Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 27 June 2000 (continued)

The Arts in Northern Ireland


Mr McMenamin:

The Government should facilitate and support the arts and culture but not be interventionist. It is imperative that artists, musicians, writers and others feel that the Government are there to assist and enable their work, but not to dictate on its content or ambition. That is a primary principle. A vital element of the success of art and culture has to do with the marketing and promotion of the work of writers and artists. It is vital that the Government do what they can to provide for the industry - related and infrastructural aspects of cultural endeavours.

What do we mean when we talk about arts, culture and leisure? What is the connection between them? An oft-quoted definition of culture is "what people do when they do not have to do anything." Is the answer to fill time, to leave something behind, to influence the world, to define oneself in any of the many activities which fall within the categories of arts, culture and leisure? Clearly economics in life is important, but that is not the only, or even the most important, dimension.

The other elements, the things we do when we do not have to do anything, are what feed the spirit of our society and our people. Without them there would be no society and, therefore, no economy.

It is a central element of our policy that money devoted to these areas is not allotted on the basis of patronage or charity, but is a key investment in our future. That is the bedrock of the SDLP's policy in this central area of human existence. The pay-off from this investment is not to be measured in "across the counter" economic terms but in the terms of the growing health of society and in its capacity to know itself and to relate to the external world. Since we are dealing with Northern Ireland, a central element of our approach must be the acceptance that we deal not with a single culture but with many different strands of experience, bound together for better or worse. A central objective must be the reconciliation and integration of these different strands, not with a view to blandness, but to maximise the tension of creativity as well as the creativity of tension. By using art to tell our story we must not admit the unmentionable. If we do so we have failed our people.

It is important to define precisely what we are talking about. There are two fundamentally opposing views of art and culture. One sees the artist sitting high on a hill above the people, bestowing works and representations upon the many, who are taught not to question. The other approach is founded on the belief that each human being, citizen, or individual has a capacity for creativity and that together we have ownership of this collective imagination. This is the democratic view, and it should not surprise anyone that it is the view of the SDLP. Art and culture are the vehicles of reconciliation between our divided peoples. These fields give the greatest opportunity for challenging the prejudices, stereotypes and mutual incomprehension which lie at the heart of the fear which has gripped this society for generations. We need to create symbols and representations of what is common between us.

As far as the arts and disability are concerned, one in six people in Northern Ireland has a disability. There is a lack of good training to enable disabled artists to become facilitators. More role models are necessary with whom disabled people can identify, and facilitating workshops is one way of achieving this. At present, people have to travel outside the UK to find suitable training. Funding to support artists to undertake this training is limited, and disabled artists are not even given the same importance as other artists when they are applying for funding. At present, there is a limited number of disabled artists, approximately 20, practising in Northern Ireland, and with regard to arts programmes, they tend to be the same people. However, this will change if more workshops are offered to disabled groups and day centres, although the problem of participation still depends on the provision of accessible arts centres. A change of attitude towards disabled people is needed by everyone.

It is necessary to include disabled people at the planning stages of programmes. The best scenario would be to have a disabled person on each regional arts committee, acting as a voice for the disabled. That would bypass problems of access and participation at the planning stage, rather than their encountering frustration when the programme begins.

With respect to arts and education, we believe that the process of cultural rejuvenation must begin with education. The subject of segregated education has been a great bugbear in this society for many years, and although there has been some movement, there has not been enough.

But perhaps we have been putting the cart before the horse. Perhaps, what we need to do is take a leaf out of the Good Friday Agreement and approach this issue initially within the separate communities. We propose that the preliminary stage of the desegregation process should be a presentation, in the education system, of the culture of the "other". We believe that it is vital that the youth of each community initially be confronted with the culture of the "other", so that curiosity, interest and, ultimately, understanding can be created among our young people.

We propose a policy of adopting artists in residence in each of the three levels of education with a strong emphasis on choosing artists from a different tradition, to challenge and stretch the perceptions of our young people. This might be approached on an experimental basis to begin with but with increasing ambition as it develops. Younger children might be exposed to the experiment for, say, two weeks per annum in primary school, one month at secondary level and, perhaps, up to six months at third level.

On the matter of financial support for the arts, we in the SDLP favour the widest possible support for the arts, with particular emphasis on community and minority arts endeavours, as well as supporting the existing commitments to theatres, galleries and other centres of cultural life. We also favour the introduction of an expanded range of tax incentives. Although we do not raise our own taxes now, it is to be hoped that we will do some time in the near future so that there will be funding, allocated from private sources, for the assistance and promotion of the arts. Such a measure would greatly assist the important work being done by the action business body. It is important that the imperative to involve the business community in the artistic life of our society be approached from the perspective of demonstrating to the entrepreneurial community the enormous benefits which can accrue to business from a society whose social health is underwritten by a healthy cultural life.

One of the besetting fears of the artistic community is the financal insecurity associated with the creative life. To give an example, one of the great success stories of our neighbours across the border has been the introduction of tax exemption schemes for creative artists introduced by a former Finance Minister. This visionary proposal has not only had the benefit of facilitating the level of cultural expresion in Southern society, but has also attracted creative artists from all over the world to Ireland, where their presence contributes enormously to the culture and economic life of that society. We propose the adoption of a similar policy. We propose the introduction of an art and architectural tax or levy, currently in place in various European countries and the United States, to enable local authorities to have funding autonomy for cultural projects in their own areas . This would work on the basis of a levy of, say, 1% on all public developments, which would be used to fund the provision of local art works in appropriate local contexts, including such developments.

