Seanad Éireann - Volume 164 - 25 October, 2000

Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill, 2000: Second Stage.

Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera): I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the Second Stage of the Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill, 2000, initiated in the Seanad, and I look forward to listening with interest to the views of the Senators.

It is a short Bill with a simple purpose. As is the general rule with statutory bodies which receive public funding, a ceiling is set by statute on the cumulative capital outlay, commitments and liabilities which the body may incur. This ceiling governs the allocation made to the body during the annual Estimates process. It is the means by which the Oireachtas ensures that the operations of such bodies will be reviewed in the Houses every four to five years.

Three years ago, I introduced the Irish Film Board Bill, 1997, to increase the ceiling from £15 million to £30 million. It is a measure of the greatly increased activity of the board in this quickly developing industry that this ceiling will be reached before the end of this year. This provides tangible evidence of strong Government commitment to the development of a vibrant film making sector. It is my firm intention to accelerate still further the pace of development by providing substantially increased resources for the board in the coming years. Accordingly, the Bill proposes to raise the ceiling on authorised issues from £30 million to £80 million – an increase of £50 million.

Recognising the growing importance of the creative audiovisual production sector for our cultural expression and economic prosperity, I established the Film Industry Strategic Review Group in 1998, under the chairmanship of Mr. Ossie Kilkenny, to review progress in the sector and make recommendations for its further development as we face into the early years of this new millennium.

The review group submitted its report in August 1999. It recommended a strengthened, [285] broadened, restructured Bord Scannán na hÉireann to address the cultural and new strategic goals of the industry. The key focus areas for the board identified by the Kilkenny report in its recommendations were script development; development and production finance; strategic business development; generic marketing of Irish films, cinema going and video rentals and the marketing and promotion of Ireland as a film location; training and development; production expertise; technological policy, development and foresight and co-ordination with the television broadcasting sector.

Earlier this year, following Government approval of a strategic plan for the industry, closely based on the conclusions of the report, I instigated within my Department a review of the Irish Film Board to determine the resources of personnel, current funding and organisation required by the board to take on the expanded scope recommended for it in the strategy group report.

My Department engaged Olsberg SPI, in conjunction with BDO Simpson Xavier, to review the organisation and management of the board. They reported in August of this year, whereupon I invited Mr. Kilkenny, who had earlier been appointed by me to the position of chairman of the Irish Film Board, to draw up a plan of action based on the strategy review group's recommendations and taking into account the report of the management consultants.

The board is now finalising its plan which will take into account my comments here in the Seanad. I am confident that this plan will be soundly based. It will plot the course the board will follow over the next five years to deliver the driving force which will push the industry forward into a new and more mature phase of expansion, creativity and commerciality in this new decade.

Of necessity, in the first phase of development of the sector there was a particular emphasis on attracting substantial international productions to use Ireland as a location for their filming. Such productions play a very important role in sustaining the viability of the production infrastructure and developing the skills base because clearly, at this stage of its development, indigenous based production would not have been capable of sustaining the scale or volume of maturity necessary to underpin the infrastructure and skills which are essential to the industry.

While incoming productions will continue to form a vital element of our industry and will contribute to its further growth, the time is now ripe to look to a scaling up of our domestic production companies. To help in the achievement of this, the Government is fostering a favourable environment for long-term business planning and investment in the industry.

During the 1990s the task was to build a film production infrastructure here in Ireland, an infrastructure of skills, facilities and creative talent. Starting from a very low base of production at the beginning of the 1990s, Ireland now has the [286] highest per capita output of feature films in the European Union, and ranks fourth internationally in attracting inward investment for film production.

What, then, is lacking? The creative audiovisual content sector is undergoing a period of rapid change and developments in response to the advent and ongoing application of digital technologies. To become effective players in the evolving digital marketplace, while continuing to gain strength in the enduring media of cinema and television, companies here in Ireland will need to grow and consolidate. With our pool of increasingly experienced and self-confident talent, the time has come for an increased measure of business discipline and planning. Indeed, the “flowering of our culture” in the audiovisual media during this new decade will depend on the emergence of strong, creative, strategically managed companies which can build and attract the capital resources to develop and produce slates of projects, including long running television series, which will appeal to global markets.

In the digital age, it is now widely recognised that “content is king”, that quality audiovisual content is crucial for competitiveness. Supporting the development of creative skills and production capability is a vital counterpoint to the development of the digital technology and telecommunications industry in Ireland and on the promotion of Ireland abroad.

Audiovisual production is the most powerful means of bringing Irish culture and creativity to global audiences, generating an awareness of and interest in Ireland and our culture. This is of particular importance for a country such as ours, which has a vast international diaspora, generating a worldwide sense of Irish cultural identity. It is also a key complement to our international trade promotion and marketing of Ireland and our development of businesses based on intellectual property, an important element in the modern world economy.

It is noteworthy that all EU countries recognise the importance of this sector by strongly supporting their audiovisual production sector. Indeed, the EU Commission recognises the special cultural significance of creative audiovisual production, and in its state aid rules allows more generous support to this sector than to other industrial sectors.

The Government's position, therefore, is that the audiovisual production industry is to be assigned a central place in Ireland's industrial policy through co-ordinated commitment by the industrial agencies of the State in conjunction with the Irish Film Board to the development of the industry and, in particular, to fostering strong indigenous companies in this sector. We are entering a new phase of opportunity and potential for this increasingly important sector with a diversification of the distribution channels, the potential for the emergence of global niche markets and increased competition to win audiences. While all this comes within the statutory scope of [287] the Film Board Acts, 1980 to 1997, which legislation was broadly and comprehensively drafted, it nonetheless represents a major new direction for the board's operations. The board's five year plan, Strategy and Structure 2001-2005, sets out clearly how the board proposes to respond to this challenge.

A key role of the board in fostering an environment for growth will be to bring together and act as a facilitator to optimise the impact of all the agencies of the State which make inputs into the development of this sector. Now that a clear Government endorsed strategic plan is in place, it is important to ensure that all relevant resources of the State operate in concert to achieve the realisation of that plan. This will require liaison at top executive level in the organisations concerned to co-ordinate support for the sector.

