Arts Bill 2002: From the Seanad.

The Dáil went into Committee to consider amendments from the Seanad.
Seanad amendment No. 1:
Section 11: In page 8, between lines 3 and 4, the following new subsection inserted:
"(4) The chairperson of the Council shall hold office for 5 years from the date of his or her appointment.".

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to his new portfolio. I am sure he will be very good in the arts. I have no difficulty with this amendment and my party will not vote against it. I recognise the fact that Deputy Ó Snodaigh noticed this on Report Stage and the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism made a commitment that he would rectify it by making an amendment in the Seanad and bringing it back to the Dáil.

This gives an opportunity to have a brief overview of the Bill. We have been discussing the Bill for more than a year.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

We are discussing the amendment. We cannot have a general discussion on the Bill.

Given that we are discussing the five-year term of the chairperson, I feel it would be appropriate to discuss the issue of membership of the council. The number of members on the council will now be between what was provided for in the 1951 and 1973 Acts. The 1951 Act provided for six members and a director. The 1973 Act provided for 16 members and a chairman. This Bill provides for 12 members and a chairman. While it is not a radical change, it will probably improve the workings of the council, as 17 people around a table was a large number, which may not have facilitated smooth decision making.

On the other hand it could lead to less representation of the various interests across the arts community, in which there has been a proliferation of groups in recent years. No doubt that has come about as a result of the success of the arts in that period. In addition, there are now more groups representing the performing arts and the visual arts than was previously the case.

Whatever about the term of office of the chairperson, the big question relates to funding. The reduction of €4 million in the allocation to the Arts Council this year has given rise to widespread concern and despair across the arts community. Groups such as Ballet Ireland have had their budgets slashed. Groups like Red Kettle and Siamsa Tíre have to curtail their programmes because of the cut in Arts Council funding. Despite this Bill, unless there is a commitment to funding and the Government fulfils its commitment to the arts world to support the arts plan 2002 to 2006, which had committed €53 million to the arts for this year—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

The Deputy should address the amendment that is before the House.

Unless the funding is there it will not matter who is the chairperson or the length of his or her term of office.

As regards the other provisions in the Bill, the one where the Minister gives himself the opportunity to direct the Arts Council will be a question of interpretation.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

We are discussing the term of the chairmanship and not other issues.

I would like one minute.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

I have given the Deputy considerable latitude.

We have been discussing this for one year.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

The Chair has no option but to stick to the rules.

The provision about which I have expressed concern will leave it up to a particular Minister as to how he or she will interpret the autonomy of the Arts Council in the future. That remains to be seen. I have outlined my concerns and time will prove whether they are unfounded.

Chuir mé in iúl don Aire nach bhfuil aon téarma oifige ag an gcathaoirleach agus tá sé go maith gur tháinig an tAire ar ais leis an bhfoclaíocht seo. Ní hé seo an fhoclaíocht a theastaigh uaim mar bhí mé ag iarraidh a chur in iúl go raibh gá le téarma bheith scríofa – cúig bhliain don chathaoirleach sa chás seo.

Tá ceisteanna eile, áfach, nach bhfuil socraithe ag an leasú ó thaobh roghnaigh cathaoirligh. An féidir leis bheith ann le dhá thréimshe nó an féidir leis suí ar an mbord tar éis an téarma a bheith críochnaithe? An bhfuil caighdeán ginearálta ann ag cathaoirligh bord Stáit? An bhfuil seo difriúil ó thaobh cothromaíochta de? An mbeidh an cathaoirleach baineann le cúig bhliain agus fireann le cúig bhliain ina dhiaidh sin? An bhfuil aon chosc ar an líon tréimhsí a bheidh ag na cathaoirligh? An bhfuil cosc aoise ann? Cad faoi líofacht teanga?

Gabhaim comhghairdeas leis an Aire Stáit agus an Roinn mar gheall ar an Chéim seo a bhaint amach leis an Bhille. Shíl mé go mbeadh moill air nuair a chuaigh seo go dtí an Seanad ach ghlac an Teach sin leis na cúrsaí atá ar siúl anseo.

