Tuesday, 29 March 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
Deputy Brian Walsh: Seo é an chéad ócáid dom cupla focal a rá sa Dáil nua agus sa Teach stairiúil, tábhachtach seo. Tá mé thar a bheith bródúil a bheith anseo mar Theachta Dála nua ar son muintir na Gaillimhe agus ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le chuile duine a thug cabhair agus tacaíocht dom i rith an olltoghcháin, go mór mór mo chlann, muintir na Gaillimhe agus mo chairde.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this matter and I thank the Minister of State for attending. I refer to the funding for the only national Irish language theatre in the country, Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe, which has been displaced since its premises were badly damaged by fire in 2007. Plans for the restoration of this historic building were prepared some time ago. A commitment was made by the previous Government that it would match a contribution of €300,000 provided by Galway City Council and the theatre company. The contribution by Galway City Council was made conditional on the provision of equal funding by the Government. That funding never materialised and, as a result, the only Irish language theatre in the country remains idle to this day. That Government left office without fulfilling the commitment it made on the project. That broken promise can be counted among the litany of broken promises on which that Administration has already been judged by the electorate.
It is a shame that the landmark theatre, which has been an epicentre of culture and the arts both locally and nationally for more than 80 years, has been allowed to remain derelict since 2007. Its board has been gallant in its efforts to continue staging productions at other locations since then, but it has done so at considerable cost at a time when it is striving to raise funds to assist it to return to its rightful base.
Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe has a rich history as the national Irish language theatre and since 1928 has showcased, nurtured and helped develop the talents of many legendary names of Irish screen and stage. It was there that the curtains were first raised on the illustrious careers of Walter Macken, Siobhan McKenna and Máirtín Ó Direáin and where the likes of Sean McClory and others tread the boards before they took their first steps on their way to greater achievement. It was there, too, that actor Mick Lally first came to prominence. His sad passing last year was marked with warm tributes from Members of this House, rightly so. There could be no more fitting tribute to him, with the first anniversary of his death approaching, than for provision to be made to secure the future of the theatre to which he owed some of his success and through which he gave so much enjoyment to many people not just in Galway but across the country.
Questions have been asked in recent times about my party’s policy on the national language. I can think of no clearer signal to demonstrate our commitment to Irish as a vibrant, living language than to support the national Irish language theatre in its efforts to return to its traditional home. The Irish language has been independently calculated to be worth more than €136 million to the local economy in Galway and supports more than 5,000 jobs in the area. Galway is a thriving centre of excellence for the arts, music, theatre, literature and language. The Irish language is a unique selling point in Galway’s image and cultural identity, and failure to support it would ultimately be counterproductive from the perspective of Exchequer finances. In the current economic climate, we must look towards our strengths in order to emerge from the economic crisis. Among the strengths we possess are the arts, culture and tourism. Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe plays an important role in all three areas. It is with a sense of urgency that I ask the Minister to provide the necessary funding for the restoration and renovation of the theatre. I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to make a statement.
Minister of State at the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Dinny McGinley): Ba mhaith liom tréaslú leis an Teachta Walsh as a chéad óráid anseo sa Dáil agus as gur thóg séábhar chomh tábhachtach le Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe. Tuigfidh éinne a bhfuil aon eolas ar dhrámaíocht nó litríocht na Gaeilge aige nó aici an tábhacht atá le Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe ó 1928 nuair a bunaíodh é. Tuairim pearsanta atá sa mhéid sin, mar go bhfuil suim agam sa dhrámaíocht. Tá amharclann lán-Ghaeilge sa cheantar ar as mé féin, Gaoth Dobhair, a bhfuil clú agus cáil air. Tá a fhios sin ag an Teachta ar an taobh trasna, mar is dóigh go raibh sé in amharclann Ghaoth Dobhair. Nuair a bhí mise i mo bhuachaill óg, cosúil leis an Teachta, ba ghnáth liom anois agus arís, a bheith ag aisteoireacht sa Damer, i bhFaiche Stiabhna anseo i mBaile Átha Cliath. B’shin an t-amharclann a bhí ag Gael Linn, ach faraor, níl sé ann anois. Is mór an trua é nach bhfuil. Caithfimid a dhéanamh deimhin de go mbeidh Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe againn bliain i ndiaidh bliana.
At the outset, I recognise the work undertaken by Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe, as the national Irish language theatre, in promoting Irish language theatre. Since 1928, An Taibhdhearc has undertaken pioneering work which has contributed to the theatrical tradition in Ireland through the Irish language plays produced in An Taibhdhearc and throughout the country. An Taibhdhearc’s fundamental objective is to develop and promote plays in Irish through the provision of a platform for new dramas produced professionally. In addition, An Taibhdhearc supports and nurtures a positive environment for the Irish language theatrical arts by providing training opportunities of the highest quality to young people in the theatre.
My Department makes an annual grant towards the running costs of An Taibhdhearc to enable it to fulfil its work programme. The grant consists of €323,920 for the current year. Following a major fire in November 2007 which seriously damaged the fabric of the theatre building itself, the management of An Taibhdhearc sought assistance from my Department with the refurbishment costs. In a letter to Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe in May 2010, my Department informed An Taibhdhearc that it was willing to grant €300,000 in principle for refurbishment works, subject to a number of conditions being fulfilled by 31 December 2010. These conditions included written confirmation from Galway City Council that it would provide co-funding of €300,000 for the project; written confirmation from An Taibhdhearc that the balance of costs would be met by An Taibhdhearc; agreement that the refurbishment of the theatre building would be an interim arrangement until the new proposed centre for the Irish language would be built in Galway city and that An Taibhdhearc would be willing to move to this centre in due course. With regard to the co-funding condition, my Department was informed in December 2010 by An Taibhdhearc that Galway City Council had approved funding of €50,000 per annum over a period of six years.
While my Department recognises the need for funding for refurbishment works at An Taibhdhearc, I wish to inform the Deputy that the capital funding available this year to my Department under the Irish language support schemes is very limited. The capital funding under this subhead consists of €100,000 for 2011. However, my Department is willing to examine the feasibility of providing some funding to An Taibhdhearc to enable it to begin to carry out the refurbishment works over a period of time. Notwithstanding this, the Deputy will appreciate that before any final decision is made, my Department will need to satisfy itself that An Taibhdhearc is in a position to carry out the refurbishment works within the resources available to it.
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