RTÉ commissioned the Boaden Report on the future of its orchestras because the status quo could not continue, an Oireachtas committee heard today.
Head of RTÉ Lyric FM and RTÉ Orchestras Aodán Ó Dubhghaill told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Public Petitions that RTÉ has seen its total income decrease by around €100 million a year between 2008 and 2016 and that the licence fee system remains "unreformed".
Mr Ó Dubhghaill said RTÉ is very aware of the importance of the orchestras within the wider cultural life of the nation, but he said in other countries orchestral music is typically supported by a variety of funding mechanisms, whereas in Ireland full-time orchestral music was dependent on the television licence fee.
Following budget cuts of 11%, he said morale within the orchestras has suffered and RTÉ has had to sharply reduce commitments to touring and educational activity.
The Boaden review concluded that neither of the two full time orchestras should be closed, but recommended that the National Symphony Orchestra be established either as a cultural institution in its own right or become part of the National Concert Hall.
The Government then decided that the NSO should come under the remit of the NCH, and discussions on the implementation of that plan are being led by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
Fianna Fáil TD Shane Cassells said it must be remembered that the RTÉ orchestras have a presence beyond Donnybrook, and he spoke of a recent performance in Navan, Co Meath.
But, he said, before those two hours of entertainment comes days and weeks of practice and he said funding is needed to sustain a valued cultural contribution to our country.
Mr Cassells said there is a need from all bodies to say "let's stop dodging the bullet" and deal with the funding issue for the national broadcaster.
He welcomed how the review brought a spotlight on the issue of the orchestras, and said he had been advocating for the funding that is necessary to protect and grow the service.
Fianna Fáil TD Eugene Murphy asked if it would be possible for the orchestras to get a sponsor that would them allow them to get out into the country.
Mr Ó Dubhghaill said sponsorship and backing is being looked at constantly, but said big companies are not sponsoring the arts at the moment.
Special advisor to the RTÉ Director General, Rory Coveney, said that if the orchestras were staffed and attempted more ambitious programmes then that would become more attractive for a sponsor so, he said a baseline level of funding would allow for more exciting things.
He said recent performances by DJ Jenny Greene with the orchestra showed a popular use of the concert orchestra and a clear creative vision.
Matthew Horsman of Mediatique, who worked on the Boaden report, said it is very expensive to run an orchestra and take it on the road.
He said that the constant need to find cuts led to a drop in travelling.
The review felt it was necessary to get to funding certainty and be realistic.
Committee Chair Sean Sherlock described today's meeting as a very positive first step, and said the committee will give it further consideration.