Seanad Éireann - Volume 154 - 31 March, 1998

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Powers and Functions) Bill, 1997: Committee and Remaining Stages.

[1314] Sections 1 to 4, inclusive, agreed to.

SECTION 5

Mr. Gallagher: I move amendment No. 1:

In page 5, subsection (1), line 4, to delete “It” and substitute “Subject to compliance with any legal requirement in that behalf, it”.

This amendment gives the Minister various functions, for example, to demolish buildings. It seeks to ensure that it will be crystal clear in the legislation that these powers will be exercised in line with all legal requirements such as planning permission. The Minister will be more familiar than I with the controversy that arose in relation to developments by the Office of Public Works at Mullaghmore which culminated in a revision of planning law by the Fianna Fáil/Labour Government. While the Minister may say that all powers under the legislation will have to be carried out in accordance with the law, I think the reading and implementation of this Bill would be improved if it were specifically stated that the powers were subject to compliance with any legal requirements, as outlined in my amendment.

Mr. McDonagh: I support the amendment. I reiterate that we should ensure controversies like the one at Mullaghmore never arise again. It is vitally important that the planning process is brought to the fore regardless of who is applying for planning permission.

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera): I cannot accept the amendment although I understand the concerns expressed by Senators Gallagher and McDonagh. I am advised by the Attorney General's Office that the wording of the subsection, as drafted, is correct.

Amendment put and declared lost.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 related and may be taken together by agreement.

Mr. Gallagher: I move amendment No. 2:

In page 5, between lines 36 and 37, to insert the following subsection:

“(2) In providing financial assistance under subsection (1)(d) or otherwise to the Arts Council, the Minister shall determine the amount of such assistance as shall be expended by the Arts Council for the sole purpose of grant-aiding the Irish Museum of Modern Art Company, the National Concert Hall Company and the National Theatre Society Limited.”.

[1315] This amendment proposes that funding for the three national cultural institutions relating to the arts be ring-fenced. As these are national institutions it is important that the Minister take a direct interest in determining the funding to be made available to them. I can foresee an element of conflict and competition arising if they are simply incorporated under the Arts Council. Other national groups and groups at local level sometimes feel too much money is allocated by the Arts Council to institutions in Dublin. While these institutions are situated in Dublin they are national institutions providing a very important national service. It would be better to state that these national institutions — as with national institutions in other areas of culture, such as the National Museum and the National Library — will have their allocations determined by the Minister. The Arts Council is then free to proceed with its determination of arts funding for other organisations operating at both local and national level. I believe this would streamline the allocation process and reduce or eliminate the possibility of competition or sniping between other organisations and these very important national ones.

Mr. McDonagh: I support this amendment. Senator Gallagher has made a very important and pertinent point. If this particular area of funding was ring-fenced and clearly defined it would leave other funding devoid of controversy. I am a member of an arts committee under the auspices of Galway County Council. We sometimes feel, as Senator Gallagher has outlined, that we are given limited funding. Many people decry the amount of funding available for brass bands, the St. Patrick Day parades, pantomimes, arts festivals, drama festivals, the Galway Arts Festival and the Clifden Festival. If there was a clear distinction, as outlined in the amendment, it would take away the belief of many agencies, which are so deserving of funding, that they are not getting a fair crack of the whip. If the allocation of this funding were clearly defined it would lead to less controversy when other funding comes on stream.

Mr. Gallagher: In relation to amendment No. 3, there is a feeling in both national and local dance companies that they are not getting the support they should from the Arts Council. It is unfortunate that dance is not mentioned in existing legislation as an art. I find it difficult to understand how that could be given the importance of dance in various aspects of Irish culture. What I am attempting to do — although perhaps not the most perfect means — is to provide in legislation greater support for funding for dance.

In relation to my proposal to include creative communication and sign language, the report of the Council on the Status of People with Disabilities recommended that arts for the disabled be given greater recognition. I am informed that it is unclear whether current legislation empowers [1316] funding for a number of aspects of art involving people with disabilities. My amendment seeks to specify creative communication and sign language in an effort to try to address some of the deficiencies and ensure this area is properly recognised in law as a legitimate beneficiary of public funding.

