Arts Bill 2002: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

In the course of the passage of this Bill through the Dáil, I explained that although it was drafted and published before I assumed ministerial responsibility for the arts, I was very happy to take it on and sponsor its passage through the Oireachtas. There are some areas of the Bill that I felt it necessary to change, and I will deal with these issues later.

The Irish arts sector today is much bigger, more dynamic and more diverse than has ever before been the case. This has happened for many reasons. The opportunity is being taken to bring many of the provisions of the 1951 and 1973 Acts into line with what are now standard provisions relating to the functioning of statutory authorities. However, the Bill proposes a number of key changes I want to outline to the House in more detail.

The arts will be defined, for the purposes of the Bill, in a way that continues to refer to constituent art forms, but which will be sufficiently flexible to include traditional, as well as emerging and innovative art forms and art forms in any language. Dance and circus will be included for the first time.

As Minister, I will have overall responsibility for the promotion of the arts both inside and outside the State. The Bill provides that, in performing my functions, I may consult with the Arts Council and with such other Ministers, public bodies, or other persons, as I consider appropriate. As the Minister with overall responsibility for the promotion of the arts, I will be empowered to give a direction in writing to the council requiring it to comply with policies of the Minister or of the Government. Such a direction may include a requirement that the council prepare and submit to me a plan specifying strategies or measures that it proposes to adopt in relation to the arts during a specified period.

These provisions recognise this legitimate role for the Minister of the day, but will not affect the independence of the Arts Council regarding individual funding decisions, and indeed statutory recognition is given in the Bill for the first time in legislation to that independence.

It is important that the potential impact of local authorities on the arts be optimised, and that these efforts dovetail as far as is practicable with overall Government policy. Section 6 requires local authorities to prepare and implement plans for the development of the arts within their functional areas and in so doing to take account of Government policies on the arts. Local authorities may provide financial or other assistance to stimulate public interest in the arts, promote knowledge of the arts, or improve standards in the arts.

To ensure overall coherence, the arts activities of other public bodies must also operate within the parameters of Government arts policy and section 7 therefore requires public bodies, in doing anything that relates to the arts, to have regard to such Government policies.

Section 9 broadly restates the functions of the Arts Council, which includes the stimulation of public interest in the arts, the promotion of knowledge, appreciation, and practice of the arts and assisting in the improvement in standards in the arts. The council can make recommendations to the Minister on matters within its remit, and will generally act as an expert resource for other Ministers and public bodies in relation to the arts.

The Bill provides that the Arts Council be reduced from 17 to 13 members. It is proposed to introduce a system of rolling membership, whereby half of the ordinary members of the council will change every 30 months, rather than having the possibility of the membership being changed in its entirety every five years. In the course of the passage of the Bill through the Dáil it emerged that there is a technical gap in the text of the Bill, in that it does not specify the length of time for which the chairperson of the council will be appointed. Accordingly, on Committee Stage I will propose an amendment to correct this.

Section 21 is perhaps the main area of the Bill which requires changes from the original Bill as published. Many in the traditional sector have a strong sense that their sector has been treated less well than it deserves and arguments were advanced for either a new and separate traditional arts council or the ring fencing of a substantial portion of the Arts Council's funds for traditional arts. The Bill as published reflected an effort to strike an acceptable balance by requiring the Arts Council to establish a standing committee on the traditional arts, which would make recommendations to the council in relation to the advance of moneys to those involved in the traditional arts.

I understand completely what the Bill tried to do in this regard, but I feel the same result can be better achieved with a different approach. I would much prefer not to separate the traditional arts from the mainstream of the arts world, of which I believe it is an important component. I was also uneasy that the proposed structure of permanent standing committees would set the priorities of the council in stone, while in the real world priorities change and issues adjust over time. I therefore proposed a changed section 21 to Dáil Éireann, which will allow for particular consideration to be given to policy priorities as they arise from time to time through the establishment of non-permanent special committees to advise on specified matters relating to the arts. I would intend that the traditional arts be catered for in this way at an early date.

The remainder of the Bill consists of standard provisions that are normal for any legislation regulating a State body such as the Arts Council. Section 1 contains the Short Title and commencement provisions. Section 2 contains definitions. Section 3 provides for the payment of expenses incurred by the Minister in the administration of the Bill when enacted. Section 4 provides for the repeal of the Arts Acts 1951 and 1973. Section 5, to which I have already alluded, sets out the Minister's powers and functions. Section 6 provides for the preparation and implementation of local arts plans by local authorities. Section 7 provides that public bodies shall, when doing anything relating to the arts, have regard to Government policies on the arts.

Section 8 provides for the continuation of the Arts Council as a body corporate. Section 9 sets out the functions of the Arts Council. Section 10 allows the Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Finance and after consultation with the council and any other Minister of the Government as he considers appropriate, by order to confer additional functions on the council.

Section 11 covers the membership and structure of the Arts Council. Section 12 covers resignation, removal from office, and qualification for office, by members of the Arts Council. Section 13 provides for the filling of casual vacancies on the council.

Section 14 provides for the remuneration of the chairperson and members of the Arts Council. Section 15 deals with the appointment and terms of office of the director of the council. Section 16 lays down procedures for the meetings of the Arts Council. Section 17 covers certain restrictions on holding office as a member of the Arts Council or as a member of the council's staff. Section 18 provides for declarations of interest by members of the Arts Council. Section 19 covers declarations of interest by members of the council's staff. Section 20 prohibits the unauthorised disclosure of confidential information by members of the council or of standing committees, or by members of the council's staff.

Section 21 provides for the appointment by the Arts Council of special committees. Section 22 allows for the appointment of additional committees by the council. Section 23 allows the Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, to advance moneys to the council from funds provided by the Oireachtas. Section 24 allows the Arts Council, in carrying out its functions, to advance funds to such persons as it considers appropriate and provides that the council shall be independent in the performance of this function. This enshrines in legislation the long-standing understanding in this regard.

Section 25 requires the keeping of proper accounts by the Arts Council and for their submission to the Minister after audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Section 26 requires the submission of an annual report on the council's activities to the Minister, who will lay copies before each House of the Oireachtas. Section 27 allows the council to accept gifts of money, land or other property.

Section 28 allows the appointment of staff by the Arts Council and deals with the terms and conditions of such staff. Section 29 provides that the rates of pay of council staff shall be in line with Government policy and directions issued by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Finance. Section 30 deals with the remuneration of council staff. Section 31 deals with the superannuation of staff. Section 32 allows the Minister to require the council to furnish specified records or documents.

The Bill proposes some important changes, while continuing with those elements that have served us well for many years. There will now be a recognised and well-defined role for the Minister responsible for the arts. The Arts Council will continue and although it will now have a more specific obligation to operate within a framework of overall Government arts policy, its independence in individual funding decisions will now have statutory backing.