Tá obair mhór ag aon chathaoirleach ach cad iad na scileanna a bheidh de dhíth air nó uirthi? Roghnóidh an tAire an cathaoirleach ach níl aon chritéir leagtha síos ag rá gur chóir speis a bheith aige nó aici fiú sna healaíona nó go bhfuil cleachtadh ag teastáil.

Beidh an cathaoirleach ann le cúig bhliain agus tá súil agam nach mbeidh sé nó sí mar riarthóir ach mar chathaoirleach le fís, go gcaithfidh sé cúig bhliain ag cur na físe sin i réim agus go mbeidh an Roinn agus an Rialtas sásta tacú leis go hiomlán maidir leis an airgead agus gan bheith ag cur a ladar isteach nuair atá an comhairle ag iarraidh obair a dhéanamh.

Aontaím leis an Teachta Ó Snodaigh faoi na cáilíochtaí atá ag teastáil agus tá sé iontuigthe go mbeadh cumas gnó a dhéanamh trí mheán na Gaeilge de dhíth – ní amháin sin ach go mbeadh ar an duine a cheapfar mar chathaoirleach samhlaíocht traidisiún agus cultúr na hÉireann a bheith aige agus aici agus é ag feidhmiú trí mheán na Gaeilge. Níl freagraí leis na ceisteanna seo ann seachas an tréimhse.

The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism was sympathetic to a point I raised on the previous Stage of this Bill concerning functions. While he agreed with me on the position of artists, he said that he was not introducing a social welfare Bill. I directed my attention to section 18 of the Bill which gives the Minister the power to confer on the Arts Council through the chairperson – regardless of his or her term – the ability, for example, to make the case for the living conditions of artists.

While I cannot ask the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, while dealing with an arts Bill, to introduce a social welfare Bill, if I interpret the section correctly there is nothing preventing the Minister from asking the new council and its chairperson to address this as it is a matter of the greatest urgency. I would appreciate the Minister of State covering it in his summary before we finish.

A number of points were raised with regard to the amendment from the Seanad. Section 11 specifies the length of time that ordinary members of the council shall serve. No reference was made in the original Bill to the term of appointment of the chairperson. This issue, as Deputy Ó Snodaigh pointed out, was raised on Report Stage in the Dáil. The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, indicated that he proposed to make an amendment. It was always his intention that the chairperson should serve for a term of five years. That is what is proposed in the amendment. The Bill has been amended in the Seanad and the Dáil is asked to agree to this amendment. I welcome the fact that Deputies are in agreement and thank them for raising the issue on Report Stage.

Naturally, Deputies used the opportunity of the re-submission of the Bill to raise other issues. Deputy Deenihan raised the whole question of the size of the board and the great variety and diversity of the arts community nowadays. He asked whether the number involved would be sufficient to cater for the huge diversity of interests involved. There is no doubt there has been an increase in the variety of stakeholders in the arts community. However, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism and this House have to make a practical decision as to an effective and workable body in terms of numbers.

The number has been fixed at 13 which seems an unfortunate figure about which I am superstitious. However, a balance must be struck. An odd number is always preferable and a decision can be made in the event of division of opinion. Once committees are expanded beyond a certain size, they tend to become too unwieldy. We are fortunate that under the Constitution, the number of Cabinet members is limited to 15. Successive taoisigh would have long since trespassed beyond that figure and made Government a pointless entity. Naturally, they have explored the idea of having Ministers of State in attendance in recent years. The reality is that in fixing a number, one makes a committee more effective. As Deputy Deenihan pointed out, the original figure was far smaller and there was a much greater figure in the 1970s legislation. There was a figure of 73 in the last Act. We are now fixed on a figure of 13, which in the circumstances is balanced.

Deputy Deenihan raised the issue of the reduction in funding. The Government never committed itself to financial targets in the arts plan. It was made clear that funding would come through the annual Estimates provisions. We cannot be accused of any deceptions in our undertaking to the people in this case. I will draw the Deputy's views to the attention of the Minister. Deputy Deenihan also said that the Minister's view of the legislation – this could ultimately fall to be determined by the courts – means the board is autonomous on funding decisions.

