Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 5 Nov 1997

Vol. 482 No. 4

Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill, 1997: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The current state of production is that the series, "Ballykissangel", and Pat O'Connor's "Dancing At Lughnasa" have just completed shooting at Ardmore. This year the quantity of production in budget terms will exceed the 1996 level. There has been a discernible improvement in the creative strength of Irish projects in recent years.

Since the Irish Film Board has been re-established, and by the end of this year, approximately 44 feature films and series, 20 documentaries, over 20 shorts and 13 animations will have been made with the assistance of the board. Of the feature films and series, 34 have had Irish directors and 25 had first time directors. Irish people have been on the receiving end of images of Ireland and Irishness from time immemorial. The significance of the Irish Film Board's achievements is that Irish film makers are now able to speak directly to an audience at home and our best work can be exported abroad in an epoch of increasing globalisation.

The capacity of the people to tell their stories through the most powerful medium in the world is being greatly accommodated by the activities of the Irish Film Board. The Bill will enable me as Minister to continue to fund the board in the years to come, subject to the annual Estimates process. For this reason I confidently commend the Bill to the House.

Is mór agam an deis seo a fháil chun staid ar dtionscal scannán agus éistfís a phlé.

Is é príomhaidhm an Bhille ná méadú go £15 milliún to £30 milliún a dhéanamh ar an méid airgid is féidir le Bord Scannán na hÉireann a chaitheamh ins na blainta atá romhainn.

Is ábhar mór sásaimh domsa agus do mo pháirtí go bhfuil géarghá le reachtáil an Bhille seo anois toisc gur thug an iar-Rialtas lántacaíocht do mholtaí an iar-Aire Micheál D. Ó hUiginn agus oifigigh an Roinn Ealaíon, Cultúir agus Gaeltachta Chris O'Grady agus Peter Carville.

Thugamar cúnamh do pholasaí cuimsitheach a chuir sé i bhfeidhm i leith an tionscail thábhachtigh seo. Táim an-bhródúil chomh maith as an méadú a tháinig ar líon na ndaoine atá ag obair i scannáin i láthair na huaire.

Iarraim ar an Aire leanúint le polasaí cuimsitheach an Tuar-Cheatha.

The purpose of the Bill is to increase the limit of the total amount of funds which can be expended in investments, loans and grants from £15 million to £30 million. It is an enabling measure which my party will support because it is an indication of the outstanding success which the pioneering policies of the former Minister, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, pursued during his tenure in the then Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. The four year review is most valuable and I hope it indicates a commitment by the new Minister and Government to give full support to Bord Scannán na hÉireann as practised by the former Government.

There is a strong emerging film industry in Ireland which is receiving worldwide attention. The quality of employment has improved and expertise is growing, driven by the wise training programmes the board has pursued in partnership with employers, trade unions and training professionals. The board and its chief executive have been very successful. Mr. Louis Marcus and the chief executive, Mr. Rod Stoneman, dedicate long arduous hours to the proposals placed before them. The working group system has been outstanding in its choice of recommended scripts. The films are offered for investment and the take up of television and satellite companies assures a limit to risk taking. It is then up to cinema sales. This certification process is time consuming and for their dedication alone, the House owes the board members who worked since 1993 sincere thanks and gratitude.

The annual report is in a progressive format. There is a full review of the previous year's activities and proposals to be implemented in the coming years, including a commentary on the objectives and policies of Bord Scannán which are outlined in concise terms. They are all worthy of support, particularly by the Minister, Deputy de Valera, and her Department. The objectives are to promote the creative and commercial elements of Irish film making and film culture for home and international audiences. The board supports a number of film projects through the provision of development funding. It also provides production finance by way of debt/equity investment for a selected number of films.

While I understand the experience of other countries has made remote the objective of realising a rotating fund role for the board, the Minister should indicate whether she intends asking the chairman and members to follow the policies of other State development companies, such as Forbairt which is now using preference shares and equity more frequently when investing. The decision not to allow the promoters to offset loans already issued was laudable. However, the Minister should state her view on the rotating fund role.

The board also encourages the development and training of technical, artistic and production skills. The STATCOM initiative was outstanding since its membership comprised senior representatives from RTE, Forbairt, the IDA, FÁS, Údarás na Gaeltachta, Bord Fáilte, the Arts Council and the Department. This group has helped the labour force work towards self-sufficiency and consolidated the use of the advanced computer and digital-based technologies available today. This has encouraged rapid growth in small companies, some in rural areas and there are outstanding examples in the Gaeltacht area. There is now a great climate of achievement and I hope the Minister will build on the current air of confidence.

During my period as the Minister of State in the Department I visited many small companies, particularly in the west, which built on the confidence the former Minister, Deputy Higgins, engendered in this area. I was disappointed today that the Minister dwelt solely on Fianna Fáil's role in creating confidence in this area because the evidence shows that all parties are anxious that it grow. The greatest tribute must go to the former Minister, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, who in bad times and good pursued goals and objectives which led to the current position.

There has been an unusual delay in the appointment of a chief executive and staff in the Screen Commission. This idea has been floated since 1995 and the previous Minister agreed to establish such a commission. I do not understand the prevarication in the Department. The Minister said it was a draft proposal but I understood it was a solid recommendation worthy of support. I hope the Minister will ask her officials in the Department to deliver their considered opinion on it quickly because she needs to take action on this matter. There is a constant clash between the interests of Departments and the Department of Finance and the rules and regulations it intends to set. While the Bill contains a housekeeping measure in section 2, any delay in moving on such progressive proposals gives the wrong impression and deters qualified people who might be interested in the post. The chief executive post in the Screen Commission is a very responsible one, as this work needs to be completed urgently. We accept that co-productions are a fact and the means to empower home and foreign filmmakers to work here are needed. When in Opposition, the Minister constantly exhorted us to look for partnership developments, but she has been in office for several months and has done nothing in this area.

The former chairperson, Ms Leila Doolan, claimed that although it is an imperative of technology that major and commercially driven multinational production and distribution will grow, nevertheless the creativity, surprise and universality of our unique critical vision and individual imagination are equal to their deepest challenge. That is what someone on the Minister's side had to say about further investment in the Screen Commission. I urge the Minister to have her officials sanction this reasonable request urgently.

During Ireland's recent successful EU Presidency, the Government agreed the format for the European Guarantee Fund for cinema and television production. Why did the Minister did not refer to this in her speech? There was strong debate on Europe's role in cinema and film production during the Irish Presidency, and the point was made that something was needed to counter the influence of America. Could the Minister give a summary of any work done by her or her Department in this area?

Ireland must pursue this role, because even though the Irish Film Board is promoting indigenous film activity, we must plan for the future of the cinematic space. RTE is obliged, as the Minister knows, to establish closer links with the independent production sector and they have successfully helped to commission independent programmes. However, there is still a huge amount of US-made film, especially in the children's area. This is coming to Europe more and more, and there is a danger that cheap cartoons from America will replace the very good animation sector developed in Ireland.

The House will agree that Teilifís na Gaeilge in particular has developed this valuable cultural and educational role, and it has pursued it professionally in the children's TV area. I was disappointed that the Minister did not refer to the growth of industry attached to Teilifís na Gaeilge, especially the multilingual aspect of some of those companies. There is a company in the Ring Gaeltacht where translations are done into four or five languages. I saw "All-Ireland Gold" being produced there with the commentary being translated from English to Irish and other languages. In the Baile Bhúirne Gaeltacht I saw the work of Seán Ó Riada's son, who has different schemes to set up and who deserves support. These are young companies with vibrant Irish people who have returned from abroad. They should have some programme to work to.

Recent studies have claimed a link between crime and violent images, which is worrying. This issue will not go away, and I commend the board for its work in this area. There are parents who believe that violent on-screen images should be controlled. Researchers have discovered that offenders already prone to violence are able to remember more details of cruel actions and identify more closely with characters who performed violent acts on screen than with victims or nonviolent characters. There is a clear notion abroad that films inspire copycat offences. Will the problem of screen violence become a political issue? Do we have cases that parallel the death of Jamie Bulger? Have the Minister or her Department any views on this matter? The content of films was not discussed in the Minister's speech and she should have given her opinion on this issue.

It is also disappointing that the Minister did not mention an agreed development programme with the IDA. The then Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht negotiated with the IDA for an investment programme. The former Minister, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, strongly urged Mr. McGowan, the IDA chief executive, to complete this programme. We know that investment in films can be very profitable. The work contributed by the board and the reliefs in the Finance Act give scope to make substantial gains, though there was unease in the industry when Fianna Fáil published various proposals before the election. I hope the Minister sustains the current high confidence in the industry by pursuing the effective policies of the previous Government. Both investors and workforce are anxious to create a thriving sector. The Minister should help them achieve their aim.

Other sections of the Bill are housekeeping provisions. The Comptroller and Auditor General's report stated his satisfaction with the work of the board officials. We will tease out the controls proposed in the Bill, and this might best be done by way of amendments on Committee Stage. There is already a history of industrial relations difficulty in the Minister's Department. The Minister might refer to whether or not this Bill will lead to the same impasse as at the Collins Museum. Is this not leading the Minister into the same problem? I hope she will answer these questions when we table amendments on Committee Stage.

