Yemen and Zimbabwe pay their cultural dues, but Ireland acts the miser
CULTURE SHOCK:AFGHANISTAN IS A MEMBER, as is Zimbabwe. Yemen pays its dues, and so does Rwanda. Practically every functioning state in the world – 133 in all – is a member of a body called the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property.
It may have a horrible title and an even worse acronym, Iccrom. But it’s a highly civilised and important organisation. It was established in 1956 by Unesco as the global expert body on the preservation of cultural heritage, from libraries and archives to buildings, archaeological sites and urban quarters.
It’s especially important to anyone working in any of these fields in Ireland, most of whom depend on it for courses, expertise and international scholarship. Ireland isn’t big enough to support these things itself; it gains enormously from having an international network to tap into.
But Ireland’s membership of Iccrom is lapsing because someone in the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has decided not to pay the State’s annual contribution. The size of that contribution? €16,300. No, a zero isn’t missing. This is what it costs to be a member. Ireland hasn’t paid for 2011 or 2012. In June the Labour TD Ann Phelan raised the issue in the Dáil with the Minister, Jimmy Deenihan.
His reply was that “I am advised that the benefits of Iccrom membership extend well beyond my department, with staff of the Office of Public Works and a range of regional and local authorities availing of the resources on offer.
“Discussions are ongoing regarding the continuation of Ireland’s membership of Iccrom, and any decision in this regard will have to take account of the reduced availability of resources in the current economic climate and the many competing demands for such resources.”
So the benefits of membership for expertise in national cultural institutions, the OPW and regional and local authorities are not in doubt.
Nor should they be: over the years, key people from Dúchas, the OPW, the State Laboratory, the National Monuments Service, the National Museum of Ireland and the National Gallery of Ireland have been trained on Iccrom courses.
But we’re so broke that we can’t afford €16,300. Let’s put this in context. The department’s budget is €232 million this year and has to be cut to €205 million by 2014. So Deenihan has to find €27 million in cuts. The department spends more than €1 million a year on consultants and another €1 million on “training, development and incidental expenses”. Presumably, €16,300 counts as an incidental expense; Ireland’s memberships of all international cultural bodies don’t even merit a subhead in the departmental estimates. It’s back-of-the-sofa money.
For the sake of this money, though, Ireland is making a show of itself.