Bhí cúpla ceist ag an Teachta Ó Snodaigh. Beidh an tréimhse céanna ag an gcathaoirleach agus atá ag gnáthduine a bheith mar bhall den choiste – níl aon difríocht ann. Mar a deir an Bille in alt 11(9): "A person to whom subsection (8) applies shall not be eligible for re-appointment to the council where he or she has served two consecutive terms of office as a member of the council." Tá an cathaoirleach faoin chosc sin chomh maith.

Ar cheist na haoise, ní féidir cosc aoise a chur isteach mar tá seans go mbeadh sé míbhunreachtúil i reachtaíocht. Tagann ciall le haois agus ní féidir a rá sa Bhille go mbeadh aois éigin ann nach mbeadh duine in ann bheith mar bhall den bhord.

Sense does not always come with age.

Féach ar an Teachta Higgins mar shampla. Tá a lán ciall aige.

Faoi cheist na líofachta, beidh an tAire ag déanamh an chinnidh ar an duine a cheapfar mar chathaoirleach. Níl aon amhras agam ach go mbeidh suim ag an Aire sa cheist sin fosta.

Deputy Michael Higgins raised a question on what the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism may do under section 10. I have no precise indications from the Minister as to his intentions in this regard. There is no doubt in my mind that it would be open to the Minister under section 10 to adopt the course of action the Deputy proposed.

To speak for the arts community. The council cannot be expected to deal with an issue while—

The Chair is at somewhat of a loss. We seem to be dealing with all sections of the Bill. There is one amendment before the House dealing with section 11.

A Cheann Comhairle, we have wandered to a conclusion.

Can we stick to the amendment which is the subject of debate? I will hear Deputies on the amendment but we cannot have a rambling debate about the entire Bill.

I remind Deputy Michael Higgins that I gave the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the solution at Report Stage. However, he rejected it by specifying that he would set up a standing committee for the artists.

On the term of the chairperson, there is other legislation that does not specify how long a chairperson can remain in office. Bord na gCon is a case in point. It is important that a finite period would be specified where a chairperson could remain in office. It is important too that the person appointed to that position has a long track record in the arts. He or she should have a broad overview of the arts and not just represent a sector in the arts. Otherwise, that particular viewpoint could prevail to the detriment of other sectors.

The Minister's appointment to Fáilte Ireland was a good one, so I believe he will appoint somebody dynamic with a vision for the arts in the future. This is important as the arts area is going through a turbulent period despite the fact that considerable progress has been made. Deputy Michael Higgins, when Minister, was partly responsible for that, but there is a great deal of concern now. The chairperson, who will be appointed for five years, will be important in guiding the arts over that period in giving people confidence and assurance and providing the required vision.

Tá sé go maith go mbeidh an cathaoirleach in ann deich mbliain a chaitheamh sa phost sin. Cad faoi duine atá ar an mbord le cúig bhliain, atá ann mar chathaoirleach le deich mbliain, agus 15 bliain caite aige air san iomlán? Nuair a bheidh sé críochnaithe, beidh a lán taithí aige agus bheadh sé go dona dá gcaillfí sin go hiomlán ag an gcomhairle. Tar éis bliana nó dhó, an dtiocfadh leis an iar-chathaoirleach sin teacht ar ais más mian leis an gcomhairle chun an taithí sin a thabhairt dó? Níl mé ar lorg srian aoise sa Bhille. Bíonn srianta go minic ar an aois is sine a thiocfadh le duine bheith ar bord agus ní chóir go mbeadh sin ann. An mbeidh cead ag an cathaoirleach fanacht in oifig thar aois 65.

Ní dhéanann an Bille aon idirdhealú idir an chathaoirleach agus ghnáth bhaill an choiste. Mar sin, deich mbliana an tréimhse do gach éinne.

In regard to the issue raised by Deputy Deenihan, I agree that given the changes one always has in artistic taste it is desirable to put a term limit of two terms in the legislation.

I hope the Deputy is not initiating a broader discussion. As he is no doubt aware, in many states in the United States, there has been considerable political discussion about whether there should be a fixed term for members of Congress, state legislatures and governors. This may lead on to a discussion as to whether, for example, in this House one should not be allowed to be a Deputy for more than three terms or a Minister for more than two.

