Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 19 Jul 1960

Vol. 183 No. 13

Additional Estimate, 1960-61. - Vote 13—An Comhairle Ealaíon.

I move:—

That a sum not exceeding £13,400 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1961, for a Grant to An Chomhairle Ealaíon (No. 9 of 1951).

The report and accounts of An Chomhairle for the year ended 31st March last have been presented separately to the Oireachtas. I am sure they have been studied by Deputies who are interested in the work of the Comhairle and that there is no need for me now to comment on them in detail.

Deputies are aware that the Right Reverend Monsignor Pádraig de Brún who was appointed on 1st November last to fill the then vacant post of Director of the Comhairle died last month. His death was a very real loss to the nation and to Irish scholarship and, in a very particular way, to An Chomhairle Ealaíon. Go ndeana Dia trochaire ar a anam.

Monsignor de Brún had, I know, some very definite ideas regarding the development of the activities of An Chomhairle and I had arranged to meet him, with the other members, to discuss these, prior to his fatal illness. Because of his death, that meeting did not take place.

The Reverend Donal O'Sullivan, S.J., who was formerly a member of An Chomhairle, has since been appointed Director. In Father O'Sullivan we have, I think, another Director of outstanding qualifications and I am sure that An Chomhairle, under his guidance, will play an increasingly important rôle in stimulating interest in, and promoting knowledge and appreciation of, the Arts and in all the other purposes of An Chomhairle Ealaíon.

The vacancy amongst the ordinary members, which was created by the appointment of Father O'Sullivan as Director, has been filled by the appointment of Dr. C.S. Andrews. Otherwise, the membership has remained unchanged. I think I should tell the House that I told Father O'Sullivan, when discussing with him the matter of his nomination as Director, that the only possible objection to his selection was that the appointment of two clerics in succession might be regarded as setting a pattern. I did not think that was a very serious objection and the outstanding qualifications of both Monsignor de Brún and Father O'Sullivan give all the explanation that is required. When the next Director comes to be appointed, whoever has then the responsibility will be free to select the best qualified person available and need not consider himself bound, or committed in any way, by what has been done.

As I said, I do not propose to deal with the work of An Chomhairle during the year. It is fairly fully recorded in the annual report but, in view of a discussion which we had on this Estimate last year, I think I should mention that recently the measures in operation to improve the quality of Irish industrial designs were examined by the Economic Development Branch of the Department of Finance. That examination showed that, while An Chomhairle Ealaíon was not able to do very much in that field, another Government organisation. An Córas Tráchtála, was very actively engaged in encouraging development. The view of the Economic Development Branch, with which I agree, is that it would be desirable formally to release. An Chomhairle Ealaíon from obligation to extend its activities in respect of industrial design and to make it clear that An Córas Tráchtála is the main Government agency dealing with it. The scholarship in industrial design, which An Chomhairle Ealaíon has offered, was awarded this year. The arrangements for the continuation of that scholarship is one of the matters now receiving attention.

Although it may not be entirely relevant to this Estimate, I think Deputies may be interested in knowing the position in regard to the Lane pictures. Before the pictures could be put on display in the Municipal Art Gallery, certain alterations were required there. These alterations, which include the installation of security arrangements, fire and burglary alarm systems, will I am informed, be completed in October and it is probable, therefore, that the first lot of the Lane pictures will be on display there about November next.

One final matter I shall mention. Consideration has been given for some time past to the general question of the suitability of all our existing arrangements for the promotion of cultural activities and to the possibility of improving these arrangements. No decisions have yet been taken and I do not now wish to indicate what the decisions may be, but it is possible that some changes in the character and scope of the activities of An Chomhairle Ealaíon may be involved. I asked that certain reports should be prepared and these have now, I understand, been completed even though I have not seen them, but I hope during the Recess to be able to devote some time to that subject which, I think, is in need of attention. Indeed, that need has been recognised for many years past.

