2. Current cultural affairs
Last update: November, 2020
From the perspective of the arts and cultural community, the Fine Gael governments from 2011 to 2020 represent a period of severe austerity and a lack of both public investments and governmental advocacy for arts and culture. The Fine Gael and Labour Coalition as well as the Fine Gael and Fianna Fail Coalitions have overseen the worst period of public investment in arts and culture for quite a significant time.
The cultural achievements of the Fine Gael party relate mainly to grand celebratory gestures such as the Gathering 2013, Limerick City of Culture 2014, and the 2016 Centenary Commemorations. These events achieved success in relation to the economic development of tourism through increased foreign visitors, while at the same time providing opportunities for creativity and community engagement. They also allowed citizens to re-imagine Ireland in a positive light, which in turn builded new partnerships between residents, artists and cultural organisations. However, these events could be seen as an instrumentalisation of arts and culture towards policy objectives outside of culture and arts. The financial commitments to such grand gestures have been made at a loss to normal direct funding of arts organisations. From a peak in 2008, government funding was initially decreased during the austerity measures imposed by the troika bailout and recovery plan. Investment in culture then stagnated, even after economic stability had been achieved. The working conditions of artists and arts workers deteriorated as a result. Many great artists and arts workers have been forced to quit the profession through economic necessity.
The Fine Gael government brought in a work placement scheme tied to social security payments called JobsBridge in 2011. The scheme was successful in getting people off the live register of unemployed. It also offered additional educational opportunities through affiliated courses in education institutions. The scheme was taken up by a large number of arts organisations that were under severe financial pressure of austerity measures, as well as government imposed recruitment embargos. This led to the majority of cultural jobs being given to JobsBridge candidates above other candidates. The scheme can be seen therefore as a contributing factor in the rise of a ‘precariat’ class of cultural workers where work has become extremely unstable and infrequent to the point that it keeps workers on or below minimum wage levels without the rights associated with longer term contracted employment. At the time, JobsBridge was seen as the only option to get into the workforce for many young graduates, but they clearly understood it to be exploitative and lacking respect for their levels of qualifications and related investments.
Also in 2011, the increasing expectation of free artist labour under proposed publicly funded cultural opportunities lead to a national campaign by Visual Artist Ireland (VAI) to insist on fair pay for artists work (‘Ask! Has the Artist Been Paid!’). The Arts Council has since supported the issue with the launch of a new policy in 2020 entitled ‘Paying the Artist.’
The government also attempted to address the working conditions of artists by offering a new social welfare scheme for professional artists in July 2019. The scheme allowed qualifying artists to avail of jobseekers allowance without having to take part in the job activation programme for one year. This allows artists to focus on their artistic work for one year. However, the scheme has not been very successful to date in terms of uptake and it is only provided for artists and not arts workers.
Fine Gael also made a number of promises in relation to cultural policy in Ireland. A fifty percent increase in funding was promised by the party during the 2017 elections campaign. There was very little evidence that this increase was ever going to occur with only an increase of 17% between 2015-2020. The first significant funding increase did take place in 2020 with an additional EUR 25 million for the Arts Council in 2020. This has been followed by a substantial increase in funding allocation for 2021 to EUR 130 million from EUR 100. While these substantial funding increases have been universally welcomed by the arts and cultural community, as they come at the centre of the COVID-19 crisis, it is unclear if they are merely propping up the sector during these challenging times or if they represent a significant trend.
In 2015, the coalition government also promised a new cultural policy for Ireland called Culture 2025. The arts and cultural sectors approached this news positively and welcomed a reform of existing legislation. The sectors engaged fully in sessions feeding into the policymaking process. However, the Culture 2025 policy did not arrive. In its place a draft version was published in 2016 which eventually developed into a framework policy published in 2020. The final document demonstrates very little sign of any review of existing legislation for culture. The only change of note was the establishment of a new agency within the department called Creative Ireland in 2017 to support the implementation of Culture 2025’s instrumental use of culture as a means towards cultural/social wellbeing. While the Culture 2025 policy vision reads well in parts as being conceived from culturally democratic values, it is weak on clear support for the professional arts and cultural sectors. The government has been clear in its financial support and advocacy towards one sector, namely the audio-visual sector. This sector has seen great market potential for growth, which has been acknowledged by government through increased funding.
Last update: November, 2020
Cultural access and participation are prominent in cultural policy and cultural strategy documents of all levels of government in Ireland. Artistic freedom is not explicitly anchored in the Constitution, but freedom of expression is stated as a stand-alone fundamental right within the Constitution. In this sense, it generally protects any kind of artistic creation from state intervention. However, artistic freedom is not one of absolute freedom as there is a stated limitation in Article 40.6.1.i. which provides that the State guarantees liberty for the rights of citizens to express freely their convictions and opinions, "subject to public order and morality". This provides that organs of public opinion such as the radio and the press must not be used to undermine public order or morality or the authority of the State. In effect, this means that prior restraint receives constitutional sanction. A particularly restrictive era of prior restraint which lasted 23 years came to an end in 1994 when the first Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, with the approval of the Government, decided not to renew the annual “Section 31” order.
