Saturday 21 October 2017

Reform not an attack on arts

Madam -- On more than one occasion recently I've called for a calm and cool-headed debate about proposed reforms at our national cultural institutions. After reading Eamon Delaney's article (Sunday Independent, July 1, 2012) I knew that call had fallen on deaf ears in some quarters.

Mr Delaney's characterisation of Fine Gael and Labour as 'philistines' was most disingenuous. In response, I could list the ways in which Fine Gael and Labour -- together in Government and individually -- have supported the arts since the foundation of the State. Ways like supporting the Abbey Theatre, at a time of extreme economic circumstances in 1925, and beginning a tradition of State support for theatre. Ways like commissioning a major report on the state of the arts in late Forties' Ireland and then establishing the Arts Council in 1951, at the time one of only two such institutions in the world. Ways like reforming the legislation governing the Arts Council in 1973. Ways like amending the Finance Act in the Eighties to allow tax relief on contributions towards the advancement of the arts, introducing film tax relief, and bringing forward the 1997 Cultural Institutions Act. And, most importantly, ways like preserving -- to the maximum amount possible -- funding to the Arts Council and cultural institutions for 2012.

Given the economic challenge that this Government inherited, allocating approximately €110m to these important bodies was no mean feat. However, all of this is historic. What I want to do now is ensure that Ireland's national cultural institutions can optimise the funding they receive from the taxpayer and be equipped to deal with the range of challenges which will arise in the future. Part of that process is to encourage institutions to work in a more effective and efficient way, and to work more closely together where appropriate. This, to me, is common sense. Indeed, it is what Imma -- the board of which Mr Delaney is a member -- is doing very efficiently in its current collaboration at the National Concert Hall.

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