Other Questions.

Promotion of the Arts.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

141 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his Department’s plans for the promotion of the arts, whether directly or through other agencies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10572/04]

The principal agency through which the arts are promoted is the Arts Council. The most fundamental tenet of Government policy is that financial support for the arts is channelled through the Arts Council, which is independent in the context of the disbursement of its funds. This will continue to be the case and I am delighted that I was able to secure an increase in 2004 of 19% on the 2003 figure, bringing the council's allocation in 2004 to €52.5 million. I will, of course, continue to argue the case for the best possible funding for the promotion of the arts.

The areas in which my Department has a more direct role include the provision of grant aid for arts and cultural infrastructure. My Department's access scheme provides for grants of €45.71 million to the promoters of 44 projects around the country. The scheme is designed to lead to the provision of high standard arts and culture infrastructure and covers three strands: new facilities; redevelopment of existing arts and culture facilities; and smaller community based projects. Particular emphasis was placed on community based projects and 17 such projects are among those approved.

This scheme will lead to greater participation in the arts with a greater number of facilities being provided on a broad geographic basis. It is expected that the scheme will also result in the creation of direct and indirect employment in the arts and in the local economy generally. The scheme will lead to the input of almost €58.4 million into arts capital infrastructure, taking into account matching funding being provided by project promoters. The projects range from the provision of new museums and new integrated art centres to the refurbishment of existing performance spaces.

The cultural relations committee advises me on financial assistance for Irish artists and performers who wish to exhibit or perform abroad. An amount of €700,000 is available for distribution this year. I am considering how best to promote the international arts into the future and an examination of the options available is currently under way. The cultural programme associated with the Irish Presidency of the EU, with the festival of Irish art and culture in China taking place this year, are both being managed by my Department and will provide significant opportunities to showcase and promote Irish arts abroad.

In the area of traditional arts, I have arranged for the appointment of a special committee to advise the Arts Council on supports for the traditional arts. This committee is to report to the council by September next.

That is an interesting reply, particularly given that a number of my questions have been refused on the basis that the Minister has no official responsibility to the House. Who initiates policy on the arts? When I put down a question about whether the Minister would meet the promoters of the Anna Livia International Opera Festival, I was again told that the Minister had no responsibility. If the Minister initiates policy — his reply indicates that he does — and if he wishes to promote the most suitable policy, would it not be in the interests of both the Minister and the Arts Council that the Minister meet those who are interested in promoting the various forms of the arts?

My door has been open to meet people involved in the arts and I have met a considerable number of groups and people over the past year and ten months. There can be no question about that.

With regard to policy funding and so forth, there can be no question of the Government being in a position to direct the Arts Council as to who or what it should or should not fund. That would be entirely contrary to the spirit and letter of the Arts Act 2003. There is limited provision in that Act for the Minister to direct the Arts Council to implement Government policy. However, that power was intended to be exercised exceedingly sparingly. It would apply, for example, if there were neglect of the disadvantaged or the disabled or in other such cases. However, neglect of that nature by the Arts Council is not envisaged.

It is the function of the Minister of the day to direct the Arts Council to appoint a special committee to deal with any facet of the arts and for that body to give advice to the Arts Council. However, that is a far cry from the Minister dictating daily policy to the Arts Council.

I am not certain what the Minister means. He has complicated his first reply with his next. Is he suggesting that he does not direct policy but takes policy directives from the Arts Council or does he direct policy?

The Arts Council formulates policy. It decided, for example, that it would not proceed with the third arts plan, 2002-06. That is entirely a decision-——

The council decided.

Yes, the Arts Council decided it.

It was because it was not funded by the Government.

This is an argument the Opposition correctly made during the debate on the Arts Act and I agree with it, that the broad policy of the Arts Council should be a matter for the Arts Council. However, there are specific exceptions to that rule and I have outlined them.

The Minister has no function at all.

The Minister is redundant.

His function is cutting funding.

The Minister has no function and no role to play. Can he get permission from the Arts Council to answer questions in the House?

Order, please. The time for this question is almost exhausted.