In 1992, Ireland ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, thus committing the State to cultural investment that would provide children's right to access and participate in arts and culture. The national cultural institutions in Ireland provide cultural programmes specifically designed for children. Creative Schools — a programme born out of the Arts and Education Charter (2012)— creates an arts-rich environment in over 300 schools. There are other institutions with specific programmes for children as well, such as the Ark Cultural Centre for Children in Dublin and Kid’s Own in Sligo. However, universal access for all children is still an issue. There have been calls for further interventions to address the issue such as the 2019 joint initiative by newspaper The Irish Times and the Children’s Rights Alliance entitled ‘No Child 2020’. The initiative called for a universal investment in children’s participation in cultural activity as one of five actions to eradicate child poverty.
In 1989, Ireland ratified the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, including the right of everyone to take part in cultural life. From that point onwards, the rights of minorities to participate fully in cultural life have improved from a policy perspective. While these rights are now written into most cultural institutions strategies, and there have been improvements in relation to access, there remain many barriers to participation for numerous communities.
Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) protects the right of ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities to enjoy their cultural life both individually and in community with the members of their minority. The Human Rights Committee, which monitors the ICCPR, has stated that Article 27 requires the Government to take positive measures to protect the cultural identity of a minority and the right of its members to enjoy and develop their culture. Soft law instruments such as the UN Minorities Declaration and various UNESCO conventions provide for the removal of legal obstacles to cultural development, while at the same time highlighting the need to promote, develop and celebrate the diversity of cultural life of minority groups and the responsibility of Government to take action to ensure the transmission of cultural heritage. Furthermore, under the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, there is an obligation upon States Parties to promote and maintain conditions to enable national minorities to maintain, develop and promote their culture.
 The Order had been issued pursuant to section 31 of the Broadcasting Authority Act 1960 as amended by s. 16 of the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act 1976. The Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960 (Section 31) Order, 1993 (S.I. No 1 of 1993) lapsed on January 19, 1994.
Last update: November, 2020
As a small country with a small professional community within the arts and culture, Ireland has a minor network of arts institutions offering limited career development potential. Within these circumstances, it would be easy for artists to become conservative and subconsciously fall into a pattern of artistic conformity within an acceptable level of pre determined artistic freedom offered by the establishment. The ability of artists to speak out on issues has been tested in recent times. What has been interesting is that the more socially challenging artistic expressions have not been made within the cultural institutions but on the streets outside. Artists are somewhat protected by Article 40.6.1(i) of the Irish Constitution concerning the right to freedom of expression. However, this right is caveated by qualification that this freedom is “subject to public order and morality.”
In 2015, in the run-up to the Marriage Referendum, artist Joe Caslin created a large-scale temporary paper stencil mural of two men embracing on the side of a building on George’s Street in Dublin. Although the building owner granted Caslin permission, the Dublin City Council ordered the removal of the mural (based on a small number of complaints), claiming that it did not comply with planning rules by not applying for planning permission.
Some cultural institutions have championed freedom of speech such as Project Arts Centre. In 2016, in the very early stages of the lead up to the Abortion Referendum of 2018, artist Maser painted a mural on the front façade of the Project Arts Centre. It was a simple graphic of a red heart with the text ‘Repeal the 8th’ inset in white surrounded by a white border. The graphic clearly depicted a message in support of a ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum. Again, Dublin City Council ordered its removal on the basis of lack of planning permission. Project Arts Centre argued that it was their building and they were supporting artistic freedom. But the Council replied it fell under planning rules because the mural faced the public space.
The mural was repainted in 2018 in the middle of the referendum campaign. This time, the charities regulator intervened and ordered its removal on the basis that legislation dictates that charities are not allowed to have political affiliations. Project Arts Centre argued again for artistic freedom turning the ‘painting over’ of the mural into a performance event, which circulated on social media. A small section was left visible as a reminder of the enforcement over freedom of expression. The incident garnered debate (mostly within the arts sector) around the limits of the freedom of expression and censorship within the arts and culture. The repeated backlash from authorities against Project Arts Centre’s mural demonstrated a difference of public opinion on what constitutes freedom of speech for artists working in public spaces but equally highlighted a perceived limit on cultural institutions.
