Film Industry: Motion.

Wednesday, 2 February 2000

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 162 No. 3

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Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú  I move:

That Seanad Éireann welcomes the report of the film industry strategic review group and calls on the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands to make a statement.

The report is an exceptionally fine document but that is not surprising, given the membership of the group responsible for it. It is evident that the people who prepared the report brought with them a wealth of experience and a vision for both the film and television industries in Ireland. I compliment them.

It is evident from the report that there have been significant achievements in recent times. Historically, Ireland did not have an indigenous film industry of any significance in terms of over[192] all output or economic impact. However, everybody is aware of the achievements which have taken place in recent years through the leadership of producers and the investment they have been able to attract. What was particularly gratifying about recent developments was the impact they had on the international scene, although I do not wish to overstate it. We are extremely proud of it. It is evident from the many reviews and critiques that many of the films were exceptionally well received.

The report makes an important point which should be taken on board. Virtually every national community in the world wants to have a presence in the film industry, not just for economic purposes but, as the report makes clear, to be able to promote their own cultural identity. I was glad to see that in the report because I made the same point on a number of occasions in the Seanad. I often wondered if it was unfashionable to make that statement but it appears to be well received within the industry. That is not surprising, even in a purely commercial sense.

If one is involved in a competitive field and wishes to make something that will have a unique impact or be a unique attraction, one will not do the same as one's competitor. One will endeavour to do something different. One therefore works on the talents of one's country. These talents include not just acting and production but also scriptwriting. If a person is capable of getting to the heart of something that is indigenous to themselves and is able to portray it in an artistic way, it is amazing the universal message it carries. It also gives one a certain exclusive right to that area. The report is right to state that. It should be borne in mind by film producers that it is not necessary to ape what other countries are doing. We should look at ourselves and, in a professional manner, depict the strengths we have within our identity and culture.

I was disappointed at the RTÉ bashing which took place over the Christmas period. I am not saying there should not be an informed debate about the national broadcasting service but there appeared to be certain hidden agendas involved in the type of debate that took place. I hope I am wrong but it almost seemed orchestrated in the letters columns of the newspapers, newspaper editorials and in the comments of certain commentators. Why did that happen this time and not in any other year? That does not mean there was no criticism of RTÉ in other years. Criticism is healthy and probably helped RTÉ to develop. In this case, however, it was so strong and appeared so orchestrated I was disappointed. It will not help the broadcasting service in the long run, whether they are independent or national. Most people who wished to make a contribution to the development of the broadcasting service, RTÉ, would have been critical at times. Hopefully, we praised when praise was due. That is how it should be.

It must be said that RTÉ has made a major contribution to this country under many head[193] ings. It achieved exceptionally high standards of presentation in television, whether it was in current affairs, drama or art programmes, allowing for the gaps which exist. Major drama series such as “Strumpet City” and “The Year of the French” were exceptionally costly but fine productions and one can name many more such productions by RTÉ. However, eaten bread is soon forgotten. We forget that often RTÉ was the trailblazer when it came to film and television production.

RTÉ should not rest on its laurels and undoubtedly the company will encounter major competition. However, the report points to the need to have RTÉ actively involved in the strategies outlined in the report. That is why I pick out RTÉ for specific mention. It would be wrong to let pass or to accept that what was being said was correct.

Look at the progress Ireland, a small country, has made in theatre, literature and all types of music. It is evident that we are capable of making major progress on the international scene and of making an impact in the international market, although the film industry has not yet reached that stage of development. I understand that output was approximately £123 million but the report states that this can be increased to £500 million. That is big money. If it is to succeed, two props will be required. In the first instance, the report suggests that there must be a partnership between the industry and the State. I support that. Second, we must cultivate the nursery which will provide the talent, whether that is acting, production, directing and so forth. We must provide that nursery. We have to look at education as a whole to ensure that is happening, and that it is not regarded as a hobby to be introduced only when one has finished one's formal education. Young minds should be focused on the career prospects that exist.