I wish the Minister well with this Bill. She is working in an exciting area. I am glad she is negotiating an agreement with Australia, which I am sure she would like to visit, as she likes to visit the sun from time to time. St. Patrick's Day would be a nice time to go and sign that agreement.

Ar an gcéad dul síos, ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a ghabháil leis an Aire as ucht an phíosa reachtaireacht t-uasteorainn seo. Fáiltím roimh an dá mhalairt atá ann: an le caiteachas Bord Scannán na hÉireann a mhéadú, agus roinnt eagrú i gcúrsaí foirne.

I pay tribute to the Minister for this Bill and I wish her well. This is the Minister's first legislation in this area. I welcome the Bill's reorganisation of staff and the raising of the upper level in relation to the certified expenditure by Bord Scannán na hÉireann. I cannot oppose much of the Minister's speech in so far as it describes much of my own practice. Another interesting parallel is that I introduced my first Bill, the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act, 1993, within a similar period of time. The Minister referred to what was done between January and May 1993, my first five months in office, including the funding of the Irish Film Board, the establishment of STATCOM, the establishment of an independent commissioning unit in RTE when I lifted the cap, changes in section 35 and the commitment to Teilifís na Gaeilge. We must consider about seven measures together to understand the impact which occurred in early summer 1993. In an area where there is such cross-party support, it is not useful to say who was responsible for particular measures. I was the Minister with responsibility for film in two Governments with different complexions.

I refer to the memory of Tiernan MacBride who was outside the House to welcome me on the day I was appointed. I remember he had a placard suggesting a film board. I met him previously in 1987 when funding was removed from the Irish Film Board. The board was not disestablished as the Minister suggested but rather funding was removed from it. I do not claim to have re-established the Irish Film Board but to have funded it. When we funded it, we decided to give it a particular emphasis.

There is cross-party support for the Bill's proposals and I support much of what the Minister said. Instead of confining herself to proposals in this short Bill, she was correct to take the opportunity to give us an idea of the direction which she wishes activity in the industry to take. I assure the Minister she has my support for much of this and I will spend some time suggesting areas of scope for cross-party support.

The seven measures adopted in those first six months, to which I referred earlier, had critical effect and would not have been possible without the working group's report handed to me by the then Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds. This provided a basis from which to depart. Other work, including that by Film Makers Ireland, was crucial. The film community had kept faith in the possibilities of film during the period 1987 to 1993 which was as dead as a door nail. We need not argue about it given that total expenditure on production in those six years was under £12 million. I am glad expenditure is being maintained and has been increased this year as opposed to last year even though the number of projects has fallen. It is also important that the indigenous component is being maintained. The film making community, those who assisted it and the working group made so much possible.

There is a difficulty in the relationship between the Minister with responsibility for film and the Minister for Finance in any Government because of the structure of the thinking. I inherited a situation where the received wisdom was hostile to film in that it was considered neither an industry nor a service. It reflected a certain rigidity and paucity in thinking. Historically, the first Irish Film Board was badly treated in the way people commented on it and it should have been given a chance. The failure of nerve was a political one. There was also a suggestion that one could look at the commercial side of finished film which would suffice instead of at the arty farty types producing films.

The best reforming legislation that will be introduced after this short Bill will be, I hope, a departure point for film makers. I will put my points positively to the Minister and suggest where I might assist her. I have had the benefit of negotiating with Governments of different complexions on a new Department. For example, when dealing with ceilings on staff numbers, the position of a new Department and the bodies for which it is responsible is entirely different from that of an established Department responsible for bodies which have existing baselines. It is nonsense to suggest a Minister could, for example, move the National Museum to its new facilities with new expertise on the existing baseline. I sympathised with the Minister, wished her well and told her she will have my co-operation in trying to resolve the industrial relations difficulties.

It is, however, an impossible task in that one cannot do new things on imaginary baselines.

One can justify expenditure to start things up because one is doing new things. In the case of the National Museum, there is a list of reports the length of my arm which have not only expressed disappointment but have condemned outright the neglect of the museum. The Minister spoke about what she inherited but that is what I inherited.

The film section in the Department, which employs some of the founding members of the Irish film industry, is totally understaffed. If one wants to talk about possibilities in a new area, one should accept that point. I would support an approach by the Minister to the Department of Finance in that regard. I was glad the small number of staff employed by An Bord Scannán was referred to. Perhaps no smaller group of people has given such a huge administrative outturn. If one looks at the total amount spent on salaries versus the amount handled and processed, the ratio is extraordinary. We, as citizens, are getting incredible value for money.

The Minister argued for an equivalence between the section 35 initiative and the refunding of the Screen Commission. I referred earlier to a number of other factors, including independent commissioning in RTÉ, the arrival of Teilifís na Gaeilge and the establishment of the training initiative and STATCOM, which must be taken together. Section 35, which is important in many cases, is at its best when integrated into what is made possible by the Irish Film Board. In fact, the Minister adverted to this by listing films which were the work of Irish directors. The most satisfactory outcome of my time in office was the number of Irish directors. The tax incentives were becoming locked into the indigenous film making sector. The Irish cinematic space was, therefore, being strengthened.

The Minister spoke about the glitzy Hollywood image which was a bit of a conversion because she recommended that to me when I was Minister and suggested that high expenditure foreign films were necessary to create training opportunity. I always believed in the indigenous sector and had many reasons for so doing. The industry will remain after comparative advantages have disappeared in the long term. It is the way of the future. It was also a fine basis on which to argue in a European context for a specific European cinematic space.

When the atmosphere is right for film making things happen. Kevin Rockett's publication on Irish cinematography is of immense significance in this regard. There is no point blaming a particular administration for not putting the archive together. Between 1987 and the early 1990s people who attended international conferences had apologies ready as to why nothing was being produced. There were one or two good years and then suddenly there was a huge volume of production. I commend the Minister on referring to the films which have received the approval of international critical panels, including "I Went Down" which has won many awards, including one at the San Sebastian Festival.

This is the real test. Younger and older directors are now confident to go abroad with their work. Certain measures must be taken to advance this progress. The Irish Film Board should be treated as a special case, ring-fenced and given additional staff. There is also a case for expanding the board on the basis of suggestions put forward by the staff. I enjoy much greater freedom now that I am no longer Minister. When I was Minister I was criticised for conceding on some aspects of the original INDECON report on the film industry, "A Strategy for Success Based on Economic Realities - The Next Stage of Development for the Film Industry in Ireland". Rather than wait for the end of the review period we should seek to have provision made in the Finance Bill for the proposals in the later INDECON submission which succeeded the report. I make this point in a positive way. The report referred to a review period but the later submission presented to me by Mr. Gray, the economist who guided INDECON, put forward proposals which the Department put to the Department of Finance. These proposals should be put to the Minister for Finance in time for inclusion in the next year's Finance Bill.

We should proceed with the establishment of the commission. To ensure a balance the commission should be strongly influenced by film makers and take account of budgets and film making of different sizes. Members of the film investment community may be more articulate but they already have a voice through IBEC and it would be wrong to put them in the same category as those who make films. While they all should be involved, I agree with the Minister on the importance of the funding alliances established between RTE and the Irish Film Board, between the Irish Film Board and Teilifís na Gaeilge and between the Arts Council, the Irish Film Board and Teilifís na Gaeilge. Such alliances are to be recommended. My points are made by way of positive suggestion on what should be achieved in the short term.

I have a difficulty with the reference in the Minister's speech to the industry think-tank. It is good to hear that the industry is thinking but I am not sure if the proposals put forward by STATCOM, which represents the various agencies, the Irish Film Board, RTE and FÁS and has built up experience over several years will become the baseline for the think-tank. What will the think-tank do with these proposals and why was it not capable of putting forward proposals before this through the semi-State agencies on which it is represented? In some cases it has a majority of representatives on the board of these agencies. Why does the work of one body have to be ended and handed on to another? I am not clear on the logic behind this.

I am glad the co-production agreement I initialled with the Australian Ambassador will shortly be debated in the Australian Parliament, after which it will be signed. If 22 of the 40 members of the Council of Europe have signed the European Convention on Cinematic Co-production does it mean they have ratified it and that this will lead to a shorter time span for finalising co-production contracts? The Attorney General's office and the legal affairs office undertook much tortuous work in the production of the Australian agreement and if it was used as a model the other co-production agreements could be finalised more quickly. I am looking at the matter from the outside but I imagine the time span would be shorter if one used that model rather than waiting for ratification of the Council of Europe initiative.

The Minister said that by the end of the year 44 feature films and series, 20 documentaries, 20 shorts and 13 animations will have been made with the assistance of the board. This is an incredible record. Thirty four of the 44 feature films and series have had Irish directors and 25 have had first time directors. That is the basis for future progress. There is nothing as fickle as those who invest money to avail of a tax break. All these people are interested in is whether the Revenue Commissioners will issue the tax certificate and whether they will get the tax break. They do not mind if the film is made in the bush in Australia or in Ballyhaunis.

