Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 25 Jun 2015

Vol. 884 No. 2

National Cultural Institutions (National Concert Hall) Bill 2015: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to introduce the National Cultural Institutions (National Concert Hall) Bill 2015. The National Concert Hall is one of the State's most important cultural institutions and it plays an essential part in the cultural life of the country through its high-standard musical programme. The purpose of the Bill is to convert the National Concert Hall Company from a company limited by guarantee into a statutory body, the National Concert Hall.

It is now more than 30 years since the National Concert Hall was established. During this period, the thinking and policies surrounding corporate structures and governance have advanced considerably. The Department has sought to provide and update where appropriate the legislative underpinnings for various national cultural institutions to align them with modern corporate governance requirements.

The National Concert Hall is structured as a company limited by guarantee. Companies operating under the Companies Acts must comply with the corporate governance, reporting and accountability provisions of these Acts. Reporting to a Minister or onwards to the Oireachtas would not be normal for companies established under the Companies Acts. I consider it more appropriate that there should be a statutory-based framework for the National Concert Hall. This would provide for appropriate reporting and accounting to me and onwards to the Oireachtas, while not impinging on curatorial independence. The board of the National Concert Hall should have clarity in respect of all governance and operational issues. It is appropriate, therefore, that suitable statutory governance arrangements be put in place for the National Concert Hall. That is the purpose of this Bill.

As I have said, the National Concert Hall is one of the State's most important cultural institutions. The most recent annual report from the National Concert Hall shows that audience figures are on the rise and that the concert hall made a direct contribution of more than €38 million to the local economy in 2014. It plays an essential part in the cultural life of the country through the variety of musical activities it presents.

The famous conductor Sir John Barbirolli once said, "Good music will never be as popular as it could and deserves to be until a proper Concert Hall is built in Dublin." In 1981, the long-standing dream of many Irish music lovers was realised when President Hillery opened the National Concert Hall on Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin 2, on 9 September. The history of Earlsfort Terrace, where the National Concert Hall is based, dates back to 1865, when it was originally known as the Exhibition Palace. The glass and steel Winter Garden proved expensive to run and was later dismantled. The building then became home to the Royal University of Ireland, which in 1908 became the National University of Ireland, with its constituent college, University College Dublin. In 1970, when the university extended its departments to a new campus at Belfield, it was proposed that the Earlsfort Terrace site should be used to house the National Concert Hall. In 1974, the Government announced plans for the National Concert Hall to be located on Earlsfort Terrace, and it opened its doors in this capacity on 9 September 1981.

In recent years the National Concert Hall has sought to grow and develop the range of concerts and events it offers the public. I was delighted to launch the National Concert Hall's international concert series last April, which will bring the world's leading orchestras and classical artists to Irish audiences throughout the coming year. The National Concert Hall aims to offer concerts of artistic excellence and diversity, delivered in a balanced and sustainable way. In this way, the hall offers a significant contribution to the country's cultural life.

Our national cultural institutions, of which the National Concert Hall is just one, are an essential component of our cultural fabric. Through their artistic and musical endeavours, they make a huge contribution to our society. Despite significant financial challenges in recent years, they have worked tirelessly to maintain their services to the public and to protect and make accessible our national collections to the greatest extent possible. It is a testament to the institutions' resilience that they succeeded in increasing visitor numbers from 2.9 million in 2008 to 3.2 million in 2014. I am very cognisant of the pressures faced by the institutions as a result of several years of cutbacks in funding and the staffing moratorium in the public sector. While these were necessary to underpin the fiscal adjustments Ireland needed to make to ensure economic recovery, I believe the national cultural institutions have managed the adjustments and can now look forward to a more secure future. I was delighted this year to secure an additional €2 million for the national cultural institutions, ending the cycle of several years of cuts in their funding. It is my hope that as the economic situation continues to improve, all of the national cultural institutions will benefit and that we will be in a position to alleviate some of the pressures faced by them after several years of difficult cutbacks.

There are exciting developments ahead for the National Concert Hall. I am delighted that as part of the decade of commemorations, and more specifically in the context of Ireland 2016, the Government has provided funding to commence the National Concert Hall's redevelopment plans. This first phase of the plan will see the restoration and repurposing of the historic Kevin Barry rooms on the first floor of the building. This is one of seven flagship capital projects, as part of the Government's €22 million capital programme for Ireland 2016, which will serve as a permanent reminder of 1916. Originally the council chambers of the then Royal University, these rooms were the setting in December 1921 and January 1922 of that seminal moment in Irish history, the lengthy and momentous debates of the second Dáil, following the signing in London by Michael Collins and his delegation of the Anglo Irish Treaty. The restoration project will see this space brought fully into public use as a flexible 130-seat performance space, complete with the necessary acoustic treatment and soundproofing. It will also create a suite of beautifully restored rooms for education purposes, as education is an intrinsic part of the programme of the National Concert Hall as well as being part of the history of the buildings for more than a century.

The National Concert Hall will also provide an important element of the cultural expression strand of the Government's 2016 centenary programme. The centrepiece will be a series of seven signature concerts over seven days during Easter week 2016, arranged around key themes of the Proclamation. It is important that the concert hall plays this role in the nation's commemorations.