I commend this Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister to the House. Since the foundation of the State, only two Arts Acts have been enacted, in 1951 and 1973. In all probability the Bill before us today, the Arts Bill 2002, will be the only opportunity this House will have to assist and to encourage the development of the arts through legislation for a generation.

Rather than being called an Arts Bill it would be more appropriate to call it an Arts Council Bill because the majority of its contents deal with the functions, membership and staffing of the Arts Council. While these points are very important, the arts community wants continuity and certainty as regards funding and support for its organisations, as opposed to a Bill which seems more tilted towards further bureaucracy than evoking a vision for the future of the arts in Ireland.

As mentioned by the Minister, the initial contents of the Bill have been watered down considerably. Various recommendations were made towards a new framework and review of arts legislation in the discussion paper first published in 2000 that went out to all interest groups. The large number of recommendations and questions raised therein were certainly not included in this Bill. One questions the need for reports at all, when the majority of them seem to gather dust and their recommendations are forgotten. I speak of the report compiled by Theo Dorgan on submissions received in response to Towards a New Framework for the Arts, a report backed by PricewaterhouseCoopers in the Strategic Review of the Arts Plan 1995 to 1998; The Creative Imperative, a report on support of individual artists in Ireland; and a report on the music industry. Most of the recommendations contained in these reports are not contained in the Bill.

The Bill also deals with the Minister's powers and the role of local authorities in so far as they affect the arts. The local authorities have an important role to play in promoting and stimulating public interest in the arts and they should be supported more, especially in terms of funding. How are local authorities to respond to massive cuts in their funding from the Arts Council this year?

I note Part 2 of the Bill states that a local authority may provide financial and other assistance it deems appropriate to stimulate and promote the arts. It would be fitting to insert the word ‘shall' in this section because we all know that when money becomes tight in local authorities, funding for the arts may be the soft option, with cuts in grant aid to local communities and organisations. I ask the Minister to consider inserting the word ‘shall' rather than using the word ‘may' in this Part of the Bill.

The savage cuts inflicted on the arts community this year were nothing short of disgraceful and the way the council administered these swingeing cuts also left much to be desired. In Waterford, for instance, where funding for arts organisations on average was cut by 25%, the most extraordinary cut was inflicted on our professional theatre company, the wonderful Red Kettle Theatre Company which has done the country proud, both at home and abroad. The company's funding was cut by an extraordinary 47%. How can the Minister reconcile this with the fact that Waterford is designated as the centre of excellence for theatre? Their appeal obviously fell on deaf ears, as they were told it was okay if they did not do a production this year. This is an option which the company could not contemplate and they are fundraising to keep the show on the road.

This is an example which is mirrored throughout the country and many in the arts community are barely able to keep their heads above water. They are existing in spite of the Minister and the Arts Council. A person said to me recently that appealing to the Arts Council was like going to court with the Devil and the jury coming from Hell. The Arts Council can be a soft target on occasion and the Government can cut their budget at the drop of a hat.

Last year the Arts Council budget was €48 million and the expectation of everybody involved was that this figure would be increased to €53 million this year. However, funding was slashed to €44 million and people involved in the arts all over the country are hurting as a result, with no prospect of planning for the future. Existing on less than their present levels is all they can hope for. If this uncertainty as regards funding continues, many groups and organisations will be out of business.

I was chairman of Garter Lane Arts Centre in Waterford for several years and know the effects of cutbacks in funding, and the same applies in regard to arts centres throughout the country. If one considers this in the context of the cutbacks in community employment schemes, it is having a more devastating effect than most people realise.

The Minister's original proposal was that membership of the council would be reduced from 17 to eight. The present Bill has settled on a membership of 12 and this is a realistic compromise on the original suggestion. With 17 members, the council had difficulties in getting a quorum for certain meetings and I shudder to think what the situation would be if the Minister had persisted with his original suggestion. He has struck a better balance with a membership of 12.

When I said earlier that the Minister's original proposals were watered down, I understated matters considerably. What about the three proposed standing committees on the traditional arts, arts in local authorities and innovation in the arts? They are obviously gone and lost forever at this stage. The hopes of many people in these areas have been dashed. The Minister broke promises in this regard.

Recently I read Living Tradition, a magazine promoting the traditional arts of Ireland at home and abroad. It was very complimentary of the Minister's statements, accusing the Arts Council of not giving adequate funding to the native arts and commending his intention to set up a standing committee on the traditional arts with strong powers that would copper-fasten adequate funding. Where does the Minister stand on this issue now? He has dropped the standing committee, dropped the funding and led the people involved in the traditional arts up the garden path. No sops or half measures will suffice at this stage. This is just another U-turn and broken promise, and there are many angry and unsatisfied people out there who feel the Minister betrayed them on this issue. His actions have not matched his words.

I am sure the traditional arts will be covered in one of the watered down special committees and I hope one of these committees will deal with education in the arts. Owing to the poor provision for the arts in formal and informal education, the opportunities for people to experience and engage in the arts is limited and needs to be addressed.

The report, The Arts in our Schools, recommended that the capacity on arts organisation should be expanded to enhance the experience of primary teachers in promoting the arts. This report also stated that we must bring art and the artist into the classroom and if we do not make this an absolute priority, we are moving towards a cultural wasteland. It is for this reason that I feel the whole issue of education in the arts should be the remit of one of these special committees.

This was supposed to be a radical Bill for the arts. I can see no radical proposals in it. As a matter of fact, the 1973 Act could have been amended to include the changes involved. It will do nothing to support the cash starved organisations around the country and does nothing to instil confidence in the people and organisations involved in the arts. The Bill contains no vision for the future of the arts.

Is mian liom fáiltiú roimh an Aire. Ní foláir ná go bhfuil a lán cloiste aige faoin am seo ach tá mé cinnte nach ndeachaigh bodhaire Uí Laoghaire i bhfeidhm air agus go bhfuil sé ag iarraidh an bóthar a leagadh amach ar son na n-ealaíon. Le cúnamh Dé éireoidh leis. Bheadh an-díomá orm dá mba rud é nach raibh na healaíona traidisiúnta i gceist ansin.

Perhaps I should start by declaring my interest in this matter. This is not an apology in any sense of the word, but it is necessary that we declare our interest. I would expect—

Everybody knows it.

Exactly. I also would expect that I would be very much in step with the vast majority of the people of Ireland in the views that I hold.

What interest are you declaring?

My interest in Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, not Cumann Luthcleas Gael.

Both would be all right.

A first cousin.

I would regard this Bill as a road map for artistic Ireland and in so far as the traditional arts are concerned, it is a cross-roads. My hope is that it will be possible for the Minister, in the very near future, to erect the signposts on that cross-roads with very clear directions, and at the same time that the distances indicated on those road signs will not be too great and that it will be possible for us to see results very quickly.