Concurrently, there was a strong voice of support from a group called ‘artists for repeal’. The Artists’ Campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment was set up in 2015 by Cecily Brennan, Alice Maher, Eithne Jordan, and Paula Meehan. It began as an online campaign appealing to fellow artists, writers, musicians, and actors to put their names to a statement calling for a repeal of Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland (Article 40.3.3) that equates the life of a pregnant woman with that of the foetus. The aim of the campaign group was to promote national and international awareness of the restrictive reproductive laws of Ireland and to encourage and inspire other groups and activists to use cultural means to promote social change. A rich body of visual artefacts were created during the campaign. These artistic voices contributed a distinct and unique visual culture that united the campaign. Public gatherings including performances and readings organised by artists also supported the campaign. In literature, ‘Repeal the 8th’, an anthology edited by Una Mullally, is a collection of the writing and art inspired by the most pressing debate in contemporary Ireland in the run up to the referendum in 2018. It became a national bestseller despite its launch being cut out of the Dublin Festival of Literature programme.
A recent Theatre Forum survey elaborated the precarious nature of performing artists work. The survey revealed that a third of artists earn less than the national minimum wage of EUR 9.55 per hour and 83% of the artists are paid flat fees regardless of hours worked.
Last update: November, 2020
While passing references have been made to digital policy within cultural policy and strategy for some time, implementation has been slow. In 2007, the Irish Manuscripts Commission drafted a digitisation policy including recommendations to government that a National Digital Strategy was required. They suggested that this responsibility should fall on the then Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism. Phase 1 of Ireland’s National Digital Strategy (NDS) was launched in July 2013 by the Department of Communications. The main focus of the NDS is on ‘doing more with digital’, aiming towards a digitally enabled society. The strategy sets out a vision and a number of practical actions and steps to encourage and assist citizens and small businesses to get online. Phase 1 focuses on Business & Enterprise, Citizen Training and Schools & Education. The ultimate goal is the optimal economic and social use of the Internet by business, individuals and the government. Apart from a minor reference to the potential to development of creativity skills within digital skills education, arts or culture are not mentioned in the digitisation strategy.
The Government is now seeking to develop a new National Digital Strategy to progress further and grasp the opportunities offered by digitalisation and respond to its challenges. The newly formed coalition government of 2020 has maintained the strategy to roll out high speed broadband to the whole of the country under the National Broadband Plan through a combination of commercial and state investment. Another initiative that has enabled digital growth is entitled Smart Cities. The overarching aim of a smart city designation is to enhance the quality of living for its citizens through smart technology. 2016 saw the launch of Smart Dublin, a collaboration between Dublin’s four local authorities, which aims to engage with smart technology providers and researchers ‘to solve city challenges and improve city life’.
Culture Ireland’s strategy 2017-2020 makes specific reference to developing digital footprint potential internationally. The Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media’s statement of strategy 2018-2020 makes a passing reference to the 2040 goals related to the digital economy. The only solid reference to digitisation is made in relation to the digitisation of the national archives, in line with the national development plan. The government strategy ‘Project 2040’ aims to upgrade the cultural infrastructure including large scale investment in the digitisation of the National Archives. The National Archives’ digital imaging policy (2016) is designed to support and facilitate the preservation of archives. The Digital Repository of Ireland stores digital data archives in humanities, social sciences, and cultural heritage.
The audiovisual sector has capitalised more than other cultural sectors on the opportunities offered by digitalisation. A national strategy for the development of skills for the audiovisual industry in Ireland prepared by the Screen Ireland and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) in 2017 placed emphasis on the need to develop digital skills reacting to the changes in convergence including digital platforms.
Last update: November, 2020
Concerning the cultural field, statements made in relation to ‘cultural diversity’ and ‘social inclusion’ appear in strategy papers as well as legislation. However, there is no cohesive all-of-government programme linking intercultural dialogue and culture. There is also a lack of monitoring of existing strategies for international dialogue. Grants for multicultural cultural projects are given by government agencies (Arts Council, Screen Ireland, Culture Ireland, Creative Ireland) and through local authorities (arts offices, libraries, heritage). The awareness of the need to promote intercultural dialogue at a national level is growing and there are a number of initiatives to support this.
The central conclusion of the 2010 report How People Live their Lives in an Intercultural Society of the European Cultural Foundation's Irish Committee, is that Irish people — personally, in their communities, in business, society and public service — are ready to learn more about other cultures and to facilitate greater integrations of migrants into Irish society. However, the capabilities and practices that might support an intercultural society are inhibited by some features of Irish policies and a lack of opportunities for intercultural dialogue.
Ireland participated in the programme of the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue (EYID) in 2008. Some critics have argued that the programme in Ireland focused on too narrow a definition of ‘culture’ as ‘arts’. Still, it resulted in many interesting intercultural projects that highlighted the positive effect of collaborative arts where professional artists work with communities to achieve the EYID goals of raising awareness and promotion of the role of intercultural dialogue. Many professional cultural organisations such as Aramb Productions, Camino Productions, Calypso Productions, Polish Theatre Ireland as well as NGO’s such as the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, Spirasi and the Forum on Migration and Communication have pushed for cultural recognition of minority-ethnic groups and interactions between majority and minority groups through engaging and inclusive artistic programmes. The programme also acted as a catalyst for policy change such as the 2010 Arts Council’s Cultural Diversity and the Arts policy and strategy statement.