Does the Minister have concerns about touring groups being able to visit theatres throughout the country? Many of them are finding it difficult to put on shows. The touring groups are not in a financial position to deal with this problem. Can the Minister do anything to overcome the problems such groups are encountering? We have the facilities but we do not have these touring groups or the paid professions to perform.

During the discussion on the Arts Act it was suggested that there should be a sub-group on education. Given that the best way to market the arts is to start with the youngest age group, has the Minister any thoughts on his Department and the Arts Council co-operating with the Department of Education and Science to ensure the promotion of the arts to children from a young age? Adulthood is not the optimum time to do so.

Questions regarding funding for touring groups and all other artists are matters for the Arts Council alone. As I said earlier, the Minister has no say in that regard. The Minister has power to direct the Arts Council in exceptional circumstances to implement Government policy in one area or another. The Minister also has power to direct the Arts Council to appoint a special committee. In this context, Deputy Keaveney's question is appropriate.

Appointing special committees is a reserved function in the legislation. I directed the Arts Council to appoint a special committee to advise the Arts Council on the traditional arts, with the instruction that it report to the Arts Council by autumn this year at the latest. The Arts Council will be expected to implement the policy of the committee on the traditional arts, which will then be stood down. I have given consideration to a special committee to deal with the issue of education and the arts. It is something in which I have a particular interest because I agree with Deputy Keaveney's sentiment that if young people's creative processes are to be nurtured and encouraged, it should happen at the earliest possible time. The formative years are best.

However, I do not wish to have a number of special committees sitting at the same time as it is preferable to concentrate on one area at a time. Nevertheless, I sincerely hope that in the near future there will be a special committee on education and the arts.

National Stadium.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

142 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if a departmental monitoring team has been appointed to oversee the construction of the proposed national stadium at Lansdowne Road; and, if not, the timescale envisaged for its establishment. [10616/04]

Simon Coveney

Question:

145 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the work schedule for the new stadium at Lansdowne Road, including the possible commencement and completion dates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10629/04]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

160 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the plans that have been finalised for the development of the Landsdowne Road stadium; and the cost and timeframe involved in the proposal. [10570/04]

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

165 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress that has been made by the steering group comprised of representatives of the FAI, the IRFU, the OPW and his Department to oversee the construction of the new national stadium at Lansdowne Road; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10635/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

272 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress in the provision of national stadia with the objective of meeting all foreseeable requirements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10886/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 142, 145, 160, 165 and 272 together.

Preparatory work leading to the construction of a new stadium at Lansdowne Road is already under way. Since the Government's decision of 27 January to support a joint IRFU-FAI proposal to redevelop Lansdowne Road stadium as a 50,000 all seated stadium, my Department has been in regular contact with both the IRFU and the FAI to plan for project implementation.

A steering group has been established to advance the project. Chaired by the Secretary General of my Department, its membership comprises representatives of the IRFU, FAI, my Department and the OPW. Its first formal meeting was held on 23 February with two subsequent meetings held in March. A priority for the steering group is to ensure that all the legal, financial, planning and procurement requirements are met in an efficient and timely manner so actual construction work can get under way at the earliest possible date.

The construction phase is expected to take 29 months and is scheduled to commence in 2006 and to be completed by the end of 2008. The delivery of the project will be the joint responsibility of the IRFU and the FAI which have approved the establishment of a special purpose vehicle to this end. Discussions on the text of a formal grant agreement between my Department on the one hand and the IRFU and FAI on the other are well advanced and I expect them to reach finality in the coming weeks.

I am glad the steering group is up and running, which leads to my next question. How often will the group report back to the Minister and how often will he report to the House on the group's findings? Will there be a half-yearly report on progress? How quickly will any delays be pinpointed? Is there an envelope of funding guaranteed over the period or will subsequent budgets affect the process? Is the funding ring-fenced?

The steering group, under the Secretary General of my Department, Mr. Furlong, will report to me on a very regular basis. Mr. Furlong already reports to me on a regular basis about the ongoing work on the new stadium. Obviously whenever I am required by Members to answer questions about the stadium I will be only too pleased to do so. We have Question Time once a month and I will be quite happy to answer any questions which come up or which are submitted to me in writing.

