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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 19 Nov 1980

Vol. 95 No. 2

Arts Act, 1951 (Additional Function) (Amendment) Order, 1980: Motion.

I move:

That, pursuant to paragraph (c) of subsection (4) of section 3 of the Arts Act, 1951, Seanad Éireann confirms the

Arts Act, 1951 (Additional Function) (Amendment) Order, 1980 made by the Government on 3rd September, 1980.

In 1966 an order was made at the request of the Arts Council which enabled the council to create and administer a fund, Ciste Cholmcille, out of which grants and annuities were paid to creative artists who, by reason of age or ill-health, were unable to provide properly for themselves. Under the 1966 order the fund was to be made up of subscriptions alone and the council's annual grant-in-aid could not be drawn on for the fund. The council advised that the level of the fund was not sufficient to provide assistance to the extent they would wish and they asked that they be empowered to make an allocation from their annual grant to the fund. The order proposes to do this, subject to a limitation to be decided by the Taoiseach.

This is the principle purpose of the order but the opportunity has been taken to make two other changes requested by the council. The 1966 order restricted the council to investing the fund in Irish Government securities and to paying annuities or grants to the artists themselves and not to their dependants. The council asked for the removal of these restrictions to enable them to invest the fund in securities which are authorised in respect of trust funds and other securities which may be approved by the Minister for Finance, and also to broaden the range of those who receive assistance from the fund to include the widows or widowers or other dependants of creative artists in cases where the council may deem it necessary. On 3 September this year the Government made an order, the Arts Act, 1951 (Additional Function) (Amendment) Order, 1980, which was confirmed in Dáil Éireann and registered on 29 October 1980. This amending order will permit the Arts Council to make the changes they have sought in the administration of this very useful fund. I ask the House to endorse this worthy proposal. I hope it will also help to bring to public notice the existence of such a fund and encourage subscriptions from firms and individuals. I am sure Senators will join me in commending the Arts Council for the steps they have taken to improve the position of individual creative artists when circumstances require they should do so.

Courtesy requires me to extend a welcome to the Taoiseach in the capacity in which he now comes to the Seanad and to express regret that various decisions do not require his attention in this House more often. Interest in the debates would be increased for me and I would from time to time address myself to less agreeable topics than orders made under the Arts Act, 1951. On this occasion I will be courteous, I hope, and certainly orderly. The order is welcome. I do not know whether the Taoiseach had himself properly briefed for this debate, an inadequacy I would not have expected from him, but he should have explained to the House the important provision in section 547 of the Income Tax Act, 1967, which provides for relief from income tax in all the cases of gifts made, where the gifts can be shown to relieve the Minister for Finance from sums which otherwise would fall for payment out of the public purse.

The position with regard to the fund which was established by the order of 1966 is that up to the time when this order now proposed is made, gifts given to that fund were not and are not deductible for the purposes of tax. Accordingly, one of the effects of the order, whether the Taoiseach knew it or not — courtesy requires me to assume that he knew — is going to make gifts to the fund deductible whether they are made by business organisations or by anyone else. With this addition for the provision of public funds this fund may receive gifts which can be demonstrably in relief of money that would otherwise come from the public purse. The Taoiseach should have told us of the remarkable improvement which the order is going to make in the encouragement of the arts.

One knows the section has been operated with great discrimination and full understanding by the Revenue Commissioners during this year and with the full co-operation and understanding of the Arts Council. The position up to this has been that if the Arts Council could nominate a body — any body involved in the Arts — as being a body to which they proposed to give £10,000 and if they told the Revenue Commissioners that they would be saved £10,000 if firm X made a gift of £10,000 in aid of the arts, that would have been a deductible expense for the company. We should be aware that this is a provision of the income tax code. The income tax code, as we all know, only applies to individuals. There is a new corporation tax and I do not want to develop this into a lecture on tax law. Senators would be interested to know if there is an equivalent provision in the corporation tax code giving corporation relief for gifts they may make under terms similar to those which can be made by payers of income tax under section 547 of the Income Tax Act, 1967. It would be useful if we had some indication of the status, as the Taoiseach understands it, of the gifts of companies to this body and to all similar bodies concerned with the advancement of the arts. It is a great defect in our overall tax system that we, simply in a measure which was designed to establish the State's independence of the Church, amended our law some 20 years ago whereby we are in a curious position subject to those few exceptions which have been made specifically in the code over recent years that, unlike the United Kingdom, covenants by individuals for charitable purposes are not deductible whereas rich men can set up funds for their own glory and the glory of the arts. The income from these funds is exempt from tax and the gifts can be made with appropriate reliefs on capital.

