Covid-19 (Arts): Statements

Táim buíoch an deis seo a bheith agam chun plé a dhéanamh ar chúrsaí cultúrtha agus ealaíne. Aithníonn an Rialtas an tábhacht atá ag baint leis an gcultúr agus leis na healaíona don duine daonna, don phobal agus don tsochaí trí chéile chuile lá, chuile sheachtain agus chuile bhliain. Tá sé seo léirithe go rí-shoiléir ag an ngéarchéim Covid-19 agus cuireann sé i gcuimhne dúinn arís agus arís eile cé chomh luachmhar agus atá ár n-ealaíontóirí, ár scríbhneoirí, ár ndamhsóirí, ár n-aisteoirí agus ár bhfilí dár saolta laethúla.

The Government recognises the unprecedented nature of the challenge facing the arts, live performance promoters, producers and artists, not least from a financial point of view. For the past six months, the sector has experienced devastation due to the restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The performing arts have suffered considerably in view of the fact that much of the work done by those in the sector is face to face with the public and audiences. They were among the first sectors to close and will continue to experience difficult and challenging times long after other sectors have returned to work.

A particular focus of my approach and that of my Department is to engage in continuous and extensive consultation with all stakeholders, including individual artists, arts organisations, representative bodies, producers and art practices. This engagement is invaluable and has deepened my awareness of the challenges that artists, performers and organisations face, and of the important role they have played in sustaining us all in recent months.

The Arts Council is the statutory body charged with supporting and developing the arts in Ireland. It is statutorily independent in its funding decisions and I, as Minister, cannot intervene in this function. The council received an initial allocation of €80 million in 2020. This has been increased by more than 30% to €105 million to allow the council to address the crisis in the sector. Among the measures introduced by the council are new and additional bursaries and commissions, including supports for freelance artists and those looking to develop projects on a collaborative basis.

I have a background in music and performance and am acutely aware of the challenges being faced by artists and musicians across the country as a result of this devastating pandemic. Many artists and musicians operating in the commercial sector have sought funding from the Arts Council this year. The council provides funding to professional artists in all art forms and genres.

It is important to note that the council has reported that to date in 2020 a very significant proportion of its grants to individuals were made to artists who had never before received Arts Council funding. They represent people who would normally be fully employed in the commercial sector.

I will turn now to the July stimulus package and give the House a description of the work which has been done over the past few months in rolling out the stimulus. In the area of culture, creativity and the arts, the stimulus is designed to create opportunities for professional artists and creatives, and their support staff, through increased support for the Arts Council, live production, live performance and specific measures targeted at musicians. A key objective of this funding is to provide enhanced support for freelance arts workers who have been impacted severely by the Covid-19 public health emergency. The stimulus announced a new €10 million culture fund to include increased funding for Creative Ireland to employ artists through the creative youth and creative communities programmes and funding to support the commissioning of artists to produce creative content for national broadcast and for Ealaín na Gaeltachta for new artists bursaries and art activities in Gaeltacht schools.

Musicians and music performers across all genres face particular difficulties. The music stimulus package, which is part of the culture fund, is a dedicated fund of €1 million for musicians. It involves three funding schemes designed to help sustain the popular and commercial music sector across a diverse range of genres, including rock, pop, hip-hop, indie, jazz, country and western and traditional and folk. It is designed to stimulate areas of work which artists would usually fund with income from their own sources, including live event fees.

The three schemes are targeted at professional musicians and their teams and will support songwriting camps, recordings and album releases. The aim is to ensure Irish musicians, engineers, PR, media, agents, labels and publishers can continue to develop and share their work while Covid restrictions are in place. The music stimulus package schemes are being managed on behalf of the Department by First Music Contact and there was an extremely strong interest in the call which had a closing date of yesterday. Applications will now be assessed by an expert music peer panel.

