Is there not a debate on this?
Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill 2018: Committee and Remaining Stages
The Deputy can debate the section if he wants to.
We can only speak on the section because amendments have been ruled out of order. It should be noted, although I know there are reasons we are having to short-circuit the normal legislative process on this Bill, that there was no pre-legislative scrutiny and Committee and remaining Stages are being rolled into one. It is a bit unfortunate for me and other Deputies whose amendments were ruled out of order. If there was another debate scheduled, we could have refined those amendments and resubmitted them on the next Stage. Debate on what I consider to be a pretty important issue has been truncated and we are left only with a brief opportunity to talk about what is in the Bill. Section 1 is the substantial section of the Bill, which extends the loan capacity of the Irish Film Board from its current ceiling of €300 million to €500 million, a considerable sum.
No amendments to this section were tabled.
The amendments tabled proposed to create a new section 2 but now that they have been ruled out of order, the only substantial section that we are able to talk to is section 1.
No, all the amendments were to section 2.
My amendment was after section 1 and before section 2, and proposed to create a new section 2.
All right. Go on.
Section 3 is just the citation, is it not?
The substantial section of the Bill is section 1, which spells out the increasing loan capacity. The amendments we hoped to move, which were ruled out of order, provided that there would be a certain conditionality on that. We agree with section 1 but we want conditions put on it. While for the purposes of pressing those conditions, they have been ruled out of order, it is entirely in order to say that the decision of the Dáil to expand the loan capacity of the Irish Film Board should be conditional. I seriously appeal to the Minister and the Department to examine the conditions relating to this significant public funding for the film industry, particularly in the areas of the extent to which the loans and grants that are given out by the Irish Film Board are helping to develop the industry and to create quality employment and training in it. That should be the point of public funding. In 2016, this stream of funding resulted in €12 million being distributed in loans.
It varies from €12 million to €16 million depending on the year. That is a lot of money. In addition, there is the section 481 tax relief that comes via Revenue. I was just at a meeting of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight at which this matter was also discussed. Last year, that tax relief amounted to €100 million. There is €100 million in tax relief and €12 million to €16 million coming through the Irish Film Board. Most of this money goes to approximately 12 film production companies, with the bulk of it going to about seven of those. It is very good that the State is funding the Irish film industry. I want to see more funding for that industry, whether it is via Revenue or through direct grant aid. However, we need to ask what we are getting out of it. At the meeting of Committee on Budgetary Oversight, the representatives from the Parliamentary Budget Office, who are independent people, stated there is a real problem with us evaluating public expenditures. We allocate money every year but we are not so good at scrutinising what we get in return.
In the film industry, what is the result of €300 million of public funding via the Irish Film Board and probably another €1 billion through section 481 tax relief? What tangible results do we get for that level of public investment? Even though most of the money has gone to approximately 12 companies, those companies employ almost nobody. There may be a few administrative positions in some of the bigger ones, but there are no jobs. What film infrastructure does the State own? The answer is almost none. Even though we finance these companies, they have not created any long-term employment and the State owns virtually no infrastructure. That is a problem. I want to see the investment, but where is the net result?
I just came from a meeting of actors and performers which, unfortunately, coincided with this debate and at which the topic is that they are the working poor, living a completely precarious existence. That echoes some of the stuff I heard from the film industry. This is another area of the arts where the performers are saying they are living in dirt poverty. A dancer who is very prominent on the international stage is living on €12,000 a year. She asked what kind of future she has. At the age of 20, 21 or 22, she might have been happy to sustain that for a while, living with six people in a small apartment, but where is her future? The answer is that she has no career progression, which is a problem. For all this public money, there has to be a career progression and some sort of future for people who work in the industry.
Although the amendments have been ruled out of order, I appeal to the Minister. I welcome the great engagement in recent weeks by Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners. I have brought workers in with me to meet officials. That is a great improvement and positive signals are coming from the Government. This is not a criticism of the Government, but we need to address the issue of employment in the industry.
It would be wrong for the film industry to run purely on a for-profit or commercial viability basis because we need to subsidise the arts. However, let us consider the figures for the loans being given out. In 2007 €16 million in loans was given out. The amount recouped from these loans was €1.1 million. The following year €17 million was given out and €1.3 million was recouped. In the year after that €15 million was given out and was €738,000 was recouped. It is pretty much the same picture each year, with less than 10% of the money recouped. A lot of money is being loaned out with very little coming back. One could say that this is acceptable because we need to subsidise the film industry. However, how much are we getting back in tax revenue from the sector? Is that maximised? Much of the employment is precarious, with people being forced to work as contractors, freelancers and so on. They are not getting direct employment and there is resistance from the production companies to employ people directly as PAYE workers. Not only do they face an existence where they do not know from job to job if they have a future in the industry and are very vulnerable, but if they look for their rights, ask for PAYE employment, try to get overtime rates or anything like that, they will be told they will not be coming back for the next production because they have asked about these things. That is bad for them but it is also bad for Revenue because, generally speaking, it would get a considerable amount of money from PAYE employment. The Revenue Commissioners would get a higher yield of tax through PAYE than they tend to get when the whole thing is freelance and self-employed.
We need to link this public funding more closely with creating quality employment and training. The workers need career progression and a properly structured system of training. That training needs to be linked to trainees on productions and not just training in the abstract. The Irish Film Board runs some courses, but what is the relationship between that and trainees working on productions? People are categorised as trainees, but it is never clear when they cease to be a trainee and become a qualified professional.
We can ask the Minister if she can deal with those questions.
I have not finished.
