Joined up thinking in the arts?

Mon, Feb 6, 2012, 00:00

Sir, – In the ongoing fallout from the Budget, two major proposals from Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin are causing great, and largely unreported, concern. The Minister intends to fold together the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery and the Crawford Gallery Cork, and he proposes to bring together under one roof, so to speak, the National Archives, the Irish Manuscripts Commission and the National Library.

If the operation of each institution can be demonstrably enhanced by these measures, if each can provide a better service to the public, to researchers and to artists as a result of the Minister’s proposals, well and good. Further, if actual and measurable gains in efficiency and savings should ensue, this also would be good. Unless there are very persuasive grounds for making these changes, it cannot be argued that the public good is being served here.

To date, however, the Minister has not set forth the arguments grounding his intentions. It would be manifestly stupid to advance these proposals unless there are very good and arguable grounds, based on concrete and rigorous analysis, for making the changes envisaged – but the Minister has not told us what these grounds are.

Mr Howlin has made a number of admirable commitments to transparency in the management of public affairs: here is a perfect opportunity for him to be clear and transparent in explaining exactly what he thinks will be gained by these proposals. It would also be useful to know if any of the institutions concerned have either requested these amalgamations, or expressed support to him for the envisaged changes.

There is another dimension to this. As a former member of the Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon, I would have expected that the council would by now have issued and made public its advice to Government regarding the radical reconfigurations proposed.

The Arts Act 2003, 9 (1)(f) confers an obligation on the council to “furnish advice to a Minister of Government . . . in relation to any matter connected with its functions, whenever the council considers it appropriate”. Given the profound impact that Mr Howlin’s proposals will certainly have on the artistic and cultural life of the State, I am surprised that we have not yet heard from An Chomhairle. – Yours, etc,


Baldoyle, Dublin 13.