That would be welcomed by many councillors.

As described in the maxim, "Tagann ciall le h-aois", I believe the Deputy has a great future ahead of him.

Such wisdom.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

The legislation has been under discussion for almost a year and it is only appropriate that we take this opportunity to thank the Minister and his officials who have been most helpful throughout the entire process.

It was a very good process for the arts. Those of us involved in it learned a lot about the working and make-up of the Arts Council. We also learned a great deal from contacts with various groups about what is currently happening in the wider arts world.

I also recognise the work of the Arts Council officials who were most helpful in providing information at all times to committee members, and Members in general.

I hope the legislation will have the desired effect of improving the status of the arts and providing the necessary institutional support to ensure the arts will thrive. The success of the legislation depends on the Government response in providing the funding required to ensure that the various provisions in the Bill can be implemented. Overall, it was a useful exercise.

As we conclude the passage of the legislation, one can only hope that the principles that were debated on all Stages, most importantly the one relating to the autonomy of the Arts Council, are respected. An arts council without full autonomy that would simply serve the Government of the day would have lost the critical capacity to serve the arts, not just the community of artists but the entire public.

There is one other point which I think is very important, and I am not going to repeat it to the point of tedium. An arts council must be something to which the artists themselves should be able to look, both in terms of the protection of their integrity and their imagination, but particularly regarding their right to exist. As I have said on previous Stages, we have an artistic community that is living on the edge. It does not qualify for housing and is badly treated under social welfare. It is living in total insecurity.

I wish the procedures that come out of the legislation well. I welcome the changes made by the Minister on different Stages.

As a former Minister in this area, I think it was an extraordinarily sad day for Ireland, and for Europe, when we decided to abolish the term "culture" in this general area. It was a regressive step, taken for all the wrong reasons and the diffusion of responsibility for the arts, which this legislation will only partially recover, is to be deeply regretted.

Bheadh sé go dona muna n-úsáidfimís iomlán an ama atá againn don díospóireacht ar an mBille seo mar is fada go mbeidh seans againn déileáil le ceist na n-ealaíon nó le ceist na n-ealaíontóirí.

Tá comhghairdeas ag dul don Roinn, don Aire agus dos na hAirí Stáit as an mBille seo a chur os comhair na Dála. Tá súil agam go mbeidh borradh faoi na healaíona dá bharr agus go dtiocfaidh toradh agus tairfe as, go háirithe dos na healaíontóirí agus don phobal i gcoitinne.

Caithfimid díriú isteach anois ar phlean i leith na n-ealaíon agus i leith na n-ealaíontóirí, chun go gcuirfimid cruthúntas, fís agus acmhainní chun cinn.

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis na dreamanna ar fad a chuidigh linn nuair a bhíomar ag cur an díospóireacht seo le chéile, go háirithe Foras na Gaeilge, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, Cumann na bPíobairí Uilinn agus na daoine ar fad a scríobh chugam. Rinne níos mó daoine teagmháil liom mar gheall ar an mBille seo nó ar Bhille ar bith eile. Is léiriú é sin ar spéis an phobail ins an ábhar seo.

I thank Deputies on all sides for their co-operation in the enactment of this important legislation. It is the third occasion on which the Houses of the Oireachtas have explored the whole question of how we provide in statutory terms for the arts.

I assure Deputy Michael D. Higgins that the independence of the council is guaranteed in the Bill in the context of any discussions on funding.

I also share some sympathy with his plea for impoverished artists, who should be the ones about whom we are most concerned. A section in the Bill provides a mechanism in regard to them.

Deputy Deenihan laid particular stress in his conclusion on the importance of funding. There is no doubt that there are many competing priorities for the attention of Government and funding is one of them. Funding of the arts is always a difficult subject and, as Deputies, we are aware of the strong demands of local areas compared to the importance of developing centres of national excellence. That has always been a difficulty in the funding of the arts.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh made the point that it is important that that which is specifically Irish in our identity is fostered in the arts. The arts, however, must also have an international dimension. We have to look outward as well as inward. In saying this, I am not excluding one or the other. Mo bhuíochas duit.

Seanad amendment reported.