Arts Bill 2002: Committee and Remaining Stages.

Sections 1 to 10, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 11.
Government amendment No. 1:
In page 8, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following new subsection:
"(4) The chairperson of the Council shall hold office for 5 years from the date of his or her appointment.".

Section 11 specifies the length of time ordinary members of the council shall serve. There is, however, no reference to the term of appointment of the chairperson. It was always the Minister's intention that the chairperson should serve for a term of five years. I propose the amendment to provide for this.

It is a reasonable amendment to provide for a period of five years. It is the same in most semi-State bodies. We agree with it.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 11, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 12 to 32, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I commend the work of the Minister and his officials on this legislation. I know it did not spend a lot of time in this House but it had a long period of consideration and had amendments made to it in the other House. I wish the Department and all the players connected with the arts industry every success in the future with the new framework outlined in the Bill. I hope it signals a continuation of the tremendous growth of the arts, particularly the arts in the community.

We wish the Bill and everyone associated with the arts every success. We had hoped the Minister would look at a few areas of concern but because some of the amendments tabled in the other House were not accepted there was not any point tabling them again here.

Perhaps when the special policy committees are established, they will look at the issue of professionalism. "Amateurism" seems to be a dirty word as far as the Arts Council is concerned. Many applications have been submitted but it is not within its remit to fund amateur societies. An international festival of light opera is held in Waterford, the organisers of which have applied on numerous occasions for funding. It has professional producers, adjudicators and orchestras but because amateur societies take part – it is the only amateur operatic festival in Europe – it cannot get funding.

Amateur musical and operatic societies are the lifeblood of communities but cannot get money from the Arts Council. That is a disgrace. A musical society in Carrick-on-Suir has bought an old theatre and is looking for money from the Arts Council. Surely communities and associations involved in the community should be supported by the council. I ask the Minister to consider the issue of professionalism when the policy committees are being established. Amateur musical societies should be supported. The Association of Irish Musical Societies is the umbrella body for all amateur musical societies. It has not received any money from the Arts Council, which is a disgrace. Something similar is happening in the area of traditional music, which we discussed yesterday. I ask the Minister to take these points into consideration when the committees are being established.

I compliment the Minister, his officials and all involved in this process. Seldom have the arts been at the centre of a debate for so long. That must be healthy. Many were involved in the debate and, therefore, their expectations might be high. I empathise with the points made by Senator Cummins. We might have to revisit the definition of professional and amateur status not within the legislation but within arts policy. The emphasis should be on excellence rather than on who is or is not involved on a full-time basis. Perhaps it might be possible for the Minister to consider designating one of the special committees for that purpose because a committee only stays in existence for a certain length of time. Given that there are three committees on offer, it might be a good process and would give the people Senator Cummins mentioned an opportunity to be proactive in that regard.

I wish the Bill and the incoming Arts Council well. As was said recently in relation to the Middle East, we should let bygones be bygones, put the debate behind us and get on with our work in a positive way, as is expected of us from all practitioners of the arts. Because of our status internationally, there is an onus on us to do our best in every way possible and be exemplary in the work we do. I thank and congratulate all involved.

I congratulate the Minister, the Minister of State and his officials. I agree with all of the previous speakers that this has been a very good debate and that the consultative process that has taken place has been worthwhile. The Minister has got it right this time. All those involved in the arts are asking for is a fair share. I am also delighted to see the Minister spelling out that the local authorities will have a role to play at local level – this is essential. I wish the Minister well.

At the conclusion of the Seanad's consideration of this Bill, the Minister wants to express his sincerest thanks for the manner in which Senators from all sides of the House participated in the debate which was informed and sincere. The level of engagement demonstrated yet again just how important the arts were. Although concerns were expressed about elitism or perceptions of elitism, what came across to the Minister clearly during the debate was that the arts were already a part of the lives of people from all social groups and in all areas. Furthermore, it was confirmed to him that there was an unprecedented level of interest in participation in all sectors of the arts. If we provide facilities, they are used. People enthusiastically participate in arts related events without any effort on the part of officialdom to push them in that direction. The young, in particular, seem to find the arts almost their natural medium. It comes naturally to them to embrace the arts.

The Minister said on Second Stage that snobbery should never dictate what we regarded as art or who should be involved in the arts. It is equally important that we avoid any reverse snobbery that would exclude or downgrade what have traditionally been seen as the less accessible artistic forms. Every art form has its place. The Minister believes that if people enjoy something, are challenged or stimulated by it or draw inspiration from it, that is of value. We are not in the business of excluding anyone – there is enough room at the table for all.

We heard well thought out, measured and mostly constructive contributions on the issue of the traditional arts, for which the Minister is grateful. I emphasise again his main concerns with regard to this issue. He is a passionate supporter of the traditional arts and can readily understand and empathise with the sense of grievance evident in the sector. He believes decisive and effective action must be taken to respond to this. The fact that he departed from the original approach of the Bill in this context does not in any way imply that he disagreed with what the Bill was trying to do but simply that he believed that a different approach would yield a better result. He is convinced that the mechanism being provided for in the Bill can achieve what needs to be achieved and is determined that this will be followed through. It must be remembered also that the mechanisms now provided for in the Bill do not in any way restrict the Minister to having just one go at this. We can come back to it as many times as are necessary and work on it for as long as we need to make sure that real change happens.

Soon, I am glad to say, we will have a new Arts Act, the first for many years, and shortly thereafter a new Arts Council. The Minister knows that the funding position this year has caused difficulties for many but we must remember that this is set against a background of unprecedented levels of funding over the past five years. He remains convinced that the arts are more vibrant, imaginative and alive than at any time in our history and that the sector has an extremely bright future.

The Minister has taken on board comments in relation to the importance of representation on the Arts Council which is required to advise the Government as well as serve the interests of the arts community and the greater public. It is important, therefore, in fulfilling its remit that it has the necessary expertise and is not subjected to the constraints of having particular regional representation or representation of specific art forms.

The Minister regards it as a great privilege to be entrusted with responsibility for the arts. I know he will employ all his abilities to nurture and advance this precious part of our lives. I will take note of Senator Cummins's comments and bring them to the Minister's attention with those of Senator Ó Murchú. On behalf of the Minister, I thank all participants in the debate and the officials of the House and the Minister's Department. I wish the Bill success.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 5.45 p.m. and resumed at 6 p.m.