Speech by Minister Madigan at the Launch of Culture Ireland – Global Ireland Conference


“Is cúis áthais dom fáilte uí cheallaigh a chuir romhaibh uilig anseo inniú i Halla Naomh Pádraig, i gCaisleáin Bhaile Átha Cliath. Glacann Uachtaráin na hÉireann go hoifigiúil lena n-oifig san halla seo agus cuireann an suíomh seo go mór le cáil na hócaide seo i gcomhair ár gcultúir agus ár n-oidhreacht.”

In the middle of last year, the Government of Ireland launched a new initiative – Global Ireland – setting out a number of key actions across culture, heritage, business and tourism to be undertaken in order to increase the impact of Ireland’s global footprint. This initiative stemmed from the Government’s wish to renew our focus on highlighting Ireland’s visibility internationally

In particular, Global Ireland 2025 puts an unprecedented emphasis on the importance of Ireland’s arts and culture in the global arena. It is a unique strength which helps us to connect with others in a globalised world. Our culture offers us a way of expressing who we are, of connecting with our diaspora, and of opening doors for Ireland globally. Global Ireland is a plan which both recognises those strengths and provides us with an ambitious route map to realise their full potential.

This conference is one of many initiatives under Global Ireland 2025 which relates to culture. Just over two weeks ago, I launched another element, which was the appointment of Cultural Ambassadors and I am delighted that two of these Ambassadors, musician Martin Hayes and architect Yvonne Farrell are participating in panels here today. Another cultural ambassador, poet Paul Muldoon has written a unique piece for the programme also.

I am hugely conscious as we set into today’s discussion that I must stress the importance we place in our artists. We treasure them and the intrinsic value of the work they do.  The connections artists make, the doors they open for Ireland are of additional benefit of course, but our artists must be valued in and of themselves.

This Government understands the importance of culture and is committed to supporting it. This is why the Taoiseach has committed to doubling funding levels for culture, heritage and the Gaeltacht by 2025. The significant increase for current funding for the arts in Budget 2019 and the announcement of €1.2bn in capital funding last year are proof of this.

In recent weeks I have engaged in communications with artists on the challenges they are currently facing.  I understand the issues involved and I remain dedicated to working with the arts sector to address them.  We must serve our artists to serve our society.

Seamus Heaney wrote of the impact of our writers and “the crucial difference their work and their presence meant to the general self-understanding of the Irish people”.

The experiences we have in Ireland of the arts and the memories they create and flow through us deserve to be treasured and shared globally.

I am also acutely aware that when we discuss the global reputation of Irish artists, the talent these artists hold was largely born and nurtured in Ireland. It is critical that we support artists at home before they can develop a global profile. So too is it important that they can travel, collaborate and grow from the experience of working with other artists in other cultures.  Our culture cannot be frozen or held in wax cylinders, it must move with the times and be influenced by contemporary society and in turn affect change and open our eyes to the artist’s view of society.

Irish artists travelling abroad is a long established practice, starting with the early Irish monastic traditions right through to the early 1600s when, even then, there were eight Irish colleges in Europe making a distinct contribution to not just the Irish but to the European mind-set. Over 400 hundred years ago the Franciscans established their own printing press in Leuven and nurtured fine art print skills which they passed on to all.

I think it’s quite timely to note in our current changing circumstances the observation of Franciscan Fr. Joseph Mac Mahon who wrote in 2013

“It could well be argued that had the Irish Franciscans not been forced to move to the continent, Ireland might be less European than it is today. So in this sense it could be said that yesterday’s disaster has become today’s victory”.

We have much to be grateful to these early travellers;  for their wisdom and adaptability from the local traditions here in Ireland to embracing a European ideal and sharing our culture across the continent. We need to take inspiration from the importance they placed in sharing our stories and traditions and regardless of the outcome of Brexit I wish to reiterate here today that Ireland remains fully committed to engaging through arts and culture with Northern Ireland, the rest of the UK and our EU partners and globally.

A unique and important aspect of our Irish culture and heritage is our national language.  Irish remains close to the hearts of our people both at home and abroad. Indeed, through the financial support of my Department, it is now taught at over 40 third level institutions worldwide.

In North America, this work is co-ordinated for us by both the Fulbright Commission and the Ireland Canada University Foundation and the language is also taught in many Irish Cultural Centres throughout the United States.

In fact I was in New York last week and met with almost 50 representatives of Irish Cultural Centres there.  I also visited the Irish Arts Centre and saw the commencement of the redevelopment of the building which will in 2020 be a flagship venue of the highest standard when it comes to presenting Irish arts to a US audience. The overriding feeling I took from my visit was the passion and commitment that everyone I met had for extending the promotion of Irish arts, culture and heritage in the US.

It is no coincidence that this conference is taking place during Tradfest, an annual festival showcasing the best of Irish musical and singing talent, whose audiences keep increasing each year. This festival is attended by international delegates, supported by Culture Ireland, who come to select artists for their own festivals which stretch from Australia, across Europe and on to the US.

I want to particularly welcome all our international visitors here today. Your contribution brings a different perspective, helps us look at ourselves from another angle and think seriously about the global challenges which face us.

There has been much discussion recently about the threats and benefits which artificial intelligence brings. However brilliant the advances that technology can make to our world, there are I believe two elements which robotics can never replace – and that is firstly ‘the creative mind’ and secondly ‘human interaction.’ These are the two elements we have in abundance today – so let us show artificial intelligence the unique skills we ‘humans’ have.

This conference offers us all a really important opportunity to take a day to talk, develop ideas and look at possible better ways of promoting our arts and culture worldwide. So often we are caught in the day to day delivery of business which leaves us little space to step back and plan for the future, for a better future, making the most of what is available to us and achieving our full potential. Please grasp the time today to fully explore, engage and think imaginatively about our possibilities. I encourage you to give us the markers on which we can build future policy and collectively succeed in the global environment in which we are all placed.

As next Monday marks the centenary of the death of one of Ireland’s greatest poet’s William Butler Yeats I will conclude on his appropriate words.

“Let us go forth, the tellers of tales, and seize whatever prey the heart long for, and have no fear.”

Míle Buíochas

Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, 23 Kildare Street, Dublin , D02 TD30. Tel: 01 631 3800 / LoCall: 1890 383 000

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