70 Merrion Square,
In his article in your publication, dated 14th April 2015, Mannix Flynn is wrong when he states, regarding election to the position of Saoi of Aosdána, “Currently, if a position is vacant for one of the Saoi (Saoithe) all it needs is for certain insiders in Aosdána to get together 15 members to put a name forward to guarantee the elevation”.
The procedures for nominating a member of Aosdána to the honour of Saoi are laid down in the rules of Aosdána, clearly and unambiguously. They state that at any time, fifteen members may propose in writing another member for election as Saoi.
There is no such thing as “guaranteed elevation”. When a nomination has been correctly put forward, it then goes to the entire membership for ratification by secret ballot. A successful nomination must gain the positive votes of 50% of the entire membership plus one.
Mannix Flynn’s contention that this process can be hijacked in secret by what he calls “certain insiders” is therefore factually wrong.
Having been a member of the Toscaireacht (Steering Committee), from 2007 to 2011 Mannix Flynn is, or should be, familiar with the rules of the body.
The current Saoithe were nominated by a very wide range of members. At a conservative estimate, more than half of the members have been involved in these nominations. Mannix Flynn’s definition of “certain insiders” is, therefore a most peculiar one.
Mannix Flynn’s motion before the last General Assembly proposed that, on a vacancy arising, the Toscaireacht should advise all members that a vacancy exists. The fact is that both the Registrar of Aosdána and the Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon issue condolence notices to all members when a Saoi dies. Given the status of the Saoithe as artists, there is invariably extensive media coverage of the death.
Mannix Flynn is extremely economical with the facts when he refers to the contribution of our member Theo Dorgan to the debate on Mannix Flynn’s motion at the 2015 General Assembly. Theo Dorgan, as the minutes show, made the larger point that the honour of Saoi is conferred to acknowledge the work of the most gifted of our artists. Theo Dorgan’s view was that, as an honour freely conferred by the membership, it would be inappropriate to make the position of Saoi the subject of a competitive election with multiple candidates, which was the thrust of Mannix Flynn’s motion. It would be equally inappropriate, for example, to institute competitive elections for the honour of Freedom of Cities of Dublin, Belfast, Cork etc. Honours are properly, freely given – neither sought nor competed for.
Mannix Flynn put his motion before the General Assembly and, following a full and open debate, his motion was put to the meeting; it was overwhelmingly rejected.
Chair of the Toscaireacht,
Dear Toscaireacht and members of Aosdána,
I am replying to the letter of 14th April from the Toscaireacht about my article published in last month’s Village magazine.
It is apparent that anyone who challenges Aosdána’s processes is wrong in the Toscaireacht’s eyes. Aosdána deemed it wrong of me to raise the issue of artists endorsing Arts Council guidelines on protection of children in the aftermath of the Cathal O Searcaigh scandal; equally it said I was wrong to raise the issue of the inappropriateness of undermining the dignity of the Garden of Remembrance by siting the proposed State memorial for victims of child sexual abuse there; and here we are again.
The point about elections to the honorary position of Saoi is that, once nominated, nominees are almost assured of election. Members are loath to vote down a fellow artist eminent enough to have been proposed. This means that particularly acute attention must be paid to how nominees are nominated. That is the point of my intervention.
We all know how things are done. It’s the secret guarantee, the insiderist nod. What gives confidence to that nod is the failure of the Toscaireacht and the general Aosdána assembly to engage in any systematic way on this issue. It is disingenuous for the Toscaireacht to deny Aosdána’s established modus operandi and to fall back on obfuscating references to the election being fair, when the fact the nomination which precedes the election is handled unfairly is the problem, a problem that necessarily taints the entire process.
Nor is it normal not to draw members’ attention to vacancies. In democratically-driven organisations the process is notification of members about forthcoming democratic procedures, not condolence.
Your response to my article takes a rather high tone in relation to my motion insinuating that it would be inappropriate for the position of Saoi to be, in your words, competitive. You quote Mr Dorgan’s view that as an honour freely conferred by the membership it would be inappropriate to make the position of Saoi the subject of a competitive election of multiple candidates but this in fact touches on my very point. For it is that already. The Aosdána modus operandi is that whoever is first through the letter box for nomination vanquishes all, because of Aosdána’s characteristic and understandable reluctance to vote down an eminent nominee. An unseemly rush to nomination is the symptom of the competitiveness. The issue is not competitiveness, which is there already, the issue is transparency and democracy.
Regarding the honour of the Freedom of Dublin City
– it is indeed an honorary position and it is the prerogative of the Lord Mayor (and indeed of a single member of the council placing a motion before the council). The procedure is very clearly laid down in standing orders. That is not the case with Aosdána whose procedures or rules are not properly explicated, as I have pointed out in my correspondence to you. For instance, unlike with the Council, there is no procedure for the members to make nominations. Nor, according to the registrar of Aosdána, need members be told that a vacancy arises. The only time there was an official call for nominations was when the number of Saoithe was increased from five to seven.
The Chair of the Toscaireacht must know that there is an anomaly and flaw in the process. It would be better even for the Toscaireacht to have the sole right to nominate anyone it deems worthy of the honour of Saoi and then present that to the members rather than perpetuate the rather confused, undemocratic process that is being operated at present.
I’ve always felt there were problems with the nomination and election procedures of Saoithe but, mindful of Aosdána and its sensitivity, I chose not to raise them. However, I did confer with certain members before I raised my motion which was seconded by Alice Hanratty, and did indeed have some support on the floor. But it didn’t have majority, or much, support. In your rather vitriolic words it was overwhelmingly rejected.
That being said the matter is far from over and I would imagine that the other members of Aosdána who feel uneasy will raise their concerns.
You mention in your letter to Village that I am economical with the facts. I am stringent with the reality of your modus operandi and I in turn would ask you to at least have the honesty to accept that the present arrangements are undemocratically flawed and that Aosdána as a matter of principle should not operate in a way that is not democratic.
In conclusion, I am now calling on the Toscaireacht to initiate a full independent review of the entire election process, especially the nomination process, for Saoithe to take account of Aosdána’s established modus operandi.