Writer Sebastian Barry speaking of the importance of Arts Council funding at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht affairs:
"When I was a very young writer on my own, it did not matter so much if I had no money. I started to write in 1977 and for the first 11 years I did not have three halfpence to rub together. In 1982, I received an Arts Council grant, which felt like being cheered wildly from the sideline. In 1988, the Abbey Theatre put on a play of mine, "Boss Grady’s Boys". This meant that for a while my wife Ali did not need to conceal herself under the bed when the rent lady came around. She hid, not because she disliked the rent lady or because the rent lady was fierce, but because she liked her and hated disappointing her every week. Suddenly, this mysterious thing called money was available to support this equally mysterious thing I was doing, writing a play. We have had some wonderful times since.
In 1995, when a play of mine entitled "The Steward of Christendom" was performed, it made some money. Because this money was tax free, we, with our two children, had the opportunity after all those years to buy a house. Nothing was put in our way to prevent us doing that. The issue with regard to the arts is that it is not just about the person producing the art. In Ireland, strange as it may seem, my generation has the glory of bringing up our families from the contents of our minds. The Government has put provisions in place that make this possible. Ireland is not admired abroad because of sentimental or nostalgic reasons, but because our governance has contributed to an enormous achievement. People have been thinking about what it is to have artists. They have been thinking of the fact this country was first dreamed up in the minds of artists living locally in the 1900s and that we have continued to try and dream the country. Our dreaming has been met by very practical steps.
One of the things that hurt me as an individual living in Wicklow was to read in the McCarthy report that "art would happen anyway" whether funded or not. I found this a sort of ferocious little libel on the life of the artist. I immediately thought of Patrick Kavanagh wandering out into Pembroke Road to borrow sixpence to put in the gas meter or buy a glass of whiskey. He was never quite sure what he should be doing. That is how he lived, despite the fact that he was a great man. He did not have the support of the State. Since 1969, with the institution of the artists’ tax exemption, mysterious things have occurred. In that sense, this country has met the original dream. Great structures have been heroically put in place by both Government and agencies of Government such as the Arts Council.
I do not think it would be a tragedy to get rid of these supports but it would be the end of our country. We would need to change the country’s name and call it something else, perhaps McCarthyland. It will not be the Ireland of which I am a citizen."