There is no provision for individuals who wish to give encouragement to charitable purposes. May it be extended beyond the range of this particular fund? In the matter of establishing the kind of values that the State would wish to declare in its legislation, there ought to be such provision. I hope the Taoiseach will take my remarks in the spirit in which they are genuinely directed and that in the next Finance Bill there will be a provision amending the general code on this point. Admittedly, safeguards will have to be introduced to prevent the funds from being applied as they were in a kind of abuse when that amending statute was made.

I am very pleased to support this amendment. I was aware of this fund and I have subscribed to it. It was very little known and I hope it will gain the recognition and publicity that is due, so that artists who have contributed so much to the community, and who suffer from poor health, can get the benefit of the fund subscribed.

I support Senator FitzGerald's proposal that this should be extended because we must think of the younger artists who are endeavouring to make a living. There are many people in the community who would be willing to sponsor an artist if they got some allowance against income tax. It would help the artist to use his creative talents, unfettered by the problems of poverty and lack of materials.

As the Taoiseach said at the opening of Rosc, there is an opportunity for a renaissance for the arts in Ireland. I hope that this fund will be applicable to artists of the European Community, including Northern Ireland — who come to live here. I would like to be assured that the Arts Council would take into consideration those people who come to live in and contribute to our community.

I, too, welcome the purpose of this order and join with Senator FitzGerald in welcoming the Taoiseach on his visit to this House for the purpose of the debate. I am also grateful to Senator FitzGerald for referring to a provision of the Income Tax Act which I had not thought of as being relevant here. He is making an important point. It increases my support and enthusiasm for the order. I also support the broader point he makes of the need for tax relief on individual donations to charity, to make that possible under Irish law. That is very important.

It is very necessary in examining the purpose of this order, and the effect it will have on the 1966 order, to appreciate that we are talking about a very small fund and up to now a rather little known fund. This is not going to achieve a very important purpose sought by the Arts Council, which is, proper living conditions and benefits for artists. This is a small, fire brigade measure — an emergency measure which is important. I understand the present size of the fund is something like £18,000 and the only payment out that can be made is a payment out of the income invested in authorised securities. The income from that fund at the moment is something in the region of £1,800 per annum. This is divided among two, three or four artists in need who qualify under the 1966 order. Let us not delude ourselves that we are doing what urgently needs to be done, which is, looking into the working conditions, benefits and social welfare conditions of our artists and the very real needs that a number of young artists have and the very worthwhile report that the Arts Council has brought out on this subject. For a number of reasons, this order should be supported, although I have one serious reservation about it which I would like to ask the Taoiseach to elaborate on in his reply.

First, there is no doubt that the 1966 order establishing the Ciste Cholmcille was too narrow and technical. As I have already mentioned, the fund had to be subscribed to by private subscriptions and these could be from exhibitions run by artists who donated the fruits of these or charity shows or companies contributing without benefit of income tax relief, or individuals contributing without benefit of income tax relief on their donations. I understand that during 1979 the contributions to this fund totalled £264. We are talking about a very modest fund and Senator Lambert is one of the few contributors to this fund. It is a small but important additional function for the Arts Council to be able to use this fund.

