Arts Bill 2002: Report Stage (Resumed).

Debate resumed on amendment No. 21:
In page 5, line 28, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".
–(Deputy Deenihan).

Local authorities will play an important role in the promotion of the arts in the future. In ensuring a fair distribution of resources, local authorities will play an important role in achieving this. I have received a file of various submissions from local authority arts officers throughout the State all of which have one thing in common. This year funding by the Arts Council is reduced because of overall cutbacks and many of them receive little from their local authorities.

I outlined to the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, on Committee Stage the circumstances in County Kerry where we have an active arts officer with an expansive programme but receiving little funding. With the Arts Council grant this year, under the arts plan, €12,000 was allocated while the number of applications was 100. The result was that most successful applicants got €100 each. I opened the exhibition for the Tralee Arts Group who got €100 while it has 40 artists. The art plans in local authorities are underfunded and underresourced. Arts officers throughout the State have their programmes curtailed so they fail to realise their full potential due to underfunding.

This section of the Bill should be stronger. To state the local authority "may" is a weak statement of intent. In section 5(1) of the Bill, it states, "the Minister shall promote the Arts Board inside and outside the State". Why then in section 6(2), does it only state, "a local authority may provide funding"? The Minister has already used the word "shall", which is a stronger and more definite statement. I see no reason this amendment cannot be accepted.

For similar reasons, this section should be quite definite as to the duties we wish a local authority to have. It would not be a major step to change the word "may" to "shall" because it would still leave some discretion for local authorities. We would not be forcing them to act or be tying their hands because section 6(2) states "A local authority may provide such financial or other assistance as it considers appropriate. . . ". Therefore, the local authority would still have discretion as to the amount of financial assistance it would provide for the arts and, as such, there would be no harm in changing the word "may" to "shall".

It is a pity my amendment No. 22 was ruled out of order because in giving local authorities these responsibilities and duties, cognisance should be taken of that by the Minister for Finance, and additional moneys should be provided as a necessary step to allow local authorities to promote and participate in arts programmes.

This morning, I was listening to a radio programme which featured a discussion on tourism in Ireland and how to attract visitors to our shores. Among the key elements identified in that programme were arts and sport. If we are to attract tourists we need to ensure that local authorities play a proper role in promoting the arts and providing the necessary financial assistance to ensure that the public understands, participates in and appreciates the arts locally. If at all possible, standards must be improved so that we can have an appreciation of community based arts that is second to none and is the envy of other countries.

The amendment seeks to place a duty on local authorities to provide some financial assistance for the arts. If the word "may" is left in the section, local authorities may decide it is not appropriate to give such financial assistance due to lack of funds. If the wording was changed, however, they would have to provide a minimum of funding, at least. In the past, the problem was that the first item to be cut from the public purse was the arts and cultural matters.

I support the amendment. The difference between "may" and "shall" in this section could be of immense significance. I will make one point to illustrate that. At the moment, many local authorities are preparing revised city or county development plans. If the word "shall" was inserted in the section, it would mean those drafting such plans in future would have to have a cultural charter to deal with the arts. On the other hand, if the word "may" is left in place, local authorities would be entirely free to leave alone such matters as being residual.

The difficulties for this section in retaining "may" instead of "shall", will flow from section 6(2), which states:

A local authority may provide such financial or other assistance as it considers appropriate to such persons or in respect of such activities, projects or undertakings, for the purposes of–

(a) stimulating public interest in the arts,

(b) promoting knowledge, appreciation and practice of the arts, or

(c) improving standards in the arts, within its functional area.

The section singularly omits any obligation to fund an initiative in the arts. One can create interest in, work on promoting knowledge of, and improve standards in the arts, but one cannot bring the arts into existence as part of a community's or local authority's cultural space. The section reveals the designation of the arts as something separate from people's broader or deeper cultural life. It regards the arts as residual or optional but not central. The only way in which we will see a significant advance on the 1970s legislation, which made it possible for local authorities to fund the arts, is when it becomes normal for a local authority, in drafting, preparing and funding its plans, to consider the arts as being a central element.

