Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 3 Nov 2015

Vol. 243 No. 1

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

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to introduce the National Cultural Institutions (National Concert Hall) Bill to the Seanad. The National Concert Hall has a special place in the cultural life of this country. The range of musical experiences it offers has attracted many thousands of visitors since its establishment in 1981. In 2014 alone it presented almost 900 events to almost 330,000 people. This was the highest attendance figure at the hall since 2009 and is a reflection of its successful programming strategy.

The purpose of this Bill is to convert the National Concert Hall from a company limited by guarantee to a statutory body. Companies operating under the Companies Acts must comply with the corporate governance, reporting and accountability provisions of those 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 be a statute-based framework for the National Concert Hall. This will provide for appropriate reporting and accounting to me and onwards to the Oireachtas while not impinging on its curatorial independence.

The development of this legislation forms part of a number of important developments in the cultural arena. Senators will be aware that my Department and I are in the process of preparing our first ever national cultural policy, Culture 2025. We have been engaged in public consultation and this has provided an important opportunity for everyone to have his or her say on what we want to achieve in terms of our arts and culture in the next decade. In the past month or so my Department has held a series of regional meetings, culminating with a one-day meeting in Dublin where cultural stakeholders from across the country came together to share ambitions and ideas. It was a great success, and I was greatly enthused by the level of creativity and optimism in the room. I hope that Culture 2025 will embed culture in the minds of Government and citizen alike, and that it will make culture a part of our daily language and form a greater part of our daily lives.

Culture is intrinsic to society and of inherent value, and it should be recognised as such. My aim is to create a vibrant cultural sector that is fully inclusive, with clearly defined strategic goals and a clear understanding of its interaction with Government. The cultural policy must also aim for increased participation in and access to cultural activities for all sectors of society. As a high-level document, Culture 2025 will set a framework for future strategies and will be underpinned by the principle of upholding and supporting artistic freedom.

As Members will be aware, the economic crisis had a severe impact on the sectors under my remit. I commend all of our cultural institutions on their work not just in maintaining services but also in increasing visitor numbers during the difficult years. I am pleased, therefore, that I have been in a position to stabilise and increase funding for our cultural institutions in the 2015 and 2016 budgets. A once-off €2 million funding injection for our cultural institutions, which I secured late last year, has been retained for 2016. The cultural institutions will also benefit from specific funding under the Ireland 2016 programme.

Before I discuss the main provisions of this Bill, I acknowledge the work of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht which contributed towards the development of this Bill. Members of this House sat on that committee and their work is much appreciated. I also thank the chair, the board, the chief executive and the management of the National Concert Hall for their helpful contributions during the development of the Bill.

I will turn now to the main provisions of the Bill. Part 1, covering sections 1 to 3, includes standard provisions such as the definitions section. Part 2 of the Bill deals with the establishment of the National Concert Hall as a statutory body. Section 5 deals with the establishment of the National Concert Hall as a body situated for the time being at Earlsfort Terrace to perform the functions conferred on it by this Bill.

Section 7 deals with the functions of the National Concert Hall and is an important section. The approach has been to adopt broad strategic functions with the aim of enabling the National Concert Hall to act in both the public and the commercial arenas in which it operates. The principal functions include the provision and operation of the national venue for the performance, appreciation and enjoyment of musical, creative, artistic and cultural activities. In addition, section 7(b) contains a specific reference to the public interest and promoting the performance, knowledge, appreciation, creation and enjoyment of music as an integral part of Irish life. I am confident that this section contains due recognition of the importance of the role of the National Concert Hall in Irish cultural life.

Section 8 is another key section in the Bill. This section is an explicit recognition of the nature of the relationship between the Minister and the National Concert Hall. The section provides that the National Concert Hall shall be independent in the exercise of its functions subject to such general policy guidelines as may be issued by the Minister to all national cultural institutions from time to time. I am aware that this issue was the source of some discussion at the joint committee hearing and I am happy that the provision addresses the concerns raised at the hearing. Section 9 deals with the powers of the National Concert Hall generally. In particular, the section provides that the board shall have the power to do anything that appears advantageous, for example, to the performance of the functions of the National Concert Hall.

Part 3, covering sections 10 to 17, inclusive, deals with the board of the National Concert Hall.

Section 10 deals with appointments to the board of the National Concert Hall. In making appointments, the Minister of the day shall consult the chairperson of the board in relation to the expertise that is required on the board. In addition, the Minister shall have regard to any guidelines prepared by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in respect of appointments to the boards of State bodies. Section 11 sets out the standard conditions of office for board members. Sections 12 and 13 are also standard provisions dealing with board vacancies, meetings and procedures. The Bill allows for the establishment of committees by the board to assist it in its work. Again, this is standard. Board members will operate on a pro bono basis unless a Minister decides otherwise. Sections 16 and 17 deal with statements of strategy and annual reports by the board.

Part 4 of the Bill covers a number of staffing issues. Section 18 sets out the role of the chief executive officer. Sections 19 and 20 deal with staffing and superannuation.

