I am assistant secretary in charge of the culture division of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. As the Vice Chairman has said, I am accompanied by my colleague, Mr. John Kennedy, who is head of the cultural schemes unit, which has been examining the matters under discussion today at the behest of the Minister, Deputy Josepha Madigan. On behalf of the Minister, I thank the committee for its interest in this matter and for the opportunity to present to the committee on this subject today. The Department is aware that the committee has engaged with other stakeholders on this topic in recent weeks and I know our role in this matter was acknowledged by various committee members at a previous meeting.
The Department, directly and through its agencies, contributes substantial supports to night-time cultural activity on an ongoing basis. Some €189 million is provided in the Department’s Vote in 2019 for cultural purposes. This funding supports cultural activity in the evenings through bodies such as the National Concert Hall, support from the Arts Council for the theatre sector, including the Abbey Theatre, Gate Theatre and Druid Theatre Company, and through events such as Culture Night. Work presented at regional theatres and arts centres is, in many instances, developed with the support of the Arts Council and performed in facilities developed with capital support from the Department. I recently attended the opening of the French film festival at the Irish Film Institute, IFI. The support of the Arts Council for the festival was acknowledged on the evening, as was the capital support from the Department for the IFI.
The topic of night-time culture has a wider dimension reflecting broader creative pursuits and this is constantly evolving. This has been of growing interest in light of a demand for a more varied night-time creative landscape and recognition of the cultural, economic and social value of Ireland's evening experiences. It is also building on the back of movements throughout Europe, such as Museum Night, and, for example, the appointment of a "night czar" in London.
On 17 April, the Minister, Deputy Madigan, hosted a symposium to investigate the possibility of creative nightlife and cultural activity at night time as an alternative and complementary option to Ireland's existing rich night-time experience. Since then, the Department has engaged further with key partners to develop an approach to support a sustainable and forward-looking infrastructure to facilitate the development of after hours cultural events. The Minister has proposed a number of measures to deliver on these objectives.
The Minister is establishing pilot projects to identify how a night-time culture initiative might work in local settings. To this end, the Department has thus far written to two local authorities, namely, Dublin City Council and Cork City Council, to establish groups comprising representatives from the local authority, the local creative nightlife sector, policing, transport and artists and-or creative workers. The purpose of these groups is to consider and collate what supports and impediments are impacting on opportunities for creative and cultural activity at night, in different settings, and what would be required locally to develop, promote and encourage late night culture. These groups will also consider the appropriateness of appointing local night-time commissioners. We have asked the local authorities concerned to progress the establishment of these groups as soon as possible. We will meet Dublin City Council next week and look forward to continuing a common interest approach to this matter
In parallel with this process, the Minister is establishing a national forum comprising the Department, the Arts Council and other Departments with key roles in supporting night-time culture and creativity. This forum will consider matters arising from the operation of the pilot local groups, which could require a national policy or legislative response, This, in turn, would be referred to the relevant Department or agency for consideration. The Minister will engage with local authorities and arts groups on a mapping exercise of existing venues and civic spaces which may be suitable for night-time cultural events to identify gaps and opportunities, building on work carried out previously in this area. Flowing from these engagements, the Minister will develop a national night-time cultural policy, which will complement existing initiatives and supports. This night-time cultural policy will, in turn, give consideration to the appointment of a night-time commissioner to oversee the implementation of recommendations and outputs arising. Any decision in this regard will be a matter for the Minister and the Government in due course.
The key issue will be to identify those factors that are having an impact on the opportunities for artists and creatives to develop and present creative work for the benefit of all, to ensure that these issues are brought to the attention of the relevant agencies and bodies concerned, and that progress on responding to these issues is monitored. There will, no doubt, be some complexity in these matters. The issues that have been highlighted in Dublin in recent months are being experienced elsewhere internationally and we have had feedback on this. It arose at the cultural conference we had last January, when people spoke about challenges in locations such as London and New York. A key objective will be to distinguish between the natural ebb and flow of venues and events based on changing tastes and to identify those factors which are impacting on the overall level of activity. It is also the case that many of the agencies and bodies concerned will be attempting to balance sometimes competing demands.
In this context, it is worth noting developments such as the recent decision of Dublin Bus to introduce a 24-hour service on two routes, the 15 and 41, from next month.
The Minister considers there is a genuine opportunity to create an environment in which night time culture can thrive, with the beneficial knock-on effects of increasing the night time economy, expanding the reach of our cultural offering and, ultimately, helping to create a society with wider night time options focusing on the arts, well-being and the broader human experience. In addition, the Department has had discussions with the Arts Council, the Office of Public Works and some local authorities to consider possible short-term and longer-term approaches to the issue of the availability of artists' spaces in general in Ireland.
The Minister, on behalf of the Government, is committed to identifying ways to effectively support greater opportunity for night time cultural and creative events. She welcomes the engagement of the relevant local authorities and that of the committee. The Department will be pleased to receive any output from the committee’s deliberations on this issue.