In the old days, people in local authorities discussed the provision of housing in terms of pro viding square footage of housing and shelter but they neglected the environment in which people lived. Modern thinking would regard housing estate management, for example, as including ecological space and environmental concerns. We should not continue with the notion that members of local authorities may or may not do a bit for the arts, depending upon their whim and the lobbyists.

The distinction between "may" and "shall" raises further questions about arts officers working for local authorities. The use of the word "shall" in this respect would mean that not only would such posts be included as a normal part of estimates' provision and planning, but it would also give a clearly defined function to arts officers. In the absence of such a defined function, some arts officers report to the secretary of a local authority while others may report to the manager or engineer. The inclusion of the word "shall" would significantly improve current practice. While the amendment represents a minor change of wording, financial provision for the arts should be established as something that is required, and that would be a huge difference. The amendment would not only strengthen this legislation immensely but it would also have a knock-on effect in making adequate provision for other areas. While I am afraid it will take decades to achieve the movement of artistic activity, through creativity, towards the recognition of the right to culture, this amendment would begin to move resources in that direction.

It is not the intention of this section or of the Bill to treat the arts as something residual – quite the opposite, in fact. The intention is to bring centrality to the arts and we will achieve that through this legislation. If one examines the amendment in detail one will realise that it would not achieve the objective which its proponents suggest. For it to have any realistic impact, one would have to specify minimum funding levels. If one does not do so, then it is clear that a local authority which was not serious about its arts plan, could simply allocate a very small amount of money to it.

The amendment as framed merely requires that the local authority concerned would make some allocation but in the absence of specifying a minimum level, it could not have any appreciable impact. It will be clear to Members of the House that there is no way the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government or the Department of Finance would agree to an amendment to the effect that a certain minimum level of funding must be provided in order to implement the arts plan. This does not apply in other areas of activity for any local authority. Obviously, a local authority is dependent on the commercial rates and charges it collects, as well as on Exchequer funding. All allocations are made by local authorities on the basis of what funding they have from year to year. In the cir cumstances, it would not be possible to accept the amendment.

I find it difficult to understand the Minister's stance on this matter. As previous speakers have stated, development plans are being initiated in practically every local authority in the country at present. If this legislation is passed, each local authority will be able to opt out of providing facilities in those plans to develop the arts. This amendment would ensure that each local authority had to provide facilities in the development plan for a proper arts section. We all know that local authorities must put pieces of art on infrastructural developments by the National Roads Authority and many other such organisations. This would add to that in each local authority area and live theatre would benefit. The Minister is not right to say this would mean local authorities would have to put a certain amount of money aside each year to develop the arts. It means they must recognise that they must provide funding for the arts. There is a difference. If we are serious about developing the arts, we must start at local authority level.

This is an ideal opportunity to provide arts facilities. The Bill is being introduced at the right time in terms of local authorities' development plans and it will generate new interest in the arts. An arts officer from Westmeath County Council, who came before the Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, stated that there was a need to recognise the role local authorities must play. This is an ideal opportunity to do that. I support the amendment.

When I asked the Minister on Committee Stage what the difference was between this Bill and the Acts of 1951 and 1973, he said there was special provision for the arts in local authorities. If the Bill is to be meaningful in terms of support for the arts and local authorities, this amendment is essential. As regards the economic value of cultural tourism in County Kerry, for example, it is obvious that places, such as Siamsa Tíre, the national event centre in Killarney and the Writers' Centres in Listowel and Dunquin, are important parts of our tourism industry. The tourism attractions in the county are based on the arts. Last weekend a number of fleánna ceoil were held across the county, including Lixnaw and Brosna.

It is obvious that the Arts Council will not be able to support the large number of organisations across the country, irrespective of how much it gets. The only other source of funding will be local authorities. They must prepare an arts plan. However, there is no point having an arts plan unless the funding is available. I have received correspondence from arts officers in local authorities throughout the country and they are all strapped for cash. They cannot put their programmes in place or plan for the years ahead because they do not know how much funding they will get from the Arts Council or from the local authority. The reduction in the local government fund this year has affected the arts. The first thing to get the chop in local authorities when funding is reduced is the arts and other so-called fringe activities.