We need to have those things. One way to establish that would be - as I proposed in my amendment - by having a register of employees. If we can find out who is working in the industry, we can then gauge how we are doing. We can then say that we are putting in this amount of money and this is how many jobs we are creating. We can then ascertain if the number is improving year on year; if the quality of that employment is improving; and if the trainees are progressing or if they are trainees for a while and then dropping out of the industry because they cannot survive and have no future. These are things we need.
At one of the meetings I attended with officials from Revenue and the Department of Finance, the workers from the film industry actually showed that in the past there was a register of trainees. There is no longer such a register. We actually had some of these things in the past but we do not have them now. Why is that the case? If we did have them, we could know who the trainees are and could track if they are progressing from production to production so that we are developing the skills base of the industry. This has relevance when we talk about attracting inward investment.
Internationally, film production is ramping up very significantly with organisations such as HBO, Netflix, Amazon and others, but how much of this stuff are we getting? I think we are not getting enough and part of the reason we are not getting enough is that there is not enough stability in the skills pool. When they come here it needs to be clear to that them we have the infrastructure and people skilled in all these areas. However, it is too precarious for the workers. It is also too fragmented in terms of what potential investors might be looking for. We need those registers of employees and we need direct PAYE employment.
This issue was discussed with the officials from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and I know they are looking at it. The Irish Film Board should be expanded. It needs stakeholders from across the industry and not just the producers. Of course, we need producers on the Irish Film Board, but we also need workers on the board and people who will evaluate how the money is being allocated, and the extent to which the State is getting a good return based on criteria such as employment, building up infrastructure and cultural impact.
All of these factors need to be assessed independently and not just by producers. We need to look at issues like potential conflicts of interest whereby producers on the film board are lending money to their own production companies. I am not saying that those producers should not be on the board but we must be very careful about this kind of thing. As I understand it, there was a very substantial revamp of the film board in Britain. The British got rid of their film board and created a film commission which has a much wider industry stakeholder involvement, including workers as well as producers, performers and others.
I hope to hear more from the Minister on this and I also believe that the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection have a role to play in this area. Revenue and the relevant Departments must work together to progress these matters, which would be to the benefit of the entire industry. It would also be very much to the benefit of those who work in the industry to have direct employment and the full application of all of their employment rights, which many would say is not happening currently. It would also help to draw in more investment from some of the big international producers of film and television in the audiovisual sector.
I also submitted an amendment to section 1 which was ruled out of order. My amendment sought to address some of the concerns raised by Deputy Boyd Barrett. The amendment, which should still be accommodated by the Minister, calls on her to produce regulations which would rule out certain work practices and govern terms and conditions of employment in the film industry.
The State has invested an enormous amount of money in this sector. Tax relief is tax forgone which means that the Irish people have not enjoyed that money because it has been invested in the film industry rather than being collected in taxes. What do we have to show for that? What are the consequences and benefits of that? Certainly from an artistic point of view and in terms of our international standing and the films that have been made here, the results are obvious. While terms and conditions of employment and the skill set of those working in the Irish film industry have also improved, we still do not have the register to which Deputy Boyd Barrett referred earlier. As with many other industries, many of those working in the sector have gone overseas. The film sector, like many others, is experiencing a brain drain.
As I have said, we are investing in the sector through both grant aid and tax forgone. In that context, we need to be sure that the Irish taxpayer and this Parliament are getting a bang for our buck and I do not just mean getting international exposure because we have contributed to the production of a very good film and to the enjoyment of millions who watch it. We also need to see the industry achieve sustainability. When I was first elected, I was lobbied very heavily in 2004 on section 481. The lobbying campaign was absolutely brilliant in its execution. Those working in the industry as well as their family members were involved in writing individual letters. It was not like the campaigns we see nowadays, with the same email sent multiple times. The letters were from individuals and their families who appealed to Deputies to retain the aforementioned section 481 tax relief in order to keep themselves, their brothers, uncles and so on in employment. I had absolutely no problem with that at the time and I still have no problem with it. However, 14 years later it is hard to stand over the benefits since then. There is no State-owned infrastructure as a result of this investment. We do not have terms and conditions of employment here that would be considered second to none in the film industry. Indeed, we lag very far behind in that regard. Quality employment is not being created and quality training is not being provided. Certainly, new workplaces and new film studios are being developed but they are not State owned.
I raised the issue of continuity of employment when we last discussed the film industry. It is not too difficult to know what film is coming next. While there will always be some sort of gap in terms of when people with different levels of expertise are required on a film set or in film production, it should be relatively easy to work out how many people are working at a given point in time. What we have seen is people being counted twice or three times over the course of a year so that the figures for employment in the industry are inflated. Figures are often announced by Fís Éireann or the Department which are exaggerated. That is not the fault of Fís Éireann or the Department which are getting these figures from the industry. The figures should come with a caveat because some people will work for two months on one film set, for three months on another and for six on a third set.
These are matter which should have been dealt with in this Bill. My amendment has been ruled out of order because it has been deemed to be unrelated to the aims of this Bill. However, it is related because if we are jumping from an allowable spend of €300 million to €500 million, we should be able to attach caveats or rules to that. That is what we tried to do with our amendments. We also raised these matters during the Second Stage debate. We know what Fís Éireann or Screen Ireland spends. That is clear and is increasing, which I welcome. However, we have not seen problems in the industry being addressed and if they were addressed, we might not even need amendments to legislation. In my amendment, I was trying to give the Minister some leeway in allowing her to introduce regulations. As with other similar legislation, the Minister would be making regulations. That said, I would prefer that any regulations would be presented to the relevant Oireachtas committee before being signed off. In this instance, given the short period of time involved and the lack of pre-legislative scrutiny, we did not have a detailed discussion on this. I also did not want to delay the Bill unnecessarily.