Last update: November, 2020
The Equality Authority of Ireland has a broad legislative mandate to promote equality of opportunity and to combat discrimination. The field of education is a core focus in the work of the Equality Authority. In Ireland the Employment Equality Acts prohibit discrimination in the workplace, which is relevant for staff in educational establishments as well as educational contexts of cultural institutions. The Equal Status Acts prohibit discrimination in the provision of goods and services, accommodation and education. The Acts include specific provisions in relation to educational establishments.
Diversity at School (2004) is a unique and valuable report of the Equality Authority. It encompasses all nine grounds covered by the equality legislation — gender, marital status, family status, age, disability, sexual orientation, race, religion and membership of the Traveller community — in a single study. It is valuable in its identification of a broad range of issues that need to be addressed in schools and other educational institutions if equality is to be effectively promoted in a context of diversity.
Under the Education Act (1998), a number of key partners (in addition to the Department of Education and Science) are identified as playing a central role in education policy at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. These include teacher unions, national parents’ associations, school management bodies and school patrons (including the Vocational Education Committees). In addition, a number of statutory bodies and support agencies have important roles such as the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, the National Educational Welfare Board, the Higher Education Authority and the agencies and support services of the Department of Education in such areas as school development planning, curriculum development, student guidance, etc. Students are defined as key partners in their own education under the Education Act. The Diversity at Schools report suggests that if equality-related change is to be implemented within the education system then each of the partners needs to be involved.
Barriers to diversity education include inherited historic post-independence policy attempts at promoting a homogenous cultural identity for Ireland. Differences around disability, ethnicity, or beliefs were subsumed or suppressed in a society in which all were deemed to be the same. While the policy situation has improved in relation to providing access and participation to all, there remain barriers. Single sex denomination schools as well as a high proportion of private schools dominate the compulsory components of education (primary and secondary level). Over 90 per cent of primary schools are denominationally controlled (mainly Roman Catholic.) However, since the mid-1980s the majority of newly established primary schools have been multi-denominational schools as provided under Educate Together or Gaelscoileanna (Irish Language Schools), representing a change in traditional patterns.
It was the recommendation of the Diversity at School report that education about equality should become more systematic in the Irish educational institutions. Equality principles need to inform all programmes taught in schools, regardless of whether there are members of groups from the nine grounds named in the equality legislation on the roll.
A further report by the Economic and Social Research Institute in 2009 entitled Adapting to Diversity: Irish Schools and Newcomer Students studied the diversity policies at primary and secondary schools. It found that over half of the schools had a specific policy to support the integration of new students from diverse backgrounds, including special language support programmes. The report recommended a policy focus on language programmes. An anti bullying policy was also recommended. While the report does find a lack of understanding amongst Irish students of other cultures, it falls short of recommending diversity education.
In 2013, Anti Bullying Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary schools were introduced by the Department of Education and Skills. In accordance with the Education (Welfare) Act (2000) and guidelines issued by the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB), all schools in Ireland are now required to have an anti-bullying policy within their overall code of behaviour.
Since 2005, an action plan by the Department of Education and Science called Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) has been in place to support equal opportunity in education. The plan has focused on identifying economic disadvantage and offering support for disadvantaged students to continue in education. The action plan is grounded in the belief that:
- every child and young person deserves an equal chance to access, participate in and benefit from education;
- each person should have the opportunity to reach her/his full educational potential for personal, social and economic reasons and;
- education is a critical factor in promoting social inclusion and economic development. The Action plan does not include specific actions related to diversity education.
The DEIS plan of 2017 has focused on implementing “a more robust and responsive Assessment Framework for identifying schools” in need of supports, as well as improving the learning experience of pupils in DEIS schools.
The Educate Together schools in Ireland are co-educational and have no school uniforms. The schools are led by an equality based ethos and work hard to instill a sense of equality and justice in students. All children have equal access to school and no religion or worldview is given priority over another.
Goal 4 of the Irish Government’s Sustainable Development Goals National Implementation Plan 2018-2020 sets out government targets in 2030 related to ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all in Ireland. Most of the emphasis is on removing inequality barriers for children, girls, women and disabled. There is little specific emphasis on diversity education related to cultural or ethnic diversity.
