Haughey proud of legacy to arts

 

In a rare interview, ex-Taoiseach highlights success of his tax exemption for artists.

The former Taoiseach, Mr Charles Haughey, has spoken proudly about the benefits of his introduction of a tax exemption for artists in 1969.

In a rare interview to be published next month, Mr Haughey described the exemption as "a cornerstone of a proactive policy for arts and cultural identity" that has helped the nurturing of the artist in a modern government.

The interview appears in a book by Cork art lecturer Ms Vera Ryan, titled Movers & Shapers: Irish Art since 1960.

In the interview, Ms Ryan put it to Mr Haughey that, "of the 11 taoisigh we have had since Independence, many would say that you have done the most for artists."

Mr Haughey replied: "I believe that an enlightened proactive policy for arts and culture must be an integral part of modern government. It is necessary for the ultimate well-being and fulfilment of a people that they should be aware of their cultural identity and heritage, and that public policy should favour the fullest expression and flowering of that identity in all its aspects."

Mr Haughey said France and its modern leaders were his role models in the formation of much of his policies on the arts in an Ireland, which, unlike today, was in a very depressed state.

In "the grim circumstances" of the 1980s economic development, the provision of jobs and sorting out the nation's finances had to take priority, Mr Haughey said.

"It was not very easy to find money for culture and the arts but we managed to lay the foundations for a brighter future," he said.

By contrast, Ireland today has "a very vibrant cultural life" and a great flowering of creativity, he added.

A very important aspect of the 1969 tax exemption for artists and the establishment of Aosdána in 1981 was to turn around the "sad history of our creative people going abroad for economic reasons or from what they felt was an unsympathetic or even hostile climate," said Mr Haughey.

"I wished the modern Irish State to make a positive gesture to our creative people. I wished to say to them, in effect, 'you are valued members of our community. Your contribution is of unique importance.'

"That was a very important aspect of the tax initiative. However, the actual financial provision was very significant also and a number of artists have said to me from time to time that, without it, they would not have been able to continue to devote themselves to their art," he said.

"The tax exemption and Aosdána were important initiatives and I think unique in a modern parliamentary democracy."

In former times, rulers and Church leaders would bestow their patronage on their favourite artists, but "today that role must, in the main, be filled by the State," Mr Haughey added.

He said a political climate must be created where the State fulfils the role of "impartial, objective patron" to nurture creativity without intervening or restricting artistic freedom.

Mr Haughey said one of the advantages of being based in Leinster House was that the National Gallery was next door "and it was easy to slip in and wander around".

He said his role model was the "Académie Française."

"I knew that [former French president Charles] De Gaulle, for instance, had appointed [French writer André] Malraux as his Minister for Culture. De Gaulle was very proud of French culture and, like many of his country men and women, believed that the French had a duty to bring French culture to the rest of the world.

Mr Haughey said another former president, François Mitterand, "whom I got to know very well", had a very definite concept of the role of the French president in cultural affairs.

Mr Haughey admitted that the job done by his office in 1991, when Dublin was cultural capital of Europe, was a "hit and miss" affair. It was not handled very well and "didn't have the impact it should have", he added.

He said the Taoiseach's department, when it assumed responsibility for the arts and culture, was the only one with sufficient clout to secure the increased State funding required for arts policies.

"It also facilitated my taking personal initiatives in this area."

Mr Haughey described Temple Bar as a "dedication to joie de vivre". He said he was conscious that most great cities "have at least one area which is different, where creative people congregate, where there is an atmosphere of relaxed non-conformism, with theatres, studios, galleries, cafes, pubs, restaurants and a general dedication to joie de vivre.

The Céide Fields in Co Mayo, the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Co Monaghan, the doing up of Government buildings, Dublin Castle, the Customs House, Kilmainham and the Irish Museum of Modern Art, and the National Concert Hall are other achievements which he lists as being associated with.

The lengthy interview was carried out in question-and-answer format and is one of 12 to be included in the book.

Ms Ryan conducted several interviews with Mr Haughey over a 12-month period.

Other people interviewed for the book include Brian Fallon, Michael D Higgins and Patrick J. Murphy. Mr Haughey is singled out by a number of interviewees as a positive force for the arts in the period.

The book will be published by Collins Press in mid-October.