The additional moneys allocated in this job stimulus package includes an increase in the Arts Council 2020 allocation from €100 million to €105 million, some 40% higher than in 2019. Among other initiatives, the additional moneys allow the council to increase to 164 the number of creative schools in the 2020-21 academic year. This brings the total number of participating schools to 314 this year. It also allows for an increase in the grants to each creative school from €2,000 to €3,100. Consideration for diversity and inclusion within arts initiatives remains hugely important and all of the additional schools entering the programme have been selected from applicant DEIS schools. Some 50 of the schools starting in creative schools this year have DEIS status.

A sum of €1 million in extra supports was made available to help key cultural organisations in receipt of annual funding from the Department to deal with the difficulties of operating in a Covid-19 world. These organisations house collections of movable cultural heritage of national importance or are unique in the country and relate to matters of national interest. They include Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, the Hunt Museum, Archbishop Marsh's Library, the National Print Museum and Foynes Flying Boat & Maritime Museum.

Capital funding of €6 million is available to accelerate the redevelopment and renewal of our national cultural institutions envisaged under the national development plan. Over the coming 18 months, we will seek to complete the design and planning phases of a number of these iconic buildings with a view to commencing construction in 2021. Highlights under this programme of capital investment include the reimagined and significant restoration of the National Library. The National Archives redevelopment will see our valuable trove of State archive material rehoused. Advanced design and planning works will commence at the National Concert Hall and at the Crawford Art Gallery to enhance this cornerstone building in a regenerated city plaza in Cork city.

The additional capital in the July stimulus has allowed me to allocate funding to the Irish Museum of Modern Art to invest in a new collections management system, as well as to the National Concert Hall for the purchase of video infrastructure for ongoing high quality live streaming, a particularly innovative response to the crisis. A sum of €10 million was provided for a pilot performance and production support package to support the live performance and audiovisual production sector. Of this, €5 million was allocated to a pilot live performance support scheme.

I am conscious of the unprecedented nature of the challenge facing live performance promoters and producers, not least from a financial point of view, and the wider impact that has on the sector's ecosystem of freelance performers, technicians and creative artists, particularly those dependent on its visibility for their income and livelihoods. It should also be noted that the live entertainment sector is worth an estimated €3.5 billion annually to the economy and employs 35,000 people. The pilot scheme is designed to assist and establish commercial promoters of live performances in music and theatre to provide employment to workers in the creative industries.

The scheme will help to de-risk the cost of preparing for new productions which may subsequently have to be postponed, cancelled or curtailed due to restrictions to safeguard public health. The main objectives of the scheme are to provide employment opportunities in the ticketed performing sector, allow commercial organisers of live performances to commence preparations immediately and allow productions to go ahead in the near future, while also complying with public health protection measures. This scheme has been developed in conjunction with the sector and will be managed directly by my Department. There have been a significant number of applications which are being assessed at present and allocations will made on the basis of the number of people being employed. I hope to announce the recipients of this funding in the coming weeks.

The balance of the production support package was allocated to Screen Ireland, which put in place a pilot €5 million production continuation fund for film and television projects to assist production companies with the uncertainties caused by Covid-19. The fund will help to cover costs incurred where production must be halted as a result of an incident related to Covid-19 in circumstances not covered by other insurances. The maximum made available to any one production shall be €500,000. The fund will enable independent Irish production activity to return as safely as possible and help retain Ireland's talented creative workforce as the industry recovers and adapts to the challenges of Covid-19.

An amount of €3 million was allocated to Screen Ireland's television drama fund to support the production of new Irish TV drama content in line with the Government's audiovisual action plan and building on the success of Screen Ireland's support of "Normal People" last year. Last week, Screen Ireland announced details of the first tranche of this funding to five television drama projects with production set to commence in Galway, Cork and Limerick by the end of 2020, as well as funding for a number of joint development initiatives with RTÉ, Virgin Media TV and TG4.