Another aspect of the cultural life of the Irish Republic which we might profitably examine is the story of the National Theatre Company, based at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. This theatre, although admittedly patchy, has nevertheless provided a showcase, not merely for established and emerging writers, but for views of society which might otherwise have no means of expression. It has provided a guiding light for Southern society's cultural growth, which is fed into other disciplines and media. This is something that we should seek to emulate. We should encourage the Lyric Theatre to develop its central role in sustaining and developing local artists and writers.

We might also take a leaf out of the Republic of Ireland's book with regard to supporting the indigenous film industry. The Southern policy of strong state support and tax incentives has resulted in a spin off for the Irish economy. Good films require good stories and top-class writing. We need to provide seed capital to enable producers to take the kind of risks which are essential if this society is to be provided with reflections of itself which match the quality of those produced in the rest of Europe and in America.

This should improve dramatically with the current £65 million budget available to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and should be seen as a one-off boost for the infrastructural side of the industry.

We must also build on the achievements of the Northern Ireland Film Commission and extend its ability to fund and oversee the development of a strong indigenous industry. Perhaps it is necessary to develop a more corporate identity and modus operandi for this body to enable it to compete in the present cut-throat world of international movie making. This will not happen unless strenuous efforts are made to upgrade the technical infrastructure and provide the highest quality personnel. For example, the establishment of a high-tech ultra modern digital mastering facility and the training of talented people to run such a facility would add enormously to the attractiveness of Northern Ireland as a centre of excellence in this field.

In the last three years productions spent £6 million in Northern Ireland. This figure will rise as interest grows in the natural locations and skilled crew that Northern Ireland has to offer a creative film maker.

The SDLP believes that much improvement could be made by emulating the cultural strategies of our neighbours in the Republic. This can be a two-way-street, and we in Northern Ireland, as has been demonstrated by so many of our writers and artists, have much to offer the Republic given the overall image of Irish culture in the eyes of the world. One of the most successful examples of cross-border co-operation in the field of the arts is the jointly funded Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig in Co Monaghan. There, artists from both sides of the border work alongside one another. We should use that example as a model for future developments in this area of arts and culture. The guiding symbol of these endeavours should be the metaphorical notion of the illusive duck between the bodhrán and the Lambeg drum.

Television and radio are central elements of the culture of a modern society. Northern Ireland has been well served in some respects by our regional services, but there have been significant shortcomings in showcasing local writing on both radio and television. The main problem has been the centralisation of decision making in London, which has militated against the provision of satisfactory representations of this society on our airwaves and television screens.

Northern Ireland, treated as a region of the United Kingdom, is frequently approached from London in an objective manner which limits the self-expression of the true voice of this society. Writers, directors and performers complain that they are not listened to, that they are told what they can and cannot say about their society. We need a genuine regional policy which would give autonomy to artists and producers to give this society a more truthful and challenging idea of who we are and where we are going. We call on the BBC and the other providers of these services to look again at their policy on drama and other forms of culture with a view to encouraging self-confidence and creativity rather than handing down prescriptions and diktats.

While there has been an enormous growth in community-based theatre in Northern Ireland, there remains a suspicion that groups seeking to make particular statements about themselves and their lives have found it more difficult than others to obtain Government funding and support. Although a certain level of quality control is needed, we must develop a clear hands-off policy between the support and the content of cultural statements.

3.30 pm

Language is a central element of culture. Clearly, English is the primary mode of expression in this society, but there are other tongues which not only have strong roots in the traditions of the different communities, but are core elements in the identity of those communities right up to the present moment. Unfortunately, languages such as Irish and Ulster-Scots are taught as foreign languages in Northern Ireland. Most people in the North do not encounter Irish in the education system until post-primary level, where it is taught in the same way as French or German. This practice ensures that languages which should be viewed as repositories of cultural memory are instead perceived in terms of their economic usefulness.

It is imperative that a cultural heritage programme be established to co-ordinate and focus efforts to bring young people in Northern Ireland into contact with the vital elements of their culture, including indigenous languages and music. In the Republic, Gael Linn has called for the appointment of more Irish language teachers in Northern Ireland and special language counsellors to assist young people seeking to learn Irish, and for the provision of facilities and other support to make Irish an attractive choice for students. The SDLP supports these proposals with regard to all the indigenous languages, and, specifically in the case of Irish, propose stronger cross-border contacts between relevant bodies and organisations. We should also have a policy of requiring from our broadcasters a greater public service commitment to the support of minority languages and cultures within our society, for example by providing subtitles to drama and current affairs programmes, and also by providing such programming in all the indigenous languages.

In the area of art and culture, the support of the contemporary must be combined with the maintenance of what has been handed down. A society can only grow culturally if it first has a clear notion of where it is coming from. A central element of the Government's function in this area, therefore, is the preservation and celebration of the cultural artefacts and experiences of the past. In this respect, our society has been fortunate, but there is no room for complacency. We must invest in a sustained attempt to restore archival film footage, manuscripts and other artefacts of our past, and provide for this to be done on a continuing basis.

Having accepted the necessity of separating the administration of Government policy on the arts from the actual work of artists and writers, it is also important to provide a structure in which each layer of the cultural process can operate to the maximum possible extent. To this end, we recommend the creation of a policy implementation buffer between the area of Government policy and that of creativity. The SDLP recommends the establishment of a cultural task force to examine ways in which the cultural and artistic life of Northern Ireland might be galvanised at this critical juncture in our history. This task force should be independent of all existing bodies and be empowered both to make recommendations centred on expanding this society's creative potential and to identify any factors that may be inhibiting the development of the cultural life of our people.

