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Arts Funding

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 18 July 2012

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Questions (3)

John Halligan


3Deputy John Halligan asked the Minister for Arts; Heritage and the Gaeltacht the advice he will give for alternative funding for an organisation (details supplied) which has studios in Swords, Athlone, Navan, Ashbourne, Finglas, Balbriggan and Portlaoise in view of the fact they do not qualify for funding from the Arts Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35361/12]

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Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht)

Primary responsibility for the promotion of the arts at all levels is devolved to the Arts Council which is funded by my Department but statutorily independent in its day-to-day operations, including funding decisions.

With regard to funding submissions by groups of the nature referred to, the Deputy will appreciate that any such submission would be for independent assessment and decision by the Arts Council. Any such potential applicant approaching my Department would be directed to the council as a matter of course.

Understandably, on foot of the recent violence in the Phoenix Park, people expressed their despair about the situation with many young people. The incidence of suicide among young people and child poverty is on the increase. In that context, we all agree that it is vitally important the Government take a hands-on approach to support any initiative or organisation which provides a real alternative to drug-taking, drinking and violence. I draw the Minister's attention to the plight of the Streets Ahead dance school. While it is based in Swords, it involves hundreds of young people across north Dublin and beyond. It is a fantastic outfit set up in 2004 and so far many of its members have managed to compete at national and international dance championships and competitions. It deals with disadvantaged kids who otherwise could be in serious trouble. However, it has been particularly hard hit by the recession and forced to reduce its numbers. It is just about hanging on by its fingernails but is threatened with closure. It cannot receive any funding support or a break in its rates because it falls between different stools. The Arts Council claims because there is a competitive element involved, it cannot fund it, while the Sports Council claims it is not its responsibility because it is a dance organisation. Will the Minister intervene and give it some advice on how it can secure funding? It would be a significant loss if it did not survive.

Some weeks ago the Deputy and others were arguing for an arm's length approach between the Minister and the Arts Council to be preserved to ensure the Minister would not have a direct say in how arts funding was spent. I remind the Deputy that I allocated €63 million to the council to look after groups such as the one in question. It makes its decision on funding, while I have to retain the arm's length approach. I advise the Deputy and the organisation in question which does a good job to go directly to the council.

In defence of the council, last year it spent €3.1 million across all genres of dance. It has a positive approach towards dance. I would be delighted to give the organisation in question advice. I work with various arts groups every day. At 8 a.m. I met one such group with a very good proposal. However, it is the council which is the funding agency and it is protected by this House. As it is re-emphasised that it must be independent and at arm's length, I cannot direct it in cases involving funding. Doing so would be against the law, as this approach is now enshrined in the Constitution. I can meet the group in question to advise it. The Deputy should take a direct approach with the council and put forward the group's case.

While I do not have the time to go into the details of the case, I would appreciate it if the Minister met the group. The service it provides covers many Departments and the problem is that it seems to be falling between different stools. I am not proposing that the Minister interfere with the Arts Council's provenance in arts policy, rather I am calling for the Minister to support a good initiative which is a small business but also a community service. It nurtures young talent and plays a significant social role in north Dublin and beyond. It has also enhanced Ireland's reputation on the international stage. It is now faced with closure because of difficulties in navigating its way through the funding hoops of Departments and State agencies. It would be helpful, therefore, if the Minister agreed to meet it.

Yes, I will meet it. If the Deputy contacts my secretary, Ms Sarah Doyle, we can arrange a meeting with it.