The main objectives of cultural policies implemented by different levels of the Irish public administration relate to the protection, development and presentation of heritage, culture, Irish language and the arts. There is an emphasis on the promotion of access to culture for all citizens of Ireland. More recently, government strategy documents have emphasised the role of culture in the development of the wellbeing of citizens. The cultural policy in Ireland is strongly in line with main European cultural policy principles of support of creativity, participation in cultural life and cultural rights and broadly in line with cultural rights policies.
Recently, in 2015, the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht promised to deliver a new national cultural policy that would replace the Arts Act. The policy process offered an opportunity to review, adapt and renew the existing cultural policy legislation under one overarching cultural policy. While no such one-for-all policy came, a draft policy framework document was created with some new strategic objectives. For example, an all-of-government strategic approach has been attempted in the strategic vision. This has had some success in the area of arts education, but without any legislative changes underpinning such inter departmental cooperation it remains an elusive and vague objective. The other main strategic objective is a focus on culture as a means of increasing wellbeing. This objective has been supported by the establishment of a new Creative Ireland agency within the culture department.
Ireland operates an arm’s length cultural policy model as well as an architect model. The arm’s length model is provided through autonomous semi-state agencies such as the Arts Council, the Heritage Council, Údarás na Gaeltachta or Screen Ireland. The Arts Council is the national agency for the promotion and development of the arts in Ireland. It was established in 1951, to stimulate public interest in, and promote the knowledge, appreciation and practice of, the arts. The Heritage Council was established as a statutory body under the Heritage Act (1995). The Council provides policy advice to government on heritage issues including preservation, sustainability, landscape management, high nature value farming, forestry and climate change.
Support for culture at government level is the responsibility of the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. The Minister/Teachta Dála (TD) in charge of this Department is assigned such responsibility under the legislation of the Arts Act (2003) to promote the arts both inside and outside the state, in consultation with the Arts Council/an Chomhairle Ealaíon. The Minister also has legislative responsibility for Irish heritage under the Heritage Act (2018) and Gaeilge/the Irish language under the Official Languages Act (2003).
The levels of autonomy offered by the arm’s length model have been increasingly limited during the past ten to fifteen years. The expansion of the role of the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media represents a shift towards an architect model of cultural policy. This expansion has included the subsumption of the semi-state agency Culture Ireland into the Department, the creation of a new agency/entity within the department called Creative Ireland that has a role of directly funding arts and culture, the Limerick City of Culture project, and various initiatives under the decade of centenaries. These increased roles within the Department with associated funding allocations have occurred during a period of time when the funding allocation to autonomous agencies such as the Arts Council and Heritage Council has remained static. However, it must be noted however that since 2019 funding allocations to these semi-state agencies have been increased, which has gone someway to addressing this balance.
1922-1950: From the foundation of the state in 1921, the arts and culture were initially treated either as an ill afforded luxury or as a representation of previous British colonial rule. With no official legislation for culture or arts, this period was dominated by censorship laws for film and literature. These laws were eventually seen by most as isolating the people from the realities of the world and began to be eroded from the 1960s onwards. However, there were still books and films banned under these legislations up until the 1990s. In 1947 the Cultural Relations Committee (CRC) was established within Department of Foreign Affairs to stimulate cultural activity nationally and promote Ireland’s image abroad.
1950-1970: The arts and culture were officially introduced into the governmental portfolio with the Arts Act (1951). The act establishes the Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon as an autonomous semi-state agency to support arts in Ireland. This followed in line with the Keynesian and welfare state model that had been introduced in Britain a few years earlier.
1970-1990: In 1973, amendments were made to the Arts Act, widening the parameters of arts funding to include film and allowing for local authorities to support the arts at a local level. In 1980, the Film Board was established to support the development of film as an industry in Ireland. It was then disbanded in 1987 for six years until its reinstatement in 1993, demonstrating the authority of government to roll back on cultural policy commitments. The first regional arts officer was appointed in 1985. The following ten years, arts officers were appointed in almost every local authority in Ireland, along with a small administrative arts office and small arts programmes.
1990-2000: The Temple Bar Property Company was established in 1991 as a pubic private partnership/semi private agency to develop a 70-acre central area of Dublin City as Cultural Quarter. Eleven nationally significant cultural institutions are established in the quarter. In 1993, the Department of Arts, Culture and Gaeltacht was established, but there was no legislative underpinning for the Department until 2003.
2000-2010: The Arts Act was further amended in 2003 with a wider definition of arts (including dance as well as traditional arts), more authority assigned to the Minister of Arts and compliance from the Arts Council. The act is the first legislation to acknowledge the role of the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht and increases the Arts Council’s responsibility of reporting to the Department while passing the responsibility of policy making to the Department.
Culture Ireland was established in 2005 as an autonomous semi state body to develop an international platform for Irish arts organisations and individual artists. In 2008, the National Campaign for the Arts (NFCA) evolved as a lobby group of artists and arts workers concerned about impending government cuts on culture and arts. In 2009, the NCFA organised a lobby and successfully curtailed the massive cuts that had been planned. This collective action of the NCFA demonstrated the lobbying power of the arts community in a way that had not been seen previously. However, the planned cuts in arts spending in 2009 (rumored to be 50%) did eventually occur step by step over the course of the following five years.
2010-2020: In 2012, Culture Ireland lost its autonomy when it was subsumed into the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht. In 2015, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht announced a major cultural budget for commemoration of the 1916 Rising. This increase masked the reality of significant decreases in cultural spending for culture over the previous seven years. In 2016, the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht launched a national consultation for the establishment of a new cultural policy for Ireland. Ultimately, the legislation remained the same, but the strategy moved towards a focus on wellbeing with the establishment of Creative Ireland in 2017 within the Department.
In 2020: COVID-19 hit the cultural sector very hard. The Government initially responds with artist access to an emergency social payment scheme. The NCFA as well as other groups lobbied heavily for a stronger response. Eventually, the Government responded with additional funding of EUR 25 million. The budget allocation for 2021 has increased funding to the Arts Council from EUR 100 million to EUR 130 million as well as increases for Irish language and Screen Ireland.
 Other Departments affecting culture include the Department of Education (having a strong influence via the state schools curriculum in culture and arts); the Department of Rural and Community Development/an Roinn Forbartha Tuaithe agus Pobail (having a strong influence on policy at local authority level); the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (having an influence on state support for individual artists); Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment/an Roinn Cumarsáide, Gníomhaithe ar son na hAaeráide agus Comhshaoil (having an influence on press freedom, platforms for culture via public service broadcasting, as well as copyright and digital culture).