The funding of films here is done by way of the creation of special purpose vehicles which, of itself, can create problems. I have already mentioned the fact that many jobs in the industry are precarious. People are given work for a week here and a week there. If they raise any concerns or complaints, they are guaranteed that not only will they be put off the set on which they are currently working, but that they will not get work on another set and in some cases, they will not work on a film set in Ireland ever again. People might be trying to look out for colleagues on a film set. They might raise matters related to bullying or ask about compensation for working over and above hours for which they are contracted to work or for which no advance notice was given. A lot of people to whom I have spoken have said that at some points in their careers, they were almost expected to work for nothing. We are all aware of the scandals related to unpaid internships in the past. Employment in the industry is precarious with many people on zero hour contracts.
That ties in with the need for greater liaison among the Minister, the Department, Fís Éireann and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to ensure people who work in an industry from which we all benefit have some type of a financial net between periods of employment in the film industry.
There are a number of other issues which need to be considered. Will the Minister give an undertaking to return to the issue of films? We will not oppose the legislation at this point but there are concerns, and we need some indication at some stage that she will seriously address the concerns that have been raised with me and other Deputies, whether through regulation or other legislation, to ensure this industry is properly regulated? We have similarly asked in the Chamber for other industries to be properly regulated in order that there is not abuse and that there is some mechanism of redress, which does not now exist.
The Minister raised the point that a worker can be blacklisted in the film industry. When workers come forward to Deputies as whistleblowers, they do not want their names mentioned in the House for fear of losing the job in which they have spent many years working and gaining expertise. In some cases, these people are the best in the industry, yet they fear for their job even though there might not be anyone who can match them in this jurisdiction or on many others. They fear for their job because it is precarious employment.
We have a reputation for being favourable to art, artists and those working in the arts. That reputation is generally justified but not in regard to the concerns I have raised.
I will not take long because I covered many of the points I wished to make when I spoke on the Bill last Thursday. It is regrettable that amendments which could have had a positive impact on the industry have been ruled out of order. Whatever about the increase in the loan capacity from €300 million to €500 million, the extension of section 481 and the increase to €100 million in the maximum tax relief for the film industry, the promotion of equality and fair employment within the industry was attached to the introduction of those measures. Equality and fair employment is provided for by the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2003 or the Organisation of Working Time Act, but the Acts are not having the desired effect.
As I explained last Thursday, I have spoken with workers in the industry who have worked in it for 20 years. These workers were on registered lists of employees or trainees when they entered the industry. They have seen the way the industry has gone over the past 14 or 15 years. They are not mad, agitators or difficult people. Rather, they are trying to ensure the job in which they work gives them the money to at least pay mortgages, bills, for their children's upbringing, food to put on the table and for all the things that are expected. Section 481 is supposed to ensure equality and fair employment within the industry, but we are not seeing it. Surely the best way to approach this is to provide for regulations attached to the section to examine registers of employees, trainees and apprenticeships in order that they can be checked against the figures that the industry claims.
I support the amendments, in particular, Deputy Boyd Barrett's amendment, which provides for the reconfiguring and expansion of the board of Screen Ireland to include workers representing various parts of the industry, such as actors and people work with props or in production. It is important the Minister produces the report outlined in the amendment.
Section 481 requires employers to ensure equality and fair employment in order to be eligible to receive the €100 million but if there are no checks on how it is working, it is a failure of the Oireachtas and the Government. If it is the case that there is equality and fair employment, where are the people and where are they on the list? Do they work full time, pay PAYE and provide money to the Exchequer through their taxes?
I do not wish to obstruct in any way the passage of the Bill, but in the context of shortly proceeding to Report Stage, I demand the Minister consider the three amendments before her. Two of the amendments are related to reports, while mine proposes that a committee be established under the aegis of the board. The creation of a committee is in order because the Title of the legislation is the Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill. It is perfectly in order, therefore, to amend the Irish Film Board for a purpose with which the Minister probably agrees, namely, to ensure that the way in which the Irish Film Board carries out its work includes a committee to provide insight into and oversight of the terms and conditions under which people work in the industry. It is also important to consider the training provided in respect of the industry, as we discussed in a previous session. Some of it is provided at third level or used to be provided at FETAC level, and much of it is done in public educational facilities to degree or master's standard. It attracts a significant number of students every year. By discussing the amendment I tabled on behalf of the Labour Party, I intend to give the Minister breathing space for an amendment, which is perfectly in order.
I am reluctant to intervene but we may not discuss an amendment that is not in order. It was not ruled out by the Minister but by me on advice from the Bills Office, specifically because the Deputy proposed the establishment of a committee, which has the potential to impose a charge on the Revenue. As someone who has been a Member for some time, the Deputy will be well aware that it is not open to an Opposition Deputy to make such a proposal.
Yes, but the Ceann Comhairle will agree that in all the different boards which our State has established since its foundation many years ago, boards which are established have committees of the boards and they are recognised and acknowledged because our Constitution says workers have rights to organise and to be protected. When I was Tánaiste and Fine Gael was in government, it agreed at my request to introduce and advance the issue of workers' rights through registered employment agreements and the establishment of a pay commission to ensure fair pay, protection of the minimum wage and a movement to a living wage. Those are all facts and Fine Gael signed up to them. On its own, however, Fine Gael seems to have backtracked and reneged on the notion of protecting workers' rights. That is reflected in our Constitution and in our laws through various structures established by the State.
This is another State board and as with other State boards, it has the inherent capacity, with the agreement of the Minister and the Department, to provide mechanisms, committees and subcommittees of a board that are a standard feature of State boards and to allow for the proper regulation of employment conditions and the proper examination of the appropriateness of training and education for the industry.
