Cuts to funding of Irish national institutions amount to a form of cultural vandalism

 

After the recent Imma debacle, it might have been expected that to save face – and the reputation of the Minister damaged in the politically-motivated board appointment to that institution – the Government would have treated the arts with the same pre-election generosity other sectors received. Not so. The disdain demonstrated in the Imma board manoeuvres and previous shabby treatment of the national cultural institutions and Culture Ireland is now matched by its meanness in the recent budget.

The stand-still allocation to the Arts Council, which has already been through years of cuts, confirms what many have suspected – that this Government places no value on the role or status of the arts. The raising of the tax-free income limit for creative artists is of benefit to only a few – and has the look of a public relations attempt to camouflage the failure to restore some of the cuts of recent years.

The €4 million fund allocated for the 2016 commemorations would be better spent safeguarding the heritage that previous generations did so much to gather and build into collections of vital importance to understanding of the past. Both our National Museum and National Library are struggling to survive in dire circumstances brought about by what appears to be official contempt for those two institutions.

With a detrimental 40 per cent cut in its exchequer subsidy since 2008, the museum is faced with the options of closures and introduction of admission charges – neither chimes with the commemoration of a seminal event in our history. The National Library has warned of similar cuts in services. The Government’s reckless dereliction of our heritage amounts to a form of cultural vandalism, a grave dishonour to those they plan to commemorate.

Strong economic arguments have repeatedly been put forward for the rich return that follows investment in the arts and time after time those arguments have fallen on deaf ears. The platitudes that politicians heap on our artists are no substitute for the more genuine recognition they deserve: properly funded nurturing of the creative spirit along with preservation of our inheritance.

The record of this Government in areas of arts and heritage will be a dismal and shameful one: a legacy of damage and neglect that will take years to remedy, if indeed some of the damage, particularly to the museum and library, is not already irreparable. The Government department that has overseen these policies of ruin must share responsibility with its political masters. With few exceptions the arts community has remained silent for too long; surely it is time for more voices to be raised in protest at this corroding episode in our cultural history, in the hope that it is not too late to halt the dying fall.