Heather Humphreys argues "the order of words in department title" won't be important

The Minster for Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht hit back at accusations that the arts would suffer given the scope of her new role.

Heather Humphreys argues "the order of words in department title" won't be important

Arts Minister Heather Humphreys | Image: Photocall

Minister for Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys has stated that the expansion of her brief is a challenge she's looking forward to.  

Speaking to Jonathan Healy on Newstalk's Lunchtime show, Humphreys stated that the full title of her role hadn't been decided yet, but that it was not fair to say it was a department where the things that nobody else wanted were shunted. 

She highlighted that she is returning to the role of Arts, Heritage and the Gealtacht was "very pleased to be back in the department".

Regarding her new responsibilities, she stated that "I was reared in the country, I live smack out in the middle of the country on a farm [...] I have worked in rural towns most of my working life, and I am rural Ireland in terms of I understand it and it's very much part of me."

"I want to change the narrative on rural Ireland. I want to hear about positivity, about opportunity and about jobs in rural Ireland," added Humprheys. 

Frustration from leading figures in the arts

Over recent days and weeks, the reorganisation of the department has come in for strong criticism, with director Lenny Abrahamson, amongst others, highlighting the disparity in spending with other countries in Europe when it comes to the arts. 

Humphreys stated, however, that the amount of other concerns involved in her role will not come at the expesne of the arts:

"I would not say it's at the expense of the arts by any measure [...] what is important is that the Programme for Government includes a commitment to progressively increase funding to the arts, including the arts council and the film board, and in my view commitments in funding are more important to artists than the order of words in the title of the department."

When asked about the figures which have been cited, including setting a funding target of 0.6% of GDP as the EU average spend on arts and culture, Humprheys stated that "we don't really have a system for measuring it [...] and I really don't want to get into the technicalities of how it's measured, what I want to see is more money invested in the arts."

Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

"I want people to understand that the budget will be a different process this year where we have to get agreement," she stated, adding that "it's incumbent on me especially to make a case for the arts and why it should be invested in."

Humphreys also said that the criticism from those figures in the field was welcomed on her part, as "I want to hear the arts sector making the argument, and we want to work together, but I expect them to put pressure on me, and that's what they should do". 

"Unfortunately we came out of an economic situation where all budgets were cut right across the board, and I want to see that arts budget increased."

Regional Development

Highlighting that her new role would also involve a need to secure further funding for regional development, she stated that "the lack of high speed broadband is probably one of the biggest challenges facing rural Ireland [...] there are huge gaps in rural Ireland and the government needs to fill in those gaps."

Image: Mark Stedman/RollingNews.ie

Outlining the challenges that await the government in meeting their targets, as outlined in the Programme for Government, Humphreys said "we have a very sparsely populated country. We have the lowest population density in Europe. There are 750,000 living in the areas which are in need of state intervention in terms of broadband, and they cover about 96% of the landmass." 

However, she added that there's €275 million committed to rolling out the rural broadband deveolpment plan, which will be "a huge amount of investment in rural Ireland, and that itself will be a stimulus package." 

You can listen to the full interview below: