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.