An agency like FÁS has an important role to play in this regard. For example, FÁS facilitated a young man who had, probably, an interest in producing little more than home videos initially. He was given the opportunity of doing a course with FÁS and was subsequently taken on board in RTÉ where he was given work experience and an awareness of the industry. It took him out of the local equation and showed him the prospects that were there. FÁS, with Bord Scannán na hÉireann and other State agencies, could be more proactive and not just wait for someone to come to them. Much of what FÁS did in the past is no longer necessary because much of its work has been accomplished. FÁS has provided plenty of training and many people have been able to obtain gainful employment as a result. It could now move into the film industry and be a partner in what is happening.

In addition to providing training and ensuring that young people have the opportunity at least to test the waters and expand their knowledge, we have to consider the economic aspect. Unless we can attract major investors we will always be [194] living to some extent on our last success without knowing specifically how we want the industry to develop. Strategy here is directed towards the provision of infrastructure, which includes finance. That is covered within the tax incentive schemes and so on. In addition we have to instil confidence in the industry. If an industry is developing well and provides more opportunities, more people will be attracted to it, particularly investors. It is likewise in the film industry. We are not talking about a once-off achievement. We are talking about the whole industry.

An interdepartmental government task force would be a start. We need to assess our assets, our talent and successes, identify where the potential is and ensure that we have the infrastructure necessary to exploit that potential in the best sense and to the fullest. A task force would be one way of doing that, and that task force would have to act with a certain urgency. Many task forces we had in the past were highly successful. Task forces established at regional level when industries closed down have had phenomenal success in reversing bad situations and lifting spirits. In this case there is an extra urgency because, even though it is an organic type of industry, tastes are changing, markets are being lost, opportunities are not perhaps being recognised. The only way to approach this is to impose a deadline by which the task force must report and take things from there. The driving force behind this industry is the artists. If the commercial side becomes the dominant consideration, there is a grave danger that art and the input of artists will suffer. They must be central and at the same time have a commercial focus.

Having read through the report, and I have picked out only some points in it, I was particularly impressed by the manner in which it was laid out and the strategies put forward. I was also glad it did not point to the Government or the State, that it had not a begging bowl approach in the hope of gaining benefit from the State coffers, and that there was a realisation that there are many players. I welcome the report and look forward to hearing the Minister's comments.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry  Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry  I formally second the motion.

Mr. Manning: Information on Maurice Manning  Zoom on Maurice Manning  I welcome the Minister to the House.

I have a suspicion that a funny thing happened to this motion on its way to the House. When the first draft of this week's Private Members' Business reached us, we were asked to compliment the Government on having implemented its decision to implement this report. Then we got a fairly frenzied second version of the motion from which the words “to implement” had disappeared. I suspect the Leader of the House may have been slightly ahead of himself in the first wording and that wiser or more cautious counsel in the Department has restrained his enthusiasm.

I regret I am not speaking after the Minister when I would have a clear indication of the [195] Government's intentions. I was intrigued by the double flip last week. This is a non-contentious motion. It was surprising, therefore, to see civil servants, at the behest of the Government, beginning a retreat which nobody really thought was necessary. Perhaps Leader of the House will explain it to us.

I have a slight problem with the report. The review group includes people, many of whom I know personally, all of whom I believe are people of professionalism and integrity, but virtually every one of whom has a vested interest in seeing more money spent on the industry. They would all gain significantly from greater spending. I am not for one moment attacking the integrity or good will of anybody on the group. However, a little more scepticism on the part of the group might have been helpful in coming to conclusions. The other side of the equation is that the people involved are all people who have firsthand experience, who brought their expertise to bear and put it at the disposal of the Government and of the public in getting this report to us.

One thing is certain and that is that there is an extraordinary market for film in the modern world. With the arrival of digital broadcasting and the proliferation of channels the market is simply insatiable. There is probably no end to what can be used. Sadly, more has not always meant better. It has meant spreading the butter more thinly in very many cases. With seven, eight or nine channels available it is often very difficult to find something that offers any sort of challenge to the viewer. There is a tendency to go down market. We are very fortunate here compared to many other countries. In the US the lowest common denominator is infinitely lower than anything which would find acceptance here. In that sense we still have an element of public criticism and a resistance on the part of the public to what is offered to it.

