I am pleased to introduce the National Cultural Institutions (National Concert Hall) Bill to the Seanad. The National Concert Hall has a special place in the cultural life of this country. The range of musical experiences it offers has attracted many thousands of visitors since its establishment in 1981. In 2014 alone it presented almost 900 events to almost 330,000 people. This was the highest attendance figure at the hall since 2009 and is a reflection of its successful programming strategy.
The purpose of this Bill is to convert the National Concert Hall from a company limited by guarantee to a statutory body. Companies operating under the Companies Acts must comply with the corporate governance, reporting and accountability provisions of those Acts. Reporting to a Minister, or onwards to the Oireachtas, would not be normal for companies established under the Companies Acts. I consider it more appropriate that there be a statute-based framework for the National Concert Hall. This will provide for appropriate reporting and accounting to me and onwards to the Oireachtas while not impinging on its curatorial independence.
The development of this legislation forms part of a number of important developments in the cultural arena. Senators will be aware that my Department and I are in the process of preparing our first ever national cultural policy, Culture 2025. We have been engaged in public consultation and this has provided an important opportunity for everyone to have his or her say on what we want to achieve in terms of our arts and culture in the next decade. In the past month or so my Department has held a series of regional meetings, culminating with a one-day meeting in Dublin where cultural stakeholders from across the country came together to share ambitions and ideas. It was a great success, and I was greatly enthused by the level of creativity and optimism in the room. I hope that Culture 2025 will embed culture in the minds of Government and citizen alike, and that it will make culture a part of our daily language and form a greater part of our daily lives.
Culture is intrinsic to society and of inherent value, and it should be recognised as such. My aim is to create a vibrant cultural sector that is fully inclusive, with clearly defined strategic goals and a clear understanding of its interaction with Government. The cultural policy must also aim for increased participation in and access to cultural activities for all sectors of society. As a high-level document, Culture 2025 will set a framework for future strategies and will be underpinned by the principle of upholding and supporting artistic freedom.
As Members will be aware, the economic crisis had a severe impact on the sectors under my remit. I commend all of our cultural institutions on their work not just in maintaining services but also in increasing visitor numbers during the difficult years. I am pleased, therefore, that I have been in a position to stabilise and increase funding for our cultural institutions in the 2015 and 2016 budgets. A once-off €2 million funding injection for our cultural institutions, which I secured late last year, has been retained for 2016. The cultural institutions will also benefit from specific funding under the Ireland 2016 programme.
Before I discuss the main provisions of this Bill, I acknowledge the work of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht which contributed towards the development of this Bill. Members of this House sat on that committee and their work is much appreciated. I also thank the chair, the board, the chief executive and the management of the National Concert Hall for their helpful contributions during the development of the Bill.
I will turn now to the main provisions of the Bill. Part 1, covering sections 1 to 3, includes standard provisions such as the definitions section. Part 2 of the Bill deals with the establishment of the National Concert Hall as a statutory body. Section 5 deals with the establishment of the National Concert Hall as a body situated for the time being at Earlsfort Terrace to perform the functions conferred on it by this Bill.
Section 7 deals with the functions of the National Concert Hall and is an important section. The approach has been to adopt broad strategic functions with the aim of enabling the National Concert Hall to act in both the public and the commercial arenas in which it operates. The principal functions include the provision and operation of the national venue for the performance, appreciation and enjoyment of musical, creative, artistic and cultural activities. In addition, section 7(b) contains a specific reference to the public interest and promoting the performance, knowledge, appreciation, creation and enjoyment of music as an integral part of Irish life. I am confident that this section contains due recognition of the importance of the role of the National Concert Hall in Irish cultural life.
Section 8 is another key section in the Bill. This section is an explicit recognition of the nature of the relationship between the Minister and the National Concert Hall. The section provides that the National Concert Hall shall be independent in the exercise of its functions subject to such general policy guidelines as may be issued by the Minister to all national cultural institutions from time to time. I am aware that this issue was the source of some discussion at the joint committee hearing and I am happy that the provision addresses the concerns raised at the hearing. Section 9 deals with the powers of the National Concert Hall generally. In particular, the section provides that the board shall have the power to do anything that appears advantageous, for example, to the performance of the functions of the National Concert Hall.
Part 3, covering sections 10 to 17, inclusive, deals with the board of the National Concert Hall.
Section 10 deals with appointments to the board of the National Concert Hall. In making appointments, the Minister of the day shall consult the chairperson of the board in relation to the expertise that is required on the board. In addition, the Minister shall have regard to any guidelines prepared by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in respect of appointments to the boards of State bodies. Section 11 sets out the standard conditions of office for board members. Sections 12 and 13 are also standard provisions dealing with board vacancies, meetings and procedures. The Bill allows for the establishment of committees by the board to assist it in its work. Again, this is standard. Board members will operate on a pro bono basis unless a Minister decides otherwise. Sections 16 and 17 deal with statements of strategy and annual reports by the board.
Part 4 of the Bill covers a number of staffing issues. Section 18 sets out the role of the chief executive officer. Sections 19 and 20 deal with staffing and superannuation.
Part 5 deals with the accounts and finances of the National Concert Hall. Section 25 enables the National Concert Hall to borrow subject to certain conditions. Section 26 is a standard provision concerning the preparation of accounts by the National Concert Hall and audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Section 28 deals with the powers of the National Concert Hall to establish subsidiaries, partnerships or other corporate vehicles. The section can be seen in the context of my approach to this Bill generally. I have tried to be enabling in order to ensure that the National Concert Hall can operate across both the commercial and public sector.
Section 28 concerns the balance between enabling the National Concert Hall and putting in place the appropriate safeguards. Section 29 sets out the requirements surrounding gifts to the National Concert Hall. Part 6 of the Bill sets out the transitional provisions that are necessary for the conversion of the National Concert Hall company into the statutory body National Concert Hall. Part 7 of the Bill gives effect to the change of name of the Irish Film Board. The changing of the name to Screen Ireland or Fís Éireann will reflect the broader remit of the agency as the promoter of the Irish film, television and animation sector. I am very positive about the future of the National Concert Hall, and I view this legislation as an important step forward in achieving this aim.
I am very pleased to bring this Bill before the Seanad and I look forward to hearing the contributions throughout Second Stage. I commend the Bill to the House.