Secondly, the type of securities which could be invested in was too narrow and that is one of the additional amendments that will be made by this order, which will extend the range of securities. Most importantly, it will be possible for the Arts Council to use a portion of the grant-in-aid to the Arts Council and I want to come back to an element of that on which I have serious reservations. The other amendment, which is important in its own way, is that it extends the beneficiary in appropriate cases to include the widow or widower of an artist or the dependants of an artist. Would the Taoiseach in his reply clarify whether it includes the dependants of an artist who is not necessarily dead but in circumstances where the artist is unable for one reason or a another to look after a wife and children? Can payments be made at the discretion of the Arts Council to the wife and children in those circumstances?

I come now to a rather serious reservation about the way in which the Arts Council will come to allocate additional moneys out of its grant-in-aid because paragraph 4(e) of this order will substitute a new paragraph 6 to the 1966 order. This provides that the council may utilise for the purpose of the fund part of the grant and this provides:

"The Council may utilise for the purpose of the fund part of the grant paid to the Council annually out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas, provided that the money utilised under this paragraph shall not exceed in any particular year an amount approved of by the Taoiseach in relation to that year."

That seems to be an unusual kind of blanket discretion. We do not know what the amount will be. It requires the approval of the Taoiseach for the time being in the exercise of the discretion. The money will be used for what we all acknowledge to be important and legitimate purposes, to help particularly needy artists in urgent, emergency and fire brigade situations, but why is it that particular kind of mechanism? Why is the Arts Council not the deciding body or why is an amount not allocated, either in the order itself or in a proportion of the grant-in-aid? A lot of my reservations would be removed if the Taoiseach would spell out exactly how this will work. For example, on the order as it stands, it would be possibe for a Taoiseach, at some time in the future if he became aware himself, or representations were made to him that an artist was in need, to contact the Arts Council and say "use £1,000 out of your grant-in-aid and give this artist the money". That would not be desirable and I do not think that is the intention that the Taoiseach has but I would like to know what the parameters of this discretion are since the Taoiseach is seeking to get a discretion from this House by way of this order. I am not in favour of blanket or vague discretions. When a Minister or the Taoiseach comes into this House looking for additional power to authorise, I like to know exactly what it means.

The amount authorised by the Taoiseach relates to a particular year. The fund provides an income of £1,800. Let us be optimistic and hope that as a result of this order and the debate on it, additional publicity and additional support for it, the income of the fund goes up to £3,000. And the Arts Council at the beginning of the year asked the Taoiseach to authorise a further £27,000 out of the grant-in-aid, bringing it up to a total of £30,000. If that were done at the beginning of the year or at a specific period of the year by the Arts Council and the authorisation of the Taoiseach was merely a control over public funds then some, at least, of my hesitations about this kind of mechanism would be removed. This needs to be clarified.

The order itself does not specify how the power will be exercised. I believe that the Arts Council must be the deciding body as to who are the artists in need, who should receive the benefits or, and I welcome this very much, the dependants of the artists who ought to receive a grant or annuity as a benefit. Let us not delude ourselves that this is the major job that needs to be done for artists in Ireland. They are a neglected section in their working conditions and, in particular, in their social welfare benefits. This is a matter which I hope the Taoiseach or the Minister for Social Welfare, will bring before this House in a more major way, at the earliest opportunity, implementing some of the broader requests and recommendations that have been made by the Arts Council.

Senator Robinson has said much that I wanted to say. I want to re-echo one or two points which she made in her speech. It is important to bear in mind that, if we are speaking about assistance for poor artists or their dependants, we are talking against a background in which to date out of Ciste Cholmcille fund, in the last years for which we have statistics available, a magnificent sum of £1,400 was paid in a given year out of that fund in an area with which this amendment of the order is concerned. It is important to show the minimal extent to which there has been assistance in this area.

I would like to applaud the work of the Arts Council in recent years against very difficult circumstances, in a country which is interested in the arts with a limited budget, and I want to applaud in particular their activities in the provinces in ballet, theatre and the National Opera Company, all of which has been greatly to the benefit of the people.