The market exists and it is good that we have this report on it. It is a timely, well-written and positive report with interesting suggestions. I compliment those involved in its production. Perhaps the most ominous sentence in the report appeared on page 20 in the executive summary:

Ms Rita Meehan, Assistant Principal, Department of Finance wished to record that findings contained in this report and recommendations made by the Review Group do not necessarily reflect the view of the Department of Finance.

Some things never change. That is perhaps an element of prudence or a dash of cold water, so I look forward to what the Minister has to say.

It is in the nature of the film industry that a great deal of hype surrounds everything it does. Films are hailed in advance as great successes, modest productions are easily described as masterpieces, all films, we are told in advance, will be great money-spinners with millions to be made from them and stars will be made overnight. It is [196] in the nature of the business that gossip and hype surround the arrival of almost any film, even a modest one.

The reality in Ireland has been very different. Few films made here have made large amounts of money, many are lucky to have broken even, some have incurred significant losses, many people have burned their fingers through their association with film productions and a few, not many, have grown rich from their association with films.

One of the points made in the report on a number of occasions is the importance to the country of a healthy film industry and I do not dispute that. The report makes many assertions about the value to the country of a strong indigenous film industry. No one can dispute the power of film as a major shaper of popular cultural life in Ireland. I sometimes have difficulty, however, seeing what is in many ways a commercial venture as part of the national community effort. I would like to know more than is available in the report about the relative success of film industries in other countries. Which countries have strong film industries and why do they have them? We have been involved in film production for some time and we have not done terribly well. Why have we not done better? What factors have impeded the development of a film industry in Ireland?

I am also interested in the emphasis placed on the importance of a strong indigenous film industry. It is conceded that we need small, innovative companies but it is stressed we need three or four big players, as they are called. I do not know how many of the existing small innovative companies are capable of growing into big players. Are we to do what we have done in every other industry and to attract the established big players to set up in Ireland? To what extent are we talking about an indigenous film industry? We do not think of Coca-Cola or Dell computers as indigenous, so are we talking about a film industry which is essentially global and which locates in Ireland, although it could make the same product anywhere else in the world? I do not mind if it creates good jobs and allows young people to become involved in a medium which allows them to travel the world and make use of their skills. I would like more detail on what is meant by “indigenous”– is it Irish owned or is it the location in Ireland of a multinational company?

I am interested in many aspects of the report, such as the emphasis on training for script writing It is important to devote resources to such training. Perhaps too much is being asked of RTÉ and it is being asked to play too great a part in film production. Perhaps these are points the Minister can address.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry  Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry  I welcome the report because film has been one of our more successful new industries. I was glad that Senator Ó Murchú emphasised not only the commercial side but also the cultural level to which we hope people aspire. A splendid job was done by the people who com[197] piled the report and they certainly had a vested interest in it. I would have liked a little more in the report on the inclusion of children and the younger age group within the cultural climate we hope to set with television.

Senator Manning was correct to say we are fortunate in the level of film and television production to which we have access. We fish out of the UK pool and our own television stations. Some of us also have the good fortune to receive some continental stations. In that regard, I always remember when one of my children was small and we were in America saying that 40 channels were available and nothing was on any of them. I am inclined to believe that when we get digital television we will still rely on our own five, six or seven channels.

I am fascinated by the impact TG4 is trying to make. I am not a good Irish scholar, as Senator Ó Murchú knows, but I strongly recommend some of the programmes it broadcasts, such as the lives of the American Presidents, for example. If that were shown in the United States it would make riveting watching. I would love to know what marketing efforts are being made to have some of these extraordinary documentary films broadcast further afield.

There are many recommendations in the report and I was a little dismayed to see that the recent budget did not undertake to support some of the financial recommendations which I thought were very good. I would have thought the whole package needed to be taken on board. Recommendation 14 concerns tax incentives. With Senator Manning, I noted Ms Rita Meehan's warning at the end of the recommendations that they were not necessarily the views of the Department of Finance. Was the report read before the budget because many of the recommendations regarding tax incentives were not taken on board?

