Gabriel Byrne says Government ‘paying lip-service’ to arts

Ex-cultural ambassador disappointed Culture Ireland was ‘summarily cancelled’

Actor Gabriel Byrne has accused the Government of "paying lip-service to the arts", saying he didn't think "they" really cared about them..

Speaking from New York on RTÉ's Marian Finucane show, Byrne said Culture Ireland – the State's body for promoting Irish arts abroad – had been "summarily cancelled" and he had found that disappointing.

Asked why it was disbanded “summarily”, he said it was because “the Government pays lip-service to the arts”.

“I don’t think they really care about it. ..They go on about how important it is they don’t really put anything in place that indicates they are serious about it. My own feeling is that culture and the arts is just a second class portfolio.

"Since Michael D Higgins established such a benchmark as such a visionary arts minister..there's nobody like that now. I don't even know who is responsible now for Irish arts anymore," said Byrne. President Michael D Higgins was Minister for the Arts between 1994 and 1997.

Byrne said he had himself been an Irish cultural ambassador until about 18 months ago but told Finucane this morning he did not miss the role. He had had to take 18 months off from his acting career to devote his energies to the role which he described as “quite strenuous”.

"We did some tremendous work, Culture Ireland, in that two years and sadly it was disbanded with no ceremony, summarily cancelled. I was very disappointed with that because a lot of people had put such an amount of work into it.

“ I found people were much more interested in hearing about the cultural life of Ireland – story-telling, sculpture, painting - than they were about the economics as a way of talking to people about the kind of people, country we are.”

He said Culture Ireland had not been just about high arts, but had been exploring how the arts could make a difference in people’s lives at local level.

“I don’t [just]mean in a woolly, arty, farty way. I think in terms of localised participation in the arts. The difference that a drama group or a cinema club can make to a small village or a town. It opens people up to ideas, potential about themselves that really in a way education often fails to. It’s a way of drawing a community together. We were exploring all those kinds of ideas and suddenly it all stopped.”

Byrne has been controversially forthright in the past. In late 2012 he described the Gathering promotion which aimed to encourage members of the Irish diaspora to visit Ireland in 2013 as a “scam” and a “shake-down”.