Dáil Éireann - Volume 206 - 11 December, 1963

Committee on Finance. - Vote 13—An Chomhairle Ealaoín.

The Taoiseach: I move:

That a supplementary sum not exceeding £5,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1964, for a Grant (Grant-in-Aid) to An Chomhairle Ealaoín.

An Chomhairle Ealaoín were set up, as Deputies know, to promote a knowledge of, interest in, and higher standards in, the arts, and have in the past two years been in receipt of an annual grant of £30,000 from the Exchequer. Within their functions as defined in the Act which set them up, An Chomhairle Ealaoín have full discretion in regard to what activities and ventures they support and they spread their resources among the visual arts, music, drama and literature. The broad scope of these commitments limits the extent of the assistance they can give to any project and in particular makes it impossible to give any considerable sum to a new applicant.

Representations have recently been made that the Dublin Grand Opera Society was in difficulties and An Chomhairle Ealaoín, unable from their resources to come to the Society's aid, have advised the Government of their formal decision that in the event of their being granted a further £5,000 from the Exchequer, the additional amount would be made available to the Society. This Supplementary Estimate, if agreed, will enable them to give effect to that intention. The Dublin Grand Opera Society has been in existence for over 30 years. It is a voluntary body dependent, in the first instance, on the subscriptions of its members and on its receipts from performances. These have always been inadequate to meet the expense [1124] involved in bringing singers of international status for a season in Dublin and have had to be supplemented in other ways, including limited guarantees from some private firms and individuals. An Chomhairle Ealaoín have given various grants against losses in the past and last year they gave an exceptional £2,000. Bord Fáilte have also made similar grants available but because the tourist appeal of the Society's activities is limited, these grants have not been large. The Society's largest single source of income has been the substantial subvention given by the Italian Government towards the expenses of its Spring Season. It is invidious that opera in Dublin should depend so heavily on outside goodwill and the Government have accordingly thought it proper to put An Chomhairle Ealaoín, who already aid musical ventures throughout the country—including the Wexford Festival and the Waterford Grand Opera Society—in a position to come to the aid of the Society, which is the mainstay of opera in Dublin, I accordingly commend the Supplementary Estimate to the favourable consideration of the House.

Mr. Barry: The purpose of the supplementary grant is an excellent one and I do not think the House will have any hesitation in approving of it because this is the kind of thing we want to see the Council doing and this is the kind of departure we want to see. I hope that every year they will find their budget is not enough and that they will have to come to us for these funds.

Mr. J.A. Costello: I want to say a few words on this Supplementary Estimate with reference to the report of the Council which has just been published. What I have to say about the report deals rather with what is not in the report than what is in it. The report is very attractively designed and turned out, but, in essence, it is a detailed list of all the activities of the Council during the period 1962-63 and is rather in the nature of a catalogue than what I would regard as a report of its activities. What is not in [1125] the report seems to me to emerge quite clearly from that list because what appears to emerge at the end of the list is: “What could we not have done if we had some more money?” At the beginning of the year, the Council started with the rather surprising sum of £9,556 7s. 7d. and I am glad to see that they ended the year with only £1,500 odd. Those two figures might possibly belie the remarks I have made about what the report leaves unsaid. When you look at what has been done, it appears to be nothing but a rather long, wearisome list of various activities, giving no indication as to what the results of all the activities have been. That is a notable omission from this report.

There were hopes when the Act setting up the Arts Council was passed that this Council would have a very profound, widespread and far-reaching effect, particularly on the visual arts and on design in industry. To me, at all events, being somewhat responsible for the Bill which subsequently became an Act, I had hoped that this Council would achieve striking results in industrial progress, in the application of art to industry and particularly to design. I hope in some early report the Council will take a look at the past 12 years during which it has been in operation and give some indication of what progress it has made, where it has failed, and if it has failed, why it has failed. I would have liked to have seen that done in the report. After a dozen years, we are entitled to expect from the Council, and I think we would get from the present Director of the Council, a very comprehensive and a very useful and informative report in retrospect of the work of the Council for the past 12 years: where they have been going, where they have got to and what is their future.