In the budget the Government extended the film tax incentive, known as section 481, for five years at 80% tax relief. However, the report recommended that the scheme be continued for another seven years and, more importantly, that tax relief for films with a budget of less than £4 million should be 100%. In making films, it takes a certain amount of time to raise finance, to prepare the script, to assemble the cast and to get the show on the road. A period of three or four years is very short in planning such a project. The Minister for Finance should have extended the scheme for seven years. Most films made here have a budget of under £4 million, so why did he not give 100% relief? It would have been well worth doing and I support the recommendation in that regard. The trade unions, employers and semi-State agencies were all in favour of this approach, therefore, why did the Minister not do it?

The report recognised the importance of the Irish Film Board as the main agency to support and develop film. The Minister agreed that its income should rise to £3.5 million by 2004, in other words, five years from when the report was [198] published. However, in recommendation 19 the report indicates how important the restructured and strengthened film board should be and that £9.5 million should be given over two years. Given that we are apparently flush with money at the moment, would it not be better to provide the money immediately and get things going? I cannot see the reason for the delay. Projects are often postponed because of a lack of certainty about funding. The current funding difficulties of the Irish Film Board should be examined and funding brought forward more quickly.

There is another matter on which the Minister for Finance has been a little tardy. Recommendation No. 20 is that a capital injection of £5 million should be used to give “a powerful boost to independent film production in Ireland” and that funding of £5 million over the next three years should be given. However, the funding from the Minister is to be staggered even further. There needs to be a sense of urgency in the provision of money to reassure those who are involved in making films, a great number of whom come from abroad, that we are committed to an ongoing strategy. Even the delay in clarifying what was going to happen with regard to section 481 put back the making of quite a few films.

The Film Institute of Ireland is not mentioned in the report and I am sorry about that. It is most important that we promote this body which preserves the film culture of the country. The film archive is very important because with it we safeguard our audiovisual heritage. We should be able to collect the film, tape, paper and memorabilia that we need to have a truly national archive. The film archive should be developed. We should collect audiovisual material from both parts of the island because it is of great historical value.

We need to understand that film and media education is important. The audience is important also. It is marvellous to make films and television programmes but not much good if one does not put bums on seats, so to speak. I urge that greater effort be put into educational publications for school children. The Film Institute of Ireland was visited by 13,000 school children last year and the institute ran screenings and organised workshops for them. It is important that people acquire a feeling for what good film is when they are young. We should put money into producing good films for children and young people so they understand what constitutes high production values.

I regret that much bought-in material is disgraceful. It is poor in script and artistically and is not of the standard we would like to see. The junior and leaving certificate syllabuses include film and we need to have people with educational expertise on the various advisory bodies so that we can raise the standard of film for young people. I support what Senator Manning has said about the dumbing down of programmes. I am not impressed by weekend television. During the week our television is of a high standard but at [199] the weekend one sometimes wonders what one could watch.

Many projects come here because of good environmental conditions. We must be careful when we erect structures such as power lines that we do not destroy vistas that have been popular in the past and which may be important in future projects. Our environment has made Ireland popular as a location for big epic films and older films such as those alluded to by Senator Ó Murchú. It would be a great pity if we hampered our film industry through carelessness in our management of the environment. Our film industry is a by-product of the television and film age from which we have reaped important financial benefits.

Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Éamon Ó Cuív): Information on Éamon Ó Cuív  Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív  Glacaim buíochas leat, a Chathaoirligh, as ucht an deis seo a bheith agam cupla focal a rá agus gabhaim leithscéal thar cheann an Aire. Tá sí tinn i láthair na huaire agus níl sí in ann a bheith linn tráthnóna. Caithfidh mise, mar Aire Stáit, déanamh ina háit.

