes them appear to be in opposition. The more loosely the arts are defined, the less likely it will be that elements of arts practice develop in opposition to each other. Traditional arts and contemporary arts are not mutually exclusive. Our traditional music, for example, is evolving and has contemporary elements. The decision to differentiate in this way is unnecessary and I recommend its deletion.

I welcome the Bill. I am delighted it has been given such priority on the legislative agenda for this session and I look forward to the debate on Committee Stage.

I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate. As Deputy O'Malley stated, it has been a long time since the previous Arts Bill. The whole debate around the Bill has been very positive and has given the arts community and the general community, which is just as important, the opportunity to discuss the role of art and culture in our society. As well as Professor Benson's considerable contribution, many other reports covering various aspects of the arts, such as dance and music, have been published in recent years.

I hope all the viewpoints expressed in the wider debate on the arts will inform the Minister's decisions. He is new to this field and has inherited the text of the Bill from his predecessor. We have heard a range of opinion on the Bill both inside and outside the House. I ask the Minister to take time to weigh up all the points that have been made, particularly with regard to the traditional arts, before finalising the legislation.

Two clear but opposing views have emerged on this issue. I recognise that all the protagonists have expressed their views with genuine goodwill and in the desire to see the best for the traditional arts. This area needs to be prioritised as it has not always been emphasised to the extent it should be. The Bill needs to be amended and I ask that the Minister takes time to incorporate all elements of the debate in the legislation.

The Bill should contain a broader vision, a sense of what the arts mean to society. The word "culture" should also have been retained in the title of the Department. As Deputy O'Malley stated, there is a wider dimension to all this. It would have been feasible to include a broader vision in the text in order to strengthen links between the arts and wider society. I hope the new Minister will have a broad mind on these issues.

By and large, the current arm's length relationship between the Minister, his Department and the Arts Council has been positive and has given a great deal of confidence to people working in the arts. It has also created a strong requirement for accountability. I became aware of this through my long-standing membership of the board of a professional, regionally-based theatre company, which is largely funded by the Arts Council, the Island Theatre Company in Limerick.

While we may not always agree with the decisions taken by the Arts Council, for the most part it enjoys a positive and healthy relationship with the various organisations it funds. It is a mutually respectful relationship which keeps companies and venues on their toes, ensuring they account for every penny of funding allocated to them and forcing them to seek business, rather than expecting to get their entire funding from public sources. This has been positive for all aspects of the arts in recent years.

Partnership is the proper relationship between the Arts Council and the Government of the day. These proposals appear to move us towards a type of autocratic system in which the Minister makes policy, the Arts Council implements it and it then comes down the line. I ask the Minister to reconsider his proposals in this regard.

While reducing the number of members of the Arts Council would have benefits, it would also have several downsides which need to be considered. It is important that each element of the arts is represented on the council to ensure that its expertise is drawn from all the art forms. The geographical aspect should not be ignored because the arts have developed significantly in recent years in local authorities and the regions generally. It is important, therefore, to reflect that geographical spread. I will not suggest a specific figure, but I ask the Minister to reconsider the number of members on the council.

The main item of contention relates to the standing committees. I have doubts about the reasons for the nature and number of standing committees. Again, I ask the Minister to re-examine the issue. The three committees proposed appear to be have been chosen at random. I also share the concerns of other Members about separating traditional arts from innovation. The omission of education is another major concern because these matters are all interrelated.

The selection of traditional arts raises a question about why other art forms were not selected. Why have traditional arts been placed in a separate category? I am going to a festival this weekend in Limerick, the Sionna festival. It starts tonight with fiddlers while tomorrow night will feature accordion players and various support musicians. On Sunday there will be a family day in the city hall. The principal organiser of the festival is the Irish World Music Centre, based in the University of Limerick. It is also supported by Shannon Development, Limerick City Council and, I believe, Limerick County Council – I am not sure if other local authorities are involved. Given that the festival has elements of all the areas covered by the standing committees, which one would apply?

The Irish World Music Centre is a very innovative part of the University of Limerick. While it is primarily rooted in the traditional arts, it also has roots in other parts of the world. As such, it is a good example of the need to reconsider the proposal to fragment and separate the different arts sectors. I am particularly concerned at the proposal to give the traditional music committee funding powers or at least the power to make recommendations on funding, while the other committees have no such powers. This is a mistake which changes the balance in the Arts Council. Its current balance should be maintained and the wider Arts Council should continue to make the funding decisions.

My concern about the measures dealing with the traditional arts stem from my strong admiration for the work being done in that area. Traditional arts are not set in a particular time. Naturally, therefore, there will be innovation and they will move forward. I question how they can be separated from other elements of the arts. I am also concerned by the proposal to establish a committee of five members, three of whom will be nominated by the Minister. While I do not wish to be personal about any Minister, this is not a good way to proceed.

The perception of an Arts Council in partnership with Government but with a separate identity and a level of independence and responsibility should continue.

I ask the Minister to listen to all the concerns expressed and to take the time to amend the Bill to make it as strong and effective as possible and to make it work for the various elements of the arts in Ireland. We have a fine tradition, particularly in literature, theatre, music and dance, but we are also developing in terms of the visual arts. However, not enough emphasis is placed on the requirements of individual artists, especially when they are temporarily out of work, an issue also raised by my colleague, Deputy Lynch.

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an mBille.

I welcome the Bill. It is probably a criticism of ourselves to say it is a long time since we discussed an arts Bill, but this is not the first debate we have had on the arts. I am interested in one of the first sections, which states that the Minister shall promote the arts inside and outside the State. That statement recognises that Irish art, in its widest form, is of value to the rest of the world. We have seen this in recent years, whether through Ceoltas on the Great Wall of China or through Fr. Liam Lawton's church music recorded in Chicago. Our range is so broad that it is being recognised worldwide. The Minister is also promoting the arts inside and outside the country.