Beyond this, there will be significant changes in the board's emphasis. First, there will be increased commitment to enhancing the development process. Development is a critical phase in which many of the key creative and business decisions must be taken, decisions which will in great measure determine the market potential of the project. The board will be striving, through financial support for development, to encourage companies to develop beyond the “subsistence” mode of operation where, at any given time, they have only one project on hand whether at the development, production or market phase. What is needed, and what the board plans to support out of its enhanced financial allocation, is companies to develop slates of projects – usually three to five projects – so that development as well as production becomes an ongoing function. The board's crucial role in nurturing new talent and creative originality will mean that support for the development of individual projects will continue to be an important component of its development loans scheme.

There will also be closer integration of training in script writing and the development of scripts with the development support which will be provided by the board. This will increase our capacity to produce excellent scripts which can appeal to the international markets upon which our indigenous industry is ultimately dependent.

This leads me to the second change of emphasis which will take place in the board's policies. The board will place greater emphasis on the commercial potential of the projects which it supports, seeing them as the basis for helping businesses to grow and their potential to contribute to the achievement of the company's business plan. Our capacity to develop and express our culture and creativity in the audiovisual media is dependent upon our doing so in a way that can appeal to wider audiences. Audiovisual production is highly capital intensive and, therefore, must have regard to the market. State aids, such as section 481 and the Irish Film Board schemes, are intended to facilitate growth and consolidation of companies [288] and the parallel development of a pool of professional business and production skills. If they operate merely to enable the perpetual extension of a subsistence mode of production, these resources are being dissipated and there is ultimately no value added in terms of company or industry growth.

Every company which applies for support from the board should have a strategic business plan. This does not mean that only larger companies can prosper in this industry but that every company should have properly thought through what goals it seeks to achieve, what partners it needs to achieve these goals and the timeframe for their achievement. Practical advice and assistance can be organised to help companies to develop their strategic thinking and plans.

At this point I wish to refer to the important issue of funding to support the training needs of the film and television production sector. Up to the end of 1999, the European Social Fund co-funded the operations of Screen Training Ireland to the tune of 75%, the balance of 25% being provided by the Irish Film Board. Screen Training Ireland operates under the aegis of FÁS which itself supplemented the overall figure from its own training resources. Now, however, the ESF funding is no longer available for film training.

In these circumstances, I have provided additional resources to the Irish Film Board to ensure the continuation of the vital training inputs necessary for the development and expansion of the industry. This also constitutes capital expenditure by the board. In providing these funds for training to Screen Training Ireland and, in accordance with my strategic policy for the industry, I expect the Irish Film Board to ensure, in close liaison with FÁS, that the training being delivered is consistent with the strategic needs of the industry.

I will deal now with the question of how the Screen Commission function of the board will operate within the new strengthened board. The Screen Commission of Ireland became operational in 1998 as soon as funding became available through approval by the EU Commission for the reinvestment of a portion of the Irish Film Board's recoupment of its loans in the funding of the Screen Commisison. It was set up on a pilot basis under the direction of a voluntary panel of industry experts. To give the commission a statutory basis for its business it was constituted as a statutory committee of the Irish Film Board.

The original conception and remit of the Screen Commission was that it would operate with a high degree of independence from the Irish Film Board and it established a separate identity, executive and office. At that time it was felt that the functions of the Screen Commission did not overlap with those of the Irish Film Board and needed to be discrete and distinct from the board's established functions. Whereas the film board's focus was on the fostering of indigenous projects and talent, the focus of the Screen Com[289] mission was seen as being to bring mobile international projects to Ireland.

The Screen Commission tackled this brief with commendable professionalism and enthusiasm. Ireland was represented by the commission at the major locations, expositions and principal film markets in Europe and north America and, in addition, participated with Irish producers in trade missions to Australia and Canada. Through Irish participation in these events, several projects either came to Ireland or seriously considered Ireland as a location and business contacts were established.

However, in light of the film industry strategic review group's report, which recommends an enhanced central co-ordinating role for the film board, and the recommendation of the consultants' report on the organisation of the extended film board, it is now rational that strategically the Screen Commission function should be co-ordinated under the film board itself. Furthermore, the distinction originally envisaged between indigenous and incoming productions is much less clear in practice than in theory, particularly in the case of co-productions involving a substantial Irish financial and management input into the project, as is the case in many European co-productions. This year Ireland ratified the European Convention on Cinematographic Co-production and already there are several co-productions in the pipeline for Ireland under the convention.

Accordingly, it has now been decided to reposition the Screen Commission function. It is envisaged that the chief executive of the Screen Commission will now report directly to the board and will work in close liaison and co-ordination with the Bord Scannán team. I have no doubt that the board will give careful consideration to the question of how best to build on the brand identity, connections and goodwill which have been built up by the Screen Commission so that these can be exploited to the full in achieving the board's overall strategic objectives.

I greatly appreciate the expertise, commitment and considerable time that the members of the Screen Commission have given to their task. Their knowledge of the industry and their prestige has enabled the pilot period of the commission's operation to be an important learning experience and a fruitful one. The Irish film industry has reason to be grateful for the exceptional commitment of those who give so generously of their time in the various boards, panels, professional associations, committees and policy groups which have steered and guided Ireland's maturing industry since the start of the 1990s. I have benefited from their generous and comprehensive advice in formulating Government policy for the industry. Without the benefit of the Screen Commission's expertise and the experience gained over the past three years, it would have been much more difficult to establish an effective screen commission function within the board.

[290] I am aware that internationally there are many Irish people, people of Irish descent and friends of Ireland who occupy positions of eminence and influence in this industry, including members of the outgoing Screen Commission, who would be not only willing but delighted to help us in achieving the goals we have set ourselves. I have been considering how we might avail of this pool of goodwill, and this is a matter I intend to explore with the Irish Film Board.