Turning specifically to the Bill, I acknowledge the very valuable work carried out by the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht in its examination of the heads of the Bill. I have tried, where possible, to incorporate the recommendations of the committee. In particular, I listened to concerns that the Bill was not sufficiently clear on the independence of the National Concert Hall and I have now provided a specific stand-alone provision in section 8 making this absolutely clear. I also thank the National Concert Hall, and in particular the chairman, Mr. Gerry Kearney, and the chief executive officer, Mr. Simon Taylor, for their co-operation and advice to my Department in preparing this Bill. My Department will continue to work closely with the National Concert Hall as it transitions from a company to a statutory body, while maintaining the highest standards of musical performance for the enjoyment of the public.

I will now turn to the main provisions of the Bill. Part 1 deals with general provisions, such as definitions of words and terms in the Bill. Part 2 deals with, among other elements, the establishment day of the new statutory body, the National Concert Hall. Section 7 is a key provision of the Bill in that it sets out the functions of the National Concert Hall. The functions will include the provision and operation of the hall as the national venue for musical, creative, artistic and cultural activities, including the promotion of concerts and recitals. The functions also include the promotion and support of music in the public interest as an integral part of Irish life. They include entertaining, educating and engaging the public through musical experiences. Finally, they include encouraging and promoting inclusivity, participation, creativity, experimentation and involvement in music through engagement with diverse individuals and communities as performers, participants, composers or audience members. I have aimed to take a strategic and broad approach to the functions of the National Concert Hall in order to ensure that it can function effectively in both the commercial and public service space.

Section 8 provides that the National Concert Hall shall be independent in the exercise of its functions, subject only to general policy guidelines issued by the Minister to all national cultural institutions. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht was very helpful in informing the drafting of this section and I acknowledge the valuable contribution in this regard. Section 9 deals with the powers of the National Concert Hall, including the making of arrangements with any person to assist the hall in the performance of its functions.

Part 3 deals with the provisions relating to the board of the National Concert Hall. Section 10 sets out provisions regarding the board of the National Concert Hall, including the number of members of the board at nine and the method of appointment. It is the intention that the appointments will focus on a broad range of skills and expertise, including, of course, musical experience that will support the important work of the concert hall. The section requires the Minister to have regard to guidelines on the appointment to State bodies issued by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform when making appointments to the board of the National Concert Hall. It should be noted that the terms of the first board will be staggered at three, four and five years to ensure there is continuity on the board.

Section 11 deals with the terms and conditions of office for board members of the National Concert Hall. Section 12 deals with appointments to casual vacancies on the board of the hall, while section 13 sets out the procedures surrounding meetings of the board of the hall, including the minimum number of board meetings and the quorum. These are standard type provisions in legislation such as this. Section 14 enables the board to establish committees to assist it in its functions. Section 15 provides that members of the board will operate on a pro bono basis but may receive travel and subsistence expenses where approved. Sections 16 and 17 are standard provisions dealing with a statement of strategy and annual reports.

Part 4 deals with the staff of the National Concert Hall. Section 18 sets out the provisions relating to the chief executive officer, including the appointment, term of office and functions. It also obliges the chief executive officer to appear before the Committee of Public Accounts. Section 19 contains standard provisions that provide that the board of the National Concert Hall may appoint staff, determine the grades and number of staff in each grade and determine the terms and conditions of the public service with the approval of the Minister and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Section 20 deals with the superannuation of staff. Sections 21 to 23, inclusive, contain standard procedures relating to disclosure of interests by board members, staff or other parties associated with the National Concert Hall, unauthorised disclosure of any confidential information and the holding of political office.

Part 5 deals with the accounts and finances of the National Concert Hall. Sections 24 to 27, inclusive, deal with advances of Exchequer funding to the National Concert Hall, borrowing by the National Concert Hall, audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General and appearances by the chief executive officer before other Oireachtas committees. Section 28 allows the National Concert Hall to establish a subsidiary, partnerships or other appropriate corporate vehicle in exercising its functions under the Bill. The consents of the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform are required for the establishment of such subsidiaries, partnerships or other corporate vehicles. This was among the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee.

Section 29 sets out the requirements that will apply to the National Concert Hall concerning gifts of money, land or other property. It also covers gifts to any related or subsidiary companies, partnerships or any other corporate vehicles. Section 30 provides that an existing exemption from rates shall also apply to the National Concert Hall. Part 6 sets out standard provisions regarding the dissolution of the National Concert Hall company, such as the transfer of staff on their existing terms and conditions and the transfer of records to the new statutory body.

The National Concert Hall is a major cultural asset and I want to see it developed as a world class venue that showcases the highest standard of musical excellence. I am very positive about the future of the National Concert Hall and I view this legislation as an important step forward in achieving this aim. I am delighted to bring this Bill before the Dáil and I look forward to hearing the contributions throughout Second Stage. I commend the Bill to the House.

I start by complimenting the Minister on bringing forward this legislation, which has been a while in gestation. The Bill is welcomed by the Fianna Fáil Party, and we will support it in principle, although we may provide some amendments on Committee Stage. As the Bill sets out, the National Concert Hall will be the national venue for the performance, appreciation and enjoyment of musical, creative, artistic and cultural activities. It will also host concerts and recitals of artistic, educational and cultural value. It has been doing that very successfully for a number of years. I had a recent meeting with the chief executive officer, Mr. Simon Taylor, and one could not but be impressed by the level of commitment and the innovative and creative approach that the concert hall and its management is adapting to its remit.

The central aim of the Bill is to provide the statutory basis for the conversion of the National Concert Hall from a company limited by guarantee to a statutory body. The general belief is that the changed status will provide greater transparency and accountability to the corporate governance, role and future development of the National Concert Hall. The change must also be viewed in the context of public sector reform generally and the proposed consistent approach to the corporate governance arrangements of the national cultural institutions.

