Saturday, March 24, 2012

Endemic and Systemic

Corruption in Irish political life was both endemic and systemic. It affected every level of government, from some holders of top ministerial offices to some local councillors, and its existence was widely known and widely tolerated. - The Mahon Report

What is interesting about this quote from the Mahon Report is that it suggests that the culture of corruption runs across the entire gamut of Irish governance, that it's not limited to the sphere of planning regulation alone.

And I think it's fair to surmise that this extends to unethical, if not illegal practice. There is a distinction, for instance, between public and transparent lobbying to secure policy advantage for particular interests and the use of priviliged access and private meetings to influence funding decisions, regulatory controls, and legislative changes.

It seems increasingly obvious that all arms and agencies of the State should have the wider public interest as their primary focus rather than the narrow interest of their particular client base.

In October 2003 the then Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, Jack Valenti, came to Ireland. Officially he was making the world a safer place for the US major studios' copyright and it's unclear if perhaps he was invited here by SPI. It was during a period when Section 481 was, again, up for renewal and there had been mutterings about a levy on cinema tickets as an alternative method to raise funding for the industry.

A meeting was scheduled for Valenti with then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern at Government Buildings but, to my recollection, the meeting was moved out of the official limelight and into the more shadowy confines of St. Lukes in Drumcondra.

I do not know why the meeting was moved from a public office of the state to a private constituency office. I cannot draw any conclusion from that except to say that at the time I believed it was inappropriate. And that was before we knew what we now know about St Lukes, courtesy of the Mahon Tribunal.

As I recall, and I'm open to correction, there was a bland statement issued after the meeting to the effect that the State would look to introduce stronger legislation and penalties for breaches of copyright.

Later, at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service on November 5th, 2003 our now Minister, Jimmy Deenihan said, the president and chief executive of the Motion Picture Association of America, Jack Valenti, who visited Ireland in mid-October, [said] that the removal of section 481 would almost mean the end of the film industry in this country, we should take notice because these people do not exaggerate.

This did not arise from any public utterance made by Mr Valenti during his brief visit. It arose from private conversations at private meetings. I believe Screen Producers Ireland organised these meetings, or it may just have been a single evening meal with invited guests. Perhaps Mr Valenti also privately offered the MPAA's view on the desirability of a levy on cinema admissions.

If we come forward in time to the present day we can see that we are, at a time of severe financial pressure in the public sector, givng substantial sums of money in a very untransparent manner to producers of film and televison projects the rights for which may not be even part-owned by Irish companies. Or, where the rights are Irish-owned there may be limited sales potential outside of Ireland.

The money is therefore given away in return for short term spending on services and employment. The cost to the exchequer of Section 481 in 2010 was some €65 million for 57 projects. But not all of that money ends up on the screen and the possibility exists that the budgets used to raise this funding may not in every case be matched by actual spend.

Rather than standing independent of this activity, and objectively overseeing it in the wider public interest, the Film Board subscribes an annual subscription of €50,000 to SPI and is part of IBEC's AudioVisual Federation.

The agency is, in effect, part of the interest groups that privately and publicly seek to influence policy on behalf of their members in the private sector. Perhaps that is no longer appropriate?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Mahon tribunal was right to say the corruption in Irish political system was endemic and systemic. If its brief was to take into account Irish business, OK it probably would never get published because of the length of time it would take to investigate, however if it did the results would be equally damming.
In my opinion that also applies to Irish film. Without any forensic investigation it is clear to see particularly in recent years that a golden circle has gained almost total control of what happens in Irish film. There is a complete lack of scrutiny of how taxpayer’s money is used - examples such as SPI getting 50,000 subscription per year as a lobby group, investment in The Lighthouse cinema, monies invested in Volta, investment in Ardmore, and there is much more. It's becoming a little like the banking sector of the past.
The same few people are shuffled into RTE and the IT to give us the same mantra that all it wonderful in Irish film, (at least if you’re in that circle that is). Like the banking crisis both RTE and the Irish Times take everything they say at face value. The control of the sector rests in the hands of less than 20 people, while everyone else scrambles to make living rates of pay and conditions for actors and technicians have fallen dramatically in recent years, with the exception of set builders who appear to have some spell over SPI.
Irish life and business is as corrupt as ever, time well paid journalists went out and did some decent investigating instead of talking everything a face value.