This is important for two reasons. We want young, creative people to be trained and educated to work in this industry. Many of them are not just creative but they have a great love for and interest in the industry. They may be writers of screenplays, actors or technical people working in the support of production. What I have put forward is perfectly legitimate. We heard much talk the last day, and we have heard comments at committees, that there is much difficulty and strife in the industry. The industry has, as a consequence, ended up with a difficult reputation in some countries.
It is the responsibility of the Minister to assist the industry. In a way, the Minister is doing this by increasing the loan capacity of the board, which I support and do not wish to obstruct. I am offering, as a person with much of experience of Government and of different Departments, a mechanism to her which will allow her and her officials to offer leadership in addressing what is clearly a problem in the regulation of the sector, in particular in regard to the terms and conditions of employment that apply in it. It is as simple as that. The Minister would be doing a very significant thing for the progress and viability of the industry. It is a global industry and we are competing against many other countries for this highly regarded and valuable enterprise. We are prepared to support it with significant State funding, both directly, although that is not under discussion in the context of this Bill, and by the provision of loans to allow films to be made. I do not understand why the Minister would resort to creating a financial barrier in this regard.
The other issue in this industry, which has been covered worldwide and which was referred to in the Labour Party amendment, relates to providing a mechanism to address practices relating to gender pay equality in the industry. The Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, and Fine Gael supported as recently as last week. The Minister should not tell me she is not aware of serious difficulties in gender pay equality for women in the industry in Ireland and globally because almost everyone who is prominent in the industry has spoken about it in recent times.
This House has been debating, as has the Seanad, the fact that in this 100th anniversary of votes for women, support for gender pay equality. That is the wish of the people as well. On the 100th anniversary of votes for women, the Minister, as a woman in this Department, should provide the structures whereby gender pay parity in this industry could be both examined and progressed. It is very simple.
I have not asked the Minister for a detailed report, as the other amendments have, because if she established a committee within the remit of the board, she could address a series of questions which would enable the Department to look at the proper development of the industry alongside the existing supports provided. This would ensure that women get proper opportunities and that they get pay parity and, ultimately, respect in the industry. When talking about women's issues, these are the very views the Minister has expressed and supported.
There are other structures in Ireland, which the Minister and the board can consult, such as Quality and Qualifications Ireland. In the private sector of education and training, as I am sure the Minister and her officials are fully aware, a lot of fees are being paid and it is reasonable that students would know that the courses they and their parents are paying for are quality courses that will enable them to get employment in Ireland and abroad, if that is what they wish.
We are looking at a sustainable film industry. I refer to when Yeats and Lady Gregory established the Abbey Theatre. Some of the earliest archival material that is available relates to early film. When Joyce was writing in Dublin, as the Minister is aware, he also had an interest in a cinema on Talbot Street, the Volta, if memory serves me correctly. When one looks at the greats of Irish literature and theatre, all of them professed a very strong interest in what was the whole area of cinema.
"The Quiet Man" is still shown on a rainy day in Connemara and it is still very recognisable to anyone interested in the history of film in Ireland. Moving on to the more recent films, we can see some of the extraordinarily talented people that this country has produced. Let us support and endorse that creativity by examining and ensuring that, as far as possible, a fair regime is established which allows for proper training and qualification, for appropriate experience and which looks at the regulation of employment contracts, salaries, pay and conditions.
Everybody is aware that the film industry is based on films, so in essence it is project-based for the period of time that it takes each film to be made. I am really disappointed in this regard. On the two reports, the late Brian Lenihan, as Minister for Finance, agreed to my request that reports be allowed on the Finance Acts, a much more difficult area than this area of film where we are all largely in agreement. However, somebody in the Bills Office has kiboshed this. We know that the Bills Office and the Department contact each other.
Has the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, a point to make?
The Deputy has the floor.
I thank the Minister of State. I can almost hear his sighs. Maybe he is just being a bit of an actor.
The Deputy should keep going for another 30 minutes, perhaps.
I thank the Minister of State.
I ask the Deputy to proceed, please.
The Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, frequently seems to have a problem when people like myself speak. That is his problem not mine.
Can the Minister tell us what she proposes to do for the industry and whether she proposes to address what everybody knows is a difficulty in the industry? Unless it is addressed by a mechanism which has been offered to her, it will continue to damage Ireland's reputation.
We all want the issue to be settled in a fair and reasonable manner, and the way to do that is to bring people in the industry together so that we can work out a fair and appropriate structure for the industry. The industry and the people who work in it will benefit from that and it will also, in turn, mean that it will be possible for the State ultimately to give more support and recognition to it and to make this country a significant hub on a global scale for the industry.
I thank all the Deputies for their comments, including Deputies Boyd Barrett, Joan Collins, Ó Snodaigh and Burton. I did not have time to mention Deputy Joan Collins last week, but I thank her for her contribution.
The amendments were ruled out of order on the basis that they dealt with subject matter unconnected to the Bill. I wish to make clear that the committee itself decided not to go ahead with pre-legislative scrutiny. It informed the Department of the decision on 18 October. That is the reason we are here in the Dáil today. There was no conspiracy in that regard.
In any event, this should be a straightforward Bill. It is a simple Bill to increase, subject to the normal Estimates and budgetary process, the limit for the cumulative capital expenditure of Screen Ireland, Fís Éireann, from €300 million to €500 million. There is an increase of 14% in 2019 to Fís Éireann, increasing its allocation to €20.4 million and there was an increase of €2 million in funding to Screen Ireland this year as well.
