Speaking at the launch of ‘Standing Up for Irish Culture’, Labour’s plan for promoting the arts, heritage and culture
So much of who we are as a people, and what we value as a society, is tied up in how we treat the arts.
A nation is defined not only by the individuals and communities that make it up, but by the literature, poetry, music and the shared cultural memory they represent.
It’s so much of what ties us together as a people.
And it’s vital we recognise the enormous efforts of the artists and writers and filmmakers.
They make an enormous contribution to our social – and economic – wellbeing.
They promote and enhance Ireland’s reputation abroad.
Most of all, they help all of us define our collective voice.
I know of nobody who could deny the world-class quality of Ireland’s cultural output.
The job of those of us who govern is to support their efforts, and put in place policies that allow a vibrant arts culture to come into bloom.
Labour has long cherished the vital role of arts at the heart of Irish identity.
It was through our initiative that the State’s first Department of Arts and Culture was established. It was through the hard work and passion of Michael D Higgins as Minister that State support for the arts was strengthened as never before.
And it will be through the Labour Party again that the world of Irish arts receives the critical investment it now needs.
We are all too keenly aware of the significant toll taken by the economic crash – on the fabric of Irish cultural life and on the livelihoods of Irish arts workers.
Yet despite this, Irish artists continued to produce world-class content throughout the darkest days of the crisis.
That incredible productivity has prov en beyon d any doubt the duty of the State to better support these unparalleled cultural ambassadors.
Public endowment of the arts is returned many times over.
That is why Labour, if returned to Government, will place a renewed priority on investing in this key sector.
On reaffirming the intrinsic value of artistic creation.
And on promoting the widest possible cultural participation and access to the arts.
That is why we are determined to invest €150 million more into the arts and culture.
This will involve doubling the budget of the Arts Council and the Irish Film Board.
It will see the establishment of a new Arts Capital Fund to develop and upgrade artistic spaces.
And it will give us the means to treasure and grow our arts community.
I know that this extra funding will be put to excellent use by our artistic and cultural bodies.
B ut this is only part of the work that needs to be done.
The Labour Party understands the need to better support individual artists – to improve their day-to-day security.
And help them produce the next generation of Irish cultural treasures.
For too long, our welfare system has failed to recognise the value of artistic work to our national community.
That’s why we’ll explore ways to reform our social protection system to relieve the activation requirements for those involved in ongoing artistic endeavour, subject to a reasonable cap.
I also want to take this opportunity to reaffirm Labour’s support for the artist’s tax exemption, and the retention and improvement of the Section 481 tax relief.
By continuing and strengthening supports for working artists, we are in fact investing in the development of our future national identity.
That’s an investment I think we cannot d o withou t.
But the global reach of Irish culture means that we can’t confine our work to the domestic stage alone.
All around the world, there are huge untapped opportunities for spreading the very best image of who we are and what we value as a people.
In Government, Labour launched with great success a Global Irish Economic Forum.
But of course, we are so much more than just an economy.
So Labour is proposing a new Global Arts Forum for Ireland – to promote our culture and society, our arts and our values.
The opportunities to showcase Irish artistic talent around the world would be enormous.
Just as we aim to support our arts workers at home, a Global Forum would give us an unmatched space to promote them abroad.
And to send out a new message to the world:
So different to the stark realities of the dark days of 2008 and its aftermath.
An image, bas ed in ou r proud support for the arts, of a confident, forward-looking nation.
At home with the better parts of its soul.
Standing up and standing out.
In a world already so enriched by its culture.