Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 2 Dec 2015

Vol. 244 No. 2

National Cultural Institutions (National Concert Hall) Bill 2015: Report and Final Stages

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 7, to delete line 35 and substitute the following:

“(3) The chairperson of the Board shall be democratically elected by the members of the Board.”.

We welcome this Bill in general and believe putting the National Concert Hall on this footing will be beneficial to it. We have praised the work being done there, the programmes it runs and the investment that has taken place. We do believe there still needs to be a sense of autonomy in the board. We note that the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, gets to a point at which, after a process through the Public Appointments Service, suitable people are selected to serve on the board. I argue that there is a particular dynamic around a board of management of any organisation, and the skill of being a chairperson is a very particular skill, which some people have and others do not. We have seen examples of organisations that are run well because the chairperson can run particular meetings. He or she may not have a particular skill in the arts, music or culture but may be particularly good at managing people, listening and empathising, and able to move an agenda along by making sure that everybody gets heard and certain people do not dominate. Those who are best able to choose the person on the board who is best skilled to be the chairperson are the people who serve on the board. I have seen organisations in which the chairperson has a public role or a background, history or experience in the arts or theatre, and perhaps great public speaking skills, but is not necessarily a great chairperson. He or she could be quite dominant, have a great big ego and see himself or herself as being a step above the rest.

We do not think this amendment is a lot to ask. It is something quite small and would leave the autonomy with the board. It would show that the Minister and any other subsequent Minister who is dealing with the National Concert Hall allows the board the autonomy to choose their own chairperson. The Minister will have chosen every single other member of the board via the appointments process. The Minister herself mentioned on Committee Stage that some of the people chosen might not be known to her, as she would be working from curricula vitae or other documents provided by the Public Appointments Service. She may not have personal knowledge of the people concerned or know what their interpersonal skills are like.

I understand a Minister would have to have a good working relationship with the chairperson of the board, but one would imagine that if all the members of the board were able to jump through the hoops of the Public Appointments Service process, any one of them should potentially be eligible to be a chairperson. The Minister should have no issue working with anybody who has been chosen by the board as chairperson. That is why we put this amendment forward. It is not ground-shaking or radical in any way. It would just send a very strong signal to the board of the National Concert Hall that it was an autonomous board, the members of which stood alone and were allowed to do the job without interference from the Minister or subsequent Ministers in how the National Concert Hall was run. We ask the Minister to consider this while she is putting through this positive Bill, which is a move forward. We ask her to take this amendment on board in the spirit in which it is put forward.

I second the amendment which has a lot of merit. If the board members have to go away and talk among themselves to choose who should be chairman, it would promote the kind of autonomy needed in cultural institutions and that we have always had in this state. It is not really comparable with other State or semi-state bodies in that cultural institutions require autonomy, ideas and culture - the kind of expressions I heard the Minister use in her speech at the annual Famine commemoration in Newry. She spoke about broadening the Famine commemoration to include all of the traditions on the island of Ireland and different types of people. Sometimes bureaucracy can stifle creativity. Creativity and diversity, and the creative arts holding a mirror up to society as a whole, are the essence of what we are looking for in all the cultural institutions. They are the elements by which we hold our cultural institutions in such esteem. It would be a good start to follow Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh's lead and let that group of people decide among themselves who should be their chairperson.

Normally I would agree with Senators Sean D. Barrett and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh on this, but there are complications. Whether I like it and I have seen it on both sides, to achieve the goals of any cultural institution, a good working relationship is needed between the chairperson of that institution and the Minister.

I welcome the National Cultural Institutions (National Concert Hall) Bill 2015. Sterling work has been done and the Minister displayed generosity and co-operation in allowing the cultural committee to deal with the Bill during pre-legislative scrutiny. Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú and I are on that committee and we went through the Bill in detail, line by line. There were some problematic parts to it that were reworded and redrawn based on the evidence we received from independent witnesses. As it is my first experience as a Senator and as a legislator, I welcomed the opportunity to work under the newly reformed system of pre-legislative scrutiny. If the Minister is to introduce further Bills, the sooner the better, they should be brought straight to the committee, as it is a valuable process. It brings with it more expertise; it is open and the Minister is open to it. It allows Bills to be looked at and shaken down regarding potential ambiguities.

I am looking at the complications. Will the Minister reassure the House that all appointments to the board are through the Public Appointments Service? I need confirmation. Will she also confirm that the chairperson who will be an ordinary member will go through the PAS? I would like the Minister to clarify whether there will be a specific separate job description for the chairperson, as opposed to ordinary members, or whether she will recruit for all board members of the National Concert Hall and out of that membership designate one person as chairperson? If the chairperson were elected from among the members of the board, would the term of office of the chairperson be for the full term? We know from subsection (5) that the chairperson of the board holds office for five years, but section 6 breaks down the term of office of other members from three to five years, with three members serving for three years, three other members for four years and two members for five years. Would the term of office be problematic if we were to go down the route of electing a chairperson? Would that contradict the appointment process through which the chairperson will be designated? Let me put this question to the Minister. Under subsection (6), does the Minister or the Public Appointments Service designate which members serve for three, four or five years? I would like a response to that question. We are talking about eight members. I presume the ninth is the chairperson. I am highlighting, although I completely accept the bona fides of my fellow Senators, that this amendment is problematic.