I will respond to some of the points that have arisen. In general, there is a ten-year action plan for the audiovisual sector and, under the plan, a steering group will oversee the €200 million investment of taxpayers' money, which is targeted at this sector in the national development plan. It will also examine funding models, regulatory reform and other supports in addition to general oversight.
Deputies Boyd Barrett, Burton, Ó Snodaigh and Joan Collins mentioned training. Earlier this year Screen Ireland set up a sub-committee of its board to oversee training. It also employed a new director of its training division, Screen Skills Ireland. In the Government's audiovisual action plan, which was published last June, there were a significant number of recommendations and actions to be undertaken in the training area, including the matching of skills with production growth and partnering with third level institutions in skills development. Reference was made to the unrest in the film industry. I am acutely aware of that and I would welcome any suggestions from Deputies on a way to remedy it. There are issues of inter-union rivalry currently, which are stymying any progress and it is very important that we get to the bottom of them. It is unseemly to have worker representatives at loggerheads with each other on these matters. Some Deputies are aware that officials from my Department are available to meet with all industry stakeholders and they do so. Last year, the international consultants, Olsberg SPI, with Nordicity, carried out 90 separate consultations, evaluated 180 data sources and collected data through surveys for their report.
Several contributions related to section 481. This section excludes broadcasters from applying for the tax relief in their own right and a broadcaster has to partner with an Irish company to qualify for the relief. A company must also have a record of being in the jurisdiction for 21 months to be paid relief. That is not an unreasonable provision because it acts to protect the taxpayer. To obtain tax relief under section 481, each producer company is required to provide proposals to my Department on its planned training to fulfil its requirement under section 481. The producer company must provide those in its application for the tax relief in advance of the project. The Department can accept the proposals or request changes. To monitor the provision of training, each producer company is required to provide a return to the Department on training within four months of the completion of the project. The return must include the trainee name, the training role, the mentor role, the period of training and the amount of compensation paid to the trainee. The information provided to my Department is for the purposes of monitoring compliance with the conditions of the award of tax relief under section 481 of the Act. It contains significant personal information as well, which is subject to data protection requirements, and it cannot be universally disseminated.
With regard to legal protections for workers in the film industry, it is important to note that employees in every industry and sector are entitled to all existing legal protections. As Members will be aware, legislation is being introduced by my colleague, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection. The Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 should improve the insecurity and unpredictability of working hours for employees on insecure contracts and those working variable hours. Employment law in general should also have a role to play in terms of existing legal protections. There are also institutions for reporting abuse of employment legislation. I am satisfied that the industry works in general to a high standard. My Department is working with all partners to ensure that all sectors of the industry comply with their obligations.
I mentioned the audiovisual action plan that I launched last June. There is a steering group to implement the plan. This is a whole-of-Government approach to the audiovisual industry. Deputy Burton mentioned female representation in the film industry. Screen Ireland has committed to address gender inequality in Irish film-making. Screen Ireland is doing all it can to work towards achieving the target of 50:50 gender parity by 2020 in creative talent working in screen content. There has been a significant increase of 62% in applications received from female talent and an 82% increase in funding awards for female talent in 2018 in comparison to the 2017 figures.
Deputies Ó Snodaigh, Boyd Barrett, Burton and Joan Collins referred to people working in the film industry in general. My Department has published additional information on its website, which is now available on the audiovisual sector, in the form of a technical annexe to the audiovisual report. As I mentioned earlier, there were 90 separate consultations. We must ensure that all the information is taken into account.
The promotion of the Irish film industry in general is the responsibility of Screen Ireland, which was formerly the Irish Film Board. It is fair to say that it has undergone major change and development both domestically and internationally in recent years. It has a vision for a vibrant, creative, and sustainable Irish film, television and animation industry with diverse voices, talent and opportunities. It promotes Irish film and animation in a number of A-list international festivals and markets, as well as promoting Ireland as the location for internationally mobile film production. The overall audiovisual action plan was launched last June and the key points of the plan include the extension of section 481 tax relief, a regional uplift of 5%, an increase in business skills development, matching the skills with production growth and partnering with third level institutions and skills development. It is important to note as well that the plan was underpinned by an economic assessment of the audiovisual industry by Nordicity with Olsberg SPI consultants.
They said Ireland's film, television and animation sector could, in a period of five years, double employment to over 24,000 full-time jobs with a gross value of nearly €1.4 billion, and I hope that will happen.
The loan facility was mentioned by Deputies Boyd Barrett and Burton. The assistance given by the Government through its various agencies is usually by way of non-repayable grants. Screen Ireland is unusual in that it awards grants by way of loans which are repaid if and when the project is successful enough to make a profit. The repayment of any loan allows Screen Ireland to increase the level of loans given to projects. This system of support operated by Screen Ireland allows Irish indigenous film and television projects to be made which would not otherwise be made. This means profit is not the only consideration in the support of the audiovisual sector. As is the case with some statutory bodies that receive public funding, a limit was set by statute on such outlay when the Irish Film Board Act was enacted in 1980. That is why we have to change the limit from €300 million to €500 million, as Deputies know.
Deputy Boyd Barrett is right that we need good data to evaluate our investment in the audiovisual sector on an ongoing basis. As I mentioned, we are going to look at this in the context of the ten-year audiovisual action plan.
I discussed the question of broadcasters. There is a balance to be struck. They are not all international, although I know some international broadcasters have lobbied to have the broadcaster exclusion dropped. We will examine this to see if there is a disincentive in this regard.
Deputy Joan Collins referred to Screen Ireland and section 481. In fact, Screen Ireland has no involvement with section 481.