On foot of a commitment of the Government in An Action Programme for the Millennium the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy de Valera, established in 1998 the film industry strategic review group, familiarly known as the film think tank, under the chairmanship of Mr. Ossie Kilkenny. The Minister mandated the group in its terms of reference to carry out an objective evaluation of the effectiveness of the existing schemes and incentives to develop the industry, analyse and identify the fundamental issues facing the industry, make recommendations in relation to future measures in support of the film industry and formulate a strategic plan for the future of the industry into the new decade.

The group proceeded to carry out an in-depth examination of the strategic and practical issues facing the industry. They met a wide range of interest groups and experts in the creative, industrial and technical spheres and also had a two-day engagement with a panel of international film industry experts who were invited to Dublin for the purpose. There was, during the lifetime of the group, an extraordinary commitment of time and talent by the members, a group of top professionals. This was a measure of their deep commitment to and faith in the future of the industry. Their report reflects this commitment and belief. Following a decade of unprecedented growth, activity and creativity in film and television production in Ireland, it was appropriate that we should engage in this in-depth review.

The report, which is the product of a year of intense work is solid and practical, yet also inspirational. It gives a clear and solid basis for policy for this vital cultural industry through the first [200] decade of this new century, a blueprint for a strategic approach to the future development of the industry. The interrelationships between the broadcasting, telecommunications and information technology sectors are deepening and expanding. This convergence is clearly a key area of potential where economic advantage may be obtained and the exploitation of this advantage will be a central, essential plank of our industrial development in the next decade.

It is a matter of strategic importance that Ireland continues to develop and expand its cultural influence through the audiovisual media in parallel with and as an integral part of our economic growth. This influence creates goodwill towards Ireland as well as providing business opportunities and specialist employment in a key growth sector in the modern world economy. Given the focus of Irish industrial policy on “high end” industries and our established strengths in the information technology and telecommunications industries, Ireland is well placed to take advantage of new and emerging markets for creative audiovisual content.

This industry is a particularly attractive one. It is environmentally friendly and makes a vital contribution to maintaining a dynamic cultural life in this country. In a broader perspective, a vigorous Irish presence in this sector will have a wider importance as the coming decade proceeds, with telemarketing and advertising being driven by quality audiovisual entertainment.

The think tank has made a number of key recommendations for the future development of the industry and the Minister has obtained Government approval to proceed with the implementation, as a first phase, of those recommendations which must form the foundation stone upon which the rest depend. The Minister has secured in the budget the extension of section 481 investment incentives for five years, up to April 2005, to give an unprecedented platform of stability for the industry.

The Irish Film Board will be assigned a substantially expanded role. This will require its restructuring and strengthening and involve additional staff and funding. The report recommends that the following crucial functions will fall to be carried out by the board following its restructuring and expansion: the provision of expertise in the development of high quality script which is artistically and commercially strong; new project development and production funding to build increasing commercial viability; strategic business development, including the development of new forms of film company financing; co-ordination of generic marketing programmes for Irish film and television content; international marketing of Ireland's film-making capacity; in-career training and development, interfacing with the industry and Screen Training Ireland; providing production expertise and advice; technological foresight and advice to the [201] industry; co-ordination with the television broadcasting sector; co-ordination with other industrial agencies of the State, and development of a plan for Irish language production.

To enable the board to take on these wide-ranging additional and expanded functions for the industry the Minister is engaging independent consultants to examine and advise on its staff and organisational structure needs to meet this increased workload. The Minister has ensured that its base allocation for 2000 will be increased by 30% over its original 1999 capital allocation to £5.3 million. The Minister was also able to allocate a supplemental provision of £700,000 to the board in 1999 to enable it reduce the overhang of capital commitments carried over from 1999 to 2000 so that more resources could be committed to new projects in 2000.

The Minister has appointed Mr. Ossie Kilkenny as chairman of the board to oversee implementation of these crucial changes. Having ably chaired the think tank he brings to the position an in-depth knowledge of the entertainment industry.