Mr. McDonagh: Senator Gallagher is to be commended for tabling this amendment. In my capacity as adult education organiser for County Galway VEC I attended a conference in Maynooth on the importance of sign language. It brought home to me and those attending the importance of communication, something people with hearing and speech often take for granted. It is important that every assistance be given to these people. In recent times I became aware of a family with eight children who have hearing and speech difficulties. What is being proposed by Senator Gallagher is that proper and adequate funding be provided to meet those type of cases. Often those people have great talent which can be expressed through dance or the arts. The vocational training opportunity schemes provide opportunities for those people through the performing arts groups to get involved in this type of activity. I am glad the National Council for Vocational Awards has accepted the importance of dance and the performing arts and is providing certification in the area of creative communication.

This is a fair and important amendment which could have a profound effect on many people and I appeal to the Minister to respond to it in a positive vein. I strongly support this amendment.

Miss de Valera: I cannot accept amendment No. 2. I am reviewing the funding arrangements for the National Concert Hall, the National Museum of Modern Art and the National Theatre Society Limited. It would be premature, therefore, to make provision in legislation as proposed at this time. I am undecided as to the efficiency and relevance of the new funding arrangements for the National Theatre Society Limited, the National Concert Hall and IMA which were introduced by my predecessor, Deputy Higgins. I am, however, aware that the National Concert Hall and IMA have never been entirely happy with them.

On amendment No. 3, I assure the House that I have a particular interest in art for those who are disabled. I have made it known that I hope the extra moneys given to the Arts Council by my Department to ensure the arts plan could be completed by the end of this year, a year ahead of schedule taking the last Government's time-table, will place emphasis on the question of regionalisation for the arts, the disabled and the Irish language. I am strongly in favour of access and participation for all for the arts but I cannot accept amendment No. 3 because this is a matter properly within the competence of the Arts Council which may, at its discretion, provide [1317] funding for dance and other art forms, including creative communication in sign language. It would be inappropriate for me to seek to influence the Arts Council in how it distributes its global allocation or to seek to provide funding for a specific art form.

I have sympathy with regard to dance as it is one element of the arts in which I have a particular interest myself. The absence of a reference to dance in the definition of the arts has not inhibited the council from supporting the art form to date. There has been support directly from the Arts Council for dance recently. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to have a general review of the Arts Acts in the light of almost 50 years of operation rather than dealing with the reforms piecemeal. This is where we could hold a debate on the establishment of the arts in terms of legislation at a later date.

Mr. Gallagher: Given that the Minister has stated that she is reviewing the funding arrangements for national cultural institutions in consultation with the institutions themselves, I will not press amendment No. 2.

Notwithstanding how desirable it might be to amend or review the Arts Acts, what we are seeking is a specific improvement in enabling the Arts Council to fund dance and creative communication in sign language. I accept the Minister's interest in dance and her exhortations to the Arts Council and that specific absence in legislation may not prevent the council from assisting in this area; but if we brought that argument to its logical conclusion it would not be necessary to provide in law for anything. My original argument stands — specific provision for these two areas of creative activity in law will strengthen the applications of groups and individuals who are interested in these two areas in their efforts to secure funding from the Arts Council. I will therefore be pressing amendment No. 3.

Mr. Mooney: I ask the Minister for clarification in her reply. While I have the greatest sympathy and understanding for what is being proposed, I am taken aback that this amendment is being inserted at this time into this legislation. It may be an enabling Act but its functions relate to inland waterways, ferry services and property ancillary to other functions, including the islands. It is a quantum leap to suggest an amendment related to directing the Arts Council to expend funding in specific areas which, unfortunately, is not in the remit of the Minister because of derogation of powers. This is the right amendment in the wrong place.

Mr. Gallagher: It is not directing the Arts Council, it is strengthening the enabling provisions. We are talking about ancillary matters and improving powers in various areas. I see no reason why we should delay beyond this legislation if there is recognition of the need for improvement.

