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Merger of Cultural Institutions

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 18 July 2012

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Questions (1)

Robert Troy


1Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Arts; Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he has submitted his recommendations and proposals to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in relation to bodies under his Department on the critical review list in relation to the mergers and amalgamations of National Cultural Institutions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35511/12]

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Oral answers (9 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht)

As the Deputy will be aware, the Government announced a series of rationalisation measures in its public service reform plan on 17 November 2011 and a number of amalgamations, mergers and critical reviews of bodies funded from my Department's Vote group are currently being progressed, as required under that plan. Four bodies funded from my Department's Vote group were listed in Appendix IIb of the public service reform plan for critical review, namely, the Chester Beatty Library, Culture Ireland, the Heritage Council and the Placenames Commission. In the context of furthering these critical reviews, my Department has met and consulted extensively with each of these bodies and also has consulted with a range of stakeholders. I should say that in the overall context of the public service reform agenda, one of my key concerns is to ensure that all options are examined in order that the most appropriate implementation approach can be adopted for each institution.

As for the four bodies listed for critical review in the Government's reform plan, I have now submitted proposals and recommendations to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in this regard. These are being examined by his Department at present and I anticipate the Minister will bring a memorandum to the Government on these matters in due course. In this context, the Deputy will, of course, appreciate that I am not in a position to provide specific details on proposals and recommendations regarding the critical reviews at this time, pending their consideration by the Government.

Furthermore, I also have sent my proposed approach on implementation of the Government decisions on the amalgamation, merger and restructuring of various national cultural institutions and other bodies to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. As this also will be subject to consideration by the Government, I am not in a position at this juncture to go into the matter in any detail. I was, of course, able to give the House an insight into my overall thinking on these matters as they relate to the national cultural institutions during the Private Members' debate three weeks ago.

Members are no wiser today than they were three weeks ago during the debate on the Private Members' motion tabled by my party, at which time the Minister stated they should know within a short time. I pressed the Minister at the time and was led to believe Members would know within weeks. The Minister has confirmed his proposals have gone to Deputy Howlin's Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Has that Department reverted to the Minister with questions or queries regarding the submissions? Will the Cabinet make a decision on these proposals prior to the summer recess? When the Minister finally lets Members into his thinking on the amalgamations and regarding the bodies under critical review, does he intend to publish his cost benefit analyses to enable everyone to see the rationale in this regard? I have spoken at length, both during the debate on the Private Members' motion and at other times, on Fianna Fáil's thinking in respect of the merger of these cultural institutions. Fianna Fáil believes that if the Government proceeds with what has been reported, it would constitute an attack on the autonomy of those cultural institutions and would be extremely short-sighted. The Minister should clarify this point to Members.

As I outlined to Deputy Troy during the aforementioned Private Members' debate, his party proposed precisely the same measure when in government and continued with that policy right up to August 2010, during which time it advised people being appointed to boards that it would be for the duration of the board or until a possible merger or amalgamation took place.

Fianna Fáil has changed its position subsequently.

It is easy to change one's position when one is in opposition.

The Government parties changed a lot when they entered office. I refer to burning the bondholders.

I note this is Deputy Troy's last day as spokesperson for this portfolio, as he is moving on to another position. I wish him the best of luck and acknowledge he raised many important issues. Moreover, he generally was highly constructive on that side of the House.

As I outlined in my reply, I have sent on my proposals to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. He is reviewing the proposals at present and I doubt whether there will be any announcements before the summer recess. However, that Minister certainly will bring proposals to the Government in the autumn. As the bodies with which I am involved only comprise a small number of the State agencies under review at present, of which there are 48 in total, there obviously will be an announcement made in the autumn relating to a number of State agencies.

I am disappointed to realise and those concerned in the particular cultural institutions will be disappointed to learn that their fate will be left hanging over them indefinitely. I imagine passing it over to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is a rubber-stamping exercise in that ultimately it is a decision for the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. These institutions fall under the remit of his Department and I would be quite surprised were the Minister, Deputy Howlin, to challenge what he proposes. It is disappointing that the Minister was unable to come forward today with a more realistic timeframe, which at least would let people know before the summer recess. Does the Minister intend to publish the cost benefit analysis to support the decisions he will take?

Finally, I thank the Minister for his kind words. I enjoyed working as spokesperson for arts and heritage and I look forward to moving on to a new portfolio on Members' return. The Minister was pleasant to work with 95% of the time.

In respect of cost benefit analysis, any time one shares services such as human resources or information technology and so on, one obviously saves money. In addition, there will be a streamlining process and I hope that whatever will emerge and be decided on by the Minister, Deputy Howlin, will improve the effectiveness of the cultural institutions. This is my ambition and I note all institutions and the effectiveness thereof, including the Oireachtas, must be reviewed periodically. This is precisely what is being done in this regard and is a good sign of democracy. It is what democracy is all about, namely, continuous renewal and refocusing. I have worked closely with the cultural institutions for years and am convinced and confident that whatever will emerge will be in the best interests of those institutions. In general, when it happens I believe that while they may not all be happy with the outcome, they will accept it. In the meantime, all the cultural institutions continue to work as before, in the interest of the Irish taxpayer. They continue to do their work and in no way will they be impaired in their work by the ongoing deliberation in respect of the future of these institutions.