The National Cultural Institutions Act (1997) changed the relationship of government to a number of key cultural institutions in Ireland. The Act provided for the establishment of the Museums Board of Ireland (Bord Ard-Mhúsaem na hÉireann) and the National Library Board (Bord Leabharlann Náisiúnta na hÉireann). The Act also provided for a new framework of support for national heritage. It is as yet unclear which department will continue the support of these national cultural institutions, as responsibility for heritage has been moved in 2020 from the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media to the Department of the Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Up until 2020, the Department of Culturedirectly funded national cultural institutions including National Archives, National Library, National Museums, National Gallery, Chester Beatty Library, Irish Museum of Modern Art, National Concert Hall, and the Crawford Gallery. Issues relating to the day-to-day management of the individual national cultural institutions are dealt with directly by the institutions themselves; matters relating to the general policy under which they operate and the provision of financial resources are matters for the related department.
The Office of Public Works (OPW) is a government office with responsibility for state-owned and protected national monuments, sites or properties in Ireland. OPW Heritage Services is tasked with conserving these heritage sites as well presenting these sites to visitors. An increased trend has been the utilisation of heritage by government as an instrument in the development of brand Ireland and its tourism products. The OPW maintains and presents Ireland’s most iconic heritage sites, including Ireland’s two World Heritage sites, 780 national monuments and over 2,000 acres of gardens and parklands. The OPW is also responsible for the management of the State Art Collection which comprises of c.16,000 works. These works include both historical and contemporary works including paintings, prints, sculpture, fine and decorative art objects, music, as well as poetry. The National Monuments Service, Historic Properties Service and Visitor Services operate the OPW Heritage Services.
Increased partnership now occurs at a local authority government level between heritage and arts offices. A Framework for Collaboration: An Agreement between the Arts Council and the County and City Management Association highlighted the value and clarified the current position of the 30-year strategic partnership between the Arts Council and local authorities nationwide, and agreed a vision and broad goals for what can be achieved collaboratively over the next ten years.
Public cultural institutions in Ireland have been greatly affected by many years of austerity following the economic recession of 2008. An embargo on recruitment combined with stagnation and cuts in funding have greatly curtailed the development of cultural institutions. This austerity lifted slightly since 2017 with minor infrastructural investments from government mainly dealing with legacy buildings’ maintenance issues. A number of institutions have also been highlighted for future major investment such as the National Abbey Theatre in Dublin. The stagnation of funding to cultural institutions during the years of austerity lead to changes in employment practices with the introduction of short-term contracts, Jobsbridge internships (a national internship scheme that provides work experience placements for a six or nine month period), as well as outsourcing of production.