I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Is mór agam an deis seo a fháil chun an díospóireacht ar an mBille um Bord Scannán na hÉireann (Leasú), 1993, a oscailt go hoifigiúil anseo i nDáil Éireann. Tá mé sásta go dtabharfaidh an Bille seo deis chuí do Theachtaí Dála staid ár dtionscail scannáin agus éist-fís a phlé go cuimsitheach. Tá mé ag súil le díospóireacht bhríomhar ar an téama seo.
Níl ach aidhm amháin ag an mBille seo atá ós comhair na Dála inniú. Is í an aidhm sin ná méadú a dhéanamh ar an méid airgid — idir infheistíochtaí, iasachtaí, deontais, nó aon fhreagrachtaí eile— gur féidir le Bord Scannán na hÉireann a chaitheamh sna blianta atá romhainn. Is é an t-uasmhéid gur féidir leis an mBord a chaitheamh sa tslí seo faoi alt 10 den Acht um Bord Scannán na hÉireann, 1980, ná £4,100,000. Ós rud é go bhfuil an t-uasmhéid sin bainte amach anois i mbliana, tá mé ag moladh don Oireachtas sa Bhille seo go n-árdofaí an t-uasmhéid seo go dtí £15,000,000. Má ghlacann an tOireachtas leis an mBille seo, leanfar leis an gcóras faoina gcuirfear an ciste airgeadais do Bhord Scannán na hÉireann os comhair na Dála gach bliain faoi Vóta 42 de na Meastacháin don Roinn Ealaíon, Cultúir agus Gaeltachta.
Is ábhar mór sásaimh domsa, a Cheann Chomhairle, go bhfuil géarghá le reachtáil an Bhille seo anois toisc go bhfuil mé, la lán-tacaíocht ón Rialtas, tar éis polasaí cuimsitheach a chur i bhfeidhm i leith tionscal scannáin agus éist-fís na tíre seo cheana féin. Go dtí seo, tá trí pholasaí fé leith curtha i bhfeidhm agam, agus is iad sin ná: ath-bhunú Bhord Scannán na hÉireann, agus Meastachán Forlíontach a fháil don Bhord i rith na bliana seo a chuir £1,145,000 ar fáil dóibh i 1993; reachtáil an Achta um Údarás Craolacháin (Leasú), 1993, i Mí an Mheithimh seo caite; agus reachtáil an Achta Airgeadais, 1993, a chuir trí leasuithe tábhachtacha i bhfeidhm i gcorás cánach na tíre seo i leith an tionscail. Mar is eol do Theachtaí Dála cheana féin, tá mé ag plé fé láthair le céim pholasaí eile — bunú corás nua Theilefís na Gaeilge — agus tá mé sásta go mbeidh gach gné de héileamh an tionscail seo freagraithe agam nuair a chuirfidh mé an corás nua sin ar bun.
It gives me particular pleasure to open this debate on Second Stage of the Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill 1993. The debate will afford Deputies the opportunity to outline their views on the measures which I, with the full support of the Government, have taken to promote the Irish film and audiovisual production industry in the short time since I was appointed Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. I look forward to hearing the views of the House on the future priorities and needs of the industry. I would like to say from the outset that, in so far as future policy orientations for the Irish film and audiovisual production industry are concerned, I would welcome and I am prepared to seriously consider any constructive suggestions which might emanate from this debate.
The purpose of the Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill, 1993, is to increase the limit of the total amount of funds which can be expended, by way of investments, loans, grants or other liabilities, by Bord Scannán an hÉireann—the Irish Film Board — under section 10 of the Irish Film Board Act, 1980, from the present limit of £4.1 million to £15 million. In raising this limit on the amount of funds which the board can spend, the provisions of section 5 of the 1980 Act still remain in force. Section 5 provides that "the Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, may from time to time make, out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas, grants to the board to enable it to perform its functions and to meet its administrative and general expenses". If Oireachtas approval is given to this Bill, the effect of raising the limit of the amount to be spent by the board to £15 million will be that, through the annual Estimates process, Dáil Éireann can vote moneys to the board annually through the Vote for An Roinn Ealaíon, Cultúir agus Gaeltachta up to this new limit. Therefore, I must emphasise to Deputies that the Bill is essentially enabling legislation which does not automatically give rise to Exchequr costs. However, the position is that the £4.1 million limit under section 10 of the 1980 Act has now been exhausted and it will not be possible for the House to vote funds for the Irish Film Board in 1994 or subsequent years unless this limit is increased as envisaged in the Bill.