Part 5 deals with the accounts and finances of the National Concert Hall. Section 25 enables the National Concert Hall to borrow subject to certain conditions. Section 26 is a standard provision concerning the preparation of accounts by the National Concert Hall and audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Section 28 deals with the powers of the National Concert Hall to establish subsidiaries, partnerships or other corporate vehicles. The section can be seen in the context of my approach to this Bill generally. I have tried to be enabling in order to ensure that the National Concert Hall can operate across both the commercial and public sector.

Section 28 concerns the balance between enabling the National Concert Hall and putting in place the appropriate safeguards. Section 29 sets out the requirements surrounding gifts to the National Concert Hall. Part 6 of the Bill sets out the transitional provisions that are necessary for the conversion of the National Concert Hall company into the statutory body National Concert Hall. Part 7 of the Bill gives effect to the change of name of the Irish Film Board. The changing of the name to Screen Ireland or Fís Éireann will reflect the broader remit of the agency as the promoter of the Irish film, television and animation sector. 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 very pleased to bring this Bill before the Seanad and I look forward to hearing the contributions throughout Second Stage. I commend the Bill to the House.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I am glad we have the opportunity to discuss the Bill. The Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht, of which I am fortunate to be a member, and the pre-legislative debate gave us an opportunity to understand precisely how the Bill would help the National Concert Hall. We had a number of public hearings which allowed us to meet and discuss with a number of stakeholders the reason the Bill was necessary. The chair of the National Concert Hall appeared before the committee and spoke about balancing the public interest of the National Concert Hall with the commercial challenges. He provided figures to the committee for 2013 which showed that more than €4 million was generated by the National Concert Hall and about €2 million came from State funds. That is about two to one, which seems to be a good balance. It has had a very good track record since its establishment in Earlsfort Terrace in 1981, having been in operation for more than three decades. That it can run up to a thousand events each year is a considerable achievement, and it has more than 300,000 visitors coming through its doors. It is clear that its programme caters for a broad range of tastes, which is precisely as it should be. It gives up-and-coming artists and groups the opportunity to perform in such a prestigious venue. There is no doubt that having that on a CV and as an experience is certainly a boost as one develops one's own cultural work.

The Minister has outlined well the importance of culture in the life of society and the life of the nation. The actual amount generated by the National Concert Hall for the economy is almost €38 million annually, if I have calculated correctly. That is a huge contribution to the community and the immediate environment. It is important to try to help those artists who have yet to make their way in the world of art or the world of entertainment by keeping the rates low, because it is an ideal opportunity for them, particularly since the National Concert Hall will be a statutory body and in law will have the same recognition as all the other cultural institutions. It is State-funded to the extent of a third of what it costs to run, based on 2013 figures. It made the point that it sees itself as a leader on behalf of other less well resourced cultural bodies. Often, it sets the tone and the standard and creates the profile and the publicity. Its role is even greater than what it actually puts on stage, and it can be seen as an advocate for culture and the arts in general. That it will be a statutory body will add to its standing.

The Bill is important in terms of negotiating with other people in the area of fund raising, and it brings with it a mandate. All of that is exceptionally important, and I am sure the fingerprint of the National Concert Hall is on the Bill. I do not think there should be that great division when a certain amount of evolution is taking place in the arts or culture. In this particular case, we all work together. On the other hand, the independence issue is important also. The Bill does not in any way harm that independence; in fact, it is the opposite. Given that it will be a company, it would be wrong for all kinds of reasons if it did not have to report back to the Minister and, through the Minister, back to the Oireachtas. First, it is working in our name, and second, it has a standing in law and, above all, because of the funding provided by the State. Far more important, however, is the fact that we should always show an interest in the operation of the cultural institutions. We should not just say they are out there. That is why I am pleased that we are having a debate on culture and the arts. We have had good debates in the past. In that context, we should feel free not to be seen in any way as being hypocritical against anybody or against the National Concert Hall, but we should have a sense of partnership and motivation which should form part of the relationship between us.

On the broader issue, which is not for the main debate, of the many cuts the Minister has inherited - and we would wish it were otherwise - there is no doubt that budget cuts of 30% or 40% over a four- or five-year period cause damage. It is not just a matter of cutting salaries or not engaging people when a vacancy arises. It is none of that. The whole morale suffers and becomes threatened. I ask the Minister to ensure that as momentum gathers and there is new growth in the economy the arts is not way down the priority list. I suggest that arts and the economy should run parallel.

This is because at the end of the day the public relations, tourism and morale aspects of culture and arts in the life of the nation are so great that we cannot put a financial value on it. I trust the Minister will make the case for culture and the arts, not only in respect of the Arts Council but for all the bodies at local, regional and national level. Many bodies have an international remit as well. We never want to see them having to do something to the point whereby they come across as impoverished. When people travel abroad, whether to China or Japan or wherever, they can see the venues and funding at the disposal of those countries. I am not saying we can compete with all that, but it is important when we have something that is good, intrinsic, rich unique and exclusive to ourselves. It is like with a gift in that we need to be able to parcel it properly. Funding is always needed.

