Wednesday, 11 April 1984
Seanad Eireann Debate
I want to inform the House that I propose to cross the political divide with this matter, that is to share the time of 20 minutes between three of us, Senators McDonald, Hanafin and myself. I am glad that there is such unanimity with regard to this matter. It does not happen very often in the House and I am glad that we have it on this occasion. That is, of course as it should be because music and our culture know no bounds. They belong to the nation. They do not belong to any party, individual or group.
The existing support arrangements for Irish cultural organisations such as Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, on the basis on which grants are allocated, is that most cultural organisations engaged in the promotion of our national culture are grant-aided by the State. Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann are one of these organisations. Founded in 1951, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann are now the premier cultural organisation in Ireland. They are indeed an international movement, having organised branches throughout the 32 counties, 40 branches in Britain, 25 branches in the United States and there are branches also in France, Germany and Australia.
Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann are grant-aided from two sources, the Department of the Gaeltacht and the Arts Council. The initial grant from the Department of the Gaeltacht many years  ago was the sum of £10,000. The value of money has changed considerably since then. That grant now stands at £110,000. In 1978 the grant was £100,000, in 1981 it was increased to £125,000, in 1982 it was reduced to £110,000 and it has continued at that figure ever since. That means that since 1978 the grant has remained static except in the case of one year, 1981. If the grant had increased proportionately in relation to inflation it should now have reached at least £200,000.
Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann have grown enormously in that space of time and, therefore, it was necessary to extend the headquarters of the organisation in Monkstown. This was something Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann decided to do four to five years ago. When that proposal was first made the cost of building was at a much lower rate than it is today. Because of that building costs increased enormously and the cost of the building extension doubled from what the original estimate was. Therefore, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann got into financial difficulties and are in that position now.
Perhaps at this stage I should give the position regarding that situation at the moment. The present financial problems of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann are not attributable to the movement but are traceable to two main factors, (a) the non-payment of a Government capital grant which was promised in 1982 and (b) the reduction of the annual organisation grant from Roinn na Gaeltachta, which was reduced in 1982 from £125,000 to £110,000 and has been kept at that level since. This is unprecedented treatment for a cultural movement, particularly one whose success is a matter of record. It is this withholding of grants and not the building of our new theatre complex which is causing the financial problems of Comhaltas. If the capital grants had been paid on time and the level of annual funding maintained Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann would have been in an overdraft situation instead of being in a debt situation.
Another factor which has contributed to the financial problems of Comhaltas has been that the entertainment grant of  Comhaltas from the Arts Council has remained static at £59,000 out of a budget of £5½ million for three years. Last year a survey requisitioned by the Arts Council and carried out by the Landsdowne Marketing Research Limited showed Irish traditional music in a premier position among the arts in Ireland. Yet only 2 per cent of the accounts in the budget is allocated to native art form. It is worth nothing the figures paid to other art forms, namely ballet £400,000, opera £350,000 and other organisations paid proportionately less figures. We do not begrudge such payments but we believe that the native art form at least is entitled to parity with these.
It is not correct to say that only £22,000 was collected by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in membership fees. A sum of £22,000 was received by the Ard Chomhairle but the branch also receive a proportion of the membership fees, the county board receive another proportion and the provincial council receive another proportion, so the £22,000 referred to is only part of the allocation of the branch membership fees. While we welcome the announcement from the Government recently that the long awaited capital grant first promised in 1982 will shortly be paid the amount of £250,000 is £100,000 short of the equivalent sum promised.
The second area to which we now request the Government to address themselves is the annual organisation grant to Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann which was reduced in 1982 from £125,000 to £110,000 and has been kept at that level since. The work programme of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann covers three continents, has 42 branches, 600 classes, 45 festivals which 750,000 people attend, three annual tours and the entire functions are attended by approximately one million people. The Minister will possibly say — I welcome the Minister in the House to listen to this discussion — that part of our grant is a capital grant and that the other part is another type of grant. I would say, in anticipation of what the Minister is going to say, that that does not really matter. It does not matter  whether part of the grant is capital or whether it is current. It is the amount of money that we receive at the end of the day or at the end of the year that matters and not the terms of the various allocations in the grants. What matters to us is that in 1978 we were receiving £100,000 and in 1984 we are receiving only £110,000 despite the depreciation in the value of money, inflation and everything else. I may add that it is disappointing to us to learn that further organisations have been given increases during those years, at least inflationary increases, and Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann have not been given any.
