Better late than never...

 

... This commitment comes in a statement from the Department of Arts and Culture which claims that this year's Arts Council increase "shows steady progress by the Minister... towards achieving the funding targets of the Arts Plan over the five year time frame. . . a similar percentage rate of increase for both Years Four and Five will bring the council's resources to a level of over £26 million, detailed in the Arts Plan."

Multi annual funding (funding beyond the upcoming calendar year) is really in the realm of good intentions, however, as no Department can give a binding commitment for more than 12 months. Since the original targets of the Arts Plan have not been met, why should we be more optimistic about this new scenario? The indefatigable chairman of the council, Dr Ciaran Benson, insists we should, though he shares Patricia Quinn's disappointment that some of the plan's major proposals have had to be deferred due to lack of funding.

"Without the plan," he says, "the increases achieved in the last three years would not have been possible. The commitment of at least 12 per cent increases over the next two years, to achieve the base figure of £26 million in 1999, by the Minister and his Department, is most welcome.

"I understand this commitment to mean that this is what this Minister and this Government will do for the arts in the next two years. Given the cross party consensus in the Dail debates on the plan, I have no reason to believe that this commitment would not be shared by any new government.

"When we see the needs on the ground in the entire arts sector, and the obvious benefits of the arts to the national consciousness, I would like to have the budget to move faster. But the Arts Council will work as hard as it has done so far to fulfill its responsibility to promote the arts in and for Ireland."

Since the 1997 Estimates (assuming they are confirmed in the Budget) at last bring the council over the threshold for the plan's first year, he now intends to "review the entire situation, focusing on arts provision in the central spine of the country, and of other areas where arts access is limited, for example community arts and disability."

In this season of goodwill, let's hope that the plan, so painstakingly developed by the arts constituency in 1994, really is back on track. It is much better late than never.