Having said that, films could not be made without such investors and their interests have to be taken into account. However, it must be put in context. After section 35 was amended and when further amendments were being negotiated some irresponsible people in this community circulated publicity leaflets in North America, thereby almost bringing everything that had been done to its knees. I very rarely travelled abroad when I was Minister but on the one occasion I visited the United States I spent much of my time trying to undo the lies which had been printed by British tabloids about the Irish system. That was assisted by the fact that people who were fund-raising for investors wrote letters to client bases in the United States and Canada stating that they must invest because section 35 was nearing an end. Section 35 was simply amended. It is to the credit of the officials who worked with me, particularly Mr. O'Grady who travelled to the United States with me, that we replied to those articles, explaining the changes that took place. In referring to section 35 I am not scoring a point. All Ministers want the most favourable regime for film. I am simply saying that in terms of finance, in light of what we now know, a finely tuned system would have my support. There are ways of devising such a system which would minimise the tax leak and maximise returns in terms of job creation and expenditure in the economy.

Tax concessions such as section 35 concessions are of most benefit to those on higher incomes. It is yet another tax break for those who can afford to pay tax. One cannot be indiscriminate in dealing with this matter. It behoves us to have a finely tuned system. If, as has been the history of the Irish film industry, it creates jobs, new skills and partnerships with various institutions, such concessions are justified.

I agree to some extent with the point made by the Minister when in Opposition that changes made on foot of the INDECON report, addressed at Irish investors, miscalculated the nature of United States investment in the film industry. We are talking about an internationally competitive market and that investment could be won back by making changes.

We are discussing the Irish Film Board, and Deputy Carey is right in referring to the imaginative nature of the reports produced by it, of which there are three. In the last report dealing with the period 1995-6 a number of specific proposals were put forward. Lelia Doolan made a number of points which deserve consideration. I join with others in paying tribute to her, her successor, Louis Marcus, and all the members of the board. A number of interesting proposals which deserve consideration were put forward on the future of the film industry. There is reference, for example, to education. It is important that the Department of Education co-operates with other Departments. If new films are to achieve mass audiences and rise against the tide, as is required in Ireland and Europe, media appreciation and reading of film should be included in the school curriculum. It is a powerful tool of citizenship to contextualise films, documentaries and so on.

There is also reference to training. As Irish film production increased in recent years we regularly exported pieces of work to Britain. There should be a link between pre-production and post-production facilities to achieve as many skill formations and create as many jobs as possible. I agree the purpose of the film commission is to ensure representation at home and abroad, to be representative of what is happening in the cinema at home and at the same time attract such industrial products as will result in the best training modules. The commission, which should not be ridden with bureaucracy, should be established as soon as possible. There should be flexibility to ensure the best people work in it.

The Minister referred to films that won international awards. People who qualify from film courses have cards printed stating "Film Producer", but standards and excellence are important. There is great value in external validation of films, as in the case of "I Went Down", because they are validated by juries who know the system. On all the films mentioned by the Minister, the reviews were positive. The jury's view is important but it is also important that films be commercially successful.

I am glad the Minister agrees with me about the attraction of the cinemobile which visited the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's area. I visited it as it moved to various villages along the Border and to say it received an enthusiastic reception is an understatement. The cost involved in such a project is very high, about £200,000, but the effect would be enormous. It is what was one time vulgarly called a budget sweetener, and was recommended as such. All of us from rural Ireland remember what it was like to go to the pictures. It is sad to think of what happened all those buildings where films were shown, although there is now a recovery of seat sales through omniplexes and so on. The cinema was a crucial part of our lives, as it is in many countries, particularly northern Europe. It is important legislation in this area receives support. The Minister should indicate to her colleague, the Minister for Finance, that there is cross-party support for exceptional measures in this area to secure employment and create new opportunities.

We could all get excited about what could be done to ensure Ireland is populated by people who are not simply consumers of images made by others but who make films on their own terms. It is important that resources are made available to that end. The number of people working in this area would fit in three modern telephone kiosks, it is certainly far fewer than the number of people of high grades working on aspects of the single currency. People have to be realistic in doing new things. It was very difficult to do something new when one's Department was treated the same as any other Department in respect of staffing, expenditure and whatever. What can be done in this area is important not only for employment and industrial reasons but for cultural reasons. There is a meaning to cultural diversity and the right to make one's own films and show them as expressions of oneself is an aspect of that cultural diversity and a powerful tool of democracy. I hope there will soon be a response to the list of items which occur to me as the next consolidating and developing steps in Irish cinematic activity and the industry.

I welcome the Minister's speech and presentation of the Bill. I agree it is time the subvention to the Irish Film Board was increased. I support the Bill and the increase in revenue from £15 million to £30 million which can be expended by the Irish Film Board. It is important to look at the work of the Irish Film Board and the enormous contribution it has made to our culture and in no small way to employment.

I pay tribute to the former Minister, Deputy Michael Higgins, who is widely and deservedly respected for his dedication to the arts, culture and film industry. During his term of office he set a shining example. I know the Minister will give equal commitment and make a similar impact during her term of office. In presenting the Bill and in her wide-ranging proposals for the Irish Film Industry she has given an indication of her intent. She will have all-party support for this and future initiatives.

I have a deep interest in the arts and culture. Cork Corporation - where I am a member of the arts committee - recognises the importance of arts and culture to our city. I commend Cork Corporation for its policy and commitment to the artistic and cultural life of the city which includes the very successful Cork International Film Festival now in its 42nd year.

I pay tribute to the board members and staff of the Irish Film Board for their vision and foresight in developing the industry to the advanced stage it has reached today.

The Irish Film Board was reconstituted in April 1993, by the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht under the Irish Film Board Act, 1980. It provides support by way of development and production loans which are repayable. Since 1 January 1997, the board received 191 applications for developing loans and 42 applications for production loans.

The figures for direct Irish employment are as follows: 1993: 480; 1994: 1,291 and 1995: 1,266. The 1993 figures exclude independent television production. The slight drop from 1994 to 1995 reflects the closure of a major animation studio and conceals an underlying upward trend. Development and production loans provided by the film board are a crucial element of the support measures for the indigenous film industry.

The film board is only one component of film development. There is a danger that future funding to the board is seen as all that is required. The board was underfunded. Clearly more finance is necessary and that is the reason I welcome the Bill but other issues need to be addressed, such as professional training at all grades. The Coopers & Lybrand report identified the need for producer training. The INDECON report has more specific training recommendations. FÁS and the film board have also looked at this.

Cork has no real training programmes. CAVERN, a local film makers group, St. John's Central College and Triskel Arts Centre have all run video courses. These are not professional training courses for film-making.

Galway Film Resource Centre, Film Base and NCAD offer real training and their students — such as Paddy Breathnach with his recent production "I Went Down" - are now in a position to make film-board funded films. Cork is not creating film-makers to use this money.

Film Base and Galway Film Resource Centre give young film-makers a chance to develop. Cork does not have a subsidised BetacamSP suite or any 16mm or 35mm. A resource centre such as that in Galway, is vital in Cork. Much of the good work that has been done in Cork has been in community video through Outreach programmes run by Triskel and local community groups. This sector is badly in need of equipment and I ask the Minister to look at it in the near future.

It is interesting to note the level of interest in film in Cork - and a vibrant film culture - with a 25 per cent increase in box office receipts at the recent Cork Film Festival, KINO and Triskel are screening serious cinema. Clearly there is a growing film culture. The producers and technicians are not there to benefit from this growth.

The Coopers & Lybrand report identifies the lack of producers as the major weakness in the industry. While steps have been taken - such as the media programme - there is still an absence of producers. The film board and section 35 tax concessions offer the space for producers to work but it is ultimately up to the producers to make things happen. Business-driven training in film production is necessary. The media programme has a number of initiatives but there is no reason management departments at third level cannot develop post-graduate training.

In the absence of any film infrastructure in Cork there is no easy access to information on training, funding, crewing etc., thus the film board's money is further away from the local "would be" director. It is essential that this gap is filled. A resource centre would provide a focus for the information but short of this something else must happen.

In looking at the level of film activity in Ireland we can say at last that we have a vibrant indigenous film industry. We are no longer dependent on the US and the UK for visual entertainment on the television or in the cinemas throughout Ireland. Last summer the Cineplex in Cork City had four Irish films showing at one time in the six-screen multiplex. A few years ago this would not have been possible.

What is even more satisfying is that films such as "Michael Collins" broke all previous attendance levels in cinemas throughout Ireland. This proves there is a market in Ireland for indigenous films. More recently with the release of films such as "I Went Down" - director, Paddy Breathnach - and the "Sun, Moon and Stars" - director, Geraldine Crew - we see the emergence of a new generation of young film-makers. This year 14 films have been made in Ireland. This can be attributed largely to the hard work and support of the Irish Film Board under the direction of Rod Stoneman, chief executive officer.

