“Far too many wonderful words have been written about culture in Ireland and far too little has been done that has been sustainable”
– Joint Oireachtas Committee on Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs
I think its important to take a moment and review what last years Uplift petition and the lobbying and actions it provoked have achieved to date.
Last year – in June I think – Fianna Fail’s Niamh Smyth, in response to this petition, put down a motion and called a special debate in the Dail. In view of a packed visitors gallery various ministers spoke to the importance of Culture, Arts and Heritage and of course the majority voted against the motion. In the course of the debate we were assured by Minister Humphreys that the existing configuration of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs was ideal and no dedicated ministry was possible or desirable, and that additional funding would be made available as and when the economy improves.
Now, just over a year later we have a Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and a Taoiseach promising to double the funding to the Arts over the next seven years. Given the very low starting point doubling over a seven period is not a particularly ambitious target, but it is something we can measure progress against.
I’d call that a win. Well done.
However perhaps the most interesting development was the formation of The Joint Oireachtas committee by the Minister to consider the draft National Cultural Policy. As Niamh Smyth put it “A key concern expressed to me by many people is the need for cross party support for the forthcoming Culture 2025 policy. The Fianna Fáil motion will also call for this strategy to be considered, discussed and voted on by the Dáil before its formal adoption as the official policy of the state. With that in mind, I believe that the Minister should publish the strategy in draft form so that it can be discussed with invited stakeholders in an Oireachtas committee. Then, if necessary, it could be revised and enhanced by all parties. After that it could be fully debated in the Dáil”.
That committee published its response to the Draft National Cultural Policy earlier in the summer. Its a really, really interesting document that sets out a powerful vision for the Culture, Arts and Heritage Sectors, placing the cultural rights of ALL citizens (including artists) at the heart of its argument.
It has 42 recomendations that call for legislation to protect cultural rights, welfare and tax reform to support individual artists and diversify sources of funding, and practical reform in the way in which statutory funding is distributed and invested. Its by no means a perfect document but it is a very comprehensive redesign of the way in which the state views, supports and values creativity, culture, arts and heritage.
Unfortunately it was dismissed by a department official as no longer relevant. However, a joint oireachtas committe was set up by the Minister to listen to submissions from the sector, prepare a report and recommendations and have that report debated in the Dail so that a final draft of a National Culture Policy would be enacted.
I will most certainly be calling for a full debate on this in the Dáil. I think we deserve this.
“Art is not created by agencies, Government action, or policies. It is created by artists – by people who choose to devote their lives or a portion of their lives to creation of this cultural expression. This is their right”