I attended the Wexford opera festival last Sunday night and the number of volunteer helpers at the front of house was most impressive. In the case of The Helix in Dublin, those responsible insisted there would be volunteers at the front from day one. The importance is not only in the savings but also in that a volunteer can have a very passionate feeling for something and are able to transmit that feeling when talking to a patron. They go out of their way to meet patrons. Volunteerism must be acknowledged and recognised.

Above all else, it is important we ensure we embrace the arts through education at all stages. As we know, there is a charter for arts in education. I hope that too will be as it should be in future.

I compliment the Minister and the Department on bringing the Bill before the House. It is the right step at the right time. We need more of this type of development.

The Minister is very welcome to the House. Like Senator Ó Murchú, I am delighted to speak on this legislation. I compliment the Minister on bringing it to the House. As the Minister said, the purpose of the Bill is to provide for the conversion of the National Concert Hall from a company limited by guarantee into a statutory body. Various sections outline the functions of the National Concert Hall, its accountability and the corporate governance structure, which is in line with public sector reform generally relating to the corporate governance arrangements of our national cultural institutions.

Much hard work has gone into the composition of the Bill, including a review of the corporate governance of the National Concert Hall commissioned by the Department in February 2014. In addition, pre-legislative scrutiny was carried out by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht. This involved public hearings with the relevant stakeholders. The Bill provides for appropriate reporting to the Minister and the Oireachtas. It will streamline the accounting process and give it a statutory basis. Section 7 sets out the functions of the National Concert Hall, which will be the national venue for musical, creative, artistic and cultural activities.

The National Concert Hall is a fantastic venue to showcase our rich musical heritage. Other functions include the promotion of music in the public interest as an integral part of Irish life. This is an important role since music and the arts enrich our society at home and by attracting visitors from overseas.

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. I believe it is important to have independence in decision-making.

Music and the arts play an important role in our lives and in society. Music reaches out, transcends all walks of life and demonstrates strong social inclusion. Participation in music and the arts by children is one of the most important fundamental skills we can instil in their young lives. The National Concert Hall plays an important role in education. I know many young children who have performed there over the years as part of school choirs and I know what a big thrill this has been in their lives. Participation in such a prestigious venue improves their self-confidence, self-esteem and interpersonal skills. It builds positive attitudes in their lives.

I acknowledge the contribution of the National Concert Hall in the area of health care by enriching the care of people with long-term illnesses or other conditions. There are opportunities for learning through music for people with special needs and there are ongoing programmes in all the children's hospitals as well as the LauraLynn children's hospice. I am pleased that the role of the National Concert Hall is not restricted to hosting concerts alone.

As Senator Ó Murchú indicated, the National Concert Hall has been located in Earlsfort Terrace since its opening in 1981. It has a 1,200 seat auditorium. Last year, almost 330,000 visitors attended some 900 events held there. It derives most of its income from its commercial activities. The turnover according to the latest accounts was €6.8 million, enabling the company to break even, with State funding only amounting to one third of the total income.

The Bill will enshrine the National Concert Hall as a cultural asset of national importance nationally and internationally. Events held in the National Concert Hall cater for all genres, including classical, opera, jazz, musicals and even popular music. It hosts many international competitions of great importance such as the Veronica Dunne International Singing Competition, which attracts visitors from all over the world.

The National Concert Hall is growing and developing the range of concerts and events on offer, from the international concert series to chamber music and traditional music, one example of which is Tradition Now in conjunction with the St. Patrick's Festival. In addition, Perspectives offers leading artists from across the spectrum the opportunity to perform to packed audiences. These artists include The Gloaming, Phil Glass, Bryan Ferry and the great flautist, James Galway. These were some of my favourites from last year.

I am pleased with the ongoing refurbishment of the Kevin Barry rooms into a 130 seat multi-purpose performance space by 2016. In addition, refurbishment is ongoing in the main auditorium while the old medical library will be a new 500-seat recital hall. There will be a jazz club, rehearsal spaces, recording studios and creative incubation spaces.

I welcome the role the National Concert Hall will play in the Government's 2016 programme. There will be a series of seven signature concerts over seven days during Easter Week 2016 around the theme of the Proclamation. The National Concert Hall is a critical part of Dublin's tourism network, attracting visitors and boosting the local economy.

I draw the attention of the Minister to some issues regarding the National Concert Hall. The Minister noted the turnover from the last accounts and said the company broke even to the tune of €6.8 million with a one third contribution from the Government. My understanding is that the numbers on the doors are down this year and there is a projected loss of more than €200,000. Is this being addressed at the moment?

There are also indications that 80% of the concerts at the National Concert Hall are promoted by commercial promoters. This means only 20% are being promoted by the National Concert Hall itself. Is anything being done to ensure the National Concert Hall will be proactive with its promotions? The geographical area most catered for by the National Concert Hall is the greater Dublin area. Are there any plans to extend its availability nationwide from Donegal down to Kerry and everywhere in between? I note that the current chief executive is due to step down in September 2016. When will the search for the new chief executive begin? What human resources process will be in place to interview potential candidates?

