National Cultural Institutions Bill 2022

National Cultural Institutions Bill 2022

Dáil Contribution on the National Cultural Institions Bill 2022

Full Transcript:
I am relieved that Deputy Ó Murchú has left the Chamber because I was intimidated by the stellar heights of grade 5. I could manage the right hand and the left hand but playing two hands together at any given time always eluded me. Preparing for this debate I read through the Boaden report. It begins with a series of quotations from different periods in Irish life, starting with one from a Department of Finance memorandum of 1937, which states:

…public attendances at Symphony Concerts, and consequently the necessity for such public concerts, has become smaller and will continue to decline. Is it any part of the State’s duty to resuscitate a Victorian form of educational recreation[?]

That jumped out at me. I very much believe it is the State’s duty to step in in respect of cultural and artistic institutions, and would not characterise them as ” a Victorian form of educational recreation”.

I believe Miriam Lord has imposed a de facto moratorium on Seamus Heaney quotes and, therefore, I will turn to Oscar Wilde, who said a cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. While I do not wish to impugn the character of the official who wrote that memorandum in 1937, it speaks to a certain type of cynicism because national cultural institutions such as the NSO and the NCH come at a price, often a significant one. I strongly believe it is a price worth paying because their cultural, artistic and emotional value and the value they have within a nation of holding a mirror up to ourselves and helping us understand our place in the world is many times greater than the price we pay for it.

The Minister is to be commended for acting on the chief recommendation of the Boaden report, which argued that the “National Symphony Orchestra should be a national cultural institution, in its own right or within the National Concert Hall”. The NCH is the right home. I agree with Deputy Gannon that we need to make sure the doors of the hall are open to everybody and that everybody in society understands it is their National Concert Hall. I know the Minister appreciates that this orchestra deserves and needs to be put on a firm footing for the future for a number of reasons, as laid out in the report. The report identified that the status quo funding model under RTÉ, which was dependent on TV licence funding, was untenable.

According to the report, we place too much cultural responsibility in one place – RTÉ – by having both the concert orchestra and the symphony orchestra there. That built a fragility into the system that was ultimately putting both orchestras at risk. Then underfunding and underresourcing also had repercussions on the nature and the quality of the work that both the NSO and the chamber orchestra were able to undertake, including the overall number of events. Deputies Gannon and Ó Snodaigh referred to regional touring and the outreach component. Those have been stripped back in stark contrast to other European public service broadcaster, PSB, orchestras where adequate provision for both regional and youth audiences is seen as fundamental to a successful PSB orchestra strategy. It should not be seen as elitist. Everybody within our society should have that ability to experience what it is to sit in front of a live orchestra. It is really quite something, as Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, when to sit in front of a live orchestra and hear the instruments literally play in concert. The NSO is my orchestra and it is the Minister’s orchestra; it is all of our orchestras. I want to be able to see it in the National Concert Hall but I want to be able to see it in County Waterford too, and I am sure that the Minister would like to be able to see it in County Monaghan. Getting the resourcing there so that they can bring back the touring is so important.

Another important aspect that we should not lose sight of is that playing in our national orchestras is a career and should be viewed as a career. I am lucky to be married to a professional performing artist. She got past grade 5. She is not an instrumentalist so I do not have a conflict on this and she is not an orchestral player, but I do know the level of skill, commitment and passion required to play to that level. It is a lifelong commitment. If musicians have gone into the business of playing in an orchestra to get rich, they have made some bad decisions because it is not a get-rich quick scheme. These people do not do it for the money but for the love of it. They do it because they know the difference between the price of something and its value but that should not mean that they do it for nothing or next-to nothing. For all that, they deserve to be well paid and to have security in their employment. The Bill does a lot of that by putting the NSO in its new home it puts the orchestra on a firmer footing facing into the future. I hope and expect that it will result in additional resources and staffing and I welcome the Minister’s details on those additional positions that have been put in place to bring the orchestra back to its full complement that it so richly deserves and to help grow that outreach programme to make sure that it is an orchestra for everyone in Ireland and that it is a concert hall for everyone in Ireland. That outreach and educational remit is so important.

With regard to the choirs, the RTÉ Philharmonic Choir, RTÉ Cór na nÓg and RTÉ Cór Linn have moved across. Those are voluntary choirs. There is space in a country of our size for a professional performing chamber choir that would be a small outfit. We have Chamber Choir Ireland, which was previously the National Chamber Choir, but there is room to expand on that and to put it on a firmer footing.

The Minister will know that the well-being framework is my hobbyhorse and I have often spoken about it. It is the business of being able to distinguish between the price and the value of a thing and how GDP is a very poor measure of how our economy and our society is doing. I strongly believe that there should be a separate artistic, cultural and linguistic indicator built into that well-being framework so that we can begin to measure metrics such as how many people are getting to hear the NSO or how many people are getting to attend the National Concert Hall, and how many people are going to Croke Park. That is an important aspect of life and our national politics and it is something that we should be working on.