This body might also be given exceptional powers to develop and implement strategic thinking and to target available resources so as to develop the industrial potential of the cultural domain. The task force should comprise a combination of business and commercial experience, working artists and those who have been involved in arts administration on both sides of the border. Its remit should extend to the undertaking of a critical review of how the arts are administered in Northern Ireland. The task force would examine the effectiveness of existing bodies with responsibility for administering and fostering the arts, with a specific brief to create improved conditions for promoting the maximum level of access to the arts.

The present thought paradigm with regard to arts and culture might have one believe that its current level of Government support - £64 million per annum - represents a substantial commitment. We beg to differ. If, as outlined at the outset of this document, the artistic and cultural domain is perceived as central to the life, including the economic life, of this society, then this level of funding reveals itself as relatively paltry. It will be clear, therefore, that what is required is not an incremental improvement on the existing commitment to this vital ingredient to a full life for our society, but a radical review of our whole thinking and approach.

Dr Adamson:

I would like to concentrate on language in the arts. My background is a Gaelic background in that my great-grandmother Lambie spoke nothing but Gaelic on the isle of Islay. She taught us well. My Gaelic has since gone away quite a bit, but the memories of her have lingered on. For my great- grandmother the centre of the Gaelic world was Islay, naturally, although the centre of my Gaelic world was Bangor, where I was born, because I was interested in the development of Ulster Gaelic, rather than other types of Gaelic, particularly "Official" Irish. And East Ulster Gaelic was, of course, something which I learned a lot about as a boy.

I also learned a lot about Ulster-Scots, which was the language of the neighbourhood around my native village of Conlig, and I have followed Ulster-Scots all my life. I tried to maintain an interest in the local community in Ulster-Scots when I was a young man, but various factors militated against that. Ulster-Scots, like its sister language of Scots in Scotland, is of course a West-Germanic language. It has its own vocabulary, grammar, literary tradition and dialectical regions. I first encountered it in written form in 'Galloway Gossip,' an old book my father brought over from Galloway which has various dialects of Scots in it. But Ulster-Scots has an eroded integrity and a marginalised status. This is, of course, a product of official neglect. However, that is not a rationale for ignoring it, as so many do. Ulster-Scots, like Irish Gaelic - I use that in the broad sense - has contributed to the linguistic diversity of Northern Ireland and to our English language literary tradition. However, Ulster-Scots, like Irish Gaelic, also deserves a less reactive and a more proactive approach to the support of its own language and literature.

Special mention, of course, must always be made of the place of Robert Burns in the Ulster-Scots literary tradition. Like the works of his predecessors, the poetry and songs of Burns and Lowland Scots were well known among all the Ulster-Scots communities during the late eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth century. These works form a valid part of the Ulster-Scots literary tradition, just as Ulster-Scots writings were created in the same broader Ulidio-Scottish cultural context.

The first edition of Burns's works was published in Kilmarnock in 1786, but the second edition was published in Belfast in 1787. This interaction remains part of the Ulster-Scots tradition. The Belfast Burns club is one of the oldest in the world and several other clubs exist in Northern Ireland. It would be a gross misunderstanding of the history of Burns clubs in Northern Ireland to dismiss their significance as being only relevant to expatriate Scots living in Ulster. I am aware that individual contemporary Ulster-Scots writers have regularly had works rejected by local publishers on the grounds that there was no market for this type of material. So I endorse the Arts Council's recommendation to focus future support on the writers rather than on the publishers.

I also welcome the Arts Council's positive attitude towards community drama. Amateur drama in rural Antrim and Down, including productions by Young Farmers Clubs, provide some of the last surviving opportunities for some Ulster-Scots to be heard in public situations. Many local plays continue to be written in the farmhouse kitchen genre, and this is one of the liveliest twentieth century Ulster-Scots literary forms. It is not unusual for amateur dramatic societies from Ulster-Scots speaking areas to ad lib standard English scripts directly into Ulster-Scots. Classical drama exists in Scots translation as well and opportunities could be exploited by the Arts Council to bring Scots language drama productions from Scotland to our theatres.

In the early 1800s many observers reported that the airs and ballads of the Ulster-Scots communities in Antrim and Down were merely those that were strictly Scottish. The tunes identified by scores of Ulster-Scots folk poets are suitable settings for their songs and provide confirmation of the overwhelmingly Scottish character of their musical repertoire from 1780 onwards. We have a flourishing band movement in contemporary Ulster-Scots areas. Much of it is grounded in the Ulster-English tradition of mid and south Ulster - exceptions to this rule are the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association and the Accordion Band Movement. These musical traditions and their instruments remain essentially Ulster-Scots in their identities.

In recent years the all-Ireland Scottish Pipe Band Championships, held in Northern Ireland, have attracted tens of thousands to each event. However, little acknowledgement is given to the exceptional international achievements of Ulster pipers and accordionists. Despite our small numbers, the world championships in all grades, including solo prizes, are regularly and currently held by people from Northern Ireland. I support the proposal by the Pipe Band Movement that support be given to its piping and drumming school.

The Scottish pipes, along with Lambeg drums, remain one of the few genuine traditional music art forms in Northern Ireland in that they rarely, if ever, follow written music, and they are learnt orally. Solo pipers and fiddlers were the traditional accompaniment for country square dances and reels over a century ago. Ulster-Scots fiddling and accordion playing is still associated with country dancing today. Ulster-Scots traditional fiddle music exists, but it is rarely played beyond small local groups to small or non-existent audiences. It has no recognition beyond the smaller number who play in it.