I want to raise a broader issue concerned with this amendment. I am one of those who agree with the original genesis of the Arts Council in the sense that this fund relates directly to the Taoiseach rather than specifically to the Minister for Finance, giving it a certain aura that is apolitical to a degree and is very important. Whilst there is a consensus that this order should be supported, and I am one of those who support the move to help the dependants of poor artists to a greater extent than we have been doing, we are playing with fire here to the extent that in the annual reports of the Arts Council there has been a repetition of the statement that they are not being funded to a fraction of the extent to which the Government should support them. This is a criticism they have had of successive Governments and I am not attempting to score a political point here.

In the 1977 annual report — there are no doubt more up to date reports available but I expect the proportions are much the same — they speak of a commitment by the State to the arts which works out on a per capita basis at 60p, as distinct from Scotland with a commitment in that year of £1.14p, or Wales with a commitment of £1.41p. In other words, in both Scotland and Wales, there is a commitment by the State running at about double the rate here. It is a bit premature to talk about a renaissance in so far as State assistance in the arts is concerned.

I join with other speakers in welcoming the Taoiseach. This is the first time I have seen him in the House. There is a consensus that we should commit ourselves to a greater extent and under this new order we are allowing the Arts Council to fund assistance out of its annual grant, subject to the restrictions mentioned by Senator Robinson where the Taoiseach in any one year may approve. Whether it is approval in advance or retrospectively is not spelt out here and there are areas that need clarification.

In broad terms, if the Arts Council have an annual budget from the State and if the method of funding the poorer artists and their dependants is by allowing the Arts Council out of that annual budget to assist where they were not previously implicated, unless there is a commitment by Government to increase their commitments to the Arts Council over the level of inflation and over the present level of support to specifically allow the Arts Council to carry out this new duty, then the arts are going to suffer. The Taoiseach has said in this House that it is his intention to see that in so far as the Arts Council will be dispensing some of its grant-in-aid for this new purpose, he will give effect to a position where they get an increase in their annual budget over and above inflation and the other needs of the arts specifically to allow them to do this without detriment to the main function of the Arts Council.

I am grateful to the House for its general welcome of this measure and I am glad to deal with the points raised by Senators and perhaps to give some reassurance. I fully recognise the distinction there is between this measure and indeed the fund to which it relates and a policy of support and encouragement for the arts generally. This is a very strict and narrow field that we are dealing with here. Senator Staunton mentioned, and I think Senator Robinson also, that the amounts paid put of this fund are minimal. I recognise that.

We would all wish that there was never any need to pay anything at all out of this fund, that, in fact, we would arrive at a situation in this country in which creative artists would be so fully supported by the community that they would not fall into the sort of situation in which they would have to have access to this fund. That would be the ideal situation but I suppose it is not likely to happen in the foreseeable future. While it is not likely to happen, therefore, we must make some provision for the unfortunate eventuality of some artists or their dependants falling on very hard times. That is what this fund is there to cope with. I suppose those who established the fund Ciste Cholmcille originally had high ideals or high hopes for it. Their idea was that wealthy persons would make fairly large, if you like, once-off donations to the fund.

To that extent the idea of allowability for income tax purposes was not considered when the fund was established because the concept was that perhaps persons would, in their wills or otherwise, make fairly substantial donations to the fund which would then become the capital of the fund and that that capital would earn annually enough to meet any demands that might be made on the fund. Unfortunately that just has not happened. The great bulk of the contributions to the fund was made in the early days when it was set up and, to that extent, it has been largely moribund since, so that the Arts Council felt it necessary to do something about it. It is hopefully a restricted area of operation for the Arts Council but nevertheless an important one, indeed, in any case, I suppose, a very humanitarian one. The Arts Council hit on this idea that they would be permitted, out of their own grant, to make a contribution to this fund. The system they propose and enshrined in this measure is the best one we could come forward with. There are many other ways of dealing with this problem but I think this is the one that offers most flexibility. This is a situation which requires flexibility and a sympathetic and understanding approach.