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus roimh an mBille seo. Tá sé tábhachtach go dtabharfar aitheantas don Cheoláras Náisiúnta as ucht an obair iontach atá ar siúl. Tacaím le cuid mhaith dá bhfuil ráite ag mo chomhghleacaithe romham. Sinn Féin welcomes this Bill. It provides for the conversion of the National Concert Hall company from a company limited by guarantee into a statutory body to be called the National Concert Hall. The measures outline the functions of the body, 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. It 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 acknowledge the considerable potential the entity holds as a venue to further develop an interest in and appreciation of the arts and generate increased revenue.

Until recently, National Concert Hall funding was sourced primarily from ticket sales, with some 70% of total income coming from the purchase of tickets by members of the public attending performances and events. That is an encouraging signal of the value the public places on the concert hall and of people's appetite for the arts. More than 300,000 visitors experience over 1,000 events annually, as outlined by previous speakers. The Government proposes to secure the future of the concert hall by placing it on a statutory footing similar to that of 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 the likelihood is that the institution will continue to be funded mainly from income generated from its own activities, such as ticket sales and its hiring out as a venue.

We need a national cultural and arts strategy that matches the level of interest that exists among the public. We in Sinn Féin urge that the national cultural institutions be better used as a resource by the State. We need a strategy that recognises that a competitive creative industry sector is vital to the prosperity of the State and acknowledges that a creative nation is a productive nation. In times of recession, we should not allow the arts to be viewed as a luxury activity. Unfortunately, when pitted against funding of other sectors in an either-or manner, the arts often take the brunt. We have a long and rich history of support for arts and culture in this country, which has enabled our artistic and cultural communities to prosper. Arts and culture enrich our society and reflect our national identity. They are at the core of our burgeoning creative industry sector, which encompasses music, the performing arts, film, television and radio, advertising and marketing, software development and interactive content, writing, publishing and print media, and architecture, design and visual arts. We must develop a strategy that 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.

Ba mhaith liom a rá chomh maith gur chóir go mbeadh polasaí Gaeilge ag an Stát ionas go dtabharfar tús áite don Ghaeilge sna hionaid chultúrtha ar fad sa tír seo. Bhí díospóireacht faoi ról Amharclann na Mainistreach i dtaobh na ceiste sin le déanaí. Bhain sé leis an easpa drámaí Gaeilge sa chlár atá foilsithe ag an amharclann don bhliain seo chugainn.

I take this opportunity to address some of the wider issues that have led to the current crisis facing the arts. Unfortunately, the value of the arts can often be sidelined, especially in the current economic climate in which so many sectors face cutbacks. The struggle is evident in the fact that it is so hard to earn a living as an artist, and incomes are often supplemented by other means. Many leading artists aged over 50 are not in a position to feel secure about their future. Brilliant minds fall by the wayside all too easily for lack of support. There is little facility to support older people as they progress their skills. Our younger artists, meanwhile, are going elsewhere, while the question arises as to where our mid-career artists might be. 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 other shores. Young people in the arts have considerable potential to contribute revenue for the State. We must take steps to halt the mass export of our young talent and find a way to sustain them through long-term models. There are examples of this in other European countries. Artists are our thinkers and activists, but this often is not appreciated or understood. Finding a way to position artists in such a way that we ensure they are valued is critical.

The focus of the current board of the National Concert Hall remains on the proposed transition from company to statutory body while maintaining the highest standards of musical performance for the enjoyment of the public. This process allows the concert hall an opportunity to work in partnership with the Government to maximise the transformation of the hall and site into a world-class centre of musical excellence. Once the process is completed, a new strategy and business plan will be developed, as we have heard. Concerns have been expressed as to why the possibility of making the National Concert Hall a semi-state body with a commercial remit was not considered. There are concerns, too, about the control the Minister will have over the body under the proposed model and the role of departmental officials in deciding the policy that is implemented.

I have concerns regarding section 18(9), which proposes to gag the chief executive officer from making any critical statement. The section states: "In the performance of the duties of chief executive officer under subsection (8), the chief executive officer shall not question or express an opinion on the merits of any policy of the Government or a Minister of the Government or on the merits of the objectives of such a policy." I am concerned about the imposition of such a gagging provision on the CEO of any cultural institution in the State.

I conclude by welcoming the provision in section 23(1), which may be of particular interest to Senators. This subsection puts an end to double-jobbing by persons who are elected to the Seanad or other democratically elected positions whereby they could previously act in two roles at the same time and be paid by the State for both of them.

I welcome the Minister to the House. She has been here several times recently, which is good. Any legislation that strengthens the role of one of our cultural institutions and makes it more accountable is to be welcomed. Members of the public often complain that State organisations are not accountable. These proposals represent a good step forward in addressing that issue. While the independence of the National Concert Hall will continue to be recognised and upheld - it could not function if it were not, in a curatorial fashion, independent - it will now be accountable in respect of its funding and having members of its board brought before Oireachtas committees. In addition, the body will be subject to freedom of information provisions and its accounts will be brought under the remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General. These are important provisions in the current climate.

