Minister for Giving Money to artists, Catherine Martin

The Government announcement that contained two obvious lies

The nature of a “pilot” scheme is not very hard to understand. In order to see whether a policy might work for the whole population, you first test it on a narrow section of society to see whether it works. Lots of companies and Governments use pilot schemes. Most social media companies, for example, when rolling out a new feature, will test it on a small section of their userbase first. New policies in schools are often piloted to see how they work.

The basic income payment to artists, announced yesterday, is being billed as a “pilot” scheme. Under it, up to 2,000 “artists” will be able to apply to the Government to receive a weekly, unconditional, payment of €350 per week, or €1,400 per month. This is on top of their existing income, which, being artists, also has massive tax exemptions.

But it is not really a pilot scheme, because there is no prospect – none whatsoever – of this scheme being extended to the wider public. There will not be an announcement from this Government at the end of the year that the scheme is working well and will be extended to the entire adult population. Or even to the wider arts community. You know that. Everybody – including the journalists who keep reporting it as a pilot scheme – knows that. The State cannot afford it.

What we have here, then, is something masquerading as a pilot scheme which is, in fact, anything but. It is simply a subsidy to one sector of society which happens, at this point in time, to have a friendly face in Ministerial office.

According to that friendly face, the purpose of the scheme is as follows:

As our artists and creative professionals emerge from the devastating impact of the pandemic, the government is committed to providing an unprecedented level of support as they seek to rebuild their livelihoods. I want the arts not just to recover, but to flourish. That is why I secured funding to help realise this scheme, which was a key priority for me in the Budget.”

But that poses a question. Why the arts? There are many other, equally deserving, equally struggling sectors which suffered during the pandemic. And what’s more, it’s just not true. This scheme, after all, was in the Green Party manifesto, which was written long before the pandemic. The election was in January 2020, and the first lockdown came in March. When the Greens came up with this policy, there was no pandemic in sight. So, selling it, today, as some form of pandemic relief is deeply dishonest.

What we have here then, in a Government, announcement, are two clear and observable lies. It is not a pilot scheme, by any definition of that phrase, and it certainly is not being enacted to provide pandemic relief.

So, what is it, and why is it being introduced?

What it is, for starters, is a literal transfer of wealth from productive sectors of society to unproductive sectors of society. Good artists, by definition, do not need subsidies. Ireland has produced a wealth of fantastic authors, musicians, and so on, all of whom have done well for themselves. John Boyne does not need a subsidy, nor does Daniel O’Donnell, or much of our booming country music sector. We have fantastic and successful comedians, who do not need a subsidy. Pick a sector, and you will find successful people. Find a struggling comedian, and you will usually find a comedian who is not very funny. Pick a struggling musician, and you will usually find one who is not very talented. It is these people, not Enya and the Edge, who will be getting this money. It is a subsidy for mediocrity.

And why is it being introduced? Why, because those people tend to vote Green. Find a struggling comedian, and you’ll usually find someone who spends as much time complaining about Climate Change as they spend telling jokes. This is – and is intended to be – a straight up handout to grungy left wingers who don’t have a real job. That might sound harsh, but it’s the truth.

If the Government wanted to do a basic income pilot scheme, it could have picked many sectors of society. Why not single parents? Why not, for example, carers? Ireland has a thriving arts sector – that sector does not need this. It is not support for the arts. It is support for people who can’t make it in the arts, and who should really be told to find something that they can do, instead.

But that would never do, now, would it?

 

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