The long-established and flourishing branches of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society in Northern Ireland receive no funding from the Arts Council. However, they receive some limited support from the Sports Council. The inescapable conclusion of such a policy appears to be that any non-Irish tradition of dance is only a keep-fit exercise. Informal reels and country quadrilles also survive as traditional dances performed in small groups as a genuine legacy of the Ulster-Scots folk dance tradition. These survivals are not part of Irish set dancing.

The catalogue of denial and marginalisation of Ulster-Scots culture in Northern Ireland is too lengthy to be properly addressed at this time. However, it needs to be addressed by the Arts Council in the context of regular audits of evaluation and assessment procedures to ensure that no group in Northern Ireland is discriminated against. As stated, the issues are complex, and while the description of traditional music as either Irish or Orange is simplistic and unhelpful, the broader issue of the criteria for funding needs to be addressed urgently. Traditional arts are subject to a variety of influences including Gaelic, Orange, Irish, English and Scottish.

3.45 pm

These core traditions of our country deserve support in their own right to ensure that the traditional arts are not collectively seen as the preserve of any one section of the community.

Mr McElduff:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Is mian liom toiseacht agus saibhreas na hÉireann sna healaíona agus sa chultúr a cheiliúradh. Aithnítear saibhreas tallainne na tíre seo ar fud na cruinne. Tá clú agus cáil ar fud chlár an domhain ar ár gcuid aisteoirí, filí, ceoltóirí, ár gcuid damhsóirí agus ealaíontóirí. Thuill siad ariamh moladh idirnáisiúnta thar na bearta - agus a chúis sin acu.

Is é misean mo pháirtí ná déanamh cinnte go mbíonn deis ag achan saoránach a bheith páirteach sa tsaibhreas seo agus córas a chruthú ina mbíonn na healaíona agus an cultúr ar fáil i bhfírinne do gach Éireannach, go háirithe dóibh siúd a himeallaíodh san am atá thart mar gheall ar mhí-chumas, ar dhearcadh polaitiúil, ar inscne, ar aicme nó ar áit chónaithe. Dúshlán fúinn uilig é seo, ar ndóigh.

Cúis ghéar achrainn ariamh anall é dáileadh acmhuinní ar lucht cruthaithe agus lucht úsáide na n-ealaíon agus an chultúir - cúis achrainn sainmhíniú féin na n-ealaíon.

I want to begin LeasCheann Comhairle by celebrating the fact that the island of Ireland is rich in arts and culture. Ireland's wealth and success has won tremendous international acclaim and is recognised universally. Anyone could be subjective about listing people who have achieved tremendous things in the arts and culture, but look at whom Ireland has produced: actors such as Liam Neeson and Stephen Rea; poets including Cathal O'Sharkey and Seamus Heaney; musicians such as Sinead O'Connor, the Corrs and Clannad; and dancers like Riverdance and others.

Ms Morrice:

Van Morrison.

Mr McElduff:

Van Morrison, of course, and our painters Jack B Yates and John Lavery. Digressing momentarily, it was a matter of some regret to myself and others that there was an attempt recently to remove history of art as an 'A' level subject from the curriculum. I am glad that it was reinstated in the course of the curriculum review. The people I have named have excelled themselves. They have received international recognition and have projected a very positive image of this country where art knows no boundaries.

It is the mission of my party to ensure that every citizen of this country can share in its artistic and cultural wealth. We want to create a system where arts and culture are truly accessible to all Irish people, North and South, and particularly to those who have been marginalised in the past because of disability, gender, political belief or geographical location. That creates quite a challenge for us all.

Any discussion about the arts must touch upon the allocation of finite resources both to the creators and to the consumers of art. This has always been hotly debated, as indeed has the very definition of art itself. I know that the European definition of art incorporates culture. We have much food for thought on this matter.

Is cuma cé bhéas i mbun riarachán agus maoiniú na n-ealaíon, an Arts Council sna sé chondae nó an Chomhairle Ealaíon sna sé chondae is fichead, caithfidh aitheantas a thabhairt don ealaín atá á cruthú ag gnáthdhaoine. Baineann an ealaín seo le daoine; tá suim acu inti, nó taispeánann sí nádúr ár sochaí dúinn.

Caithfidh a aithint gur cruthaíodh an iomad cinéal ealaíne le triocha bliain anuas - an múrmhaisiú, agus cruthú foirmeacha radaiceacha den cheol dúchasach, mar shampla. Fríd na healaíona seo thig le daoine amharc ar a n-eispeireas féin fríd a súile féin. Thig leo a gcuid scéalta féin a insint.

Creidim go gcaithfidh ceangal níos dlúithe a bheith ann idir lucht maoinithe na n-ealaíon agus lucht a soláthair ag gach leibhéal. Caithfidh ceangal a bheith ann fosta le hoideachasóirí le go dtig leis an aos óg páirt iomlán a ghlacadh sna healaíona agus sa chultúr. Agus go mbeidh grá á chothú don chultúr i measc an aosa óig.

Tá an féin-chur in iúl agus an chruthaitheacht tábhachtach, don aos óg ach go háirithe.

Whoever is responsible for administering or funding the arts, whether it be the Arts Council in the Six Counties or an Chomhairle Ealaíona in the Twenty-six Counties, they need to really appreciate art being created by ordinary people and which is relevant to ordinary people. Art should interest people and reflect the nature of the society in which they live. It will take a mixture of community arts and sometimes what are known as local appreciation of fine arts, or higher arts. The definitions are always most interesting.

