Social cohesion features in Irish cultural policy mainly through policies for the promotion of participation and audience extension, both conventional and via the community arts movement. The 2006 Public and the Arts report, published by the Arts Council, confirmed the continuing importance of income, education and class in determining levels of engagement with the arts.
The various national programmes for government have underlined the importance of promoting social cohesion as Ireland purports to move toward a knowledge-based society. The arts are generally seen as an instrument in this endeavour, though this has not translated into explicit recognition at the central level. The National Economic and Social Forum (NESF) in its report, The Arts, Cultural Inclusion and Social Cohesion, published in 2007, make the case for cultural inclusion as part of social cohesion. The report shows that participation in the arts varies markedly according to educational level, socio-economic status, area and age. It points out that major national policy documents do not bear witness to a clear policy to broaden arts participation, though Library and Arts Council documents demonstrate a strong focus on social inclusion. The six key recommendations of the report, relating to better policy co-ordination, management and certainty of funding, supports for children, targeted measures for specific groups, improved data and evaluation, and implementation mechanisms, aim to correct this lack of strategic focus. In 2008, the data furnished by the Arts Council’s 2006 publication on The Public and the Arts (see chapter 6) was subjected to further analysis by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) which in its report In the Frame or Out of the Picture? A Statistical Analysis of Public Involvement in the Arts confirmed strongly the influence of social and economic background on involvement in the arts.
There is no doubt that the economic crisis has impacted heavily on social inclusion in Ireland and many studies have pointed to the growing level of inequality in Irish society. See for example, http://www.progressive-economy.ie/2014/07/the-inequality-debate.html). Government cutbacks impacted strongly on the social inclusion agenda and led to outcry by civil society groups.
The National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2007-2016, published by the Irish Government Office for Social Inclusion recognises the benefits of arts and culture and pledges that in the lifetime of the plan each of the national cultural institutions will implement access policies. The plan also encourages children’s participation in the arts. The most recent annual monitoring reports for the National Action Plan make virtually no mention of cultural or arts inclusion.