Gabriel Byrne has accused the Irish government of “paying lip service to the arts.”
Speaking by phone from New York on Marian Finucane’s RTE radio show last Saturday, Byrne said that Culture Ireland, the state’s body for promoting Irish arts abroad, had been “summarily canceled.” He had found that disappointing.
When Byrne was asked why it had been disbanded “summarily,” he said it was because “the government pays lip-service to the arts.”
“I don’t think they really care about it. They go on about how important it is. They don’t really put anything in place that indicates they are serious about it,” Byrne said.
“My own feeling is that culture and the arts is just a second-class portfolio.”
Byrne’s attack on the government’s attitude to the arts came just 14 months after he claimed The Gathering, which operated throughout last year, was “a scam” to “shake down” the diaspora for money.
In his latest attack Dublin-born Byrne recalled that President Michael D. Higgins established a benchmark as a visionary minister when he was minister for the arts from 1993 to 1997.
“There’s nobody like that now. I don’t even know who is responsible now for Irish arts any more,” Byrne said.
He recalled his own experience as a former Irish cultural ambassador until about 18 months ago. He added that he had to take 18 months off from his acting career to devote his energies to the role, which he described as “quite strenuous.”
“We did some tremendous work, Culture Ireland, in that two years and sadly it was disbanded with no ceremony, summarily canceled,” Byrne said.
“I was very disappointed with that because a lot of people had put such an amount of work into it. I found people were much more interested in hearing about the cultural life of Ireland – story-telling, sculpture, painting – than they were about the economics as a way of talking to people about the kind of people, country we are.”
He maintained Culture Ireland had not been just about high arts, but had been exploring how the arts could make a difference in people’s lives at local level.