The state of the Irish film industry came under thespotlight in the Irish Dail (parliament) last week, where it was claimed thatnot one feature film has started production in the country in the past sixmonths.

"It is not correct to say the Irish film industry isbeing shunned. Ireland is an extremely attractive location for incoming filmproducers and productions," said Irish arts minister John O'Donoghue,responding in the Dáil to the suggestion that the Republic of Ireland islosing out to other production centres such as New Zealand, Hungary or, moreuncomfortably close to home, the Isle of Man.

The minister was facing questions from opposition spokesmenon July 1 on the state of the Irish film business.

Labour Party arts spokesman Jack Wall asked the minister if "highproduction costs are a deterrent to foreign filmmakers coming here to maketheir films'" Jimmy Deenihan of the Fine Gael Party asked if "Irelandis losing its attractiveness to international film production companies due toincreased costs and to increased competition abroad," and what "measureshe [the minister] will take to restore Ireland's competitiveness as a destinationfor film production'"

In his reply O'Donoghue alluded to the government'sdecision last December to retain the Section 481 tax break, with an increase inthe cap on investment from January of next year, and to the 10% increase infunding for the Irish Film Board this year. "I am satisfied," hesaid, "that the Government has met its responsibilities regardingmaintaining the attractiveness of Ireland as a film location."

The minister did agree that the Irish industry is facingcompetition from other countries but said that it needs to address some ofthese issues itself. "I am aware of the concerns expressed by the Irishfilm industry about the competitive implications of wage costs that are highcompared to some competing locations and of the current euro-US dollar exchangerate. It is up to the industry to address those factors within its control thatare considered to render Ireland less attractive for film production."

Deenihan put it to the minister that there was cause forserious concern and action on his part. "Surely, the fact that no featurefilm has been shot in Ireland in the first six months of 2004 makes its ownstatement. There must be a reason for this circumstance."

O'Donoghue agreed to Wall's suggestion that heorganise a trade mission to convince the US studios of Ireland'scontinuing attractiveness as a location. The minister said he intended to tryto organise a trade mission to the western side of the United States of Americawith a view to promoting Ireland as a destination for film production. "Iam anxious to meet the larger production companies to assess their interest incoming here."

Meantime Irish producers' organisation ScreenProducers Ireland is to attempt to hammer out an agreement with all the filmunions on a new pay and conditions structure, to be put in place by the autumn.