In recommending the Bill to Deputies, I believe it would be worthwhile to place the measure in the context of the history of the rather fragmented efforts which successive Governments have taken to promote a film and audiovisual industry in this country. The history of film making in Ireland has been one of many brave beginnings, some dispiriting episodes and, above all, ongoing debate about whether film is a commercial enterprise on the one hand or a cultural activity on the other.
Many attempts have been made to create an Irish film industry, which began with the first indigenous Irish films — Denis Johnston's Guest of the Nation, from the Frank O'Connor story, made in 1935, and Tom Cooper's The Dawn, which was made in Kerry the following year. There were interventions by American film companies making films on Irish subjects; there was the establishment of Irish cinema newsreels and support by Government for documentary films. In this connection I should record my personal admiration of the efforts of Gael Linn in this process — it produced a weekly newsreel in Irish for many years as well as the highly acclaimed films “Mise Éire” agus “Saoirse”. There was also a growing consciousness that our rich theatre and story telling tradition, our narrative ability, and our acting talent would provide the basic resources to attract international production companies here — with a concomitant financial return to the Irish economy — and, very importantly, the opportunity to build up a pool of skills and expertise in Ireland to form a future core of native film workers, writers, actors, directors and producers, all the skills involved in the production of films.
These were some of the concerns that led to the founding in 1958 of Ardmore Studios, a private enterprise that had the backing of the State-owned Industrial Credit Company Limited. Two years later, in 1960, the Irish Film Finance Corporation — a subsidiary of the Industrial Credit Company — began to offer loans to foreign producers using Ardmore. However, it quickly became evident that visiting production companies were importing most of their own expertise and that the networks for the distribution of film were owned and operated by American studios, thus diminishing the opportunity for Irish film makers to reach markets and audiences. Within a period of two years, the Irish Film Finance Corporation had ceased to operate.
The establishment of Telefís Éireann on New Year's Eve 1961 began a process of film and television broadcasting that reinforced interest from Irish viewers, and decisively engaged in the training of technical and production sectors. While the vast majority of drama and documentary work was handled by RTE's own staff, the late 1960s saw the first green shoots of independent film work coming from a variety of Irish sources, both documentary and fiction, together with growing activity in the making of advertisements and commercials. At the same time it must be said that the arrival of television in Ireland, in line with experience elsewhere, led to a decline in cinemagoing. Indeed, the decline in cinema attendance worldwide led to a serious decline in the quality of film, which I am glad to say has been redressed in recent years.
To return to the long history of events leading to the enactment of the Film Board Act, 1980, an invitation by the then Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, to the film director John Huston to chair a commission on the Irish film industry led to the Huston report in 1968, one of the most important documents in Irish film history. As a consequence of this report a Film Industry Bill was presented to the Oireachtas in 1970 by the then Minister for Industry and Commerce. Unhappily, the Bill lapsed due, in some part, to the trauma of political events around that time.
The next decade saw some, albeit modest, developments. The enactment of the Arts Act, 1972, empowered An Chomhairle Ealaíon, the Arts Council, to promote low-budget film-making as well as some training, and also to provide support for film festivals and the work of the Irish Film Institute. The fortunes of Ardmore Studios waxed and waned. In 1978 the Government again intervened, this time commissioning a British-based firm, A.D. Little, to survey the scene and to propose a stategy. Following its report, and wide-ranging representations from the film community, the Film Industry Bill was revised. The Bill informed the basis of the Irish Film Board Act, 1980, and the board met for the first time on 24 August 1981. Six years later, on 25 June 1987, the then Taoiseach announced the winding down of the board and its replacement by a tax-based incentive for corporate investment in Irish film projects.
In retrospect — and I acknowledge that it is easy for us all to be wise after the event — perhaps expectations for the first Film Board were unrealistic. There had been talk of a revolving fund, reinvesting returns from commercially profitable films to top up the board's modest resources; and expectations that these returns would follow in a relatively short space of time — perhaps this calculation was unrealistic — and a perception of film which laid greater emphasis on its character within a manufacturing and business ethos than as cultural enterprise providing Irish employment and a return to the economy within an immense and complex industry.
I believe the work of the Film Board has been underestimated. I should like to pay tribute this evening to the range of work it undertook and to the successes it achieved. Apart from supporting screen plays and film and television projects, the board also ran notable training courses, especially for producers — which proved very valuable later on — helped in the establishment of a national film archive, provided a presence for Ireland at markets and festivals abroad, assisted Irish film festivals and events and formed co-production partnerships and vital contacts with the international film sector. The board was also involved in the early negotiations for Ireland's participation in the very successful MEDIA programme of the EC, now the European Union.
In the course of its life, the first board supported over 25 shorts and documentaries and enabled more than a dozen feature length films to reach cinema and television screens at home and around the world. It achieved an approximate 10 per cent return on its investment, raised the level of skills and employment, enabled new facility houses to contribute to the economy and gave a start to many careers — some of whom, like Neil Jordan, have now become international household names — as well as encouraging talent still in Ireland.
The demise of the first board was greeted with widespread dismay by the industry. In the period from 1987 it was only those with the power to secure international funding who found it possible to exploit the Irish tax incentives which replaced the Film Board. Although there were significant successes—such as "My Left Foot"— in this period, the scene for medium and low budget indigenous projects to achieve production was now bleak indeed. This period lasted until the opening of the new Irish Film Centre in September 1992, and the initiative of the Taoiseach in establishing the Special Working Group on the Film Production Industry, which promptly reported to him on Christmas Eve 1992. Subsequently the Programme for a Partnership Government 1993-1997 committed the new Government to three specific measures — the preparation of a White Paper on the film industry; the creation of a new regulatory framework for broadcasting and the establishment of Teilifís na Gaeilge as a third channel with limited broadcasting hours. The Programme for Government also indicated that consideration would be given to the reintroduction of the Film Board and to increasing and extending tax incentives for the film industry.
Any objective assessment of the events in the relatively short period since my appointment as Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht will conclude that this Government has already gone well beyond its commitments in the Programme for Government. When one recalls that those commitments were in respect of the lifetime of this Government, rather than simply its first year of operation, the significance of the measures which I have taken to promote the industry is all the more apparent.
Taking the Programme for Government and the report of the Special Working Group on the Film Production Industry as my starting reference documents, Deputies will by now be aware that I have taken the following measures to promote the Irish film and audiovisual industry. First, I moved promptly to re-establish the Irish Film Board last April, thus avoiding what I believe would have been a time-consuming exercise in preparing a White Paper for the industry. A Supplementary Estimate to enable the board to function was passed by this House last July, this enabled me to provide £200,000 for the administrative costs of the board in 1993 and £945,000 for capital expenditure, thus exhausting the limit of £4.1 million under section 10 of the 1980 Act and creating the need for the Bill now before the House.
Second, I promoted the enactment last June of the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act, 1993, which obliges Radio Telefís Éireann to make specific amounts available for programmes commissioned from the independent television production sector every year. The amount to be set aside for this purpose will be £5 million in 1994, rising in stages to £10 million in 1998 and 20 per cent of television expenditure in 1999 and thereafter, or £12.5 million, whichever is the greater. The amount of £12.5 million will be adjusted annually in line with changes in the consumer price index.
