Arts Funding Centre Stage

€48 million a year is spend on Arts and Culture in Ireland. The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan, TD, is reviewing the organizations that run many of the arts and cultural services in the country. Many of these organizations come under his department, including The National Library, The National Archives and The Irish Manuscripts Commission, which the government are planning to merge into one organization.

The minister has coming out defending government policy. His department are examining the most efficient use of resources at each of the culture organizations. He said "In a time of tight resources we have to maximise the use of every cent taxpayers give to every institution. These are the times we live in. No organization. is above examination for reform. I think that the periodic examination of organizations – especially those receiving money from the taxpayer – is a healthy and necessary exercise."

Fianna Fáil's spokesperson on Arts and Heritage Robert Troy, TD, put forward the motion to debate the protection of the Arts sector. He wants to see the government publish a full cost benefit analysis of proposed changes to the sector including any suggested mergers of cultural organizations. The government face stiff opposition as both major opposition parties Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin will oppose any attempts to merge many of these organizations

Sinn Féin Leader Gerry Adams, TD, is pledging his party to the opposition of such mergers. Sinn Féin are calling for the Minister to meet with his northern Irish counterpart Caral Ní Chuilin to discuss an All-Ireland strategy. Gerry Adams concluded by saying "It is imperative that we preserve and safeguard the nation’s past. In the final analysis, the language of protection, preservation, imagination and creativity must replace the state centred language of structural reform and bureaucratic control."

Labour's Alex White has also questioned the proposed merger of cultural institutions. At the Private Members debate on the subject he said that many efficiencies are possible and are taking place. He said that the autonomy provided to the cultural institutions must not be "jettison" for efficiencies that are taking place when such cultural institutions work together. He concluded by saying "The point has been made repeatedly that our cultural institutions are absolutely central to promoting tourism and the image of Ireland abroad. We simply cannot over-estimate the vital importance of this "branding" asset for the country. What is involved here is vastly more important than any single individual or institution. It is our very self-esteem as a nation."

The Director of the National Library of Ireland (NLI), Fiona Ross, has told CCÉ News that the NLI are supportive of the merger of the NLI, the National Archives and the Irish Manuscripts Commission but believes that the independence of the NLI should be maintained and that the NLI are in contact with the Department of Heritage and the Gaeltacht regarding these matters.

Dr David Craig, a former Director of the National Archives, outline as far back as 2008 his reason for a different approach. In the National Archives report from 2008 he asked the government to reconsider the merger of the organizations. He advised the General Secretary at the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism, Mr Con Haugh, that he sees "no obvious benefits to be gained from the merger."

He goes on to say "I know of no savings to be made and no economies of scale to be effected. There is no overlap in our principal functions, and those internal services that are common to both institutions need to be maintained at least at current levels. The archives and library material preserved in the two institutions will still have to be housed and will continue to grow in quantity. No space will be saved". 

He also points to the historic significances of the location of the NLI, which in turn leads to "massive tourist potential", the site in his opinion would not be big enough to house all three of the organization, such an organization would have multiple sites to maintain. He outlines the main difference between both organizations. The National Archives are part of the machinery of Government, to archive departmental records, unlike the National Library, which is limited to its connection with the Government. He refers to the different but equally skilled professions of Archival Science and Librarianship.

Dr David Craig of the National Library concludes by saying “I am aware of only one independent state – Canada – where the national archives and the national library have been amalgamated to form a single body. In that case, the national archives and the national library were already in a unique situation, as they had for decades shared a headquarters building. Library and Archives Canada is a branch of the Canadian federal public administration, and the Librarian and Archivist has the rank of a Deputy Minister.”