Last update: November, 2020
The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) published a new Media Plurality Policy in 2019 that sets out how BAI will support and promote media plurality. The BAI’s role in promoting and supporting media plurality is undertaken in the context of the provisions of the Broadcasting Act (2009) and the Competition and Consumer Protection Act (2014). The BAI works together with and supports media plurality activities undertaken by the Minister for Climate Action, Communications Networks and Transport, and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC). Under the Competition and Consumer Protection Act (2014), both the Minister for Communications and the CCPC have key powers related to maintaining plurality. It is the role of the CCPC to review media merger proposals over a certain financial scale threshold to ensure that they will not substantially lessen competition. It is the role of the Minister for communications to make a determination on whether a proposed media merger will be contrary to the public interest in protecting plurality of media in the State.
Media plurality is defined in the BAI policy as Diversity of Content (the extent to which the broad diversity of views including diversity of views on news and current affairs and diversity of cultural interests prevalent in Irish society is reflected through the activities of media businesses in the State, including their editorial ethos, content and sources) and Diversity of Ownership. Consideration of media plurality is especially important given the rapidly evolving and converging media environment. Reporters Without Borders has criticised the high concentration of media ownership in Ireland and the need for defamation reform as these issues threaten press freedom. Independent News and Media (INM) control much of the daily and Sunday newspaper market as well as one of the few national commercial television company, while broadcasting was dominated by the semi-state company RTE. Frequent defamation suits and the extraordinarily high damages awarded by Irish courts also pose a significant threat to press freedom. In November 2019, the Minister of Justice pledged to reform the Defamation Act in 2020 to tackle these issues. The reform is long overdue as a review was intended within five years of the law’s passage in 2009.
In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights found that a EUR 1.25 million award in a defamation case in Ireland was a breach of the right to freedom of expression. The Communications (Retention of Data) Act (2011) was due to be revised and replaced, however no bill has yet been tabled. The General Scheme of the Communications (Retention of Data) Bill (2017), which came in response to judgements of the Court of Justice of the European Union, has received criticism for failing to provide specific protections for press journalists.
Current challenges to media plurality as defined in the BAI Media Plurality Policy (2019) include: changes in consumption patterns away from traditional media; concern regarding issues of misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation on political, social and cultural matters which is evident via discussions on fake news in the social media sphere and elsewhere; the aggregation of personal data by media businesses, in particular social media businesses, and its use in ways that are neither transparent nor ethical; the impact of news filters, intermediaries and algorithms that can lead to polarisation and to a limitation of exposure to a diversity of viewpoints; threats to the sustainability and quality of news and cultural production due to the loss of income from the decline in payments for news content and from shifts in advertising towards online media.
Last update: November, 2020
The Irish language represents an area of complexity for cultural policy. In legislation, the Irish language is deemed important to Irish culture and Irish identity by the Irish Government. The Official Languages Act (2003) sets out the status of the Irish language in the Irish Constitution. Article 8 of the Constitution states: 1. The Irish language as the national language is the first official language; 2. The English language is recognised as a second official language; and 3. Provision may, however, be made by law for the exclusive use of either of the said languages for any one or more official purposes, either throughout the State or in any part thereof. This was the first time the provision of services in general through Irish by the state system was placed on a statutory footing. The aim of the 2003 Act is to increase and improve in an organised manner over a period of time the quantity and quality of services provided for the public through Irish by public bodies. The legislation intends to create a space for the language in public affairs in Ireland. The Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga (a fully independent office) was established under the Official Languages Act as an independent statutory office operating as an ombudsman’s service and as a compliance agency.
An important goal of the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media is to support the Irish language, to strengthen its use as the principal community language of the Gaeltacht and to assist the sustainable development of island communities. The Department funds Údarás na Gaeltachta as the regional development agency for the Gaeltacht and co-funds Foras na Gaeilge in its work in supporting the Irish language on an all-island basis (including Northern Ireland.) It also funds the office of the Language Commissioner and supports the delivery of services to island communities.
The Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media has an overarching responsibility for the implementation of the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language (2010-2030). The Strategy aims to promote a holistic, integrated approach to the Irish language. A key feature of the Strategy is a coordinated approach in conjunction with Údarás na Gaeltachta and Foras na Gaeilge. Údarás na Gaeltachta operates under the Údarás na Gaeltachta Acts (1979-2010). The relevant primary legislation includes both the Údarás na Gaeltachta Acts and the Gaeltacht Act (2012). The policy support for the Irish language is spread across multiple Government departments: the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media works with the Department of Education and Skills, and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
Last update: November, 2020
There are no specific strategies for the cultural labour market to support women as professionals. The government set a target back in 1993 that all State boards should have a representation of at least 40% of each gender. The National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020 published by the Department of Justice and Equality in 2017 is the framework through which the Government will attempt to advance the rights of women and girls and to enable their full participation in Irish society. In 2017, women constituted 38% of board members according to the National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020. However, according to a recent gender balance survey conducted by the Central Statistics Office the figure for total female appointment to boards is lower at just 30%. Only one in nine CEO’s in large enterprises in Ireland are women according to the CSO Gender Balance in Business Survey of 2019. Publicly funded cultural institutions have overall representation of 36% women on their boards.