A successful marketing strategy begins at the script stage and peaks on the screen. More investment is needed to allow film projects go into development. Given that we have proved there is a capacity to produce Irish films we need to consolidate our strengths and address our weaknesses. This is an area which must be looked at seriously especially in smaller European countries. It is difficult for indigenous films to make a profit in the face of the massive Hollywood. Its marketing machine spends billions of dollars promoting its films. Government support is essential to protect a developing industry against the power of the dominant players. Once indigenous film makers develop a foothold in the market, they can secure future success and greater returns to the economy directly through the development of sustainable employment and location and indirectly through employment in support services and invisible exports, such as tourism. It also ensures the social need to reflect Irish society and to understand ourselves better. There is a cultural imperative to allow Irish artists create great films that will enable us compete equally on the international stage.

The STATCOM report identified a number of critical training needs which must be addressed urgently. This process was initiated under the aegis of the National Training Committee and Mary Lyons. One of the courses, film marketing and distribution, was held during the Galway Film Fleadh. A STATCOM workshop was held in Galway and a number of others were held in Dublin. Dublin and Galway have leaped ahead of the rest of the country in this area, partly due to the institutional support those cities have received. The Film Institute of Ireland is located in Dublin and the Irish Film Board is located in Galway. There must be more investment in film making centres other than in Dublin and Galway. I hope Cork will be considered as the next natural hub for institutional investment. We in Cork want more investment and training in the Cork region. The three centres could then work together to ensure the rest of the country has an opportunity to participate in film making activities. Last year the Irish Film Board commissioned a report on film marketing and distribution from Helen Guerin, a lecturer in marketing in University College Cork. I hope this tool will assist film makers to successfully reach their target markets.

The digital revolution presents new opportunities for Irish film makers and multi-media producers. As a result, the cost of broadcasting will be greatly reduced and the demand for educational materials greatly enhanced. Ireland is well placed to exploit these emerging opportunities due to our high standards of education, flexible size and fluency in English.

Fortunately, Cork can boast the only arthouse cinema in the country.

This cinema, run by Mick Hannigan, from Blackpool, and Una Feely, gives the general public the opportunity to see films from around the world, including Ireland. It gives people a choice of films other than the standard Hollywood fare of violence and special effects common in the "Terminator" type of films. There should be greater support for this alternative and other cities should consider the possibility of setting up arthouse cinemas.

I have already mentioned CAVERN, the Cork Audio Visual Education and Realisation Network. It is the Cork equivalent of the Film Base in Dublin and the Film Centre in Galway. While still in the early stages of development, CAVERN promises to provide training and access to resources for the Munster region. To do this, additional funding needs to be invested in purchasing capital equipment.

Cork also wants more money to be invested in training in the technical aspects of film making to allow more people avail of the employment potential.

It is a cause for serious concern that we need to hire in technical crews to work on films made in Ireland. We need greater investment in this young industry if we are to reap the economic rewards. We need this investment to help preserve our Irish culture in the face of growing globalisation.

I am happy to support the Minister's Bill which will provide continued funding for the Irish Film Board. It will provide the means for the continued success of the film industry. We must acknowledge that the industry has been successful. Since the re-establishment of the Irish Film Board there has been an unprecedented level of film making activity. We have also achieved success where it ultimately matters, at the box office. It is appropriate that we are enacting this legislation at a time when an excellent new Irish production "I Went Down" is number one at the Irish box office. I congratulate Paddy Breathnach and his team for scooping three awards at the Sunday Independent Ford Ireland Awards last night. The new Irish films were the first to sell out and the reactions of the audience were very positive.

While this is very encouraging, we must put in place structures that will enable the industry to effectively compete in a very competitive international marketplace. The Irish Film Board has been extremely successful in ensuring Irish films are made and Irish film makers are able to express their skills and talents. It is vital that we have a clearer focus on the marketing and promotion of Irish films at home and abroad.

It follows that we must allocate the necessary resources for effective promotion. We must acknowledge the domination of the international cinema industry by the major Hollywood studios which share 85 per cent of the box office in Europe. This is not a complaint, it is a fact.

Perhaps we can learn from how the Hollywood model ensures its industry is successful. Marketing is vital if the Irish film industry is to achieve the level of success we want. No fledgling service or manufacturing business would receive public moneys without the appropriate State agency scrutinising its marketing strategy. The film industry should be treated on a similar and equally positive basis.

It is clear there is enormous international interest in Irish culture, in music, theatre and literature. We must plan to ensure similar success in the area of film making. I am aware that various film festivals across the world are currently planning Irish seasons. The Brussels international film festival in January 1998 is devoting a special programme to 20 years of Irish cinema. Such programmes are largely cultural events, but they have real advantages for the Irish industry in reaching new audiences and attracting press coverage.

They attract the attention of film distributors which is useful ground work for later box office success. We should facilitate such events in a coherent and planned fashion to promote Irish cinema. We should have effective stands at selected festivals and markets, similar to stands from other industrial sectors and from the film promotion agencies of many European countries. We should treat our film industry with the same seriousness. A successful film industry is not simply about production. It is about the effective exploitation of those productions, about reaching cinema-going audiences at home and abroad.

We must also invest in training. We must have a talent base that can continue to produce original films which Irish and international audiences wish to see. While film productions rely on the imagination, talent and skills of many people, the key to a good film is the script. Audiences want to hear a good story. The Irish Film Board should be asked to put in place a programme to nurture screen writing talent. I welcome the Minister's commitment to a number of those points. A maxim of the film industry is that while one can make a bad film of a good script, one cannot make a good film of a bad script. Such a programme would enable our writers to develop good scripts in which producers will want to invest to make films audiences will want to see.

Ireland has a literary heritage second to none. We continue to produce playwrights and novelists who achieve international acclaim. However, we do not have the medium to develop the specific skills necessary for successful screen writing. If this were to happen during the Minister's tenure it would be a valuable contribution to the future of the film industry.

The international audio-visual industry is sophisticated and complex. Ireland is a very small player in this global industry. With imagination from our film makers and the Minister, Ireland could make a significant impact on the cinema screens of the world. I have every confidence such imaginative responses will be forthcoming from the Minister and for that reason I am pleased to support the Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill, 1997.

Generally speaking this is a noncontroversial Bill. It will be welcomed by the film industry and on behalf of Democratic Left I also welcome it. As a proposal from a Fianna Fáil Minister, it contrasts sharply with the treatment by a former Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, of the film board as recently as 1987. When citing dubious commercial criteria he, in effect, closed down the film board at the time. The success and expansion of the film industry since 1993 has been in sharp contrast to the neglect of the indigenous industry during the period from 1987-92. The Ministry of Deputy Michael Higgins was and is recognised as a watershed for film making in Ireland. That the Minister should now claim credit for Fianna Fáil for the development of the film industry smacks of some opportunism. Charles Haughey's record is part of the story too, but she neglected to mention it. Fianna Fáil is yet again trying to airbrush Charles Haughey out of history as if he never existed. Film may belong to the world of illusion, but the Minister should not try to delude herself or us about the story of film making in Ireland in recent times.

In Opposition the Minister rightly spent much of her time arguing for consultation and openness. She was preoccupied with listening to the interest groups and the people who were involved in the industry and to her credit she was assiduous in preparing the ground for office. I recall in one interview she criticised the previous Minister for having run a personality driven Department and maintained that her interest, if she were given the job, was in a policy driven Department. Although she is now more than four months in office, we are still waiting for policies that will drive her Department.

Her biggest test so far has been to oversee the opening of Collins Barracks as part of the National Museum. I appreciate it was not her fault but she must account for what happened. The Government managed to turn a triumph into a fiasco, essentially because of the intransigence of the Minister for Finance. He was asked to deal with a modest claim by the museum staff, which was reckoned to amount to an increase of £20,000 per annum. The opening of Collins Barracks cost approximately £70,000. It is regrettable that has proved to be such an unnecessary thorn in the side. The intransigence of the Minister for Finance in regard to what should have been a wonderful event in Irish cultural life must be condemned.

In this Bill an enabling provision gives the film board a continuing important role in assisting film making, and staffing arrangements are being rationalised under it. The Minister referred to the Screen Commission. I was surprised to hear she had not yet met the various interest groups to hear their views on it and its draft terms of reference nor has she established the think-tank promised in the Government programme. She said she will make a decision on the Screen Commission "very soon after meeting the groups" and she will establish the think-tank "as soon as possible". We are entitled to question the failure of the Minister to set deadlines and her failure to establish a policy on two important areas in the film business. If she has any difficulty making decisions at this stage in her tenure it does not augur well for the future. The future of the Government is to an extent tenuous because of numbers. There is a certain reticence in making decisions. The ground work for the Screen Commission was laid before the Minister's time in office. The think-tank is a commitment given in the programme for Government. It would have been helpful to flesh out that proposal and to hear the Minister's views on the decisions she will make on it.

The need for a screen commission is well known and well grounded in our experience. We are competing with other countries which have developed their own commissions and marketing organisations. The previous Minister, Deputy Higgins, established the Screen Commission before he left office. The film board submitted its draft terms of reference before the Minister took office and as yet there is no indication as to when the Screen Commission will move fully into action nor how the funding of its work will be ensured. I understand there has been only one informal meeting of the Screen Commission and I would like to know if that is the case. I get the impression that everyone is waiting for the Minister to outline and declare the policy and the terms of reference she has promised.

Currently Ireland does not have an effective marketing arm in this most competitive of industries. Film making is highly competitive globally. Other countries have Government supports, as we do, and they also have marketing capability. Because our marketing is so limited we seem to be operating with one arm behind our back and experience tells us that can be a serious handicap.

When limited section 35 changes were introduced by the previous Government commissions and bodies elsewhere exploited the opportunity to bad mouth Ireland's attractiveness as a destination for film making. It was damaging to the good reputation we had built up and it was instant in its effects. Rebutting the negative messages took time and showed up - if anyone was in any doubt - the importance of having a screen commission in place. I would be grateful if the Minister would refer to this in her reply to the debate. There is a desire in the film community to address the disadvantage Ireland has experienced and there is concern about any further delays on this.

We need a timeframe for the think-tank she is establishing. A strategic plan is highly desirable, but when a strategy is being drawn up there is always a danger of prevarication and delay. I expect the Minister in drawing up a strategy has some idea of a timeframe for the work of a think-tank. There are many worthwhile reports the preparation of which involved much effort, gathering dust in various Government Departments because sufficient time was not given to the implementation of a report.

I note the last speaker referred to County Cork and inevitably the Minister will be brought on a tour of the country. As a public representative for County Wicklow, I believe that county can lay particular claim to being the film making capital. The village of Avoca, among many others, in County Wicklow has been transformed as a result of film making activity. Historically Avoca was a mining village and when the mines closed the community was devastated. The community suffered the negative impact of economic decline, rural depopulation, high unemployment and desperation. With the filming of "Ballykissangel" and national and local efforts in regard to village renewal, the village of Avoca has been transformed. If anyone wants to see the impact of film making and how beneficial it can be at local level, they only have to visit Avoca. The biggest problem there is adequate car parking facilities to accommodate visitors.

The town in which I live, Bray, also has a tradition of film making, particularly tied into Ardmore Studios. Ardmore Studios have made a major contribution at national level, and particularly in terms of economic life, to the town of Bray. That facility is being used by national and international film makers. Post-production facilities have improved and the stages in place are used effectively. In fact there is a danger of having to turn down business because of the lack of stages and office space.

We are all aware film-making is not like other industries. Many of the jobs are temporary and the benefits are widely spread beyond those directly involved. A range of people benefit — taxi drivers, dry cleaners, extras and those directly involved. There is a tradition of film-making in Bray which is part of the reason we can now acclaim young film-makers from Bray like Pádraig Breathnach and Robert Walpole who were involved in "I Went Down".

Inevitably, because of the nature of the diffuse benefits of a film being made in any locality, it is not always easy to obtain the usual industrial development grants available for other forms of industry. While post-production facilities in Ardmore have been improved, there is a need for further expansion of stages and office space but it may not be possible for Ardmore studios to avail of the normal industrial development grants.

The provision of a laboratory in Ireland as a form of capital benefit is another suggestion made to me. I ask the Minister to consider discussing with the Minister for Finance the possibility of granting tax designation status to Ardmore studios. I have no doubt this form of assistance would have benefits outweighing any negatives as regards a loss to the Exchequer and would enable studios to expand and develop as necessary.

I welcome the work of the film board in the area of training. There has been slowness in establishing training courses although I appreciate that the many skills deficiencies are being tackled. There is need to provide skilled people in a range of areas across the sector, from entrepreneurs to producers to sound engineers to backup staff. I hope we can continue to expand training opportunities. It is remarkable that we have a skills and workforce shortage in various industrial activities. We need to put money into enabling people to take up the jobs and opportunities in film-making.

Will the Minister also comment on the role of RTE? The abdication by RTE until recently of its role in the making of drama productions was disappointing in addressing the cultural needs of the people. The screening of the series, "Making the Cut", and the critical acclaim it rightly received, clearly showed that need. We need to see, in dramatic terms, our evolution as a society and an expression of where we are now. RTE, and any other television station which is established, has an important role to play in this. I know RTE is placing considerable emphasis on technological advancement, but we have to look at its cultural and educational role as well as its technological requirements.

I was interested to see that the Irish Film Board recently joined the English language cinema plan which includes film commissions from New Zealand, Australia, Britain, Canada and South Africa. The aim is to co-ordinate national policies to counter-balance the dominance of English language film by American cinema. The Minister has outlined trans-national arrangements she is making, but I ask her to address the question of how to ensure there is space for English-speaking film-makers producing Englishspeaking films, comparable to the productions of American film-makers. This is not a chauvinist criticism of American film-makers. We are greatly influenced by American film-making but there has to be diversity. The challenge is a continuing one in relation to how we can prevent ourselves being dominated and overwhelmed by cultural messages and forms of expression from that source.

I pay tribute, as others have done, to the contribution of Leila Doolan and her successor as chairman of the film board, Louis Marcus. They and many like them in the Irish film-making industry have kept the faith through many hard years. The business is healthier than it has ever been but we should not ignore the fact that it has not always been so. It is in a healthy state and I wish the Minister well in devising a future for film-making in Ireland that will produce greater expansion, development and opportunities — both for those on the creative side of film-making but also those whose livelihoods depend on it — to ensure that future is good for all of them.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Eoin Ryan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity to respond to the Minister's invitation to cover a number of areas relevant to the activities of the Irish Film Board. I am impressed by the work of the board and the input various Ministers and chairpersons have made over the years. I do not want to get involved in a back-slapping exercise so I will focus on the investment side and the deficiencies in the current regime which ought to be remedied.

The film industry welcomes the invaluable support the Government is giving to the film board — particularly in seed funding projects and also integrating our film industry with other European initiatives. I am impressed by the range of integration measures outlined by the Minister.

The film industry is still in its infancy, when compared to the development of other industries. The future of this fledgling industry is in jeopardy and it could be placed in serious danger in the next two years or so unless certain actions are taken. The Fianna Fáil Administration which established the film board should be congratulated for its initiative, particularly in introducing section 35 tax concessions. The importance of this incentive cannot be underestimated if Ireland is to have a sustainable and viable film industry. However, the watering down of section 35 by the last Administration has been detrimental to native film-making, which will be the bedrock of a sustainable industry in the future. Ireland is ideally placed as a centre of film production. We have always had the essential ingredient - the ability to tell a story. As is said in Hollywood, the three most important ingredients in a film are the script, the script and the script. We have that talent in abundance.

Another important ingredient is the English language which is the language of the world cinema. In Germany films are made in English and dubbed in their native tongue. Producing films in English is easy for us. We have always had our good share of actors who have made their mark not only in Ireland but across the globe.

In recent years we have begun to hone the other necessary skills in sound, camera, lighting, editing and so on. We have produced directors who are among the best in the world. However, the negative changes to section 35 of the Finance Act, introduced by the previous Minister for Finance, could spell the death knell for that vital catalyst in our film industry, the indigenous film producer, particularly in light of the incentives now being offered by the Labour Government in the United Kingdom. If there is to be a flourishing Irish film industry, we need Irish producers who not alone develop scripts, appoint casts, cameras and directors but who can also put the financial package together. This is the core of any industry and the film industry is no exception. There is no point having financial incentives for the film industry if the main beneficiaries are movie moguls from Hollywood. We must support Irish producers in a European context if we want an Irish film industry.

There are those who say the incentives are too generous as they represent a direct loss to the Exchequer. However, what did it take to industrialise Ireland from Seán Lemass's first economic plan to the Celtic tiger of today? A myriad of initiatives, including financial incentives, tax breaks, grants, subsidised exports and technical advice, were needed to kick-start and sustain industrialisation. It did not happen overnight, so why should we expect it for the film industry?

We must support this industry because its potential is huge and the rewards are significant. It brings us quality skilled and well paid jobs, on the one hand, and a subtle propaganda tool to present ourselves through the most popular mass medium in the world. What needs to be done and why must we do it? We must foster Irish produced films, not only films produced in Ireland by foreign producers. We must ensure that Irish producers can go to the international marketplace, particularly Europe, to raise the finance to produce Irish and European films.

Irish films need investment from outside Ireland if they are to be made. There is a limit to the amount of investment available. We are able to attract sizeable investments for two reasons. Under the original section 35 of the Finance Act, Irish producers were able to bring 20 per cent of the budget to any project as well as a substantial cash flow. Once the vital initial investment was made, it was almost certain that a project of calibre would attract the remainder of the budget. The change to section 35 means that initial investment has now dropped to 12 per cent at best and sometimes to as low as 9 per cent with a consequent knock-on effect on cash flow. This has made it more difficult for Irish producers to operate in the competitive marketplace.