I have always felt that, when it comes to the arts in this country, there are two Irelands. The first of these is "Official Arts Ireland Limited" and, in my opinion, it is very limited. As I see it, the Arts Council only represents about 2% or 3% of all the arts activity in the country. The second Ireland to which I refer is "Community Arts Ireland". The community is where the arts and the artists are inspired, nourished, cultivated and celebrated. That is where the main arts activity takes place and long may it continue. That is the way I believe it should be.

Words such as "professionalism" and "professional" are bandied about without any definition. My understanding of professional, in terms of the language of the arts, means something related to excellence. However, it has come to mean commercial or commercialism. They are two different things. The Minister has focused on this difference in terms of his recommendations regarding the new committees.

The debate on this matter has lasted for 30 years. I was particularly pleased that the Minister made two pronouncements on the traditional arts. He stated that, after half a century, there was no coherent policy on the traditional arts within the Arts Council. He also stated that sufficient finance was not directed towards the traditional arts. Less than 1% of the €48 million went to the traditional arts and the Arts Council stated that it believed that this was adequate.

The media has played a significant role in this debate. RTE and the Irish Independent, both of which made valuable contributions, deserve special mention. The Irish Times severely dented its claim to be a quality newspaper. Facts became an inconvenience and a distraction from some agenda which that newspaper was pursuing. I will leave it at that because I know that the average observer outside is well aware of what I am saying.

There were some people – the Arts Council is very close to them – who did not crown themselves in glory by the vindictive, vicious and personalised approach – by which I was directly affected – they adopted in this debate. Many people were shocked that this type of language was used. Surreptitious e-mails, campaigns and undercurrents have severely damaged the status of the Arts Council. Such behaviour has no place in any debate on the arts.

I respect everybody's point of view. The House is aware that I have always had a generous and flexible approach to everybody's point of view on all issues. I have always tried to avoid personalisation of politics and issues, but in this debate I was shocked and disappointed. Time will tell who was responsible for that, but I believe that the Arts Council has been damaged in the process.

The first arts legislation was introduced in 1951, the year in which Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann was founded. It was only 30 years after the War of Independence. Many expectations had not been realised and there was a mass exodus from the country. Spiritual matters such as art and culture were not the central issues of the time. That was the environment and the era in which the Arts Council was established. Grafted on to the Arts Council grew an ethos which very often looked at the faraway hills. At the same time, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann was running parallel, experiencing the same challenges and the same difficulties and trying to balance the situation.

For 30 years we have argued that there was no coherent policy on the traditional arts. We have argued that sufficient funding has not been made available, but nothing has changed. Something tells me that nothing will change, not because of the Minister and not because of the legislation. I have no doubts about the Minister, and I do not say that in a patronising way.

One cannot come from a particular environment without imbibing the spirit of it. I know from where most of the Members present in the House today came. It would be impossible for us to deny the resonance of a song which our people gave us or a tune played by our ancestors or by current musicians. It would be impossible to deny the aspirations that we heard in colourful conversation in our own communities. One absorbs it and it stays with one, just as it has stayed with the Minister. I am not concerned about the Minister or the legislation; I am worried about the ethos on which the Arts Council has been riding for so long.

I wish to extend the hand of friendship to the Arts Council. I will not personalise this issue. There is no reason for me to do so. There may be reasons for the misunderstandings that exist. My hope is that in 30 years' time – some of us will not be here to participate – if the legislation is being debated, I hope that the young Irish people involved in the traditional arts at that time will not, to borrow a phrase, "look back in anger". I hope that those young people will not be disappointed and say that, against all the odds, we embraced our own and were part of those arts and all we want is official Ireland to acknowledge and recognise this.

There is no doubt that the Bill is workable. I sympathise with the difficult task the Minister was given in regard to this legislation. It was difficult and I know that he has made an effort to create a balance in this regard. It must be borne in mind, however, that during the debate there was much clouding of the issue. Why was that the case? The PricewaterhouseCoopers report was rubbished by the Opposition. The consultative process of submissions was rubbished. Why did that happen? The answer is that in the past there was a policy of apartheid towards our culture and our arts, which were ghettoised. We were not trying to ghettoise it, we were ghettoised out of the framework.

One hundred organisations and groups came out in support of action on behalf of the traditional arts. They did not have the influence and the power to publicise it, nor would The Irish Times even want to do so. By and large, the cocktail circuit and pompous patronage have numbed art. Art belongs to the people; it does not belong to any statutory body or any particular organisation. It is the organisations which are rooted down among the people that realise this. How many times have we seen deserving groups, whose members were not part of the golden circle and who did not present themselves as elitist, being sidelined? They have gone away and may be sulking, but they feel deeply hurt because the idea which inspired us – the foundation stone of our nation – was not acknowledged or recognised when there was an opportunity to do so. The idea to which I refer was the inspiration of the new State – it was what we were and what made us. I am making these comments with a sense of generosity, but also with a deep sense of hurt. I am not hurt because of the way in which we were maligned or because the issue was clouded throughout the debate, but because potential was not recognised.

I hope that the Bill will be a success and I wish the Minister well in that respect. I can say that I have the highest esteem for him, without doing so in a patronising fashion, because I know from whence he came.

The Senator is tipping away anyhow.

I have to say, regardless of whether the Bill is successful, that we have been noted in Ireland for rising to all challenges. Challenge saved our traditional arts in the past when the opposite could have happened. It would be nice to think, however, that there will be acknowledgement and recognition, at long last, of the 10,000 performers who will turn up at the fleadh cheoil and the 250,000 people who will support them. The number of people who will attend the fleadh cheoil is three times larger than the number of people who will attend the pop festival at Slane. I do not speak of the individual professional musician, who has been the focus of the Arts Council over the years, but of the tens of thousands of people who have creativity in their hearts, who have brought excellence to the fore and who are willing to include everybody who wishes to take part.

I wish the Minister well. He will have my support and that of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in respect of the Bill. If he is successful, he will be crowned High King of Ireland.

The Senator will be dethroning or assassinating him soon if he continues to use that kind of language.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, and I thank him for bringing forward this important Arts Bill. The Bill is important because the arts play an important role in society at many levels. This legislation is necessary to clarify the roles of the Arts Council and the Minister, the functions of the council and the relationship between the council, the Minister, local authorities and the arts community.

I have been made aware, through media reports, of the issue about which Senator Ó Murchú spoke so eloquently, but I have not been a close participant or a player as he has been. I have been able to observe the issue from the sidelines. Having listened to the Senator's remarks, I hope that there will not be a conflict between the traditional arts and other art forms, as that is something I would regret. We do not want to achieve such a conflict. It should not be the case that the traditional arts see themselves almost as victims of an official attitude which seems to exclude them or create a situation where they do not feel they are getting a full share of support, financial or otherwise, but this is what I have heard from Senator Ó Murchú. If that is the case, we should work to ensure that differences are overcome and the hurt that exists is healed.