This Bill focuses on the Arts Council with which I have had arm's length dealings in recent years in formulating the national children's strategy. I found its policy on art and its ideas far too restrictive and narrow in that it did not recognise the breadth of interest children and young people can and should have in the arts. I would welcome any new developments in the Arts Council which would encourage it to look beyond the restrictive remit it has had in the past.

The legislation refers to three specific committees. While I am critical of the Arts Council for being too restrictive in my dealings with it, I would hate to think we would be "chunnelling" them into being too restrictive again in examining only three sub-committees. The Minister might examine that aspect to ensure it does not contradict new elements of the arts that the Arts Council might examine. At least recognition is being given in those three committees to Irish traditional arts, rud nach raibh le feiceáil nó le cloisteáil i gComhairle na n-Ealaíon go dtí seo. There will always be a challenge in that regard. Other speakers mentioned the fleadhanna ceoil in Clonmel or Sligo and our wide range of music. It is important that such music is recognised as part of our arts and culture and developed even further. The challenge exists not only for the Minister to promote that art form throughout the world but also for the Arts Council to recognise and support it.

The Bill makes specific reference to local authorities. It is only in recent years we as a public or as public representatives have acknowledged the role local authorities can and do play in local authority areas. In recent years we have seen the development of some wonderful local theatres in Dún Laoghaire, Tallaght and Ballymun. They bring the arts to the community. Local authorities have a key role to play in the arts in their planning and development – many of them are preparing new planning and development regulations – funding, participation on management boards, sponsorship and so on.

Another exciting project, which brings the arts to the community, is the writer or artist in residence in schools, many of whom are funded by the local councils. I have seen first-hand the valuable work carried out by young students, be it in Our Lady's in Booterstown where they had a writer in residence or the transformation of an old school building by an artist in residence in Harold school in Glasthule, all with the support of local authorities. That is what art and involving children in education is all about.

Equally, schemes such as the write a book scheme, where children are encouraged not only to devise a story but to physically write, bind and present a book and then obtain a certificate on the basis of that, are valuable. That is the type of encouragement that should be given by our education centres, as in the case of the Blackrock Education Centre, and through the local authorities.

While some people have been critical of the Bill, pointing out that education is not specifically mentioned, it does not have to be mentioned but it must recognise the role it has to play in the arts. I am talking about the arts not only as a subject or as an academic area but in terms of its contact with the community. This is where the link between the local authorities, which are specifically mentioned in the Bill, the schools and community groups is valuable.

While art and culture, which is part of our identity, cannot be totally encapsulated in a Bill, this gives us an opportunity to ensure the bodies given responsibility for the arts capture art as part of our heritage and moreover as the essence of our being, expression and individuality as a nation. As we move forward in Europe and in wider cultural conflicts and challenges, art is becoming all the more important for us. As part of our campaign on Nice, we had a session with Ceoltas which involved a Hungarian singer and Hungarian fiddler, an Irish dancer and a few Irish Ministers doing an Irish dance. That showed the international appeal of Irish music.

I hope the Arts Council plays its role in regard to the Bill. I also hope the Minister will reconsider the prescriptive nature of the committees. We as national and local legislators have a role to play in ensuring the arts not only develop but thrive in the future.

I have never pretended to be an expert on the arts and I will not pretend otherwise today.

That will not stop the Deputy talking.

I will make a brief contribution to the debate.

This is the first time in 30 years a Bill on the arts has been introduced. There was a good deal of tension in the old Arts Council and many officers resigned. That is probably why this Bill is now before the House. I note it is proposed to reduce the membership of the Arts Council.

The only experience I have had with the Arts Council was when I sought funding from it for a group of children who were going abroad to promote the arts. I was annoyed that I could not get funding from the council. I tabled a parliamentary question asking where the Arts Council had spent the money allocated to it and I am sure the Minister of State will be delighted to hear the answer to this. I hope the new Arts Council will realise there are artists all over the country and not only in Dublin. Some 99.9% of the money allocated to the old Arts Council was spent in Dublin. There are artists in Mayo, Achill, Cork, Kerry and elsewhere. I was annoyed about the refusal of funding and requested details of the council's spending for the previous three years and learned that the money was spent mainly in Dublin.

I have nothing against Dublin or its people. Some of the ushers think I am very much against Dublin. I love Dublin, its people and the ushers who do a great job in this House.

And they love the Deputy.

I hope they will be looked after in the Bill we discussed yesterday because they do an excellent job. I want to compliment Mayo County Council and the county manager. I have a lot of battles with the county manager but he must be complimented on his work with the arts. Mayo County Council was one of the first councils to appoint an arts officer. At the time I was not too keen on that, I felt the money could have been better spent elsewhere but it was the best money the council ever spent. Every single person in this State can be creative in one way or another. The number of talented people is amazing if they are given an opportunity to demonstrate those talents.

The Minister spoke of writers in residence. Mayo County Council has had a writer in residence for many years, it also has an artist in residence. It has brought the arts out to the people. Deputy O'Malley is right in saying that the arts must be brought into the schools. We will face challenges in the coming years. We will be part of a bigger Europe, different traditions will come to this country and we will have to be able to cope with that. We must also protect our existing traditions. Those involved in the arts have always found it very difficult to make a living. They are very talented people but part of their problem is that they are not business-orientated. They are more concerned about their art. Sometimes they do not even wonder where the next cup of tea or dinner is coming from. There should be help and support for them in every county. The arts have made a big contribution to Ireland, particularly internationally. Paul Durcan, for example, is recognised all over the world. He is from Mayo and is a very mild mannered, talented man who loves what he does.