I have given the House a very brief outline of the extensive work being undertaken by my Department and its agencies in the areas of the arts. It will take me many hours to give Deputies a good understanding of the breadth and depth of interventions. Perhaps Deputies may want to point to or ask for details in particular areas and I will be happy to oblige. I will finish by alluding briefly to two task forces under way at present. These are the arts and culture recovery task force and the night-time economy task force. Their work and reports will inform the direction of Government policy for the medium term.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire agus tá brón orm as ucht an mhoill - bhí mé ag cruinniú Zoom leis an gCeann Comhairle. Ba mhaith liom díriú isteach ar an athrú atá tar éis teacht ó mheán oíche aréir.

While we are not at level 5 shutdown, the arts and entertainment industries have once again been shut down in many ways unless people can avail of online opportunities. For the vast majority of those in the arts and entertainment industries, online is not as feasible as it is for other sectors. This is a sector that has been on its knees since it was closed down for the first time in March. More than 5,000 workers in the sector having had their pandemic unemployment payment cut only a few weeks ago. They are struggling to survive and have been let down by the Government which does not seem to have the urgency or a plan to deal with those who have no other outlet for income. There are only cuts.

Sinn Féin has called for a clear plan from the Government to deal with the crisis in the industry since March.

I raised this with the then Government in the Covid-19 committee back in May and I have raised it with the Minister on a number of occasions. I still hope that we will hear some news sometime of the PUP being restored to those in need of it at the rate it was prior to the cut a fortnight ago.

Like many other Members, I am sure that the Minister has received many emails about the need to support the live events industry. I congratulate those who have taken the time to share their experiences with us. These are not just normal emails. My office received 1,000 emails as part of a campaign organised by the Event Production Industry Covid-19 Working Group, EPIC. It has highlighted the value of live events at €3.5 billion as well as the plight of the 35,000 full-time and part-time workers who have been left behind and are out of work. I congratulate EPIC and its campaign in galvanising the passions of thousands of people who would not otherwise write to politicians. They have written to me and probably to others in this House and outlined some of the harrowing stories of the dire straits that they are in. I have been trying to respond to every one of those emails over the past month and I apologise to those who I have not managed to get to thus far. Due to there being so many of them, some were caught in the email spam and releasing them, I discovered, is not as easy as it should be.

For instance, Adam from Ballyfermot says:

Just been out of work for so long and trying to get by on €350 a week and now €300 is hard. I've gone from working 60 to 70 hours a week to zero. I've been in a job since I finished school and I am lost without it. The events is more than a job for most of us. It's a lifestyle and mine has been taken away from me.

Steve wrote to me, and probably to others. He is from the band, The Stunning, whom many of us will remember, and we hope that we will hear from Steve and those in the band again in the future. The Stunning were marking 30 years this year since their debut album. He said:

I have been a professional musician with my band The Stunning for over 30 years. People in my industry have not worked since last March and I myself haven't gigged since December 28 2019. We had a huge year lined up for 2020 with festivals booked all over the country, and it's the 30th anniversary of the band’s debut album. I'm also an actor and my last job I did with RTÉ was last year.

Jane from Blackpitts writes:

I worked for the events and marketing agency in Dublin with 22 of the most hard-working people I've ever met. Just before Covid we were experiencing our best quarter in years. We had grown a solid client base and were expanding our offering with new staff and departments. On March 15, everything stopped. Clients pulled out of events planned and the phone stopped ringing. 30% of our staff were let go and the rest were put on part-time hours. Thankfully, for the wage subsidy scheme, I was lucky enough to keep my job but with the support ending soon, I am terrified about my future.

It continues in the case of others. Dan from Walkinstown says:

I am stressed. I am under financial strains. I have borrowed and I am not sure I can pay it back. I have been abandoned by the Government and the Department of Social Protection. I and at least 35,000 others like me are part of an industry that has been destroyed, /this industry is one of the main reasons that our powerfully successful tourism industry is so loved by the people from around the world. Our artistic output and nightlife culture are vital to the Irish economy and the lack of support is killing us. It has already passed the point where it will not recover and return to what it was. You must take action now.

During a meeting I had with Mary Coughlan and the Musical Entertainment Alliance Ireland, MEAI, which represents 4,800 music and entertainment workers, she told us about someone she knows who is worried about not being able to afford to pay his rent on a reduced PUP and who is planning to sell his double bass as he sees no future in music after all of the years that he has put into honing his talents. We also heard at that meeting of people living in sheds and cars because they cannot afford the rent anymore. Others are very stressed about the banks and mortgages and are not getting any relief.

The funding that has been provided thus far has been welcomed by Sinn Féin but it is nowhere near enough and it is also confusing. Even the funding announced by the Minister for some projects, it seems as if they are announced in June, announced again in July and announced again then prior to the budget. We will probably hear of them again next week. Clarity is needed on what has been announced and what will be announced so that we know whether such schemes as the €5 million live performance scheme is the same as the €10 million performance and production support scheme announced in the July stimulus package.

There are a number of issues. We need to look to, and learn from, other countries. In Germany, the self-employed artist is entitled to a 50% reduction, for instance, in insurance fees. The arts there have received much more, proportionately, than in Ireland. In March, the first thing that the government in Germany did was to provide a €50 billion package for small businesses and the arts. Their labour Minister intends to extend their version of PUP to artists until March 2022, not 2021. We should at this stage start looking at the industries, including the arts and entertainment industry, which will be last to open. The Minister acknowledged that in her contribution that it was one of the first to close, and possibly for many artists in that industry, will be the last to open. That means that there has to be a different approach for this sector of society, especially if we are trying to rebuild our tourism industry in the future, and to give a lift to all those involved.

Ba mhaith liom ar deireadh an deis a thapú chun tacú leo siúd atá tar éis cuidiú linn ar fad sa mhéid a dhéanann siad go dtí seo le linn na tréimhse seo, ag déanamh ceoil, drámaí agus gach rud eile ar líne agus atá ag tabhairt ardú spioraid dúinn ar fad san am deacair seo. Tá siad cróga agus ag déileáil lena lán deacrachtaí agus, mar a dúirt mé, na deacrachtaí ó thaobh ioncaim atá ag mórán díobh. Tá fadhbanna meabharghalair ag neart acu agus againn timpeall na tíre, áit a bhfuil daoine thíos leis an brú atá orainn toisc nach bhfeiceann siad bealach amach, nó i gcás a lán daoine lasmuigh de seo, conas is féidir leo gnathbhillí an teaghlaigh, ar nós an mhorgáiste, an árachais nó a leithéid sina íoc. Impím ar an Aire agus ar an Rialtas ina iomlán, agus go háirithe ar an Aire Gnóthaí Fostaíochta agus Coimircí Sóisialta, déileáil arís leis seo agus ardú a thabhairt don íocaíocht PUP, ach ní hé sin amháin atá i gceist. Tá i bhfad Éireann níos mó airgid ag teastáil le go mbeadh tuarastal ann agus rud éigin le déanamh ag a lán díobh siúd atá gafa faoi láthair. Gabhaim buíochas.

This is not the first time I have sat in the Chamber and listened to Deputy Ó Snodaigh speak before me on the arts. His family is steeped in the many different parts of the arts. We have debated the arts on a number of occasions in the short life of this Dáil. It feels like we are going over old ground. It is old ground, however, that is becoming more important and more severe for those who are unemployed and want to work again. These people are looking for hope that there will be light at the end of the tunnel. They will not have got much hope if they have been watching the “Claire Byrne Live” show last night when we saw our Deputy Prime Minister take our Chief Medical Officer and the entire board of NPHET to task. When we see incidents such as that, it is an embarrassment to the State but it is especially hard for people in sectors that are going to be, as they say themselves, the last to open. It is massively destabilising when one sees one of the major decision-makers in government engage in such personalised attacks.

