I welcome Ms Pratschke as chairman designate. I wish to acknowledge that I am the director of the Abbey Theatre and as such receive State funding which is delivered through the Arts Council. I mention this fact in case there is a potential conflict of interest with my questioning but the post does not mean that I cannot ask questions.
I acknowledge that Ms Pratschke is only starting her job. Perhaps we can invite her back here again in a year's time when she has settled into her role. Some of my questions set up the interests of the committee. Deputy Nash mentioned a particular incident. One of my bug bears is how to manage conflicts of interest at board level. Ireland is a small country and there are clear and apparent conflicts of interests. In such instances board members leave meetings when there is discussion of his or her project, within funding parameters, but he or she returns to discuss the same topic within the same funding parameters or when his or her organisation is being discussed. I am not asking the committee to address the matter now but we should acknowledge it some day as there is a difficulty with that perception of the Arts Council. I know a lot of arts organisations that suffer because of this scenario. After claiming a conflict of interest due to being a member of a board or in receipt of payment from an organisation, a person then must leave a meeting but can he or she return later to discuss the pool of funding for the art form. The Chairman needs to examine that type of work in the foreseeable future and my personal experience might support his query into same.
My next question is on advocacy. Ms Pratschke mentioned the advocacy role played by the Arts Council. It is fair to say, from the broad scope of artists and art organisations, that we are unsure about the advocacy role played by the council. What does advocacy mean? Does the Arts Council play a public advocacy role? Does the council play a behind the scenes role with the Department? How does the Arts Council work with the Department to craft a strategic or cultural policy? How might that work be publicly understood by everybody who works in the arts? My last question covers Deputy Mulherin's comments.
My next question is on measurement. Ms Pratschke was very clear and strong, in her presentation, about the evidence based claims on economics but that is no longer good enough for the arts community.
Unusually, I am in agreement with Deputy Mulherin on the local community arts, local support and the sustainability of the arts. How can we find a measurement tool or a way to speak about the arts for its own sake? How do we make the argument to the Department of Finance and the Government for investment in the arts for its own cohesion and sustainability? The presentation is short on that and I wonder whether there is a role in the Department and the Arts Council or whether there is a research unit in the Arts Council which could find a new way of convincing the Government to invest in the arts, other than through secondary measures such as bed nights and employment. What does Ms Pratschke see as her legacy in five years' time? She is hugely committed and has major experience. She understands the role of the artist, which is a great advantage to the Arts Council.