‘When the name of Ireland is mentioned, people right across the world think first of our writers, our musicians, our drama…In Government, Fine Gael will nurture and support our culture”. In the two years since that promise was made the situation has become so dire that the Arts Council has been placed in the difficult position of having to forewarn the sector that it “cannot guarantee that all organisations will continue to receive funding, nor that many of those organisations that continue to receive recurring funding will not do so on a severely reduced basis”.
So instead of that nurturing of cultural values, the continuing cuts to the council’s resources present the prospect of a return to the underinvestment that we have had in the past.The question has to be asked: does this Government actually have a cultural policy? The evidence is stacking up to suggest that it does not – or that it is one that now casts a malignant shadow. The arts as a commodity and a generator of tourist numbers – and The Gathering has to be cited as an example of this – seems now to hold more sway than their intrinsic and life-enhancing function in society. There is of course nothing wrong with the idea of the arts producing an economic benefit, if we do not lose sight of their important non-material and social value.
The blind thinking behind recent decisions about national cultural institutions and their absorption into a government department does nothing to alleviate the sense of policy gone astray. If a principle behind the establishment of the Arts Council in 1951 was to create that necessary “arms-length” cordon between cultural activity and politics, where is that principle today? More pertinently where is the expertise within the department to safeguard and guide those time-honoured institutions?
Reform of governance arrangements is one thing but what we are seeing is a return to the over-controlling culture of the past – and that is not the way to provide the “nurture and support” that Fine Gael so idealistically and dutifully made a commitment to in November 2010.