The points have been well made by Deputies Ó Snodaigh, Wall and Michael Higgins. The case is clear. If the Minister wants to make this a meaningful Bill and if he feels the difference between this Bill and previous Acts is that it gives a greater role to local authorities, then he must accept the amendment.

I also fail to understand the Minister's argument because the amendment does not set minimum funding levels. As the other Deputies said, it would force local authorities to have a discussion on arts funding every year. When the annual Estimates are being dealt with, local authorities would have to discuss financial and other assistance to deal with stimulating public interest in the arts, promoting knowledge and improving standards. They would then have to set a cost. The people we are talking about are democratically elected. If there was a public desire for the arts to be promoted in an area, the people would know they could go to their councillors and ask, or force them if necessary, to increase the level of funding to develop the arts. We are not tying a local authority to a specific minimum cost, but to a discussion when drawing up the development plans and dealing with the Estimates.

If local authorities examined expenditure on the arts, they would realise the benefits which can be recouped. The more artists are encouraged to put their art on display in an area and the more the public takes an interest in it, the more likely we are to increase the level of tourism. We have a great reputation for the arts and we can enhance it by ensuring it is not only one or two councils which play a pivotal role in arts promotion, but that every council makes it a priority when discussing the annual Estimates. It will be a pity if the Minister does not change it. It will not tie local authorities to a specific minimum cost because they will still have discretion. The Bill states that a local authority may "provide such financial or other assistance as it considers appropriate". If a local authority considered it appropriate to spend €100 or €100 million, it would be answerable to the public.

The local authority will also be answerable if it prepares an arts plan but does not provide any funding. I have already explained why the objective of the amendment cannot be attained, without specifying minimum levels of funding. In section 6 there is a statutory imperative on the local authority to prepare an arts plan. Deputy Ó Snodaigh has made my argument for me. If there is a statutory imperative on a local authority to prepare an arts plan, as provided for in the legislation, it must follow that the local authority would be open to considerable justified criticism if it were to take no action whatsoever on implementing it.

I favour decentralisation of Government; it has even been implied in some quarters that I should open a consultancy on it but I have failed to do so to date. I fully recognise that the local authority network of arts officers is crucial to supporting the arts, particularly in rural areas and I fully accept the arts need to be funded at local level. A number of local authorities do not fund the arts adequately but others do. I visited Mayo recently and I was impressed by the level of activity in towns such as Westport and Castlebar. Local authorities with the will to do the business are doing so and those that do not have the will are not.

From this point on, there will be a statutory obligation on local authorities to produce arts plans and in those circumstances I return to Deputy Ó Snodaigh's point. A local authority that takes no action to implement its own plan would be subjected to a great deal of criticism, not only at political level, but also from the general public and those involved in the sector.

There is no doubt this issue will be raised again in the Seanad and perhaps we will have to revisit it if amendments are made there. The Minister has examined the legislation long and hard, given that the Second Stage debate took place this time last year. Submissions were received in response to the document, Towards a New Framework for the Arts, and the report on them was compiled by Theo Dorgan. The report emphasised local authority arts and a number of contributions viewed a properly funded local authority arts programme as one of the ways forward.

The national spatial strategy is under discussion currently and a similar strategy could be applied to the arts to ensure all communities would be exposed to the arts and would have the opportunity to experience professional drama, music and other art forms. That is the not the case at present. People in many local authority areas are completely deprived of the opportunity to enjoy various art forms. When I hear about the arts provision in a number of local authorities, I feel great sympathy for those who live in those areas and have a great interest in the arts as they must travel long distances to enjoy simple events such as plays or concerts.

The Minister was a councillor and his family has a close association with the local authority in Kerry. I appeal to him to explore the immense opportunities presented by the local authority structure for the provision and promotion of the arts. Local authorities are rooted in communities and provide a great opportunity in this regard. We must cease looking to the Arts Council in Merrion Square as the solution to all the prob lems in the arts. Other possibilities exist, of which the local authority structure is one.