Deputies Burton and Joan Collins raised the issue of board appointments. Nomination to the board is subject to the guidelines for the appointment of members to State boards. If anyone wants to apply, it is done through the PAS system. The board of Screen Ireland is not a representative board but it is skills-based under the Act. There are seven members under the Act and I accept this should be looked at as it is probably a very low number for a board. Screen Ireland has a robust policy for dealing with conflicts, which is important. I hope I have covered most of the issues.
I want to-----
No, Deputy. We are not going back again.
What do you mean, a Cheann Comhairle?
It is Committee Stage.
We have had a detailed Second Stage debate. Much of what we are debating now is a repeat of what we had on Second Stage.
On a point of order-----
I will facilitate the Deputy.
I am genuinely not trying to be difficult. I know this needs to get passed and we are not trying to extend the debate unnecessarily. However, on Committee Stage we get to scrutinise and this is our only chance to scrutinise this Bill. I take the point about the arts committee and pre-legislative scrutiny, which is fair enough. Sadly, I am not on the arts committee but the point is we are having two Stages rather than the normal three and, therefore, this is our one opportunity to scrutinise the legislation. It is reasonable, as happens in the committee, that there be a little back and forth on what is, to my mind, a significant Bill.
I am not being awkward on this. God knows, I am most anxious that Members get their time. However, we are talking now in something of a vacuum. The Minister has brought no amendments, the amendments that have been brought forward have been ruled out of order and the salient points have been made very clearly by each of the speakers. If you want to make them again, off you go.
As I see it, the whole point of committee is that we get the opportunity to have a little back and forth on, in this case, the one substantial section in the Bill. We have heard from the Minister and we want to have an opportunity to respond. I do not see why that would be considered a problem. That is what a committee is for.
The Deputy should proceed.
First, I fully accept the Minister did not rule the amendments out of order. I talked to the person in the Bills Office this morning and she was very reasonable and gave me an explanation. However, I am just making the point that this is a very important issue. Some of us believe the continued operation of the film board, which is imperative for the Irish film industry, should also be accompanied by changes to the benefit of the film industry and those who work in it, and in order to ensure the best return for the State for the considerable amount of public funding that goes into it. That is the context in which we are trying to put in amendments. They have been ruled out of order on technical grounds, not on political grounds, but I still think it is entirely justifiable for us to use the opportunity to make those points.
To be fair, we often have "bash each other" sessions in here but I am not here to bash the Government. The Government, the Department and the officials have engaged not just with myself but with other stakeholders. Nonetheless, I would like there to be clarity about where that process of engagement is heading in regard to the film industry, the film board and so on.
To respond to the Minister, and to put it succinctly, those who get the public money should be responsible for delivering the quality employment. Currently they are not because of the SPV structure. There are cases in the courts and at the Workplace Relations Commission in regard to trying to look through the SPV structure to the parent recipient, or whatever we want to call it, behind that structure but it is difficult to establish who are the employers and where are the employees. If the condition of section 481 is quality employment, then a fairly elementary point is to ask who are the employers and who are the employees. It is not quite clear who is responsible for employees and who are the employees.
One interesting and curious comment came from one of the workers who was, let us say, harshly treated in the recent "Prime Time" programme on RTÉ, when he said he did not mind being harshly treated by RTÉ because at least it proves he exists. He was making a point on these issues. For example, how do we establish who are the people who work in the industry? How do they prove they exist? What rights do they accumulate from one film to the next? How can it be that somebody works for 12, 15 or 20 years in the industry yet they have no employer and have not accumulated any rights whatsoever? It is the hope that the Minister will look at these issues.
It is very positive to hear the Minister say she accepts we should look at the size of the film board. Part of improving that situation would be to have worker representatives, that is, PAYE workers, represented on the board so the workers as well as the producers and the others on the board would have a real input into it, which would make the board more representative of the stakeholders in the industry. It is not a question of making it bigger but of making it more representative by being certain we have workers on it. While I do not expect the Minister to say right now that she is definitely going to do that, I would like to hear her say it is a reasonable thing to consider. We have it in other State bodies and we should have it here.
It would help to resolve some of the problems to which we are referring.
We should also press ahead with the stakeholder forum. While one wants to bring everyone on board, at a certain point the Government should establish the forum and put it to people that if they want to have their say on the industry, they should attend. If they do not want to have their say, they need not attend. The contributions made at that forum will inform our policy, which is important.
The following is a very reasonable thing to ask the Government to consider. If people are in receipt of public funds and they are found to be in breach of the working time directive, employee rights and so on, we have to consider applying penalties, withdrawing the public funding or holding them to account in some other way . While there have been some changes in the section 481 relief, we must zone in on it and make it clear that it is not going to be acceptable to behave in this way. We should expect employees to be categorised correctly. In most areas where there are allegations of bogus self-employment, the control test is simple to apply. If someone is told what hours to work, when to have lunch and is subject to someone telling him or her what to do, he or she is an employee. He or she is not a contractor or self-employed entrepreneur but is, rather, a worker and should be categorised as a PAYE employee. If a person is miscategorised, he or she will not be given his or her rights. In the bulk of the situations we are talking about this evening, the majority of workers should be PAYE employees. If they are not, there is probably something amiss. We know this from the construction sector. That is not to say there cannot be some legitimate contractors in these areas. Of course, there can. However, one would expect the bulk of people in this situation to be PAYE workers and to accumulate rights. One would expect to see a transfer of those PAYE employees and trainees from one production to the next and to see the companies receiving the relief taking responsibility for their workers. Those are reasonable things and if they happened, it would resolve many of the problems. It would improve the industry and its output and improve the lot of those working in it. I am encouraged by the Government's response over the past while. I hope it will follow through in the new year with the forum and the establishment of proper employee and trainee structures and ensure the full application of employee rights for the workers in the industry.