Sometimes the arts can be given a bad name. There was a case recently in Ballindine, County Mayo, where somebody erected a structure – I cannot even describe it – in the middle of the village. The village had recently been enhanced and the residents were outraged. The council then had to take down the structure and I do not know where it intends to put it. The council should consult with local people and bring them on board in this area, rather than dictating to them.

Those involved in the traditional arts are going to be recognised in this Bill. I love Irish music and dancing. I must compliment Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann for its work in promoting the traditional arts over the years. It deserves to be supported and I am glad to see that will happen in this Bill. I have seen how the traditional arts have been revived in Mayo. We have held the Fleadh Cheoil in Ballina on two occasions and it brought thousands of people to the town. It is wonderful to see people on the street of any town singing, dancing and enjoying themselves. It is good to see them being taken away from the pubs. That is something we should all be trying to do. We should be encouraging young people to be involved in the arts and take these onto the streets or into the schools and community halls.

I have never said that I am an expert in the arts. I support the people who have made an effort in this area over the years. Artists are never recognised until they are dead, their works become very valuable then. Yet they have to make a living and be supported while they are alive.

I have heard many speakers asking that political interference be taken away from Arts Council. We are elected to this House, the Minister is responsible to it and I believe the Arts Council should be answerable to him. If I, or any Member, wants to raise any issue about the Arts Council we should be able to table a question. That is not political interference – it is our duty as public representatives. It is our job to ensure that the Arts Council spends its money well and spreads it throughout the country. Ministers are elected to make political decisions where necessary. A Minister can make a political decision but he must then stand over it.

Hear, hear.

It annoys me to hear Members trying to take powers away from the Minister and other public representatives. We are the people who go before the interview boards at election time. That board is a difficult one. On the last occasion, they were not to happy with those on this side of the House and they made a lot of changes. I am sure it will happen to the other side of the House at another stage. I do not agree with those who say matters such as Arts Council funding should be kept away from politicians. The Minister should be responsible to this House for any Act passed by it.

I am pleased that the traditional arts will be recognised in this Bill. It is wonderful to see how those involved have trained young people. I see the work they do in my area. It is part of our culture and it should be supported and promoted. The arts have to be protected and looked after and those involved in the arts have to be assisted and helped. The arts should be brought into our schools so that young people can recognise what is out there. Every person, irrespective of background or culture, has talent. Mayo County Council held workshops in isolated and disadvantaged areas which gave people an opportunity to write or draw. The amount of talent uncovered was amazing. It benefited people in that it brought them out of their homes and gave them greater confidence within themselves. If the arts can do that, they should be supported. I am glad to hear that every council will have to draw up an arts plan. The Arts Council has responsibilities. The last council did not spread the money equally. It primarily supported art in Dublin whereas we want to see support for the arts all over Ireland.

I dtús báire, ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a ghabháil leis an Aire. Earlier a question was asked which almost shocked me as it came from a source that I deeply respect, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. She asked why traditional art was being put in a separate category. It is on that issue that I compliment and congratulate the Minister. It is put there because it is so special and important to our culture and way of life. It has been treated poorlyvis-à-vis the contemporary arts and other sections of the arts in the past. It has been put there because of the very respectable lobbying of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. All of us involved in the arts are aware of the work of that organisation. Comhaltas was established 51 years ago when the Arts Act, 1951, came into force. I was deeply concerned that the Bill, as originally drafted, did not contain a specific category or nominated niche for traditional arts. This is an important matter and we must ensure that traditional arts are fostered and given fair recognition.

Traditional arts cover a huge spectrum of activities. The Minister of State, Deputy Hanafin, commented on the promotion of the arts abroad. When people in foreign countries think about Irish art, they expect it to be of a traditional nat ure in the form put forward by participants in Comhaltas and associated groups and that is what they should see and hear. We need to protect and nurture the traditional arts and the people involved in that area.

Deputy Ring referred to gatherings. I understand that at least 200,000 people attended the most recent annual Fleadh Cheoil and crowds of that magnitude have flocked to many other annual cultural gatherings.

Why should we include a category for traditional arts? To answer this, we must return to people's definition of art. What is art to some people is pure rubbish to others. There is a grave danger that the traditional arts will lose out in the more sophisticated world of the cultural arts such as opera, etc. Many people felt that there was an imbalance within the Arts Council, particularly in terms of the way it allocated funding. I compliment the Minister on giving the standing committee the right to disburse funding to individual artists to help them in their work and to help promote our country. We make no apologies for doing that because it reflects Irish life and that is how it should be. As Deputy Ring stated, when one considers the allocations, it appears that funding is being distributed in the major centres – Dublin and Cork in particular – and that larger amounts of money are being given to the more elite groupings as opposed those involved in the area of traditional arts. We should make no apology for protecting the way of life of people involved in the traditional arts.

Before we entered the then EEC in 1973, we were informed that we would lose our culture and way of life. That argument was recently trotted out by an individual in the campaign on the Nice treaty and it is completely incorrect. The major increase in the number of Gaelscoileanna in urban areas is but one example of how we are protecting our culture, language and way of life. This must be done on a statutory basis and it should be encompassed by the legislation before us. The contemporary arts have their place and must be nurtured and protected, but not to the detriment of the traditional arts. I draw the attention of the Minister to the work being done, particularly by Comhaltas, with children from the age of three or four. In any city, village or town one will find people involved in work in this area.

Most Members have been somewhat parochial in their contributions and I will try not to be an exception to that rule. One marvellous prospect to which we can look forward in terms of culture in the near future is that, for the first time in more than a decade, a city in Ireland, Cork, will be European Capital of Culture in 2005. Cork will be following in the distinguished footsteps of great European cities including Dublin, Salamanca and Athens to name but a few. I know that the people of Cork and everyone else are excited about hosting this great event.