Mr. McDonald: I rise to support Senator de Brún's plea for greater recognition of the work of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. In doing so I can only rely on my own experience and knowledge of the role of this important cultural movement in my constituency of Laois-Offaly and in my county of Laois in particular.
I believe that our generation have an obligation to foster, pass on and encourage our traditional cultures, our songs and dance. As a member of the movement I must admit that my branch is the youngest one in County Laois. Nevertheless, the branch has 60 young people regularly attending classes of Irish music. That is an indication in one corner of the country that if the services are provided people will attend them, certainly get great benefit from them and will enjoy them. The movement in my county includes people from all walks of life, business people, farmers, members of the forces, the Army and the Garda, skilled workers, a full cross section of the public, people who come together and enjoy traditional music and dancing, whether it is in the seisiúns or in both watching and learning the set dances.
We must recognise the importance of the work that Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann have undertaken so successfully over the years in this tremendous Irish tradition. We should also bear in the mind the cost of the great training programmes  that they undertake. The teacher diploma training course in music is of the utmost importance in the entire scheme, because the organisation successfully organise over 600 music classes throughout the country. This is an important imput into the fabric of our country if we are going to hold on to and cherish our tradition. Irish traditional dancing, if we compare it with what goes on at discos, is in a completely different field. Nevertheless, if we watch the faces of people who may be enjoying themselves at a disco, and then we see the people dancing a set, it is absolutely in a different era, it is a different source of enjoyment. Too few people have the opportunity to experience involvement in our traditional way of life.
I hope the Minister and the Government will do all in their power to ensure that the organisation which is so important to preserving our individual identity as a Celtic race can continue. I believe that if the promised grants are made available as quickly as possible, this will give the organisation a great boost. It is important that greater emphasis should be laid on the provision of Irish classes. When people are attending school and have got to learn the Irish language as part of their intermediate or leaving certificate, they are under tremendous pressure and they do not enjoy perhaps the literature, the stories or the culture. When one goes back and gets a second chance education one has the opportunity to open up a whole new culture and a whole new medium for enjoyment. From that point of view it is important that some organisations should be there and that there should be some group to provide this kind of experience to ever wider sections of our community. I wish to commend the proposal by Senator de Brún.
Mr. Hanafin: This is a very emotive issue. I know Senator de Brún would want the Minister to understand that no finger is being pointed at him in this matter. Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann cater for all the people of Ireland. It is of some significance to mention that in north Antrim one of the most flourishing  They need assistance very badly. They groups of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann have amongst their members people of all religions who are joined together in a common bond of love for Irish traditional music. They are the only group I know — perhaps there are others — with this great common bond in the North and the South between people of all political views and religions that must be of great significance.
In dealing with a certain number of statistics which are absolutely true, one is tempted to toss out the fact that 750,000 people are recorded as having attended Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann functions last year. That is something which cannot be ignored. The main point at the moment — and it has to be stressed — is that Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann are in extreme difficulties. I know the Minister is very sympathetic about this. I know something of his background. Recently I saw a programme on television about his own county in the early days when Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann started and how they flourished. No Irish person wants Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann to die. I could not believe anyone would want them to die. There are two things that make any movement die. One is lack of interest and the other is lack of money. In this case it is not a lack of interest but a lack of money. It does not matter how the money has been spent. I was out there last week because I was particularly distressed when I looked at the television programme and saw the difficulties they are in. I studied the accounts and saw that the money was spent wisely and prudently. Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann gave great pleasure to young people in particular who attended classes and learned how to play pure, beautiful Irish music. Surely it is not necessary to stress here or anywhere else that Irish music is as much a part of us as we are part of Ireland.
It is only right that the Department should grant-aid ballet and opera societies. I am not unreasonable in suggesting that Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann who cater for Irish traditional music should get more or at least the same. They should be treated very sympathetically.  deserve it because of the service they have given and their great, beautiful movement throughout the country which joins people together in this great common bond of Irishness that brings out the best in all Irish people, whether Protestant or Catholic, and irrespective of whatever political views they hold. It brings out the best in them, the great common bond and the love of Irish traditional music which is love of Irish history and love of the Irish people themselves. Irish music is what we are.
