Aosdána is tainted and should be abolished. We can’t afford it, and the people who benefit from membership don’t deserve it. Aosdána is a private club, an association for a set of cronies who like to call each other Artists. It was set up by a dishonest snob at a time when the country was broke, and some of its members continue to receive a stipend from the State at a time when the country is again bankrupt.
The whole thing is straight out of a bad fantasy novel, with ludicrous archaic titles for its members. Here, for example is their procedure for electing a Saoi (Wise One):
Members of Aosdána may receive the honour of Saoi. This is for singular and sustained distinction in the arts. The members of Aosdána elect a Saoi. The President of Ireland confers the symbol of the office of Saoi, the gold Torc. Not more than seven members of Aosdána may hold this honour at any one time.
I saw a ceremony like that in Star Trek once, but what would you expect from something set up by a ridiculous little snob like Charlie Haughey, who called his own yacht Celtic Mist? An appropriate name, I always thought, from a man obsessed with keeping the country in a fog of confusion while he robbed it blind.
Haughey set up Aosdána in 1981 for two reasons.
The first was to create a monument to his own enormous vanity. A deeply insecure cultural fraud, Haughey liked to be seen as a patron of the Arts (with a capital A). In reality, he was a vulgar bully without principle or scruple. A thief and a cynic, Haughey routinely looted the national coffers to bestow largesse on what he considered appropriate causes.
Thus, he provided Dingle with a marina, supported by taxpayers’ money at a time when the country was in a desperate fiscal state. As a result, Haughey was regarded as a benefactor in that town, and every year travelled there to fire the starting gun at their regatta. It mattered nothing that the money Haughey diverted to help Dingle was taken away from some other deserving community. Haughey’s image as the local squire was secure, and paid for by the rest of us.
Likewise, Aosdána provided him with a gloss of enlightened patronage and allowed him to rub shoulders with the sort of self-regarding loveys he secretly admired. Of course, as time has gone on, Aosdána has become a smug, self-congratulatory clique. A hymn to banality. A mob to howl down anyone daring to criticise its members. Most recently, Aosdána disgraced itself by closing ranks against anyone who questioned Cathal Ó Searcaigh’s adventures with very poor boys in Nepal, and continues to deny that any wrongdoing whatever took place. Indeed, one of Ó Searcaigh’s fellow Aosdána members, Paddy Bushe, recently made a film attempting to refute the facts reported in Fairytale of Kathmandu, the original documentary exposing Ó Searcaigh’s antics in the Himalayas.
The other reason Haughey set up Aosdána was to provide a smokescreen — a Celtic mist, if you like — distracting attention from his cynical manipulation of State funds for his own benefit, and his wholesale acceptance of bribes from every quarter of Irish business, which he rewarded with lucrative State contracts at your expense and mine.
You’ll notice that Haughey never bothered setting up a community of scientists who might perhaps have contributed to our country’s prosperity. Why? Because nobody would have congratulated him for it, and because scientists are not the sort of people who hold wine and cheese receptions where a man like Haughey can swagger and preen. He’d be among people intellectually superior to him, and he wouldn’t have liked that, the ridiculous old snob.
Aosdána was a creature born out of an unholy union between Haughey’s vanity and the hubris of a self-defined Irish artistic community. It does nothing for the arts, except to benefit a small number of individuals who are for the most part financially independent, and in some cases, very well off indeed. Many outstanding artists have refused to have anything to do with it, fearful no doubt for their own reputations. Brendan Kennelly would have nothing to do with it and neither would Eavan Boland. Hugh Leonard refused outright to join, but I’m disappointed to see that Séamus Heaney accepted the position of Wise One. Thomas Kinsella didn’t think Aosdána was any good artistically.
Aosdána is a genetic test-tube experiment: a spawn of greed and conceit, created in a soup of corruption and it needs to be put down.
I’m afraid it has a flawed pedigree.
Previously on Bock: Haughey