Third, following strong representations which I made to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Ahern, the Finance Act, 1993 included three major tax concessions for the industry. These included the raising of the limit for section 35 relief from £200,000 to £350,000 per annum or from a total of £600,000 to £1,050,000 over a three year period; the extension of section 35 relief to individuals who will now be able to invest up to £25,000 in a section 35 film investment each year; and the waiving of the 75 per cent Irish production test for qualifying films under section 35, provided the film in question is a co-production with other countries and at least 10 per cent of the production work is carried out in the State.
The fourth and final measure which I am now about to embark upon is the establishment of the new Teilifís na Gaeilge service as a separate channel. Deputies opposite will agree that the establishment of this service represents the most important initiative by a Government in relation to our national language since the establishment of Raidió na Gaeltachta some 21 years ago.
Léiríonn an céim tábhachtach nua seo go bhfuil mé fhéin agus an Rialtas dáirire ó thaobh ár dteanga dúchais a chaomhnú agus a neartú don todhchaí. Le cabhair ó Theilifís na Gaeilge, beidh ar chumas tuismitheoirí a thaispeáint dá bpáistí gur rud beo, bríomhar, nua-aoiseach í an Ghaeilge, agus gur cuid dá saol laethúil í freisin. Tá sé soiléir go bhfuil tionchar thar a bheith tábhachtach ag meán na teilifíse ar ár saol agus ar ár n-iompar, agus le bunú Theilifís na Gaeilge beidh deis againn anois leas a bhaint as an méan an-chumhachtach seo chun ár gcultúr agus ár n-oidhreacht féin a shaibhriú, agus lámh a bheith againn in ár gcinniúint féin mar phobal.
The new Teilifís na Gaeilge service will also have an important impact on the development of the Irish audiovisual industry. The intention is that programmes will be commissioned from the independent sector, with Radio Telefís Éireann contributing approximately an hour of programming per day. It is estimated that the new service will create 230 jobs directly — 200 of these in the independent sector. The new television service, together with the measures arising from the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act, 1993, will mean that our independent production sector will now experience significant new opportunities for development and expansion. They will have two important platforms for launching their products. This, I believe, is as it should be, because this sector has already proved itself to be capable of producing a range of high quality programming. The sector has a strong export orientation and, to realise its full potential of creating significant employment and value added to the economy, it requires a guaranteed domestic base. I am now ensuring such a guaranteed base by the broadcasting measures already enacted and by the new Teilifís na Gaeilge service. These measures should unleash the great reservoir of talent which exists in the independent production sector — talent which has been demonstrated already by a series of Irish films and films made in Ireland in recent years which have received wide popular acclaim, both nationally and internationally. The unique feature of talent is, of course, that it cannot be measured in terms of population size or geography, nor is its potential dependent on market share. Talent provides the potential for wealth creation and jobs if it is developed properly and sensitively. All the measures have now been put in place by this Government to develop Ireland's considerable talent to the full in the years ahead.
I would also like to advise Deputies that I have taken steps to ensure that the considerable investment which the State is now putting into the Irish film and audiovisual industry — directly by way of seed funding, and indirectly by way of tax concessions and programme commissioning in the Irish and English languages — will be complemented by the activities of the semi-State sector. It is enormously important that all remaining obstacles to the full flowering of this industry be tackled over time. Among those remaining obstacles I cite the absence of a film commission to facilitate offshore and indigenous production companies by the semi-State sector; the need for new training strategies to ensure that the uptake of activity in the industry will be matched by the coming on stream of new skilled practitioners; the whole question of distribution of Irish films for Irish audiences, including metropolitan/ regional imbalances, the promotion of Irish films abroad and the question of the Irish language and film.
It is an earnest of my determination not to be complacent about the future requirements of the industry, not-withstanding the significant measures already taken by me, that I have secured nominations from the relevant Ministers of senior officials of the semi-State sector who will participate in a new committee established by the Irish Film Board under section 16 of the Irish Film Board Act, 1980. This committee will address the issues I have just listed, as well as others, over time. The committee is being chaired by the Irish Film Board and comprises senior representatives of Radio Telefís Éireann, Údarás na Gaeltachta, An Chomhairle Ealaíon, the Industrial Development Authority, FÁS, An Bord Tráchtála and Bórd Fáilte. My Department is also represented on the committee. I am confident that this committee will ensure that the concerted efforts by the semi-State sector will remove any remaining obstacles to the development of the industry. However, in the event that wider issues may arise which cannot be addressed by this committee, I intend to take such matters up directly with the relevant Ministers.
