Speech for Minister Humphreys Seanad Private Members Motion on Culture and Heritage
I am delighted to have the opportunity to address the House this evening on the important contribution that our culture and heritage make to Irish society.
I believe that our cultural heritage – which encompasses the arts, our cultural institutions and our natural and built heritage – is vital to our national identity and well-being.
As well as being of vital intrinsic importance – and a great source of national pride – our cultural heritage is also a major source of employment and economic activity, and is key to promoting Ireland’s image abroad and attracting inward investment.
I believe a society that values the arts is a more successful and prosperous society.
I am committed to enabling support for, and access to, the arts, culture and Ireland’s rich heritage, for Irish people and visitors alike.
A core objective for me, therefore, is to sustain and support these sectors, while seeking to promote and maximise their societal and economic potential.
Our rich heritage, unique habitats, diverse artistic and cultural sectors and, of course, our national cultural institutions all have a key role to play in this regard.
Funding for the National Cultural Institutions
This evening’s Motion provides an important opportunity to acknowledge the work carried out by our National Cultural Institutions.
Despite significant challenges in recent years, our Cultural Institutions have worked hard to maintain their services to the public, and to protect and make our national collections accessible to the greatest extent possible.
It is a credit to the management and staff of these institutions that they have increased visitor numbers from 2.9 million in 2008 to 3.2 million in 2014.
Funding for the arts, culture and film contributes to sustaining the arts and national cultural institutions, but also leads to job creation in these sectors.
My Department’s allocation of almost €154 million for arts, culture and film in 2015, which includes almost €59m for the Arts Council, is recognition of the importance of this sector.
After 6 years of continuous cutbacks, I was delighted this year to have, firstly, maintained resources for the National Cultural Institutions at the 2014 level in this year’s Budget.
The era of cutbacks is finally at an end.
After the Budget, and following discussions with my colleague Minister Brendan Howlin, I also secured an additional €2m for the Cultural Institutions this year.
This funding was provided to directly address the concerns expressed by the Cultural Institutions, in particular the National Library and the National Museum.
In the latter part of last year, there were suggestions that one or more of our cultural institutions would have to consider charging for admission, to help deal with financial constraints.
I would like to state clearly, as I have before, that I support the policy of free admission for our cultural institutions.
Introducing charges would be a retrograde step, and I believe it would have a negative impact on visitor numbers – a trend experienced elsewhere.
As the economic situation continues to improve, I want to see that all the National Cultural Institutions will benefit in future years.
However the National Cultural Institutions themselves need also to build on the reforms, innovation and alternative funding sources which were developed in response to the economic crisis.
These new ways of doing business must play their part in addressing the infrastructural needs of the institutions, in partnership with Government.
I would also like to point out that, notwithstanding the reduction of funds, this Government has made significant progress in terms of capital investment in the institutions:
- There is a major €30m+ project moving into its final phase at the National Gallery as part of its Master Development Plan. I have visited the site at the Gallery – it is difficult to appreciate the scale of the works until you see it for yourself. It promises to transform the National Gallery into one of the finest gallery spaces in Europe.
- Major refurbishment works are to commence shortly to redevelop the Kevin Barry Rooms at the National Concert Hall as part of the Government’s investment under the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme.
- The Irish Museum of Modern Art reopened in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in 2014 after major refurbishment works there.
- In addition, tenders will be invited shortly for first phase in the redevelopment of the National Archives headquarters at Bishop Street, which will dramatically improve storage space and conditions there, and address a long-standing and critical deficit.
I can assure the House that I will continue to make the case for further investment in our National Cultural Institutions, as the economy continues to recover, so we can address the key challenges that remain.
I am particularly aware of the issues facing the National Library in terms of storage, both in Kildare Street and regarding potential off-site storage, and improving such facilities will be among my priorities should additional resources be made available to my Department.
Arts in Education Charter
I would also like to mention the Arts in Education Charter which the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, and I are committed to implementing.
A High Level Implementation Group, chaired by Professor John Coolahan, was established to oversee the implementation of the Arts in Education Charter.
I am delighted to report that the arts in education portal will be launched next week.
The portal will be the key national digital resource for arts and education practice in Ireland.
This significant development arising from the Arts in Education Charter and is a joint project involving both Departments.
The Charter also sets out a partnership approach with the setting up of Local Arts Education partnerships.
Already in 2014, the Cavan Monaghan ETB has established its Local Arts Education Partnerships model – setting a really great example for the rest of the country.
These Partnership models should play a supportive and facilitating role for local art initiatives.
The Programme for Government 2011-2016, along with my Department’s Statement of Strategy, has the overall goal of promoting and developing Ireland’s world-class artistic and creative strengths at home and abroad, and maximising their societal, economic and reputational value for the country.
Developing a national cultural policy is central to these aims.
My Department is currently working on a draft discussion paper to underpin a National Cultural Policy – Culture 2025 – the first ever such policy in Ireland.