I do not expect there will be or could be any opposition to the legislation before us today. We in this House always like to take the opportunity to confirm the importance of our country's cultural life and heritage. There is a tendency to assume that the economy - as in the mantra "It's the economy, stupid" - is of most concern to people, but the reality is that our cultural life is incredibly important to people in this country. It is in our DNA in a way I am not sure it is in every country, in so far as it relates to our capacity to articulate ourselves and our vision of the world. It is a very Irish thing. In that context, I would like to see as much assistance as can be given being afforded to all our cultural institutions. I congratulate the Minister on having secured additional funding. I hope our cultural institutions and our cultural life in general will continue to be supported by the Government at all times.

The American ambassador, Mr. Kevin O'Malley, spoke at the opening of the Web Summit about the importance of the cultural relationship between our two countries. Indeed, he has been to the fore in trying to encourage creative dialogue between our two countries. He was in Sligo two weekends ago to attend a debate with the musician Rufus Wainwright, who was performing there, which was organised in collaboration with the American Embassy. The ambassador is keen to open up a dialogue between artists in the United States and their counterparts here across the cultural spectrum. That is a good way for our two countries to discover things we have in common.

It is interesting to consider the history of the National Concert Hall, which is as old as William Butler Yeats. The building was originally constructed to celebrate the International Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures in Dublin in 1865. Most of the building was taken down in the late 19th century because it was too expensive to run it. It was dismantled and taken to London, where it was rebuilt as the Albert Palace. When the original concert hall opened in May 1865, its purpose was to celebrate the visual arts in particular, but also industrial products. It has always had a heritage built around culture and, latterly, as part of UCD, it has also had an educational remit.

One of the real needs of the concert hall is its outreach programme. It plays a strong role in schools and in the area of health, which I was not aware of. Outreach programmes are notoriously expensive and are difficult to keep going. The National Concert Hall has a programme of music in children's hospitals such as Crumlin, Temple Street, Tallaght and Beaumont. These are the sort of programmes that we want to see being continued. They are particularly important in the area of dementia and Alzheimer's and allow music into the lives of a broad range of people. People often believe that the National Concert Hall is a place exclusively for concerts. The outreach programme will need funding in the future if it is to work with schools, teachers, students and musicians. This is where we can foster and grow the musicians of the future.

It is important that the National Concert Hall continues its role of working with communities, particularly with its community choir and working with older people and their orchestra. These are the matters that people forget about. They think of the facade of the National Concert Hall and the great performances that take place there. In this year of Yeats, 2015, two wonderful events took place in September - Beautiful Lofty Things, led by the historian, writer and lover of Yeats, Roy Foster and the following evening, Blood and the Moon, a whole series of new musical pieces inspired by Yeats. I thank the staff and the team at the National Concert Hall for affording us the opportunity to celebrate Yeats there. That shows its capacity to have a broad range of musical interests celebrated at the concert hall. It is not just exclusive music; it tries to provide for the tastes of all kinds of people.

Senator Coghlan talked about the idea of the National Concert Hall being taken around the State. I support that but I wonder how it might happen. We have enjoyed reaching out to the National Gallery and the National Library through the Yeats activities in Sligo in the last number of years. That has been very successful. The Abbey Theatre has also been a partner with us on Yeats day over the last few years. We have not thought of how we might do it with the National Concert Hall. I suspect it might be possible through some of the outreach programmes. Maybe once every year a national concert could be held in another location, such as Kilkenny, Letterkenny, Sligo or Limerick.

Of course. Perhaps Leitrim also.

Part of the reason why we wanted to encourage the national institutions to hold hands, as it were, with Sligo through the Yeats piece was to make sure that people who do not get the chance to travel to our national institutions, because they do not have the time or money, have the chance to understand that these are our national institutions and that we have a share in all of those. That is something that we could bring back to the National Concert Hall.

I acknowledge the work done by the committee before this legislation was drawn up. The Minister has acknowledged that one of the changes that has occurred during the lifetime of this Government is that committees engage more at the pre-legislative stage. The Minister has acknowledged the work that was done and the help that it gave her and her officials and it should be noted that this is something that should and will continue and can be strengthened. It is important that members of the public see that the democratic process and the way we do our business in this House, while not always perfect, we have found some ways to improve it and this is one of those ways. This is a smaller Bill, but as Senator Ó Mhurchú has said, it allowed for matters to be teased out and for expert witnesses to come in and give advice to the committee, which the committee could then transfer to the Minister and her officials. I thank the Minister for bringing this legislation and thank her for her time.