To return to the specific topic of the Bill, I envisage that it will lay the financial foundation for the next phase in the development of the film industry in Ireland. I have outlined to Senators the extended role of the board in building upon what has already been achieved. Because of the increased expenditure of the board in recent years I wish to point out that the Bill is urgent to enable the board draw down funds for films which will be going into production in the coming months.

In addition to the Exchequer allocation to the board, which is voted annually in the Vote for my Department, the board is also authorised to use recoupment of its loans under its schemes. Repayment is conditional on certain commercial targets being reached by a film and I envisage that the reinvestment of such recoupments will continue to play an important part in enhancing the board's support for the industry. Of its nature the board is not a commercial bank and one of its principal functions is precisely to provide finance on terms which cannot be offered by the commercial banking sector. However, as the industry matures, it might be expected that the current recoupment rate of 13% should improve, providing additional resources for reinvestment in the industry. Reinvestment of recoupments and further development of production loans adds to the cumulative capital outlay of the board and, accordingly, is reckonable for the purposes of the legislation ceiling set by the Oireachtas in the Film Board Acts.

There are two issues which have arisen in the course of my review of the Irish Film Board on which I feel I should make my position clear. First, the question of a change in the name of the board was raised. I am opposed to this. It would require statutory change and would suggest a break in the continuity of our film policy. I consider that the current title of the board, in Irish and in English, makes it clear that it is the State agency with ultimate responsibility for the implementation of Government policy on film. The second point relates to the location of the board. It has been suggested that the board should be entirely based in Dublin. Senators will be aware of the importance given by the Government to decentralisation. I do not envisage the board's headquarters moving from Galway. However, I agree with the board's approach in establishing an office in Dublin and it will be a matter for the board to decide how it should organise its work between Galway and the rest of the country.

[291] I appreciate the co-operation of Senators in expediting enactment of this very short but crucial Bill. There are already a number of imminent film productions awaiting passage of the Bill to receive support from the board and I again thank the House for facilitating passage of the Bill.

Mr. Manning: I welcome the Minister. We certainly will not be opposing the Bill and will co-operate in its passage. The Bill is not one of principle but is enabling in nature and is built upon the principles upon which the film industry should develop as laid down over the past decade or so. It is built upon a story which has by and large been successful. In some cases there has been a steep learning curve, but nonetheless it is based on a successful story which has been of benefit to the wider community.

The sums of money involved are quite staggering. When this issue was last debated in 1997 the funds were increased from £15 million to £30 million. Today the figure is being increased from £30 million to £80 million, a very dramatic increase in the sums of money available. In her speech the Minister did not explain why such a dramatic rate of increase is necessary.

The Minister's speech was written in a sort of management speak which is the sort of language people learn in the Smurfit Business School and such places, the purpose of which, as George Orwell declared, is often to confuse and obscure as much as to enlighten. I am not saying the Minister did this deliberately, but the language in her speech is a very long way from the clear and limpid prose I read in her essays in UCD many years ago. Perhaps the Minister might favour a return to the clarity of language of which she has such a grasp. I quite frankly did not understand parts of the speech, but that may be a fault in me rather than in the speech.

This is an enabling measure and there is no difficulty with the principle. I pay tribute to the enormous developments which have taken place in the Irish film industry over the past decade or so. I pay strong tribute to the current Minister who has been dedicated, persistent, consistent and successful in what she has done, but I pay particular tribute to her predecessor, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, who in a sense made this his own issue and drove the issue with much vigour, imagination and flair. He can claim some credit for much of what has happened.

We were very slow starters in the development of a film industry. Various attempts in the past failed for reasons which were later identified – lack of expertise, lack of capital, lack of nerve and lack of commercial backing. The iron hand of Finance saw very little value—

Mr. Ryan: Hear, hear.

Mr. Manning: —in becoming involved in so risky a venture. Another factor was that many of [292] our private sector firms did not have the nerve to become involved.

The Irish Film Board has changed the environment in which the film industry has developed, particularly over the past decade. We now have people who can travel anywhere in the world, who are recognised and who can command top positions. The quality of production has increased significantly while the level of training has made it possible for many young people to carve out a career for themselves in films. I would like to see export earnings from Irish films quantified, but I believe it is quite significant. I would like the Minister to indicate the numbers employed. In 1993 the figure was about 480, by the mid-1990s it was over 1,000 and today I expect the figure is higher. I know numbers fluctuate, but I would like the Minister to indicate those who get jobs from the film industry, the level of those jobs and the money involved.

The nub of the Bill is page 12 which will lay the financial foundations for the next phase of development of the film industry in Ireland. The Minister outlined the extended role of the film board.

It would be helpful if we had a value for money analysis, perhaps not today, but in a later debate on the future of the film industry in Ireland, which I will ask the Leader to facilitate. It would be interesting to get a global picture on how the film industry has developed over the past ten years or so, where the failures and successes have been and the overall value to the economy in the widest possible terms, not just financial terms. I do not think it is an area which is well understood by most ordinary people, myself included. We know when films are being shot in our areas that the streets are interrupted, that those with the equipment are generally quite arrogant and trample over the rights of people in the area, that roads are closed with little concern for the people who use them on a daily basis and that we are almost expected to look at these people as though they had come from some outer orbit, in much the same way as when the circus came to my home town. The circus people had an exotic flair and we were willing to accord them all sorts of privileges, respect and almost awe. However, the circus was in town for only one day.

I do not think there is a great understanding of the extent to which the industry impacts on the greater economy and life of the country. I would like a debate in which we could look back over the past ten years, have a warts and all look, because undoubtedly in a high risk area such as film, there will be failures. If we are not prepared to risk the failures we will not have the successes. Nobody expects 100% success.