The role of the traditional arts in this country has been extraordinarily important, particularly at times when things were not going as well as they are now and when our sense of ourselves and our culture faced a potential threat. I do not refer to the 19th century, but to times in the 20th century when emigration was an horrendously significant feature of many communities. Our culture of traditional arts helped to maintain the bonds of communities in Ireland and abroad. When Irish people are abroad, they are brought together by singing songs and performing the music of the past and the present. The traditional arts, as defined by Senator Ó Murchú, play a hugely important role in retaining and maintaining a sense of cohesion, a sense of ourselves and a sense of our culture.

I would like to make two points. The explosion of the arts, especially as a result of the support given by various Governments in recent times, has made an extraordinary difference, particularly in local communities. We need to be open to diversity, particularly as our society becomes far more cosmopolitan as a result of the influence of people from other countries who have come to live in Ireland. We should listen to people from other cultures and ensure that the richness of such cultures and the richness of our culture support each other.

The appointment of arts officers by local authorities has been one of the most important measures to be taken in the context of the development of arts in local communities in recent years. Local authorities that appointed arts officers quickly, drew up arts plans and started to develop arts in the community are to be applauded. I assume that every local authority has an arts officer at this point. I certainly hope that is the case. The development of schemes funded from the arts budget, such as musicians and writers in the community, has helped to promote artists and has been a hugely enriching experience for local communities.

Melanie Scott, as arts officer of North Tipperary County Council, has played a hugely significant role in supporting local arts groups. She has helped the development of small dramatic societies and larger choral societies, integrated art with active retirement groups, brought art in the community to the classroom, arranged visiting exhibitions and supported groups that are trying to develop arts centres. Groups that are putting together applications for Government funding for arts centres have been given major advice. I hope that the capital funds that have been available for arts centres in recent years will continue to be made available in the years to come.

It is important that we continue to develop arts in the community. The role and location of the arts centre in a town of any size is important in terms of this development. The increase in artistic endeavours in our towns has had a major economic spin-off because it is connected with our tourism product and, therefore, helps to attract visitors and the development of the kind of quality of life that encourages people to live in communities. It is important that we support local groups and encourage visiting exhibitions, theatre companies and musicians. The development of the role of arts officers has been of huge importance in that regard. I urge the Minister to ensure that every possible support is given to local authorities in this regard, as they are providing better than value for money.

The final point I would like to make relates to the changing situation and is linked to the first point I made about the traditional arts. Senator Ó Murchú might be familiar with a problem I faced when I was much younger, when I was being taught music in Roscrea and Thurles by Kieran McNamara. We could not participate in the fleadhanna cheoil for some years because times were different but, happily, that has changed.

This signals a move away from the more self-protecting attitude of the traditional arts to one where there is room for the influence of other cultures. Although an outside influence is apparent in the music of Hayes and Cahill, it sounds very much as one would expect, despite the fact that they learned their music in an American context. Traditional dance culture has been considerably enriched by the influence of dance from other cultures, as can been seen in the phenomenon of Riverdance.

It is evident that an open approach to the music of other cultures enriches ours and ensures its viability in a changing society. It also ensures that music will maintain its central role as a cohesive force in our communities and, ultimately, as a form of pure entertainment.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire inniu.

I commend the Minister on the Bill. It is a considerable improvement on the Bill that was originally published. Those improvements are to be welcomed.

In a debate such as this, we are confronted with the great philosophical questions of our time such as, what is art? The Bill attempts to answer that question in its definition, which brings to mind the phrase "what is the stars?" from another area of artistic endeavour, namely, the O'Casey play.

The definition is reasonable. I assume that the term film includes still photography. If not, it certainly should do so. Photography can rightly claim to be an art form in its best manifestations, as exemplified by the work of Cartier-Bresson among others. I am pleased to note the inclusion of both circuses and architecture in the definition. I also note the inclusion of any medium when used for those purposes, which leads me to the realistic thought that a JCB involved in the erection of some architectural edifice could be regarded as an agent of art. Perhaps that should be the case. I can imagine some of the avant garde visual artists using a JCB, or some other mechanical device, as part of their work.

The point was made in regard to the degree to which the elite are the arbiters of taste. There is a regrettable tendency within the arts for elite persons and groups to claim sole custody of them. In that respect, I fully agree with what Senator Ó Murchú had to say in regard to the cocktail society, the members of which decree what constitutes art to the exclusion of the vernacular and of local community input into art.

At present, the greatest vibrancy in the arts is within local communities. The upsurge in vernacular art is perhaps a measure of our improved prosperity. It is noteworthy, however, that some of the greatest art we produced, in terms of literature, the visual arts and so on, appeared during some extremely tough times. The works of Peig Sayers, Tomás O'Crohan, etc., which are among the high points of the Irish language literature, came from difficult circumstances in the remotest part of the country, but they still shine as a beacon. In many respects, they could be compared to the works of Greek literature from the golden age in that they reflect the same insight into the human psyche and condition.

It is important to stress the critical role of the arts in society. Without a flourishing artistic community and artistic consciousness, society is diminished. It is important that those values which art represents – even in their most extreme forms, and in forms of which we might not approve – should be manifest and able to flourish.

There is an unfortunate tendency to compartmentalise rather than to see art as a totality. The elitist view of art considers that high art – whatever that is – is in some way superior to any other form. The origins of some of the great Russian musical works of Borodin and Tchaikovsky were in the vernacular. They came from Russian folk dances. Some people believe that art has to be remote from the ordinary community, that in some way it has to be elevated into the grand opera house and kept away, behind closed doors, from the general populace, which is totally wrong. This is not how is should be, but, unfortunately, that is sometimes the case.

There was some recent controversy in regard to an artist portraying a murderer and another case where an artist portrayed a murder scene in west Cork. I would consider it distasteful if the intention is to glorify murder, but I do not think anybody could accuse either artist of doing that in these cases. Art has a responsibility to hold up a mirror to society and let us see ourselves as we really are. The literary works of Synge and O'Casey looked deeply into the human soul and at what it was to be Irish and, in so doing, informed our perception of ourselves.

With regard to the Arts Council, I agree with the Minister's proposal that it should consist of a chairman and 12 members. I welcome the provisions of section 21 in regard to special committees. I agree that some areas should be treated as special cases because they are different, but, again, I return to the point that the arts should be viewed as a totality. Riverdance is no better or worse than the Clare set. le Brocquy is no better or worse than Trevor Geoghegan or anybody else. I could give many other examples in this regard. I deplore the attitude of the Royal Academy of Art in Britain which regards itself as the high priest and the sole custodian of the visual arts; the vernacular does not get a look in there. I will return to this point as I consider it extremely important that the arts be viewed as a totality. Christy Moore and Donal Lunny are just as much part of the arts as Ó Riada or Riverdance.

If anybody had any doubts as to the health of the arts in this country, they only had to look at the event in Croke Park on Sunday night.

Hear, hear.