We all wish to be associated with the Taoiseach's expresssion of regret at the death of the distinguished Chairman of the Arts Council, the late Monsignor Browne, and to record our sense of loss at the passing of the Monsignor not only in his official capacity here, but as a man with whom some of us agreed and some of us disagreed, whose brilliance and whose character all ordinary men will have admired. We shall also, I imagine, wish to be associated with the Taoiseach in his expression of satisfaction in having Fr. O'Sullivan available to succeed the late Monsignor Browne, and to congratulate ourselves that someone of his distinction and peculiar suitability for this post was so readily available.

I gladly associate myself with the reservations which the Taoiseach added to these sentiments, without in any way detracting from the distinction of Fr. O'Sullivan or the late Monsignor Browne. We shall regard their succession in the fact that they are both priests of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, to which most of us belong, as a coincidence rather than as a design.

I express some surprise at the casual manner in which the Taoiseach announces the transfer of the matter of industrial design from the Arts Council to Córas Tráchtála. I understood our object in inviting the Arts Council to concern itself in the matter of industrial design was, in some measure, to protect ourselves from an excessive utilitarianism in our approach to industrial design. Now, only a fool would desire to divorce industrial design from trade and industry, they manifestly having an interest in it, and if industrial design does not appeal to trade or industry it is not good industrial design. But that is a long way short of withdrawing this matter from the ambit of the Arts Council's functions and handing it over entirely to Córas Tráchtála, because that seems to imply that Córas Tráchtála is charged with the responsibility of sponsoring industrial design which should command the maximum sales, and this seems to me to be the very reverse of our intention.

We can employ anybody in Europe or the United States of America to seek the lowest common denominator of public taste and, if we are to judge that by the criteria of the popular Press in Great Britain and the United States, the industrial design that would appeal to the greatest number would be something far divorced from what was present to our minds when we invited the Arts Council to interest themselves in it. Do we want to substitute the Córas Tráchtála approach for the Arts Council approach? I think we are in danger of making a serious mistake here.

If we are concerned to sell the maximum number of Irish souvenirs, I think if we manufacture a sufficient volume of shiny blackthorns, with right-angle pieces at their tops, and china leprechauns with red hats through which a white clay pipe is preferably stuck, they may prove to be extremely popular, excellent sellers in the popular market. But I understood the whole purpose of inviting the Arts Council to concern itself in this business of industrial design was to dissuade the producers of Irish souvenirs from manufacturing shiny blackthorn sticks with right-angle tops, and china leprechauns with white pipes in their hats, with worsted stockings and buckled boots, with perhaps for good luck miniature blackthorns thrust under their oxters.

I am astonished the Taoiseach did not feel obliged to give us a more exhaustive explanation of the decision to make this transfer. I pick out one item, the item of souvenirs, because in regard to that one can make a very obvious case but the same applies all through the whole range of industrial design. I think we can safely leave to commercial firms, who are concerned to promote mass production and ready sale, to ascertain popular tastes in the largest mass markets, but I understood the function of the Arts Council in regard to industrial design was to act in some measure as a brake to any natural commercial tendency to seek the lowest common denominator, and to constantly keep up a judicious pressure on industry to realise that the lowest common denominator might be the denominator most readily available but that it is not necessarily the best from the long-term point of view and that, if you made it the hallmark of Irish industrial production, taking the broad view, it would ultimately react against the best interests of the commercial future of the country.

Having spent all my life in business, however, I do not want to take up the position that art for art's sake is the only criterion by which legitimate business can be carried on. That, manifestly, is not true. Due and sensible regard must be had to commercial considerations. There is no use manufacturing beautiful things if no one will buy them—if your purpose is to trade.

We have all seen the regretted passing out of existence of beautiful things because public taste was not educated up to them and, without seeking unduly to multiply examples, I do offer the House the fact that there passed out of existence in my time the whole glorious panorama of William Morris's designs which adorned textiles, wallpapers and ceramics, because public taste was not educated up to the levels of an adequate appreciation of them. I see them creeping back now when most of the original blocks have disappeared. While the ceramic industries which used his designs have been suffered to die, people have been coming back to an appreciation of how exquisite they were. I can also see that had there been an Arts Council functioning then it might have interested itself to persuade industry not to let that beauty die and, taking the long-term view, the firm which preserved and retained those exquisite designs would find they would ultimately profit, and that the reputation of Irish industry would benefit by their preservation. I think a British industry would have greatly benefited if these great designs had not been suffered to die in those branches of trade. Their resources permitted them to restore them and bring them back again, not in their entirety but at least in part.