This difficulty is compounded by what is happening in the United Kingdom. For years the film industry in Britain looked with envy at the success of our film industry which was largely due to the original section 35 initiative introduced by a Fianna Fáil led Government. The British film industry has persuaded the new Labour Government to introduce tax incentives which are more attractive than anything Ireland introduced. In addition, it has allocated substantial sums of money from the UK lottery to the film industry. That is a real threat to our film industry. At present, investing in a UK English speaking film is more attractive than investing in an Irish one. If we are to succeed in the future we must face this threat and redress the balance.

What must we do to grow the indigenous film industry? Budgets for Irish produced films are modest by world standards. Some £5 million would be a large budget for an Irish film, whereas £50 million would not be extraordinarily high for something produced in Hollywood. We need a sliding scale of tax incentives which will maximise the industry but will benefit the Irish produced film. For films up to £5 million, the tax based investment should be increased to 70 per cent, the tax write-off should be increased from the present 80 per cent to 100 per cent as it was in the original section 35 and the pay back period should be increased from one year to three years. This means Irish producers would have between 25 per cent and 30 per cent of the budget in addition to a good cash flow which would give them a strong hand in trying to attract the remaining budget in the marketplace. For films with a budget in excess of £5 million and less than £12 million, up to 60 per cent of the budget should qualify for 100 per cent tax relief over three years. For budgets in excess of £12 million, the present arrangements will suffice - 60 per cent of the budget qualifying for 80 per cent tax relief which must be paid back in one year.

If this approach was adopted, we would have a vibrant film industry producing quality jobs. It would be a net contributor to the economy and to the Exchequer and it would be able to proudly fly the flag for Ireland world-wide.

Mr. Ryan

I thank Deputy Pat Carey for sharing his time with me. We are all in agreement that the Irish film industry is a success story. It has developed in recent years and we should be proud of it.

There are a few people who can take credit for the development of the film industry. The former Minister, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, is one such person. He helped to move it forward during his term in office. I was delighted he discussed the working group's report during his contribution. I remember when the former Taoiseach, Deputy Reynolds, set up the Film Institute of Ireland, of which I was a member, and when that report was presented. Deputy Michael D. Higgins said he took on board many of the points made by different people in the industry when he was Minister. I have no doubt the Minister, Deputy de Valera, will also encourage its future development. I hope it will be a huge success.

Many people kept faith with the film industry through difficult times, such as Mr. Tiernan MacBride who was a member of the Film Institute of Ireland. They knew that if the right mechanism was put in place, the industry would develop. The industry is at an important stage in its development. Many other countries encouraged the development of their film industries. Australia's film industry, for example, was successful but it seemed to hit a wall. We should examine why it did not develop as it should.

The Film Institute of Ireland is the designated national body charged with responsibility for the promotion of the culture of the moving image in Ireland. Since its inception, it has defined its role as tripartite. The film archive of the Film Institute of Ireland has been engaged in the laborious, time consuming but crucial work of identifying, collecting, preserving and conserving Irish films and related material. The transfer of moving images from old film stock to more durable modern media is not only a necessary act of conservation of the national film heritage, but also a rendering of that heritage into more immediately usable forms. The film archives have become a major and continually expanding resource for research into, and understanding of, the cultural history of modern Ireland.

The Irish Film Institute, operating through the Irish Film Centre and its screening facilities, seeks to broaden, deepen and enrich the experience of film culture through the deployment of a suite of programming strategies. These include specialist screenings of archive material and the best of Irish and international cinema, themed film festivals, conferences and seminars with Irish and international film makers.

Since opening in 1992, the Irish Film Centre has been sustained by a loyal membership base and by the development of ancillary entertainment and catering enterprises. In its relatively short existence, the film centre has become precisely that - a centre for debate and dialogue, with access to and direct engagement in the practicalities of film culture. The Irish Film Centre successfully blends entertainment and education.

The Irish Film Institute's education department is in many ways the most important and valuable dimension of the institute's work, which I will put in context. In Ireland we have one of the world's most avid cinema audiences. Irish film goers make more visits to the cinema than is the case almost anywhere else in the world. It is true the number of cinemas has decreased nationally, but the number of screens has increased. The trend towards shrinkage in the film audience which occurred for almost three decades has been reversed in recent years with an annual increase in audience numbers.

This is a curious phenomenon of which there are many possible interpretations, one of which is the part played by predictable and repetitious television programming. The beady eye of the box in the corner of the living room does not hypnotise in the way it formerly did. Alterations to the demographic profile of the population, the increased spending power of those in a position to milk the Celtic tigress and enhanced mobility conspire to generate growing numbers of consumers for the products of the cinema industry.

We should be aware, however, that cinema screens are increasingly monopolised by the product of the cinema industry based in Hollywood. Whether one finds this admirable, regrettable or deplorable, it is self evident that Hollywood represents the most efficient global concentration of film expertise and capital and the most intense development of marketing and distribution muscle. We may say the typical Hollywood product is bland, homogenised and custom made for an undiscriminating global market, and that it constitutes an insidious form of cultural imperialism at worst, or an invisible form of cultural penetration at best. Nevertheless, we must also concede that the Hollywood industry has always been capable of producing the exceptional product, the film that fundamentally impacts upon our perception of the world and our place in it.

It is an inescapable fact that Hollywood now addresses its product to a global audience. The product may be homogenised but the audience is not. Herein lies a series of opportunities. The audience for film remains local, national, culturally diverse and ethnically and ethically differentiated. Hence the existence of many national film boards charged with the responsibility of producing films reflective of the culture and value systems of indigenous and diverse film audiences. I greatly supported the former Minister in his support of the French defence of its film industry during the GATT negotiations. I felt that the Hollywood industry was trying to completely take over, which would have had a catastrophic effect on the very important French film industry which produces many fine films.

It would be wrong, however, to see the various national film boards as forlorn, last ditch stands against the might of Hollywood. That would grant a homogeneity to Hollywood which it does not possess. "Hollywood" is merely a shorthand term for the intensifying process of media and capital conglomeration into fewer and fewer trans-national communication corporations. The production division of a media corporation makes a film, and then the promotion, publicity and advertising divisions market the product globally. There is no way that a national film board, no matter how well organised it is or richly endowed with funds, can hope to compete with the trans-national market makers. What can, and is, being done is that national film boards can seek to complement and supplement rather than compete.

The Irish Film Institute's education department already has in place the expertise and appropriate educational structures, processes and technologies to underpin its participation in, and its contribution to, the study of film and film culture in Ireland. The institute, equipped with its high quality screening facilities and the rich resources of the film archive, is uniquely placed to become a leading player in the coherent development of media studies generally, and particularly film studies.

The institute has provided in-service training for teachers at all levels of the education system. It has organised special screenings, lectures and seminars at the IFC for thousands of students and, as far as its limited finances has permitted, has tried to bring those services to a national audience. Inevitably, the financial constraints imposed by the inadequate allocation of £11,000 from the Department of Education means the institute is continually frustrated in its efforts to provide access to the educational programme for all those who not only wish, but need, to avail of its service.

As a former member of the institute, I know how much work it has done in this regard over recent years out of limited resources. The Minister should examine whether extra resources can be provided for this area because, as has been proven in the development of our economy, education provides jobs in the long-term.

The Irish Film Institute is poised to cater for all levels of the education system. It is situated at a crucial nodal point from which it can draw on the best national and international expertise and practical experience. It is in constant dialogue with parallel institutions around the world. It has immediate access to all the required visual and documentary material necessary for the coherent development of film studies in Ireland. It is a national resource which is ready to be recruited to serve the national interest.

I have no doubt the Minister will do a very fine job in developing the film industry. This has been an excellent debate and it is good to see Members on both sides agreeing, more or less, on the huge success story of the Irish film industry. I wish the Minister and the film industry well.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Belton.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I thank the Minister for her very inclusive, informed and helpful contribution. I also thank the Minister's officials. I compliment her on her very positive attitude towards the film industry, now and while she was in Opposition. She put forward some very positive proposals during that time which I am sure she will implement now. I also recognise the work of the former Minister, Deputy Michael D. Higgins. He added new energy to the film industry, which has not gone unnoticed at home and abroad. His enthusiasm influenced many people, which is why we have such a thriving industry.

We have had a tradition of film making here, although not all the films were indigenous. A number of major films were shot in my county. The shooting of "Ryan's Daughter" put Dingle on the tourism map. People still visit the area to see the location of the film. I have met cyclists from Australia and walkers who have climbed to the top of Mount Brandon because of this film. "The Quiet Man", an epic film based on the short story by Maurice Welsh, a north Kerry writer, was, unfortunately for County Kerry, shot in Counties Mayo and Galway, which got the tourism spin-off.

It was good for the film.

Agreed. We get too many All Irelands. "The Field" was also shot in County Galway, in Leenane. These two major films were based on the works of north Kerry writers. Deputy Michael D. Higgins will be delighted to know that John B. Keane's novel Durango will be filmed. The rights were bought last week for a considerable sum of money. We will be calling on the Minister to try to ensure that the film will be shot in Kerry. The people there must put together a good package to the promoters in Los Angeles to encourage them in the shooting of this epic story, which deals with a cattle drive through north Kerry during the last world war.