We showed that we could compete with the best in the world and not just in terms of our music. The displays from Riverdance and Macnas were stunning and showed the vibrancy of the arts here. Only 20 or 30 years ago it would have been difficult to envisage us putting on a show of that quality. I am not referring to the visual effects, which have to do with technology, but the actual content of what we heard and saw. It was a matter of huge national pride.

Local authorities have a key role to play in regard to the arts. I am pleased that in my local authority area – that which comes under the remit of Kildare County Council – there is an active arts officer who has been instrumental in bringing art to the schools and the wider community, which is critical. The millennium project in Kildare was the erection of the Riverbank Arts Centre in Newbridge, which incorporates a theatre, exhibition space and so on. I had the honour of chairing the strategic arts management company in the county, which oversaw the development of the centre and subsequently brought it to the point where performances are taking place.

That brings me to the funding issue and I take the point in respect of the Arts Council. Dealing with the Arts Council was certainly a matter of frustration for us, in terms of trying to extract moneys, particularly in the context of a new project coming into the system and trying to establish itself. I also acknowledge that, even in the context of financial difficulties this year, the county council found more money to finance that centre.

We have also been highly successful in obtaining sponsorship for performances, shows, etc., which take place there constantly. A professional company put on a pantomime at Christmas, funded by the local rotary club, which was highly successful. Schools from around the area were involved and it was extremely beneficial. An important consideration is that the arts centre is open on a daily basis and includes a café where people can meet. Such a centre must be part of the community.

In two centres of the kind to which I refer, the doors close after each performance and do not open until the following night's performance. That reinforces the image that it is somehow an entirely separate operation behind closed doors. There is a huge responsibility, in which local authorities can play a key role, to bring the performance ethos and art out into the community and schools throughout their areas. I note that health boards are among the local authorities mentioned in the Bill and perhaps the Minister should add the words "or their inheritors in title". However, that is probably a debate for another day.

With regard to the composition of the council, section 11 refers to people "each of whom shall, in the opinion of the Minister, have a special interest or knowledge in relation to the arts or matters connected with the functions of the Minister or the Council under this Act". That is quite appropriate – people should have the relevant knowledge. However, I appeal to the Minister not to choose those who see themselves as sole custodians of any art, be it dance, film, painting or whatever. He should avoid the cocktail circuit to which Senator Ó Murcú referred. Such people should be kept as far away from the council as possible.

There are people who are extremely well qualified and knowledgeable about art and who should be involved in the council. In my view, however, there is a great deal of special pleading, as I have observed in respect of the body in which I have been involved at local authority level. People plead a special case, to the exclusion of all else, without having an overall vision of the totality of the situation, in terms of involvement of the community, schools and society as a whole.

I commend the Bill, in every respect. I wish the Minister well in the establishment process following its enactment.

I welcome the Minister. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. As I listened to the contributions from the other side of the House, I wondered if this debate had taken place, for example, ten or 12 years ago, whether the same criticism would come from those benches. Are the Senators now disowning the endeavours of former Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, in his work for the arts? Do they view that as just a fleeting episode of history, or are they serious in saying that it is simply the prerogative of those who attend cocktail parties and all that goes with such affairs?

The Senator's comments are quite ridiculous.

They cannot have it both ways. I fully recognise the work Senator Ó Murchú has done for traditional Irish music throughout the country, including in my county, Galway. Ordinary people with a love of Irish music recognise the part he has played over the years. However, I do not consider his contribution to this debate, in taking the opportunity to pursue a vendetta against the Arts Council, appropriate.

With regard to the 12 "apostles" whom the Minister will identify in the near future as members of the Arts Council, they should be seen as representative of and embracing all who have an interest in the arts. There should not be a situation whereby a finger can be pointed, as has been done, at certain people as being elitist in any way. We must remember that people laboured and gave life commitments in furthering their interests in particular aspects of the arts, without recognition from any Minister or Government. Even when no resources were made available, they persisted in their efforts throughout the years in the relevant discipline or aspect of art.

As Senators Ó Murcú and O'Meara stated, interest in traditional Irish music keeps communities alive. If there is any single bond linking communities throughout the country, it is traditional Irish music. Irrespective of whether it was appropriate to lobby for expenditure in that regard – and for the proposed committee which has been shelved – I am not sure whether that was a demand on the part of the people themselves or whether they were prompted to provide a lobby group for that area. Leaving that aside, however, if the Bill is to achieve anything, it must take an across the board approach, levelling the playing pitch for all. If the Minister achieves that, it will be worthwhile.

The representation which the Minister brings on board in respect of the Arts Council will be watched carefully. The membership of the council and the interests involved will reflect the Minister's commitment to even-handedness in this issue. Earlier, the Minister stated:

I have the overall responsibility for promotion of the arts, both inside and outside, and the Bill provides that, in performing my functions, I may consult with the Arts Council . I will be empowered to give a direction, in writing, to the council .

I suspect that he is taking on board for himself and, in a sense, perhaps, politicising his power as Minister to influence the work of the council in future. That would be regrettable. I hope that the Minister will confirm in his reply to Second Stage that it would be regrettable that the Arts Council should be politicised in any way, including with regard to its composition.

In the dungeons of many State buildings, works or items of art are being left to rot and go to ruin. That is regrettable. Successive Ministers with responsibility in this area did not get the resources to make those items available for display, either in some of our public buildings or in other appropriate venues. The arrangements in Collins Barracks are a credit to everybody involved in that regard in terms of utilising a vacated building to full capacity and displaying such a variety of items. There are vast resources lying in the dungeons in this city that could be given to local authorities, which could put them on display to enable people to have access to important items of art from our past. I hope the Minister will take that on board.

It has been stated on numerous occasions that the arts officers in local authorities do tremendous work to encourage greater interest in the arts at local level. It is not a question of a cocktail circuit. It is a shame to over-emphasise the idea of elitism in the arts. It is a pity that such comments are being made by Government Members when, after 30 years, we are introducing a Bill in respect of this area. Local artists are not elitist and they do not want to be labelled as such. If we continue to label people because of their endeavours and their commitment to the arts, the Bill will fail. I hope that the Minister will rebuke anyone in the House who labels people in such a manner. It is of the utmost importance that we recognise the endeavours and commitment of artists. Everything does not revolve around Dublin. It is a pity that people have such tunnel vision that they cannot see beyond the Pale. There is artistic life beyond the Pale. It is unfortunate that Members on the Government side make such criticisms.

As regards the arts in education, earlier today we highlighted the fact that many discretionary teachers will be withdrawn in the coming year by the Minister for Education and Science. One area which will be badly affected by such a cut is the arts, particularly music. Many young students would not have had the opportunity to study music were it not for the commitment of many management boards, principals and parent groups, which collected money to provide part-time music teachers in many second level schools. I ask the Minister to impress upon the Minister for Education and Science the necessity to fund the arts in education. The number taking art as a subject in school is declining because fewer teachers are providing tuition as there are greater opportunities for them to make a living outside the classroom.