I appeal to the Minister to have another look at this whole situation. From my viewing of the books — and I have examined and studied them; I have spoken to the people — this is an emergency situation. It is almost a case of the last letter from the ESB and the last letter from the telephone authorities. It is a fire brigade situation. I think I know the Minister's feelings. I know his love for Irish culture. I will leave it at that.
Mr. Ferris: It would be remiss of me if I did not add my voice to the voices of Senators who have spoken on this matter. My fellow county man, Labhrás Ó Murchú, who is president of this magnificent movement, has done much work in this area. He has been an ambassador for us at home and abroad in the sphere of culture, music, song and dance which we all enjoy. I have been involved personally in the strongest possible representations to various Departments over the past two years on this subject.
I know money is scarce and I know we are using the Funds of Suitors Bill to assist them. Outside of that capital allocation a genuine case is being made to nurture and maintain Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in everything they stand for and do. I hope the Minister will be as generous as possible. He will never regret it and our children will be forever grateful to him because they are the people who will benefit in the long run.
Aire na Gaeltachta (Mr. P. O'Toole): Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis na Seanadóirí a ghlac páirt san díospóireacht seo agus le Séamus de Brún  a chuir síos an rún. Ba mhaith liom a rá chomh maith nach bhfuil aon ghá le brú a chur ormsa aitheantas óifigiúil agus aitheantas ó chroí a thabhairt do Chomhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. Tá siad ansin leis na blianta. Tá fhios ag chuile dhuine go bhfuil an-obair á déanamh ag comhaltas agus go bhfuil na mílte duine san tír seo agus go deimhin thar lear atá ag baint suilt agus taithnimh as na hiarrachtaí atá á ndéanamh acu chun ceol, damhsa agus cultúr na tíre seo a chur chun cinn. Tugadh aitheantas oifigiúil, leanúnach do Chomhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann ó 1968 i leith agus ón am sin tá suas le milliún punt curtha ar fáil ag rialtais síos ón am sin i leith. Agus bhí an ceart ag an Seanadóir Séamus de Brún nuair a dúirt sé go mbeinn ag rá cúpla focal faoin airgead caipitil agus faoin airgead reatha a cuireadh ar fáil. Ní ceart a rá gur gearradh siar san bhliain 1981 ar dheontas CCE. Sé do tharla ná i 1978 nuair a bhí an comhaltas ag iarraidh áit a cheannach amuigh ansin shocraigh siad leis an Roinn agus bhí an Roinn sásta ag an am deontas £90,000 a chur ar fáil ar bhonn caipitil agus íocadh é sin i 1978, 1979, 1980 agus 1981 i gceithre thráthchuid i dteannta le deontas i leith airgid reatha agus san mbliain 1981 íocadh £105,000 mar airgead reatha agus íocadh an tráthchuid dheiridh den £90,000 airgead caipitil.
Anois tá fhios agam agus tá an ceart ag an Seanadóir nuair a deir sé gur cuma sa donas an airgead caipitil nó airgead reatha a íocadh. Is í an fhadhb atá ann anois nach bhfuil go leor de cheachtar den dá chuid ar fáil. Sin í an chaoi ina raibh rudaí agus níor gearradh siar ar an deontas reatha. Ardaíodh é sa bhliain ina dhiaidh sin go £110,000 agus tá sé ansin ó shin. Caithfidh mé a rá nár árdaíodh é ó shin, rud a chuireann díomá ormsa mar Aire a bhfuil a Roinn ag cur airgid reatha ar fáil don chomhaltas.
Anois i 1980 shocraigh an comhaltas ar leathnúa dhéanamh ar a gcultúrlann agus foirgneamh nua a chur ar fáil tar éis deis a bheith curtha ar áit a bhí amuigh ansin roimhe sin mar chultúrlann. Sé an costas measta a bhí ann ag an am ná £350,000 Anois bhí an comhaltas ag an am i gcomhairle le mo Roinn agus go deimhin ó na nótaí a tógadh ag an am cuireadh comhairle  ar an gcomhaltas nach raibh sé róchiallmhar dul ar aghaidh le caiteachas an-mhór, caiteachas caipitil, gan fhios a bheith ag chuile duine cá as a raibh a leithéid de chaipiteal le teacht. Ar aon nós chuadhas ar aghaidh leis an obair agus faoi Mheán Fhómhair 1981 bhí ardú de leath chéad míle punt agus costas measta £400,000. I ndeireadh na dála lean an obair ar aghaidh go dtí gur chosain sí £740,000.