The Employment Equality Act (1998), which came into operation in 1999, repeals and replaces the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act (1974) and the Employment Equality Act (1977). Discrimination in employment is outlawed by the act on nine distinct grounds: gender, family status, marital status, age, disability, sexual orientation, religion, race, or membership of the traveller community. The wide scope of the legislation covers discrimination in relation to: access to employment, advertising, conditions of employment, equal pay for work of equal value, promotion, collective agreements, training, and work experience. Discrimination in these areas is outlawed whether by an employer, an employment agency, a trades union, a professional body, a vocational training body or within newspaper advertising jobs. The Act gives protection to employees both in the public and private sector as well as applicants for employment and training. It also allows an employer to put in place positive action measures to promote equal opportunities on gender grounds. This legislation is guided and supported by the Equality Authority as well as the Human Rights Commission. However cases of discrimination are decided upon by the Office of the Director of Equality Investigation.
Women artists and arts workers across a range of disciplines continue to encounter barriers to advancing their careers compared to their male counterparts. The recent emergence of artist led movements such as Waking the Feminists, Sounding the Feminists and Fair Plé have evidenced this. Waking the Feminists was formed in 2015 by artists in response to a male-dominated programme for the 1916 Rising centenary at the Abbey Theatre. With advocacy support from the department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht a number of leading theatre organisations in Ireland worked together to initiate and formalise a position on gender policy. Over two years from 2016-2018, the companies engaged in a series of discussions that resulted in each organisation forming its own gender policy statement with reference to a common desire for reform. The Arts Council responded further with the production of its own Equality, Human Rights and Diversity Policy in 2019. The accompanying action plan is the first of its kind put forward by the council. Action 2.2. of the plan commits the council to “publish aggregate information on award applicants and recipients with an immediate focus on gender…” with annual reports on gender statistics published on their website. Policy Action 4.2 requires strategically funded organisations to ensure their boards are gender balanced.
Screen Ireland has engaged a new strategic focus on gender equality in their strategic plan with a six-point plan. The strategy demonstrates a proactive approach as demonstrated by the accompanying programme of actions, including new production and training schemes specifically for female creative talent. In 2018, the Department of Arts Heritage and Gaeltacht launched the Countess Markievicz Award for Irish female artists. At EUR 20,000, it is the largest fund available to individual artists in Ireland. The purpose of the award is to honour Countess Constance de Markievicz who was an artist and radical historical figure in Ireland at the beginning of the twentieth century. She was the first woman to be elected to parliament. When the new award was first announced by the Minister it appeared that it was open to women, but this was later reframed as an award to provide support for artists from all backgrounds and genres to buy time and space in order to develop new work that reflects on the role of women in the period covered by the decade of centenaries 2012-23, and beyond.
 Department of Justice and Equality (2017) National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020: Creating a Better Society for All.
Last update: November, 2020
In 1999, the National Disability Authority Act was enacted to underpin the new mainstream framework for the provision of services to people with disabilities. Under this Act, the National Disability Authority (NDA) was established as an independent statutory body dedicated to disability issues. The authority gathers data on disability issues, establishes and monitors standards and codes of practice in the implementation of programmes and services. It liaises with all agencies of government with the aim of encouraging the recognition and promotion of equality for people with disabilities. Under the act cultural agencies such as the Arts Council must ensure that their programmes are in line with the standards and codes of the authority.
In 2012, the Arts Council published an update of their disability policy along with a five-year strategy entitled Arts and Disability (2012-2016). The key values of the strategy include ensuring equality for people with disability so they can engage fully in artistic and cultural life in Ireland; and the support of a more social model of disability as an approach where access is considered at the early planning stage of infrastructure and programmes. The strategy acknowledges that it is important that disability is seen to include a diversity of people and practices. A holistic approach is favoured combining the mainstreaming of access and participation for artists and audiences with the more strategically targeted supports. The strategy fits within a wider inclusion policy of the Arts Council where arts and disability are part of a larger commitment to social inclusion.
The organisation Arts and Disability Ireland (ADI) is the national development and resource organisation dealing with arts and disability issues. The organisation promotes engagement with the arts at all levels — as professional artists, audience members and arts workers — for people of all ages with disabilities of all kinds. They encourage arts programmes and arts venues in becoming fully accessible experiences for all. They also advocate for inclusive policy and practice, which provides real access to all aspects of the arts for everyone. ADI’s strategic plan 2017-2021 entitled Leading Change in Arts and Culture focuses on three strategic areas: artists, audiences, and the arts and cultural environment. In relation to artists, they aim to ensure that Irish artists with disabilities experience no barriers in making art, and that their quality work is seen and appreciated in Ireland and internationally. They aim to ensure that audiences enjoy seamless, holistic, person-centred experiences. In relation to the arts and cultural environment ADI aim to ensure that disability inclusion becomes a natural part of the practice of arts programmers and arts workers.
