Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Ceisteanna (45)

Joan Burton

Ceist:

45. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht further to Parliamentary Question No. 101 of 2 October 2018, if she will report on the ongoing working group to undertake the transfer of the National Symphony Orchestra from RTÉ to the National Concert Hall; the representation musicians and employees of each orchestra have on the working group; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1582/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (10 contributions) (Ceist ar Culture)

I understand that a working group is to undertake the transfer of the National Symphony Orchestra from the direct control of RTÉ to that of the National Concert Hall. What representation do musicians or other members of the orchestra have on that working group? How is the move progressing? When is it proposed that it will take place?

Following the publication of a report commissioned by RTÉ from independent consultants Helen Boaden and Mediatique on the RTÉ orchestras - RTÉ Orchestras: Ensuring a Sustainable Future - the Government agreed in principle that the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra should come within the remit of the National Concert Hall. It also authorised the initiation of discussions on the implementation of the recommendations of the report.

The overall aim of the Government decision in regard to the proposed transfer of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra is to enable it to be established as a world class orchestra which, with the National Concert Hall, would provide a creative and imaginative programme strategy that would greatly enhance the offering of the combined organisation to the public. The process offers a welcome opportunity to plan a way forward for the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and ensures that they can contribute fully to Ireland’s rich cultural heritage.

As the Deputy stated, an oversight group and working group have been established with formal terms of reference and with a view to identifying and addressing the relevant issues to enable the successful transfer of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra from the remit of RTÉ to that of the National Concert Hall. The terms of reference of the oversight group provide that the group will be chaired by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and constitute representatives of that Department, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, RTÉ and the National Concert Hall. The terms of reference of the working group provide that its membership may vary depending on the nature of the issue being discussed and that it will report to the oversight group.

The oversight group has met on a number of occasions, most recently on 8 January, and has agreed on the importance of a proper communication process between the oversight and working groups and representatives, members and support staff of the National Symphony Orchestra in order to ensure that the orchestra is informed on a timely basis about all aspects of the proposed transfer and can input to the process. In this regard, it is intended that a meeting will be arranged shortly between the working group and union representatives of the National Symphony Orchestra to update them on developments to date.

I thank the Minister for her reply. However, the question I asked - and which she failed to answer - relates to whether any of the working musicians or others in the orchestras are represented on the working group or the oversight group. The Minister waxed lyrical in reply to previous questions from Fine Gael backbenchers. The orchestras are a great national cultural treasure for Ireland. Musicians in the orchestras are paid at living wage and union wage rates. Earlier, I asked the Minister about the many people in the arts who are on very low rates of pay - below the minimum wage - and who are unable to afford housing due to the meagre remuneration they receive. The orchestras are very important in terms of the calibre of their artistic merit and the fact that they provide regular, secure employment that is paid at a good rate. Are any of the musicians represented on either of the groups?

I appreciate the Deputy's question. I will take it as a compliment that I have been waxing lyrical in my replies to Fine Gael backbenchers.

The Minister's reply could have been set to music.

I hope to do the same in reply to Deputy Burton. As stated, the oversight group may task working groups to report on specific issues as the need arises. These groups may include members of the oversight group together with other individuals as appropriate. Working groups may be tasked to: design and make recommendations on the appropriate process for the transfer of the National Symphony Orchestra from RTÉ to the National Concert Hall; identify which staff to transfer in accordance with the rules governing the transfer of undertakings; formally engage and consult the employees of the National Symphony Orchestra, as the Deputy mentioned; finalise the costs involved in the transfer, having regard to the recommendations in the report; and identify any existing central corporate supports provided by RTÉ and not subject to transfer, and the costs thereof. The membership of the group may vary depending on the nature of the issue under discussion. All working groups will report to the oversight group. I am satisfied that all parties are represented and that all stakeholders and relevant persons are being engaged in the process.

That is what is outlined in the written statement in front of the Minister. What is the representation of musicians and employees of each of the orchestras on the working and oversight groups? Either there are musicians from the orchestras on the working group or there are not. I acknowledge the Minister's comment to the effect that the membership of the working group may vary. If no musicians are on it, I ask her to vary that membership in order to include representatives of the artists and musicians as soon as possible. Their artistry has made the orchestras what they are. I ask the Minister to provide me with the names of those on the working groups in order that we can find out whether musicians are represented in this very important undertaking for the future of orchestral music in Ireland.

I can only answer the question in so many ways. I stated that the oversight group may task working groups to report on specific issues as the need arises and that the make-up of the working group will depend on the issue that is being discussed. It is impossible to say at any given point who is sitting on a particular working group. If the Deputy wishes to have further information, I will provide it.

The oversight group is to meet on 5 February. It has discussed many issues such as funding arrangements, communication, engagement with stakeholders, legal issues and a shared vision of the future. Significant progress has been made on the terms of reference of the oversight group and the composition of the working groups and how they will work. Ultimately, it is for the oversight group, on which all stakeholders are represented, to determine the make-up of each individual working group.

The Minister does not know whether there are musicians on this very important working group. She does not have a clue.

I strongly resent that personal accusation.