As the Minister mentioned, this Bill was subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht. This involved public hearings with the relevant stakeholders, and one of the key issues that arose was the independence of the National Concert Hall under the proposed new corporate governance structure, whether it should be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General, whether it would come under the remit of freedom of information law, the relationship with RTE and the future role of fund-raising in the development of the National Concert Hall. We had occasion here in the past to express some concern about previous fund-raising activities that were attempted.

The National Concert Hall is a national cultural institution and a centre of excellence for music in Ireland.

It has operated from its home on Earlsfort Terrace for over three decades, since 1981. It has a 1,200-seat auditorium and more than 300,000 visitors on an annual basis. That is a figure the public at large might not appreciate. As we look to the future development of our cultural institutions, we must be conscious of the importance of our cultural institutions, including the National Concert Hall, as we market Dublin as a tourist venue, for example. We all want to work towards a point where the performances held there can be seen as an intrinsic attraction to the country and to Dublin, in particular. The National Concert Hall runs more than 1,000 events annually, ranging over classical, opera, jazz, musicals and popular music. While it has a public service remit and receives State funding, it will continue to derive most of its income from its own commercial activities. We need to emphasise that it is the efficient and effective running of the concert hall that is the major funder of its activities and it is not relying only on the Government for funding.

Those who run the National Concert Hall have obviously welcomed the legislation, saying that it presents an opportunity to establish in law the national standing of the National Concert Hall and to put it on an equal footing with other national statutory cultural bodies. Significantly, they also believe the legislation offers the potential to strengthen the hall's mandate and organisational capacity and to secure its position as a cultural asset of national importance and considerable international standing as well as providing a foundation for its further development as the national centre of excellence for the performance of music.

When the chair of the National Concert Hall appeared before the joint committee last year, he spoke of the need to balance the public interest role of the hall as a national venue with the challenges of conducting much of the operations in a commercial environment. He pointed out that this combination of public service and commercial activity was well reflected by the breakdown of the hall's direct income for 2013. In that year, two thirds, €4.563 million, of the direct income was derived from its own income generating activities while one third, €2.33 million, was received from the State by way of a grant-in-aid. The self-generated income includes diverse elements such as ticket sales, charges and commissions on the hire of the hall to external promoters, rental income from RTE in respect of the residency by the symphony orchestra, income from the catering and bar franchise, membership fees, corporate associates, commercial sponsorship, advertising and philanthropy.

In recent discussions with Mr. Taylor, one of the things that particularly interested me was hearing of the work the NCH is doing with hospitals and the way in which it is bringing music therapy into our hospitals. One wonders, as we consider the area of philanthropy, which is of enormous importance, whether there is sufficiently widespread public appreciation of the work being done in that area and whether the connection with hospitals and through hospitals with pharmaceutical companies based in Ireland could benefit institutions like the National Concert Hall and whether such companies could realise the benefit of being associated with the work of the concert hall. He made it very clear that in the light of such competing demands, legislation should provide a clear mandate for the concert hall through the articulation of statutory functions that would be well aligned with governance provisions appropriate to its commercial challenges.

The National Concert Hall has both a public service and commercial remit and in 2014 made a direct economic contribution of over €38 million to the economy. During this period, it had a turnover of over €6.8 million, box office ticket sales of just over €7 million, and hosted close to 900 events, securing the third highest attendance figures to date, with almost 330,000 people coming through its doors.

The chief executive of the concert hall said that 2014 was an important year in realising the strategy for the wider redevelopment of the Earlsfort Terrace site as the dedicated centre of musical performance, ensuring the long-term future of the hall and site itself. In 2007, the previous Government ensured the long-term future of the National Concert Hall at Earlsfort Terrace with the purchase of the entire site from University College Dublin, giving the opportunity to fulfil the true potential of the National Concert Hall. Its vision is to be one of the top concert halls in the world. This refurbished National Concert Hall will continue to be home to the RTE National Symphony Orchestra, along with an expanding group of resident ensembles and organisations. The NCH says that redevelopment plans promise a unique visitor and audience experience, an open, welcoming, inspiring place, which is socially and culturally inclusive. Future plans for the concert hall include refurbishment of the Kevin Barry rooms into a 130-seat multi-purpose performance space by 2016; the transformation of the old medical library into a new 500-seat recital hall; a refurbished and renovated 1,200-seat auditorium; a jazz club; rehearsal spaces; recording studios; and creative incubation spaces. The idea of creative incubation spaces is of enormous value to the country as a whole because we all recognise the value of nurturing, supporting and encouraging our young artists.

The National Concert Hall is clear on its plans to continue to generate significant levels of income from its own activities, including philanthropic donations. With regard to philanthropy, it is intended to look for new supporters among the diaspora. As I have suggested, it would be no harm to look among the pharmaceutical community in this country as well.

The Fianna Fáil Party very much welcomes the proposed activities to mark 2016 in the concert hall. The restoration of the Kevin Barry rooms, which were used for the treaty ratification debates, will be completed and seven signature concerts will be staged over seven days during Easter week next year, arranged around the key themes of the Proclamation.

The national cultural institutions of Ireland are the repositories of our heritage and culture and play a fundamental role in the provision of arts and culture to Irish citizens. Traditionally, other less well-resourced bodies in the arts sector have relied on them to embrace a leadership role in terms of best practice, excellence and remuneration. However, in recent years the national cultural institutions have experienced major budget cuts - some of up to 40% - and are subject to the public service recruitment ban, which has left them constrained in terms of the service they can provide to the public. I acknowledge that the Minister has recently moved to provide additional funding.