The Minister said, “As the industry matures it might be expected that the present recoupment rate of 13% should improve”. Perhaps she will explain what is meant by recoupment, why the rate is as low as 13% and why it might improve in the future. This may be clear to everybody else [293] but I would appreciate some elaboration on it. The Minister did not mention – there is no need to do so but perhaps she might say a few words about it – how she sees the future role of RTÉ in film making. I would like a wider debate on the Minister's brief than the debate today, one which would include a look at RTÉ which has to make so many crucial decisions over the next couple of years as it is radically reshaped for the new age in which it finds itself. It will probably have to reshape ten years from now and ten years further down the road, so rapid are all the changes in that whole area of telecommunications.

Perhaps the Minister will address the two specific points she raised at the end of her contribution on the name of the board. I see no reason to change it. It is perfectly adequate. She took me by surprise. Will she explain why there is pressure for a change of name. I urge her to keep the headquarters in Galway. That location is perfectly satisfactory and, rather than move to Dublin, offices should move out of Dublin. Dublin is becoming virtually unlivable because of the traffic.

I welcome the Bill. I wish the Minister well. Perhaps she will respond to the points I have raised.

Labhrás Ó Murchú: I dtosach is mian liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire anseo inniu agus go mór mhór roimh an dea-nuacht faoi thionsclaíocht na scannánaíochta sa tír seo.

Is beag baile nó contae sa tír nár dhein iarracht na blianta fada ó shin scannán a chur le chéile. Bhí sé d'ádh liomsa le déanaí féachaint ar cheann de na scannáin seo nuair a léiríodh é i gCaiseal Mumhan. D'éirigh le Justin Nelson in RTÉ teacht air agus caithfidh mé a rá, fiú amháin ag an am sin go raibh crot an proifisiúnachais le feiscint sa scannán.

Mar sin tá traidisiún faoi leith ag baint leis an scannánaíocht sa tír seo agus cuireann sé áthas ormsa go bhfuil an tAire agus an Rialtas chomh flaithiúil sin leis an deontas atá á fhógairt anseo inniu.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome the Minister to the Seanad, particularly with the good news for the Irish film industry. It is acknowledged on all sides that increasing the grant aid from £30 million to £80 million is indicative of the support which the Government is prepared to put into the film industry. It is also indicative of the fact that the Minister is prepared to put her money where her word is and particularly where her heart is. From my observation, since the Minister took office it has been particularly evident that she gave quite an amount of her time to this section of her portfolio, not just in speeches but in the amount of travel which she has done throughout the country as well as internationally in an effort to help the Irish film industry. It is clear she had to conduct an exceptionally strong negotiating stance to achieve the level of grant aid announced. In setting up the strategic review body and given the work it has done, it is evident [294] that the planning which has gone into sustaining and developing the industry was particularly professional. Anybody looking through the results of that committee will see clearly, apart from the personnel on it, that it focused on issues which are important to the industry today.

The industry is changing fast. There is absolutely no comparison between the film industry today and ten years ago. Ten or more years ago creativity and technology would not sit comfortably together, yet now it is vital that creativity and technology are comfortable partners for any success because the whole international scene is changing in the audio visual industry.

Some years ago we would all rejoice in the success of a film made not only in national acknowledgement but in international acknowledgement. There were many cases of that. We rejoiced not only because of the artistic aspect of the film but because it was a great boost for the country. Therefore, the film industry cannot be viewed in isolation from the image of Ireland internationally, its economic welfare or its tourist standing, all of which have to interact. While being practical and pragmatic, the Minister has laid down certain markers. Many of the small companies here today would have great difficulty in competing in the current market. It is not long since we had the broadcasting Bill when there were many debates on the digital revolution. The outcome of the digital revolution is that there will be many more channels, the net result of which is that, apart from whatever standard or lack of standard might be involved, audiences will have to be competed for.

Television audiences in Europe are diminishing precisely because there are more channels seeking viewers. We will not be exempt or protected from that in any way. Our past record in the film industry, as good as it may have been, will be soon forgotten. One has to look at how one should tackle that problem. One suggestion made by the Minister in one of her speeches is that small companies, if not merging, should create a co-operative structure because they will have difficulties in providing the wherewithal, particularly if working on a single project at any one time. We all know what that means. Very often the film rights are sold. Therefore, they cannot depend on that income but have to depend on limited fees. There is no build up of capital. Given that most of the small film companies in Ireland are under-capitalised, that will be a problem.

The only way to get over that is through some merger or an association with some of the bigger companies. In the past we tried to attract projects from outside the country and often they helped the industry and also local communities. They gave us the chance to see how others work and an opportunity to make further contacts in the marketing field. It is important not to rely totally on outside projects. We have much talent and creativity and many scripts that could be created. We have a fair record in the industry itself and we should continue to focus as much as possible [295] on the indigenous projects. The Minister has underlined that and rightly so. We were successful in other areas precisely because we focused on the indigenous talents and creativity. One of the major difficulties with which we have to contend is marketing. I am sure some of the film makers discovered this when they went out to the international field. We can produce a good artistic product but the difficulty is to get it into the international market. Often we do not have the necessary structures to do that.

Senator Manning sought an explanation for the enormous increase from £30 million to £80 million. I hope that reflects the changed world in which we live and that it will generate a greater need for ready cash for expenditure. I hope the film board will focus on that in terms of marketing because no matter how good the product is, the board must go out and sell it. If the product is not sold and the money invested in it is not recouped a fund will not be built up for future work. Marketing is an important area.

I would like the film board to consider the harmonising of technology and creativity, even though it is a debate from the past, because questions will always arise in this regard. It is easy to concentrate only on technology and have those tools at one's disposal. They are absolutely vital because without them one will get nowhere in the modern world but at the same time it is important not to overshadow creativity because if it is not central to film making, upcoming generations will not be interested. Everybody might be exceptionally good at using technology in future but they may not make the input required to ensure creativity is fine tuned, acknowledged, recognised and passed on from one generation to the next.

Audiences have always displayed a great loyalty to the film industry, right down to parochial level. There is a certain loyalty among theatre audiences. Few large areas did not have a cinema in the past. If the cinema was to close it became a debating point for the local urban or county council for 12 months because it was felt that the community was losing something that was particularly important to its lifestyle. Luckily many cinemas were saved even when the prophets of doom were saying that television would lead to many cinema closures.

