Arts now a ‘Frankenstein department’, says Sinn Féin

Cross-party calls for return to ‘Renaissance’ of arts when Michael D Higgins was minister

The Government has created a Frankenstein department of the arts that covers the “bean an tí, ballet, bogs, and broadband”, the Dáil has heard.

Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín criticised the expanded Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht, Regional Development and Rural Affairs as an incoherent “Frankenstein” creation.

With funding cuts, the Irish arts budget was a one-fifth of the European average, he said.

Mr Tóibín said the Government was involved in “bogus economics” in its lack of funding as every €1 investment in the arts resulted in a €3 return.

He was speaking during a Dáil debate on a Fianna Fáil motion on the arts, which was introduced by the party's arts spokeswoman, Niamh Smyth.

She called for the arts as a “distinct and clearly defined Cabinet portfolio” and for cross-party involvement to debate, develop and vote in the Dáil on the Culture 2025 document before it becomes the State’s arts policy.

Hitting out at the expansion of the Department to Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht, Regional Development and Rural Affairs, Ms Smyth said it was effectively a “downgrading of arts from a Cabinet portfolio”.

The TD, a former arts education officer for Cavan-Monaghan Education and Training Board, said there was “anger, disquiet and disbelief” in the arts community at the “effective dilution” of arts.

Lead role

Since 1993, when

Michael D Higgins

became the first minister for the arts, it has been a lead role in cabinet. But over a quarter of a century this had changed, she said.

"Minister this may not be your decision, but it is a bad one," she told her constituency colleague, Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys.

Ms Humphreys, who accepted the Fianna Fáil motion, reiterated the Government’s commitment to arts and “to progressively increase funding to the arts as the economy improves”.

She said she was considering “cultural units” in every local authority to include arts and heritage officers, librarians and curators.

Ms Humphreys said: “I retain responsibility for the arts and I can assure the arts sector that it remains a priority for me.”

She defended the expanded responsibilities in her department and said it “sits well with the Government’s programme to strengthen the role of the arts”.

There was a need to re-evaluate culture, it is “not just about tourism and the economy” she said. Some €18 million in current expenditure and €31 million in capital funding is spent on the arts, the Minister said.

There was a round of applause from the public gallery for People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett, who proposed that arts funding should be increased to 0.6 per cent of GDP, the EU average.

“When a case is made for the arts, it often has to be justified economically, and that should not have to happen,” he said. “Stop arts being the soft touch whenever things get difficult.”

He said it was easy “to utter pious words about their commitment to arts, but then not to match rhetoric with real funding and support for the arts”.