I propose to take Questions Nos. 79, 80 and 89 together.
On 7 January 2019, I received a letter signed by over 300 theatre practitioners. The letter raised the concerns of the practitioners about the direction taken by Abbey Theatre over the past two years. I would like to put on record the huge respect I have for the theatre practitioners who wrote to me and celebrate the extent and depth of the talent encompassed by the totality of the signatories.
While the correspondence from theatre practitioners raises concerns about the changing artistic model at the Abbey Theatre, I also understand that more positive outcomes arising from these changes have also been recognised.
I acknowledge the concerns raised by the practitioners while at the same time recognising the Abbey Theatre's need for artistic freedom to strike a balance in terms of its programming. I also recognise the necessity for a strong working relationship between theatres and theatre practitioners. This is vital for the continued success of theatre in this country. The Abbey Theatre and all theatre practitioners are a central part of our national culture and I take the concerns of the practitioners very seriously
I have been informed that the Abbey Theatre had already been aware of some of the concerns raised from the practitioners and they are actively working with stakeholder companies to address them. I am pleased to report that the Abbey is already making arrangements to meet with representatives of the signatories to discuss their concerns. In the meantime, I have written to both the theatre practitioners and the Abbey theatre on the issues raised last week.
It should also be noted that the Arts Council has been engaging with the Abbey Theatre in recent months about the employment opportunities and remuneration rates it provides for Irish based artists rates.
I welcome the commitment by all parties to dialogue and engagement and look forward to a mutually satisfactory outcome that will deliver the vision for a National Theatre at the heart of Irish society that is artist-led and audience-focused.
I am also pleased to be able to deliver additional supports to this sector in line with Government commitments. In Budget 2019, funding for the arts and culture sector increased by €22.6m to almost €190m which represents an increase of 14% on 2018. This funding comprises of €148.2m in current expenditure and €41.7m in capital investment. This includes an increase to the Arts Council funding by almost €6.8m or 10% to a total of €75m made up of €6m in current expenditure, which is more than double the increase in 2018.