The roll-back by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht of the 1997 Act, which established the autonomy of the national cultural institutions, has been widely greeted with dismay. One of the interesting things about this legislation is that she has responded to criticism arising from the activities around the other cultural institutions. In respect of the initial draft of this Bill, people said, and we would have said, quite properly, that the arm's length approach was vitally important. Some might say that we have moved from an intolerable level of ministerial involvement to a point where there seems to be a total absence of ministerial oversight. One wonders what the Minister would say to that. We, in the Fianna Fáil Party, believe the amalgamation of the National Archives, the National Library and the Irish Manuscripts Commission and the dissolution of their respective boards is a regressive act which will have long-term consequences for cultural provision in Ireland. Culture Ireland has already been subsumed into the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and it is hard not to see the move to limit the independence of these institutions as a further act of centralising power within the parent Department, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Despite requests from Fianna Fáil to see evidence of the cost-saving value of these amalgamations, the Government has not provided a credible cost-benefit analysis to back it up.

We welcome the former Minister, Deputy Deenihan's, successful negotiations with the Bank of Ireland, for example. It is good that he is in the House when we are able to say something positive. His work on developing the College Green building as a cultural centre is welcome.

It is all very well negotiating the deal securing the building, but we want to be assured that the additional funding to enable it be established, staffed and operated effectively is also forthcoming. We urge the Minister to publish the staffing and resourcing plans for the cultural centre to avoid the sort of debacle we saw with the Limerick city of culture last year.

I could go on at length but I will conclude by welcoming the Bill. We are in large measure supportive of what is proposed. We believe passionately in the cultural institutions being given the opportunity to operate at arm's length from Government. There is a question to be answered as to whether this legislation removes entirely, from a strategic point of view, the role of the Minister and the Oireachtas in providing an input to the strategic planning for the National Concert Hall. The other question I have is whether the legislation, as currently constructed, is narrow and unambitious in scope and Dublin-centric in that it focuses on the National Concert Hall as a venue and entity on Earlsfort Terrace and does not envisage a situation developing in the future where, for example, the National Concert Hall might be the agency most appropriate to run, dare I say, the Wexford Opera Festival or a venue in Cork or even in Monaghan. To the extent that legislation is vitally important and sets out some degree of control and influence over the future direction in which we may head, I wonder whether it needs amendment to envisage future developments, such as those to which I allude, whereby the scope of a developing, progressive and outward-looking concert hall, continuing to successfully deliver excellence in performance and opportunities in Dublin, should be allowed the opportunity to expand to provide cultural experiences in other parts of the country, if that were appropriate or possible at some stage in the future.

We support the Bill, commend the Minister on bringing it forward and reserve the right to bring forward amendments on a later Stage.

Sinn Féin welcomes the National Cultural Institutions (National Concert Hall) Bill 2015 which will provide for the conversion of the National Concert Hall Company from a company limited by guarantee into a statutory body, the National Concert Hall. Measures outline the functions of the hall, the role of the board, general governance issues and the necessary commercial freedoms required. The Bill provides us with an opportunity to acknowledge the importance of the National Concert Hall as a national asset of the people of this State.

We welcome the fact that the National Concert Hall will operate as the national venue for the performance, appreciation and enjoyment of musical, creative, artistic and cultural activities, including the promotion of concerts and recitals of artistic, educational and cultural value. We also acknowledge the considerable potential that the entity holds as a venue to further develop an interest in and appreciation of the arts and to generate increased revenue.

Until recently, the National Concert Hall funding was sourced primarily from ticket sales. Some 70% of total income came from the general public purchasing tickets to attend performances and events. This is a signal of the value that the public places on the National Concert Hall. It is an encouraging figure that demonstrates people's appetite for the arts. Over 300,000 visitors experience more than 1,000 events annually, ranging from classical, opera, traditional, jazz, musicals and popular music.

Government now proposes to secure the future of the National Concert Hall by placing it on a statutory footing, similar to other national cultural institutions. While it may reasonably be expected that the State will continue to provide key funding to support the National Concert Hall in its delivery of its public service remit, we understand that the likelihood is the National Concert Hall will continue to be mainly funded from income generated from its own activities, such as ticket sales and hire of venue. We need a national cultural and arts strategy that matches this type of interest. We, in Sinn Féin, believe that national cultural institutions should be used as a resource by the State.

We need a strategy which recognises that a competitive creative industries sector is vital to the prosperity of the State and an acknowledgement that a creative nation is a productive nation. In times of recession, we should not allow the arts to be viewed as something of a luxury. Unfortunately, when pitted against funding of other sectors in a way that represents choices of "either-or cuts", often the arts take the brunt.

We have a long and rich history of support for arts and culture which has enabled our artistic and cultural communities to prosper. Arts and culture enrich our society, reflect our national identity and are at the core of our burgeoning creative industries sector which encompasses music, the performing arts, film, television and radio, advertising and marketing, software development and interactive content, writing, publishing and print media, architecture, design and visual arts.

We must develop a strategy which supports our creative businesses and talent wherever they are located to enable them to develop and compete globally. The arts should be accessible and available to all sectors of society and should embrace every type of citizen. Schools, old age pensioners, disadvantaged communities and children with disabilities should all have an equal opportunity in accessing the arts. A long-term vision for the development of the arts is necessary in order to make that happen.

