Which Political Party Should Get the Music Vote?

Which Political Party Should Get the Music Vote?

The Journal of Music looks at what the parties are promising for music.

What is the Government’s vision for our musical future? How can we ensure that young musicians realise their potential? How should Ireland’s music infrastructure be developed over the next five or ten years? How can we help musicians and composers achieve international success?

As long as basic services such as health and housing are inadequate, it is difficult to generate detailed or prolonged public discussion on music. Nevertheless, those concerned about Irish musical life do have a case to make. The figures are there – Arts Council funding, upon which music is heavily dependent, has been cut by 29% since 2007. 

Developing musicians in all genres need that support. The degree to which our music infrastructure is developed and resourced will profoundly influence the impact that talented musicians can have on our country, with all the societal, cultural and economic benefits that that brings. 

Is that important to politicians? With just over a week until the General Election, The Journal of Music looks at the party manifestos to see what they are promising for music over the next five years.

Arts Council support for music
The Arts Council is key to Ireland’s music infrastructure, with 31 music organisations dependent on its support (amounting to €6.66m in 2016). The Council also provides hundreds of thousands of euro in smaller grants to musicians, composers, educators, organisers, projects, labels and groups; annual funding of c. €2m to the city and county councils and Ealaín na Gaeltachta; and it also supports theatre companies, film projects, multi-disciplinary festivals and many other events that employ musicians and composers.

Before the economic crash, Arts Council funding was €83m (2007). It has since been cut to €61.1m. The current Government (Fine Gael and Labour coalition) cut it by €8.5m between 2011 and 2013; in 2014 they increased it by €0.2m, then €2.2m in October 2015, and by a further €2m in December to support the 1916 commemorations. 

Manifesto commitments to Arts Council funding
Given the negative balance for Council funding over the last five years, it is surprising that Labour has now said that it will double Arts Council funding to €122.2m over the next five years. Labour’s larger coalition partner, Fine Gael, has made no such commitment, aside from saying that it will ‘will work with the Arts Council to ensure more artists, arts organisations and events are supported’. 

Below are the commitments to Arts Council funding from the parties according to their manifestos.

Fine Gael
Commitment: No specific financial commitment – ‘Fine Gael… will work with the Arts Council to ensure more artists, arts organisations and events are supported…’
Total in 2021: unknown

Commitment: Double current funding
Total in 2021: €122.2m 

Fianna Fáil
Commitment: €10m annually
Total in 2021: €111.1m. 

Green Party
Commitment: €30m increase 
Total in 2021: €90.1m. 

Sinn Féin
Commitment: 45% over 5 years
Total in 2021: €88.6m 

Social Democrats
Commitment: ‘Progressive restoration of total arts funding to pre-crash levels.’
Total in 2021: €83m 

Commitment: No specific commitment as regards arts funding – ‘A complete re-organisation of funding procedures is necessary, and will simplify the process while making it more user-friendly’.
Total in 2021: Unknown 

Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit
Commitment: No specific commitment with regards to the Arts Council, but supports the National Campaign for the Arts’ demand to ‘increase state funding of the Arts to the European average of 0.6% of GDP’.
Total in 2021: €1,134m – 0.6% of GDP (In 2014, the most recent year for which full figures are available, GDP was €189bn).

Independent Alliance
No specific commitment with regards to the arts. 

Specific music commitments
Fine Gael also makes two specific commitments with regard to music in its manifesto. Firstly, the establishment of a ‘National Musical Instrument Library’. The document reads: 

Fine Gael will roll out a National Musical Instrument Library for children and young people, where a variety of instruments can be rented out for a nominal fee on a countrywide basis.

The party also states that it will

continue to support ‘Music Generation’ to ensure programmes are sustained on a long-term and lasting basis with Local Music Education Partnerships.

This commitment to Music Generation was already made in January 2013 and again in January of this year. Fine Gael also states that it will ‘establish a Creative Sector Taskforce, which will draw up an Action Plan for Growth across the entire sector, including audio-visual, gaming, animation and music.’

Fianna Fáil makes a different commitment with regard to music education. It says it will:

Enhance arts provision in our education system and, in particular, increase music provision in primary schools through increased funding for Arts Council finance for Arts in schools programmes. We will allocate an additional €2m of funding annually for this purpose.