It is very destabilising and manifestly so for those in sectors that are on the edges of this pandemic.

Very little has moved. I listened to the Minister's contribution from my office and I am aware that funding is being given in a type of block, high-level format but the people in the sector who are most affected are not seeing it on a week-to-week basis. Those who have to pay rent, bills, support their families and themselves, as well as those who want to live with dignity are not seeing that. That is very worrying.

We should take this opportunity to state that there were issues with this sector prior to the pandemic that are being compounded by what is going on now. The Theatre Forum review in 2019 of pay and conditions in the performing arts indicated that working conditions had not improved in the decade since the living and working conditions of artists report was published in 2010. When parties were saying that they would keep the recovery going in the second half of the last decade when the economy was back up and running, that was not the case for some sectors and the arts was one of those sectors. In a country that professes to value the arts and hold it dear to our hearts, as many of us do, that has not been reflected in the actions of the State.

As we know, art and the arts sector travels extremely well to all four corners of the globe and is received very well. We are viewed as a creative people and as a country that values its creative people but is that really the case? When we look at what has happened in the past decade and the way it has been compounded by this pandemic, I am not sure we can over that statement with any credibility.

On a day where it is indicated that the national minimum wage will rise by a mere ten cent, 72% of artists in Ireland were earning less than the national minimum wage before this pandemic hit. One might ask what is the point in having a national minimum wage, if so many in a particular sector fall below that line.

That brings me to the pandemic unemployment payment, which was very important payment for many workers and very important for people in the arts sector. Deputy Ó Snodaigh spoke eloquently about the impact of the pandemic on a number of individuals. I echo those sentiments. The budget will be next week. We need to see something that is a little more creative and targeted, and people in the arts sector will need to be included in that. We must see the restoration of the pandemic unemployment payment.

We are 100 days into the term of this Government. I am not one for arbitrary targets and I acknowledge that the period of the past 100 days has been unique but those working in the arts believe that the first 100 days posed more questions such as whether it is worth it for them, if they should be breaking their backs in the hope that their sector will be allowed to recover and whether the Government will back them, their group, band, theatre group and industry. I hope it will do so. I am aware efforts have been made. I am not here to simply say everything is desperate and the Minister is not doing anything. I do sense that she is doing something but these workers need to be able to feel that in their pockets next week, the week after that and so on until this pandemic is over. They are struggling to survive and pay their bills and they need help from the Government.

I was working on my contribution yesterday evening when everything changed with the announcement that we are to move to level 3 but I want to raise a few points because the entire nation hopes that we will move out of level 3 in the near future. I am a Deputy from County Clare, which is the home of traditional music and dance. Many groups involved in set dancing, Irish dancing and the other dance forms believe that they fall between two stools. The different guidelines that came out in recent months do not necessarily lend to them restarting classes or dances. We know that they cannot happen now because we are at level 3. That is acceptable but when we get beyond that, we need to look at those dance forms. I refer to lessons given in every school hall around Ennis and Shannon on a Friday afternoon. That has been a way of life for people for many years and it has been taken by Covid-19, so to speak. For many people, Irish dancing, set dancing and those other dance forms were their sport so I ask that during this period, that activity might be examined. It does not fully fit within the theatre sphere. For some, that form of arts is a form of sport. It is what keeps them active and energised. The Minister's Department might look at that as it engages with NPHET in the future.

The artist residency scheme is a very successful scheme administered by the Minister's Department. It gets artists into many schools throughout the country. I looked at the figures for my county in recent years. I do not know whether it was because of a low level of uptake or a low level of roll-out of the grant but only eight or ten schools benefited. This is an ideal year to consider significantly increasing the number of groups that would benefit from that scheme. This is a very tough time for artists. Their source of income and the various ways they show their talents and wares have been hugely restricted. This would be an opportune time to consider extending the artist residency scheme throughout the entire academic year to ensure that the artists of a county could hold various workshops in schools and invigorate the arts curriculum offered both in primary and secondary school.