Deputies will be aware that the time frame for the work seeks the completion of the stadium during 2008. It was anticipated that the special purpose vehicle would be established in 2004 and I have explained that that has been done. We are then to have the appointment of a project leader, project managers and design team, all engaged by the special purpose vehicle. In 2005 I anticipate that the developed scheme will be prepared and the planning application lodged and I anticipate that in 2006 planning permission will be secured, with detailed design prepared and the tender for the work opened. I hope work on construction commences around July 2006 and continues that year and through 2007, with the project being completed in 2008.

The Minister referred to securing planning permission in 2006. Would it be possible to begin negotiations with the local residents to discuss planning concerns? That is what usually delays planning permission. Planning permission can be secured in a matter of months once the design is completed, but that is only if people's concerns are taken on board. The project team should do its best to facilitate everyone. That is very important and those negotiations should begin immediately.

The IRFU has been extremely responsible on this matter, as it has been on everything relating to the stadium. It has already met residents of the Lansdowne Road area to discuss the proposals and obviously an application such as this will be subject to the rigours of the planning process in the same way as any other application. There are no guarantees I can give about objections. All I can say is I hope we can keep to or improve upon the time frame I envisage. However, I do not want to give rise to any false hopes and therefore I have consistently stated that it is my ambition that the stadium would be completed during 2008. I hope this time frame can be adhered to and I am confident that will be the case, but the project will have to go through the planning process in the normal way.

Given the huge implications for the Exchequer of losing international matches in soccer and rugby, has any thought been given to alternative venues for international matches? Has there been any contact between the Minister and the two organisations involved, the IRFU and the FAI, on how this is to be overcome? Surely now is the time to start talking to overcome the problem rather than reaching construction stage in 2006 while still wondering if this massive loss to the Exchequer will occur. I know we have a limited choice of venues but now is the time to address this. The Minister will have my support, my party's support and the support of every Member in trying to overcome this problem, but now is the time to start negotiations on it. What are the Minister's views on this issue?

I omitted to reply to one of Deputy Gogarty's questions. A financial envelope has been put in place for this and the Government has agreed, at current prices, to put up €191 million, with the remainder to be put up by the IRFU and FAI.

Deputy Wall mentioned a replacement venue while the new stadium is under construction, which is obviously a matter of great concern to me. The facts are that construction will take approximately 29 months and it is difficult to say for how long during construction the stadium will be closed completely. However, it is without question that it will be closed completely and people will then ask where international games in particular will be played while Lansdowne Road is closed. I agree with Deputy Wall that that question has to be addressed between now and the anticipated commencement date in 2006.

Arising from the Minister's reply, to what extent will he undertake discussions and negotiations with the various sporting bodies likely to be affected in the event of the new stadium not being completed within the deadline? For example, to what extent will the Minister engage with the various sporting bodies to try to ensure that major games scheduled for Ireland in the intervening period will not have to be played outside the country? To what extent will he engage with all the sporting bodies in order to determine the options which will be available?

It is very important that international games are not played outside the country at any point during the construction phase. It would be a great blow to the morale and prestige of sport in the country if that were to happen and I will engage in as much dialogue and discussion with the major sporting organisations as is humanly possible to see if we can bring about a resolution to that problem. As I say, we have some time within which we can do this, between now and the commencement date in 2006, but there should be no complacency. These fixtures must often be planned far in advance and in fairness to the sporting organisations, it is necessary that they have some indication of what is going to happen. I know they have given this matter some thought already and that the issue has been broached in discussions, though we have not gone into any great detail. Clearly the issue will have to be addressed in far greater detail in the near future.

St. Patrick’s Festival.

Joe Costello

Question:

143 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if adverse media reports concerning public drinking, especially among teenagers, in Dublin city centre on St. Patrick’s Day may be a deterrent to families and visitors enjoying the festivities; the effect such reports may have for the tourism industry during such a significant date in the calendar; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10644/04]

The organisation and promotion of the St. Patrick's Festival is primarily a matter for the St. Patrick's Festival Company, which secures substantial funding through Fáilte Ireland under my Department's Vote. The festival's reputation as a world famous event continues to grow. It attracts huge crowds and is extremely popular, not only with Irish people, who view it as a great source of pride, but also with overseas visitors. The parade generates very favourable international media coverage and it traditionally signals the start of the tourist season. The organisers were generally very pleased with this year's events and considered them very successful. Regrettably, there were some negative media reports on teenage drinking, particularly late on St. Patrick's Day. However, the festival organisers are satisfied that no public order incidents occurred to spoil the parade or the other events organised throughout the week.