I welcome the Minister and I welcome the Bill generally although I have some reservations about it. It gives a sense of recognition to the National Concert Hall. The National Concert Hall is a source of pride for everybody. I am old enough to remember the debates that took place before it was decided to develop Earlsfort Terrace. They were going to build a completely new concert hall on Northumberland Road. Eventually it settled on Earlsfort Terrace and I am glad that it did. I have been there many times and the variety, to which tribute has been paid already, is quite astonishing. I was there for the New Orleans jazz from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band where at the end they did a funeral march and led the entire audience out onto Earlsfort Terrace and back into the hall in a conga line. It was wonderful. I have been there for Rachmaninoff's piano concertos and for the magisterial series of Beethoven's piano concertos given by that great artist, John O'Conor. I have also performed there myself. I was on stage with Anne Bushnell. I took part in her wonderful Judy Garland show. I wonder if I am gay at all because I had never heard of Judy Garland until I did that show. I have also compèred concerts there. It is a wonderful facility of which everyone should be proud. I was interested in the positive numbers presented by the Minister. It is very like the James Joyce Centre and I look forward to seeing the Minister there once again. Our figures are equally good. We have made remarkable progress in developing that and we also generate twice as much income as we receive from the State. We are grateful for what we get from the State.

I have a number of queries on the Bill which I read with great interest. The first is on section 5 which says "the National Concert Hall (in this Act referred to as the 'NCH'), situated, for the time being". That is a curious phrase; it is as if perhaps they were going to take up Senator O'Keeffe's suggestion that it be transferred to Sligo brick by brick.

What a good idea.

Why is it for the time being? Is there any uncertainty about it?

Then there is the question of the seal, which is an interesting one. Does a seal exist at the moment? As a question of design, it would be very interesting for a young Irish artist to design a seal. I would like to know a little bit about the seal.

I really like section 7, which outlines the principal functions of the National Concert Hall, which are "to provide and operate, having regard to international standards and good practice, 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 will not read the whole thing. It is essential, clear and positive.

I have some worries about Part 3 on the board of the National Concert Hall. The Minister has spoken about the independence of the National Concert Hall but there are very strong powers given to the Minister. I think they are too strong. Section 10 says "The NCH shall have a Board consisting of a chairperson and 8 ordinary members appointed by the Minister" and "The Minister shall designate one member of the Board to be the chairperson." The Minister is, in a sense, the dictator of the concert hall and that worries me. Section 10(7) says "Ordinary members who are to hold office for the periods specified in subsection (6) shall be selected by lot to be drawn in such manner as may be determined by the Minister." The Minister even determines the way they will draw lots. That is a hell of a lot of power.

Moving on to section 11, "The Minister may at any time remove from office a member of the Board if (a) in the opinion of the Minister, the member has become incapable through ill health of performing his or her functions". Hello. What qualification does the Minister have? Surely that decision should be made by his or her doctor. What medical qualifications does the Minister have? There may well be a situation where there is a coincidence and the Minister at the time is a medical doctor but I do not see why the Minister should have that power. The Minister already has the right to remove members of the board for any reason at all. If she thinks they are unsuitable she can get rid of them. Why this business about their health? I do not think the Minister has any role in determining the health of a member of the board. I will return to this a little bit later.

Section 10 says "The Minister shall have regard to any guidelines prepared by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in relation to appointments to boards of State bodies." Why? What on earth has Deputy Howlin got to do with the National Concert Hall? It is about money but why should he have the same power in regard to appointments? The Abbey Theatre was vitiated for a number of years by the intervention of the Government. Subsection (6) says, "The persons first appointed as ordinary members shall hold office as follows: (a) 3 members for a term of 3 years; (b) 3 members for a term of 4 years; (c) 2 members for a term of 5 years."

I do not see why it is necessary. I do not understand the mathematics of it. Is it to provide some kind of continuing governorship? I do not know.

Certain people are excluded from governorship of the board. They are excluded if they make a composition or arrangement with creditors. Many very artistic people get into trouble and go bust. They have major commitments to putting on shows. Making a composition or arrangement with creditors is very different from any kind of criminal activity, for which they should rightly be excluded. I do not see why going bust, making a composition or agreement with creditors should exclude a person. I do not understand it. Although it is standard practice in boards, this does not mean we should not challenge these issues in the Seanad.

Regarding expenses of board members, the Bill states: "No remuneration, other than the expenses referred to in subsection (2), shall be payable to the chairperson or an ordinary member of the Board or to a member of a committee of the Board except where the Minister, with the consent of the Minister of Public Expenditure and Reform, determines otherwise." The Minister, Deputy Howlin, is popping up again. I worry about it.

The Minister and others spoke about making a statement of strategy, and it is very much to be welcomed. The Bill writes off Members of the Seanad. It is a tradition that has always exercised me and I will table an amendment to delete it. Why should Seanad Members not serve on the board of the National Concert Hall? We are appointed on a vocational basis. Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú speaks on traditional Irish music and cultural matters. He would be an adornment to the board of the National Concert Hall. It is not about payment, given that they are unpaid. It is an outrage and is ridiculous. Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell would be another excellent person whom I would like to see on the board of the National Concert Hall and I see no reason that she, or people like her, should be prevented from serving in such a way.

The provision whereby the chief executive officer is responsible to the Oireachtas committees is good. I must address a non sequitur in the second last paragraph of the Minister's speech in which she said:

Part 7 of the Bill gives effect to the change of name of the Irish Film Board. The changing of the name to Screen Ireland or Fís Éireann will reflect the broader remit of the agency as the promoter of the Irish film, television and animation sector. I am very positive about the future of the National Concert Hall.