The Irish Film Board was re-established in 1993 to promote the creative and commercial elements of Irish film making and film culture for the home and international audiences. The board supports a number of film projects through the provision of development funding and provides production finance by way of equity investment for a selected number of films. It has been successful, despite failures. Had it not been re-established and reconstituted in 1993, I doubt if we would have had such success today.

While the incentives available in Ireland are attractive they are modest compared to those offered by some of our European counterparts. The UK Government is now offering incentives which surpass ours. This will create major competitive problems for our industry. For example, a film such as "Braveheart" could have been shot in Scotland were it not for the incentives available here. We should not become complacent about our new found success in the film industry.

The reasons were also creative.

The incentives would also have helped.

A lot of excellence.

Money speaks all languages. All film board funded feature films have had a substantial component of market money from a broadcaster or distributor as an essential element of production finance. Over the years, film makers have proven to be tenacious and inventive in pursuit of commercial investment. This is reflected in the funds they have been able to obtain and source to match the funding available here. Prior to the establishment of the film board, few films were made in Ireland each year. This compares to the situation today where over 20 feature films and television series are made annually.

Before the establishment of the film board, Irish film producers were at a serious disadvantage as they had little or no Irish finance to bring to the table. Therefore, they found it difficult to negotiate on such matters as an Irish cast and crew and shooting location. Apart from these considerations, obtaining funding for a feature film without support from the home country is extremely difficult. At present, a film board supported film can go to foreign markets with up to 30 per cent of its budget in place from the domestic market, funded by the board, section 35 and RTE.

The incentives available under section 35 are similar to the corporation tax levels of 10 per cent in terms of attracting foreign investors to the industry. That is why it is important that they are retained and, if possible, made more attractive. Some argue that the section represents a loss to the Exchequer. However, when the spin-off in terms of employment, including investment in accommodation and equipment and the sourcing of crews in Ireland following the development of indigenous expertise are considered, it represents an immeasurable benefit to the local economy. Doubtless the figures in terms of employment numbers and financial return are difficult to quantify, but one only has to consider the publicity such films give to the country to realise the extent of the benefit. They contribute to the advertisement of the tourism industry and of the way of life in Ireland.

Irish films supported by the film board have won critical and audience acclaim in festivals throughout the world. For example, three of the last four films to win the prestigious San Sebastian Film Festival Best Film award - "Ailsa", "Trojan Eddie" and "I Went Down" - were supported by the film board. It is unprecedented for a country of Ireland's size to achieve such success in this and other premier international film festivals. More recently, "The Last Bus Home" was voted the best film at the Cherbourg British and Irish Film Festival. The impact of other recent films, such as "Michael Collins" and "Braveheart", together with pending films, such as "Dancing at Lughnasa", "I Once Had a Life", "The Butcher Boy" and "The Nephew" makes it difficult to comprehend the success of what has happened.

The accelerating production activity on this island provides a striking manifestation of the effectiveness of the integrated film and television policies put in place in 1993. The energy displayed by the then Minister influenced many people and gave them confidence to invest in the industry.

As the industry expands and develops, producers and directors are discovering new and innovative sources of finance, and, with the help of the film board, are obtaining commercial success, reputation and respectability in the market place. The support of the film board has a snowball effect on the industry with producers, directors, cast and crew obtaining more experience with each film made. The rising tide of increased activity also lifts technical expertise, facilities and infrastructure.

As the industry develops, the need to employ foreign talent and crews diminishes and the pool of talent in Ireland expands. The Minister mentioned funding for training, which includes a provision under the industrial operation programme for £2.58 million, £1.2 million of which has been spent already. That is very welcome. I understand that recently 15 people successfully completed the first sound editors course to be organised at Ardmore Studios. Previous to this sound editors had to be brought from the United States. RTE and FÁS asked four professionals from the United States to provide the necessary training. This will broaden the range of technical expertise available here. The Minister should recommend the course to her think tank as a model that could be used in other areas.

We need to stress the need for quality in film, documentary and video production. This has been done in the case of the computer, electronics and food industries. Inferior productions are no longer acceptable. We have the necessary infrastructure and key personnel at all levels of the industry to satisfy the requirements of any producer who decides to film on location. I have heard it said that our film and technical crews create a good impression, they are friendly, cooperative and hardworking. In other countries, because of union restrictions, it is difficult to find crews which are as flexible and available day and night.

"Shortcuts" is a joint initiative between the Irish Film Board and RTÉ. It provides young producers, of which there are many throughout the country, camera operators and technicians with an opportunity to gain valuable experience.

I commend the independent production unit in RTÉ, especially Clare Duignan and Clare Mitchell, on its efforts. I was involved in the production of five videos on north Kerry writers which were critically acclaimed. They would not have been completed without the help and co-operation of the independent production unit. It should receive greater support.

I wish the Minister well and pay tribute to her predecessor who adopted a handson approach. He was enthusiastic and showed great foresight.

The film industry has gone from strength to strength. In considering production loan applications the Irish Film Board takes into account the extent of the Irish input in terms of personnel. This is an important factor and provides people with an opportunity to become involved in the industry. It is heartening that people respond in such large numbers to appeals for extras who participate on a voluntary basis. The Minister for Defence has often made Army personnel available. Their enthusiasm, interest and co-operation have in no small way facilitated the development of the industry. I welcome the Bill.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Moynihan.

An Leas-Ceann Comhairle

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Bill and the further investment in a growing industry. The Bill presents us with an opportunity to express our opinion on its future development. Irish people have consistently been successful in the entertainment and service industries. We should seek to create further opportunities to build on our success in these industries which provide employment without damaging the environment. The film industry is a green industry, the type of industry we should actively promote. It encourages us to make the most of our natural and cultural heritage. We have a great deal to offer in so far as we have a highly educated and skilled workforce and have gained considerable experience in an industry which fits the personality of the Irish. It will provide many opportunities for those young people attracted to its technical side.

I commend the efforts of the former Minister who showed great vision. I have no doubt that the Minister will build on his success.

In a debate such as this one tends to be taken on a tour of the country. We all wish to draw attention to specific projects in our constituencies or counties. Ireland is but a small dot on the map and I like to think that people from abroad look beyond the capital to what we have to offer. I will not apologise therefore for mentioning the achievements in my constituency. In examining the areas we represent we can focus on the policies that will succeed in building a national success story based on a strong national policy. I exhort the Minister to acknowledge the revolution taking place within local communities, who have focused on an industry they see growing and within which they perceive a role for themselves.

I want to mention the involvement of Young Irish Film Makers in Kilkenny in the production of a film entitled "Under the Hawthorn Tree", a good example of what I am talking about. To observe young people between the ages of seven and 19, without any adult involvement, participating in the production of that film and presenting it in a truly professionally manner is a clear indication that there is indeed a future in film making here. Having observed the manner in which that group and film evolved, regardless of the funds being committed for the implementation of this Bill, additional steps must be taken to ensure that such groups are properly funded.

I have seen similar groups in other counties forced to go to the United Kingdom and America to raise funds for film production. That is no harm because it makes them focus on their endeavours, value the money they collect and provides them with an opportunity of interacting with other similar groups at home and abroad. It also affords them an opportunity to import their new-found education, talents and skills for the benefit of their local communities, creating new jobs and hope where none existed.

That is a very positive way of building on the success of the film industry. Unfortunately, in instances like that of the Young Irish Film Makers, insufficient funds are allocated to adequately recognise their time and input, sometimes given voluntarily. When one considers parents' commitment to such organisations, they too have committed talent, skills and time.

We should not merely throw money at them but make it possible for them to have access to sufficient funds to enable them bring a worthwhile project to fruition. In the instance I quoted, Channel 4 saw the expertise and potential of that local community and was willing to assist in the development of that film. It is the kind of pilot project or success story that could well be further examined and developed by the Minister's Department with the involvement of indigenous communities in the advancement of this industry.

That type of activity invigorates a local community and gives them an opportunity to participate on the world stage within the film industry while allowing them develop their talents and creativity. It is good for personal and individual expression in addition to the local economy, as we discovered in Kilkenny.

When one observes the value local communities derive from that type of activity, one can readily acknowledge that it is worthy of the support of any Department. Its value is also acknowledged in the various initiatives being taken to market various counties in the course of film making. In the case of Kilkenny, various local interest groups, the Chamber of Commerce, the Young Irish Film Makers, the local authority and enterprise board all came together to devise a marketing strategy for the film industry. They actively sought local community involvement in marketing themselves on the world stage, attracting the types of films compatible with their locality.

It is wonderful to see a medieval city like Kilkenny and the county become involved in modern film making. There is much involvement by the Office of Public Works in the restoration of historical sites. Such activity adds value to the expenditure of public funds since it benefits not only tourism but augments the enjoyment of the indigenous community without damaging the environment. Once such films have been produced locally and screened inevitably their content exposes Ireland to a whole new market, in addition to being a great source of satisfaction to political figures and various officials involved in the maintenance of such historical sites which feature in them, thus adding to their overall tourism attraction potential.