The same arguments apply today to the progress in the audiovisual industry. Commentators say that some elements of it will become defunct. I do not accept that because there is a recreating cycle in industries such as the film industry and we must always be careful to concentrate on all the outlets we have for our products. It may be video today or television or even a mobile cinema tomorrow but the important aspect is retaining the audience's loyalty.

Senator Manning raised the question of RTÉ which is relevant. It is our national broadcasting network just as the Abbey Theatre is our national theatre. That has not been changed but loyalty must be taken into account. However, RTÉ had [296] to make its own case for doing so. It is not just a matter of ensuring the company obtains an increased licence fee. I do not argue for or against such an increase, although I am sure there are telling arguments in favour of it, but there were times when RTÉ took its audience for granted.

Programmes with ratings which were not in the top six or the top ten were nevertheless important. These programmes had audiences of 300,000. If one works on such programmes on an ongoing basis, listens to the needs of the viewers and ensures that the programmes reflect not only their aspirations but their artistic creativity, loyalty to them will be built up. Somebody asked whether the GAA would have a loyalty to RTÉ regarding the coverage of live games or whether it would sell the rights to another station or international network. These are important questions but at the end of the day RTÉ must cultivate loyalty within its audience.

The same applies to the film industry. No section of it should be taken for granted. I am glad the Minister referred to FÁS because people do not always recognise what that body has done at ground level. Anybody from rural Ireland will say that driving through any village or town the hallmark of quality set down by FÁS can be seen. More importantly, FÁS cultivated a sense of ownership in all the projects it undertook by involving the local community. The body has done the same with its training courses in film.

Only last year Justin Nelson of RTÉ discovered a film which had been made in Cashel by a local company on sites such as Rockwell College, the Rock of Cashel and so on. The film was restored and a large audience viewed it. Only one camera worked which meant that every time a different angle was used the film makers had to reposition the camera and then everything had to be edited together. Despite the limited technology the final result was excellent—

Mr. Manning: In what year was it made?

Labhrás Ó Murchú: It was made in the mid-1950s. The acting ability of the so-called amateurs in the film was excellent. That culture of people wanting to be involved in the world of film has always been present. Many bodies have tried to involve people but FÁS has made it possible for anybody who feels they have any flair or talent. They might not become big producers but they have been focused in a certain direction and I am glad the Minister gave recognition to FÁS. Even in the absence of EU funding I am glad the money to be provided for the film board and for training will mean that FÁS is still involved.

I compliment the Minister on the legislation, on the amount of money which she has succeeded in providing and on her interest in the industry. People of all ages wish the film industry well and feel indebted to it for what has been achieved down through the years in portraying our identity and giving Ireland greater recognition abroad. I do not say this in terms of propaganda but there [297] is not a country in the world which does not use the film industry to show itself in the best light. Ireland should not be different in that regard.

That does not mean one is into the area of censorship or one is being insular in regard to the way one thinks or in what one wants to achieve but there is an onus on the Irish film industry – and it is not a question of biting the hand that feeds one – because it still owes a loyalty to Ireland and it should avail of any opportunity to portray Ireland in such a positive manner. It has done a good job in the past in that regard.

Dr. Henry: It is a long time since the word “censor” came into one's head when one heard about films. It is extraordinary to think that in a few decades a thriving film industry has been developed and those involved deserve great credit. I welcome the legislation which provides more money for the industry. I also welcome the fact that at last we will get to see Milo O'Shea and Maureen Toal in Ulysses. We have been deprived of that part of our culture for a long time. It seems to be a good film based on the clips I have seen.

The Minister's contribution, as Senator Manning said, contained a good deal of Department speak and she used the word “will” a great deal.

I have seen and read the Kilkenny report but I do not know what the Olsberg report contains because it has not yet been made public. I presume the Minister's comments that there will be increased commitment to the development process and that the board will have a crucial role in nurturing new talent and creative originality, which will mean that support for the development of individual products will continue to be an important component of its development loan scheme, are based on the Olsberg report and that we will hear more about it later.

I welcome the comment that it will increase our capacity to produce excellent scripts, which can appeal to the international markets upon which our indigenous industry is ultimately dependent, but I hope there will also be increased encouragement to look at the film industry within schools as a possible career path. I hope film will also be included in curricula and studies outside arts schools. The film industry should be given the prominence it deserves as an important cultural aspect in our lives.

The Minister talked during the summer about her concerns about our culture being subsumed in a larger European Union. I do not have worries about our culture being subsumed within Europe, but I am concerned about it being taken over by American culture. It is much more influential than anything to do with the eastern European countries that are applying for membership. Some 98% of English speaking films are made in America. Our contribution will be tiny and we must fight in a competitive market to have them brought forward.

I welcome the fact that there are so many co-productions because this helps to bring them for[298] ward into a larger market. It is difficult for small firms to do this themselves. However, I wish something could be done about the broadcasting of RTÉ to Northern Ireland. There are still large sections, particularly in Antrim and Down, where the reception of RTÉ is bad. Permission must be sought to strengthen the signal to broadcast across the Border, but it is fine if it leaks across as it does in the western part of Northern Ireland.

This matter should be addressed because it would be useful in the North-South context to ensure people in Northern Ireland can have sight of our home broadcasting stations. I class TG4 as one of the best of these in terms of producing good work here. Co-productions between Channel 4 and RTÉ are seen in the South but I wonder if they are seen all over Northern Ireland. Does Channel 4 broadcast all the programmes it co-produces with RTÉ? This aspect should be addressed.

The two most important aspects in the Kilkenny report were that the annual sum should be increased – this has been done – and that the capital grant to the film board for running costs should be increased. I hope that will happen. The Minister said there will be increased funding for training and I hope the capital grant to the Irish Film Board will not have to fund the training of Screen Training Ireland. This should be considered a separate entity because it is important that the film board gets good funding.

