Minister says Bill the result of vigorous debate

 

The Arts Bill, which will radically change the structure of the Arts Council, was published yesterday. Announcing its publication at the Arts Council headquarters yesterday, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Ms de Valera, said the Bill was the result of "vigorous debate".

The Bill proposes a reduction in the number of council members from 17 to nine. Members will be appointed by the Minister in a "rolling" manner, so that an entirely new council will not be appointed at once. This is expected to streamline the management of council business and maintain a reservoir of experience on the council at all times.

It repeals the two Acts which established the Arts Council, the original Arts Act (1951) and the second Act which amended it (1973).

The Minister's Department published a discussion document on the new arts legislation a couple of years ago, and much debate was generated by its suggestion that it should be responsible for making arts policy, rather than the independent Arts Council.

The new Bill does not attack this "arm's length" principle, whereby arts policy is formulated by council members, appointed by the Minister, but independent from her. In her speech yesterday, Ms de Valera said this was widely accepted as "one of the most positive aspects" of the Arts Council, and that it was her intention to protect it with statutory recognition.

She added, however, that the Bill gave the Minister responsibility for formulating "overall State policy on the arts" and that Arts Council plans and strategies would have to be in accordance with that policy.

In addition, Ms de Valera will establish three standing committees to advise the council: an Irish Traditional Arts committee, a New Art and Innovation committee and a committee on the Arts Activity and Local Authorities.

While these are advisory committees, the explanatory memorandum on the Bill states that "the Standing Committee on Traditional Arts will make recommendations to the council on the advance of monies to any person relating to Irish traditional arts".

Given that the discussion document on the new legislation raised the possibility of a separate Traditional Arts Council to make policy on Irish traditional music and dance, there was some worry last night in the traditional music community that different rules might be applied to them than to those in other art forms.

The Standing Committees will consist of four members, two appointed by the Arts Council and two by the Minister. Committee members will serve for up to five years.

The Bill gives recognition to the fact that the Cultural Relations Committee, which promotes Irish art abroad, has moved under the wing of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Welcoming the publication of the Bill yesterday, the chairman of the Arts Council, Mr Patrick Murphy, said: "It brings change, but change is necessary and healthy."

Asked if the standing committees might impinge on the independence of the council in making policy, the Arts Council director, Ms Patricia Quinn, emphasised that they were "advisory". She added that the submission of the Arts Council on the legislation had obviously been taken on board.

The Bill gives statutory recognition to the independence of the

Arts Council.

It gives the Minister for the Arts responsibility for formulating

overall State policy for the arts. the council's plans and

strategies will have to be in accordance with Government

policy.

The Arts Council will have a chairperson, a deputy chairperson and seven other "ordinary members". The present

council has a chairperson and 16 ordinary members. There

will also be "rolling" membership on the council whereby the

whole council will not be appointed at once.

The Bill establishes three standing committees to advise the

Arts Council on Irish traditional arts, arts activity by local

authorities and new arts and innovation.