Has anybody noticed that the National Museum of Ireland has been operating without a Board since the end of 2015? So too has the National Concert Hall and likewise the Heritage Council. Such delays in board appointments used to be attributed to the State’s mean attempts to save some pennies. But the arts boards are no longer costing the state any fees. Although fees to board members of most other semi-state organizations continue to be paid and average upwards of €5,000pa, the arts boards have been unremunerated since the crisis. Of course the interregnum in forming the new government has delayed appointments to all state bodies over the past two months but in the case of the NMI, more than half the board members retired as far back as last October. That’s a full seven months ago!
If there is any reason why members of arts boards should be discriminated against in the payment of fees compared to other state boards then it has never been enunciated by the Minister responsible. After all, the board members of the NCIs give the same time, presumably work just as hard and presumably have qualifications as impressive as members of other members of state boards. So one is left with the impression that the arts boards are considered by the government to be less important than the commercial boards: in fact the government couldn’t care less about them. The problem for the so-called arts community in Ireland is that there is no single organization committed to the promotion and welfare of their interests. Such organizations as there are, including the NCIs, are either totally dependent on the government or in hock to it to a greater or lesser extent. Certainly it is surprising that no voice has been raised in public against the long over-due appointments to the NCIs and to the elimination of board fees.
What the arts ‘sector’ really needs is a single body along the lines of the National Women’s Council of Ireland which has been so successful in its stated committment to ‘lobby decision makers’ and to promote their stated objective of equality for women. Until the arts sector gets a combined lobby together like the NWCI or IBEC or the IFA, it will go on supping out of the bottom of the barrel – and silently putting up with it.
John Mulcahy is the Editor of the Irish Arts Review.