Regarding festivals, Clare has a number of very famous festivals, all of which have been cancelled. That is not unique to Clare; it is happening countrywide. The Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival would have concluded last weekend. The Willie Clancy Summer School normally takes place in Miltown Malbay in the month of July, and there is the Scariff Harbour Festival. I mention those three but dozens happen in Clare. To take the town of Lisdoonvarna, there is very little happening there at the moment. There are many for sale and to let signs along the main street. That one month in which the matchmaking festival is held buoyed up the entire town and gave it the financial adrenaline shot that carried them through many other months of the year. As the Minister prepares for the budget next week I hope that the many festivals that have been cancelled, which are gearing up in the hope of doing something in 2021, might be given some support that would make such festival planning for the new year easier for them.

The final issue I want to raise is tourism, which also comes under the Minister's Department. A man in Clare, Sean Kilkenny, has a business which is an art form in itself. He is very involved in equestrian activities. I believe he met the Minister some weeks ago when she was in Clare. He runs a jarvey business. He has some beautiful horses that tour the county and show at many events. He has often shown up at Bunratty Castle. He brings colour and pageantry to the county. He is one of the many business people who fall between the two stools. I spoke about Irish dancing and set dancing but into which area does his business fit? It is not farming. He believes that business restart grants and all the supports that have been wonderful for businesses in the past few months do not fully fit his mix of business because having performed at various venues around the country and county, at the end of the day he has to feed 40 animals and therein lies another struggle.

I thank the Minister and look forward to hearing what her Department will announce in the budget next week.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire inniu agus roimh an méid a bhí le rá aici mar gheall ar an tacaíocht atá á soláthar aici don earnáil seo.

I spoke at length in the Dáil recently about the impact of Covid-19 on the aviation and travel industry in Cork. There is no doubt that the impact on the arts and culture sector has been just as detrimental and will last longer than that in many of the other sectors. In 2020, the recession in the arts sector will be between 34% and 42%. In terms of GDP, this is projected to cost between €250 million and €300 million. Covid-19 is forecast to put between 1,500 and 1,900 arts jobs at risk. I welcome that total funding for the arts and culture sector will increase from €183 million to €239 million, which is an increase of almost 30% this year. However, this sector is one of the most vulnerable in that it is heavily reliant on public consumption and participation.

I am a music lover. I enjoy attending gigs and concerts in my home county of Cork every year. I attend the Cork Jazz Festival. The festival is one of the most iconic events of its kind on the national cultural calendar. During last year's jazz festival, Cork received a cash injection of approximately €35 million over a four-day period. Cork Jazz Festival is not only a cultural event; it is big business for the hospitality industry in Cork and gives the city a significant boost, with the festival attracting approximately 40,000 visitors to Leeside.

Like so many other events nationwide and worldwide, the jazz festival was cancelled as a result of the pandemic. This year would have been the festival's 43rd year running, which is a testament to its founders and all the stakeholders, such as Cork City Council, Cork Business Association, Fáilte Ireland and Diageo, including Guinness. I am delighted to see that Diageo is fully committed to continuing to support the festival because its importance to the local economy cannot be overestimated. Those within the industry must be praised for reimagining their programming to serve an online audience. The efforts made by many artists to adapt to and serve an online audience must be lauded but online substitutions cannot replace the live experience and they do not get away from the brutal reality facing arts and artists in Ireland. Thankfully, the Government has acknowledged the reality facing the industry and has put additional supports in place.

I welcome the establishment of the new task force for the recovery of the arts and culture sector, which was announced on 10 September. With the budget imminent, I ask the Minister to review and refine existing supports and consider any further measures that may be required. It is vital that the upcoming national economic plan provide a trajectory for the sector and its institutions so they may survive to the greatest extent possible in the years ahead.