I am the director of the Abbey Theatre which is a national institution. The chairperson of the Abbey Theatre was appointed by a Minister to a specific role and, therefore, I am assuming that the chairperson of each national institution will have a specific role and a specific job description and responsibility. I would like to understand the relationship between the Public Appointments Service process and the appointment of the designated chairperson, as proposed in the Bill. I wish to hear the Minister's views before I make my mind up on the proposed amendment.

We have to look at the history to date of appointments to the role of chairperson. My belief is that it has not been bad generally. Therefore, it is important to start from that premise. It does not take away at all from the merits of the amendment which is obviously promoted in the context of democracy rather than good governance. I do not mean that in any way as being a slight on the amendment.

I believe the chairperson has to be a person who is equipped for the role. While it is true to say the Minister may not always know the people on the board, he or she will take advice and will be aware of what is happening in the marketplace. Unless I saw particularly strong merit in doing this, or we had glaring cases in the past in which it had not worked well, I would be inclined to think that change might not be the best way to go in this case.

As Senators will be aware section, 10(3) provides that the Minister shall designate one member of the board to be the chairperson for a period of five years.

In response to Senator Fiach Mac Conghail, who asked how the term of board members would be determined, lots will be drawn to determine those who will serve for three, four or five years. The chairperson will be appointed for the full five-year term.

The effect of the amendment would be to provide that the chairperson be elected by the board members. We had a very interesting and wide-ranging debate on Committee Stage, for which I thank the Senators. The rationale behind this provision focuses on the nature of the relationship between the Minister and the chairperson. As I have said previously, the chairperson of any State board has an important position as head of the board and has the responsibility of overseeing the management and direction of the organisation. It is equally important that the chairperson has an effective working relationship with the Minister, as the chairperson forms an essential bridge between the board and the Minister. The issue of transparency around the process was raised on Committee Stage. Senators will be aware that the norm in the majority of State boards is that the Minister appoints the chairperson. Examples include the provisions in the Sport Ireland Act 2015, the Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2014, the Further Education and Training Act 2013, the Child and Family Agency Act 2013, the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act 2012, the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997, and the Arts Act 2003.

Under the Public Appointments Service system, an independent panel assesses all applications for appointment to the State board and a short list is sent to the Minister who makes the board appointments having examined and assessed the skill set involved. In my case, I discuss it with my officials in order that we can find the best people for the job. The application process allows interested parties who have applied for a position on the board to indicate whether they would like to serve as a chairperson. It will also allow them to outline to the Minister why they would be qualified to do the job. Having all of this knowledge regarding the skill set, the Minister makes the decision on who to appoint to the chair.

When a new board is appointed, I believe the members of the new board would not have the necessary information regarding the skill sets of their fellow board members to make an informed decision as to who was the best person for the position of chairperson. A chairperson needs a particular set of skills. I am satisfied that the Minister of the day, whoever it is, will have access to all of the CVs and will also have access to the people who are interested in taking the role of chairperson, and all interested members will have outlined their skill sets and abilities. The Minister will have that information but - let me repeat - the new board would not have that type of information and would be making a decision without the benefit of that information. As members will be aware, prospective chairpersons now appear before a joint committee of the Oireachtas prior to their appointment, and this allows Members an involvement in the scrutiny process. We all want to ensure we have the most effective process possible for selecting the best possible chairperson. Senator Susan O'Keeffe in her contribution on Committee Stage alluded to the potential difficulties with a new group, the members of which were drawn together for the first time who were then asked to make a decision as to whom the group wanted as chairperson.

Members may have differing views on achieving the same objective, but the objective we all share is an effective process for appointing the chairperson. I have listened with interest to the debate on both Committee and Report Stages. My view is that the Minister of the day should continue to appoint the chairpersons of public bodies such as the National Concert Hall. The legislation sets out clear lines of accountability through the Minister to the Oireachtas. It is important, therefore, that the Minister appoint the chairperson. I have gone a long way towards ensuring the independence of the National Concert Hall, as expressed in section 8. I cannot accept the amendment.

I welcome the Minister's comments. I do not want to labour the point because I do not think the future of the National Concert Hall will hinge on this amendment, but I respectfully differ in opinion from herself and Senator Fiach Mac Conghail. I do not think any of the points they have raised are insurmountable. In a scenario where there is a new board coming together, one could put an interim chairperson in place for the first meeting or two and then, when the members of the board have got to know each other, let them appoint whom they think is most appropriate. I also think it is possibly a bit condescending to say the board members would not be in a position to choose from among those who have been appointed to the board somebody suitable for the role of chairperson, and that the Minister would know better because she will have read all the CVs. I take it that all of the CVs could be made available to the board members which would put them in a very good position to choose a chairperson, knowing the area very well and having expertise in it.