Proper recognition needs to be given to mural art and to community drama, which might be described as amateur, but only in terms of remuneration, not quality. Those types of media enable people to reflect their own experiences and tell their stories from their own perspectives. There needs to be greater liaison at all levels between the providers of arts and culture and arts funders. There needs to be closer contact between the educationalists and the arts practitioners so that a grá for arts and culture can be properly developed and fostered in our young people, because self expression and creativity is so crucial for them. Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí, mar a deirtear.

I will concentrate my remaining remarks on other priority areas that require some focus. The Irish language is one area. It was totally recognised in the Good Friday Agreement, and all that we ask for is that that is given actuality in terms of public recognition by statutory agencies and such bodies.

Another area requiring focus is in the promotion of a wide range of qualitative art forms, both modern and traditional - in this matter the revitalisation of traditional arts and crafts is very important. We need to increasingly recognise emerging and growing all-inclusive community arts festivals or féilte and the value of single identity work, wherever that may come from, without the need for social engineering to suit funding criteria, which is not totally natural.

Very importantly, there needs to be a single all-Ireland administration for the arts to avoid unnecessary duplication of work. There are other areas of public life where this would also apply - agriculture, tourism, industrial development. We need to learn lessons from the rest of Ireland.

Mr McMenamin earlier referred to those areas of co-operation which presently exist, and I would like to think that Mr McGimpsey would be like Michael D Higgins and that we would see a ministerial-led Department - I think that he has done good work to date. Michael D Higgins said in relation to the arts that the dissenting voice must be heard. Not everybody has to be a conformist when it comes to the arts.

Another area for focus is in putting people before buildings sometimes, but not all of the time. The National Lottery has been kind to theatres in places such as Armagh and Cookstown and these are tremendous assets. However, it is important that we consider people as well as buildings, and that we provide suitable training courses for budding young actors and actresses. People presently have to go to London for a suitable course. If they are aged 17 and have a talent for acting that is where they invariably will have to go.

We need to focus on the innovative use of existing buildings and facilitating touring theatre groups. I am calling for the re-orientation of public money towards these areas without huge displacement, and a debate needs to take place about that.

We need to look at bringing art to the people and seeking new audiences. There are criteria laid down for funding. Let us look at who meets those criteria best of all.

Finally, television, radio and other forms of multi-media are so crucial these days. That was the subject of a very interesting recent article by Tom McGurk in 'The Sunday Business Post'. BBC television, in particular, needs to take note that the Irish language exists and is thriving, and that many of us look to Dublin, and not London, as our capital city. That is a fact of life in terms of this society.

In conclusion, Ós rud é nach bhfuil mórán ama agam sa díospóireacht seo, díreoidh mé mo fhoclaí deireannacha ar rudaí tábhachtacha eile. Cur chun cinn réimse mór de ealaíona cineálacha, idir nua agus thraidisiúnta; ealaíona pobail; forbairt féilte pobail; athbheochan ealaíon agus ceirdeanna traidisiúnta. Caithfidh aitheantas ceart a thabhairt do luach obair an aonaráin agus níos lú béime a leagan ar an innealltóireacht shóisialta ar mhaithe leis an mhaoiniú -chan ar mhaithe leis an ealaín. Caithfidh tionscadail ealaíne fríd mheán na Gaeilge a cur chun cinn.

Caithfidh riarachán na n-ealaíon bheith ar bhonn uile-Éireann, - agus tá sin fíorthábhachtach - é freagrach do mhuintir na hÉireann a dhéanfas deimhin go bhfuil dáileadh cothrom, éifeachtach airgid ann. Coscfaidh seo an dúbailt neamhriachtanach. Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.

The Chairman of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee (Mr ONeill):

I too support the sentiments expressed in this debate. While absent from the Chamber I listened to the debate, and I welcome the number of ideas that I heard and which should be able to be adopted and put to use.

We are at a very important stage as far as arts and culture are concerned. I agree with Members who said they recognised those who contributed to the good past that we have had. We have lived through a period of great social upheaval, which, in common with other great social upheavals in history, has led to self-examination and, as a result, increased artistic endeavour and output.

As a student I remember being told, in impressive terms, that 24,000 books had been written about the reasons for the outbreak of the First World War. The examinations of the causes of the troubles in Northern Ireland must be getting close to that, but there is something in the literature that has been produced that recognises artistic output as a result of self-examination.

(Madam Deputy Speaker [Ms Morrice] in the Chair)

We are at the stage where we now have the potential to move forward. Of all the things that we have done, the creation of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure has been one of the most positive and exciting things. The members of the Committee and I were enthralled - and I use that word carefully - when we met the permanent secretary, Aideen McGinley, and her representatives. The excitement, the clear enthusiasm, the recognition of the challenges and the openness to suggestion that were coming from the team filled all of the members of the Committee with hope for the future.

Arts, museums and all of the other areas that go to make up the broad brief of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure were, in the past, the lesser-funded elements of larger Departments, and they did not receive the attention or encouragement they deserved. They came low in the pecking order. Now they are in a Department of their own, with a permanent secretary of their own and a Minister of their own who - if I may agree with others - has, so far, impressed the Committee.

I make no bones about saying that publicly. The excitement and the enthusiasm displayed by the Department will make an impact.

4.00 pm

As I said, we are at the edge, and I think of it as the edge of a renaissance in culture, arts and leisure in Northern Ireland. We can spearhead that renaissance through the Assembly, the Committee and the Department working together to create that open and transparent approach to the whole of arts and culture that I think we would all welcome.

When people talk about the arts they immediately begin to think of cutting up a cake and redistributing it in certain ways. Unfortunately, as we have discovered, the cake is very small. The reason for that is what has been happening over this last five to 10 years. There has been no increase in funding in the Department, not even to take account of inflation. That has been a debt on all areas in the Department, and it will take a considerable readjustment to bring it back even to a fair basis on which we could operate.

