I recall, for the committee's amusement, that Oscar Wilde was once asked how he had spent the day and he replied that he had spent the morning putting in a comma and the afternoon taking it out. De minimis non curat lex may be true - the law may not care about little things but poets must.
On the basis of what, I hope, is the reasonable assumption that some of the members will have read it, I do not propose to read my written submission. Instead, I want to pick up on some of what Ms Hynes and Mr. King said. I also want to pick up on the submission made to the committee from the National Campaign for the Arts, which seemed to provide an accurate, provocative and helpful analysis of what is to be done on the purely practical level in terms of funding the arts. I not want to talk about that. What I want to say is that there is no such thing as the arts. Nobody ever rushed home from work, threw off their clothes, jumped in the shower, dressed again, grabbed a sandwich and a glass of milk and rushed out to the arts. They went to the theatre, they went to a concert, they went to a book launch or they went to the opening of an exhibition. It is important to understand that art takes distinct forms.
Nobody can like everything. One of the difficulties with the way poetry is taught in schools is the poor misfortunates are expected to like everything they see. I have a passion for hurling. I appreciate that football is a kind of a sport in its own way but, for me, passion is about hurling. This does not mean that I think we should break the legs of a football team in order to improve the prospects of a hurling team. We need to start relaxing about this inherited post-colonial idea of the arts as something that all right-thinking people are in favour of because what follows from that is one does nothing about it. Art is made by individuals and by collectives of individuals who are driven by a passion for a particular form. Some people will cross over - backwards and forwards - but that is generally true. In every estate in this country, in every parish in every small town and every single street in every district, there is somebody learning to play an instrument, there is somebody whose most meaningful moments of the day are when he or she sits down to listen to the music he or she loves, and there is somebody who wants to go to a theatre.
I appreciate what Fr. Hederman is saying when he talks about the particular native genius in the imagination of the artist but art is not complete until it meets its audience. When I make a poem, I send it out into the world and I have no further interest in it. I do not own it. If it lodges in somebody's mind and imagination and means something to him or her, then the poem is doing its work. Without audience, there is no artist. When we talk about supporting the arts in Ireland, we are not talking about piously making a small allocation towards a few curious individuals who seem to have inexplicable passions for adding words together, adding notes together to make a tune or making lies on a stage in order to tell some kind of truth. We are talking about all of us together. One cannot grow a field of wheat by deciding, stalk by stalk, where to apply one's cultivation. One provides for the entire field. One trusts chance to see what comes up but, generally, there is a harvest if we are prudent. The links between culture and agriculture are not accidental. We have to cultivate ourselves - those of us who have the fortune, or, maybe, the misfortune, to make a life as artists but also those with whom, for whom and towards whom we make our work. It is absolutely critical to understand that.
The Democratic Programme states, " It shall be the first duty of the Government of the Republic to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children". My father worked in a factory. My mother, until she married, worked in a factory. I am the eldest of a very large family. In the late 1960s, the late Donogh O'Malley went home for the weekend, he sat there and then it dawned on him that everybody should have access to secondary education. He came in on Monday and called his senior civil servants together and said, "We are introducing free secondary education." The folklore is - I am putting this delicately so as not to cause offence to anybody, pensioned or still in employment - that the civil servants went berserk. They came up with more reasons than Sir Humphrey could imagine about why this could not be done. When they were finished telling the Minister why it could not be done, he told them to go away and do it. Donogh O'Malley's answer was akin to Humpty Dumpty's famous remark. When Alice questioned Humpty Dumpty about the king, he said, "The question is ... which is to be master ...". In this democracy, we elect our representatives, Opposition and Government, at the same time to be master, to decide on large matters of public policy and to issue the instruction that they be implemented.
When the First Dáil convened, all the sensible people laughed. One can go back through the newspaper archives. The realists thought it was hilarious that a bunch of jumped-up culchies, disaffected petit bourgeois and dodgy trade unionists imagined themselves to be the Parliament of a free Ireland. Guess what? It was. It was the first Parliament of a free Ireland and the direct antecedents of the Government in which some of the members serve and of the Government some of which the members hope to be part. That is where we started. We imagined ourselves and it went from there. We imagined a state, which we do not yet have, where all the children of the nation would be cherished. Having so many thousands of children homeless is not the State we imagine ourselves to live in but we have to work at it.
This committee will make a report to the Minister and the Minister will make submissions to Government. What I hope is that the members' imaginations will be harnessed to this. The committee has received submissions from distinguished people who know their business and who care passionately about it and who have laboured against all forms of discouragement to open the doors of the imagination to the children of this nation. They have made poems, they have built art centres, they have built world-famous theatres and they have made television series that have, to the glory of Irish music, gone around the world. They have done that in the face of what I would call the terrorism of neglect. The truth is - I hope the committee will say this in its report - that we have chosen to be poor in the service of the imagination. We have elected to be poor. This is so much against the grain of who we are supposed to be that there are times when I have looked in the mirror and asked, "Are you mad?" However, I keep going, Mr. King keeps singing and Ms Hynes keeps making theatre because this is what we do.