Last update: November, 2020
The strongest protection offered to minority groups in Ireland comes from the Equal Status Act (2000). The Act compliments the Employment Equality Act of 1998. Under the Equal Status Act, it is illegal to discriminate on the nine grounds of gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race and membership of the traveller community within the context of:
- the provision of goods, facilities and services available to the public generally
- schools and other educational establishments
- the provision of accommodation
- relation to membership of private registered clubs.
The act also sets forth the obligations now imposed on the owners and operators of businesses (including cultural) that supply goods and services, on those who provide accommodation, on the management of schools and educational establishments, and on the boards of private registered clubs.
Cultural and social inclusion is one of many issues facing refugees within the Direct Provision system in Ireland. This is a system of asylum seeker accommodation in Ireland operated by the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) of the Department of Justice and Equality. The majority of centres are privately owned and operated and the standards of accommodation and living conditions vary considerably. While the system provides asylum seeker residents with accommodation and a small weekly living allowance, there are a number of limitations placed on asylum seekers, which act as barriers to participation in the cultural and social life of Ireland. The National Integration Strategy (2017-2020) of the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration was published in 2017 and sets out the Government’s approach to integration. Culture is specifically mentioned in the strategy’s vision and includes participation in cultural activities, development of language skills, while preserving also their own traditions. The newly elected government of 2020 acknowledges that the Direct Provision system is not working and is now working to create major reforms.
A number of artists and arts organisations have sought to engage with people living in direct provision as well as give voice to artists within the direct provision system. The Asylum Archive consists of accumulated documents, artefacts, oral histories and photography created by Dublin based visual artist and researcher Vukašin Nedeljković. The archive engages directly with the everyday realities of asylum seekers, drawing on Nedeljković’s personal experience of being an asylum seeker. The multidisciplinary collaborative art project involved working with asylum seekers, artists, academics, civil society activists and immigration lawyers, amongst others, with a view to creating an interactive documentary and cross-platform online resource, critically foregrounding accounts of exile, displacement, trauma and memory. The work has been exhibited throughout Ireland. The Glucksman Gallery in Cork supported a project working with children living in direct provision. The project sought to offer a marginalised community a creative and positive experience within a museum environment. Many other arts institutions have attempted to reach out to the asylum seekers living in direct provision.
To focus specifically on social inclusion measures within cultural policy, the Department of Arts, Heritage, and Gaeltacht’s Culture 2025 policy framework states:
"Culture also has an important role to play in promoting tolerance, inclusivity and social cohesion in our increasingly diverse society. It should be accessible to everyone, irrespective of origin, place of residence, religious beliefs, or economic or social background. Culture also has an important role in social integration. It must reflect Ireland’s shift to a multicultural society and recognise the value of diverse cultural influences. Interaction, equality of opportunity, understanding, respect and integration all contribute to the enrichment of our culture."
However, many local diversity issues remain despite the explicit reference to the importance of cultural diversity made by the Department as well as the Arts Council and Creative Ireland in several policy and strategy documents. For example, the historic difficulty of the Traveller community to freely express their distinct culture continues as a cultural rights issue. One recent positive change has been the official recognition of the Traveller community as an ethnic minority group in 2017. By taking this step, Ireland has shown its determination to value the unique culture, identity and heritage of Travellers in the country. This has offered better protection of the group’s cultural rights. But it must be noted that this protection is very late in relation to the rights of minority groups internationally. The National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy 2017 – 2021 was published in 2017 by the Department of Justice. Roma people are entitled to the same rights and responsibilities as any other European Union citizen when in Ireland.
The diversity policy emphasis has recently shifted away from ‘integration’ and towards ‘inclusion’. Cultural identity is recognised as one of ten strategic themes within the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy along with objectives related to supporting Traveller and Roma culture, identity and heritage to be valued within Irish society while also preserving Traveller cultural heritage.
The 2010 report of the Arts Council on Cultural Diversity and the Arts, while acknowledging the wider socio-economic, educational and health factors, listed a number of barriers specific to the area of cultural diversity: lack of knowledge and capacity among those charged with arts provision at both local and national level; lack of clarity about the arts agenda vis-à-vis the cultural diversity agenda; lack of funding and support; and overdependence on short term projects and ‘celebratory’ approaches. The Arts Council has responded to the first of these barriers by now providing demographic cultural mapping information for local arts programmers to better understand the diversity of the communities that may engage with arts programmes. Within the Arts Council's plan for 2020-2022 it is stated that “we live in a republic of equals, where the arts are for all. But there are still communities in Ireland where access to the arts continues to be a challenge. Barriers to participation in the arts include geography, demography, socio-economic background, gender and disability.” In response the Council has adopted a new Equality, Human Rights and Diversity Policy to be integrated across all of their work.
