Go raibh maith ag an gcoiste as ucht an chuiridh domsa a bheith anseo inniu chun an ceol in Éirinn a phlé I thank the members for inviting us here today to discuss the public petition concerning the future of RTÉ’s Orchestras. I am joined here today by my RTÉ colleague, Mr. Rory Coveney, and Mr. Mathew Horsman from Mediatique, which completed the review, entitled "RTÉ Orchestras: Ensuring a Sustainable Future", with Ms Helen Boaden.
The petition to Minister for Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Josepha Madigan, came on foot an announcement by RTÉ that it would conduct an independent review of its orchestral provision. The fact the petition garnered such support, and that is has been presented for the formal consideration of the Oireachtas, is testimony to the importance of this issue. RTÉ concurs with that position, and we welcome the opportunity to discuss the findings of that review with the members here today. As members will be aware, this review was conducted against challenging financial circumstances facing the organisation, and these circumstances persist.
Members may have seen that just last week the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, RTÉ’s regulator, having completed a statutory five-year review of both RTÉ and TG4, recommended:
at a minimum, that RTÉ should receive an increase in its annual public funding of €30m per annum. Given the urgency of RTÉ’s current funding position, the increased level of public funding recommended should be available to the broadcaster immediately.
In presenting its recommendations, the BAI has taken account of the fact that, notwithstanding its frequent funding recommendations to Government in the case of RTÉ, there has been no television licence fee increase in more than ten years. RTÉ's total income decreased by approximately €100 million per annum, or 24%, between 2008 and 2016. Commercial growth has been modest since 2016 and the television licence fee system remains unreformed.
As Mathew from Mediatique will explain shortly, orchestral music in other countries is typically supported by a variety of public funding mechanisms and grants at national, regional and local government level. In Ireland, by contrast, full-time orchestral music is dependent on just one public funding source: the TV licence fee. While RTÉ orchestras have been relatively protected, their budget has declined by 11% in that period, much more than other areas of RTÉ's output. We now have significant vacancies in our orchestras and have had to sharply reduce commitments to touring and educational activity. Morale within the orchestras has suffered, as has the overall public value of our orchestral provision.
As the review was triggered we were looking at more cuts to budgets and were finding it difficult to see how we could accommodate even the current level of provision. There was no possibility of the increase in budgets that would be required for the orchestras to return to full strength and undertake touring and education programmes. Put simply, RTÉ commissioned the Boaden review because it was clear to us that, as far as the RTÉ orchestras were concerned, the status quo could not continue. Although there might have been some erroneous assumptions made that this review was intended to reduce orchestral provision, there was a wholly correct observation in the following statement:
The implications of these cuts are shocking, especially given that Arts and Music Education in Ireland is already severely underfunded, and one of the worst systems in the whole of Europe. Something needs to be done to preserve and develop these orchestral institutions.
It was within the spirit of exploring viable solutions to address this situation that RTÉ commissioned the review.
RTÉ is aware of the importance of our orchestras within the wider cultural life of the nation and the role we have played in this for the past 70 years. The issues raised, as evidenced in the online petition and the Mediatique-Boaden review, affect not just RTÉ but Ireland as a whole. The review carried out in-depth analysis of the options facing us, ranging from outright closure to a merger to retention with full funding restored. Critically, the review concluded that neither of the two orchestras should be closed. In fact, they suggested both orchestras should be brought back to full strength. It became clear to the review authors, as they consulted widely, that there is widespread support for the retention of both orchestras, across the orchestra sector, among all political parties and within Government but, owing to the review, there is also now a wider understanding and recognition of the challenges facing RTÉ with much more constrained financial resources.
The review outcome and key recommendations are consistent with the analysis of previous reviews such as the PIANO report. It recommended that the National Symphony Orchestra, NSO, be either established as a cultural institution in its own right or move to become part of the National Concert Hall. A key provision of the review is that it promotes RTÉ’s role as a key orchestral media partner, through ongoing stewardship of National Concert Orchestra and close affiliation with the NSO in the future. It recognises the balance between RTÉ’s financial constraints and its public service role in promoting music, arts and culture.
Flexibility will be required from orchestra members, but the recommended approach provides a sustainable means of restoring the orchestras to former strength and the basis for a new creative vision. RTÉ was acutely conscious that any decisions that followed the review were not to be for it alone to make. The overall funding and governance arrangements for orchestral provision in Ireland are as much a matter of public policy as they are considerations for RTÉ. The support of Government, therefore, will be essential if orchestral music in Ireland is to flourish and if the recommendations of the review are to be implemented.
In July, the Cabinet considered the review and its recommendations. We included the statement issued by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, in the materials we sent to the committee. It will be seen that the Government has decided that the National Symphony Orchestra is to come within the remit of the National Concert Hall. In addition, the Government authorised the initiation of discussions on the implementation of the recommendations of the review. Those discussions are to be led by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, through both an oversight group and working group and the relevant stakeholders, RTÉ and the National Concert Hall, and with appropriate wider consultation.
There has been initial contact between the various stakeholders and the terms of reference for the groups is now being finalised. We hope to begin the formal discussions shortly. That is where things stand today. We thought it would be useful for the committee in considering the petition, and the related issues it has raised, to hear from the authors of the Boaden/Mediatique review about their findings and their analysis. Ms Helen Boaden, unfortunately, could not be here but Mr. Mathew Horsman of Mediatique is here to give a brief overview of the outcomes of the review. We will take questions after that, if the committee wishes.