Every local authority should have an arts officer but I do not know whether the Minster can enshrine that provision in the legislation. There should be an obligation on all local authorities to appoint an arts officer. Tight budgetary constraints will be imposed on local authorities again next year and a number of them might examine the position of their arts officers if their contracts come up for renewal because arts officers are employed on a temporary basis in many cases.

This is another aspect of the local authority arts issue that the Minister could examine. The Minister will not accept the amendment. We have had a good discussion and have made a number of points regarding the importance of local authorities and the arts. I hope the Minister will take seriously the views expressed. I also hope that over his term in office he will give as much support as possible to local authority arts officers in order that they can implement their arts plan and that he will be mindful of the positive contribution local authorities can make to the arts.

Question, "That the word proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment No. 22 not moved.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 6, to delete lines 32 to 35.

The arm's length principle has always been accepted by various Governments and Taoisigh since the introduction of the first Arts Bill in 1951. The principle was emphasised by a number of Taoisigh on several occasions, including Mr. Charles Haughey, who was regarded as a great patron of the arts. I quoted him extensively on Committee Stage to support my argument that this principle should prevail.

State support is needed for the arts, not State control. The Arts Council should not be seen as an arm of the Government or as an instrument of Government policy. Aspects of this legislation could lead to a diminution of the arm's length principle and the independence of the Arts Council. It is popular to be critical of the council and it is easy to blame the council for everything.

On the other hand I have been disappointed with Arts Council funding. I am involved in a large number of organisations in my constituency, some of which applied to the Arts Council for funding. For example, Listowel Writers' Centre, which is an important institution in Kerry, did not get any funding. As a director of that centre, I am very disappointed that we have not received funding from anyone. We must survive on the income we generate there. Such an important centre, which puts on exhibitions on the works of writers such as John B. Keane, Brian McMahon, Brendan Kennelly, should have had funding, but it did not.

I know the Minister has a provision here that the arm's length principle will prevail as regards the allocation of grants, but section 9(1)(e) gives fairly strong powers to the Minister and a Minister – I am not saying the present Minister – could certainly abuse the power this subparagraph would give him or her. That is why it should be deleted.

The Minister has stated that he, as Minister, has a responsibility to ensure that he can direct the Arts Council in certain ways other than in providing grants. The respect for the Arts Council, which has been built up over the years, should prevail, and this subparagraph, and other parts of the Bill, will endanger that principle in the future.

On Second Stage I mentioned that in the 20th century Governments in other countries used the arts and artists to serve their own ends. For instance, in Germany, one of the first sections of societies to be exploited by Hitler was the arts area. That is probably an extreme example but it was referred to in the Dorgan report, that where there is serious Government involvement with the Arts Council in directing the arts it could be used for the wrong purposes.

For the reasons I outlined, here and on Second and Committee Stages, the Bill would be better, as regards ensuring the protection of the integrity of the independence of the Arts Council, if this subparagraph was removed.

I want to make a few points on this principle of deletion. Before I do so, this is perhaps the first opportunity I have had of wishing the Minister well in everything he is doing in the arts, and I do so sincerely.

As a former Minister with some responsibilities in the area, in a broader area which then included culture, I was very much in favour of the arm's length principle. I should also state that, in fairness to those who advised me, I had one adviser, Colm Ó Briain, who was a former director of the Arts Council, who was even more enthusiastically in favour of the arm's length principle, and very vigorously so.

In proposing this deletion, the case has been built by Deputy Deenihan around the principle that there is an arm's length between the Minister and the Council. Whoever the Minister is, this distance is important. Those who practice the arts – we have had a long history of people who practice different kinds of the arts in different circumstances in Ireland – should always be creatively troublesome to whoever is the Minister or to the Department concerned. That is the way the arts develop.

What I have a real problem about is in this entire section of the Bill, but I am sticking to the words in front of us, the proposed deletion of five lines. My problem about it is that there is a philosophical assumption here which, I am afraid, I must reject outright. I agree there are people who can take a totally different view on it.