[1318] Miss de Valera: While I agree with Senator Gallagher's sentiments on this, I do not believe this Bill is the right vehicle to bring about the change proposed in amendment No. 3. For the reasons already outlined I cannot accept it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Gallagher: I move amendment No. 3:

In page 5, between lines 36 and 37, to insert the following subsection:

“(2) In providing financial assistance under subsection 1(d) or otherwise to the Arts Council, the Minister shall be entitled to provide funding for dance and for creative communication in sign language, and notwithstanding section 1 of the Arts Act, 1951, the Council may so expend assistance provided in accordance with this section.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Question proposed: “That section 5 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Mooney: In the context of intellectual property which the Minister referred to in her closing remarks on Second Stage, I understand this relates to acquisition of documents — for example, maps, postcards or matters of a historical nature relating to waterways. I was surprised. I had been of the opinion that the Office of Public Works traditionally had a long and impressive list of publications relating to its activities in the area of inland waterways. I understand this legislation enables the Minister to acquire outside intellectual property along these lines. How would the Minister see her role in this regard? Are we to convey the message that the Minister is in the business of welcoming historical memorabilia or manuscripts related to her new powers concerning inland waterways?

Miss de Valera: The best idea is for me to contact the Senator to have a discussion on this at greater length and give the information required. My initial reply would be that this would refer to the material giving information at visitors' centres and other such places.

Mr. Mooney: I am grateful to the Minister because this confirms my thinking. I would like to convey a concern I have about the various visitors' centres throughout the country where there are items on sale relating to the attraction which the Office of Public Works covers. I declare a vested interest here. This matter first arose with the Parke's Castle Visitors' Centre in County Leitrim, which is the largest visitors' centre in the county. The figures for last year indicated that 120,000 visited it, despite the best efforts of my friends and colleagues in County Sligo to claim Parke's Castle as part of County Sligo, as they have been claiming part of Yeats' land for years. I am shouting stop, Parke's Castle is firmly within [1319] the administrative boundary of County Leitrim. It is Leitrim tourist attraction and we guard it jealously. Others should take their hands off it.

Mr. Gallagher: There are also visitors from Sligo.

Mr. Mooney: Visitors from Sligo are more than welcome. However, tourists staying in Sligo have been encouraged to visit Parke's Castle in the context of Sligo attractions. They then tell others about this wonderful attraction in County Sligo and encourage them to visit it. Leitrim has enough problems without its few tourist attractions being removed from it.

I wish to declare a vested interest. I was responsible for producing a cassette approximately 18 months ago.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Senator is straying slightly outside the section.

Mr. Mooney: My point arises in the context of the Minister's reply. I approached the Office of Public Works in relation to Parke's Castle and asked if it would be prepared to purchase the cassette and sell it at the visitors' centre. I received a firm refusal and I subsequently discovered, as a result of further investigations, that the Office of Public Works has refused on numerous occasions to take on third party merchandise, such as books and other items which relate to the specific attraction. The only items it will sell are postcards or merchandise which is strictly confined to the attraction.

This is not a matter a policy and I believe a decision has been taken unilaterally by the people in the Office of Public Works who operate visitors' attractions. I appreciate I am throwing this matter at the Minister in the context of the Bill. However, I ask her to investigate this aspect of her new functions as an extra means of finance. It would generate more money through the various visitor attractions throughout the country. Parke's Castle is a relatively small attraction but 120,000 people visited it last year and larger numbers visit other attractions. I ask the Minister to reflect on this matter and I will communicate with her on it also.

Miss de Valera: I am very interested in the territorial claims with regard to Parke's Castle made by Senator Mooney and Senator Gallagher.

Mr. Mooney: I knew the Minister could not resist it.

Miss de Valera: I will be in contact with Senator Mooney regarding the issue of merchandise and others matters which he raised.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 6 to 8, inclusive, agreed to.

[1320] SCHEDULE.

Mr. Gallagher: I move amendment No. 4:

In page 6, after line 28, to insert the following:

“7. The Tralee Ship Canal.

