National cultural framework is too little, too late

Oireachtas arts committee shows production of bureaucratic jargon is alive and vibrant

Heather Humphreys presented a draft version of her proposed new  cultural framework policy in August 2015. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Heather Humphreys presented a draft version of her proposed new cultural framework policy in August 2015. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Back in August 2015, Heather Humphreys came to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Arts and Heritage bearing a draft version of her proposed new national cultural framework policy.

Titled Culture 2025/Éire Ildánach, the document – the first of its kind in the history of the State – set out priorities for action over the following 10 years. The product of discussions and workshops with those involved in arts and heritage, it had the aim of drawing up a policy which would “nurture creativity, boost citizen participation, help more people to follow a sustainable career in the cultural sector, promote Ireland’s cultural wealth and ensure a cultural contribution to wider social and economic goals”.

At the time, we were told that, following consideration by the committee, Culture 2025 would be submitted to government for approval. Two long years later, the committee has now come back with its own recommendations, including the suggestion that, given the passage of time, the end date should be pushed out from 2025 to 2028. But it still all feels too little and too late.

Blueprint

In the meantime, we’ve had a general election and a change of taoiseach. We’ve also had the successful 1916 commemorations, which in turn led to the launch last December of Creative Ireland, the Government’s shiny new blueprint for supporting culture and the arts. The new Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has signalled his support, saying he wants “there to be new emphasis and importance attached to the promotion of arts, culture and heritage in Ireland, matched with an appropriate budget”.

At this stage, the word “budget”is the most important one for many in the creative industries, who believe it’s time for the Government to move from platitudes to concrete action.

It’s pretty universally accepted by all sides that the State’s investment in cultural activity – from music in schools to TV drama to staffing levels at the National Library – has for many years fallen far short of other European countries, and that those comparisons became worse again during the austerity years.

There is still a lively debate over exactly how to measure the appropriate level of funding – the committee’s proposed 0.6 per cent of GDP would equate to a startling €1.6 billion per annum – but there is a general and justified sense that the time for talk is over.

Meaningless piety

In that context, the committee’s report offers little that’s new or surprising. The recommendation to set up a standalone Department of Culture has been largely implemented through the recent Cabinet reshuffle.

The call for a cross-departmental approach to the arts is already happening via the new Creative Ireland structures. There are some reasonable but not particularly innovative proposals on issues such as authors’ copyright which reflect legitimate concerns long expressed by lobby groups in those sectors.

And it’s hard to see the suggested constitutional amendment on “the role and value of arts, culture and heritage in Irish society” as much more than a meaningless piety.

Where Culture 2025 has seven pillars, including such worthy objectives as “increasing citizen participation in the arts” and “building on support for Irish culture on the world stage”, the committee “translates” these into three “understandings”, including the Orwellian “Arts, Culture and Heritage are the Heart of Our Lives, Our Communities, Our Identities and Our Government.”

Not to be outdone, Creative Ireland has five pillars, including “unifying our Global Reputation”.

Whatever about the state of Irish culture, then, the production of Irish bureaucratic jargon is clearly alive and vibrant.

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