Some of the items in Mr McMenamin's document are worth examining. I am not necessarily saying that we should adopt all of them, but they are the types of things we should be looking at in terms of funding. We should be looking at more private funding for the arts. There are untapped possibilities in that area. We should be looking at the possibility of convincing central Government - as it happens, we have not got control over taxation - to have some kind of exemption or reduction for arts activity and artists in Northern Ireland. It would not be unlike the regime that was introduced so successfully in the Republic some years ago.

Another very interesting idea, which comes from Europe, is that there should be some kind of tax - dare I use that word - or some kind of contribution from developers towards a local council arts budget. The figure currently used is 1% of development costs - quite a lot when you think about it. It has proved to be a successful way of gathering money for the arts in some European countries. If we had applied that in the Belfast City Council area - when you think of all of the development that has taken place there over the last few years - we would have a thriving budget for investment in the arts.

These types of ideas are worth examining. We may not agree to adopt them or go with them, but certainly they represent the type of thing we should be doing.

Finally, when our civilisation is judged, and if at that stage we have spent money only on functional things and the things that we need to live on, if we have spent nothing on the creative, nothing for the soul, nothing for the aesthetic, and nothing for arts and culture, then we will be judged very poorly indeed.

Mr Shannon:

I thank the Member for West Tyrone for raising this issue. It gives us an opportunity to express ourselves in Ulster-Scots and to talk a wee bit about the culture of it.

The wurd "irts" taks in a mukkil whein fowkgate daeins o ilka sort, frae airt til music, frae dance til daein drama an skreivin buiks. The heicht at fowgates is hauden in maun aye be taen ower ocht tent o, an a biggit-up kennin o a bodie's fowkgates cannae dae ocht but gie a lift ti weans an auld fowk baith. Houaniver, ower ocht o aw sic daeins is that yin fowkgate cleik in Norlin Airlann soudnae be gien aw the heftin whaniver the tither fowkgate bis unner-docht. Ivan Herbison ledges in his skreivin 'The Rest is Silence', whilk he gien oot til the collogue 'Varieties of Scottishness: Exploring the Ulster-Scottish Connection' at a heich heid yin o the Presbyterian Kirk, no lang syne, opined at a whein Presbyterians theday, qo he, "feel like an invisible people".

I should like to talk specifically on the Ulster-Scots aspect of the arts in Northern Ireland. The term "arts" takes in a wide range of different cultural events and activities, from art to music, from dance to plays and books. The importance of culture must continually be highlighted, and an increased awareness of one's culture can serve to benefit young and old alike. However, it is important that one cultural identity in Northern Ireland is not emphasised while another community's culture is ostracised or neglected. Ivan Herbison states in his document 'The Rest Is Silence', which he presented at the Varieties of Scottishness: Exploring the Ulster-Scottish Connection conference, that a prominent member of the Presbyterian Church recently remarked that he thought his community

"feel like an invisible people."

He said

"It is as if they do not exist."

Michael Longley identified in his 'Varieties of Irishness' at the first Cultural Traditions Group conference a prevalent tendency

"to undervalue, even to ignore the Scottish horizon".

Herbison believed that this was because there was a tendency to see only two traditions in Northern Ireland instead of examining the rich variety of cultural traditions among the Ulster Protestants.

It is now important that we mainstream the wide diversity of culture and cultural identity instead of seeing this as a debate of two sides. For this reason, in the short time I have left to speak, I wish to concentrate on the Ulster-Scots language, to give a brief history and to look at developments in this area in recent years.

Ian Adamson has already said something of Ulster-Scots, clearly outlining how it has developed and its importance to many of us in this Province. All those who have spoken on the subject thus far have said that language is important. Language is often unique to a particular group or place, and it often carries with it a rich cultural history. Language has always been seen as a mark of identity, and the language debate has particular significance in Northern Ireland.

In Northern Ireland there are a number of distinct traditions and nationalities - the Irish, the Ulster Scots and the Ulster English. In addition, we have a number of diverse cultural identities such as the Chinese and Indian communities. One of the most significant literary works on the cultural significance of language is a play by the well-known playwright, Brian Friel, entitled 'Translations'. It deals with the transitional period in Ireland when place names were changed from Irish to English. However, its deeper theme is the importance of language and identity. Brian Friel admits what many in this House who speak Irish fail to, namely that language can be an emotive political issue and not a purely cultural matter. The issue of language has always been emotive in Ireland, both North and South, because of the political connotations which the debate carries.

However, I feel that Ulster-Scots is not a political point-scoring exercise, but rather an expression of people's need and desire to find out who they are and where they come from, and many Members already know that. The Ulster-Scots cultural identify has been ignored for many years and scoffed at by many who openly dismiss their own linguistic culture as a dialect. Those who say this only show their cultural ignorance by expressing such an opinion. The linguistic division between Ulster and the rest of the island predates even the plantation. However, the present pattern of linguistic division is a product of the settlement of Ulster during the seventeenth century. Over this period these linguistic influences, most notably the Teutonic and Old Norse strands and the influx of Lowland Scots into Ulster, led to the evolution of Ulster-Scots speech unique to the north-east of Ireland. I should perhaps mention that it went across Northern Ireland to Donegal and eventually to the new lands of America and Canada as well.

Ivan Herbison states that the language possessed many of the distinguishing characteristics of a separate national language rather than those of a mere regional dialect, not only in pronunciation, but also in orthography, vocabulary and syntax.

