Arts Plan: Statements (Resumed)

Senator O'Sullivan spoke about ring-fencing money for regional centres. Funding is available from the Department for certain operations, which is very important, but it is a matter for the Arts Council in certain ways. The council takes an overview on all the country. Considering the distribution of the council funds, there is a national distribution and balance, which is taken into consideration provided that every other factor is okay.

With regard to music in schools, in Venezuela everybody learns a musical instrument. At the recent 30th anniversary event at the National Concert Hall, I spoke to a very good pianist for a few minutes at the intermission. She told me that in Venuzeela there is a major emphasis on music in schools. If that country can do it, we should surely be able to mirror its efforts. I see no reason why de Valera should not be acknowledged for his part in the 1916 Rising. I suggest that the Senator immediately set up a trust and collect the required money.

Coincidentally, people from the National Library of Ireland were visited me this morning and I saw the letter discovered recently that was sent to plenipotentiaries, including Collins, from de Valera in 1921, directing them to negotiate the treaty. This letter had not been seen before and it was extraordinary to see how structured the letter was. Even then we did not have our own government but the group was well organised, judging by the paper and the presentation of the letter. The Senator's suggestion is a good one.

I agree with Senator Moran's comments on the teaching of music. Many schools are doing it, with many people acting in a voluntary capacity. Comhaltas has a major programme in this regard across the country, as do several other groups. Much depends on whether the principal in the schools wants music but the issue should be bigger. There should be a national drive and even if every child in the school had the opportunity of learning the tin whistle, it would not cost much money.

Another issue is the music syllabus. I have learned that the art syllabus for the junior certificate is quite creative, innovative, challenging and project driven, whereas the syllabus for the leaving certificate dates back to 1971. It has not been changed for 40 years. In the discussions with the Department of Education and Skills, we are trying to change that. Many young people are giving up art after the junior certificate because it is too difficult to get an A grade. Only about 3% of those who did art this year got an A; it was a very small proportion. As students count their points, they do not do art, and we are losing creative people as a result. That has to change. Some parents and teachers have told me the music syllabus is quite challenging, but I learned today from the Senator that it can be improved as well.

Senator Keane mentioned voluntary participation of which I agree that there should be more recognition of that. Most of us will have been volunteers in the arts for years. It is rewarding work. For years, Senator O'Sullivan and I were on a committee to set up a writers' centre in Listowel. At times, I get more satisfaction from doing voluntary work than from doing political work. I am currently involved with the cross-Border orchestra and we are doing a major event at the Ulster Hall in Belfast on 26 November, to which Senators are invited. My counterpart in Northern Ireland, Carál Ní Chuilín, is supporting it as well. It is based on a partnership and people from both sides of the Border are participating in it, including Una Hunt and others. The event has a major cross-Border emphasis and it should be great. I would like to talk to Senator Keane again about the VAN project. My official informs me that a number of cross-Border initiatives are in place in cinema and other art forms. We can discuss that issue further.

The matter that Senator Mooney raised was discussed earlier when Senator Ó Clochartaigh and others mentioned it. The incomes of performing and visual artists are stretched at the moment. I have engaged with RTE about television drama and so on, and we will have further meetings. RTE television and radio are the most important instruments in the country for the promotion of the arts. RTE is our national broadcaster and can do so much to promote the arts. We have entered serious engagement on how it can improve its coverage. It does a good job but, like others, it can do more within its resources to encourage the arts.

I was asked how we can bring more productions to Ireland. Just a few months ago I signed a co-production agreement with Luxembourg that had been around for about eight years. It is to facilitate Brendan Gleeson's film of Flann O'Brien's hilarious novelAt Swim-Two-Birds, much of which will be filmed in Galway, Kerry and around the country. Brendan Gleeson has put together a fantastic cast — all the great Irish actors will be in it — and it will I hope be done by early in the new year. That collaboration between Luxembourg and Ireland has resulted in the film being made. That is just one example of what can happen.

Such things will only happen through co-productions because the cost of costume drama is outrageous.

Absolutely. However, that is a good example.

I suppose another sign of the times is that when the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, goes to America he will meet the former American Senator Chris Dodd, who now represents five or six of the major studios in America, to talk about the film industry. The Minister, Deputy Noonan, told me about that this morning, before I came to the Seanad.

Good. It is hot off the press.

I suppose it is part of the national narrative that we are promoting the arts, be it film or whatever else.

Before my time, a good report on the creative industries was drawn up under previous Ministers, and the recommendations were to double the number of people involved in film and the audio-visual sector to 10,000 and to double the money from €500 million to €1 billion. That report was there when I came into the Department, but I got the Cabinet to accept it and, more important, I put in place an implementation body that will implement the recommendations. It is no good having a report if it is not implemented. I hope we will now be able to meet those targets over five years.

Regarding Senator Bacik's point, I would love to come back to the House and outline what progress I am making on my commitments and objectives. I would also be delighted to discuss projects that Senators would like to see encouraged. If projects or proposals come from the Seanad, I would be delighted to promote them in whatever context I can.

Recently, I put together a group of people, some of whom are the top people in the arts in the city, and they have drawn up a good proposal on philanthropy. The group was set up four months ago under John McGrane of Ulster Bank, which is a great sponsor of the arts. It is important to recognise that. Sometimes people are happy to be invited into the photographs when they go to an event, but they forget about the sponsor. We should remember that the sponsor is the most important person because they are paying, whether it is the Department, a bank or whoever else.

And the taxpayer.

That is the Department — the taxpayer. They must be recognised at all times. That happens in America and elsewhere, but sometimes it does not happen here, so I would like to recognise the work of Ulster Bank. Anyway, John McGrane chaired a meeting of the group, which has some really good people on it, including Kingsley Aitkens, Maurice Foley, Gemma Duke, Eamon Carroll, Stuart McLaughlin, who was in the Gallery earlier, Fiona Ross and others. They came up with some really good proposals and I hope we will able to get some funding for the arts as a result of implementing them.

My very good official who is sitting behind me has brought to my attention that culture night is on Friday this week. It is important that Senators support the very good events, which are free of charge, all over the city and the country.

I thank Senators for their attention.

I apologise to Senator Mullins. He indicated to speak but I did not see him, and he had not spoken before. If he considers putting down an adjournment debate, I will give it favourable consideration. Senators Mac Conghail and O'Donnell also indicated to speak. They had spoken previously, but I am sorry they could not get in again. That concludes the discussion.

Sitting suspended at 2.30 p.m. and resumed at 3 p.m.