Chomh maith leis sin, teastaíonn uaim labhairt ar son na gcoláistí samhraidh agus na mná tí a chuireann seirbhísí dochreidte ar fáil ní hamháin le linn an tsamhraidh ach le linn na scoilbhliana acadúla. In 2020, d'fhulaing an t-earnáil seo de bharr an víris. Chaill an-chuid gnólachtaí a n-ioncam don bhliain agus chaill muintir na Gaeltachta turasóirí agus daltaí scoile de bharr an víris chontúirtigh seo. Tá súil agam go bhfuil an tAire Stáit, Teachta Chambers, agus an tAire, Teachta Catherine Martin, chun athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar an earnáil seo agus na céimeanna riachtanacha a thógáil i dtaobh na gcoláistí samhraidh agus na mná tí.

Ag an am céanna, is dóigh liom go gcaithfimid infheistiú ceart a dhéanamh sa teanga féin. Tá ár dteanga agus ár gcultúr níos tábhachtaí inniu ná mar a bhí sé cheana. Is é an t-aon slí inar féidir linn é sin a léiriú ná trí infheistíocht sa bhuiséad an tseachtain seo chugainn.

In my constituency, Meath West, I have spoken to many artists who have been affected by this pandemic. The arts and events industry has been shut down since March. I have listened to stories about how the affected have been dealing with the stress during this time and about how they do not see any future owing to the closure of their business. Musicians are being forced to sell instruments and businesses are being forced to close shops for good as they cannot survive. Some may believe it is just artists, musicians and DJs who are suffering from this crisis but the problem is much bigger. What about the sound technicians, lighting and visual effects technicians, stage managers and stagehands? The industry never needed State support in the past.

Thousands of people have seen their livelihoods stopped, with no date set for a return. Although they try to remain upbeat about the possibility of a gig being given the green light, some artists are really down and depressed, and it is their families who have to pick up the pieces at home. It is the families who have to worry about the bills being paid, putting food on the table and preventing the mortgage from going into arrears. They now have the extra burden of knowing Christmas is around the corner. That is when most of the artists make their money. Our musicians need to know we are here to support them and that the employment wage subsidy scheme payments and pandemic unemployment payments will be restored to the full amounts to help those most affected by the closure. Arts Council funding does not cover artists or workers in previously unfunded live events and entertainment industries.

The events industry has been hit the hardest. It was closed in March of this year and those affected, who are highly skilled professionals, feel they have been forgotten by the Government and thrown to the side of the road. While we seek to get the economy up and running again, the industry still does not have a return date, nor does it look like it will get one. There seems to be more emphasis on ticket-touting legislation than on helping those most hit by the pandemic. Our artists have worked in bars, clubs, theatres and venues and when they are in work, it creates employment, including for cleaners and bar and security staff. It is important to remember the chain of workers associated with a simple gig. The great joy and comfort the artists bring to people all over the country should not be forgotten.

If it were not for the media printing what is happening to artists and the potential timelines for reopening events venues, artists would be completely in the dark. We need to engage more with the industry - an industry that wants to work in a healthy environment and with safety restrictions in place but that cannot do so because the Government has it fully closed down. If we stop those affected from earning a living, through no fault of their own, we should be able to compensate them and leave them in a position where they can at least survive.

As time is limited, I will raise an issue that has not been raised by any of my colleagues across the Chamber. On 30 June, the Arts Council advertised a tender for badly needed communications advice. Many of the major agencies in the country applied in good faith. The tender documentation stated the successful agency would commence work in August 2020. Even though the assessment and evaluations must have taken place, the Arts Council sent out a notice last week stating it had terminated the competition without awarding a contract. It gave a very strange reason that I and many others would be curious to understand in more detail, namely, that it was setting up a new communications group to produce a strategy for itself. This is curious because the very first paragraph of the tender document, as initiated, states, "Advise on and assist with the development and implementation of the Arts Council's public relations, public affairs and media relations strategies, particularly in the context of the Arts Council's 10-year strategy; design work plans for these activities, including the identification of stakeholders and pathways to interact with them; and, with the assistance of the Arts Council, review annually the delivery of the communications plan and devise recommendations for improvement."