I take this opportunity to address a few of the wider issues regarding the current crisis being faced in the arts. Unfortunately, the value of the arts can often be sidelined, especially in the current economic climate where so many sectors face cutbacks. The struggle here is evident in the fact that it is so hard for one to earn a living as an artist and incomes are often supplemented by other means.

Many leading artists over 50 are not in a position to be secure about their older age. Brilliant minds fall by the wayside all too easily for lack of support. There is little facility to support older people as they rise and progress their skills.

Our young artists are going elsewhere and I must ask where are our mid-career artists. What are we doing to capture the young talent that exists in Ireland and to retain and support it? We need to halt the talent-brain drain from this State to further shores. Young people in the arts have considerable potential to contribute revenue for the State. We need to take steps to halt the mass export of our young talent. We need to find a way to sustain them through long-term models. There are methods for this in other European countries. Artists are our thinkers and activists and this is often not appreciated or understood. Finding a way to position artists so that they are valued is critical.

The focus of the current board of the National Concert Hall remains on the proposed transition from company to a statutory body while maintaining the highest standards of musical performance for the enjoyment of the public. This process allows the hall an opportunity to work in partnership with the Government to maximise the transformation of the hall and the site into a world-class centre of musical excellence. Once this process is completed, a new strategy and business plan will be developed and presented to the Minister and the Oireachtas for consideration.

Finally, we warmly welcome the plans to mark 2016 and be part of the year of commemoration. The National Concert Hall will stage a series of seven signature concerts over seven days during Easter Week 2016, arranged around key themes of the Proclamation.

We eagerly look forward to the opening of the new Kevin Barry rooms, which will be marked by a series celebrating emerging Irish talent across all musical genres. A new commission from the composer Ian Wilson will explore the human and personal aspects of 1916 through the poetry, writings and letters of Pearse and Plunkett. We look forward to these events and support the National Concert Hall in its endeavours. We welcome the Bill.

I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to contribute on this legislation. I welcome the Bill, which gives us an opportunity to debate the arts, culture and the National Concert Hall. Many people often ignore the great work being done in the arts, the number of people employed therein, how the arts lift the country's spirit and their significant financial contribution to the country. A country without arts is a country without a soul. I do not say this lightly.

We all need to up our game in supporting the arts. There is potential to generate a healthier society and more jobs in the arts sector, but we do not take it seriously enough. This week, I was asked to open an art exhibition at Coolock library. The exhibition was done on glass by a group of young Travellers from the St. Thomas Centre in Coolock. I was blown away by their standards, skills and creativity and how they enjoyed their art project. I tell this story to ensure that we all see the great lift that students get and the urgent need not to ignore the arts where young people are concerned. Cutting arts services or classes in our schools is a bad decision for the pupils and the country as a whole. We need to keep the more creative pupils in our schools.

Regarding the broader arts issue and the National Concert Hall, we need to examine why our spend is low compared with other European countries. I urge the Minister to address this matter, as we accept it as a reality. I wish to use this as an opportunity to support the National Campaign for the Arts, NCFA.

I will go into detail on the importance of the arts. They present a fantastic way for students to express themselves. Students need to shine in ways other than academically. It would be a shame if there were untapped talent due to a lack of funding in our schools. Who decides that maths, English and science are the only important subjects? The arts are what make us human. We can express our feelings and opinions through them. How artists and writers express their times is how we study those periods. How else could we have studied ancient history?

State support increases access to arts and facilitates art production and participation. It improves the quality of life of residents and attracts visitors and investment. It grows small, sustainable businesses and addresses isolation in rural areas through, for example, amateur dramatic societies and men's clubs, as well as reducing population flight. Emma Goldman was a political activist from the former Russian Empire who believed in everyone's right to access beautiful things. Her famous quote was: "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution." This is an important aspect of our debate.

Artists want help, not handouts. It is important that the Minister listen. Artists want access to information, advice on business and support for workspaces. Should the Government have a legitimate role to play in the arts when so many other needs are pressing? This is a question that we hear regularly. The answer is "Yes". Let us deal with the facts. In addition to the feel-good factor, the arts are an economic driver, they attract tourism and they revitalise rural areas. They are an educational asset; cultivate young imaginations, foster physical, mental and emotional health and preserve culture and heritage, passing along State traditions to future generations. We have Beckett, Wilde, Behan, W. B. Yeats and Robert Ballagh.

I welcome the developments that indicate that the Beit paintings will remain in Ireland. I ask the Minister to do her utmost to ensure that they do.

I am delighted that the principle of independence in respect of the boards of national cultural institutions has been secured in this Bill. I hope that the proposed legislative changes affecting the National Gallery, the Crawford Art Gallery and the Irish Museum of Modern Art, IMMA, will be quietly set aside. The next budget needs to reverse the damage caused by the funding cutbacks of recent years. The small improvements in last year's budget needs to be enhanced. There are not only cultural and artistic arguments for this, but also a strong economic one.

On a positive note, I am delighted to see that Ms Kerry McCall, chair of the NCFA research working group and a lecturer at the Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, IADT, has been awarded an Irish Research Council New Foundations grant with Dr. Victoria Durrer, lecturer at Queen's University Belfast, to enable the setting up of an all-island cultural policy research network. As a North-South initiative, this network will bring together academic researchers from across the island to profile existing research and make connections in areas relating to cultural policy. This is a fantastic initiative that I support strongly. I also support the need for greater connections and opportunities for research in arts and culture on the island.

I would like the Minister to consider the ideas that are coming through. Will she bring Ireland's level of public expenditure on arts and culture in line with the EU member state GDP average? This is important, and it is what artists are asking us to do when representing their interests in this House.

