Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Ceisteanna (23)

Joan Burton


23. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her policy on the National Concert Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9975/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (10 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Culture)

As the person with responsibility for culture, what does the Minister propose to do to defend the National Symphony Orchestra and the National Concert Orchestra? Is she aware that player number in the National Symphony Orchestra is in the low 60s, whereas the proper strength of an international orchestra which the National Symphony Orchestra is in the mid-90s? What does she propose to do about this important element of our culture?

The Deputy will appreciate that there are existing legislative obligations on RTÉ in the provision of music. It has traditionally included the provision by RTÉ of orchestral music through the National Symphony Orchestra, as well as the National Concert Orchestra. Responsibility for RTÉ, in the first instance, rests with my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment. However, as Minister with responsibility for culture and oversight of the National Concert Hall, it is important that there be strong provision of orchestral music in Ireland. I am conscious that the National Concert Hall which does come within my remit has always been proud to call it the home of the National Symphony Orchestra. The National Symphony Orchestra, in turn, provides the backbone of the National Concert Hall’s orchestral music programme through its weekly concerts. My Department and the Arts Council provide support for orchestral music in Ireland and I am fully aware of the premier role the National Symphony Orchestra plays in that regard.

With regard to the review, I understand it is an internal review which is being carried out by RTÉ. My Department has not been directly involved in it. However, officials from my Department have met officials from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment to discuss the matter. They have been informed that the review is to make recommendations on the best configuration of the orchestras. They were also informed that RTÉ had acknowledged that the orchestras were integral to its arts and cultural programming and formed a key part of its arts and culture strategy. 

My Department will maintain close contact with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment on this matter and both Departments will consider the outcome of the RTÉ review when it is complete. I understand a final report will be delivered to RTÉ shortly.

I thank the Minister for her reply and acknowledgement that, as Minister with responsibility for culture, she has a role when it comes to our national orchestras. I have in my hand a copy of the very expensive national development plan, strategy No. 7 of which references enhanced amenity and heritage and the value of cultural heritage but nothing more in this area. Given that the Government is spending at least €1.5 million in promoting the plan, I thought that by now Ministers would know off by heart what is included in it. The RTÉ orchestras are being slowly and steadily eviscerated by reducing player numbers. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra. In 1948 the strength of the orchestra was 62, which figure rose eventually to a height of 93 in the late 1980s. As I said earlier, its membership now stands at 68. I am sure that in her role the Minister attends the National Concert Hall and that as such she will be aware that 68 players do not constitute a full strength orchestra. Our young musicians are working around the world because they cannot find jobs at home. Many of them would love to come home.

Dee Forbes has stated the RTÉ internal review should be completed by the end of this month. RTÉ announced the review via a press release in November 2017. Its overall funding position is well known. It is incumbent on RTÉ to consider and assess its role in the provision of orchestral music into the future. In that context, the review will consider what current and future audiences want, how they will engage with us and how RTÉ's orchestral music will be heard in venues, on screens and radio across the country. There is a difference between the National Symphony Orchestra and the National Concert Orchestra in terms of size and audiences. It is a matter for RTÉ to decide whether it will maintain both orchestras. Officials of my Department met officials of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment on 12 January to discuss the issue. The Deputy will be aware that RTÉ has a statutory requirement to establish and maintain orchestras, choirs and other cultural performing groups. I look forward to reading the report. While I cannot anticipate what the outcome will be, I look forward to discussing matters further with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

One can kill something outright or one can have a slow strangulation and wearing down of a really important institution like the National Symphony Orchestra. Lots of small countries in Europe have four or five major symphony orchestras but the strength of our national orchestra has fallen to 68 players. A number of people have retired, others have left and a complete hold has been placed on recruiting new players. It is not that we lack musical talent in Ireland because we have many fantastic young musicians, qualified up to PhD level and beyond, who are now playing in orchestras and ensembles all over the world. It is not possible for them to come back home because the RTÉ symphony orchestra is not recruiting. That orchestra is a major source of employment for musicians and is vital to the musical heritage of this country.

I am delighted that the Minister has met the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, to discuss this matter. However, the Government has just launched a major report, part of which is about enhanced amenities and heritage. How come the word "culture" does not feature in the new national development plan? How come one of its objectives is not enhancing, maintaining, enabling and empowering our culture?

Deputy Burton mentioned the National Concert Hall, NCH, earlier and it is important to point out that the NCH is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. It held a celebratory event on 16 February last. The concert hall is home to RTÉ's National Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Choir Ireland, the Irish Baroque Orchestra, the Music Network and Music Generation and hosts approximately 1,000 events per annum. Its mission is to foster and celebrate the appreciation, knowledge, enjoyment and love of music as an integral part of Irish life.

I would also add that my Department provides funding to many different orchestras. In terms of music and ensuring that it is a vital part of cultural life in Ireland, my Department provides funding for the Cross Border Orchestra of Ireland and the Peace Proms, while Culture Ireland also funds music-----

What does Culture Ireland fund?

-----through its capital scheme-----

Culture Ireland is a propaganda outfit.

-----which saw a €245,000 increase this year.

RTÉ itself said in a press release that it is the primary custodian of symphonic and orchestral music in this country. It is the biggest employer of musicians and, ultimately, we hope that we will be able to work this out.