The think tank recommends the establishment of two funds – a long-term equity fund for film company development and a once-off fund for new project development for television – as a means of addressing under-capitalisation of the indigenous sector. The Minister will be asking the restructured board in conjuntion with other relevant State agencies to examine these proposals in light of the need to build the capital base of our film companies and to submit detailed proposals to her on how this need might be addressed.

It is accepted by Government that the audiovisual industry has a central place in industrial policy. It is intended that there will be a co-ordinated commitment by the industrial agencies of the State, including FÁS, with the Irish Film Board, to the development of the industry's full potential and, in particular, to fostering strong indigenous companies in this sector.

The report will provide the basis for policy in the new decade. The Minister has indicated, however, that in one aspect she will be departing from its proposals. She does not consider that imposing a levy on cinema seats and video sales or rentals is an appropriate way to fund the Irish Film Board. While the efforts of the think tank to identify potential sources of additional funding for the board are appreciated, such a levy would require the establishment of a bureaucracy for its implementation, the cost of which would be passed on to consumers, hinder the growth of audiences and, in particular, impact on the viability of smaller cinemas. In an environment where Government policy is to reduce the taxation burden generally, the Minister considers that it would be inappropriate to impose a new tax on a medium of mass entertainment.

[202] The report makes recommendations on the need to target education in film to the practical needs of the industry so that education in film at all levels is focused and co-ordinated with the needs of and career opportunities in the industry. The Minister will liaise with her colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, on this matter which falls within his area of responsibility. On in-career training, the operations of Screen Training Ireland will be responsive to the needs of the industry.

The think tank makes the point forcefully that while Ireland has a strong literary tradition, there appears to be a difficulty in adapting literary story telling skills to the screen. This leads to one of its most fundamental conclusions, that is, that investment in script and project development has been totally inadequate. Since taking office the Minister has seen this as a crucial area requiring focused attention. The Irish Film Board now has a full-time development officer and the proportion of its capital committed to development support has substantially increased. As additional resources are allocated to the board there will be a major expansion of its role in development. The positive results of this refocusing will be evident in coming years.

The report rightly emphasises the importance of the European dimension of the industry. The Minister and the Department will be actively involved in the negotiation in coming months of the new MEDIA programme – MEDIA PLUS – which will commence in 2001. The recommendations of the think tank report will inform our input to these negotiations.

We are embarking on a new phase in the building of a world class, commercially successful and competitive industry. We can look forward to the further strengthening of the strong links which have been developed between the agencies North and South. Such co-operation benefits everyone. All elements of the industry need to work together. Producers have a responsibility actively to support, foster and promote indigenous talent in crew and cast. Those involved in the industry need to operate in a modern, transparent way, eliminating practices which damage the opportunities and prospects for everyone. The State can only be the facilitator in creating a positive climate and an appropriate framework of incentives. It is for those working in the industry to grasp these opportunities with conviction and determination to succeed. We are confident that they will do so.

As Minister of State with responsibility for the Gaeltacht I very much welcome the Minister's initiative on foot of the report's recommendation in asking Bord Scannán na hÉireann, in conjunction with the television broadcasters, Údaras na Gaeltachta and Enterprise Ireland, to develop proposals for a focused policy framework for developing commercially viable television production in the Irish language. Ba mhaith liom [203] buíochas a ghlacadh leis an Seanadóir Henry as an méid a dúirt sí faoi TG4 aréir. I thank her for her kind words.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry  Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry  I can understand that much.

Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív  Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív  We must preserve quality television programming to which TG4 within its direct remit and its wider activities since its foundation has certainly added. I hope there will never be a move to television aimed at the lowest common denominator. As the report indicates there are very large audiences in Europe, including those in major language areas, accustomed to dubbed television programmes and films. As the number of television outlets increases the market potential, for example, of a long running television drama serial originally produced in a minority language will increase. I look forward to Bord Scannán na hÉireann's proposals.

Tá béim curtha ar thábhacht na Gaeilge sa rud seo ar fad agus tá an teanga luaite mar bhun-rud sa tuarascáil. Mar Aire Stáit a bhfuil freagracht na Gaeilge orm cuirim féin an-fháilte roimhe sin.