Culture 2025 is important. In January, the Minister met artists and assured them that there would be wider consultation in the coming months and that there was an appetite at Government level for moving Culture 2025 forward. I hope the Minister follows up on that front. Will she make an inquiry into the development of Culture 2025 and ensure that the right allocation of resources is in place to achieve it? Will she also ensure that the promised wide consultation with the sector occurs? When one has an asset like the arts sector, one nurtures and develops it.

The purpose of this Bill is to provide for the conversion of the National Concert Hall Company from a company limited by guarantee into a statutory body, the National Concert Hall. The National Concert Hall is to operate as the national venue for the performance, appreciation and enjoyment of musical, creative, artistic and cultural activities, including the promotion of concerts and recitals of artistic, educational and cultural value. I support this purpose. Many children in schools, particularly disadvantaged schools, would have dropped out of the system were it not for the contribution of the arts to those schools. I worked in a disadvantaged school many years ago. I arranged for a group of artists - literary people and musicians - to go to it. Attendance and activity levels at the school improved, moving to 96% or 97% in the case of the former. This extra help did not cost much money. I remember clearly that the levels had been at 50% or 60% in some of the most severely disadvantaged schools.

Like many of my colleagues, I tried out the concept of art therapy to assist dysfunctional and crisis families. Artists who were also trained therapists came in to work with kids from those families. It was absolutely mind-blowing to see the contribution that involvement in art and the underlying art therapy made to the lives of little four, five and six year old children from violent and dysfunctional families and homes that were full of alcohol, cocaine and gangland connections. The arts are available for us to enjoy, but they can also be used for art therapy to help dysfunctional children in crisis situations. This was done as part of the Breaking the Cycle initiative, which made a massive contribution to breaking the cycle.

The sad thing I notice when we are discussing the arts is that many people in broader society do not get it. There are smart alecs out there who regularly make derogatory comments about the arts. I challenge them to learn about the artistic, cultural and economic benefits of the arts. We need to look at the statistics that reveal the massive contribution to Irish society that is made by many talented people in this country.

Section 3 of the Bill establishes that any expenses incurred in the administration of the Bill, once enacted, shall be paid out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas. This brings us back to the whole issue of value for money. I would argue that if one invests in the arts, one will get value for money. Money invested in art therapy will stop young children in crisis situations from ending up in Mountjoy or other prisons. If one puts money into the arts, one will develop another aspect of the person and bring strong economic arguments as well. Section 4 provides that the Minister may appoint by order the establishment day of the National Concert Hall.

Section 12 deals with appointments to casual vacancies on the board of the National Concert Hall. This is another important issue. Those who are involved in the board should have a strong record in the arts. We should have a clean-out and bring an end to the days of cronyism. Those days are gone now. We need to deal with these issues strongly and comprehensively. We should ensure those who are involved in these boards have a great connection to and passionate love of the arts. They should also be professional. For that reason, section 12 is a very important element of this legislation.

Section 15 of the Bill provides that members of the board will operate on a pro bono basis but may receive travel and subsistence expenses where approved. I agree that they should get some sort of expenses. We should stop apologising for paying expenses to people who make a contribution. If they get a few bob for it, good luck to them. Mistakes were made in the past when people ripped off expenses. Nowadays, it seems that one cannot get expenses for anything. That is what modern Irish society is like for the citizens out there. I agree with the provision in section 15 that allows for subsistence expenses to be approved.

Section 16 deals with the preparation of a statement of strategy. That is very important because we need a clearly worked-out strategy for the National Concert Hall. I am a regular visitor to the concert hall for all sorts of shows. I am absolutely blown away by the talent I see in there, for example, when I go to see classical guitarists, Spanish guitarists, children's shows or Christmas shows at Christmas time. I also like the concert hall's lovely car park. It is very handy that it is right next door.

Has the Deputy ever played there?

No, although I brought a choir there once. I will get back to that one in a second.

I strongly agree with the Minister's statement that the concert hall is "a major cultural asset". It is a beautiful place to go. I like its seats, its parking and its facilities. I would like to inform Deputy Ó Fearghaíl that as part of the Breaking the Cycle initiative, we brought our school choir to perform at the National Concert Hall. I remember how that lifted the Hardwicke Street and Dominick Street flats in the north inner city. There was great joy and celebration because local children were singing in the National Concert Hall. It was a fantastic thing to happen. Those children are now all grown up, but when I meet them on the street they still ask me whether I remember the day they sang in the National Concert Hall. I assure them that I do. There is a great deal of talent there. We should make sure the people use this national asset. It should not just be for the elite. We should bring the people in.

There is significant potential for getting children and adults with physical and intellectual disabilities involved in the arts. I was at a fantastic show last Monday night in Rush, County Dublin. A group of adults with Down's syndrome put on a big production in the local theatre. I was very impressed by the level and standard of the acting from these young men and women, who are in their 20s and 30s. They have Down's syndrome and are very involved in the arts. Their drama teacher and the other staff there are absolutely great. It was a great show for all the people who were at it and there was a great buzz afterwards for the young people who participated in it. This is another area that we often forget. By the way, there is a quiet revolution going on out there. Adults and children with disabilities from areas that are never seen on television are involved in the arts. We see it now and again, but we do not see enough of it. In some areas, painters, artists, musicians and percussionists are coming up with fantastic projects in disadvantaged schools. We need to sow the seed when children are in junior and senior infants between the ages of four and six and let them develop from there. If we sow the seed and develop the arts, we will also develop the person. That is very important as well.