I can appreciate that this is a difference of policy. It is a policy decision. The Minister is in the seat and she is making the decision. It is quite clear that she is not going to accept the amendment. It would have been a very positive amendment to accept and it would have given a good message to the new board. I wish the new board all the best and all involved in the National Concert Hall continued success in the work they are doing.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Bill received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I welcome the passage of the National Cultural Institutions (National Concert Hall) Bill 2015 through the House and thank all the Senators for their contributions on it. The National Concert Hall is a valued national cultural institution. This has been demonstrated in the debate in this House. It is obvious that there is a great deal of respect and affection for the work of the National Concert Hall and I am happy that the Bill provides a good framework within which it can operate successfully in both the public and commercial arenas. I thank the chairperson, the board and the executive of the National Concert Hall for their assistance during the drafting of the Bill which has been very helpful to my Department. I thank the joint committee, in particular, for its pre-legislative scrutiny. I read the transcript carefully and found all of the information and discussion very useful in preparing the Bill. I thank my colleagues in both the Dáil and the Seanad for their contributions during the passage of the Bill.

Ba mhaith liom tacú leis an méid atá ráite ag an Aire ins an méid atá déanta anseo. Sílim gur lá maith é seo don Cheoláras Náisiúnta. Guím gach rath ar an bhfoireann ins an obair atá ar siúl acu. Tá súil agam go mbeidh clár leathan acu ó thaobh cur chun cinn an cheoil agus an chultúir ar fud na tíre agus ins an gceannáras atá acu. I am just wishing the National Concert Hall all the best as it is a very good day for it and I am concurring with what the Minister said. I hope the National Concert Hall's programme will continue to reflect the diversity of the Irish people across the island and in all the languages on the island, i nGaeilge agus i mBéarla, agus guím gach rath oraibh san obair sin.

I agree with the sentiments of Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh. It has been a very valuable exercise, both on Committee Stage and today. I was particularly pleased about the passion in the previous debates, showing that people were very committed to the whole concept of cultural institutions, art and so on. Very often we seem to think that is not central to our remit here and that it belongs to another world. It was quite clear that Senators had very definite views on the way forward, but what we have achieved is particularly significant.

I also hope that, whether in this or a future Government, we will have further opportunities in this House to expand on some of the debates. I have found this to be a great process for learning more about other people's views and their specialties. I compliment the Minister on the way she has steered the Bill through. No confrontation whatsoever was involved in the debates and in the work done at committee level people were very focused and very detailed. Comhghairdeas.

This is an historic day because we are passing a new Bill that copperfastens the future of the National Concert Hall. I congratulate the Minister because it is the first Bill she has guided through as Minister for arts and culture. She should be proud of herself, particularly because she became quite an open and listening Minister, taking everything on board. The debates, particularly in the Seanad, were very supportive of her.

I congratulate her officials also on the support they gave her, particularly on sections 8 and 28. Section 8 copperfastens the independence of the National Concert Hall in terms of artistic freedom and having neither fear nor favour with regard to the Government of the day. Section 28 acknowledges the commercial aspect of the National Concert Hall, that it is a business and needs to sell tickets, as well as needing, as Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh put it quite eloquently, to include a diverse range of our cultural expression and manifestation. I thank the Minister and her officials for the Bill and wish the new board of the National Concert Hall and its chief executive well in 2016, when it celebrates the centenary of the Proclamation.

I thank the Minister in the spirit of the House. Brigid McManus who compiled the report for the Department found that the governance of the National Concert Hall was very good and she supported it. She is a very senior and distinguished public servant. This is, as Senator Fiach Mac Conghail said, a great institution. His committee conducted the pre-legislative scrutiny.

My own concerns about the Bill were about section 18(9), which states "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". That is only at the Committee of Public Accounts, but in general the Constitution gives citizens the right to freely express their convictions and opinions.

Interestingly, it goes on to discuss preserving the rightful liberty of expression in the radio, press and cinema, but it has always been so in the older cultural institutions such as musical institutions and the Abbey Theatre, whose director is with us. We should be very relaxed on that issue.

Perhaps the line "Stick close to your desks and never go to sea, And you all may be rulers of the Queen's Navee!" in "H.M.S. Pinafore" was subversive, but it was satire on how the upper class bypassed any public appointments commission and became major figures in the admiralty. I do not think "H.M.S. Pinafore" should be banned because of these sentiments.

Let us have open, expressive arts as a major contributor to this society, enriching North-South relations and relations between Ireland and the world. It is a major part of how Ireland presents itself to the world. I echo the sentiments of Senator Fiach Mac Conghail. I did not know that it was the Minister's first Bill, but it is a pretty good place to start and I wish her and the National Concert Hall every success. It is such a valuable institution. With the Iveagh Gardens which are behind it, it is a major cultural complex which has been of inestimable value to the city of Dublin and to this country. Long may it prevail.

Question put and agreed to.