Ulster-Scots is not only important for its complex historical development, but it is also important culturally because it has its own literary tradition. Between 1750 and 1850 some 60 to 70 volumes of poetry were printed which belonged to the Ulster-Scots literary tradition of the rhyming weavers, the poets who came from a rural working class background and who were the descendants of Scottish settlers.

I hope, in some small way, that the great cultural wealth in Ulster-Scots has been explained today, and connected directly to the Ulster-Scots language. Some people in this Chamber self-righteously declare themselves to be full supporters of cross-community work and events. However, it is clear to me and to many others that those people believe that the Irish identity and culture should be accepted by all as cultural rather than political, and the cultural identity of Ulster Protestants should be suppressed.

Nationalists want Irish traditional music bands and Irish dancing to be accepted by all as non-political symbols of culture, while they simultaneously try to suppress every element of Ulster Protestant culture, including the very organisation which was set up to defend Ulster Protestant culture - the Orange Order. There is no difference in displays of culture. An Irish dancer is as much a symbol of one tradition as a flute band or an Orange procession is a symbol of another. Yet Nationalists will not even tolerate the thought of Orangemen walking or of faintly hearing the sound of a band. Indeed, some people go out of their way, some travel miles upon miles, just to be offended.

It is time for Nationalists to take a look at their own hypocritical policies on culture and become mature enough to accept the culture of all sections of this community because we are not going away either. It is time for Nationalists to accept that there are many elements of Ulster Protestant culture which are rich and beautiful. We should be, and indeed we are, proud of our cultural heritage.

For many years, propaganda machines have been trying to show that Ulster Protestant culture is bigoted and that it is a pale imitation of Irish culture. It is now time for the true picture to be shown: that of the diversity of identities and cultures. Some work has already been done to promote the Ulster-Scots language and traditions. It is valuable for all traditions to learn about this unique element of Northern Ireland's culture. The only way for Northern Ireland to move forward is for everyone to be tolerant of each other and each other's differing cultures and identities. It is possible to be proud of your own identity, yet respect the richness of someone else's, and I believe it is time that those propagating the Irish language's viewpoint open wide their somewhat narrow minds and see some good in the culture of other traditions in Northern Ireland.

However, Nationalists will have to accept that language can be emotive and offending, especially when used as part of a political points-scoring exercise. That has been demonstrated in this House by some of those who insist on using the Irish language when they plainly cannot speak it, using it merely to cause offence. Language does not cause offence when used in a cultural context by those genuinely interested in the language, but it does when it is used as part of a political points-scoring exercise.

In conclusion, I would simply state that equality must be given to all cultural traditions, instead of the scoffing and intolerance shown by some across this Chamber to all elements of Ulster Protestant and Ulster-Scots culture.

Mr McCarthy:

As a Member of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee I fully support every effort to engage as many people as possible in creative leisure time. The arts are for everyone, regardless of one's political opinion or affiliation. I hope we go forward together in promoting arts of all descriptions to people of all descriptions.

We are not short of suggestions in planning for the optimum use of public funding in the sphere of culture, arts and leisure in Northern Ireland. There is, for example, the report on the recent FutureSearch conference, which was organised by the permanent secretary to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. That document should provide a number of useful ideas in creating a strategic framework for action in arts and culture in Northern Ireland over the next 20 years. We have also seen published in recent times a strategy review for the Arts Council in Northern Ireland entitled 'Opening up the Arts'.

4.15 pm

The aim is to have a new Arts Council strategy in place by April 2001. This review makes reference to many issues of concern to Members, such as the community arts budget. The review says

"the rapid growth of community arts in recent years has not been accompanied by adequate evaluation."

No doubt the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, who has graced us with his presence today, and his officials are taking note of this and the many other valid points in the Arts Council's review.

Community arts are playing an even greater role in reconciliation, and that is to be welcomed and encouraged. There is a group in my area called Bright Sparks, with whom I am very proud to have associations. It comes from Portaferry and caters for youngsters from the age of three. That group puts on wonderful shows that could be the pride of Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, probably through lack of funding, it is confined to the Strangford constituency. There are many such community groups.

It would be remiss of me not to plug another very important organisation called Cinemagic. Members may well know of the activities of this group and what it does for the young film-makers of Northern Ireland. I have to pay tribute to one of its directors - my niece, Miss Shona McCarthy. I am proud to tell the Chamber about Cinemagic's activities.

Many interesting ideas are being generated about funding for the arts. The point that I would like to make is to do with organisational structures. Public funding of the arts is not only a matter for the Arts Council; many other bodies including the National Lottery, district councils, European institutions and other Government Departments - notably Education - are involved as well. Already those hoping to benefit from the system find it amazingly complex. My plea to the Minister - and I am sure that my colleagues on the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee will support me on this - is that special efforts be made to keep the design of any future restructuring as simple as possible and the cost of bureaucracy as low as possible. We do not want to find that efforts to increase funding are rewarded only by increased administrative costs, with no significant benefit to Northern Ireland citizens.

In conclusion, the arts in Northern Ireland play a very important role in bringing people together. It is vital that we support every effort to bring the arts to an even greater number of people and that can only be done by properly funding every aspect of the arts, culture and leisure programme. I hope that the Minister takes on board all that has been said about this today.

Mr Weir:

I had not originally intended to speak in this debate, so I will keep my remarks brief. As a former culture, arts and leisure spokesman for the Ulster Unionist Party, albeit for a period of four days - perhaps the shortest-lived party spokesman ever - I feel compelled to say something on the subject.