The Minister might be able to explain a technical point. I am trying to figure out why the opportunity was not taken to change the reference to the Irish Film Board to Fís Éireann, or Screen Ireland. It is strange when that is its name as set out in legislation and we are dealing here with an Irish Film Board change. There may be some technicality I have overlooked. I will not delay much as I have asked some of my questions already.
Screen Ireland provided funding of €281.66 million for the Irish film sector in 2017. How much of that went to training or is there any separation out of that part of the funding spent on training? That is one of the key issues. We are trying to ensure that there are proper training and facilities but also that trainees will have proper contracts at the end of the process. I have heard no one argue against the intent of the Bill or the changes to section 481. All I have heard is Members seeking to ensure that any employment in this industry is quality employment. If we have quality employment, we get a return on our investment. Those who work in the industry would then have proper terms and conditions and benefits and it would improve things. We are not trying to restrict or hamper small Irish companies availing of up to €500 million in grant aid from Screen Ireland. I have been informed that it should be easy to capture some of the abuse by way of a proper interrogation of the budgets submitted to Fís Éireann. It ought to be possible to identify whether a film's budget is realistic. While we know some films run over schedule, a film should generally take a certain length of time to make and one should be able to identify the number of people employed on it. From that information, it should be possible to work out if they have been paid the proper rates of compensation and the other standard contributions we expect in every other industry. One should be able to determine whether it is a company designed to make a profit for the owners first and foremost rather than to look after the key workers on the film in question.
A number of recommendations were made by the Joint Committee on Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. I will not go through all of them. Some of what I was trying to do involved allowing the Minister to try capture some of those by means of regulations, reports or one of the proposals in the three amendments. I hoped one of those would be acceptable to the Minister to ensure that there is an ongoing understanding that we are not willing to accept a continuing failure by an industry which has been grant-aided and subsidised by tax relief to address the problems which have been exposed. Some of those problems were set out in the report. There may be merit in the Minister reconsidering and reverting to the House with a new Bill to address other small housekeeping aspects of the film industry, including its tax treatment, in the near future. At least then, we could get properly to grips with the future of the film industry in Ireland, whether at the point of pre-legislative scrutiny or on Committee Stage.
The industry is supposed to support the employment of nearly 17,000 people but I am informed that the latter is a huge exaggeration and that the number of persons employed in the industry is far lower. Within that 17,000, I understand some people have been counted twice if not three times due to their employment across a number of film or television productions within a 12-month period.
It is a pity the amendments were ruled out of order. If they had been accepted, we might have had a more specific and structured debate.
The Minister, as the responsible office holder who is enabling funding for this industry to be increased from €300 million to €500 million, has failed to answer in any reasonable way in respect of areas for which she is responsible and which are currently the subject of significant scandal. This scandal has the capacity to damage Ireland's international reputation at a time when there is general agreement in the country that we should support the film industry and seek to have it expanded. It goes without saying that, for the sake of the people who train for, are educated for, and work in the industry, this funding should be increased in a way which looks at and faces the issues. When one is a Minister, one is responsible for facing up to the problems in the sector and for seeking to alleviate and remedy them. We have already seen an extensive programme devoted to the industry on RTÉ. We know from conversations we have had with different people that there are issues. There is a common, united view in the House that this industry is well worth supporting and that it is really important for culture and identity both for Ireland and for newcomers to the country. It is a powerful agent for projecting a vision of Ireland and our ambitions for what will happen to young people and older people.
Despite this, the Minster has been completely silent as to how she is prepared to respond. In a significant acknowledgement, she indicated that, with just seven members, the Irish Film Board is possibly too small. I assume she means that it is therefore unrepresentative. My guess would be that it is not sufficiently representative of the wide range of people who work in the industry, including people who are employed in the industry. That is what we are talking about.
I find it really strange that the two amendments relating to reports have been ruled out of order given that the Department of Finance has no difficulty dealing with reports. Perhaps members of the Business Committee and other committees of the House should look at that because it is a very bad ruling. It should be possible for the Oireachtas to seek to have reports dealing with pertinent issues which have been raised laid before us.
The Minister did not say much at all that was not in the material included in the report on the industry in 2017. I am certainly a very strong supporter of the cartoon industry. It has done some great work and produced some wonderful films here. It is for the Minister to be open to addressing legitimate issues in the industry in a creative way. I am just not clear as to whether she has any standards at all. She indicated that she acknowledges that people have legal rights. She stated that they have these rights but this Bill deals with extensive access to funding and with how the industry is organised. The context of the industry has been expanded to include, as the Minister outlined, audiovisual areas, cartoons and so on, but that is in response to what has actually been happening. A huge amount of talent in the fields of film and cartooning has been nurtured in Ballyfermot College of Further Education. What is the Minister saying to students who are going to graduate this year and who really want to work in this industry, which they love? Will they have any opportunity to work under proper terms and conditions? What we are asking for is in no way radical or revolutionary. It simply makes sense.
We are all equally aware that films are project-based. This allows for a great deal of change in a creative industry, but it results in responsibilities to ensure that the people who are employed in the industry and the young people who are coming into it to make names for themselves are genuinely treated fairly and given good opportunities. There is a responsibility to ensure that the quality of training and education in the industry is up to date, modern, and empowering because we want all of these people to be able to develop and use their talents to the maximum extent.