Culture 2025 will set out the Government’s high-level aims and policies in the area of culture for the period up until 2025 and I know there is considerable interest in the Policy amongst members of this House.
The intention is to start a wide-scale consultation process with relevant stakeholders, and with the public, on the key priorities that the Government should consider in developing a cultural policy for the period up to 2025.
I am pleased to inform the House that the first phase in advancing this process will take place in the coming weeks, with the holding of an initial workshop under the auspices of the Royal Irish Academy.
I am confident that this will greatly assist my Department in launching its public consultative document on Culture 2025 shortly, and I wish to thank the RIA for its positive contribution on this matter.
Decade of Commemorations
I was delighted the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste joined me to launch the Government’s Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme in the National Museum, Collins Barracks, on 31st March 2015.
Ireland 2016 is a national and international initiative to remember the pivotal events of 1916, reflect on our achievements over the last 100 years, and look ambitiously to our future.
The 2016 Centenary Programme is extensive and all-inclusive and covers seven key strands: State Ceremonial, Historical Reflection, An Teanga Bheo, Youth and Imagination, Cultural Expression, Community Participation and Global and Diaspora.
Ireland 2016 an invitation to everyone on the island of Ireland, and to the global Irish community, to shape and engage in a diverse range of historical, cultural and artistic activities.
The National Cultural Institutions and the Arts Council, along with my own Department and the Department of Education and Skills, have developed extensive programmes of arts and culture events.
I note the reference to digitisation in the motion before the House this evening – this is something I am particularly keen on.
Digitisation uses the most modern of technology to make old or even ancient material accessible to as wide an audience as possible.
The National Library and the National Archives in particular, are embarking on an ambitious digitisation programme as part of Ireland 2016.
The Library, for example, will make more than 20,000 items available online – which will enable people here and around the world to engage with and be part of 2016.
A community engagement programme, led by the local authorities, will result in further events being added to the Ireland 2016 programme from across the country.
The Ireland 2016 from my Department is currently holding a series of county by county workshops to stimulate ideas and activities for the commemoration.
I am pleased to report that the response to date has been very positive and constructive.
It is important that we encourage as many people as possible to engage with this process.
The Government will continue to work to ensure that the all of these commemorations are inclusive, respectful and appropriate.
The arts have a way of reaching out and speaking to people, by pushing out the boundaries, and forcing us to challenge pre-conceived ideas.
I sincerely hope that the commemorations will also provide our Diaspora with a sense of ownership, alongside Irish citizens, in this collective commemoration of our shared history.
I hope that many people will return to Ireland and take part in this unique programme of events.
It would be wonderful to welcome our extended family to Ireland for this special time.
National Parks and Biodiversity
Turning to our natural heritage, Ireland’s renowned natural beauty, unique landscapes and habitats are equally important and intrinsic to what makes us Irish.
Tourists, artists and citizens alike have drawn inspiration from our natural heritage for centuries.
I see a huge role for our national parks, our nature reserves and all of our protected areas in tapping into and exploiting the opportunities here.
It is my intention to encourage and facilitate, to the greatest extent possible, public access and appropriate visitor use in these parks and reserves in a way that promotes responsible interaction with our natural heritage and supports sustainable tourism.
The protection and enhancement of our natural heritage, including the 6 State-owned National Parks and 66 Nature Reserves managed by my Department, bring much needed economic stimulus and employment opportunities to rural communities.
The challenge is, of course, in doing this in a way that is consistent with the ethos of these protected areas as natural, and often wild and rugged, places.
We must also respect the conservation and biodiversity considerations that must underpin our management of our natural heritage.
My Department is very close to finalising the mid-term review of the implementation of our Biodiversity Plan.
Biodiversity provides us with food, clean water, building materials and other essentials that we simply cannot live without.
It underpins vital economic sectors such as agriculture and tourism.
Biodiversity, ecosystems and natural resources are our natural capital.
There is increasing recognition that economic prosperity depends on maintaining and enhancing this natural capital.
For example, my Department has worked very closely with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to ensure that the new GLAS scheme delivers for the farmer in protected areas, as well as for the biodiversity of those areas.
Many of our habitats are internationally important due to their scarcity elsewhere in Europe.
We have 429 Special Areas of Conservation throughout the country, from raised bogs to coastal sand dunes.
In addition, 154 Special Protection Areas seek to provide safe breeding and wintering grounds for large numbers of seabirds and waterfowl, both resident and visiting.
It is my belief that further significant conservation, social, health and economic benefits will come about if we continue to appreciate the value and explore the true potential of our natural heritage, particularly for rural areas.
The challenge is to understand the broad value of our natural heritage, and to integrate and harmonise its management and protection with often unseen and unappreciated, social and economic benefits.
In conclusion, I want to say what a privilege and an honour it is for me to serve as Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and to work hand in hand with such dynamic and creative sectors to build on and sustain our cultural heritage, both artistic and natural.
I look forward with great optimism to the further enhancement of these sectors and hope sincerely that we can continue to work together to support and protect our cultural heritage.