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.