Ba mhaith liom a rá ag an bpointe seo go bhfuil an-job déanta agus go bhfuil foirgneamh álainn mar chultúrlann náisiúnta ag CCE amuigh sa chathair ansin. Tá bród orm féin as. Ach ní féidir a rá go raibh sé ceart dul ar aghaidh ag an am toisc nach raibh réiteach déanta ar cá as a raibh costas an fhoirgnimh le teacht as. Nuair a bhí an áit seo á tógáil tháinig CEE chun an Rialtas ag an am agus socraíodh go gcuirfí deontas caipitil ar fáil as Chiste na nAgróirí — the Funds of Suitors — agus socraíodh suim áirithe ag an am. Thángamar isteach ina dhiaidh sin agus ghlacamar go raibh an gealltanas seo tugtha agus dúramar go rabhamar sásta seasamh leis, agus go deimhin tá. Ceann de na rudaí a bhaineann leis seo ná sular féidir an t-airgead a scaoileadh ar ais chuig Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann go gcaithfear Bille a cur tríd an Teach seo agus an Dáil agus tá mé cinnte nach mbeidh aon deacracht ansin agus go mbeidh lán-tacaíocht ag teacht ó chuile thaobh den dá Theach nuair a bhéas an Bille seo á phlé. Bhí deacrachtaí faoi leith ag baint leis agus go deimhin sular tháinig mé anseo anocht dúirt an tAire Dlí agus Cirt liom go mbeidh sé ábalta é a bheith aige taobh istigh de choicís. Chomh luath is a thiocfaimid arais tar éis na Cásca beimid ábalta an Bille a chur tríd an dá Theach le cúnamh Dé agus an t-airgead seo a íoc le Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann.
Is mór an trua, agus ní chuireann sé áthas ar bith ormsa seasamh anseo agus é a rá, nach bhfuil sé in ann — taobh amuigh don deontas caipitil sin ó Chiste na nAgróirí — nach bhfuil aon chiste agamsa lenar féidir liom teacht i gcabhair ar CCE ag an am seo. Ba mhaith liom a rá gur scríobh mé ag an gcomhaltas ar an 28 Márta ag rá go raibh sonraí uaim ar chaiteachas na bliana 1983 le go  bhféadfainn cuí síos leo siúd agus leis an gComhairle Ealaíon — a bhfuil suim acu sa rud sin chomh maith mar chuir an Chomhairle Ealaíon beagnach £60,000 ar fáil i mbliana mar dheontas reatha don chomhaltas — agus go bhféadfadh an triúr againn suí síos — mo Roinn féin, an comhaltas agus an Chomhairle Ealaíon — le bun-fhadhanna an chomhaltais a phlé agus, mar a deirim, sula bhféadfaí an chruinniú sin a bheith eagraithe agam bhí an t-eolas seo ag teastáil. Scríobh mé litir ag iarraidh an eolais seo agus idir an dá linn ansin cuireadh amach an ráiteas go raibh droch-bhail ar chúrsaí airgid an chomhaltais agus go deimhin tá daoine sa Teach seo — bhuail mé leis an Seanadóir de Brún agus leis an tUasal Labhrás Ó Murchú cúpla uair i rith na bliana agus ní raibh iontas orm — bhí díomá orm mar a déarfá — nuair a chuala mé seo. Bhí fhios agam go raibh droch-bhail ar chúrsaí airgid an chomhaltais. Bhí mise ag cur brú ar an Roinn Dlí agus Cirt nó ar an Aire le go bhféadfadh sé an Bille seo a thabhairt os comhair na Dála. Tá sin á dhéanamh anois. Ní réitíonn sé sin fadhb CCE agus mar a deirim chuaigh siad i mbun oibre áras álainn a chur ar fáil: cultúrlann go bhfuil bród agamsa as. Tá an-obair á déanamh acu ach ní haon mhaith é sin dóibh siúd a bheith ag rá na rudaí seo.