I think we are in grave danger of travelling a retrograde road in removing from the Arts Council consideration of the matter of industrial design. I agree with the Taoiseach that if you multiply committees, you get nowhere at all. Therefore I am reluctant to say it would have been better to leave industrial design to the joint supervision of Córas Tráchtála and the Arts Council. I think that would be a better scheme than to eliminate the Arts Council from this matter altogether. I suggest to the Taoiseach that this is a matter which might be reconsidered and a scheme devised under which in regard to industrial design there should be more coordination rather than transfer, and that from the point of view both of the Arts Council and Córas Tráchtála, it might be useful if in respect of this particular interest, they were required to engage in daily collaboration and coordination of their activities.

I am glad to hear that the Lane pictures are shortly to be made available to the public here. I do not think anyone will complain at any delay involved by making available the necessary precautions against fire hazards and the other hazards which attach to such precious things, more especially as in a certain sense both we and the British are now trustees, one for the other, of all these treasures.

Possibly some other occasion may arise when the activities of the Arts Council can be more expeditiously discussed. It is a comfortable thing for the responsible Minister to come in here and say: "This body has published a report which I presume everybody has read." I have not read it because I have not had time. A great many reports such as this land up in the Library. I do not get round to reading them because I have not time to go and ask for them. If they are not sent to me, I do not see them. I do not know whether or not the Arts Council Report is sent to Deputies. I do not think it is. Is it? Well, I am sorry to have to confess to the House that if it was sent to me, I have not got round to reading it yet. I sympathise with the Minister who rambles in and says: "You have all read the report. There is no need for me to say anything about it." It is a growing practice which I would wish mildly to deprecate. I think the Minister has a wider responsibility than to say: "I assume you have all read the report."

He said he assumed some had read it.

That is even worse.

What I said exactly was that I presumed Deputies who are interested in the work of the Council had read it.

Yes, but the Taoiseach's constitutional obligation in this circumstance is to justify public expenditure not to some of the Deputies but to all of the Deputies; and the humblest, simplest Deputy, whose interest in art is virtually nil, may have an interest in the £ s. d. involved in the Estimate. What I am deprecating is that responsible Ministers ramble in here and say: "Some of you boys have read this. Therefore, I need not say anything more about it." They have forgotten that there are two aspects to their duties in this. One is to glory in the achievements of the Arts Council and the other is to satisfy the humblest T.D. that the money he is asked to vote will be well spent.

I should hate to describe this as much ado about nothing. I think we can all appreciate the sentiments that have been expressed by the Leader of the Fine Gael Party, and indeed by the Taoiseach, in respect of the many forms of art and culture in this country. But may I put this simple question? What can be done with £20,000? It is a bit of a joke to be talking about an Arts Council that has at its disposal only £20,000. To an individual, that is a lot of money, but consider all the things the Arts Council is expected to do. I do not think there is much need for anybody to bring in a report because what can be accomplished with that amount of money is very small indeed. It is true that other organisations which receive grants from the Arts Council do a tremendous amount of work, but that is not necessarily done with the money they get from the Arts Council but with money raised by themselves from other sources.

Frankly, I want to advocate that more than £20,000 be given to the Arts Council. I assume that the salaries and expenses of the Director and his staff must be deducted from that £20,000, leaving the Council with something like £15,000 with which to work. Tremendous credit is due to the cultural societies throughout the country. I know the work of some of them myself. The Wexford Festival has been assisted to a considerable extent by the Arts Council, and so have others such as the Waterford Light Opera Festival, the Cork Musical Festival and Feile Luimnighe. Other organisations have received help but on a smaller scale.

I believe this country could readily afford to double, treble or increase five or six times the £20,000 mentioned in this Estimate. Apart from the societies I have mentioned, there are many orchestras, bands and cultural organisations—

The Fleadh Ceoil in Boyle.

