Ireland is hosting this year’s EU Presidency and with the increasingly worrying lack of funding for the arts, as well as a decline in support for cultural institutions in the wake of the financial crisis, Publishing Ireland spoke to TD and former Lord Mayor of Cork,Dara Murphy and current Chairman for the Committee of European Affairs about how the Presidency is dealing with cultural issues and how the arts in Ireland can thrive even in such a financial climate.
PI How is the presidency going for Ireland so far?
DM I think it’s going very well as you will see from the 7 things that Ireland has achieved in the first 50 days of its Presidency:
Helped to reach a deal on the EU’s Seven-Year Budget
We are trying to establish the Multiannual Financial Framework for 1 billion euro, which was agreed. That, for any government or institution, given the budget is really quite important. The next step now would be to try and get that figure through the European Parliament which will be a reasonably difficult process.
Ended the marathon disputes on a Single Patent System for the EU
Overcoming this hurdle requires not just the creation of a new patent registration system but also some way of tackling disputes where different parties have existing, older, conflicting patents. The deal, signed off on in Brussels, will see a Unified Patent Court created which will take legal effect from next year.
Getting a Green Light for Trade Talks with the United States
Barack Obama, in his first address of his second term mentioned talks on a Free Trade Agreement between the EU and the USA. This could be particularly helpful for Ireland to exploit, given the mushrooming group of American Multinationals that are already based here.
As the President Country, it is up to Ireland to get talks underway so Enda Kenny’s visit to Washington next month will be particularly important.
Helping to Spur Action on the Horse Meat Saga
Agriculture Minister, Simon Coveney, won an agreement to carry out mandatory DNA tests on Beef Products in all EU member states before the end of March. This is certainly leading to interesting findings.
Reaching Agreement on a Financial Transaction Tax FTT (and still keeping out of it)
Finance Minister, Michael Noonan, as Chairman of ECOFIN oversaw an agreement to allow 11 EU Member States implement a FTT under the EU’s provisions for ‘enhanced cooperation’ – but managed to do so without having to sign Ireland into it too.
Helping to tackle Youth Unemployment
A deal on the ‘Youth Guarantee’ (to ensure that any young person who is neither working nor studying can be offered further education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship) is expected when the EU Social Affairs Ministers convene under Joan Burton. Also a Fund of €6 Billion for a Youth Employment Initiative, which targets the regions most affected and funds schemes to get them back to work, was agreed.
Sending Development Aid to Mali
Agreement was reached by the European Aid Ministers, under chairmanship of Junior Foreign Minister, Joe Costello, on a European Humanitarian and Aid Package of €250 million for Mali, which was recently occupied by fundamentalist Islamic militias. This is to ensure the stability of food supply and also to help maintain the rule of democracy.
All in all, I’m sure you will agree that it has been a very successful start to the Irish EU Presidency.
PI What does this mean, broadly speaking for the Arts in Ireland?
DM Well the Arts generally are funded nationally, although you could argue that the budgetary push will indirectly benefit them in terms of funding bodies.
There is a new EU programme called ‘Creative Europe’ that supports the cultural and creative sectors. EU Funding through this programme will help artists and cultural professionals to reach new audiences. Creative Europe will also support the European Film Industry by incorporating existing initiatives such as the successful MEDIA programme. The Irish Presidency will work to advance agreement on the Regulation.
PI This will be Ireland’s seventh presidency since becoming a member in 1973. What do you think will make this time stand out from its previous terms?
DM We did join in 1973, which would make us members for forty years. We are delighted to be hosting the Presidency. This year as you know has been designated ‘Year of Citizens’ and the Irish Presidency launched the Year of Citizens in Dublin on 10 January and so we will have a wide and varied cultural programme to reflect that theme and focus.
PI In a conference on the European Agenda for the Irish Presidency a couple of weeks ago on 4 December, you said that Ireland would, during its presidency, present a strong cultural package. Could you elaborate on this?
DM We do have a very strong focus on culture in the Presidency and want to look beyond economic concerns alone. I suppose when you think of how Ireland compares with other European countries, we do have a very distinctive cultural identity as compared with some of the Benelux countries that tend to be taken together in terms of their cultural identity. We have a very strong cultural identity- not only with literature and art but also with music, dance and sport. Culture is a wider thing than literature. We are looking forward then to Europe Day on 1 May where there will be a wide range of cultural events to mark that focus.
5) Ireland is a small country, however, it has the potential to become more than the sum of its parts. This has never been more evident than now, when enormous companies such as Google, Facebook and Ebay have all located their European headquarters here in Dublin. With such a powerful cluster as this do you think that Ireland now has a realistic opportunity to compete with larger European centres economically?
Well we are one of the most open economic climates in the world and having these kinds of companies invest in Ireland can only be a good thing for our workforce and educational base. Ireland is now in a fairly strong position I think.
PI Ireland has a duty during its presidency to be an ‘honest broker’ and impartial, however, conflicts are bound to happen. Dublin has been designated a Unesco City of Literature, for example and thus has significant interests in supporting its cultural ends. How strong a position will Ireland have in terms of driving the cultural agenda? Will its role make any difference?
DM It’s not something that will be driven uniquely through the presidency but Dublin has been one of the more successful cultural capitals, as has Cork. It is an area that would be on the agenda- particularly in terms of cultural diversity as it is something that should definitely be celebrated. I do think that we have a very strong cultural identity- particularly with music, literature and art and that we have established our reputation in that regard. I would also like to draw your attention to a new Programme regarding Culture that Ireland will be involved in during its Presidency:
The Europe for Citizens Programme 2014-2020 is a programme created to bring Europe closer to its Citizens and encourage them to participate more fully in the development of the European Union. The programme consists of 2 strands: 1) Focusing on Remembrance and 2) Civic Participation. The initiative will support projects run by Civil Society, Local Authorities, Non-Government Organisations, Think-Tanks, Trade Unions and Universities at both local and regional levels. The Programme is specifically designed to promote participative democracy and will therefore be a priority for the Presidency during the European Year of Citizens.
PI What does this mean in terms of realistic avenues through which the arts can thrive?
DM Yes, I think there are some interesting partnerships that make it possible. There’s the society for Irish artists such as Visual Artists Ireland, as well as many projects funded by the Arts Council that are gaining ground. But you know funding is only one part of it. It’s also about shifting emphasis in trying to get a cultural agenda through. The agenda then might not be as strong as we would like it to be but at the same time, we have established a reputation for a very strong cultural identity. This is something that we would obviously like to push.
PI There are obvious difficulties that present themselves to both Irish publishers and the Irish Government with regard to digital content- particularly as more and more digital aggregators and search engines establish themselves here in Dublin. How do you respond to publishers who are worried that the publishing industry and its interests are being eroded by those of Google and other such companies who pose a serious threat to copyright?
DM The most obvious response to that would be that we are one of the most open economies in the world and so we wouldn’t want to favour any one side over the other. I really don’t think that a company such as Google would be interested in lobbying the Irish Government as the market really wouldn’t be large enough to interest them. We have come across that allegation from time to time. It does come up as an issue, but as to whether the Government would respond or not, I don’t think it would need to. I don’t think that we would be lobbied and I don’t think that they would get a particularly favourable hearing on that.