The members should imagine themselves in that situation and finding that the State that one lives in, the people among whom one lives and the children whom one hopes will follow in one's footsteps are being treated with patronising neglect. I am sorry to say so but it is patronising to tell us that Ireland's reputational value leans on its artists when the vast majority of those who commit their lives to this path are living in abject poverty.
Humpty Dumpty's point was a good question. Who is to be master? Master of what? What do we live for in this country?
Are we just statistics in an economist's nightmares or are we people - people of each other, for each other, by each other, with each other? We go to funerals and weddings together. We go to Croke Park and Thomond Park together. We understand ourselves and, without having to explain it in deep philosophical terms, we understand that we are a people. What kind of a people are we, though, when we claim the glories of our artists and treat them so shamefully? The only question that is really important in public life is "Who do we want to be?" One may imagine objecting to or taking part in the Rising on Easter Monday 1916, and we can all project ourselves back in history and say with the benefit of hindsight that we would have done this, that or the other. I take a radical but simple view - these were men and women who thought that liberty mattered and that we should be free to imagine ourselves as a free people. In dribs and drabs, in institutional Ireland down through the years we have made faint stabs at that. This is a very good moment to again ask, with absolute seriousness, "Who do we want to be?". How can we best imagine ourselves in the 21st century, and the 22nd or the 23rd? What foundations are we prepared to lay for who we can be?
There has been a lot of popular history in the past 1,000 years but there is a kernel of truth in it. Ireland was a lumen mundi - a light to the world. In a line from Brest down through France, Switzerland across as far as Slovenia, one will find Irish placenames, based on centres of learning set up by people who brought their complex cultures across Europe at a time when it was ruled by economists with hatchets, people who knew the price of everything but the value of nothing. In our modest but real way, we brought a light to the world.
The current reflexes towards right-wing populism are spasmodic, knee-jerk reactions to globalisation. Globalisation aims to remove what is distinct. It aims to remove things of the mind, heart and soul and turn us into obedient consumers. It is the logic of the market but we should have the strength of character to think of ourselves differently, as people who value the imagination in business, in commerce, in street sweeping and, above all else, in governance. This committee has the opportunity to go back to Government and ask how much better it can imagine itself to be, as a Government. Can it take responsibility for the depth and the wealth of imagination in the Irish people? These include the child yearning to be able to play the fiddle well enough to be at a Comhaltas session and the young man starstruck at the thought of walking the stage and inhabiting invented characters. We have to take responsibility for those people. We have the good fortune to be able to look at practitioners, administrators and artists who have walked this road before us. It is a resource to be tapped into and only one thing is needed for that to happen, namely, the cultivation of respect. I would like this committee to propose that the Minister says to Government that it is time we showed respect to those things we profess to value. We will all be the better for it.
I do not know if any members are old enough to remember "Green Acres". I remember the character in the programme who got entirely carried away whenever he became passionate about a subject. It is not my intention to hector or to lecture the committee. My beloved Paula says that if I were a country, my national anthem would be "Indignation Once Again". To a certain extent, I am indignant. I am indignant about the fact that we have an enormous opportunity to fashion ourselves as a model for the world. More than that, we could create a hospitable environment for the children of the nation and show we cherish them, not by imagining that everybody can become an artist but by offering them the fruits of our work and the practice of creative imagination as an integral part of their formation as citizens and as people. We should give these freely, with no foretold outcomes or demands, as a gift to help them disclose their imagination to themselves so that they can go and make what they will of the future. This committee has a marvellous opportunity, 100 years on from the First Dáil, to drive this back into the heart of a democratic programme for the 21st century.
I will end on a slightly dark note. The RTÉ archives for 1966 contain a record of Ernest Blythe saying that everyone thought of the democratic programme as the hoisting of a flag and that nobody ever meant it to be taken seriously. On another occasion, the late Deputy Seán MacEntee said he did not think the working class would have believed in their bona fides and that, besides, the farmers would not have stood for it. What would they not have stood for? Would it have been cherishing children and providing for their health and welfare, both mental and spiritual? There is a dark way of looking at this, which is to say that the very first Dáil passed a high-sounding programme and then proceeded, fully consciously, to do nothing about it. That is a cycle that could usefully be broken.
I do not have to make an argument for why the arts matter because everybody knows it, apart from a handful journalists who are still affected by post-colonial cringe but I challenge this committee to produce a report that makes the arts matter. The committee should make a case to Government that makes it impossible not to see why and for whom they matter. They matter for living children and those yet to be born. A child was born about 30 seconds ago in the Rotunda Hospital and I would go to that child for a political analysis before I would go to Bob Geldof.