I am very disappointed in the response of the Minister and her officials. It is not the officials who make the policy, however. It is the Minister who is responsible to the Dáil for policy. We are talking about an area in which it is known internationally that there is a policy problem. We have all said how we might reasonably go about addressing that problem. If the Minister is now thinking about expanding the board, perhaps she could tell us a little about how she sees that happening. Is she to allow herself a period of reflection so that she can then expand the board and set up proper structures? She has offered that. Would the board be expanded to 11? That would be four extra people. Would she have people from the education area of the industry on the board? Would she include people from the training and experience areas of the industries? Would she include producers working in different areas of the industry? The Minister has acknowledged that the board is somewhat small. As there are only seven members and as it is an international industry, is it difficult to get many members of the board to attend meetings? I would not be surprised if that was a problem.
There should be a sub-committee. People who are not members of the main board could also be appointed to the sub-committee so that we would really get decent oversight on this issue, which has caused some difficulties for the industry. We all have goodwill towards expanding funding and loan capacity in the industry but we also want to see those areas - which, as I have stated, have been the subject of a great deal of discussion and a fair amount of scandal - addressed.
A number of matters were raised. Deputy Boyd Barrett referred to employment issues. I have already mentioned the normal employment legislation which is there for any worker in any industry. I also mentioned the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection's legislation which will be coming through and which should protect workers, namely, the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017.
I am not sure whether it was Deputy Ó Snodaigh or Deputy Boyd Barrett who mentioned PAYE. People in the audiovisual industry are employed under many arrangements. There are employers, PAYE workers, sole traders, the self-employed and freelance workers. As long as the arrangement is legal, all of these are legitimate. Many people choose to work as non-PAYE workers. They have a right to do so without fear or intimidation.
I acknowledge Deputy Boyd Barrett's comments on the board. I remind Deputies that we are looking at Screen Ireland this evening rather than at section 481. The issues are being examined by Screen Ireland and my Department.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh mentioned capital expenditure, which typically is loans while current expenditure is administration costs and training. I will arrange for information on training to be forwarded to him.
I disagree completely with Deputy Burton's comments. I do not agree there is any scandal attached to this particular industry other than the workers matter, with which I will deal. The Government is fully supportive of the industry. That is clearly demonstrated by the significant commitment to it of €200 million in the national development plan. On my own behalf, I ask that the Deputy not personalise her comments. I note the other Deputies did not do that. Her comments such that I am not clear as to whether I have any standards are not necessary in a debate of this nature. I am happy to answer questions but I would beg her indulgence not to personalise her comments.
Deputy Boyd Barrett mentioned the issue of employment by a qualifying company. In order to apply for section 481 relief, there must be a qualifying company, which is also known as a designated activity company, or DAC. The DAC must be a wholly owned subsidiary of a producer company and must incur, on the production of the qualifying film, at least the eligible expenditure amount as set out in the certification for section 481 tax relief. When the project is completed a compliance report must be submitted to the Revenue Commissioners and following the submission of that compliance report, the DAC must continue in existence for at least 12 months. After that, the company may be wound down via by members by a voluntary liquidation or a voluntary strike-off. If there were outstanding liabilities or a claim against the DAC, an orderly wind-up of the company could not proceed until any outstanding liabilities were addressed.
I agree with Deputy Burton about the quality of the graduates from Ballyfermot College of Further Education. They usually have employment before they finish their studies. I am confident they will enjoy excellent employment prospects in the sector into the future.
Those are the main issues. I thank the Deputies for their impassioned and valued contribution to this debate. I know it is of extreme importance to all the Deputies that have contributed here this evening. I was happy to do this.
Three amendments have been tabled by Deputies Ó Snodaigh, Burton and Boyd Barrett and others. I am sure they have been made aware they have been ruled out of order for various reasons.
I will be extremely brief. On the SPV structure, the problem is that it appears and it disappears. That is a problem in terms of people's employment rights. We need to re-examine that. I just want to make that clear. I am not going to elaborate the point as the officials understand it. It is a particular structure. There are reasons at one level that we should have it but it causes a problem in terms of the normal relationship between an employer and an employee that should exist.
On the issue the Minister mentioned regarding people having the right to be freelancers and so on, my response to that is "Yes" and "No". There is a control test. There are documents which have been produced and I probably have one of them among my papers. There are rules about the way employment, as against self-employment, is defined. It is not a case of somebody saying he or she is a freelancer or a lone trader. If a person's relationship to an employment ticks certain boxes that person is an employee. That person is not a lone trader or a self-employed entrepreneur. It is not accurate to say that. These issues are set out in a code for practice for determining employment or self-employment. We need to examine this area.
I understand that in some jurisdictions, such as France, at the beginning of a production officials from the equivalent of Revenue and the state ask the people involved what they do, what are their terms and conditions and they set out the way they will be categorised. That is how it is done. They go through every single employee and set out the way it is defined. I will not go through them. The officials will be aware of them.
In fairness to the Government, in response to campaigning in other areas such as construction, it has taken this issue on board, and the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, has stated we need to deal with issues such as bogus self-employment. There has been an acknowledgement in other areas, particularly in the construction sector, that must be dealt with. There are at least allegations, and I believe credible ones, that this is happening in the film industry. Therefore, it must be examined. That is not unreasonable. That is how we get to the truth. In any of these situations some people will allege one thing and others will allege another. Our job, as public representatives and as representatives of the Government, is to find the facts, establish what the rules and the law are, ensure they are being applied and to make it clear to the stakeholders in the industry that these are the rules and this is the law. The law must be complied with. If we have to debate whether we should change laws in certain circumstances, let us do that. I am simply arguing, as are I believe many people in the industry, that must be applied.
Some information is being gathered and some has been remitted to Revenue. However, we need more information about who is working, what they are doing and so on. We need to know what sort of tax remittances we are getting. I will not elaborate the point further. The point has been made.
I believe the board should be larger. I am glad the Government is talking about that. However, it is important to have workers on it and a good diversity and not just one type of board member, for want of a better description. We need to examine that.