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Maintaining a wide network of cultural facilities built throughout the country during the boom years is now proving a challenge to fund-starved local authorities.


The abolition of a number of local authorities under local government reform will impact on arts funding and provision.


As government funding has weakened, there has been a civil service move to wield power more centrally, attracting criticism from the arts community.

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Ireland/ 2. General objectives and principles of cultural policy  

2.1 Main features of the current cultural policy model

As articulated in the Arts Act 2003, the overarching policy role for the cultural sector rests with the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (DAHG) (the latest of many denominations of the Irish arts ministry). The Cultural Institutions Division of the Department provides the legal and policy framework for Ireland's national cultural institutions and heritage. The policy framework had been epitomised by the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997 (currently under review – see also chapter 4.1 and chapter 7.1) which made provision for institutional autonomy, provides powers to government to give a state indemnity to visiting collections and artworks, makes provision for a register of cultural objects, export licences and so on. The autonomy of the Arts Council was preserved in the 2003 Arts Act and the Council has never protested publicly at any diminution of this status. It is however fair to add that it is constrained in so doing by virtue of its funding dependence. A determination on the autonomy of the Arts Council would require a granular study of Department / Arts Council relationships and an independent examination of policy implementation in recent years. There is certainly evidence to suggest that as the Department funding has weakened, there has been a civil service move to wield power more centrally i.e. by the DAHG and away from the Arts Council,  and in a manner that has been widely criticised by the arts community. A searing example of this is the current dismantlement of the National Cultural Institutions Act, 1997. 

Since 1995 the Arts Council has identified priorities expressed in plans of three to five years duration, which are evaluated and form the basis for government funding of the arts,subject to available resources. Beset by dramatic funding and staffing cuts, the Arts Council has undertaken a strategic review in 2014, the report of which has been published: Inspiring Prospects (for more details see chapter 2.3). Historically the local authority role in cultural development in Ireland, driven by the Arts Council, had represented only a small part of total national arts funding. This is a result of the highly centralised nature of the Irish state, the limited functions of local government (relative to other European countries) and the low funding base of local authorities. Local government in the 1990s gave it a more central role in arts and cultural planning at local level and since 2003 each of Ireland's local authorities is required by government to devise a plan for the arts.

As more local authorities engage actively in arts planning, their contribution to cultural policy making became more significant, connecting the cultural dimension with a range of other drivers in the local environment and economy (see also chapter 3.2). Local authorities, while by now substantially committed to their arts role, are also severely challenged in meeting and maintaining their commitments in the current economic crisis. The abolition of a number of local authorities as part of the latest wave of local government reform will also have effects on arts funding and provision. Furthermore the establishment of a wide network of cultural facilities (in some cases of significant size) throughout the country during the boom years is now proving a further challenge to fund-starved local authorities.

One effect of Ireland's crisis has been a push to encourage cooperation between arts organisations and various suggestions have been put forward to reduce costs through shared services. As part of a wider cull of the many unnecessary quangos and agencies established during the boom, the Department has determined in the case of the national cultural institutions, to roll back of the 1997 Act which established the autonomy of these bodies. The equation of the national cultural institutions with quangos has met with widespread opprobrium. The Minister has decided to bring some of the national cultural institutions back under the central control of the Department and government has agreed that the independent boards put in place by the 1997 Act will be effectively dissolved. Already Culture Ireland has been absorbed into the Department. In effect the repeal of the 1997 Act represents a recentralisation drive which is regarded by the arts community as retrogressive and likely to engender the stagnation that preceded its introduction. While the reasons given locate the recentralisation of culture in the overall cost-saving / efficiency aims of government, it is widely believed that this action, resulting in the most paltry savings, is aimed at shoring up a government department, widely perceived as of low priority and itself in danger of dissolution at different times.

Chapter published: 10-06-2015

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