When I was Minister, the whole purpose of it being a Department of culture was that it accepted access. It accepted the normalcy and centrality of creativity as a normal part of life. This was built about the Benson report of 1979, with its emphasis on access and creativity being defined socially as opposed to a narrower, more elitist version of the arts in which one defined practice within the arts in terms of standards and so forth. There was a nonsensical and false divide between those, for example, who for a long period, in different Governments, set up a tension between what they saw was the democratic community arts tendency and those who said they were defending standards in the arts. The problem about all of that was one could get excellence and one could get access.

However, when I read subparagraphs (a),(b),(c) and (d), for example, subparagraph (a), to “stimulate public interest in the arts,”, the assumption is that the arts are outside of the person, outside of the society and outside of the community. To “promote knowledge, appreciation and practice of the arts,” is a suggestion that the only thing standing there are barriers of ignorance. The reality is the arts are not separate from the person; every person is potentially creative.

Therefore I am being straight about this. This kind of thinking and language is a rejection of everything that was in the Benson report, the most important report on the arts practice, access and creativity in the history of the State. Section 9(1)(c) states to “assist in improving standards in the arts,”, but there is a huge problem about the arrival of new forms of art, which include innovation in the arts.

Then the section moves on to (d), to “advise the Minister in relation to the performance of any of his or her functions under this Act, when so requested by the Minister,”. This will arise in section 10. I will speak on section 10, but I just want to state that in that important section, the conditions under which we allow artists here to function are outrageous. No artist practising here, including all of the actors, would qualify for social housing. None of them would qualify for any one of the housing schemes in the local authorities on the basis of income. Most go into employment exchanges, where they cannot describe themselves as “an unemployed actor”. Few have pension provisions and many have no health provisions. I will return to the deletion in a moment, but I discussed this once with another person who was interested in the arts, former Taoiseach, Charles J. Haughey, who had made some changes that were of benefit to artists but who, when I suggested a pension scheme for the artists, said to me, “Why do you want to draw them on you? Look all I did for them and the thanks I got.” The fact is we will talk about this on the next section, if the Chair likes, but on the position on this amendment the Arts Council, if it was serious, should be out there making the case I have just made.

Does the Arts Council exist to "assist the Minister in the performance of his or her functions under this Act"– that is fine –"and in the implementation of Government policies . . . "? However, if Government policies ignore such examples as I have just given, the subparagraph I quote is an invitation to the Arts Council to be complicit in ignoring a fundamental necessary provision for the role of the artist.

As a former Minister, I repeat that I wish I could have been able to do more, but that is not the issue. The issue is that very often when we are talking in this way, we are patronising the arts and patronising the population, and are not speaking about access, and we are doing nothing for the position of the artist. Equity, the actors' group, came to me 30 years ago making a case on the position of actors and actresses, but it is part of the decorative view of the arts. If we do not care about it, and about unemployment, bad health, bad housing and unpaid ESB bills of performing artists, we have been getting it all on the cheap. We have been living off the sweat of people to whom we do not afford minimal working conditions. That is the truth of the matter.

The Arts Council should be free to speak to the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, to go to his colleague, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, and to the Department of Finance to address these issues as they arise in the next session. The Bill states that the function of the Arts Council is "to assist the Minister in the performance of any of his or her functions and the implementation of Government policies and objectives in relation to the arts". I am sure the present Minister is more than adequate in the performance of his functions. The question of what these are will arise a thousand times. Does this mean complicity in the omissions in policy? Does it mean endorsement of the policy? The Bill states: "When so requested by the Minister". I did not interfere with the Arts Council in my time and other Ministers of other parties in other Governments did not, to my knowledge, try to use their influence. I am not suggesting it would be automatic; it is a bad principle. Autonomy is everything in relation to the Arts Council.