The financial support available to arts officers in local authorities – particularly in my local authority – is derisory compared to the work being done. We want to establish an alternative to the drink culture. If we could find another outlet for young people's energies, we could move them away from the pub culture. The Minister must provide funding. However, while the provision of €100 to an artistic group in a community is welcome in the absence of anything else, it is derisory in the overall context.

I hope that the Minister has a contribution to make to the arts. It is unfortunate that the arts is part of a wider area of responsibility, including sport and tourism, although perhaps they complement each other. The Minister must focus on this area. The responsibility is on the Minister to move forward. If we do not give adequate resources to the Irish Film Board, we will be in serious trouble. The Minister's predecessor had the imagination and the support to bring something important to this country. The Minister must examine his responsibility to the Irish Film Board.

I join my colleagues in welcoming the Minister. He has been here on a number of occasions and I am delighted that he is present to take the debate on the Arts Bill.

I compliment the Minister on securing funding for the arts sector this year. Senator Cummins mentioned this issue. Funding for the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands in 1997 was €26 million, but that has increased to €48 million this year. That is an increase of more than 80% in six years. That is a large increase, particularly at a time when there is wrangling within the Government about funding for different areas. The Minister must be complimented at a time when there is a fall-off.

Has the Senator not heard about the cuts?

They are not cuts, but there is a fall-off. If one does not have money, one cannot spend it.

The Government has not got any money.

The Minister has sought to ensure that funding has been retained for the arts during a difficult period. I recognise the Minister's efforts to position the arts in the tourism sector and to promote the concept of cultural tourism. Senator O'Meara referred to that matter. The Minister not only recognises the importance of the arts, but also their position vis-à-vis the tourism industry in the future.

I welcome the Bill, which is the result of much consultation and debate during the past five years. All the stakeholders were involved in that process. They made their contributions and compromises were reached, as is always the case when dealing with diverse groups in any sector. Two Ministers made an input. The current Minister and his predecessor, Deputy de Valera, did tremendous work to ensure the publication of a comprehensive Bill.

I wish to rebuke Senator Ulick Burke because the Minister may not want to do so. Certain members of the art world were taken aback by the Minister's knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the arts and by his willingness to listen. Although there are diverse elements in the Department, arts has always been to the fore and the Minister has played a leading role in that regard. That was recognised by many of the practitioners in the art world who were taken by surprise. However, we in Fianna Fáil know the Minister has been interested in the arts for many years.

The Bill is important because it clarifies the relationship between the Government and the Arts Council. It puts in place a framework in relation to the broader issues of policy and strategy. It puts the Minister in the driving seat and that is welcome. There was some debate about whether the Bill would work. The new role envisaged for the Government and the Minister in the Bill and the initiatives which will be taken will ensure that it works well.

There has been much talk about the Arts Council. I agree with Senator Ó Murchú, although Senator Ulick Burke made little of the concerns he expressed. However, there is a perception abroad that the Arts Council is elitist, non-representative and unaccountable. I agree with this. It is more than a perception, it is a fact for anybody who has been involved in the arts world and who understands what is going on, particularly when it comes to the traditional arts and music and the role the Arts Council has had – or rather the role it has not had – in that regard.

Who appointed the members of the council?

The Senator understands that members are appointed over a period of time, but that is not the problem; it is the ethos that has developed. What the Minister said in terms of putting the Government or whatever Minister might be in place—

Was it because Deputy de Valera appointed them?

I suppose it is difficult for the Senator to understand what is involved in the appointment of boards—

Who runs the Arts Council?

—as he has not been in a position to do so, nor is he likely to be for a long time.

The Senator is defrocking Deputy de Valera in a big way.

The Arts Council has no publicly agreed evaluation criteria and that is a problem that needs to be addressed, which the Bill does. There is, at present, no democratic accountability to the Minister and the Bill seeks to establish this.

The Arts Council has been accused of being unresponsive to communication within the sector and the Bill aims to deal with that. The kind of ethos that has evolved within the council will come to an end with the passing of the Bill and this is welcome to many within the arts world. In light of the culture that developed, people within certain areas of the arts were not in a position to speak out because they were concerned about the lack of funding that might result at a later stage. The bias that was mentioned was certainly there. Senator Ó Murchú spoke of a kind of apartheid. That is more than a perception, it is a fact.

I welcome the recognition of this by the Government and its predecessor, which has resulted in the introduction of this Bill. The Bill seeks to address problem to which I refer and put in place a council that is more accountable to the Government. Senator Ulick Burke will be afforded the opportunity to attack the Minister if anything goes wrong in the future. He already enjoys doing so on regular occasions, so we are making it easier for him to fulfil his Opposition duties.

We do not need any help from that side of the House.

That is debatable. Up to now, the Arts Council—

If it were not for the fact that the Senator is in exile from Clare—

I tried not to interrupt Senator Ulick Burke during his contribution.

—I would say that he was having a go at the former Minister.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Senator Dooley should be allowed to continue, without interruption.

I appreciate that, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. I did not interrupt the Senator and I will try not to do so in the future.

In that event, the Senator should not provoke me any more.

Up to now, the Arts Council and the Department may have worked to separate agendas. They certainly did so in the area of capital funding. The introduction of the Bill will change that by creating a legislative framework to generate an overall coherence. All public bodies will be required to follow Government policy on the arts, which is vital, and bringing in the local authorities ensures this.

I compliment the Minister on reaching a compromise on the issue of special committees. All sides had a very trying time while this was being sorted out due to people's entrenched positions. The debate focused to a large extent on the provision for traditional arts. Much of the debate resulted from the Arts Council's consistently ignoring this sector. There is no doubt that its policies ensured that the traditional arts did not get the recognition they deserved, which is disgraceful when one considers the importance of traditional Irish music, culture and identity. Senator Ó Murchú spoke eloquently of the importance of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in that regard and I agree with him. The Senator has been to the fore in the quest to ensure that the importance of traditional arts and music has been recognised. He has received little recognition for this from the Arts Council. His comments are justified.

It was recognised that outside experience would be needed in establishing the special committees. The provision which gives the Minister the power to draft in members who are not necessarily on the council is useful because it recognises that, although the specific expertise might not be there, the Minister can draft in people other than those on the board. It is also good to establish a maximum of three committees at any one time because we do not want to lose sight of the overall arts plan. The Minister is going the right way in terms of dealing with this matter.

I welcome the size of the board. The number of members mentioned was 12. That is a workable figure. The previous number of members was unworkable, whereas a smaller board would probably not have enough expertise. As Senator Dardis said – I know the Minister is aware of this – the choice of appointments is critical to ensure the demise of the elitism, lack of accountability and lack of focus, from a Government perspective, that existed in the past. This can be done by ensuring that the people appointed have the capacity to discharge their duties, as recognised in forthcoming Government policy.