Excessive drinking is a concern to us all and the Government has taken a very firm stance on this issue with the introduction last year of legislation. It is the primary objective of every festival or event organiser that visitors to their event, whether local or from overseas, have an enjoyable time. It is unfortunate, therefore, that incidents such as those referred to by the Deputy occurred, particularly as the St. Patrick's Day festival has developed a very good reputation as a family event over the past few years. I hope, therefore, that the scale of such incidents this year was exceptional and will not act as a deterrent to families who want to enjoy the festival atmosphere in the city centre in future years.

The St. Patrick's Day parade in Dublin has gained huge significance in recent years. In rural areas there has been a fall-off in St. Patrick's Day events mainly due to a lack of insurance cover. This is regretted. Many from country areas travel to Dublin for the parade.

Newspaper reports of a group of under age people drinking did not give much confidence to the development of that aspect of the St. Patrick's Day parade. Has the Minister had meetings with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on this aspect of the parade? Has he met the St. Patrick's Day parade committee on the overall effect of the parade and the interest it has generated? I am aware from newspaper reports that Tourism Ireland had a number of representatives from the travel business and media from other countries here. Has a negative report been received from them on what occurred here?

I have not had too many negative reports on the St. Patrick's Day festival. We are all aware of reports of teenage drinking and thuggery. I marched in the London parade in the pouring rain with thousands of expatriate Irish people and others, and neither at that nor at the substantial concert afterwards was there any trouble whatsoever. It is, therefore, disconcerting to return home to find this kind of thuggish behaviour occurs here. Obviously, it is a cause of great concern and of embarrassment, and it is deeply regrettable. In the circumstances I will ask the St. Patrick's Day festival committee to look at the entire question with a view to seeing whether suggestions can be made to improve the position. The festival committee did an exemplary job and is in no way at fault for the actions of a few who only served to smear a tremendous festival. I sincerely hope the committee will be in a position to liaise with the relevant authorities with a view to minimising the possibility of a recurrence of this kind of behaviour on the streets.

What the Minister calls embarrassing behaviour happens all over the country at many festivals. Part of the solution is to give young people a choice of other things to do. A report heading to the Minister's desk shows the benefits of putting more money into sport and art as a deterrent to drink abuse, drugs and so on. Will the Minister commit to giving that report serious attention? Its 12 recommendations, if implemented, would solve the problem of under age drinking at festivals. This is a problem not only at St. Patrick's Day festival but at festivals of all kinds throughout the summer and the entire year. The Minister's Department is one Department that can and should make a difference. Will he commit to giving the report, which will be on his desk in a few weeks' time, serious consideration?

Will the Minister acknowledge the media reports were based on fact, that under age drinking takes place at all major festivals and that it has nothing to do with the good work carried out by the festival committee but rather with Government incompetence, particularly, by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and by the lack of funding provided by the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, to the Minister's Department and to the Minister for Education and Science to encourage young people to get involved in sports and the arts? That is the nub of the issue. Will the Minister raise the matter in the strongest terms with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and stop him spouting off about more prison spaces, to stop the cause of anti-social behaviour and drinking?

Let us be clear about one thing, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I remember introducing legislation to deal with under age drinking, and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, has done the same. There is plenty of legislation. There are plenty of places where fellows can kick a ball around if they wish rather than running around the street half drunk.

They do not all kick ball.

It is about time we had some straight talking. One can put in so much legislation, and we have done that, and the Garda can be asked to do so much, and we have done that. It is time for certain people to start behaving as if they were adults.

There are no facilities.

It is time for certain people to take responsibility for their behaviour.

They are 12 year olds.

It is about time people started saying that.

They are not adults.

The Minister did not answer my question. Is he washing his hands of it?

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.