Yes. All these organisations would be eligible for help of some sort or another from the Arts Council. The Taoiseach should seriously consider, if not this year, then next year, surveying the whole position of art and culture here and increasing the amount. When one deducts the salaries and expenses of the Director and his staff from the £20,000, very little is left to be distributed in the cause of art and culture.

I want to support what Deputy Dillon said with regard to the transfer of responsibility for industrial design from the Arts Council to Córas Tráchtála. I would like the Taoiseach to know that in practically every city in Europe they have an arts museum and an industrial museum as well. I do not know how they are financed but I presume they are financed in some way by the counterpart of our Arts Council. I know that many tourists travelling in Europe, particularly those associated with industry and commerce, visit these industrial museums to get ideas for manufacturing things themselves. The museums are also a source of advertisement for industrial production.

I realise that the idea in setting up Córas Tráchtála was to increase our exports in every way possible. At the same time, I cannot help feeling that the average person visiting this country, particularly those coming from the continent of Europe, will seek the counterpart of what he finds in his own European cities. Only the other day I was out with somebody in two different cities in Europe who made a point of visiting the industrial museums to get an idea of what was being manufactured in those countries; to get the pattern of what was being manufactured there with the idea of purchasing or extending his own range of manufacture. He also wanted to see the latest developments in the country concerned.

If the Taoiseach's idea is to remove the Arts Council from the field of industrial design and if he has an idea at the back of his mind that by putting it in the hands of Córas Tráchtála, he is going to do a better service to the export trade and put across to the public outside the country what can be manufactured here—advertise it, in other words—I do not think he is going in the right direction. I think what Deputy Dillon said is right. That has been the custom and the system in most countries; in modern times, it has been developed to a greater extent than formerly. I think we would be well advised to leave the situation as it is.

Deputies may remember that last year on this Estimate Deputy J. A. Costello urged that consideration should be given to the possibility of making the improvement of industrial design a larger part of the work of the Arts Council. I agreed to look into the matter. I was of the opinion, which I think I expressed at the time—I know I have expressed it on many occasions—that about the worst type of body to employ to interest businessmen in industrial design is one called an Arts Council—

I would not agree with you.

Most businessmen I know are prepared to turn round the corner and disappear down a side street rather than——

Pears did all right with Bubbles.

Few businessmen would accept that in any circumstances an Arts Council could teach them anything useful in regard to their business. In fact the Arts Council was never intended by the Act of 1951 to have any exclusive function with regard to industrial design. Although it tried to interest itself in the matter, it was not able to do very much. It organised a Package Design Scheme which was, according to their own report, more or less a failure. Very few firms took an interest in the scheme. Then they instituted this scholarship in industrial design to which I have already referred. That was, I believe, the limit of their activities.

On the other hand, there is a body very directly interested, because it has a trade function, in the improvement of industrial design and it is not merely actively engaged in that work but it has also succeeded in arousing the interest of large and important groups of firms. In the past year, it has considerably extended the scale of its arrangement for helping firms to improve design and reap the commercial benefit that follows from it. It seems to be common sense, therefore, that we should accept that the Arts Council is not likely to be effective in that field and that the main Government agency to bring about what everybody recognises is important in the country's industrial progress, the improvement of manufacturers' designs, is Córas Tráchtála Teoranta.

I agree with Deputy Corish that the Arts Council could use a lot more money. They think that themselves. In cultural fields of that kind, there is almost no limit to the amount of money that could usefully be spent. I approached with considerable sympathy the idea of increasing the grant-in-aid of An Chomhairle Ealaíon, but decided to postpone taking a decision on the matter until I had an opportunity of looking fully into the whole question of the organisation of all our cultural bodies and their activities. Some Deputies opposite may be aware that proposals have been made from time to time for the establishment of some central co-ordinating authority to help these subordinate bodies to do better work. Whether that is a good idea or not I would not know, but I think we should examine these ideas and come to a decision about them before deciding to enlarge the scale of work of An Chomhairle Ealaíon or to provide additional funds for the work they are now doing.

Vote put and agreed to.