The success of the Irish Film Board will be measured by employment and value-added to the Irish economy which can be achieved over time by virtue of its existence. A report by Messrs. Coopers and Lybrand last year indicated that, for every £1 million spent on feature film or television programming, the equivalent of some 48-50 full-time jobs are created for one year. The significance of Film Board activities is that, by providing seed funding of around 10 per cent of the cost of a project, it has a significant multiplier effect on activity in the sector. Thus, if the Film Board was to spend, say, £2 million on production finance for films with a large commercial potential in a given year, this could generate up to £20 million of production activity and the equivalent of some 1,000 full-time jobs for one year would be created. When one considers that, in some cases, as much as 80 per cent of the budgets for feature film and television film and drama is sourced from abroad by way of pre-sales and distribution deals, the foreign investment which this level of activity would generate represents a most important level of value-added to the economy.
However, while what I quoted is helpful as an indication of the impact of my measures on the film and audiovisual sector, it is important that my Department and, indeed, the Irish taxpayer should have access to some effective monitoring. I might add that a monitoring system is being established to gauge the real impact of these measures over time. Therefore, I am pleased to inform the House that the industry, through the Audiovisual Production Federation of IBEC, has already adopted a very responsible position in this regard. In full consultation with my Department and with the Irish Film Board, the federation has devised a draft economic data base form which it is intended will be completed by all practitioners in receipt of State support for their projects, whether in the form of direct Film Board assistance, section 35 finance, or programme commissioning from either Radio Telefís Éireann or Teilifís na Gaeilge. Procedures will also have to be put in place to ensure that there will be no duplication of information contained in the data base in respect of projects which would be in receipt of more than one source of assistance, for example, from the Irish Film Board and from section 35 allowances.
I wish to warmly congratulate the Irish film and audiovisual industry, through the Irish Film Board and the Audiovisual Production Federation, on their foresight in proceeding with the establishment of this economic data base. Indeed, the measure could be construed as a form of monitoring by the industry. This is a very true indicator of the commitment now existing within the film community. I am pleased that the federation will provide the resources for the ongoing running of the data base. In this connection I should mention to Deputies that, when I launched the report of the Special Working Group on the Film Production Industry last July in the company of a wide cross section of industry representatives, I made it clear that, while I am of course anxious that the measures I have taken will benefit those industry practitioners who have operated under very difficult conditions for many years — I was anxious to remove the atmosphere of gloom that had descended on the film community — I am equally anxious that the measures will also benefit the many talented and committed women and men who are graduating from our dedicated educational institutions each year. I stated then that these measures must serve to bring along a new generation of film and television practitioners who will produce projects of quality and of interest to the cinema-going and television-viewing public both at home and abroad.
I further pointed out to the industry representatives on that occasion that I believe that the main obstacles which hindered the growth of the film and audio-visual industry here have now been removed. I stated that it was now the responsibility of the industry to respond to these favourable conditions and, indeed, to deliver on the promises — in terms of job creation and value-added to the economy — which they had made in their submission to the special working group. The industry decision to establish this new economic data base is an indication of how seriously they have taken my remarks on that occasion and, much more important, of how serious they intend to address the issue of delivering on the promises they made. For my part, I am confident that these measures will bring the anticipated results. I welcome the responsible stance of the industry in endeavouring, from the outset, to establish objective machinery to gauge the impact of these and other measures over time.
I would like to refer to the current Irish Film Board under its very able chairperson, Lelia Doolan. I wish to thank those who have agreed to serve on the board at this important time in the history of the film industry. I should also like to explain why the Bill is confined to just one measure.