An expert team has already been assembled to work on the project. We anticipate that our links in Europe – political, spiritual and cultural – will be enriched during this event. Ireland will be host to a dynamic multicultural event and we look forward to welcoming our fellow Europeans to Cork during 2005. We will be provided with an opportunity to place the Irish tradition and ethos to the fore in our dealings with our European neighbours. I am sure Cork will do us proud because it has a rich artistic heritage and tradition.

One of the aspects of the Bill with which I am particularly taken is the promotion of the concept of the involvement of local authorities through local arts officers, etc. It is essential and it should be mandatory for every local authority to be involved in the arts. In the past, contributions from central funds have not been matched by a requisite level of co-funding from some local authorities. Certain local authorities have not done their bit, but Cork is not one of them. The local authority in Cork has helped foster and develop its rich artistic heritage and tradition. This year, the city council will offer funding of €320,000 to arts organisations based in the city.

The Minister has accepted the argument that there should be fair representation of all art forms and that small communities with small projects should be given fair recognition and not swamped by larger projects. Cork's art office runs a number of programmes on supporting and developing the work of artists and art organisations in the city. These include a scheme of bursaries – the North-South bursary, a drama practitioners' bursary, a film production bursary, a music bursary, a bursary for tuition at third level in choreography which grants access to this area to students both in UCC and Leeds, with which we have a working relationship, and the Tyrone Guthrie residency bursary – which is extremely important. A study reviewing the arts infrastructure in the city and anticipating future demands was commissioned recently and a programme of art events in the libraries in the city also forms part of that work. The total funding under the scheme is in excess of €150,000.

I recommend that other local authorities follow the lead given by Cork in terms of carrying out a study into the arts infrastructure in their areas and into the need for promotion and assistance in the arts. The artist's life has traditionally been lonely. In the past, many artists only became famous following their deaths. They were only lauded when they had died and no longer required financial support. It is essential that we should provide support to artists, particularly the younger generation, when they need it. Artists have always needed sponsorship and support right back to the times of the landed gentry and I would like to see the State and local authorities taking a lead role in this area.

Cork's well developed, mature arts infrastructure is one of the city's most obvious assets and I would recommend it to any city or town seeking to establish such an infrastructure. It has some of Ireland's finest performing arts venues and visual art centres. In addition, a number of art organisations which have national and international significance have been established in Cork. In 1989, in an example of how one can achieve a number of objectives at the same time, the National Sculpture Factory was established in Cork. It is housed in a city council owned former tram shed of approximately 60,000 square feet. The factory is one of Ireland's most active artists organisations. The tram shed would have been a derelict building by now. It had been used by the ESB after the trams shut down. The council achieved the three objectives of bringing an old building back into use, of retaining it in its historical context and installing a factory in it. It was win, win, win as a result of using initiative and foresight. It did not involve huge expense.

The Opera House in Cork, which was in danger of closing at one stage, has been supported with funding of up to €1 million. Again, this was an example of co-operation. In the early 1990s, six members of the city council were seconded from the council to act as directors of the Opera House, a combination of the street credibility of the public representatives and the artistic ability of the people directly involved with the Opera House. Between us we managed to make it a winning formula and with the assistance of the State and the Department, the Opera House was refurbished and reinvigorated. The Everyman Palace theatre and the Graffiti Theatre Company have also benefited enormously from substantial capital contributions from Cork Corporation. It is easy for local authorities to simply demand money from the State without making a local contribution but one must pay extra for these facilities. It is the icing on the cake for many people.

Wandesford Quay artists studio and gallery represents a considerable investment by Cork Corporation in the visual arts. Again, the premises was a warehouse owned by an old printing company, Colemans Printers. It was purchased by the city council in 1997 and refurbished to provide a new artists' studio, printmakers' workshop and a new gallery. A cultural development initiative scheme grant, an Arts Council capital contribution, a grant from the URBAN pilot project and significant investment by the city council financed the development. Fenton's Gallery, Cork Printmakers and Blackwater artists studios are now housed on the premises. This is another success story as a result of local initiative, foresight and support from the statutory bodies, including the Department.

Cork's cultural life has integrated into the fabric of the city through investment in the infrastructure of the city. Recently, the new Millennium Hall, including a concert hall, was opened. It is a civic structure for the city and it is also a cultural centre for the city and its visitors. If one includes investment in capital infrastructure, the library service, archives, the museums, the Cork Vision Centre, Fota House and other associated areas, the budget for the arts and cultural sector for 2000 was approximately £11.92 million.

A national study carried out three years ago found that Belfast and Cork were the two authorities which contributed most to supporting the arts in the form of direct co-funding. It is easy to seek 100% funding from Government but co-funding involves some degree of pain in the form of service charges and other means of raising revenue. If we want the arts, we must support them. The city's motto,Statio bene fide carinis, means a safe harbour for ships and it is our enthusiastic hope and expectation that our city of trade, commerce, poets and composers will be a safe and vibrant harbour of art and culture in 2005 and beyond.

On another occasion I will appeal to the Minister to ensure adequate funding is available for 2005. I promise we will not seek more than 50%. The council will put in a minimum of €5.5 million from local funding but it will be seeking co-funding from the Minister.

There will be questions about this legislation, as there are about every Bill. However, I commend the Minister on setting up the standing committee and the recognition of what is called the "traditional arts", that is, our culture as opposed to the other arts I have mentioned. I compliment him on the general tone of the Bill. A programme is being put together that will facilitate participation by the public at all levels.

