The writer Colum McCann who has just been nominated for the USA’s prestigious National Book Award told TD’s and Senators that he would have "swum the ocean" for the opportunity to speak up for public funding for the arts:
"The Arts Council is our unique voice and we want to keep it. I am privileged to be here today to try to give the members of the committee an idea of what it means to be an artist and to benefit, as I have, from the work of the council. While I do not know all the consequences of the grant I got from the Arts Council in the early 1990s, I know it gave me the best part of a year to do my work of writing short stories and novels. Perhaps I would have written them if I had not received the grant, but part of me feels that the grant allowed me to access our great democracy of storytelling. As a younger artist at the time, it was amazing for me to be allowed to be Irish even when I was abroad. Although I was living in New York, I was acknowledged as part of this country’s necessary voice. It was an extraordinary moment for me. It allowed me to write other books and ultimately to address this committee today about the value of what it does and the value of what we are allowed to do.
In many ways, the Members of the Oireachtas understand what it is to be an author, an artist or somebody who creates things. They appreciate how difficult the business of creating legislation or creating access can be. They are aware of the years of work that are necessary to produce what, on the surface, might seem like the simplest of documents. They have a unique understanding of what it means to be on my side of the table. Irish artists thank them deeply for the contributions they make. Similarly, the Arts Council has been absolutely fantastic in what it has done for us.
I have travelled to many parts of the world, particularly in recent years. I have been to Slovakia, Mexico, the United States, France and Germany, for example. People in every country seem to believe they are the best friends of the Irish. The Germans tend to say they have a unique relationship with the Irish. The French say that nobody else has such a relationship, as do the Slovakians. Part of me feels the reason they say that is because we have been allowed - we have had the privilege - to tell our stories. I do not want that voice to become part of the global elevator music that is out there. By protecting the arts, the Arts Council and the artists, we will allow that voice to be uniquely strong. I thank the committee for its time."