The Minister wishes to express her appreciation of the work of the members of the think tank and all those who facilitated and contributed to its deliberative process, including those who took the time to make written and oral presentations. Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghlacadh leis na Seanadóirí a labhair go dtí seo. Eisteofar go cúramach ní hamháin leis an méid atá le rá acu sin ach chomh maith leis an méid atá le rá ag duine ar bith eile a ghlacfaidh páirt sa díospóireacht seo.

Ms Cox: Information on Margaret Cox  Zoom on Margaret Cox  I welcome the Minister of State to the House. The growth of film, television and video in the west of Ireland is one of the great by-products of the success of the film industry. The importance of the film industry, particularly to a minority language such as Irish, can only be enhanced by the type of work carried out in the west and the fact that the report recommended that a development plan for the Irish language should comprise part of the expanded aims and strategic development of the Irish film and television industry.

I do not claim to be an expert on the film industry but there are huge benefits to be gained in terms of the industry's creation of direct employment throughout the country. The additional revenue generated in small localities in terms of bed and breakfast tariffs and payments for other services is also to be welcomed. This revenue also makes a contribution to our overall economic growth.

The success of TG4 is indicative of the growth of film and television and the value of a small independent Irish language station. People whose children attend gaelscoileanna or are preparing for Irish language courses will know that the fact [204] that they can watch “Power Rangers” and other programmes through Irish makes it much easier for them to learn the language. When I was going to school, the only fun we had with the Irish language was when we stuck pictures on the clár dubh for our buntús cainte. I welcome the development of companies such as Telegael and other Irish-based video and film production companies in the west. We need only look at the success of soap operas such as “Ros na Rún” to realise that we can be proud of the industry and that it has a future.

Over the past ten years, I have witnessed the development of the film industry in Galway and throughout the west. There is now a production studio based in the west – Roger Corman Studios – in which many films have been made. The studio has generated growth within the industry and has allowed people with an interest in the industry to find employment in the west rather than having to move to Dublin. I will refer later to the production zone which is based within a 30-mile radius of the GPO in Dublin.

The Minister of State will be aware of the very fine work which is being carried out in the Galway Film Centre. An annual film fleadh is organised in the city at which many new artists and people trying to gain experience in the industry gain exposure to a larger film audience than they could otherwise have hoped for. Script writing and production awards which encourage young people to become involved in the industry are conferred in association with organisations like RTÉ. These encourage young people to strive for the type of one stop centre of excellence referred to by the Minister.

The industry also has a great tourism value. If one travels throughout Connemara, one sees signs for the “Quiet Man” bridge and other film locations. If more films were to be made in Ireland, these locations could become tourist attractions and tourists could travel throughout our unspoiled countryside. It is important that our planners should be cognisant of our unspoiled environment in regard to the erection of masts, power lines etc. We should protect our beautiful environment as much as possible. I commend Galway Corporation for including in its development plan a statement recognising the value of the film industry to the city. Planners must now take account of the possibility that Galway may become a capital of film and video production in Ireland when drawing up their plans.

There is a production zone in Dublin which operates within a 30-mile radius of the GPO. SIPTU has agreed that crew members and others involved in a film's production do not have to be paid expenses but that they must be paid outside the 30-mile zone. People are entitled to be paid legitimate expenses. However, if further production zones were set up, it would spread the opportunities for other parts of the country to benefit from the revenue generated by pro[205] duction company expenditure. Too often, we see Dublin locations and the beautiful hills of Wicklow in films. It would be nice also to see the hills and lakes of Connemara and County Clare. Perhaps a second and third production zone could be established in other areas of the country, possibly radiating from Galway and Cork city centres respectively. I hope SIPTU will bear that in mind in regard to the strategic development of film in Ireland.

I welcome the five year extension of the section 481 provisions which provide a platform of stability. We were not certain whether these provisions would continue but it is important that they are retained in order to encourage continued investment in Ireland as a film location. I welcome the expanded role of the Irish Film Board which has contributed to the Irish language production plan.