Questions have been asked about the appointment by the Minister of members of the Arts Council. I am not familiar with the membership of the Arts Council although I am aware of the council's work, having been in contact with it on many occasions, particularly with regard to Cork Opera House. However, I have read the reports in one of the monthly magazines about the infighting and turf wars that take place. That is to be expected in any group. My fear is that if membership were confined to outside appointments there would be a return to the old situation where elitist groups, composed of people from a small sector of society, would be able to manipulate the system to ensure that specific arts would be looked after to a greater extent than merited. I am glad there is provision for the Minister to appoint people who have a proven track record and who have shown they will cater for the arts generally. That is important.

I agree with Deputy Ring that representatives who are elected to speak for the public should have a say in how things are done and how the money is spent. I do not subscribe to the view that there should be no political involvement. Life is about politics. We are elected to pursue issues on behalf of the public and it is correct that the Minister, who will fund the body through his Department's Vote, should have a say, especially if things go wrong. There will be areas where the Minister and his advisers will disagree with a body and it is only right that he should have a way of pulling in the reins, as it were, when necessary.

This Minister has a proven track record. I am sure he will take on board the points made in this debate. Concerns were expressed about the arts being linked with tourism under the same Department. There is no more appropriate location for the arts than in conjunction with tourism. The arts are relevant to everybody but particularly tourists who come here to see the local traditional arts.

Ar dtús ba mhaith liom a rá go bhfuil lúcháir orm deis a bheith agam cúpla focal a rá faoin mBille seo. Everybody is aware of the importance of the arts in advanced democratic societies. This Bill has had a long gestation and was only published in April, in the dying days of the last Administration. It was a long wait. The first Arts Bill, which established the Arts Council, was enacted in 1951, more than half a century ago. It was one of the pet projects of the then Taoiseach, Mr. John A. Costello, who was anxious to establish such a council. The second major amendment to the Bill occurred in the 1970s when it was steered through the House by Fine Gael, which was then in Government. I do not wish to be overly political about these matters, but the arts have become politicised in recent years.

The main point of the legislation, which is opportune, seems to be to give statutory recognition to the independence of the Arts Council. Having read through the Bill, however, I am not sure that will happen. As far as I can make out, the Bill gives the Minister responsibility for formulating overall State policy on the arts whereas, up to now, arts policy was formulated by the Arts Council's members appointed by the Minister. Nevertheless, they were independent of the Minister. Handing over responsibility for arts planning to the Minister may prove to be a fatal flaw in this legislation. I would prefer to see an independent Arts Council, but the Minister will be nominating members of the board which will be reduced from 17 to seven members. With the Minister's two appointees, that will make a total of nine. I would like to hear the Minister's views on this matter. I realise the Bill was published by his predecessor, Deputy de Valera, but does the Minister have the same views on this core issue?

My memories of the arts and matters concerning artistic endeavour generally in recent years, particularly over the past 12 months, are coloured by the controversies that were generated in the sector. For example, almost half the members of the current Arts Council resigned from the board and, presumably, there must have been good reasons for doing so. I recall that the former chairman, Professor Brian Farrell – an important member of the community with a national status in the academic and broadcasting sectors – resigned from the council along with other members. I do not think we ever received a proper explanation for those resignations.

Another controversy concerned the Irish Museum of Modern Art. While we are all proud of what has been achieved there, a major controversy arose over its eminent director, which attracted international attention. Deputy Fiona O'Malley, who contributed to this debate earlier, made serious allegations when she resigned from the board, saying – and I am quoting from memory – her action was prompted by "gross political interference". We do not want art to become a political football.

Another controversy arose over the Abbey Theatre, one of our greatest national institutions, the centenary of which we will shortly celebrate. The theatre premises have had a chequered career. The first time I attended a play there it was situated in the old Queen's Theatre in Pearse Street. The current Abbey stands on the site of the original theatre and the management is doing excellent work with limited facilities. A decision has now been taken to construct a new Abbey Theatre. Several locations were mooted and the theatre's board was anxious to relocate on a green field site that was offered in the docklands area, free of charge. Accusations were made that the Taoiseach was anxious to retain the theatre in his own constituency. Another site was suggested on the other side of O'Connell Street, which formerly housed the Carlton Cinema complex. Before the general election, however, a decision was taken to re-develop the Abbey on its present site. It will be difficult to do so because additional property will have to be purchased for the extension. A national theatre should enjoy a prime site in the city centre with access to the River Liffey. If that is achieved it will be a great advantage to theatre-goers, but I am not sure if that will be the outcome.

There was yet another controversy over the location of the Performing Arts Academy. I am not sure if Dublin City University was mentioned but there was some political wrangling in that case also. It would be desirable to avoid such controversy in future because the arts are too important to become embroiled in local politics.

The world wide contribution of Ireland's performing artists is rightfully recognised and that recognition is well merited. Their international reputation is out of all proportion to our relatively small population. In this regard, I can cite the important contribution made by internationally recognised singers, musicians and dancers from my own county of Donegal. These include the leading male dancer in Riverdance, Breandán de Gallaí, who is from my own parish of Gweedore. He has performed in the Riverdance show all over the world and, in so doing, has introduced traditional Irish music and dance to millions of people in every continent.

Last year, following the events of 11 September, I visited New York where a museum has been established to honour the memory of those who perished in that awful tragedy. One evening, while watching television there, I saw a programme showing footage of the tragic events of 9/11 and the theme music was from a recording by a lady from my own parish, Enya. Sales of her records were boosted in the aftermath of the tragedy because the music is so soothing. Altán, whose members are also from Donegal, have performed all over the world, as has our famous singer, Daniel O'Donnell. The artistes I have mentioned come from one small part of the country.