We went a bit off track there. It is a complete non sequitur. While I understand that miscellaneous provisions are put in as a means of tidying up, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the National Concert Hall, as far as I can see. Maybe I am missing something. I do not like untidy legislation. I like it to be compact and all of a piece.

By and large, I welcome the Bill. It gives recognition to one of our valuable cultural institutions. I commend the Minister on bringing it forward. However, I am concerned about the degree of ministerial power involved. The current Minister is not a tyrant, but is the most delightful and intelligent women. However, it lays up the possibility of people behaving in a tyrannical way. I do not like the intervention of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform at all. The Bill states that remuneration can be paid with the permission of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. I would like to see people squeezing money out of that particular Martin Chuzzlewit. I am very actively concerned about the exclusion of Members of Seanad Éireann, including people who are nominated on the cultural and educational panel. We must allow Seanad Members to be on the board of the National Concert Hall.

I am sure the Senator would make a fine asset to the board.

It is most kind, although I do not think I would be.

It is always great to speak on the arts, given that, as Senator Ó Murchú said, we get so few opportunities to do so at any level here. I was on the board of the National Concert Hall for two terms.

The Senator would be a great board member. This makes my point. She is an appropriate person.

I thank the Senator. Given what happened a few boards later, they should bring us back. I was on the board in the early 1990s and into the 2000s. I was the only dissenting voice on a board of 15 members against the National Concert Hall moving. At that time, there was the beginning of the sloshing around of money. We were going to move from Fenian Street to a green field site. I was the only dissenting voice saying we should not go anywhere but stay where we were with the tradition we had through the 1800s and 1900s for education and everything else.

It was a very good place at the time. There was a tremendous urgency about it, like when Dublin City University became a university in the late 1980s. We had a great outreach programme, which other cultural institutes might look to. We were the first board to get the National Symphony Orchestra to get into buses, trains and cars and go to places such as Sligo, Mayo and Galway. It is not easy to move a symphony orchestra, but we did it, and the orchestra brought its great music all over Ireland.

Thomas Moore said:

Music, oh, how faint, how weak,

Language fades before thy spell!

The only time when my savage breast, or beast in me, is soothed is through music. We could talk artistically until the cows come home, which is one of the reasons the Bill was an easy jaunt. It does not discuss creativity, imagination, the arts or performance. It discusses governance and structure, and rightly so. Well done to the Minister because without imposing governance, structure and a strategic plan on a statutory body, the artistry will not happen. It is not an artistic Bill. We can talk all the artistry we like. It is a platform for great artistry, entertainment and development from the young musician to the greats and for music for all ages, sizes and ears. It is not exclusive, and this is the great thing about it. It was an easy jaunt through this, and I am delighted about it and welcome it.

I read Brigid McManus's well written and excellent report on the governance structures of the National Concert Hall, which the Bill is about, without taking away the artistic independence or the independence of the CEO or board. I agree with Senator Norris that the board members should be artistically and creatively skilled, imaginative and talented and with a proven record and mix, and should not be political appointees or appointed on the basis of "I knew Dan, who knew Joe". I like the idea very much. It is very important. It is also very important to have board members with backgrounds in accountancy, human resources and commerce, who can see ways forward when things get tough and money is tight. Well done on that.

I agree with Senator Norris about Seanad Members, although people think one is double jobbing and getting all the goodies, and that it is somebody else's time. I am not sure about it. While we have the privilege of being in the Seanad, we can be the conduit for the National Concert Hall and do not necessarily have to sit on the board. I commend the Minister. It is very good, and is an easy jaunt, creating governance and some kind of structure, which obviously fell apart during the past four years not under the watch of this or the previous Minister, but under its own lack of watch in the National Concert Hall.

I thank the Senators for their contributions, which I listened to with great interest. Some interesting issues were raised. Regarding Senator O'Donnell's comments, this is a question of putting a proper governance structure in place. That is important, as taxpayers' money is being invested in the National Concert Hall and it must be accountable to the taxpayer through the Minister and the Oireachtas, but it must also be allowed curatorial independence, which is at the core of the legislation.

The National Concert Hall forms an important part of Irish cultural life, with thousands of visitors going through its doors every year. It has worked hard to grow and develop the range of concerts and events that it offers to the public, providing audiences with concerts of artistic excellence and diversity while making a significant contribution to the country's cultural calendar. To the end of September this year, the hall has held a broad and engaging programme of concerts and educational and outreach activities, with 738 events attracting some 222,000 visitors. The hall's flagship international concert series brings the world's leading orchestras and classical artists to Irish audiences. Chamber music continues to form a central part of the hall's programming while concerts by Irish and international musicians and a residency for the Vanburgh String Quartet are at the heart of the offering.

The hall has prioritised investment in composers and musicians, which helps to support Irish artists and deliver new creative talent. Projects have included Shaun Davey and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill's new song cycle, Nora Barnacle, which premiered on Bloom's Day, and Blood and the Moon, new songs based on Yeats's poetry to mark Yeats 2015, which premiered in September and involved Irish and international contemporary artists.