The report states that the audio-visual industry has a central role to play in Ireland's economic future. From a macro-economic point of view, if we couple this statement with our recent copyright legislation, we will have an excellent environment in which the film industry can be developed. Irish people are creative, bright and innovative and are particularly suited to the film industry. I welcome the fact that the industry has been recognised as having a contribution to make to the overall economy, our competitiveness and continued growth.

I welcome the Minister's decision not to place any additional taxes on video rentals and cinemas. While this was an attempt by the think tank to generate revenue, it is indicative of the importance we place on recreation that the Government has chosen not to increase taxes in this area.

I welcome the report. It is very fair and it outlines what is necessary for the strategic development of Irish film and television. It sets out the master plan for the period 2000-10. The whole island can be involved in this industry and I look forward to forging stronger sectoral and cultural links between North and South and to helping to ensure that the industry covers the whole island.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  Before calling Senator Ó Murchú to conclude I acknowledge the presence of the recently appointed Minister of State, Deputy Eoin Ryan, and I welcome his return to the House where, as a Senator, he worked with distinction before his elevation to the other House. I wish him well in his new portfolio. He and I have worked together on a few projects from time to time.

Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú  I also welcome the Minister of State to the House. We look forward to him returning to the House again to partake in its deliberations.

Mr. Burke: Information on Paddy Burke  Zoom on Paddy Burke  Not as a Senator.

Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú  No.

[206]Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Mr. E. Ryan): Information on Eoin Ryan  Zoom on Eoin Ryan  I always wanted to return and this is the way I wanted to do it.

Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú  I am delighted with some of the comments of the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, and that the report before the House was taken seriously by the Government. It acted promptly on a number of its recommendations and in that regard it has put its money where its mouth is. It is evident that the Government appreciates the great potential in the world of film. It has also taken on board the wonderful successes we have had in recent years. I also thank Senator Henry who seconded the motion and the other Senators who contributed to the debate. There was unanimity, both in response to the report and in acknowledging the potential that exists for the industry.

Many people will look at this area on a more urgent basis and that is important because an urgent reaction is required. While opportunities arise they may disappear just as quickly. We live in an exceptionally competitive world and we must, therefore, be clear in identifying what is required. The report has done that. There will be continuity with what has become affectionately known as the think tank and with its chairman, who will also be chairman of the board.

All involved will accept that this is not just focused on any part of Ireland. I was glad to hear Senator Cox's remarks on the west. Her views are correct and the Minister of State made the same points in his address. Great progress has been made in the west and it is evident that production companies there are very professional and commercially orientated. They are also making good use of the opportunities presented to them. I am sure other parts of Ireland could also point to similar regional successes. For that reason I am glad it is not all based in Dublin or in the major population centres because it is something that could be decentralised in many different ways. We should concentrate on that.

The Minister of State was correct to comment on TG4. For those who watch it – I hope viewing numbers will increase – it is evident that there is huge enthusiasm behind the station. It has access to much expertise and many ideas. It may be limited in terms of finance, but I hope that will also be addressed. It is important that the station should be seen as a nursery for talent. In this regard I am sure it would point to the fact that many of the personnel it recruited at an early stage were soon attracted to other areas and opportunities with other networks in the country. That is not necessarily bad inasmuch as they are in a position to attract fresh talent.

We often hear the criticism that when we find good talent we tend to stick with it and do not always look to the future or provide the necessary [207] opportunities for up and coming young blood. If they are not provided, career prospects for other people who might otherwise have been highly successful in the industry will disappear.

I congratulate TG4 on what it has done. I am aware of what it costs to produce programming, not only in monetary terms but also in terms of the time and talent that goes in to broadcasting. TG4 has proved itself in this area. If given a fair crack of the whip, it will attract much more attention based on its own professionalism. That is important.

There were perhaps elements in the report I would like to have seen taken on board, but those [208] in the know would have better information on such matters. However, we leave the debate this evening with a cohesive and united approach by all Members and by the Government in terms of backing this report. We wish all in the industry the best.

Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  When is it proposed to sit again?

Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.10 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 3 February 2000.


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