'Luvvies' convinced Cowen to keep Arts ministry
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen backed off a recommendation to scrap the Department of Arts after a concerted campaign by "the luvvies" in the arts community.
Those enlisted in the fight against the recommendation of the Bord Snip Nua group, headed by economist Colm McCarthy, included actors Gabriel Byrne and Brendan Gleeson, film director Neil Jordan, and writers Roddy Doyle, Sebastian Barry and Colum McCarthy.
The inspiration for this was the National Campaign for the Arts (NCFA), which was set up to challenge the Bord Snip Nua report last September and became an umbrella group representing around 20,000 people working in film, music theatre, visual arts and community arts.
Its spokesman Gerry Godley said the recruitment of major stars like Mr Byrne had been very influential in the campaign to keep Arts at the cabinet table.
"There's no doubt it was an enormous asset to be able to call on artists of the calibre we've been able to call on to speak up on behalf of what the arts meant," he said.
Mr Byrne was a key member of the delegation which appeared before the Oireachtas Arts committee last October to emphasise the cultural and economic value of the arts.
And Mr Cowen subsequently announced that Mr Byrne was being appointed as a cultural ambassador for Ireland during his St Patrick's Day visit to the USA, in what was seen within the arts community as a highly significant move.
Mr Godley pointed out that scrapping the Department of Arts would have left Ireland as the only country in the EU without an Arts Minister.
"It's very heartening that despite everything as a society, we still want to listen to our artists and feel they have something credible to say," he said.
Mr Cowen also decided to substantially preserve the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, which was also recommended for abolition by an Bord Snip Nua. Fianna Fail Galway East TD Noel Treacy said this was due to the firm backing for the department at Fianna Fail parliamentary party meetings .
"It had played a key role in sustaining and enhancing rural life and we wanted to maintain that," he said.