 Department of Justice and Equality (2017) National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy 2017 – 2021.
Last update: November, 2020
References to the societal impacts of arts are frequently made in many policy framework documents of the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media as well as the Arts Council. Making Great Art Work: Leading the Development of the Arts in Ireland - Arts Council Strategy (2016–2025) for example states that “The arts shape and challenge us, give us pleasure, help us to know who we are and where we are going: their distinctive, creative power is an essential feature of our consciousness and conversation.”
Research has been conducted related to participation and engagement in the arts as well as attitudes to the arts, such as the Arts Council commissioned The Arts in Everyday Life (2015) or the Public and the Arts (1994, 2006, 2018.) However, the societal impacts of the arts lack evidence-based research to underpin policy claims of social impact. The Arts Council as well as local government acknowledge that while they have many anecdotal accounts of the transformative effect the arts have had on different communities and localities, they do not have a systemic way of gathering this information to tell the story of true impact. For this reason, in 2020 the Council has trialed a new system to assist in assessing the social impact of investment in the arts at local level. Using the Social Impact Assessment (SIA) model, the Council is currently piloting this approach with projects in three local authorities in the counties Carlow, Leitrim and Limerick. The results have not been shared as yet.
Last update: November, 2020
Cultural sustainability is still a conceptual outlier both in cultural policy and sustainable development policy in Ireland. Cultural sustainability rarely appears in policy as a stand-alone goal. Neither is there a distinct strategy to progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals taking account of cultural sustainability.
‘Sustainability’ is interpreted in cultural policy as a term to refer to the sustainability of the arts sector or cultural and creative industries. More recently with the Arts Council’s Creative Places pilot initiative, sustainability has been interpreted as a strategic sustained investment in a local community.
Policies related to investing in the cultural wellbeing of communities appeared more recently in the cultural policy framework document Culture 2025 (2020) of the Department of Culture, Heritage, and Gaeltacht: "The value of culture as a means of fostering a more sustainable future for Ireland, including through economic, environmental and social policy". Increasing public engagement with the arts is a goal of the Arts Council’s strategy Making Great Art Work (2016-2025). This goal then translates to a principle of recognizing the value of culture and creativity to the individual and society.
In the Voluntary National Review 2018 submitted to the Sustainable Development Goals knowledge platform by the Irish Government, culture is not mentioned at all. The Sustainable Development Goals National Implementation Plan 2018-2020 also makes little mention of cultural sustainability. Goal 8.9 states that by 2030 the government will devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products. Goal 12.b aims to monitor impacts of tourism development on culture. The emphasis on culture is mostly related to supporting economic development. Sustainable cultural development is not emphasised as a distinct goal or sub goal in itself.
Within the governmental tourism strategy People, Place and Policy - Growing Tourism to 2025, culture (mainly cultural heritage) is only seen as worth protecting as one of a number of valuable assets to ensure a positive visitor experience for tourists. But the responsibility for this protection is clearly passed on to the Office of Public Works and Department of Heritage and Heritage Council. There is a lack of coordination over the shared responsibility for the sustainability of cultural heritage from the tourism bodies, the cultural heritage bodies, as well as bodies responsible for national infrastructural development. Within the governmental framework Our Sustainable Future (2012), culture is only mentioned in relation to sustaining a multicultural society. Thus, culture is not recognised as a strategic priority in achieving sustainable development. This lack of recognition of culture within sustainable development is clearly evidenced by its absence in the Irish Government National Reviews submitted to UNESCO on progress towards the UNESCO sustainable development goals as well as the National Development Plan (Project 2040).
ICOMOS Ireland contributes to international dialogue, debate and policy related to the sustainability of heritage and cultural heritage. ICOMOS International has recently published an important set of principles for EU funded interventions with potential impact upon cultural heritage in 2018.
Last update: November, 2020
Other issues affecting cultural policy relate to insurance legislation. The very high cost of insurance premiums is putting the festivals and cultural events sectors in Ireland at risk. In response, the Alliance for Insurance Reform (a group representing businesses in Ireland) is lobbying government and demanding a cut in unfair personal injury awards, a rebalance of the Duty of Care, the establishment of a Garda insurance fraud unit, and lower premiums from insurers. The group consists of a wide range of civic, sports and small business bodies as well as individual businesses; all of them affected by the unsustainable cost of insurance in Ireland. The group has called for the establishment of a special cabinet committee in government to address the issue but as of yet government has not dealt with the issue adequately.