Varadkar pledges highest ever investment in cultural infrastructure

Taoiseach reaffirms commitment to doubling expenditure on arts, culture and sport

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minster for Culture Josepha Madigan, and Tibor Navracsics, EU Commissioner for Education, Culture Youth and Sport at the inaugural Creative Ireland Forum in Dublin Castle. Photograph: Maxwell

National cultural institutions and infrastructure such as the National Library and Abbey Theatre can expect to see their biggest capital investment since the foundation of the State when the Government announces its ten-year infrastructure plan in the New Year, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

He was speaking to the inaugural Creative Ireland forum on culture, wellbeing and the creative society at Dublin Castle, where he said the Government wanted to encourage creativity at every stage of life.

Mr Varadkar said some people saw culture as an escape from the problems of the world, but he saw it as part of the solution. “It helps us understand who we are – and where we came from – and allows us to imagine a better future,” he said.

Reaffirming his previous commitment to doubling expenditure on culture, arts and sport over the next seven years, he said the additional money would not be going solely to funding agencies such as the Arts Council and Sports Council. Citing the example of the recently renovated National Gallery, he said the country's cultural infrastructure had been, for some time now, in serious need of investment.


"As you may know, we are preparing a ten-year national capital plan for the country, which we aim to finalise early in the new year," he said. "This will involve a major allocation to our national cultural institutions and arts and heritage infrastructure around the country on a scale never seen in the history of the State." He said he looked forward to new Culture Minister Josepha Madigan announcing the details in early 2018.

‘Worryingly little progress’

Marking the first anniversary of the launch of the five-year Creative Ireland programme, which aims to place creativity at the centre of public policy, the one-day forum heard from artists, academics, creative professionals and politicians, who discussed subjects ranging from the importance of cultural and creative education to the role of culture in health policy. Along with Mr Varadkar and Ms Madigan, other speakers included Minister for Education Richard Bruton, Minister for Health Simon Harris and the EU Commissioner for Education, Youth, Culture and Sport, Tibor Navracsics.

The president of DCU, Prof Brian MacCraith, quoted George Bernard Shaw: "You use a mirror to see your face. You use a work of art to see your soul." Praising the ambition of the plan, he cautioned that it needed to be properly resourced and sustained.

Theatre director Dan Colley pointed out that the State's record of supporting culture and creativity was "not good by international standards" and that there had been "worryingly little progress" on this in the recent Budget. "I would suggest seeing arts and culture as an untapped resource which requires investment," he said.

Speakers from the floor, including Dublin Theatre Festival director Willie White and Angela Dorgan of resource agency First Music Contact were critical of the lack of support for practising creative artists. "What's drastically needed is investment in the makers," said Ms Dorgan, who called for the Government to increase funding for artists to the European average.

Hugh Linehan

Hugh Linehan

Hugh Linehan is an Irish Times writer and Duty Editor. He also presents the weekly Inside Politics podcast