That is the next major hurdle, but I have no doubt the Minister will ensure the matter is dealt with. A balance is required. We need practitioners and managers, but also people with practical knowledge of business, marketing and financial management and people involved in the arts. A good mix is necessary so that the board can fulfil the needs of artists, audiences and communities within a general cultural policy. I welcome these provisions in the Bill.

The provision that half the membership of the council must change within a 30-month period is crucial because it allows consistency, but also allows innovation over a period. This ensures that these two needs will be adequately balanced.

I wholeheartedly welcome the Bill and I congratulate the Minister on the massive efforts he has made in terms of ensuring that all sides will be catered for and that the needs of the different interest groups will be met. I look forward to seeing the make-up of the board and the implementation of the Bill thereafter.

I warmly welcome the Minister.

Article 1 of our Constitution, which deals with the subject of national self-determination, speaks, among other things, about developing a cultural life of our own. The understanding of what that involves may evolve with time, but my perception is that the arts in all their forms are flourishing at present and have a great resonance abroad.

We were reminded by Senator Ó Murchú that the Arts Council was founded a little over 50 years ago. Like Comhaltas, it was founded in an era when resources were scarce. Senator Cummins alluded to the fact that the first Minister to take a keen interest in the arts was Charles Haughey. Reference was made to patronage, but Mr. Haughey, as the Minister would agree, certainly had a strong relationship with the vernacular.

It is a good job there is one faithful soldier left.

That is correct. It was right that a sort of patronage should have developed into structures, including a Minister for the arts.

I pay tribute to the work Senator Ó Murchú has done, with his wife, as director of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and the immense contribution he has made to the traditional arts. During the past fortnight the Minister and I visited Brú Ború, which is a splendid facility. It is important, in terms of our cultural self-confidence, that the arts should have a solid base. That certainly does come from tradition; but it is tradition which is renewed, updated and modernised. If one reflects on the classical Anglo-Irish literature of the early 20th century, it would probably have been quite vapid without that relationship to the indigenous culture.

The main reason I wanted to contribute to this debate – I referred to the magnificent facility in Cashel, which is available to arts groups all the year round – was to comment on the steady regionalisation of the arts in recent years. Any town of a substantial size wants to have its own performance facilities for local groups, visiting groups, etc. Many of them have to struggle. I am sure that the experience in my county is replicated in every other county. The people of Tipperary town went to immense efforts to build an up-to-date theatre/cinema with the café facilities of the kind that were referred to earlier. People in Carrick-on-Suir want to rebuild the Strand theatre. Every town of a significant size wants to have such facilities. In a time of more limited resources, we could consolidate those facilities and put them on a firm footing because they provide an immense service to communities.

The job of the Government and the Minister is to provide structures and finance and I hope that the Bill will contribute to a situation where the arts bureaucracy, arts organisations, the Minister and the Department can bridge the gaps between them. In closing those gaps it is important to remember that artistic independence is important. It is a paradox that without both support and independence – though obviously within very wide limits – no great art would have been produced in the past. From observing him for many years, I am aware that the Minister is far too sensible and pragmatic to get himself involved in great cultural wars.

I wish to refer to some of the institutions under the Minister's control about which he will have a number of policy decisions to make. The National Gallery and the National Museum are superb. Perhaps extra space could be made available at the National Museum by, as has been suggested, moving items out to different venues throughout the country. In my opinion, the decision to keep the Abbey Theatre in its current location was correct.

I am delighted that there is more competition in the area of classical music. The advent of the Helix has, if anything, prompted the National Concert Hall to improve its standards. Competition in any sphere is always good. I have some doubts as to whether it is strictly necessary – particularly in a time of scarce resources – to move the National Concert Hall. I have to admit that I have a great affection for its current location.

I do not believe that we need an opera house, as such, at this stage of our development, but we do need groups that perform opera and these are now travelling around the country. The Wexford festival is very successful and there is also the Opera Theatre Company.

What about the amateur societies?

Yes, many of the amateur societies as well.

I wish to make two final points. With Cork becoming European city of culture in 2005, the Government has to contribute as much as possible towards making it a success. Cork already has a lively cultural life, but some extra support may be needed and should be given.

It is unfortunate that the collapse of the institutions in Northern Ireland has put something of a dampener on North-South cultural co-operation. The island, as a whole, provides, in many instances, a greater critical mass which makes some ventures possible. The previous Northern Ireland Minister for the Arts was interested in developing that co-operation. I urge the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism to bear that dimension in mind.

I wish the Minister success with the Bill. It ought to be said – I do not believe anyone has yet done so – that funding for the arts through the Arts Council rose by an enormous amount during the past eight years, both under the previous Government and its immediate predecessor. It is on a far higher plateau than before and, therefore, far more artistic activity is receiving support. In the coming years we may have to, more or less, consolidate on a plateau and perhaps make the same amount of money go further. I hope the Bill will provide instruments for the Minister to do that effectively.

I also congratulate the Minister on the Arts Bill 2002. He listened well and the consultative process that took place in recent years has worked in the best interests of promoting all sections of the arts.

The Bill refers to the involvement of local authorities in the arts. I am sure that the authorities will play a leading role at local level, where arts officers have been appointed and funding has been made available. The Minister has retained sufficient powers in the Bill to ensure that it will work. It is in everyone's interests that all possible funding should be made available to promote the arts.

Section 21 refers to the performing arts. I congratulate the Minister on the inclusion of this and I congratulate performing artists – particularly those in the area of traditional music – who have done tremendous work in tourism promotion in recent years. In my home town, Adare, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann has provided numerous shows on a seasonal basis, in a centre provided by Limerick County Council.

I congratulate the Minister on the Bill and I wish him well with it. Whatever finance is available should be made to work for the promotion of all sections of the art world.

I welcome the Minister and the Bill. It is crucially important that the arts are supported. The traditional arts have been the poor relation of the Arts Council in recent years, particularly when one considers that they received only 1% of a €48 million budget. This is an indication that something is badly wrong. Were it not for Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in the past 20 to 30 years, traditional arts would have been dead and buried. It is because of the work done by that organisation that the traditional arts are still alive and well in this country, and we are very lucky they are. I am delighted the Minister is taking the traditional arts into account and that they will have an input into the Arts Council when the Bill is enacted. I sincerely thank the Minister for that.

I wish to extend my appreciation to all the Senators who have contributed to this informative and lively debate. The Bill is not just about the Arts Council, it is also about the arts generally and their relationship to local authorities. In addition, it is about the powers and functions of the Minister, as well as the functions of the Arts Council and the relationship of those who are involved in the arts with their development. It is not true to say that it should only be called an Arts Council Bill. Obviously the Arts Council is an integral and vital part of the system through which the Government supports the arts and, therefore, any Arts Bill will of necessity have to deal with the Arts Council to a significant extent. I stress, however, that the Arts Council will be independent on a day to day basis. As I have said in the Lower House, there is no democratic accountability if the Minister of the day is not empowered to oblige the Arts Council to implement Government policy. It is of immense importance that the people's representatives have a coherent input into the development of the sector. To do otherwise would be to abdicate our responsibilities, which is something I am not prepared to do.