The Bill envisages the establishment of three standing committees, one of which will deal with traditional art. I recognise the contribution made by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann to the promotion of traditional Irish song, music and dance. I hope CCE will be given the resources to continue its work both here and abroad, as a result of the provisions of the Bill. When tourists come here they always want to hear our traditional music, and CCE has done excellent work in providing such entertainment, particularly during the summer months.

The arts are blossoming throughout the country. In almost every county there is an arts officer. There is one in my county. Arts exhibitions are some of the most pleasant functions I am obliged to attend as a public representative in my own area, and there is one almost every month in places like Falcarragh, Dunfanaghy, Letterkenny and Donegal. There are so many people involved in the different arts – painting, sculpture, etc., and some people who have retired take it up as a pastime and it becomes a great hobby. Indeed, I am sure there are such exhibitions in every part of the country.

There is a need for a radical new approach to arts education or, more accurately, to making the arts an integral part of education. Arts education has for too long been considered an extra subject in our schools, a stand-alone subject that would give students some cultural appreciation and an opportunity to experiment with paint, movement or a musical instrument. This attitude represents an impoverished view of the arts and an equally impoverished view of education. It is now well recognised by arts educators and academics that a properly integrated and delivered arts education can make an enormous contribution, not only to the arts but to our social, economic, spiritual and environmental well-being.

Education is primarily about young people. It is now believed that an arts education makes a profound difference to young people in many important ways. An arts education helps to expand creative and critical capacities, enhance problem solving skills, increase cross-cultural understanding, build self-esteem and gain necessary skills useful in today's workplace.

The case for arts education as an overall stimulus to learning is too significant a subject for today. However, science tells us that an education in the arts uses multiple forms of intelligence in contrast to traditional academic subject areas that generally focus on specific types of intelligence such as linguistics or logic. We now know that the arts help to develop intuition, reasoning, imagination and dexterity, contributing to every aspect of a child's school life and personal development. In the modern Irish economy, the greatest need is for people with imagination and creativity, talents fostered through arts education.

Recent research suggests that arts education can also deliver a positive effect on the incidence of crime. Juvenile delinquency is too often a symptom of school failure and a misdirected search for recognition, achievement and self-expression. The arts provide a different way to address these needs. We all know this, yet we have been slow to use the arts as a means to address this problem. In the United States, three cities which rigorously evaluated their arts programmes for at risk youths found that these programmes decreased involvement in delinquent behaviour, increased academic achievement and improved the youths' attitudes to themselves and their future.

The arts transcend nationality, ethnic identity, race and gender, and an arts education provides a universal language that is able to cut across cultural barriers. In this multicultural millennium, anything that unites people is critical to our future well-being and the emerging disease of racism in our society, which the Government is shamefully neglecting, calls for a multifaceted response. However, a core element of the response must be found in the arts and, specifically, an arts education.

I would hope that there would be an amendment to this Bill to incorporate a special committee. I ask the Minister to consider the provision of such a committee which would deal exclusively with the promotion of the arts in the education system from junior infants right up to senior cycle in secondary schools.

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil as ucht labhairt ar an mBille. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Bhille ach sílim go bhfuil laigí ann. Tá súil agam nach mbeidh cur isteach polaitiúil ag an Aire sa chomhairle agus go mbeidh an Comhairle Ealaíon úr faoin mBille seo neamhspleách ar fad ó chursaí polaitíochta.

I want to make a few relatively brief comments on the proposals in the Arts Bill. First, I agree with the tenor of Deputy McGinley's comments that the arts should not be used for partisan political advantage. During the period in office of my colleague, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, as Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, the first time such a ministry was created, the arts in Ireland received for the first time growing amounts of State funding. Civil servants often want to tidy things up into small packages which can be handily administered and I would strongly warn the Minister against listening too much to the advice of civil servants when it comes to the question of administering the arts. If the arts are to flourish, the one element required is diversity. Although diversity is often difficult for any of us who are involved as administrators, it is absolutely essential to a flourishing arts culture in Ireland.

I note that the Minister is proposing to substantially reduce the size of the Arts Council. There will be an opportunity to come back to that, but the reason for having a substantial council was that the arts are so diverse and it is only fair that the diverse areas of artistic activity and endeavour are reflected. This is particularly important when it comes to making the case, presenting the case, and then being in some ways the unfortunate Minister who must make the decision as to how to allocate the money fairly. If the diverse voices and groups which represent the arts community are not getting access to the table, however, they will find it increasingly difficult to make their voices heard.

One of the proposals in the Bill concerns a council for the traditional arts. I wish to hear from the Minister what this concept is based on. As somebody who is quite involved in elements of the so-called traditional arts, I see traditional Irish music, song, dance, etc., as not only traditional but living arts. There are people working in those areas who are not only performing older works of art but writing, composing, working out new developments, drawing attention to areas of our heritage, etc. This is stimulating, not only for artists throughout Ireland, but also for the public who have the opportunity to enjoy it. I am concerned that the development of this notion of a traditional arts committee, which will report to the Arts Council and which will have partial responsibility for giving advice on the advance of moneys to any person, could see a narrowing of the remit so that only those in the loop might actually be favoured. If we are to grow, develop and make flourish those artistic expressions which go back in time, history and culture to earlier days in Ireland, we must build a broad house. To confine it in any narrow sense could be potentially disastrous for the artistic community. Reference has correctly been made to the fine work done by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, which is known throughout the country. However, the Minister should bear in mind the work of other groups. In Dublin, for example, Píobairí Uilinn has single handedly revived the tradition of piping and has been hugely influential in other areas of traditional music and culture, the Góilín club specialises in singing and a number of groups specialise in various areas of dance. Some of these groups are part of Comhaltas and some are not, as is their right.

