In the course of the passage of this Bill through the Dáil, I explained that although it was drafted and published before I assumed ministerial responsibility for the arts, I was very happy to take it on and sponsor its passage through the Oireachtas. There are some areas of the Bill that I felt it necessary to change, and I will deal with these issues later.
The Irish arts sector today is much bigger, more dynamic and more diverse than has ever before been the case. This has happened for many reasons. The opportunity is being taken to bring many of the provisions of the 1951 and 1973 Acts into line with what are now standard provisions relating to the functioning of statutory authorities. However, the Bill proposes a number of key changes I want to outline to the House in more detail.
The arts will be defined, for the purposes of the Bill, in a way that continues to refer to constituent art forms, but which will be sufficiently flexible to include traditional, as well as emerging and innovative art forms and art forms in any language. Dance and circus will be included for the first time.
As Minister, I will have overall responsibility for the promotion of the arts both inside and outside the State. The Bill provides that, in performing my functions, I may consult with the Arts Council and with such other Ministers, public bodies, or other persons, as I consider appropriate. As the Minister with overall responsibility for the promotion of the arts, I will be empowered to give a direction in writing to the council requiring it to comply with policies of the Minister or of the Government. Such a direction may include a requirement that the council prepare and submit to me a plan specifying strategies or measures that it proposes to adopt in relation to the arts during a specified period.
These provisions recognise this legitimate role for the Minister of the day, but will not affect the independence of the Arts Council regarding individual funding decisions, and indeed statutory recognition is given in the Bill for the first time in legislation to that independence.
It is important that the potential impact of local authorities on the arts be optimised, and that these efforts dovetail as far as is practicable with overall Government policy. Section 6 requires local authorities to prepare and implement plans for the development of the arts within their functional areas and in so doing to take account of Government policies on the arts. Local authorities may provide financial or other assistance to stimulate public interest in the arts, promote knowledge of the arts, or improve standards in the arts.
To ensure overall coherence, the arts activities of other public bodies must also operate within the parameters of Government arts policy and section 7 therefore requires public bodies, in doing anything that relates to the arts, to have regard to such Government policies.
Section 9 broadly restates the functions of the Arts Council, which includes the stimulation of public interest in the arts, the promotion of knowledge, appreciation, and practice of the arts and assisting in the improvement in standards in the arts. The council can make recommendations to the Minister on matters within its remit, and will generally act as an expert resource for other Ministers and public bodies in relation to the arts.
The Bill provides that the Arts Council be reduced from 17 to 13 members. It is proposed to introduce a system of rolling membership, whereby half of the ordinary members of the council will change every 30 months, rather than having the possibility of the membership being changed in its entirety every five years. In the course of the passage of the Bill through the Dáil it emerged that there is a technical gap in the text of the Bill, in that it does not specify the length of time for which the chairperson of the council will be appointed. Accordingly, on Committee Stage I will propose an amendment to correct this.
Section 21 is perhaps the main area of the Bill which requires changes from the original Bill as published. Many in the traditional sector have a strong sense that their sector has been treated less well than it deserves and arguments were advanced for either a new and separate traditional arts council or the ring fencing of a substantial portion of the Arts Council's funds for traditional arts. The Bill as published reflected an effort to strike an acceptable balance by requiring the Arts Council to establish a standing committee on the traditional arts, which would make recommendations to the council in relation to the advance of moneys to those involved in the traditional arts.
I understand completely what the Bill tried to do in this regard, but I feel the same result can be better achieved with a different approach. I would much prefer not to separate the traditional arts from the mainstream of the arts world, of which I believe it is an important component. I was also uneasy that the proposed structure of permanent standing committees would set the priorities of the council in stone, while in the real world priorities change and issues adjust over time. I therefore proposed a changed section 21 to Dáil Éireann, which will allow for particular consideration to be given to policy priorities as they arise from time to time through the establishment of non-permanent special committees to advise on specified matters relating to the arts. I would intend that the traditional arts be catered for in this way at an early date.
The remainder of the Bill consists of standard provisions that are normal for any legislation regulating a State body such as the Arts Council. Section 1 contains the Short Title and commencement provisions. Section 2 contains definitions. Section 3 provides for the payment of expenses incurred by the Minister in the administration of the Bill when enacted. Section 4 provides for the repeal of the Arts Acts 1951 and 1973. Section 5, to which I have already alluded, sets out the Minister's powers and functions. Section 6 provides for the preparation and implementation of local arts plans by local authorities. Section 7 provides that public bodies shall, when doing anything relating to the arts, have regard to Government policies on the arts.
Section 8 provides for the continuation of the Arts Council as a body corporate. Section 9 sets out the functions of the Arts Council. Section 10 allows the Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Finance and after consultation with the council and any other Minister of the Government as he considers appropriate, by order to confer additional functions on the council.
Section 11 covers the membership and structure of the Arts Council. Section 12 covers resignation, removal from office, and qualification for office, by members of the Arts Council. Section 13 provides for the filling of casual vacancies on the council.
Section 14 provides for the remuneration of the chairperson and members of the Arts Council. Section 15 deals with the appointment and terms of office of the director of the council. Section 16 lays down procedures for the meetings of the Arts Council. Section 17 covers certain restrictions on holding office as a member of the Arts Council or as a member of the council's staff. Section 18 provides for declarations of interest by members of the Arts Council. Section 19 covers declarations of interest by members of the council's staff. Section 20 prohibits the unauthorised disclosure of confidential information by members of the council or of standing committees, or by members of the council's staff.
Section 21 provides for the appointment by the Arts Council of special committees. Section 22 allows for the appointment of additional committees by the council. Section 23 allows the Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, to advance moneys to the council from funds provided by the Oireachtas. Section 24 allows the Arts Council, in carrying out its functions, to advance funds to such persons as it considers appropriate and provides that the council shall be independent in the performance of this function. This enshrines in legislation the long-standing understanding in this regard.
Section 25 requires the keeping of proper accounts by the Arts Council and for their submission to the Minister after audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Section 26 requires the submission of an annual report on the council's activities to the Minister, who will lay copies before each House of the Oireachtas. Section 27 allows the council to accept gifts of money, land or other property.
Section 28 allows the appointment of staff by the Arts Council and deals with the terms and conditions of such staff. Section 29 provides that the rates of pay of council staff shall be in line with Government policy and directions issued by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Finance. Section 30 deals with the remuneration of council staff. Section 31 deals with the superannuation of staff. Section 32 allows the Minister to require the council to furnish specified records or documents.
The Bill proposes some important changes, while continuing with those elements that have served us well for many years. There will now be a recognised and well-defined role for the Minister responsible for the arts. The Arts Council will continue and although it will now have a more specific obligation to operate within a framework of overall Government arts policy, its independence in individual funding decisions will now have statutory backing.
I commend this Bill to the House.