The Dark Side Of The Irish Film Industry


A special People Before Profit Investigates Report

Every weekend tens of thousands of people go to the cinema and are often delighted to see a growing number of Irish productions. But behind the glamour and the excitement, lies a culture of exploitation and bullying.

The Irish film industry is generously supported by taxpayers’ money and grants.  Each year, €70 million is given out in a special tax relief programme known as the Section 481 relief. On top of that there is another €20 million available from the Irish Film Board in grants.

Officially, this money is designed to provide quality employment and training. The legislation states that tax relief can be only be given when

The Minister is satisfied that the film will either or both

  • Act as an effective stimulus to film making in the State through amongst other things the provision of quality employment and training opportunities and
  • be of importance to the promotion, development, enhancement of the national culture including where applicable the Irish language.

Yet although this is the law, the big film producers are in breach of it every day. Workers complain about bullying, blacklisting and `long working hours.

Here is how it works.

Taxpayers’ money is dispensed to a powerful network of production companies, known colloquially in the trade as the ‘twelve apostles’.

But instead of employing workers directly, they set up Special Purpose Vehicles for each particular film.

They then call in contractors and sell them equipment at knock down prices, courtesy of the tax relief and grants they have been given.

The contractors hire back the use of the equipment to the producers for each particular film. Over a  period of time, they accumulate a vast amount of film equipment which then hire out for high fees.

But what of the film workers?

These are never taken on directly by the producers but only hired for each film and then let go.

The purpose of this elaborate ruse is to avoid giving workers rights they are entitled to under the Fixed Term Workers Act.

This states that if a worker gets more than two contracts from an employer, they are entitled to a Contract of Indefinite duration – effectively permanent status.

In the past fifteen years, no Irish film worker has been given a Contract of Indefinite Duration. The film industry is notorious for inculcating a spirit of insecurity and fear.

Workers are pressurised to work beyond the legal limit of 48 hours.

Others are taken on as trainees – but there is no proper certification is given.

In Britain, actors who perform on film are given royalty payments every time there are repeat showings. But this practice does not exist in Ireland.

But none of this usually comes out into the open  because workers dare not speak out for fear that they will not be taken on for the next contract.

One member of the actor’s union Equity, however, was courageous enough to tell a Dail committee the following:

‘One need only look at the results of the survey that Equity published at the end of 2016 regarding the issues of bullying and harassment… People are terrified of rocking the boat in any way…One of the questions on the survey asked whether respondents had ever experienced or observed any form of bullying or harassment. Something in the region of 65% to 70% of people said yes. The next question asked if they reported it…. ‘roughly 70% (of those who witnessed bullying) said they did not report it for fear of not getting the next job.

An all party Dail committee that inquired into the film industry came to a conclusion that something was amiss  within the industry.

They called on the government

  • ‘to seek to make working arrangements more secure. Film companies should comply with all labour and other laws in relation to employment and self-employment’
  • To seek the reform of training in the sector to ensure that all training has a recognised qualification where possible.

Yet despite these public condemnations, little has been done so far. Instead efforts have been made to hide the exploitation of workers and the misuse of taxpayers’ money.

One example was an RTE Prime Time investigates programme on the film industry that was screened in November 2018. The programme promised that reporter Fran McNulty would ‘investigates disturbing allegations of intimidation, threats and bullying in the Irish film industry’.

Yet the programme was about supposed intimidation carried out by the workers – not the film bosses.

Little mention was even made of a Dail Committee which heard clear statements about bullying by the film bosses.

Another agency involved in the cover up is, incredibly, the union SIPTU.

It told that Dail Committee that no complaints of bullying were ever brought to its attention. The Dail report noted that

‘With regard to working conditions in the industry, SIPTU informed members that no allegations of bullying or harassment had been raised nor complaints brought to its attention.’

Equity, which functions as a branch of SIPTU stated that ‘no evidence or allegations of sexual harassment had arisen from within the film and television production sector’

These are incredible statements from a trade union. In effect, they provide cover for the producers who are milking taxpayers’ money and denying workers their rights.

As a result, workers have started to desert SIPTU – because it simply does not stand up for their rights.

They  have formed an Irish Film Workers Association and are now fighting to get out the truth.

The most recent battle -line is a proposal to establish a special Film Forum where everyone – producers, official  unions and workers –  could give their input.

SIPTU, however, is refusing to participate in this forum if the Irish Film Workers Association are involved.

In the Dail, The People Before Profit TD, Richard Boyd Barrett, has taken up the cause of the film workers and is doing everything to bring out the truth. He is demanding that the public Dail film forum go ahead.