The Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media co-funds two of the six cross-border implementation bodies established under the terms of the British-Irish Agreement Act (1999). The instrumental use of culture in sustaining international relations is important to the Irish Government. Previous to the establishment of Culture Ireland in 2005, the promotion of Irish culture internationally was supported via the Cultural Relations Committee (CRC), a much smaller agency which was a minor sub department attached to the Department of Foreign Affairs (1948-2004.)
In 2005, Culture Ireland was established as a stand alone, autonomous agency with the role of supporting the development of international opportunities for Irish arts organisations as well individual Irish artists. For a time the agency operated at arm’s length with considerable freedom and without a remit to operate solely for the purpose of cultural diplomacy, which was quite a change from the CRC.
In 2012, Culture Ireland was subsumed into the Department of Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht. While this relocation was deemed by Government as an essential organisational re-configuration of state institutions under crisis conditions after entering the EU-IMF loan programme, it has resulted in much reduced autonomy for the agency. Culture Ireland’s current role is to promote Irish arts worldwide by creating and supporting opportunities for Irish artists and companies to present and promote their work at strategic international festivals and venues. They develop platforms to present “outstanding” Irish work to international audiences, through showcases at key global arts events, such as the Edinburgh Festivals, SXSW Texas, WOMEX or the Venice Biennales.
There are three strategies at work in Culture Ireland. Because of the scarce resources of the agency, they have strategically focused on specific geographic territories such as the United States in 2017, and Britain in 2018. The second strategy is supporting Irish artists and arts organisations to travel internationally. In 2018, this strategy allowed Irish artists to travel to 55 countries and reach a combined international audience of 5.5 million people. The third strategy is to financially support special initiatives, such as the EUR 3.5 million for Imagine Ireland Fund in 2011, EUR 1.9 million for EU Presidency in 2013, and EUR 2.5 million for the cultural fund I am Ireland in 2016. This recent strategic funding is more politically motivated and dependent on the motivations of the Minister of the Department than an autonomous strategy informed by cultural policy expertise.
There has been an initial period of increased funding for Culture Ireland in the past, from EUR 2 million in 2005 to EUR 4.7 million in 2008, which was followed by a decrease down to EUR 2.5 million between 2010 and 2015. In 2018, the funding was increased again to EUR 4 million.
A 2015 review of Ireland’s foreign policy undertaken by the Department of Foreign Affairs stated that ‘Irish culture is a global commons, recognised and followed by people who may have no other connection to Ireland.’ The review also stated that ‘through cultural diplomacy, the relationship we have built with our diaspora communities and the partnerships we have forged around the globe can only be strengthened.’ Initiatives such as the Gathering 2013 and the 2016 Commemorations have strategically used culture as an instrument to connect with the Irish diaspora.
It is worth noting that the lobbying power of cultural agencies in Ireland is limited relative to their levels of autonomy. Culture Ireland was unable to criticise government because it was in the direct employment of government during a time of critical underfunding of its agency and increased government instrumental use of the cultural budget. While the case for cultural funding is made internally, there is an inability for such cultural institutions to lobby for public support.