In response to the point made by Senator Robinson, there would be absolutely no question of the Taoiseach or indeed anybody in the Executive being involved in individual cases. In fact I have made it my business not even to look at the names of those who have benefited from the fund to date. I would always propose to continue to adopt that attitude, except, of course, in so far as any of us, as public representatives, might be approached from time to time in regard to a particular case. In that way I would purport to behave just like any other Member of the Oireachtas or any other public representative in regard to that particular case, that is, to make representations to the Arts Council in the normal way. Furthermore, the modus operandi would be that the Arts Council would suggest to the Taoiseach of the day, at the beginning of the year, what sum might be included in their grant for this Ciste Cholmcille. That would normally be the end of the matter but one could visualise that, as the year progressed, it might be necessary from time to time to make additional provision. The system that we propose gives the flexibility to do that. For instance, tomorrow morning I will be bringing in a Supplementary Estimate in the Dáil for the Arts Council for this year, which indicates that it is not always possible at the beginning of the year to estimate precisely and exactly what the Arts Council will require for their purposes during the whole year. The Supplementary Estimate I will bring in tomorrow will be somewhere around £300,000. That gives an idea of the extent of the additional demands that may arise on the Arts Council during the course of a year. I would visualise that the procedure would be that, at the beginning of the year, some sum would be fixed to be made available by the Arts Council to Ciste Cholmcille. Here I want to make the point that this would almost certainly be a capital sum. My view would be that the Arts Council should continue to operate Ciste Cholmcille on the basis of a capital fund the proceeds of which would be available for its purposes during the year so that it would not be necessary in any year — I would hope that it would not be the case — that the grant for the Arts Council to Ciste Cholmcille would be the amount that they would foresee arising as having to be paid out during that year. Rather would I visualise that they would create a capital fund the proceeds of which would meet their purposes. As to the Taoiseach being given the responsibility, I can think of no more worthy or suitable person to be given this responsibility.

But this Taoiseach might not last for ever.

I am ready to believe that is a faint possibility, yes. But I want to make the point that normally the constraint here is vested in the Minister for Finance. We have I think built up a sort of happy tradition in this country that you take the arts away from this hard-featured, blunt-nosed — is that the word I am seeking? — Minister for Finance and give it to the Taoiseach because theoretically at any rate he holds a much more flexible sympathetic sort of office than the Minister for Finance.

A gentler soul.

We are just following through here. I think the House would accept that there must be some restriction on the Arts Council and the amount they place to the credit of Ciste Cholmcille lest perhaps they go too far one way or another. If the Houses of the Oireachtas would wish, as they must I think, to have some control of this perhaps the most flexible and sympathetic office through which to have this control exercised is that of the Taoiseach. That is why it is the Taoiseach, and it is not for any other reason than that. I would make the point again, and it is important in this connection, that the Taoiseach's power limitation would be directed more towards the amount that can be put aside as a capital sum rather than immediate and direct control over the annual payments.

Of course all this begs the very important question which was raised here, that is, the area of operation of Ciste Cholmcille in relation to the whole field of support for the arts and indeed the artist. Perhaps it is important that we should make that distinction between support for the arts and support for the artists. As I hope many Senators would know, I have been giving a great deal of thought to this matter and I have spoken about it on a number of occasions, that, it is fairly easy to support the arts — in inverted commas — but it is not as easy to support the creative artist, particularly to support the creative artist in his creativity. Thus the difficulty; it is very easy to give a particular sum of money to a particular organisation or institution, or to subsidise some public performance. That does not present any Government, Minister or Taoiseach with any great problem. But it is not the answer that we are seeking. Senator Robinson spoke about this and about the report which the Arts Council has about the living and working conditions of artists. I just want to assure the Senator that that matter is very actively under consideration at present. It is something that should be done side by side with Ciste Cholmcille but with totally different and separate funds. Indeed, if this policy and the other aspects that we are talking about are developed sufficiently it would, as I said at the beginning, render Ciste Cholmcille unnecessary.

The proper functioning of an arts policy, whether public or private, would ensure that artists were properly rewarded for the valuable contribution they make to our society and to our community. That is not at issue here today. I will, I hope, be coming back to the Oireachtas with a different set of proposals in that area arising out of the difficulty that we have in subsidising creativity, as such, in our community and in our society. I would hope that the House would agree, that in trying to provide for artists and their dependants who are falling on bad times, this Ciste Cholmcille, as now amended, will meet that limited area of difficulty.