A national film marketing strategy must be devised in co-operation with the many Government Departments involved, incorporating the great work being undertaken at constituency and county level, thereby ensuring that that local marketing strategy is matched with its national counterpart, not so much by way of grants but through some form of access to funds to ensure all of this can take place in a cohesive manner for the benefit of the country generally.

I want now to refer to information technology. There are many picturesque and historical sites nationwide which could be of enormous value even in the case of a modern film. These places could be highlighted through information technology, super-imposing their locations in the course of editing films in which they might appear. A library of that kind should be established and made available to those who produce or edit films, thus exposing such sites to the overall marketplace. That is another aspect of the industry which has been supported by many enterprise boards, involving young people directing and making films through their digital equipment. However, the cost of such digital equipment can be a deterrent to many young people wishing to become involved in film making activities, such as the Young Irish Film Makers and other such groups at the cutting edge of the industry who wish to forge ahead in the marketplace. They should be facilitated in the purchase of such equipment and extend their services, through information technology, to locations outside this State.

At a time when Ennis has been awarded the Telecom Éireann "Information Age Town" award, when Telecom is investing some £10 million in information technology in schools, surely we have reached a stage in our development at which we should seriously consider comparable investment ensuring that all funds are pooled. Sufficient funding should be made available to make possible the development of information technology, film making, location, editing and so on at county level.

In my county people have become involved in film editing of their own choice. Some have moved from the capital city to places like Kilkenny, where they have established enterprises and become quite successful. They interact daily, through the Internet and information technology, with American companies and others worldwide. Surely that presents us with huge potential for employment.

This type of activity constitutes part of overall education within the film industry. Involving young people of seven years of age in film making is indeed a form of education, from which point they move on and become involved in various national institutions, educating themselves further.

The Minister referred this morning to the glitzy image of the film industry. There is a whole new perception of the industry at local level and those involved in it, while being aware of its glitzy Hollywood image, are quite capable of meeting its many challenges. That is the way forward for job creation in the future. This country's film industry has long-term prospects if we can pool all our resources at national and local level.

In regard to the tourism element of the industry, a number of low cost films have been made in Kilkenny including "Lock Up Your Daughters", which met with a degree of success, "Circle of Friends" and "Widow's Peak". The people who work in Ireland making these films return here for holidays. They leave this country singing its praises and that is what it is all about; one industry lending itself to another.

I support the Bill and I urge the Minister to look to this industry in the future as one that can be developed in a way that provides a substantial number of jobs for the young qualified people coming into the market place.

I congratulate the Minister and wish her well on her appointment. I welcome the fact that she has moved swiftly to implement two of the commitments to the Irish film industry contained in the Government's programme, An Action Programme for the Millennium. I welcome also the emphasis the Minister has placed on television as well as film production. Television production may be regarded by some as being a second class citizen to the film industry but in reality it is at the cutting edge of the film and television chain and plays a crucial role in giving skills to workers. An example of that is "The Hanging Gale", a four hour television series on the Famine which was filmed in County Donegal. That project was a co-production between RTE and BBC and the experience it offered to Irish crews was as important as that offered by a feature film production.

It is appropriate for the Minister to ensure the most effective mechanism possible to promote Ireland as a quality location for film-making. As previous speakers said, there is no doubt that people who work in this country on film productions take with them when they leave a deep love of the country and return here to support our tourism industry, which is welcome.

I welcome the fact that the Minister has adopted the model suggested by the Irish Film Board and consulted those in the industry with a view to obtaining their views on this issue. The idea of a ten year strategy for the industry, to be drawn up by the new industry think tank, is an excellent one. It indicates that the Government is not interested in the short-term needs of the industry but proposes to drive its agenda forward over a longer time span reflecting the enormous competition in the audio-visual production and the challenges being posed in this ever increasing high tech industry. The industry should see the think tank as being central to its own interests.

In signalling an interest in the ten year strategy for the industry, the Government is essentially institutionalising the film and television sector in the broader industrial sector of the economy. It is sending out a strong message that the sector is not just a cultural curiosity at the margins of the economic and social priorities but can contribute significantly to the central employment strategy of the Government. The film industry is growing and more young people in primary and second level schools have an interest in the production of films. It is essential that we try to include those young people in film-making or some other part of the film industry.

I welcome the fact that a television drama series on Deirdre Purcell's book, Falling for a Dancer, has just been completed in Castletownbere, County Cork. This project has brought significant benefits to the local economy and is proof positive that the Minister's plan for the continued development of the industry will be greatly beneficial in terms of job creation and value added to the local and national economies.

It is with real pleasure that all of us have participated in this debate. I am delighted that so many people contributed to it, and with such enthusiasm. I congratulate the Minister, Deputy de Valera, on taking up the baton in the creative arts and the culture and heritage of this country, so ably handed on to her by the former Minister, Deputy Michael D. Higgins. Both the Minister and the former Minister made excellent contributions to the debate.

I welcome also the cross-party recognition that this industry is centrally, culturally and creatively Irish. It is about our own identity, painfully emerging from a time when we had little support to explore it. The importance of that must be underlined outside the financial and staffing difficulties which will be examined in this Bill and by the Department of Finance. As Deputy Higgins pointed out, some things cannot be priced, although we are talking here about a very successful project.

I want to underline the sense of development in the industry and coming to terms with our own identity, not the "begorra" image that was imposed on us from abroad at a time when we had no control over the production, financing or scripting of what were passed off as Irish films.

I am very aware of the experience of the Australian film industry which suffered great disadvantage and shared our lack of confidence in film-making until it received state funding and recognition by society that investment must be made to create images of Australia and its people which are then sent forward, as Deputy Higgins rightly said, for other juries to adjudicate upon.

I remember the sense of excitement and interest I experienced when I first viewed some of the great Australian films which portrayed that country's extraordinary history. Deputy Eoin Ryan referred to the fact that the Australian film industry may have run into a wall but I would like to think that if we run into such a wall it will be seen as creative, as theirs continues to be.

One of the first striking Australian films was "Gallipoli" in which Mel Gibson and many other young actors made their presence felt. Mel Gibson went on to produce and direct in Ireland, in partnership with our film board and the former Minister, Deputy Higgins. I have in mind

"Strictly Ballroom", "Muriel's Wedding" and "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" which was irreverent and witty but, above all, about Australia and its people. Made on a small budget and with an extraordinarily creative design, "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert", won the Oscar for costume and design in the year in which it was nominated. This goes to show that creativity, dedication and, above all, when one is sure of oneself and one's own identity, wonderful and marvellous things can be done without a Hollywood budget. That is something we also recognise. One of the most extraordinary films that broke all barriers not just in human but in animal terms was the Oscar winning "Babe"; I am glad that "Babe II" is now being made. Looking at such films, one realises they came from the culture and experience of Australians, and we can now be proud of the long line of films with an Irish stamp.

I agree with Deputy Michael D. Higgins and with the Minister on the need to concentrate not just on the indigenous skills of our people but on the extraordinary creativity of our writers and poets. Script writing, which is an amazing skill, and training in media appreciation should be included in our school curricula. In doing that we will show that not alone do we love cinema but that we take great pride in producing our own films. I remember the sheer joy, excitement and exhilaration of going to the local cinema in the small town where I grew up when it was the event of the week. It was literally the magic lantern that opened up windows to a world that we did not have the opportunity to explore ourselves. In producing our own films we will allow other people to have windows into our world; as we looked out, people can now look in and we can be proud of what they are looking at. That will require the underpinning of finance and a political will that understands that it requires not just a financial budget and tax recognition but a realisation that we are dealing with our culture, our heritage, in economic circumstances which we never experienced before and at a time when not only can we reach out with pride and confidence but can also bring in the diaspora. One film that has not been mentioned yet but which will, I hope, go into production with all the supports that are necessary is "Angela's Ashes" based on the book by the Pulitzer prize-winning Irish author, Frank McCourt. One thing we can feel confident of is that we have the makings of good scripts to an extraordinarily rich degree. Every Deputy who spoke was able to refer to some training, education or film development in his constituency. Some Deputies referred to the making of films in their area which showed the beauty of the country and highlighted the wonderful co-operation and generosity of the people who housed the film crews and worked as extras etc. The reputation they gained will stand to us in the future.

I agree with the Minister and Deputy Michael D. Higgins that progress so far is due to the enthusiasm, commitment and sacrifices of all the people involved who have more than proved themselves on every level. They do not have to make a strong case for themselves. We should be able to make that case in complete confidence. There is a need to recognise the lack of staffing, the need for protection in terms of the incomes of people involved in this industry, the importance of film archives, of having a film institute and ensuring that the film that already exists and is under threat is not just preserved but funded to enable restoration etc. I pay tribute to the archives for what they have done already in terms of restoration work. When one considers what is achieved here in film making with much love and attention and very little money compared to the huge budgets allocated in other countries, we must realise that it is about time we made an investment. Possibly this could not have been justified before, but now we cannot justify not doing it.

I congratulate the Minister on setting up the Irish women's history project. The extraordinary experiences of people even in our living memory can be used not just as archive but as a springboard for continuing to have an indigenous film industry that will not be dependent on outside scripts.

Debate adjourned.