I am pleased to inform the House that, since its re-establishment last April, the new board has decided to concentrate its activities on the provision of development loans and production loans in the form of investment in production. The board does not propose at this stage, therefore, to avail of its powers under the 1980 Act to provide grants or guarantees.
The development loans which the board offers are up to a maximum of £25,000 and will be repayable on the first day of principal photography. These will be essentially research and development/feasibility loans, and no interest rates will be charged on them. However, if the loan is not repaid on the first day of principal photography, it will be rolled up in the production budget and an interest rate of 10 per cent will be charged from that day. No charge will be taken by the board on copyright as this would inhibit the producer's options in gaining co-financiers and would therefore, defeat the purpose of the development loan function.
In the case of production loans, the criteria adopted by the board, with a keen awareness of accountability and transparency, relate to the artistic quality of the product; previous production track record; the Irish employment content at all grades and the expected spend in Ireland on ancillary services and facilities; distribution-sale deals, and the potential for equity recoupment. The form of assistance given is investment in the production and its sales for cinema, television, video and ancillary markets— cable, satellite, box office etc. — both in Ireland and worldwide. The investment will not entail an interest charge, but will be subject to rigorous measures for recoupment and subject to contract. The economic data base to which I referred, and which is designed to identify performance in employment and value-added, will be applied by the board in the monitoring of projects.
There are already encouraging signs that the Irish film community is gearing up to meet all of the new opportunities and challenges provided by the Film Board. The Film Board has reported an enthusiastic response to the first and second rounds of submissions which it invited since its establishment last April. In the first round last July, there were 67 applications for development loans and 26 for feature length fiction; there was, as it were, a pent up demand. Seventeen development and five production loans were approved. In the current round — lest one might think it was pent up demand alone — there were almost 100 applications for both fiction and documentary assistance. The board is now in the process of offering 13 development, eight production and five documentary development loans.
In terms of quality, Deputies will be particularly pleased to learn of the board's perception that this is exceptionally high. It is the board's intention to balance economic and cultural factors, mixing their selection between medium to high budget films aimed at commercial markets and larger popular audiences, with lower budget cultural work that may play successfully at festivals and art house cinemas, as well as on television.
In this connection, I look to the board to find a wise equilibrium between the cultural and commercial aspects of Irish cinema — to which I referred — and so create a fresh and vibrant synthesis in this long-standing discourse. It is a matter of national urgency that this talented and productive national asset should find outlets and audiences at home and abroad. The diversity of Irish culture and the dynamic of our multi-faceted debates demands no less. For, in the end, cultural pluralism, not cultural domination is our destiny.
I have informed the House that the last Film Board secured a return of some 10 per cent on its investments. The current board proposes to pursue outstanding repayments vigorously. To this end, I hope to see the establishment of a production collection agency in Ireland to police production loans rather than relying, as at present, on the British Film Trustee Company, a subsidiary of British Screen, which handles such agreements internationally.
I engaged in extensive consultation with a wide range of industry interests, as well as the relevant Government Departments, in addressing the question of the amendment of the 1980 Act. In the many responses which I received in the matter, I was heartened by the fact that the industry seems to accept that the 1980 Act is generally well drafted and still remains pertinent to the needs of the industry in the 1990s. As I already explained to Deputies, my overriding priority is to secure Oireachtas approval to raise the currently exhausted limit under section 10 of the 1980 Act, which will have the effect of enabling the House to vote funds to the Irish Film Board from 1994 onwards. In the time available, it was not open to me to sponsor any other amendments. However, I want to say to those who made submissions and to Members who may have further suggestions to make that I am committed to undertaking an interim assessment of the Irish Film Board's performance after its first two years of operation. I concluded it was wise to give it two years to operate and see what the experience was. This review will be in mid-1995. I assure the House that in the light of that assessment, the submissions I received from the industry and the thoughtful contributions of Deputies this evening, I will consider any amendments of the 1980 Act which are warranted at that stage.
A Cheann Comhairle, molaim an Bille seo don Dáil. I confidently recommend this Bill to the House.