The appointment of an interim head and the broadening of the Limerick City of Culture board to include local authority and arts community representatives have been important and welcome steps in ensuring the designation will be a success for the city, the Minister for Arts, Heritage & the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan told the Dáil.
Answering questions from Opposition deputies, he said he had great confidence in the local organisations, the arts community and the people of Limerick to work together to make this a success.
“We are completing a service level agreement with Limerick City Council to ensure that,” he said. “It will be subject to the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform so everything will be done in the correct manner.”
“More than 100 events are scheduled to take place in the first quarter of this year and, as Deputies are aware, significant funding is in place,” he said.
“The keystone events so far - the opening concert on New Year’s Eve, the Riverdance performances, the Michael Warren exhibition and the Haselbeck photography exhibition - have been hugely popular and critical successes.
“I believe this bold and confident artistic start to the year can continue, and when Limerick is judged by its programme for the year, it will be seen to have exceeded all expectations.”
However, Sinn Fein Deputy Sandra McLellan said by his own account the Minister found out about the crisis of confidence in the City of Culture Committee in the media as this occurred during the holiday period.
“Surely he had been in touch on a regular basis in the run in to the launch in Limerick,” she said.
“He is the Minister and he should provide leadership. Is he confident that the outstanding issues have been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, most of all those community-based arts and drama groups which have been working incredibly hard to ensure Limerick can justifiably take a bow and proclaim itself the city of culture for 2014?”
Minister Deenihan replied that when he announced the City of Culture designation, it was indicated that it would be up to the City Council to decide on all personnel issues and the artistic director to decide on programming issues.
“Obviously, I was aware there were tensions but as I said on a radio interview, I was not aware at the time of the resignation of the artistic director,” he said.
“I am happy to state in the House that since then the City of Culture has taken off and the events to date have been very well attended and have received a very positive response.”
O’Dea seeks progress on programme to tackle unemployed
An update on the Pathways to Work programme, which is central to the Government’s labour activation policy was sought in the Dáil by Fianna Fáil Deputy Willie O’Dea.
Speaking during Question Time, he said the number of staff allocated to deal with clients is hopelessly inadequate despite recent increases.
“The Taoiseach has promised that the programme will take 100,000 long-term unemployed people off the live register,” he said.
“How many people has it actually taken off to date? The Government has now promised to involve the private sector.
“I read a report which stated that the Government will not be ready to roll out this programme until the end of the year at the earliest. That would make it four years down the road. Will the Minister agree with me that what has happened to date and what is projected to happen in future demonstrates a lack of seriousness and urgency in respect of this important programme?”
In reply, the Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said Pathways to Work is an ambitious programme to address long-term unemployment. “We started in 2012 by rolling out the Intreo approach to improve how we engage with unemployed jobseekers,” she said.
“Some 43 of the Department’s local offices are now delivering the Intreo service and this will be extended to all our offices by the end of 2014.”
As part of the new approach, she said a total of 130,100 people attended group engagements during 2013, up from 68,600 in 2012; some 156,700 people have attended initial one-to-one personal interviews; and a further 136,900 follow-up one-to-one interviews were also completed. The Department releases a quarterly report on the performance against the Pathways to Work targets and this is available on the Department’s website.