National Cultural Institutions (Private Members’ Motion)
As a Deputy for Galway I know at first hand of the positive impact the arts and culture sectors have on our communities and our country. Galway is fortunate to have some of Ireland’s best known festivals and arts organisations, including the Galway Arts Festival, the Clifden Arts Festival, the Galway Film Fleadh, the Cúirt International Festival of Literature, the Baboró International Arts Festival for Children, the Druid Theatre Company, Macnas and Fíbín Teoranta as well as the top-class Galway City Museum and countless other groups. These organisations not only boost our economy by providing employment and attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors, but they enrich our communities and protect and promote our linguistic and cultural heritage.
Galway is closely associated with the arts and has a reputation as an artistic centre. One need only walk down Shop Street on a summer’s day to see the buskers and street artists entertaining the crowds of tourists. The Clifden Arts Festival, officially opened last year by the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, will hold its 35th festival on 29-30 September and everyone in the House is welcome to a wonderful ten days in Clifden and Connemara. The world famous Galway Arts Festival runs this year from 16-29 July followed by the wonderful Galway Races. This is the line-up for a summer and autumn of culture and sport in Galway, all of which is preceded by the final of the Volvo Ocean Race beginning this weekend. The arts is concerned with identity. It stimulates debate, encourages exploration, showcases our nation on the world stage and informs our actions on many other levels, including policy formulation.
One example of this is Galway playwright Tom Murphy whose works are currently being staged by the Abbey Theatre and in Galway and London by the Galway-based Druid Theatre Company. Many of the Murphy’s plays, including “The House” are concerned with emigration and its effects on communities, those who left and those who stayed, and on Irish identity. Although “The House” concentrates on emigration, it also encourages us to reflect on the effects of domestic violence through a minor sub-plot. It exemplifies the power of the arts to prompt debate and inspire action in a way no official publicity campaign could.
Naturally, the arts and cultural sectors cannot be treated separately in the context of our financial difficulties. Almost all areas of spending must be examined and savings must be realised if we are to reduce our deficit. The Fianna Fáil Party motion refers to its investment in the sectors between 2005 and 2010 but it ignores the reality of 2009 and 2010 when significant cuts were implemented. For example, the grants for the National Archives and National Library of Ireland are specifically referred to in the motion but they were cut by 16% and 13% respectively. This was matched by a cut of 18% in the allocation for the National Museum of Ireland and a 48% cut in the cultural infrastructure budget in 2010. Had better management of the public finances taken place during the past decade it is doubtful whether such cuts would have been necessary. The creation of separate boards of directors for various State-supported organisations such as the National Museum and the National Library of Ireland is also open to question.
A balanced approach in terms of reviewing the financial support from the State is important. It is encouraging to note that the public service reform plan adopted by the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, is based on liaising and consulting with the various organisations, on meeting collectively and individually and on examining not the content or artistic approach but the models of administration, management and governance. I welcome this approach.