I was fascinated to read in the explanatory memorandum that there are no staffing implications for the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. However, I hope there are staffing implications for the Irish Film Board because it is grossly understaffed. It has a staff of approximately six and if it is to also have an office in Dublin – I agree that the board should continue to be located in Galway – I do not know how it will manage unless it bifurcates itself and sends three in both directions. Any office in Dublin will also require three staff and I hope it will get more staffing.

The Kilkenny report said that the capital budget of the film board should be doubled in two to three years. Last year the Minister mentioned four to five years as the length of time involved, but that is considered much too long by the industry. I hope the film board will get a big increase so that it has plenty of money because it obviously will be given an enormous amount of work to do.

The Kilkenny report also mentioned the role and responsibilities of the Irish Film Board vis-à-vis other State agencies such as Enterprise Ireland and RTÉ. This needs to be greatly enhanced. The board needs to be given a stronger strategic role in developing the industry and, on the basis of the Minister's comments, that is likely to happen.

The other great emphasis in the Kilkenny report was on the Irish film tax incentive, section 481. All films have received money under section 481 and the industry is currently in very good con[299] dition. Much of this may be due to the fact that the rate of exchange with sterling is very poor at present and, therefore, it is financially better to make films in Ireland than it is in England. We should be careful that this is not an artificial boost to the industry but, given the performance of the euro at present, the position is unlikely to change in the short term. Nevertheless, it is important to keep it in mind. I hope the Minister will also push the tax incentive aspect in the budget because it is most important.

Three recommendations in the Kilkenny report still have not been implemented. It suggested that the tax relief at the marginal rate of tax permitted for personal investors should be 100% for projects with budgets below £4 million. This sum is the average budget of most Irish originated feature films and it would be splendid if that change was put in place.

The rate would remain at 80% for film projects with budgets over £4 million. However, the 80% relief should be reviewed upwards in light of changes in conditions such as the lowering of marginal rates of personal taxation. Investors must be permitted to opt to invest £50,000 in the first year. This would mean that they would not be entitled to make a further investment in the second year. This also needs to be considered.

These three recommendations would meet the targets for growth set out in Ossie Kilkenny's report and I hope the Minister will try to push them with the Department of Finance. We have come a long way since Moby Dick, which was made in Youghal, and The Quiet Man, which was made in Connemara, were our great film achievements.

Miss Quill: There was also Ryan's Daughter in Kerry.

Miss de Valera: Exactly.

Dr. Henry: Yes. There are other home-grown films, such as David Shaw-Smith's wonderful film, Hands on Arts and Crafts in Ireland, and Éamon de Buitléir has done much to give us great pride in the countryside. I hope the Minister, who has responsibility for heritage, will try to impress more on people that heritage is also important in the film making industry and the arts. I look with some dismay at our lack of concern for environmental issues. What if a few sand dunes go? However, not that many unspoilt areas remain. This area was important in the past in terms of people coming to Ireland to make films.

What does it matter if pylons are erected in certain areas? It may matter considerably because it may mean that it is impossible to get skylines for films that could be made here. We do not have to make the country into a giant film set, although at times it appears Ireland is becoming a giant golf course. However, these considerations should be taken on board when environmental issues are being examined. Perhaps the Minister [300] could put forward these reasonable points of view.

I congratulate the Minister on the Bill and hope her advisers will forgive me for noting that there is much Department speak in her speech. Perhaps she will be able to elaborate in her reply on the Kilkenny report and what more will be done by the board.

Miss Quill: I warmly welcome the Minister's proposal to increase the budget of the Irish Film Board from £30 million to £80 million. By any standards that is a substantial increase which must be supported. It is a very wise investment in the future development of the film industry. As long as the arithmetic is correct the language does not worry me. The Irish film industry has a long pedigree. My late father remembered being taken to Killarney by his father to see The Dawn being shot in 1925. While the industry has a long history, however, it has not yet reached its full potential which is waiting to be exploited. I have no doubt that this amount of money will give an enormous blood transfusion to this second phase of the film industry.

I have just been attending the 45th Cork film festival, so if I talk back to front or upside down it is because no Cork person who is interested in film got any sleep for the past nine days. The opening feature of this prestigious international festival was an Irish-made film about Adam based on a very witty and urbane screenplay by Gerry Stembridge. It was vintage Stembridge at its best and was universally acclaimed as being a really fine film. It will be on general release after January 2001. The verdict after the screening was that here was a modern Irish film, shot mainly in Dublin, which could be the equal of any films shot in Barcelona or Berlin. It represented modern Ireland at its most creative and imaginative. It was refreshing for those of us who saw it.

While we welcome Irish films of any genre, in recent times we have had a glut of productions based on the activities of the Provisional IRA or on difficulties arising from drugs, drink or brawls. There is a place for that type of film and I must say that The Crying Game was very entertaining but, nonetheless, it is good to see that we are moving on from that and projecting modern Ireland on film.

I was particularly pleased to see that film was the opening feature of the Cork film festival. In addition, there were some stunningly clever shorts shown there. Many of them were Irish-made, which is what one would expect from a country that in the past century has excelled in the art of short story writing. One thinks of Seán O'Faoláin, Frank O'Connor and dozens of others. In a country such as ours, it is only natural that film-makers would produce some very creative and effective shorts.

What pleases me more than anything else about the Cork film festival is the number of young people who buy season tickets to attend all the films, morning, afternoon and evening. Is [301] there an appetite among the upcoming generation for film? I am certain that there is. Is there a capacity among sizeable numbers of the upcoming generation to become film-makers themselves? I am certain there is. The kind of money the Minister is making available will help to develop that capacity further. That money along with the guidelines set out in the Kilkenny report will enable us to develop the film industry with a new level of coherence and continuity. In the past, a good, interesting and marketable film would be made on a once-off basis, but one would not hear about another film for a long time.

