Why we need a ministry of joined-up thinking


With a Cabinet reshuffle and a realignment of departments on the cards, GRAINNE MILLARargues that this is the ideal time to review how Ireland organises creative resources

‘AS THE world economy continues its inexorable shift to becoming knowledge-based, we have many competitive advantages,” wrote Dermot Desmond in this newspaper last December. “The combination of our cultural pedigree and our technological leadership suggests to me that we can create a lasting opportunity for Ireland’s future generations.”

Over the past 18 months we have lived through unprecedented times: an economy on its knees, profound public disillusionment in our political leaders, and a political system – in need of repair – that has failed to deliver. The first signs of optimism emerged at the Global Irish Economic Forum at Farmleigh, where, contrary to public expectation, the likes of Denis O’Brien and Dermot Desmond championed the importance of Irish culture as a key element of our recovery.

While the Government’s smart-economy framework plan implicitly recognises the important role the cultural and creative sectors will play, it could be argued that both sectors are still poorly understood and fragmented. The situation has been impaired further by the lack of raw data needed for effective policy-making and by a dysfunctional political system which has not taken due responsibility for making effective decisions about our collective cultural resources.

Responsibility for the cultural and creative sectors – from the arts, libraries and heritage to advertising, media and craft – is currently spread across at least five different government departments and a wide range of independent State agencies. These include the Arts Council, the Irish Film Board, the Heritage Council, the Crafts Council, the Libraries Council, the Council of National Cultural Institutions, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and Culture Ireland, to name but some. Each of these agencies in turn advises its department on policy, with little or no cross-departmental linkages or joined-up thinking.

The consequence? Little direct accountability and no responsibility at Government level for properly supporting and developing the creativity, talent and excellence of Ireland’s artists and creative enterprises.

The situation in Dublin highlights the scale of disarray. We know that around €200 million of taxpayers’ money is spent annually on mainstream cultural services and facilities, including arts, film, heritage, libraries, local authorities, national cultural institutions, and so on. There is, however, no strategic purpose behind this spending and it is hard to imagine how this way of working can contribute to Ireland’s recovery.

We need a significant change in policy and structure championed at the highest level in the Government. The imminent Cabinet reshuffle and realignment of departments provides an ideal opportunity to review how Ireland supports and organises its cultural resources. We have the chance to increase our capacity to provide original thinking and position ourselves as one of the world’s most creative nations.

As Craig Barrett, former chairman of Intel and a contributor at Farmleigh, has pointed out, when it comes to competitiveness, we are not competing with ourselves but with the world. Looking at our nearest neighbour, when British prime minister Gordon Brown launched the Creative Britain strategy in February 2008 – a partnership between three government departments – he knew creative industries would be relevant not only to putting culture at the centre of national life, but, more importantly, for national prosperity. In light of this, the Scottish government has just appointed the first chief executive of Creative Scotland, a radical, innovative new statutory non-departmental public body responsible for developing and promoting culture.

While it is important we take inspiration from other countries, we need to design an Irish solution to an Irish challenge. A new political structure that is demonstrably different from its predecessors, involving talent focused and hugely ambitious for Ireland and Irish artists, is what is needed. It is imperative that the Government considers an integrated approach with a new department of culture and creative industries.

It is critical that this new department would:

Create a new user-friendly policy framework – a Creative Ireland strategy – relevant to the needs of the 21st century;

Streamline and centralise all of the remits and functions of existing State bodies in these sectors into the one department;

Undertake an audit of all of these State bodies/agencies to identify efficiencies (head counts, overheads and running costs), eliminate duplication and deliver enhanced outcomes;

Provide benefits to all the stakeholders in the form of job creation and economic development;

Support creative entrepreneurs with business planning, marketing and intellectual property issues through a formal partnership with Enterprise Ireland;

Support foreign direct investment opportunities in the creative industries through formal partnership with the IDA;

Support cultural tourism at home and abroad through formal partnership with Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland;

Work in partnership with local authorities to complement local culture and creative strategies;

Assess the viability of establishing a design council to support a critical element of the innovation strategy;

Operate on the basis of performance and delivery.

In order to serve Ireland’s cultural and economic ambitions, and for the creative industries to support our economic recovery, this is the kind of fit-for-purpose professional model of excellence that we need.

  • Gráinne Millar is head of cultural development with Temple Bar Cultural Trust