At an international level, Labour states that it will create a ‘Global Arts Forum’. The Forum will be modelled on the Global Irish Economic Forum and will provide ‘an opportunity to highlight our talent, and to map a strong and healthy future for arts and culture at home and abroad.’

Direct state funding for music
Irish musical life is not only dependent on Arts Council funding. There is also substantial funding that comes directly from Government departments, RTÉ and Foras na Gaeilge on on annual basis. Below are the most recent available figures for the main sources of funding outside the Arts Council:

  • €14.5m (2014) for RTÉ Orchestras, Quartet and Choirs from RTÉ (€11.56m from licence fee)
  • €2.99m (2015) for the Royal Irish Academy of Music from the Department of Education and Skills;
  • €2.49m (2016) for Music Generation from the Department of Education and Skills;
  • €2.24m (2015) for the National Concert Hall from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht;
  • €1.45m (2014) for Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and €231k (2014) from the Department of Foreign Affairs
  • €629k (2016) for Oireachtas na Gaeilge from Foras na Gaeilge
  • €210k (2015) for the Music Capital Scheme (administered by Music Network) from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht
  • €130k (2015/16) for An Gaelacadamh from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht

In total, this funding amounts to €24.6m – considerably more than the resources that the Arts Council has to dedicate to music.

Music and RTÉ
As well as funding the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, RTÉ Concert Orchestra, RTÉ Con Tempo Quartet, RTÉ Philharmonic Choir and RTÉ Cor na nÓg, the national broadcaster plays an essential role in broadcasting the work of Irish artists.

RTÉ has been criticised for the amount of Irish music that appears on RTÉ Radio 1 and 2FM, although the digital station RTÉ 2XM regularly seeks out unsigned new Irish acts. RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta also plays an extensive amount of Irish traditional music, and RTÉ Lyric FM regularly broadcasts new Irish classical and contemporary music. The latter also has a composer in residence and an Irish music record label.

RTÉ Lyric FM’s funding in 2014 was €6m, €4.49m of which came from the licence fee. RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta’s funding was €10.5m, €8.69m of which was from the licence fee.

Irish music abroad
Culture Ireland, which promotes Irish arts abroad, received €5m in 2015 because of the 1916 commemorations, up from €4.7m in 2008, but it had dipped to €2.5m in 2014. Musicians, composers and music groups regularly benefit from its schemes, for example, €146,400 in August 2015.

Fianna Fáil says it will increase funding for Culture Ireland by €2.3m annually (a total of €11.5m); the Green Party states that it will increase it by €30m. Neither Fine Gael nor Labour make a specific financial commitment. The former says that it will ‘continue to support opportunities for Irish artists to present their work abroad’ while Labour states that it has ‘begun the process of restoring funding to the Arts Council and Culture Ireland.’

Will a new Government increase support for music?
The precariousness of Arts Council funding, and Culture Ireland too, over several years is a serious issue. Six political parties make a specific commitment to increase Council funding, but it is a concern that the party that will probably be the largest coalition partner, Fine Gael, makes no such commitment. 

There is also a strong case to be made for additional funding for music in the regions. While the direct funding from Government departments and RTÉ is substantial, much of it goes to Dublin. 

The Irish Music Rights Organisation has also identified lacunae in the international promotion of Irish music. Last February it issued a substantial report on the Irish music industry with several recommendations, but this hasn’t been reflected at all in the parties’ manifestos. In particular, IMRO is calling for the establishment of a Music Office to act as a focal point for the industry, similar to the Irish Film Board. If Ireland has made some headway in its national infrastructure, strengthening the supports for artists onto the international scene would be an obvious next step. 

How, then, can those interested in developing music life in Ireland best use their vote? 

An election is only one step towards improving support for music. The challenge is what happens afterwards. Whichever parties make it into a coalition need to be regularly reminded of their commitments to music over the next five years. That’s a role that every musically concerned citizen could play. But more than that, political representatives need to be persuaded to see the untapped potential in Irish music, socially and economically, and become ever more ambitious for it.

Published on 15 February 2016

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