Senator Manning mentioned the disruption caused to roads in Dublin during film shoots, but I have a cure for that which I will come to in a moment. The extra investment combined with better strategic planning will provide coherence, continuity, development and growth for the forward thrust of the film industry. As well as being an art form, film is an industry, which is how it should be viewed. If it is an industry, we must treat it as such. Questions were raised about the economic dividends. They were spelt out some time ago and they are tangible, both directly and indirectly.

There is another dividend which is difficult to quantify and that is the image of Ireland abroad that good films can project. Our better films are the best ambassadors we can send out internationally. One cannot put a cost on that at any time, but particularly now when the assets of the 21st century will not be coal, steel, brawn, horse-power or man-power. Those assets are brainpower; creativity and technology coupled together, and nowhere are they coupled better than in the film business. Inward investment is often prompted by the fact that Ireland is seen as having a young workforce with high levels of intelligence and skills. That is taken into consideration when foreign companies decide to invest here. Therefore, if our films project us as a nation with that combination of creativity, intelligence and skilful use of technology when they are shown abroad, that provides benefits beyond a direct economic return from film-making. One cannot quantify it.

As was mentioned on the Order of Business today, I would welcome a wider debate on the film industry when we have more time. The Minister could attend the House for such a debate. I would pin high hopes on the future of the film industry.

Senator Manning mentioned the disruption on roads caused by film-making. I had some difficulty in Cork when part of Angela's Ashes was filmed there. It was the part where they were trying to recreate the old lanes of Limerick. They went to a fairly “high church” part of Montenotte to get a road that would fit the physical proportions they wished to portray.

Mr. Ryan: The Senator is getting a bit personal now.

[302] Miss Quill: Maybe I should not have mentioned the area. However, the genteel people of that area could think of no justification why their road was chosen to portray the lanes of Limerick in Angela's Ashes. There is an excess of films being made in Dublin. I agree with Senator Manning that there is an excess of these great big gadgets moving into an area and disturbing the genteel citizens of Dublin.

Mr. Manning: And not so genteel.

Miss Quill: It is wrong that roads should be cordoned off and made inaccessible at given times. If the 40 mile rule – currently in place concerning technicians and craftspersons, the people who underpin the film industry – were to be removed, one would see a great upsurge of film-making in the regions. The Minister should use her influence to have that rule removed because it places a stranglehold on the development of film-making in the regions.

I will give one example, Disco Pigs, was a fine film, although perhaps not as good as the book. It was initiated in Cork but, after a week, the making of the film was transferred to Dublin. The cost of taking technicians and the level of staff involved to Cork undermined the budget. They had to transfer the film making to Dublin.

I hope I have made the point when I say that there is scope for the development of the industry but it must be made to happen on a regional basis. That will never happen until that rule is removed. It is restrictive practice at its worst. Perhaps the Minister will seek to have it removed. If nothing else happens as a result of this debate except that, many of us will be very pleased.

I wish to make two further points in respect of this report. One is about the bringing forward of scripts. That is the most fundamental of all ingredients to making films happen. There is very poor investment in the bringing forward of good scripts in Ireland and that must be addressed. In the United States, about 15% of the budget for film-making is put into bringing the script forward. It is about 3% in Ireland and that is a very telling figure. It is not enough to be very imaginative and creative. Creativity and imagination must be professionally developed and they must be skill and knowledge-based. In other words, they must be nurtured. That nurturing can only happen in the context of investing in the script-making elements. If we make and continue to make good scripts, I am certain we can make good films. Perhaps the Minister will attend to that.

Distribution and marketing are another issue. To date we have not put enough resources into distributing films domestically and marketing them internationally. It is another area which must be addressed. Our internal audience is not sufficiently large, even if there were a huge switch in the morning and many more people started going to the cinema again in the way they did [303] when I was young. People are beginning to go back and cinemas are sprouting again all over the country and that is fabulous. However, even if we all became film buffs overnight, we would still not have an internal market sufficiently large to sustain a thriving film industry. We must develop the techniques of marketing skilfully and strategically abroad.

I pay tribute to the Irish Screen Commission for its work in recent years and to the members who put this report in place. We call it the “Ossie Kilkenny” report for short. They have given something tangible with which to plan for the future. There is enormous scope for the development of home-made programmes, be they short films, feature films, documentaries or whatever else. Our national broadcasting service is crying out for them and we must seek to do something to strengthen, encourage and foster the making of them. When good documentaries are made, the audience figures prove without doubt that there is a market for good documentaries. The number of people who watched the Seán O'Mordha programme, Seven Ages, was phenomenal. People, young and old, who disparage history and gave it up as a school subject switched on to it. It is just one programme which comes to mind.

Occasionally one turns on the television and sees a delightful documentary. I am not a great viewer of television; I do not have time because of my occupation. I happened by chance to turn it on one evening last week and saw a documentary on a man walking mountains in Wicklow. He recreated the story of Red Hugh O'Donnell and Hugh O'Neill in 1592 before the Battle of Kinsale. There were other elements such as the story of Wicklow and its magic and magnificence and they were all present visually in the documentary of one man walking the mountains. There was very good and stunning camerawork. It is a delight when one sees such a well made Irish documentary. I was reared in the belief that soap was for washing oneself and, while that was the end of soaps in our house, we are now saturated with soaps of a different kind. If Irish television is to retain its audience, it must have many more Irish-made documentaries, feature films, shorts and other home-produced programmes.

Senator Manning spoke of George Orwell's Animal Farm at the beginning of his speech. The end of Animal Farm has one of the saddest images of all literature where one of the poor animals looks in a window of the farmhouse and sees the pigs inside living exactly as the humans they had driven out. He looks from the humans to the pigs and back again and cannot tell the difference between them. That is about as graphic a description as one will get of disillusionment and a good idea gone wrong. When I switch from RTÉ to one of the other channels and cannot tell the difference between them, that will be a great disillusionment for me. I am of the television generation. I was born and raised far from here and [304] television opened up our world. It was the great invention of our time.

I welcome this investment and I want it continued and built upon because the returns will be potentially enormous. It is money very well spent and I compliment the Minister on this amending legislation.