A point was made about rising young stars. Learn and Explore is Ms Bernadette Greevy's bursary for singers and was presented again in 2014, awarding a prize of €4,000 towards furthering musical development. Ms Gemma Ní Bhriain was its winner. The hall supported the Veronica Dunne international singing competition in January 2014. It also presents a rising star award. The hall hosts a wide range of concerts presented by an array of promoters from the commercial, cultural, educational and community sectors. All of this adds to the hall's vibrant and significant contribution to Ireland's cultural life, cultural tourism and economy.

As Senators will be aware, the 2016 centenary programme launched earlier this year is the centrepiece of the decade of centenaries and is a key priority for my Department. I was delighted to secure more than €48 million for this initiative and I look forward to working with communities at home and abroad to make next year memorable. A great deal of money will be spent on major capital projects, including the National Concert Hall. This will ensure a lasting legacy for the commemorations. The Kevin Barry Room at the hall is being redeveloped. It was the setting for a seminal moment in Irish history in December 1921 and January 1922, namely, 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 area, complete with the necessary acoustic treatment and sound proofing.

A point was made about the inclusion of the Irish Film Board in this legislation. The board and the hall operate in the cultural arena under my auspices. That is why I included it in the Bill.

A tenuous connection.

As I indicated in the Dáil, I consider this Bill the most effective way of changing the board's name. It was the express wish of the board's former chair, the late Bill O'Herlihy, that its name should be changed. I promised Bill two weeks before his untimely death that I would do this because it was the right thing to do. I was pleased to have the opportunity to do so as part of this Bill. The board's full current name - Irish Film Board-Bord Scannán na hÉireann - is considered outdated when used in the international arena. The use of the word "film" in the title is considered limiting and the proposal to change the name to "Screen Ireland" or "Fís Éireann" will reflect the agency's broader remit for the promotion of Irish film, television and animation. The board is supportive of this change and I am glad to have been able to include it in the Bill.

I agree that the arts play an important role in our society. I was pleased to secure a 12% increase in my Department's budget for 2016. Further investment in the arts is necessary. As the economy continues to improve, I will fight the case for increased funding. The National Concert Hall will receive the same Exchequer allocation in 2016 as it did this year, which included an additional €100,000 increase. All cultural institutions will benefit from the additional funding that I secured for the 2016 commemoration programme.

I wish to reassure the Senator that there is no gagging of the CEO. It is a standard provision when the CEO appears before the Committee of Public Accounts that he or she cannot comment on Government policy.

Culture 2025 is the first cultural policy that we have formulated. I want it to imbed culture in the minds of the Government and the citizen alike. It will make culture a part of our daily language and form a greater part of our daily lives. Culture is intrinsically valuable to society and should be recognised as such. Culture 2025 will address the issue of volunteers.

The concert hall has a comprehensive outreach programme. I agree with Senator O'Keeffe that we need to broaden the role of the national institutions generally so as to extend their offering into the regions. Everything cannot be Dublin centric. The offering needs to get out to the regions and more rural areas.

Senator Eamonn Coghlan raised a number of issues. The hall has adopted a broad programming strategy to address some of them. Section 18(2) provides that the CEO will be appointed by the board with the approval of the Minister. I want to be clear about appointments to the board under section 10, in that the Minister is not a dictator. I am conscious of that. Appointments to the board are done through the Public Appointments Service, PAS. People are invited to apply to sit on the board. An independent panel will assess the applications and present a short list to the Minister, who will make the final decision.

I do not believe that provision is in the Bill. Will it not be done by regulation?

The PAS approach is the system.

That is a helpful explanation. I thank the Minister.

Section 5's wording is a reflection of the balance between the National Concert Hall's occupation of Earlsfort Terrace and the latter's ownership by the Office of Public Works, OPW. The Minister will take account of general guidelines issued by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to ensure that standard procedures will be used across the public sector. Section 13(3) takes account of financial probity in setting out when board members are disqualified.

The Minister still has no medical expertise.

The Minister agrees with me.

I will revert to the Senator after checking on it.

I will now turn to the issue of Senators on the board. This is a standard provision. If Senators were on the board of the National Concert Hall and also serving in the Seanad there is a potential conflict of interest with regard to funding and policy. Therefore, I believe it is prudent to retain this provision in the Bill.

That is rubbish.

How can Senator Ó Murchú sit on the board of the National Concert Hall and be on the committee at the same time?

I ask Senators to allow the Minister to conclude as this debate is just at Second Stage. There will be opportunities at a later Stage to make amendments if the Senators wish.

My officials have taken note. I think that much of what has been raised has been covered. If there is something else to discuss I will come back to the House about it.

The Minister is endeavouring to conclude.

Thank you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. I ask Senators who intend to bring forward amendments to the Bill to give the Department officials sight of those amendments at an early stage in order that, where possible and appropriate, the amendments can be given due consideration in a decent timeframe. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

On Wednesday, 11 November 2015.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 11 November 2015.
The Seanad adjourned at 6.10 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 4 November 2015.