There are few subjects which should unite the House more than the arts. It is a subject which touches the hearts of everybody, whether Members of this House or the general public. They may have a love of the cinema, literature or fine paintings in an art gallery; they may have a love of traditional or country and western music, or they may want to buy the latest Blur Lightning Seeds CD. This is an important subject, and we have to look at what the guiding principles should be when dealing with it.

The first guiding principle should be that we approach this subject with a degree of realism. In the past, because culture, arts and leisure have tended to be Cinderella aspects of Government which have been hived off to various Departments, they have often been susceptible to Government cutbacks. We have to realise that the pressure for an increase in resources for the arts is going to be met with a great deal of resistance, given the scarcity of resources in the future, and we are always going to be faced with this situation. If, for example, we get additional money, will that money be spent on a particular arts project, or is it going to be spent on health or education?

There will always be worthy causes which, on many occasions, are going to have a greater call on our resources than the arts, so it is important that we realise that whatever money is spent on the arts - or, indeed, if we are able to get any increase in spending on the arts - it will not be a vast amount or a vast increase. While I agree with Mr McMenamin that we ought to ensure that the individual artist has freedom of expression and that interference does not occur, as a body we have to ensure that the money we spend on the arts is carefully monitored to ensure that we gain the maximum value for money from public investment in the arts.

The second issue that has been highlighted by Mr McMenamin is that when looking at spending in the arts, we have got to do so in an imaginative context. He mentioned the great efforts that have been made in the Republic of Ireland and other places in the world. New York is one of the areas which has tended to benefit from this. A great deal of emphasis has been placed there on trying to attract film-makers and backing its local film industry. We have seen in the Republic of Ireland, for example, how that has paid dividends, both in an artistic sense, in terms of expanding the film industry and expanding the artistic content in the Republic of Ireland, and also from an economic point of view. For example, in recent years a film which is more associated with Scotland, 'Braveheart', was shot on location in the Republic of Ireland.

With the advent of the ceasefires there has been an increased interest in Northern Ireland from a cinematic point of view, and perhaps film-makers feel that it is more accessible. We need to look imaginatively at how we can promote the arts in such a way as to benefit the people of Northern Ireland, both in terms of enriching their artistic experience and also the practical benefit that could bring to the economy.

Thirdly, as a number of Members have mentioned, we have to promote cultural diversity. The point has been made - and it is a very true one - that culture, particularly in the Ulster-British sense and also, to some extent, the Ulster-Scots sense, has tended to be marginalised and ignored in the past. I would very much hold to that view. This has not simply been because of a lack of recognition from official sources. At times in the past the Unionist community has perhaps not been aware of its own culture; it has perhaps not gone out to embrace its culture and history.

It is important that that diversity is celebrated. One thing slightly disappointed me about this debate, and I am glad to see at least that Jim Shannon was the first person to mention it. When we have been looking at arts and culture in Northern Ireland, there has obviously been much concentration on Irish, the Irish culture, the Ulster/British culture and, indeed, on Ulster-Scots. Jim Shannon has been the only Member so far to mention that we are living in a multicultural society and to highlight that there are more than just the British and the Irish communities in Northern Ireland. There is a wide range of communities - for example, Chinese, Indian and Jewish - and it is important that, as part of that feeling of cultural diversity, we ensure that those communities are well represented as well. The artistic diversity which they can bring to Northern Ireland should be celebrated. That would be enriching for the whole of society and help to break down some of the barriers within it.

Finally, we should ensure that we have not only cultural diversity, but cultural tolerance. And in celebrating the various cultures here, we should do so in a fashion that does not become - and I have seen this happening on a number of occasions - cultural imperialism. From my own background, for example, having spent a lot of time at Queen's, I know the very negative effect that the Irish language signs there had on the Unionist community. That was a feeling of cultural imperialism. Whatever the intentions behind the signs - and I am sure that many of the people who supported them did so for the best of reasons - it created a feeling of oppression and of cultural imperialism. When any section of the community feels a sense of cultural imperialism, that leads, unfortunately, not to cultural tolerance, but to cultural and artistic intolerance.

We must encourage people to celebrate the diversity of our culture but to do so in a way in which they do not feel that a particular culture is being forced down their throats, or feel that they are being forced to learn a language, for example, Irish, against their wishes. We must encourage tolerance and diversity but ensure that it does not stray into the realms of imperialism.

Mrs E Bell:

I am very interested in what the Member is saying. Does he agree that the cultural traditions group of the Community Relations Council does the work that he is talking about, and that if we all embraced that, it would help to enhance and expand cultural diversity in all our traditions?

Mr Weir:

I am talking in terms of the broader context, rather than getting into the specifics of particular groups. We must consistently seek better ways for the various groups to get that message across. We must have cultural and artistic diversity. This has great potential to educate, to inspire and to uplift the human spirit. I am glad that we have had this debate.

Mr McMenamin has helped to open our minds to a wide range of possibilities. Whatever concerns I have had about the setting up of a separate Department and the administrative costs involved, it has the advantage of allowing the Assembly to focus on a wide range of issues in culture, arts and leisure, and ensuring that the people of Northern Ireland are properly served in this area. I commend the motion to the Assembly.

Mr A Doherty:

I compliment my Colleague Eugene McMenamin for highlighting the importance of culture, arts and leisure as an essential element in our work to bring peace and a decent quality of life to our citizens.

I had a cultural experience a few weeks ago. I watched a Billy Connolly special on late night television, very irreverent, very funny and very perceptive. I can imagine Billy Connolly talking about arts and culture. "Crawford, me and Nigel are going up to the Waterfront to see a concerto. Will you join us in the wine bar for a glass of Mouton Cadet?"


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