We have got to the stage now where it would be very useful if the Director would give us that review and say what his hopes are and the prospect for his designs and plans for the future. We have, as I said, a list but apart from a general impression that the Council have been doing useful work, [1126] I can get no indication as to what real impact is being made on the artistic life of the country. Are our artists being encouraged by the efforts of the Arts Council? I commend those efforts to the Dáil and to the Council. They did start a scheme, referred to in the report, for the purchase of works of art, pictures by Irish artists, with a view to their sale to various public bodies, hotels and other institutions of that kind.

I notice from the report that during the year 63 paintings of Irish artists were purchased by the Council. Those were available at half-price to public bodies and other institutions. It is regrettable that of those 63 only 37 were purchased by the beneficiaries on whose behalf the money is being spent. That requires explanation. Here is a scheme financed by the Council and the bodies who should give a lead, such as the hotels who advertise abroad to attract tourists here, should be in there first to give encouragement to our Irish artists. We have the talent here—I have always held that—and perhaps sometimes we produce one or two geniuses. We have the talent and it is our duty to give encouragement and hope to our young artists that there will be some living to be made out of one of the greatest gifts that can be given to man. There is a comment to be made that so very few works were purchased by these particular bodies whose duty it is to give the lead and to give encouragement and hope.

There are many matters in this report to which I should like to refer but I would concentrate on the final section under the heading “Other Activities”. It is noticeable that in the year under review, 1962-63, the Council has been much more active, judging by the lists, than in the previous year, but again they merely give a sort of indication of what they have been doing instead of giving in some detail an account of each of the activities, the purpose of these activities, and what they think they have achieved, if any.

The first part deals with the recommendation or advice which they gave to the Taoiseach in relation to the desirability of the immediate implementation [1127] of the Scandinavian design report. That report was a very vital one from the point of view of the application of art to industry in this country. I have repeated in this House my view, which I still hold very strongly, that it is good business for this country to get the best possible advice from anybody in the world at almost any price so that our design in industry can be bettered, so that the design for our output can be made so distinctive of this country, so different from the design and output of any other country in the world, that we would be able to sell in competition with every other country in the world at good prices.

Until we produce something of outstanding design, something that will be regarded as of Irish culture and Irish art, we will go very little distance indeed. It is well known that Waterford glass is in great demand in foreign markets but even there, there is great room for improvement in design. I think that even they can learn that there is something to be achieved by good design. I do not think they should be content with giving modern copies or replicas of old Waterford glass. I think that Cork glass is now almost unprocurable and that we have almost gone out of the designs known to those people engaged in that industry. If we get a distinctive design recognised as Irish, we will sell our goods abroad in a competitive market at good prices, not because they are Irish but because they are of good artistic design. Added to that, the fact that they have come from Ireland will be better than any amount of money spent on advertising, promotion work or public relations officers.

I should have thought that the Council should have published that advice given to the Taoiseach. I think it is proper both from the point of view of those who gave the advice and the point of view of the public that the advice and recommendations given should be brought to the public notice, either immediately or after the lapse of a year or two. It is desirable that the public should know the advice given by the Arts Council to the Taoiseach [1128] with reference to the desirability of the immediate implementation of the Scandinavian design report.

It is to be noticed that in the previous year no such reference was made to that. We may take it from that that this was the only advice or recommendation made to the Taoiseach. It is a vital matter of public importance that we should know what is being done about that, whether what is being done is in accordance with the recommendation and, if not, what are the reasons why it is not. I make this comment not by way of criticism of the Council's report but to put a suggestion to them for the future that instead of their report being in the form of a catalogue or list, they should give not merely some indication of what was done, but some short account of the purpose of such activity, what the result was, what was hoped to be achieved and what was achieved.

The next item in the list is the recommendation by the Council to the Minister for Education in connection with the inadequacy of the teaching of art in the schools. This is a matter of vital importance to the education authorities, to the children and generally to our hopes for the furtherance of artistic talent in reference to design in the country. What is being done on that recommendation? What was the recommendation? If it has not been attended to, what are the reasons? It is not by way of criticism that I make these points but it is proper that we should know what the recommendations were. If the authorities carried out the recommendations, it is all right: we will know something is being done. If they do not, let us know the reason why.