We have a glorious opportunity as we approach 2016, when we will all commemorate the 1916 Rising. There was a strong cultural and educational aspect to that revolution. We all need to focus on the themes and principles of the Proclamation, which speaks about issues like equality and social justice. There is a need to revisit those issues following the economic crash in this country. It would be a great thing to see. I am pleased that artists like Robert Ballagh are involved in the citizens' initiative. It is important that we let them go and do their thing in relation to the arts. At the same time, we need to make the arts more inclusive and broad. Some of the 1916 leaders were involved in education and the arts. We need to look at this aspect of the matter to commemorate their vision and courage. We should also refocus ourselves to see whether we are anywhere near the aspirations of the men and women of 1916. The sad thing, of course, is that we have a long way to go. It is never too late to change and that would be a very important thing. I am pleased that there will be many events in the National Concert Hall throughout 2016 in areas of the arts like poetry, music and writing. It is important to have all of these different aspects to it as well.

Section 32 of the Bill provides for the transfer of staff of the National Concert Hall Company on the establishment day on terms and conditions of remuneration that are no less favourable than those to which the person was subject before the establishment day. In other words, section 32 deals with the pay issue. We need to ensure the staff are treated with respect. They should not be messed around by being treated as the Clerys staff were treated. We have to modernise and make progress while ensuring people are treated with respect and dignity. That is something we should never lose, but we did lose it during the height of the so-called Celtic tiger when greed and selfishness crept into broader society. We need to row that back as well. That can be done by supporting assets like the National Concert Hall. I welcome the legislation. I strongly support the Bill. I wish the Minister well with all aspects of it. I hope she listens to the points I made today on behalf of the arts and the arts community. I hope she listens to the constructive proposals that have been made. I will strongly support any positive amendments that are tabled on Committee Stage.

I am delighted to have an opportunity to say a few words on this Bill and to congratulate my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, on bringing it to fruition. Some Deputies will recall that when I served as Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, I initiated a whole programme of public service reform and, in November 2011, announced a number of initiatives.

That related to governance, including the streamlining of boards, enforcement of curatorial independence, shared supports and statutory underpinning. I commend the various cultural institutions for embracing change and sharing aspects of their work, such as human resources, legal services, and marketing. They have responded very positively, despite the economic, financial and budgetary challenges. They made major savings by implementing those proposals. One of those underpinning objectives was to place the National Concert Hall on a statutory footing, and on 26 February 2014 I brought this to Cabinet, which authorised the drafting of the heads of this Bill.

I congratulate the current Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, on bringing the Bill to the House. From what I have heard, all sides of the House have welcomed it. I did not hear Deputy McLellan’s contribution but I heard Deputy Ó Fearghaíl’s. It is very important that it be given as speedy a passage as possible through the House, because it is not contentious and makes perfect sense.

I acknowledge the work of the board of the National Concert Hall, especially the chairman, Gerry Kearney, whom I appointed at a very challenging time. This time last year I appointed Micheál Ó Súilleabháin, Maura McGrath, Barney Whelan and Rebecca Gageby, who have made a great contribution to the board. I appointed the previous board too, and I thank them for their contribution. This contribution is reflected by the fact that 2014 was a very good year for the National Concert Hall, despite its financial challenges.

Apart from its artistic merit, which is recognised locally and globally, the National Concert Hall is a critical part of the tourism infrastructure in the centre of Dublin. It provides world-class entertainment for the many hotels in its vicinity. The Minister mentioned that it was worth €38 million to the economy last year. It was probably worth even more than that. It is a critical part of our tourism offering, as well as part of our cultural and artistic offering. Since its establishment in 1981, when it was opened by President Hillery, it has made a huge contribution to the cultural life of this country. We cannot emphasise that enough.

I organised four major fund-raising events there and got absolute co-operation from Judith Woodworth and Rosita Wolfe. They have contributed not only to their own programme but to the community. I saw the benefit of that in various projects.

I am delighted that the project for the commemoration of the 1916 Rising is going ahead. The Kevin Barry Rooms are where the treaty debates took place. That is a very important part of our history. I am delighted the Minister has made this one of the seven major projects for the commemorations. It will be ready for December 2021, the anniversary of the very contentious but historic treaty debates. Work will commence shortly on that and on the front of house. This will expose the stairway, which is of architectural significance.

I congratulate the Minister and her officials - Kevin Lonergan, who is here today, Niall Ó Donnchú and Feargal Ó Coigligh - who are all great officials. Working with them was a pleasure when I was in that Department. Despite the challenge to resources, some very important initiatives were developed at that time and are being continued under the leadership of the present Minister. Today I was in Glasnevin for a discussion of the national landscape strategy. The policy on that was recently announced, which is another achievement, doing something significant with limited resources. We have been waiting years for it.

The Bill provides for appropriate reporting to the Minister and the Oireachtas and will streamline the accounting process and give it a statutory basis. There was some controversy about this reform, including a Private Members' motion. The gallery was full of very concerned people. I had to deal with an bord snip nua, which proposed the amalgamation of the three art galleries and the scrapping of the Irish Film Board and the Heritage Council. All of these were recommended by the McCarthy report, which was begun and embraced by the previous government. We had to review all that. This Bill is one result of that review. I am very glad we are discussing it today, because it also gives us an opportunity to consider the arts in general and allows Members to make contributions on the arts.