The traditional arts council is to consist of a chairperson appointed by the Minister and four other members, at least two of whom will be appointed by the Minister. This concept is very narrow. How can such a small committee give expression to the huge diversity in the area of so called traditional arts? If there is to be a council for traditional arts why not have a council for contemporary arts? Reference has been made to a PricewaterhouseCoopers study but I am not sure the findings of the study are reflected in the legislation. There are some amazingly talented musicians such as Con O'Driscoll of Cork, who is probably writing some of the best traditional Irish songs. The Minister may even feature in some of these songs because one of the features of much of the current writing of "traditional" Irish song writers is their political bite and satire, a tradition which goes back to 17th century Gaelic writing, with which I am sure the Minister is familiar. I would hate to see this immensely enjoyable, qualified and productive area of the arts frozen out by a politically correct – in the Minister's own party terms – traditional arts council.

I am reminded of my experience in the anti-apartheid movement in the days before the situation in South Africa changed. One of the features of those days was the creation of councils of traditional this and that, which were not good at bringing the past into relevance to the future. I hope the Minister will think carefully about the kind of one-size-fits-all body he is attempting to establish.

There is a wealth of traditional arts activity in south Armagh, for example. I am sure the Minister is familiar with the works of people like Fintan Vallelly. If we retain a narrow concept of a traditional arts council, is the work of such people in documenting, recording and relating contemporary work to our cultural history to be included in the concept of the traditional arts council? There will be an opportunity for the Opposition to address these issues again on Committee Stage.

To what extent have all the practitioners of the so called traditional arts of music, song or dance, the bulk of whom have a highly active contemporary life, been genuinely consulted? Can the Minister give a commitment that in the new dispensation of the traditional arts council these groups, which are spread throughout the country, will be made part of the new structure? When Deputy Michael D. Higgins was Minister with responsibility for the arts he held an open house – a teach fáilte – for everyone who wished to be part of the arts. It is essential that the Minister gives a commitment that this will happen.

May I cite an example with which the Minister may be familiar? In 1998, when we marked the bicentenary of the 1798 rebellion, a huge amount of work was done throughout the country, particularly in the south east and in County Armagh, by people working in Irish song, music and dance in recovering the complex history of 1798 and the lost songs and music which relate to that era and to the figures who led the United Irish movement, which was the genesis of the idea of an Irish Republic. Out of that work has come a vibrant contemporary awareness of the 1798 tradition. Is the Minister satisfied that the people who contributed to that work will be involved in the traditional arts council, or will they even want to be? The council sounds like a council of elders who will keep a politically correct watch over everybody. One cannot do this with the arts. If the arts are to mean anything they must be diverse and that diversity inevitably brings contentiousness. However, it is not for the Government or political parties to make a judgment on that matter. It is for artists to work and to express themselves and for the State to facilitate them in so doing.

As someone who enjoys being educated and has enjoyed the performances of people in this area for a long time, I am deeply concerned at the tenor of the Bill and I look for reassurances from the Minister that this will not be a way of politically managing – perhaps in the Fianna Fáil interest – the traditional arts. To do so would be a travesty.

The Minister's predecessor, Deputy de Valera, produced, like Deputy Michael D. Higgins, much extra funding. Can the Minister reassure us that there will be no partisanship in his approach to the Bill? This area is too important to spoil it with politics. Recent achievements have been so substantial and so enriching of the culture of this island that we must not risk damaging them. I hope the Minister can answer my concerns.

I extend my warmest thanks to the Members who have contributed to Second Stage of this important legislation. The opinions voiced were constructive and we have had a very illuminating and valuable debate so far. At the commencement of the debate, I indicated that I would reflect carefully on the comments of Deputies and I will do this before Committee stage. A number of important issues have been raised and, in responding, I will try to deal with them as specifically as I can.

Some Deputies appear to be concerned that the new configuration of my Department with responsibility for sport and tourism as well as for the arts may have negative implications for the profile and priority that had previously been given to the arts. For example, it was suggested that the needs of the arts might be made subservient to those of the tourism sector. I reassure the House about my position on where the arts fit into the broader scheme of things.

I regard the arts as being crucially important in their own right, for all sorts of reasons. The arts allow participants and audiences to express and nourish their creativity. Artists create beauty, they comment on and interpret the world around them, they criticise, they praise, they mourn what is not and imagine and suggest what might yet be. The arts brighten and enrich our lives, and fundamentally contribute in a very positive way to the development and maintenance of a healthy, rounded society. I would not be prepared to see the arts relegated to a second level of importance, and I assure Members that it will not happen on my watch.

The challenges over the coming years are ones of sustainability and enhancement. These challenges will be all the more difficult against the background of the less favourable economic environment in which we find ourselves. The creation of the Department with its current configuration gives us in addition the opportunity to explore and exploit effective synergy between the arts and other sectors within my remit or else where. Any mutually beneficial symbioses between the arts and tourism, or between the arts and any other sector, can validly be explored without doing injury to the integrity or priority of the arts.

Deputies Deenihan, Lynch, Gogarty, and O'Dowd raised concerns about the independence of the Arts Council, and the implications, in that context, of section 5 which defines my functions as Minister. The Bill as drafted presents no danger to the role of the Arts Council, or to the independence from Government of artistic expression. I sometimes think there is confusion about what is meant by having an independent Arts Council. For me, this means especially that the "arms length" principle is observed both in the decisions to allocate money and in the determination of what qualifies as art. In other words, the Minister nor the Government of the day should not be able to give unfair advantage in the allocation of arts funding, applications for funding should be objectively evaluated by an independent council on the basis of artistic merit without regard to political content or leanings, and no Government should be able to bend artistic expression or comment to its own ends.