Senator Robinson asked me specifically about the question of a dependant of an artist who, as she put it rather quaintly was not necessarily dead. There is I suppose a great tradition in the world of art that we do not honour people sufficiently until they are dead. But there would be no such restriction. The Arts Council will have whatever flexibility they need to cope with the sort of situation that Senator Robinson has in mind and adverted to.

In reply to a specific point made by my good friend Senator Lambert, the order refers to "in Ireland". I trust that answers his point in that regard.

The question of the Revenue Commissioners raised by Senator FitzGerald is a very difficult and complex one. Indeed I had hoped it would not arise in this context. But briefly, in regard to Ciste Cholumcille, the situation would be that the Revenue Commissioners will rule in regard to any particular contribution as to its eligibility for relief under section 547. The broader question is one which is tied up with the broader policy of support for the arts generally, namely, whether or not particular contributions for artistic, cultural purposes by individuals or corporations should have some benefit by way of income tax or corporation profits tax relief. That is something I do not want to go into today because there is a lot to be said on both sides of that particular proposal. Senator FitzGerald knows better than anybody else that the situation in some countries is not at all satisfactory, whereas ostensibly the arrangements are entirely beneficial from the point of view of the creative artist, in fact, they do not work out that way and they can be very gravely abused by individuals and corporations. We do not want to fall into that particular trap in dealing with this matter, in other words, make some provision which on the face of it would be entirely beneficial from the point of view of the arts and our cultural situation generally but which, in fact, would not redound to that purpose at all in the end.

May I reiterate that this is a very limited area of operation that we are dealing with in this motion. I recognise and understand that but nevertheless it is worth while doing for what it does and I trust I have reassured the Senators on the points which they have raised.

I wonder if I could put two brief questions to the Taoiseach arising from his reply which clarified a number of points. As I understand it, the moneys which would be paid out of the grant-in-aid to the Arts Council would be a capital sum to be put then into Ciste Cholmcille. That makes it all the more important that we understand how that will affect the present grant-in-aid to the Arts Council. If it is a capital sum it will have to be, in crude terms, at least ten times greater than the income that it will provide to be paid out to the actual beneficiaries. Therefore, as a capital sum, we would be talking in quite large figures I assume. I am not asking the Taoiseach nor do I expect a specific figure, for example for 1981 or 1982, but what order of money are we talking about when we talk about capital sums to go into Ciste Cholmcille? I think Senator Staunton raised this point. We assume this will be in excess of the present budget of the Arts Council, which I think is not only fully taken up but requires a Supplementary Estimate this year, to which the Taoiseach referred.

My second question is: given that a lot of us did not know very much about Ciste Cholmcille and how it is administered, is it going to be something that we will be informed about in this House? How much money was placed from Government moneys into the fund of Ciste Cholumcille and what size is the fund?

At present there is an account for Ciste Cholmcille attached to the annual report of the Arts Council. That practice will be continued. Apart from that it is an area to which up to now, at any rate, there has not been any great wish on the part of the Arts Council to direct too much attention or publicity. The Senator will understand and appreciate the reasons for that. I do not want to be too dogmatic about it being all entirely capital. That is the ideal that we should aim at, that the fund could be built up to a position where it would carry on on its own and meet whatever demands are made on it from its income. But that might not be possible in circumstances in a particular year. I do take the point that if we were to take any one particular year and provide enough for An Chiste Cholmcille to make it capital-proof for the future that might, in that particular year, make a particularly savage inroad into the general budget of the Arts Council. I can assure the House that that will not happen. We will approach this with the maximum amount of flexibility and understanding and with the greatest possible degree of discussion with the Arts Council as to their view of what is likely to occur during the year and over a period of years. It is a sensitive and human area. Therefore it will have to be dealt with by the Taoiseach of the day and by the Arts Council in a sympathetic, understanding and flexible manner.

Question put and agreed to.