8. The Eglington Canal and Claddagh Basin.

9. The Boyne Navigation.”.

The amendment relates to canals. I neglected to mention earlier that County Offaly is celebrating the bicentenary of the 1798 uprising and also the bicentenary of the arrival of the canal in Tullamore. The Minister's Department is co-operating with the programme of commemorative events and I hope the Minister will visit the area during the celebrations. We might then have an opportunity to discuss the other constituency matters I mentioned earlier nearer the location.

Regarding the amendment, I understand the three canals were included in the Schedule to the Bill as originally drafted by the Minister's predecessor. However, the references have been deleted and I ask the Minister to explain why that is the case and to ensure that they are restored in the Bill. The future development of the three waterways and their surrounding areas is most important in terms of local tourism and increasing the complement of tourism facilities available to overseas visitors. It is most important that the Department has a strong involvement and overseeing function in the continuing development of the three waterways.

Mr. McDonagh: I concur with the sentiments expressed by Senator Gallagher. I am particularly interested in the Eglington Canal and the Claddagh Basin in Galway. They are important channels and contribute much to the development of the city. I am interested in the Minister's response to the amendment. Perhaps Mutton Island could have been included in the Schedule. It will come on stream in the near future and will have a hugely positive impact on the city and county of Galway. However, I am interested in the Minister's reply, particularly with regard to the Eglington Canal and the Claddagh Basin.

Miss de Valera: I cannot accept amendment No. 4. It would not be appropriate at this time to include the waterways in the Schedule. I previously explained the difficulty with regard to the Tralee Ship Canal in response to a point raised by Senator Fitzgerald. However, I will reiterate my comments. The Tralee Ship Canal is owned by Kerry County Council and Tralee Urban District Council. Restoration works to the canal are being undertaken by the Office of Public Works on my behalf under the operational programme for tourism. It is considered appropriate that the management of the canal when restored should rest with Tralee UDC.

[1321] The Eglington Canal comes under the powers of the Corrib Navigation Trustees. Negotiations are in train with the trustees in respect of potential works to the area round the Parkavera Lough. Difficulties have been experienced in obtaining a legal definition of this waterway. When this issue has been clarified, the waterway may be added to the Schedule by order.

Due to the prohibitive costs involved in reopening the Boyne navigation, it is not feasible to consider carrying out any works to the navigation in the foreseeable future. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to include this waterway in the Schedule.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule agreed to.

Title agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.

Question proposed: “That the Bill do now pass.”

Mr. Mooney: I thank the Minister for her fine elucidation of the Bill and I wish her well with the legislation.

Mr. McDonagh: I join Senator Mooney in thanking the Minister. It was a most interesting and open discussion and I wish her well in her endeavours in this area in the future. I am glad the Bill has been put through the House.

Mr. Gallagher: I concur with the remarks of Senator Mooney and Senator McDonagh. I reissue the invitation to the Minister to visit Tullamore during the canal bi-centenary celebrations. If she has the time to visit, we might also take in Shannonbridge, Durrow and some of the other places I mentioned.

Mr. Gibbons: I am delighted the Bill has been put through the House and I extend an invitation to the Minister to visit Carlow where she will be shown many places, particularly the Barrow Navigation. There are many attractions and the Minister should bring the purse with her.

Mr. Mooney: That will be after she visits Parke's Castle.

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera): I thank the Senators for their great interest and encouragement with regard to my Department. I thank the House for its support for the Bill and for the Senators' valuable contributions in relation to our inland waterways and islands.

I share the concern of Senators about the protection of the industrial heritage and ecology of our inland waterways and for their sensitive development in order to fully realise their great [1322] potential for leisure and tourism. Waterways pass through not only physical areas, but communities. The future success of the management of inland waterways, particularly in urban areas, will depend on the integration of waterways developments in the lives of the communities through which they pass.

The importance of the islands was discussed. I thank Senators for their support for what we intend to do with regard to our inhabited islands. I also thank Senator Gibbons and Senator Gallagher for their kind invitations to visit their respective constituencies. I look forward to taking up their invitations in the near future and I will be in contact with the Senators when I intend to travel. I look forward to a good welcome on both occasions. I also my thank my officials for their tremendous help with regard to the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended at 5.40 p.m. and resumed at 7 p.m.