However, funding is made available for the arts by the Government and the Oireachtas to the Arts Council. There has been for a number of years a Minister with specific responsibility for the arts. There cannot be a complete removal of the democratic process from the determination of the broad policy framework within which the Arts Council operates. To accept otherwise would bring the concept of autonomy too far and would mean that I was abrogating my responsibilities as Minister.

In that context, it is appropriate and a responsibility for me as Minister to set broad policies for the development of the arts to be implemented through the Arts Council and to be in a position to direct the Arts Council to comply with ministerial or Government policies. This situation is not unique. What arises here is the issue of general direction and prioritisation. There is no question of me or any of my Ministerial successors using, or being able to use, these provisions to seek to influence individual funding decisions. The Bill will, for the first time, in section 24 (2), give statutory protection to the traditional "arms length" independence of the council in the funding of the arts.

Deputy Deenihan also suggested that this Bill is not an Arts Bill but an Arts Council Bill, and Deputy Lynch was critical that the Bill does not mention the welfare of artists. In the main, State funding for the arts is delivered through the Arts Council. What the council does, and how it does it, is crucial to the welfare and development of the arts sector. A major objective of this legislation, therefore, is to establish a good and effective context for the operation of the Arts Council, and if that is done, the rest will flow from it. It should not be forgotten that the council is operating under legislation that dates back to 1951 and 1973, some 50 and 30 years old respectively. The functions set out for the Arts Council in section 9, which include the promotion of knowledge, practice and appreciation of the arts, and the improvement of standards in the arts, will, if effectively discharged, lead to a vibrant arts sector, where the artist is valued and rewarded.

Several of the Deputies, in their contributions to this debate, recognised the important contribution that local authorities can make to the welfare of the arts within their areas. Their contributions also stressed that without funding little can be done. I recognise the importance of funding for arts activities by local authorities, and of funding right across the arts sector. I will give of my best during my time in this office to strengthening the relative profile of the arts for Government, particularly in the context of financial allocations. However, we must be realistic and recognise that, for the immediate future, funds will not be as easily obtained as they were in recent years. However, I will make the strongest possible case for the arts.

The importance of the arts in our education system is accepted by all sides of this House. I have already made clear my belief that for the welfare of the arts, and of children of all ages, attention must be paid to this area. Deputies will understand that the development of the school curricula falls, not within my remit, but within that of another Minister. Time and time again in any debate on the arts its position in the educational system is raised. It is my intention, therefore, to initiate discussions with the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Noel Dempsey, to explore how the expertise of my Department and the Arts Council can be better used so that the experience of the arts given to our school children at all levels might be enhanced.

Several Deputies expressed concern about the smaller size proposed for the Arts Council. Much of the debate on this matter has focused on perceptions with regard to representation. We must be careful about this issue and I would be concerned if this principle was carried to a stage where representatives of individual disciplines saw their role as being to look after their own art form, rather than taking a broader view. It must also be recognised that it will never be possible to represent everybody on the council. It is possible for a smaller council of carefully chosen people to properly balance treatment of different art forms and regions.

There has been much debate as to whether there should be a committee of the Arts Council dealing with the traditional arts. It should be pointed out that my predecessor became involved in a great degree of consultation and the debate in this House reflected the differences of opinion which existed in that consultative process. Whether this is justified or not, some people feel the traditional arts sector has been treated less well than it deserves.

Arguments have been advanced for either a new and separate council for the traditional arts, or the ring-fencing for the traditional arts of a substantial portion of the Arts Council's funds. Others have argued against these suggestions on the basis that it would be inappropriate to isolate from the remit of the Arts Council any particular art form or set of art forms. It has been suggested that the arm's length principle is potentially an uneasy bedfellow for the concept of ring-fencing.

The Arts Bill, 2002 reflects an effort to strike an acceptable balance by requiring the Arts Council to establish a standing committee on the traditional arts, charged with making recommendations to the council in relation to the advance of moneys to those involved in the traditional arts. There are differing views on this matter, but I have made clear on a number of occasions that I intend to listen carefully to the views of all participants in the debate. In this context, I wish to add that I plan to take particular notice of the opinions of Members of the House on this subject. Although I do not intend to ignore the views that have been expressed, I have an obligation to strike a balance and I intend to do so to the best of my ability. I have said on many occasions that it is of immense importance to me that we ensure that genius is encouraged. In that respect, it has to be recognised that not everyone can be a genius. It is a fact that geniuses are in a minority.

The Minister is being modest.

The Minister should not be modest.

Deputy Brennan thinks that I am being unduly modest, but he can hardly expect me to admit to anything else in the House.

We will make allowances.

The Minister shows his genius in other ways.

The Arts Council's function is to foster genius, where possible, to ensure that other people's lives are enriched. Deputy Deenihan is the holder of five all-Ireland senior football medals. I recall once sharing a train carriage with one of the greatest Gaelic footballers ever to play the game. He asked me whether I thought he would be better off if he had concentrated on his studies, rather than sport. I told him that he would probably be better off in life if he had concentrated on his studies, but that the lives of millions of people, many of whom had never seen him play, would have been lessened if he had not persevered with the game. I am convinced that the man in question made the right decision when he chose to concentrate on football, as it is an art form in itself.

Was he on the Kerry team that stole an all-Ireland from Roscommon?

In that context, I believe art forms should be encouraged. Genius has to be nurtured and encouraged. In tangible and practical terms, this means that it has to be funded for the greater good. We will consider the arguments that have been made in the House and elsewhere in relation to the structure of the Arts Council and the proposed committees. In the final analysis, a Latin maxim best sums up my feelings on the matter:ars gratia artis, art for the sake of art.

Did the Minister have a classical education?

It is almost musical.

Question put and agreed to.