It is true that there were cuts of 8% in the Arts Council's budget for 2003 and it would be foolish of me not to acknowledge that these cuts have hurt certain sectors. They have to be seen, however, against the backdrop of an 80% increase in Arts Council funding over a five-year period. Naturally, as Minister for the arts, I will be doing everything to ensure that I obtain the best possible deal for the Arts Council next year.

It is of immense importance for the traditional arts to have a coherent policy and receive adequate funding. Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Seanadóir Labhrás Ó Murchú. Is é mo bhun smaoineamh ar na healaíona ná gurb é an traidisiún bunchloch na healaíne agus gur gá é a chothú. In extending my appreciation to Senator Ó Murchú, I believe our tradition is the basis of how we engage with the arts. Artists respond to tradition which, in turn, evolves and clearly enriches our society. I see traditional and contemporary arts working hand in glove, as companions rather than as opposites. The old saying is, "Briseann an dúchas tré shúile an chait", and I assure Senator Ó Murchú that this cat resoundingly supports the traditional arts and will continue to do so.

From the outset, I have understood and acknowledged the sense of grievance felt by people working in the traditional arts sector. I made no promises that I am now breaking and neither did the Government. In fact, I have sought to devise – and I believe that I have succeeded in this respect – a mechanism that will deliver what the Bill seeks to do, which is to have a properly thought out policy developed and put into effect for the traditional arts sector. Lest anyone has any doubts, let me re-state my belief that the traditional arts are a critical part of what defines us as a nation and as a people. We must cherish and support them.

In appointing the new Arts Council, I will be seeking people who value and support all art forms, whether contemporary or traditional. The exclusion of any sector on the basis of personal bias or snobbery cannot be beneficial to the arts. Indeed, such people have no place in the development of the arts sector. In that context, we must recall the need for the Arts Council to be representative.

Recently, when I visited the wonderful Brú Ború cultural centre in Cashel, County Tipperary, I said I was reminded of the statement by Daniel Corkery when he expressed his disappointment at some of the literature being produced by some of the post-colonial Irishmen writing in English. He pointed an accusing finger at the crowd attending the 1934 Munster hurling final and asked the immortal question, "Who speaks for these?" It would be right and proper for this House, which has played such a significant role in the cultural life of the nation, to acknowledge that the Abbey Theatre certainly did and that, from its inception in 1951, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann most definitely did also. It is important that these things should be acknowledged in a forum such as this, which has had so many distinguished Members representing the cultural strands of our nation.

Nothing in the Bill prevents the inclusion of any art form. The definition of "arts" in the legislation is meant to be flexible, as art itself is flexible and variable. Anything creative or interpretative can be included within this definition, although this does not exclude the need for proper value judgments to be made by the Arts Council and others.

I certainly would not denigrate the efforts of former taoisigh and, in particularly, of Mr. Haughey—

Hear, hear.

—who made a marvellous contribution to the arts. He gave the arts a profile that they have never really lost. However, I suppose that policy in any sector evolves with time as more is learned from experience and new thinking adds to the mix. Every Minister who, at times, takes the trouble to reflect deeply, will bring something new to the Cabinet table and I hope I am now playing my part in that respect. I have already outlined to this House and to the Lower House the necessity for the Minister to be empowered in respect of Government policy. If such policy is not being implemented, the Minister of the day must have the power to ensure that it is. The Arts Council, however, will be independent in allocating funding and the arm's length principle will be maintained.

I accept the importance of the Irish Film board and the film sector generally. I have repeatedly said that the board is central to our strategy for delivering in that sector. I read the contributions to this debate not as labelling artists as elitists but as stating that no one group should be excluded, that all arts groups should be encompassed by the broad definition in the legislation and must be not seen as valid but valued also.

Several Senators recognised the important contribution local authorities could make to the welfare of the arts within their areas. They also stressed that, without funding, little could be done. I recognise full well the importance of funding for arts activities through local authorities. I will do my best during my time in office to strengthen the relative profile of the arts at Government level, particularly in the context of financial allocations. However, we must be realistic and recognise that, in the immediate future, funds will not be as easily obtained as in recent years. However, the strongest case should and will be made for the arts sector.

Existing arts legislation dates from 1951 and 1973 and the entire context in which the arts exist and operate has changed enormously since. Thankfully, they are no longer the preserve of a small group of people and there is general acknowledgement throughout society that they are for everyone. It is my fundamental belief that they must be seen as an integral part of life, essential to a healthy society, and a significant part of what makes life more than a drab functional, or perhaps mechanical, exercise at times. Coming from this starting point, I could never accept that a particular vocabulary, accent, address or set of social conventions should be required of those presuming to participate in or enjoy the arts.

Genius and excellence must be nourished and encouraged because, without the work of the most gifted, immense creativity would be lost. With creativity's loss, inspiration is also lost. It is of immense importance that those who express themselves in a form that leads to the conclusion that one is viewing, hearing or reading the work of a genius should be encouraged and cherished in order that others can follow their path, however far they can travel. The arts must always be inclusive, rather than exclusive, and we must be careful to avoid snobbery, however unconscious, creeping into our view of what should be regarded as art. I agree with Senators who made that acute observation.

There is a perception in some parts of the country that certain art forms are the preserve of a few. That is a view the Department is tackling with great vigour and we hope to succeed in overcoming it. That is the reason there are arts officers in every local authority area. The delivery of arts policy to the people must be done locally and channelled through people at the coalface. We are beginning to succeed in this regard. For example, during a recent visit to County Mayo, I could not help but be struck by the work being done by the local authority, for which it deserves credit. Arts festivals are springing up all over the place. For example, Clifden and Cavan stage outstanding festivals.

The definition of the arts is deliberately broad enough to encompass almost all arts forms and anything that derives from the creative side of human nature can be regarded as art. It is not necessary to be particularly or obviously talented to enjoy or appreciate the arts. Anyone who can see beauty in a painting, enjoy a good book or be moved by music has the capacity to enjoy the arts and that includes practically everyone.

The legislation, therefore, is relevant to all of us. It ushers the framework for Government support of the arts into a new era. Everything moves faster nowadays and priorities and issues change all the time. The public expects us to be more attentive and responsive to its views. The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism must have a role in shaping the context of Government support for the arts without infringing on the arm's length principle. Many State bodies and agencies have an impact on the arts and the Bill moves us a long way towards better co-ordination by all public bodies based on compatibility with Government policy on the arts. Local authorities are increasingly important players in this regard.

Dance and circus are included as art forms for the first time. The Oireachtas is including them because it expects circus and dance to prosper as we all know they can. It is relatively easy to know how this can be done.

Is the Minister engaging in double talk? He should speak for his own House.

I am appreciative of the contribution made by Members in the debate and look forward to Committee Stage.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 25 June 2003.