Mr. Ryan: There is an increasing school of thought, especially in reflective circles in the United States, that the function of television is to sell audiences to advertisers and that the myth that the function of television is to make good programmes people would like to watch is a complete misunderstanding of the objective of corporate television ownership, which is to sell audiences to advertisers. The real relationship is the audience a television station can offer to an advertiser. It immediately raises questions about quality, range, risk and such matters, all of which are relevant to this debate.

One of the problems with the global film industry is that entry costs are extremely high. Economists, especially those of the liberal market school, who are not the only economists but give the impression that they are, accept there is often a need for intervention by the State where entry costs are very high. Otherwise competition will be undermined. That is not the reason we have a film industry. We have one because, among other things, the Minister had a visionary predecessor. Every time I think of the extraordinary success of the Irish film industry, which he did not achieve on his own and I know the Minister has built on and extended his achievements, I always remember the comment of Senator Quill's former leader who said that, if Deputy Michael Higgins ever got to Government, he would go mad. Deputy Higgins's reply when he was Minister was, if this is madness, let us have more of it. It was a wonderfully inspired madness, if that is what it was.

It is wonderful to see creativity in any area in this country being fostered, supported and successful. It does not matter whether it is in the visual, performing or audiovisual arts because each of them is wonderful and it is wonderful to see them flowering. It is also wonderful to see the extent to which some things which are unique to us turn up in some of these.

However, we need to get a grasp on reality. The global audiovisual industry is dominated by one country, the United States, and one view of that country. Countries such as India have extraordinarily successful indigenous film industries, but they are no more than indigenous and do not really reach the rest of the world. The only global audiovisual industry is largely dominated by the United States. We ought to be concerned about that for both cultural and commercial reasons.

According to most film criticism I have read, while the United States is very good at producing a particular type of formulaic mega-successful movie, the Hollywood studios are not particularly good at broadening their agenda. The most hor[305] rendous thing Hollywood does is copy a success ad nauseam, with multiple variations on a theme that has proved successful. It is a real effort for a good director to get something new onto the Hollywood agenda.

I would have thought, therefore, that one of our functions, and that of any other country, is to foster an imaginative and creative audiovisual industry. It is probably not excessive to say that, given current trends, we are in danger of developing a world audiovisual industry which is both monocultural and monoglot. It will be in English and will consist of variations on one country. As Senator Ó Murchú said, it will largely be an uncritical view of the country from which most of this material comes. There are wonderful exceptions. However, the predominant image of the United States in most of its successful movies is a long way from the inequality, stress, pain and exclusion that is the real United States. The image is usually of a reasonably affluent, comfortable with itself, racially integrated, perfectly healthy, sexually liberated place.

The great struggle for Europe, as a continent of diverse cultures, languages, traditions and religions, is to find a mechanism to counter the tendency to move towards world domination by one country and to put together a vision of itself that is both commercial and creative. We will not do that on our own. However, I hope we will begin to build an indigenous industry which will be both successful and reflective of ourselves.

I commend the successful introduction of the maximum number possible of international production companies to Ireland and the fact that they were persuaded to make their productions here, both for the immediate cash benefits and also for the reasons the Minister outlined of developing and sustaining our skill base in all the various areas. It is a bit of fun and it creates a bit of froth on a cold winter's night to realise a lot of international superstars are floating around the Dingle peninsula, as they were on one or two occasions in the past. We all welcome that. However, the political skill and achievement will be to build from that an imaginative, creative and quality driven indigenous industry.

I am a reasonably regular film watcher and reader about film, but I would not claim to be an expert. However, much of the Irish indigenous film industry's output is not wonderful. I am not surprised some of it is not a commercial success because it is, in some cases, painfully stereotypical and badly written. There is never much problem with the quality of the acting, but the quality of the writing sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. The Minister said that script and story are major areas for development. However, I do not know how economic instruments can be used to encourage something as creative as script writing. On the other hand, many people will say reading Hollywood scripts is not a particularly pleasant experience in many cases either. However, we have a job to do here.

[306] In other areas of the creative arts, small amounts of money can liberate enough creative talent. Unfortunately, because of the scale of costs involved, that is not the case for an indigenous film industry. However, I saw a film in the Cork Film Festival two years ago which was a wonderful spoof on all the disaster, horror and catastrophe movies. It was a full length 60 or 70 minute film which was made for £10,000. I never worked out how the producers managed to make it for £10,000. One could see it was cheap, but one could not see how it was made for the sort of money most film makers would spend on the entertainment budget. It was a remarkable success.

I am a little wary when those in the indigenous industry continue to give lack of sufficient capital as the reason they cannot make films. To a degree, it is also due to a lack of willingness to think creatively, to which I will return in a minute.

There is no disputing that the attempts to build a film industry have at last been successful. I agree with Senator Manning that one of the many things that inhibited the development of a film industry here was the remarkably unimaginative view of most new things taken by the funding Department in this State. Its capacity to read the future is not one of its greatest skills. An example was its determination to neglect the fishing industry for the best part of 60 years by not funding it. It has never been a particularly good Department for looking forward. It never got used to the possibility of success but always believed we were unsuccessful. It understood how to deal with a lack of success but it is having great problems grappling with success.

The Minister mentioned the need to project an image of ourselves. As I said, that must be both commercial and creative. That involves questions of imagination, reflection and challenge. The question is how we can bring these to ourselves and the international community.

It is not too difficult to bring them to ourselves, although many in the Irish film industry will say that those who make decisions on film distribution in this country are more than a little resistant to Irish made feature films unless they have the stamp of an international studio, either as a collaborator or co-producer. Many people who have made critically acclaimed films have had great difficulty getting them distributed here.

The problems of international distribution are legendary. Every year a significant number of good films produced in the United States, outside Hollywood and its allies, never reach this country or Britain because no one is prepared to distribute them. We should look at the issue of diversity of film in this country, not just in terms of what we make ourselves but also in terms of the films that reach this country. Our cinemas are now dominated by 12 or 14 films at any given time.

Debate adjourned.[307]