Heather Humphreys says Government commitment to arts not diminished

More than 5,000 sign online petition protesting new ministerial brief

Minister for Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys has rejected claims her new range of departmental responsibilities represent a downgrading of the status of arts, culture and heritage in the Government’s priorities.

Ms Humphreys, who was previously minister for arts, heritage and the Gaeltacht, said her expanded department would not see current arts funding being diverted elsewhere.

The addition of regional development and rural affairs to Ms Humphreys’s ministerial brief has been criticised as illogical and as demonstrating a lack of understanding of the place of arts and culture in Irish life.

An online petition calling for a reversal of the decision has secured more than 5,000 signatures so far this week. “We’re all really surprised by how much this has taken off,” said the petition’s organiser, John O’Brien, who added that the decision to launch the campaign had been driven by “a combination of disappointment, frustration and anger”.

“I completely understand that the arts community want to know that they remain a priority for Government, that they are valued and taken seriously,” Ms Humphreys responded yesterday. “The new department of course has a lot of extra responsibilities, but with that must come extra staff and resources.” She said that after years of severe cuts, she had been in a position to increase funding over the last two years, and would continue to make the case for the arts strongly at the Cabinet table.

“A large amount of work has been done by my department for the arts sector in recent years, not least the development of our first ever cultural strategy, Culture 2025,” Ms Humphreys said.

“I remain committed to working with all stakeholders in the arts and culture sector so that we can continue to build on the progress made and ensure the arts in this country continue to thrive.”

Artistic director of the Dublin Theatre Festival Willie White said that, while he had feared arts might be pushed down the political agenda by negotiations on government formation which had focused so strongly on rural issues, he welcomed the continuity which Ms Humphreys’s appointment represented, and had always found her “good” to deal with.

Mr White called for the immediate publication of Culture 2025, describing as “extraordinary” the fact it would be the first policy document ever published by the State on culture.

He also expressed hope that the new Government would meet its commitment of raising expenditure on culture to 0.3 per cent of GDP, pointing out that the European average was 0.6 per cent.