Tuigim é sin go maith. Ceann de na rudaí nach ndearna siad i gceart — agus ní dhéanann aon duine gach rud i gceart gach la dá shaol — gur lean siad ar aghaidh air agus go ndeachaigh costais in airde agus go deimhin ní orthu siúd a bhí an locht mar gheall air sin ar chor ar bith. Chuaigh costais chuile rud in áirde agus i ndeireadh na dála tá siad i bhfiacha suas go £700,000. Ní réiteoidh deontas caipitil as Choiste na nAgróirí an fhadhb. Cuideoidh sé le réiteach na faidhbe. Ní réiteoidh sé an fhadhb in iomlán. Bheinnse sásta go deimhin suí síos leis an gComhairle Ealaíon agus leis an gcomhaltas le hiarracht a dhéanamh fáil amach céard is féidir a dhéanamh le réiteach na faidhbe a fháil, mar ceann de na rudaí a chuirean an-díomá ormsa agus a lán bróin ormsa go dtitfeadh sé amach go mbeadh orthu an cultúrlann álainn sin a chaitheamh i leataobh nó é a thabhairt suas do  dhaoine toisc nach bhfuil siad in ann fanacht ann agus íoc as. Mar a deirim tá mise báúil d'obair an chomhaltais agus bhí i gcónaí agus tá súil agam go mbeidh. Tá sé seo ráite agam cheana agus dá mbeinnse i mo thost bheadh an comhaltas molta. Tá an-tacaíocht ag an gcomhaltas mar a deir Seanadóirí anseo, ní amháin sa tír seo ach i gcéin, san Astráil, i gCeanada, i Meiriceá, sa Bhreatain, sa Ghearmáin agus áiteanna eile ar fud an domhain. Tá mé cinnte dá mbeadh fhios ag na daoine seo an droch-bhail atá ar an gcomhaltas ó thaobh airgid go mbeidís sásta rud éigin a chur i leataobh le cabhrú leo agus iad a thabhairt as an fhaopach ina bhfuil siad. Mar sin, mar fhocal scoir, níl aon chiste agamsa gur féidir liom teacht i gcabhair ar Chomhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann faoi láthair. Déanfaidh mé chuile iarracht agus go deimhin tá an tAire Dlí agus Cirt sásta a dhícheall a dhéanamh scaoileadh leis an airgead seo chomh luath agus a bhéas an Bille tríd an dá Theach agus beidh sé sin ann tá súil agam an chéad tseachtain tar éis teacht ar ais i ndiaidh na Cásca. Tá mise sásta suí síos agus an cheist seo a phlé leis an gcomhaltas agus leis an gComhairle Ealaíon mar a mhol mé cúpla seachtain o shin sula bhfuair an comhaltas an phoiblíocht seo le cúpla seachtain anuas.
Ba mhaith liom chomh maith a rá go bhfuil aiféal orm go raibh mé déanach ag teacht chun an Tí. Ní raibh fhios agam cén t-am a bheadh chuile rud eile glanta agaibh agus is cosúil go ndearna sibh bhur gcuid oibre go han-tapaidh. Ceapadh mise i lár mo chuid tae agus is oth liom nach raibh mé anseo in am leis an díospóireacht a thosú.
Séamus de Brún: Focal an-ghairid. I know it is late. Just a word of explanation to the Minister. The Minister said that he has written to Labhrás Ó Murchú for consultation in regard to a meeting. The  reason he has not had a reply is that Labhrás was away in the United States. He came back this morning and an answer will be on the Minister's desk very soon.
Just another word of explanation if I may. The Minister said we went ahead with the building without knowing where we were going or what we were doing and without foreseeing where we might get the money. That is not quite true. I am not saying the Minister is telling a lie. We went ahead with the building in the knowledge that we would do our very best and get the best co-operation possible from the State. We generated £250,000 through our own organisation. That is literally true. That is an achievement of which we may well be proud, and of which we are proud. I just wanted to comment on those two things.
Finally, I want to thank the Minister for coming to the House. I want to thank him also for the many times he received Labhrás Ó Murchú and myself in negotiations. I want to thank Senator Ferris, Senator McDonald and my colleague on this side, Senator Hanafin, for co-operating with me on this matter. I am glad, as I said initially, that there is such a spirit in this House tonight. We have crossed political divides and we have possibly created a precedent. Our music belongs to the nation. It does not belong to any group or any party. It belongs to the nation and to the people, and long may it live. We may get an increase from the Department. The Minister may yet change his mind.
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