Thursday, 19 September 2019

Ceisteanna (1)

Niamh Smyth


1. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her budget priorities for budget 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38133/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (8 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Culture)

I will begin by wishing everybody involved in Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture the best of luck. I am aware that the Minister, Deputy Madigan, was in Eyre Square last night for the launch. It was wonderful to see RTÉ coverage of the thousands of people who turned out for the launch of what will be a very exciting year ahead for the European capital of culture. I wish Patricia Philbin, CEO, and all her team the very best of luck with all that. We look forward to perhaps having them in Leinster House to give us a briefing in the near future.

Will the Minister outline her budget priorities for her Department in budget 2020 and make a statement on the matter?

I thank the Deputy for her good wishes for Galway 2020. Last night's launch was a great success. I am sure it is a taste of things to come.

The overall spending allocations for my Department for 2020 will be announced as part of budget Estimates 2020, which is due to be published on Tuesday, 8 October. As budgetary negotiations are ongoing I am not in a position to comment in detail on my Department's 2020 budget allocation. My colleague, the Minister for Finance, has recently announced that the budget will be based on the assumption of a no-deal Brexit. Against that background, my Department will, within the resources available in 2020, continue to place emphasis on core functions and services, including measures to maintain the momentum created across the arts and culture sphere by initiatives funded by, or through, my Department, consistent with the Taoiseach's commitment to double the funding to the sector by 2025. This allows my Department to build on the increased funding received in the 2019 budget, which was 10% in respect of the Arts Council, 11% in respect of Screen Ireland, 19% in respect of Creative Ireland and more than €2 million in additional funding secured for our national cultural institutions which welcome more than 3.5 million visitors annually. We will also continue to conserve and manage our heritage as a support to economic renewal and sustainable employment, in compliance with legal obligations, and to conserve and restore biodiversity and ecosystems in Ireland to focus on the environment. Measures will also further advance the statutory demand-led language planning process and ensure continued access to our islands.

My Department will continue to promote North-South co-operation, particularly in the context of An Foras Teanga and Waterways Ireland. We will also continue to focus on Project Ireland 2040, which gave explicit recognition to the importance of our culture, language and heritage for our sustainable development over the next decade and beyond. This recognition is underpinned by the commitment from Government to invest almost €1.2 billion in our culture, language and heritage over the ten-year implementation of the national development plan. Project Ireland 2040 provides for an investment of €460 million in the national cultural institutions, €265 million for a culture and creativity investment programme, €285 million in our natural and built heritage and €178 million to support and protect the Irish language, Gaeltacht communities and communities on our offshore islands.

With Brexit coming down the tracks, I appreciate that it is incumbent on all of us to be prudent but artists are a huge asset to us nationally and should be treasured. We should put our money where our mouths are and invest in artists. Budget 2018 was a dismal budget for the arts sector but budget 2019 represented a significant improvement on that. There was, however, one major issue, which was the disconnect between the increase in funding for capital expenditure, which was a 39% increase, and the increase in current expenditure, which was a mere 6%. At the time, I raised the point that the Government policy on arts and culture was focused on capital projects with little investment for the artists and their work. Will the Minister assure the House that budget 2020 will at least put the artist at the centre of its budget demands?

Has the Minister sought to develop any policy, funding or employment framework that would help to improve artists' pay and conditions, including access to and support of benefits? There is little point in having our galleries and stages without the artists or actors to exhibit or perform. In January the Theatre Forum review of artists' pay and conditions was published. While not surprising, the findings were nonetheless depressing. I believe that the opportunity and time has come to ensure our artists at least have an opportunity to have a sustainable income.

The Deputy referred to a 6% increase in current expenditure but it was actually 7%, from €248.659 million to €265.159 million. The Deputy also mentioned a 39% increase in capital expenditure but it was actually a 36% increase. It went from €54.3 million to €73.8 million. There was a significant increase there. The gross Vote allocation for 2019 was just under €339 million, which is an increase of 12% on the 2018 Estimate. Of this allocation, €73.8 million was capital funds and €265.1 million was current expenditure.

On the artists, it is fair to say that there was a significant difference between 2018 and 2019, which the Deputy acknowledged in her question. We increased funding to the Arts Council by 10%, from €68 million to €75 million. The Arts Council is ultimately tasked with looking after the artists on the ground. We have also had many other significant projects this year such as the Per Cent for Art scheme and the extension of the package for social welfare. The Government is committed to helping the artists. I will do everything I can to secure as much as I can for the artists in this budget.

The review carried out by Theatre Forum found that 30% of performing artists earn less than the national minimum wage of €9.55 per hour that applied in 2018 due, in part, to the fact that 83% of performing artists are paid a flat fee regardless of the hours they work. While it has been the accepted that that is the nature of their work, it is unacceptable that we would expect artists who operate in one of the most important industries for which we laud ourselves in terms of how it can be used to promote Ireland globally to work for €9.55 per hour, which is less than the current minimum wage.

Budget 2019 provided an increase in funding to the Arts Council of €7 million more than the amount provided in budget 2018. The current level of funding, at €75 million, still lags significantly behind the 2008 level of €82 million. For the Government to fund the arts at the European norm, it would have to allocate in the region of five times that amount. This same adjustment would have to be made to all public arts schemes to ensure that the support reached European norms. This is what we should be aiming for.

The article by Olivia Kelly in today's edition of The Irish Times, which suggests that people are to be banned from selling their work on Merrion Square next summer, is distressing for artists. These individuals are trying to make a living, the exact topic we are discussing now, and they have been selling their work on Merrion Square for the past 35 years. According to Ms Elizabeth Prendergast, artist and secretary of Merrion Square Artists Association, this decision will be catastrophic for artists who, as I have already noted, are trying to earn a living.

With respect to the Deputy, Fianna Fáil is no position to lecture the Government on funding for the arts or artists' pay and conditions.

I have read into the record the level of funding that was available in 2008.

Between 2001 and 2008, Fianna Fáil cut funding for the arts from €206 million to €139 million, a significant reduction of €67 million or 33%. Taking budget 2019 into account, there has been a 37% increase in arts funding since 2011. Unlike the unsustainable spending of Fianna Fáil when in government, including in respect of the arts, current funding is sustainable and is based on the sound management of public finances by Fine Gael-led Governments since 2012.

On the Deputy's comments regarding artists, as I mentioned earlier and as she acknowledged in her initial remarks, the Arts Council received a significant increase in funding last year. I will do my best in my negotiations with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, to secure a further increase this year, bearing in mind the parameters and difficulties of Brexit.

I also mentioned earlier that there had been a significant increase in funding for Screen Ireland. The Deputy mentioned Galway 2020. We provided €6 million in funding for it. We have also provided funding for the national cultural institutions and Creative Ireland. The Government and I will continue to do everything possible to support arts and culture.