The Arts Council is at its best when it is doing more than operating. It is not its problem to manage the arts, it is not its problem to only promote interest in or of the arts. The Arts Council is there in the two previous Acts to look after the artistic space of the community and that, believe it or not, includes artists. It is time we heard from them about artists, for example, in relation to the facilities that are being run and funded. I have authority to speak on that subject because it was in my time that all the different theatres and arts facilities were established. The operation of those facilities and the relationship with local authorities is not only one of competent management in the normal sense of management, it is to bring into existence a new theory of management that takes account of the fact that the people who work in them are artists and creative people. It should have by now led to a whole new philosophy of management of the artistic spaces. That requires distance from Government, whoever is in government. It also requires the notion of different forms of the arts that are experiencing difficulty in coming into existence.

Before I am lectured by anybody, nobody is in a position to lecture in a country that in the first legislation did not include dance as an artistic activity – it was just left out – or where there is not much reference to the manner in which we have allowed ourselves to become uniquely deprived of music education. These are all examples of why it is important that the Arts Council should continually draw attention to the needs of artists, the value of arts and the value of the cultural space, its enrichment and normalcy. The council should continually make demands on Government and highlight what is being neglected. It is stated that the role of the Arts Council is the implementation of Government policies and objectives in relation to the arts. I can put the net issue in two sentences. That can never be the limited agenda of any self-respecting arts council. I will deal with the question of composition later. This may work for other kinds of activities but it makes a nonsense of the nature of an arts council.

This is an area which may be more suitable to the use of the word "may" in that the general function of the council may be to assist the Minister whereas the use of the word "shall" ties the Arts Council to the future diversion of financial and other resources to dealing with the Minister, facilitating the Minister's performance under the Act and the implementation of Government policies. That is a job for the Department rather than the Arts Council. I support this amendment. If it was phrased that the council "may" assist the Minister, it would allow it to decide how best to use its resources and what would be the best return for the artists and those affected by the Bill.

The arguments being put forward in relation to this issue are greatly exaggerated. Connotations of Hitler and a latter-day Goebbels are something which I regret. My party's political philosophy is very far removed from fascism, and Deputy Deenihan can speak for his own party in due course regarding the same matter, from an historical perspective at least.

I was quoting from the report.

Since becoming Minister I have sought to ensure that the door of the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism is open so that the wind of change could sweep through it. I have sought genuinely to do that and it is not my intention to stifle the artistic endeavour or creativity of what is a very imaginative generation.

This provision was replicated to a large degree in 1951 when a section in the legislation provided that the council could advise the Government on relevant matters. I am seeking to ensure that the council will have the opportunity of advising the Government. It would be a mistake on my part to close off the resource which is surely available to the Government if the Arts Council can provide the kind of advice and assistance which is required. If the Government cannot rely on the Arts Council, its own statutory body, to advise it, then to whom should it turn? I have stated many times to Deputy Deenihan in this House and in committee that there is no question of the arms-length principle being interfered with. It was never enshrined in legislation. It is a good custom and a good practice. I have stated consistently that funding decisions will be made by the Arts Councilsui juris and I have not sought, under any circumstances, to ensure that it would be subjected to any diktat of Government or of anybody else in that respect.

I accept the argument of Deputy Michael D. Higgins, who was a distinguished predecessor of mine, in relation to the penury of people involved in the arts sector. Deputy Higgins has made a telling point and he is correct in what he says. However, I must point out that I am not forming a trade union in this legislation – were I forming a trade union I would naturally make the arguments which Deputy Higgins has made. I am seeking to provide functions for the Arts Council. If one looks at the lists which I have outlined in section 9 in regard to the functions of the council, one will realise that the functions are quite ambitious and appropriate, and almost as exhaustive as one could make it in the circumstances.

It is important to state that other Departments clearly impinge upon the artist. It is very important that the Department of Social and Family Affairs deals with each individual's entitlement, but I do not think that Deputy Higgins is suggesting – nor would he, I am sure – that I could enter some form of social welfare provision into legislation of this kind. It is simply something which I could not possibly do.

With regard to the definition of the arts, I know Deputy Higgins will welcome the fact that this legislation recognises dance in the definition of the arts for the first time in the history of the State. His argument regarding dance is well made.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.