"Make Ireland a nation and the Irish artist will feel himself a partner in your toils, your ambition and your renown."
Those words of exhortation were delivered by Thomas Davis in the 1800s. If he was around today, Davis might justifiably be angered or at least dismayed by the relegation of the arts in recent ministerial appointments – especially in the wake of the Government's 1916 commemoration programme that so laudably put artists at the forefront of events that imaginatively and eloquently enhanced this period of remembrance. Of course that is as it should be: cultural movements were a driving force in the imagining of the nation that Davis spoke of.
The decision to include the arts as a mere adjunct to the major responsibilities that Minister Heather Humphreys faces in taking on rural and regional development does not invite those making art and working in the cultural sector to feel themselves a partner to anything of significance or value.
The position of the arts in the hierarchy of the new title – Minister for Regional Department, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht – implies a deliberate downgrading of their status in government policy.
The arts, having suffered severe funding cuts, are now being consigned to what can only be departmental disadvantage. While heritage remains within the remit of the reconfigured department, it too has been demoted.
It might well be that in the past months Ms Humphreys has been pre-occupied with the commemorative season, and it must be said that it will leave better legacies than the 50th anniversary, but our heritage and arts deserve more than the divided attention of a minister.
At the very least, she now has the task of ensuring that the €50 million spent this year on commemoration is replicated to the benefit of both sectors in the next budget.
Our economic situation can no longer mitigate refusal to increase expenditure. Meanwhile, the current outcry and campaign for a reversal of this retrograde decision and the restoration of a full ministerial post warrants widespread support.