Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Questions (21)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

21. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her plans to improve cross-Border co-operation in the arts; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24341/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Culture)

Can the Minister outline her plans to improve, strengthen or grow cross-Border co-operation in the arts and cultural sectors?

For more than ten years, my Department has operated a scheme of funding support for small self-contained projects that seek to enhance, celebrate or commemorate the art, culture, music, film or heritage of the island of Ireland on a North-South basis. The co-operation with Northern Ireland scheme provides support for projects that have a clearly demonstrable North-South element and which seek to make a contribution to enhancing, celebrating or commemorating the art, culture, music, film or heritage of the whole of the island of Ireland.

Some €127,500 in funding will be allocated under this scheme in 2019 with a maximum of €15,000 awardable per applicant. Projects are awarded on a competitive basis and I will announce the results of the 2019 scheme on my Department's website in the coming weeks. A total of 30 applications were received in 2019, which is an increase of 18 on the number received in 2018. The years 2016 and 2017 saw an unprecedented demand with 90 applications being received in those years.

In addition, my Department also provides annual funding of €100,000 towards the Cross-Border Orchestra of Ireland Peace Proms event. This event is a unique and ambitious musical education programme in which 20,000 children from 250 schools throughout the island of Ireland participate annually. It is a musical and cultural celebration and provides an important platform for young people to showcase their talent while promoting peace, unity and tolerance through music.

In 2019, my Department will also be providing €12,000 in support for An tUltach magazine, which was first published in 1924 and is considered to be the oldest periodical in the Irish language.

There are other agencies under my Department which also engage in cross-Border co-operation on cultural projects. For example, the Deputy may be familiar with the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, which is one of three residential artists’ spaces operating on the island of Ireland. This is funded annually by both the Arts Council and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. This Centre is currently undertaking a significant capital development to which my Department has committed €309,000 in funding.

Culture, in general, operates beyond borders and boundaries and can facilitate cross-community and cross-cultural understanding at the deepest level. My Department will ensure that culture continues to play an important role in fostering all-island dialogue, and in particular dialogue between Ireland and Britain, especially during this decade of centenaries, and now in the context of the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

I thank the Minister for her reply. Brexit, alongside the absence of a working Assembly, has put a whole new level of strain on North-South cultural connections. Regardless of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, cultural links between Ireland and the North of Ireland must be strengthened and supported .

In recent weeks I had the pleasure of meeting some of the staff from the MAC gallery in Belfast city centre and perhaps the Minister may have done so also. Being from a Border county and having worked in curatorial practice before I ever became a politician, I had the experience of bringing together artists from North and South. I see a huge opportunity for the Border counties as to what is happening on the bigger political scale at the moment with Brexit.

Having spoken with artists, arts practitioners, curators and educators from the North of Ireland, there is a real concern and paralysis arising from the non-functional Assembly. It is leaving them almost in limbo. There is a real desire, interest, energy and enthusiasm on their part to engage further with the Minister, with us, and with the culture and artistic sector of the Republic. There is a real opportunity. Aside from what has been happening with North-South co-operation, which has been happening for the past ten years, what new initiatives are the Minister and her Government undertaking to strengthen those links?

The Deputy is correct, as I was in Belfast in January at the Equity Ireland and UK conference. I highlighted there the role of the Creative Ireland programme, with which the Deputy will be familiar and which launched at the end of 2016, and the culture component of Global Ireland - Ireland's Global Footprint to 2025, which was published in May 2018, to ensure that artists and other creative workers are properly supported to allow them to continue to operate in the cultural sector on a self-sustaining basis.

The key reassurance required for the cultural sector remains the continued operation of the common travel area, as highlighted on Friday, 1 March, by the directors of the arts councils in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. Our key message remains that regardless of the outcome of the Brexit process we remain committed throughout the island of Ireland to engaging through culture with our friends in the UK, with our partners in the EU and globally. While Brexit will impact all aspects of the Department's brief, it has not identified specific legislative measures for inclusion in the omnibus Bill on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. Notwithstanding this, the Department and those bodies under its aegis are subject to the challenges posed by Brexit and in the event of a no-deal scenario they will benefit from the practical measures contained in the Bill.

I reiterate that there is a desire on the part of practising artists, curators and art educators in the North of Ireland, particularly the MAC and, I am sure, many institutions such as Queen Street Studios and other independent art studio spaces in Belfast and the North of Ireland, to engage with the Minister and the Arts Council to formalise the relationships that exist with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Does the Minister have specific information on what she intends to do to bring a breath of fresh air and a new way of doing things in the arts, and in engaging in a new relationship with the arts sector in the North of Ireland? With Brexit looming and a non-functioning Assembly, these people are asking for our help. They have visited Leinster House to discuss with all parties their desire to work and to formalise the relationship. Will the Minister outline the specifics of what she intends to do? I would appreciate it.

There are many projects the Deputy will be aware of, particularly in the 2019 programme for County Cavan under the commemorations aspect. Cavan County Museum has an exhibition on the War of Independence and the Civil War. The Cavan and Fermanagh conference will be held in October, which will deal with the impact legacy of the events of 1919 to 1923 on the Border. The conference programme is being developed. The exhibition will be County Cavan focused and the conference will be a joint project between Cavan and Fermanagh museums. Work is at an early stage in developing the conference.

Culture Ireland also does a significant volume of work. It operates on an all-Ireland basis and supports artists from Northern Ireland presenting their work globally. It partners with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and shares promotional stands at the world music trade fair each year, which is part of the horizons partnership to co-promote music at global events. In April, Culture Ireland officials met the executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland to discuss how the co-ordination of support to artists can be enhanced, particularly in respect of the focus on key art forms.