It would be proper in this report for the Council to say what recommendations they did make. There is nothing privileged about it. It is the duty and it is the function of the Arts Council to be completely independent of Government Departments. If they have not got that independence, you will not get proper advice. You will not get courageous advice. You will not have that stirring of the waters so necessary to produce results.

There is a small point of little importance [1129] perhaps except in so far as it impinges upon the tourists who come in here. There is an item advice to Bord Fáilte Éireann in connection with the design of a poster for display at Glendalough and of plaques for erection at historical sites and monuments. That is a matter of some importance from the point of view of the tourist industry. For many years, we were afflicted with the miserable trivialities of our tourist advertising. Sometimes it descended to the lowest depths, to the caubeen and the shillelagh, not to speak of the leprechaun.

I should have hoped that the Arts Council would have long since exorcised that sort of spirit which appears to be still permeating some sections of the United States. I should like to know what this advice was and what caused the Council to give the advice. Was it because they objected to some of the inartistic activities of Bord Fáilte Éireann, or what was the reason? The very fact that we do not know what the reason was, what recommendation was made, or whether it was carried out, gives rise to suspicion that there was something wrong and that Bord Fáilte Éireann said: “These fellows are too highfalutin' for us. We know our job. We have got to sell this country”—to use the modern jargon—“to the tourists abroad, particularly the Americans, and we know what is wanted.” I hope that is not the reason, but, until we know the reason, there are liable to be certain suspicions.

Our old friend Córas Iompair Éireann also got a bit of advice. The Chairman of Córas Iompair Éireann is on the Arts Council so he was really advising himself about bus shelters. All I can say about the advice is that there is no apparent improvement in the design of the bus shelters either in the city of Dublin, or elsewhere, as a result of the advice by the Arts Council to Córas Iompair Éireann. There, again, we do not know what motivated it, but anybody who looks at these shelters just shudders when they pass them by; they are an indignity on our capital city.

The Arts Council also gave advice [1130] to Nítrigin Éireann in connection with the proposed factory at Arklow. What was that advice? Did anybody take any notice of it? I know one factory —I shall not mention any names— which was told the design of their goods was very bad. They said it was good enough for them because, with the protection of the tariff, they were able to sell to the Irish people. I hope that mental attitude does not still persist.

Again, we have the Royal Dublin Society in relation to Art teaching and the inadequacy of the amounts of the Taylor Scholarship, and other awards administered by the Society, to attract competition among young artists. The Royal Dublin Society are certainly a very progressive institution and I have no doubt they would be open to advice from the Arts Council and prepared to implement that advice. I do not think they would be backward in asking the Arts Council for a grant if it were a question of money. But we do not know why this was done. We do not know the effect of it. There should be a little more detail and information under each of these headings and under the heading of “Other Activities” in this report.

In the last item, they refer to their efforts to get the Government to have something like a national art annuities fund to be administered by the council, for the purpose of providing annuities for creative workers of outstanding distinction in the arts, advanced in years and, by reason of ill-health, unable to fend properly for themselves. An approach was made to the Government for financial aid in order to enable the fund to be established. What was done as a result of that? I sincerely sympathise with the Taoiseach in connection with anything like a Civil List or the establishment of this new fund, of which I never heard before. If that were founded, it would be outside the objections that could be made to an ordinary Civil List on the lines of the British Civil List. If it were confined, as is apparently intended here, to providing annuities for creative workers of outstanding distinction in the arts, advanced in years and, by reason of ill-health, unable to fend properly for [1131] themselves, then it would be an excellent idea.

I know the Taoiseach is overwhelmed with applications for grants for this, that, and the other. Consider what this Council has. It has only £30,000 after 12 years in existence. That is the merest drop in the ocean. That is a fleabite compared with expenditure on public services. It is the merest fleabite compared with the amount spent by France, Italy, Germany, the Scandinavian countries on the various arts, creating a feeling amongst artists that they are wanted, that they are needed, that they are a very useful and essential cog in the industrial machine.