Music is thriving, despite the shortage of financial resources. I have seen on my travels in different parts of the world that traditional music, which the National Concert Hall supports, is thriving, not only in Irish communities but in multicultural communities. There is a big demand from other communities who want to participate in Irish music events. This is a positive day.

I thank the Deputies and the Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, for their contributions to, and support for, the Bill.

I acknowledge the work of the former Minister, the current Minister of State, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, who commenced this Bill some time ago. I listened with interest to the input of Deputies on all sides and the various issues raised will be considered further in the Department as the Bill makes its way through the House.

The establishment of the National Concert Hall, NCH, as a statutory body is an important step in the development of this iconic institution. It will not do any harm to reiterate some of the statistics that demonstrate the success of the National Concert Hall. Last year, it recorded its most successful year since 2008, with almost 330,000 people attending approximately 900 events. This a tremendous achievement. In addition, turnover of €6.8 million enabled the National Concert Hall to break even, with the State's subvention accounting for only one third of total income.

This year, the National Concert Hall continues to deliver a strong performance, both artistically and financially, and in that regard I pay tribute to the director, chairman and board for the work they are doing in promoting the NCH. Ticket sales for the many fine performances generate considerable income. A broad and engaging programme of concerts, education and outreach activities has delivered a further increase in the number of events, of which more than 500 took place in the first five months of this year, attracting 150,000 visitors.

The role of the National Concert Hall is not confined to hosting concerts. The NCH also operates an education and outreach programme focused on five distinct areas, namely, children and families; schools and teachers; music students and musicians; community; and health care. In the area of health care, the NCH aims to enrich the lives of those living with long-term health conditions; contribute to learning through music for people with special needs; and promote physical and emotional well-being by providing the opportunity to participate in music making. It operates a programme in children's hospitals, including the Crumlin and Temple Street children's hospitals, and Tallaght and Beaumont hospitals, as well as the Laura Lynn Children's Hospice. This programme will be extended to three additional regional hospitals in the summer. In the area of dementia and Alzheimer's disease, the National Concert Hall provides opportunities for people living with these conditions to attend performances. This, too, is a good programme, which is to be commended.

As Deputy Ó Fearghaíl stated, there is potential to have pharmaceutical companies support the National Concert Hall in view of its work in hospitals. The Deputy's idea is a good one and should be progressed. I very much support the business to arts initiative which offers businesses great opportunities to support the arts. Engaging with the arts helps employees to think outside the box and has proved to be very worthwhile.

Building on strong attendance figures for 2014 and with off-site activities reaching many more people beyond the walls of the National Concert Hall, the NCH is focused on developing each of the key work areas through 2015 and beyond. It aims to develop a national footprint in each of these areas and expand in breadth and depth in the coming years, making further positive impacts on the musical and cultural fabric of the country. This is a prime example of the value of our national cultural institutions and their importance to our cultural life. Access to the arts, culture and Ireland's rich heritage is vital for preserving society and national identity and helping to promote Ireland's image abroad. The arts, cultural heritage and creative industries make a major contribution to the economy and sustaining and creating jobs. Cultural tourism, to which these sectors bring much value, also makes a significant contribution to the economy and the National Concert Hall plays an intrinsic part in this area.

My officials have taken note of the many interesting issues raised by Deputies and these will form part of our considerations. Reform of the cultural institutions is being reviewed.

I support the view that services should be shared, especially in areas such as human resources and finances which require specific skillsets. There is no reason institutions cannot co-operate and work together in these areas to achieve savings. All strategic plans for cultural institutions must be approved by the Minister.

Deputy Ó Fearghaíl referred to the possibility of providing that future developments take place on a regional basis. This legislation does not preclude the National Concert Hall from expanding its cultural expressions to other parts of the country. I would like the national cultural institutions to reach out to the rest of the country, rather than being entirely focused on the capital. While these institutions bring significant benefits to Dublin, they should also reach out to the regions and in that respect, I have increased the budget for loaning items to regional and county museums. I would like the cultural institutions to ensure cultural assets can be viewed throughout the country. Items in storage, for example, could be loaned to museums outside Dublin because they are for everyone in the country to enjoy.

The Culture 2025 draft policy document will go out for consultation shortly. The document will address many of the issues Deputies raised regarding funding and support for artists. A colloquium of cultural stakeholders was held in the Royal Irish Academy on 25 May last to consider the draft discussion paper prepared by the Department. Following this meeting, a paper is being drafted for wider consultation and this process will commence in the coming months. I would like everyone to study the document and contribute to the consultation their ideas on how to protect our culture. As the first document of its kind, Culture 2025 is very important and I encourage as many people as possible to participate in the consultation process. Kerry McCall, who was mentioned, is a member of the working group on Culture 2025.

On arts in education, I fully acknowledge the need to ensure young people are involved in the arts at an early age. The arts in education charter was signed by my predecessor, the current Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, and the then Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn. A group is in place to work on the charter, with a view to ensuring young people engage with the arts. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, and I share a strong commitment to progressing the charter.

As the economy continues to improve, I will fight for an increase in the budget for the cultural institutions. I was pleased to secure an increase in funding of €2 million last year and I hope we will be able to build on that achievement this year.

I ask Deputies who intend to table amendments to the Bill to give departmental officials sight of their amendments at an early date in order that, where possible and appropriate, they can be given due consideration. I reiterate that the National Concert Hall is a major cultural asset, which I would like to see develop and thrive as a world class venue. This legislation is a positive step forward in that regard. I acknowledge the great work done by staff in preparing the Bill, which I am pleased to introduce in the Dáil. I look forward to it making steady progress through the Houses and commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.