THE good news for arts organisations and artists seeking funding to represent Ireland abroad is that the Cultural Relations Committee (CRC) - in hibernation since last year's committee's term of office ended in December - is in the process of being reconvened, writes Katie Donovan. The committee is an 18 member body, appointed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs to advise him on grant allocations for the promotion of Irish culture abroad. The CRC's budget this year is the same as that for 1995, namely £400,000. Each member is appointed for a two year term.
For the last three months, there has been no new committee, but this situation will have been rectified by next week, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs, when all the members for 1996 will be in place. The new CRC, due to meet by the end of this month, will face a large backlog of applications for funding, some of which date back to last September. The reason for this is that the 1995 CRC had its last meeting to consider grant applications in September of last year. Even then, many of these had to be frozen due to lack of funds.
The hiatus has meant that companies such as Barabbas and Macnas have had to petition international festivals to come up with money to allow them to travel - which will be repaid if the CRC pays up retrospectively. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, any applications that were frozen then are still under consideration. But other companies, who could not source funding from abroad, have not been able to travel.
Why the delay in appointing the new CRC? "It has been an exceptional few months, with the Anglo Irish peace process, the Irish presidency of the EU coming up, and the publication of the recent White Paper on Foreign Policy. The Tanaiste, Dick Spring, has been very busy," apologises a spokeswoman for the Department for Foreign Affairs. Meanwhile, the White Paper's chapter on Cultural Relations quotes the Arts Plan 1995-1997 recommendation that an independent agency should be formed to "develop the arts in Ireland properly and to take account of the necessary international dimension of arts development through all the art forms". The White Paper says that the Department of Foreign Affairs will initiate a debate on this subject with the CRC, the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, the Arts Council and An Bord Trachtala.
It's a debate that's overdue. It's obvious that an agency to properly oversee the export of Irish culture is desperately needed.