Back in the last recession (and strangely I find that phrase ‘the last recession’ comforting, as if, because we’ve had them before, and will have them again, it will all be grand in the end…), almost everyone in the arts at some point worked in, or with FÁS. There was a CIRCA article (by Eamonn Crudden – click here to view) called ‘Yellow pack workers unite’ – they used to call those on FÁS schemes Yellow Pack Workers after the cheapo line of groceries from Quinnsworth. CIRCA had its own FÁS scheme.
You would have been hard pressed, actually, to find an arts organisation without one, and as I recall, they weren’t a bad thing at all. You got slightly more money than you would on the dole, there was money for project materials, and for you to take two training courses – one supplied, and one self-organised – during your year. You worked a 20-hour week on the project, which in this instance had to be creative or educational. You even paid tax – although hardly any – just enough to keep you in the loop.
It strikes me that now is the time for innovative FÁS schemes and projects to be pouring down on us like summer rain. With so many skilled and creative people losing their jobs, the idea that a source of money (relatively easily accessible) could be available to set up and run a variety of projects that are really only limited by the scope of people’s imaginations and organisational abilities, seems one that is well worth reviving.
The trouble is that since all those premier-class flights to the USA have been laid at the door (and the expenses tabs) of FÁS executives, and since so much of the imagination and organisational abilities there seem to have gone into maintaining a cushy number for certain people, now – when they are needed more than ever – FÁS is in disarray. I’m not suggesting that FÁS schemes are a substitute for jobs, but in the early 1990s they helped a lot of things to begin, helped many creative people to do what they wanted to do anyway and, I believe, laid the groundwork for a great deal of Ireland’s creative cultural success. It’s not a case of “come back FÁS, all is forgiven," rather “get your act together FÁS, you’re actually needed now."