I recommend this matter to the sympathetic consideration of the Taoiseach. What is important is what has been left unsaid rather than what has been said. What is pinpointed is the lack of the necessary funds to do the things that should be done. The final comment in the report is “Many proposals for artistic activities and applications for financial assistance, although sympathetically considered by the Council, could not be brought to a conclusion either because of lack of funds or for other reasons”. I appreciate the fact that there are all sorts of useful activities and all sorts of people doing artistic work in the country who are deserving of funds but who cannot get them at present. I believe there are priorities in this as in everything else. I believe there should be a fairly substantial addition to the amount of money given to the Arts Council and they should be encouraged to do everything they can to ameliorate the position in industry and bring about a position in which we can hope in the not too distant future that there will be a great concentration of effort to apply the principles of the visual and other arts to industry and, in particular, to get the very best designs for our products.

The Taoiseach: I should point out the technical fact that what I moved here today was a Supplementary Estimate and not the Main Estimate for the year. Because the Main Estimate was passed with a number of others, [1132] without discussion, earlier in the year we have not had an opportunity of discussing the Main Estimate.

Mr. J.A Costello: I must apologise if I trespassed on the rules of order, but I thought this was a device to enable me to say a few words.

The Taoiseach: I raised no point of order when the Deputy was speaking. The purpose of this Supplementary Estimate is to enable An Chomhairle Ealaoín to give £5,000 to the Dublin Grand Opera Society.

I should like to make a few observations on Deputy Costello's remarks. The Deputy asked the question: “Have the Arts Council failed?” I do not think it would be fair to suggest failure in connection with the Comhairle. They have a job to do with very limited resources. In a field of this kind, where there are a number of artistic efforts one would like to support, it is not possible to provide funds on the scale that certain art lovers would like the Government to do or which the Arts Council themselves would like to have. I want to make it quite clear, in case there is any misunderstanding about it, that I am not holding out any prospect of an increased grant-in-aid next year either. I am quite certain that, when we come to the preparation of the Budget, all expenditure there will be pruned very drastically. But, within the limit of the resources given to them, they have been able to give quite useful support to organisations and individuals concerned with the development of one or other of the Arts.

By my decision, the primary responsibility for the promotion, development, encouragement and improvement of industrial design was transferred from An Comhairle to Córas Tráchtála. When I came to examine the reason why so little progress had been made in this matter, I came to the conclusion it had been initially a mistake to have associated industrial design with art rather than with trade promotion. Indeed, the awakening of interest in industrial design and the tremendous improvement made in this regard in recent years must be largely attributive to the success of Córas Tráchtála in [1133] getting it understood that this was not so much a matter of art and national pride as a matter of sound business.

The Scandinavian report, referred to by Deputy Costello, was commissioned by Córas Tráchtála. On getting that report, the Government decided to give to the Minister for Education the specific function of considering the recommendations therein and acting upon such of these recommendations as were approved. A number of measures were taken by the Minister in that regard, which were communicated to the House during the year.

The Deputy referred to the list given in the Comhairle's report regarding the advice offered to the Government, to individual Ministers or to State boards in specific matters. One of the functions of the Comhairle is to give advice in these matters, either on their own initiative or when requested. In some of the cases mentioned in the report, the Comhairle gave advice because they were asked for it. Bord Fáilte asked for advice regarding the design of commemorative plaques and posters; CIE asked for advice in the design for bus shelters; and the Department of Posts and Telegraphs asked for advice on the design of a stamp. These were specific problems of artistic content in which an individual Minister or State board asked for the advice of the Comhairle, just as we have asked them to advise us on the form of a memorial to the late President Kennedy. In other cases, the Comhairle gave advice on their own initiative. They are entitled to do that, although I did not always agree with it.

Mr. A. Barry: They should be encouraged to do so.

The Taoiseach: They are. Sometimes I felt they were wandering a bit outside their particular field. I hope some day it may be possible to increase the grant-in-aid to the Comhairle. It was increased a couple of years ago from £20,000 to £30,000. This additional £5,000 can hardly count as an increase since it is already earmarked for a specific purpose. In future, I hope it may be possible to add to it. However, I am certain that, [1134] no matter what the amount is, there will always be some possibility for expenditure beyond that. All we can say to the Comhairle is: “Within the limit of the functions given to you in the Act, do the best you can with the money we are making available to you.”

Mr. A. Barry: When does the Taoiseach expect to bring in the main Estimate?

The Taoiseach: It is there on that list. I expect we will be into next year's Estimates before we get through this year's.

Vote put and agreed to.