For reasons I shall outline as my contribution develops, I believe the Arts Council has acted in bad faith to such an extent that an independent investigation is warranted into the issue. The inquiry should look for all the relevant papers and records. If that does not happen, the Arts Council will be inundated with freedom of information requests on this matter.

Agencies will have put a major effort into the very demanding tender application process. It will have cost them well into the tens of thousands of euro in terms of the commitment of staff and production. The agencies in question are all in the creative industry in these troubled times.

The last body one would expect to mess around with small businesses is the Arts Council, which deals with creatives, artists and small groups. What it has done, four months after the tender was advertised, is highly unprofessional and calls into question its board and executive. It disrespects those who spent time on a very demanding tender. At a minimum, they should be compensated for the time spent on the tender, which proved to be of no avail. This raises the need for the matter to be investigated by somebody independent. What went on in the Arts Council in this regard? What happened since the tender was advertised in June? What happened to the submissions made by the agencies who tendered? Were they assessed? Who assessed them? Was there an independent person or persons among the assessors? What have they to say about this? What did the assessors find? Why are the agencies being told only now? Will the Arts Council use the agencies' ideas? Is this just a free way to get the intellectual property and ideas of others? Is this a proper way to do business? What was the Arts Council's true reason for its actions? Has there been any potential conflict of interest on the board or executive? Did somebody not like the assessment? A multitude of questions need answers, and that is why I believe the matter warrants an independent inquiry.

If the Comptroller and Auditor General were examining this issue, his approach would be very technical and he would ask whether the Arts Council abided by the guidelines. That is the approach that is needed in this inquiry. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform needs to be asked for his view. As a chartered accountant, he might not be too happy to hear that the decision taken by the Arts Council to withdraw, after four months, a public tender that it advertised is adding to the very serious pressure already on small businesses. He might feel he has to do something to investigate activity that appears to be so incredibly unprofessional that it warrants further investigation.

The excuse given by the Arts Council for withdrawing the tender raises more questions because the first reference in the tender material is to the communications strategy. That is not something new that has just happened. To the bemusement and frustration of those creative agencies that made a great effort to put together a tender application, the excuse given by the Arts Council as to why the tender was withdrawn seems to be identical to the reason it was initiated in the first instance. The only grounds for the cancellation of a tender are exceptional circumstances. This hardly qualifies as such. The Arts Council is tone deaf to artists and agencies and it should not be allowed to get away with what it has done to artists, and now agencies.

Some local authorities have come under criticism recently for cancelling tender processes without good reason. This, too, needs to be examined. It underscores that the last thing one would expect from the Arts Council would be messing around with creative, indigenous small businesses at this incredibly precarious time.

It is interesting to note that the three reasons set out by the Office of Government Procurement that State agents may cancel a tender do not include the fig leaf presented by the Arts Council last week.

It is important that we all recognise the devastation of the arts industry, including writers, performers, musicians, technicians, planners, participants and the wider community. We have relied on the arts to soothe our souls. Those who create and work in this space have faced more sacrifices than most. In Carlow, we are fortunate to have the VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art and The George Bernard Shaw Theatre, one of Ireland's leading contemporary arts spaces in Carlow town which opened in 2009 and comprises a beautiful gallery and performance area. It is an incredible amenity.

VISUAL houses a 335-seat theatre and the largest white cube gallery space where it produces a programme of commissioned and existing high-quality national and international contemporary arts and a host of performance of events in multiple disciplines, including theatre, dance, film, comedy, literature and music. In terms of values, inclusion and collaboration is at its core. The community in Carlow and Ireland have been gifted so much from this centre. In its mission statement, VISUAL commits to identifying and removing physical, social and economic barriers to accessing its work and to support, foster and provide opportunities for arts participation in our communities. However, a larger barrier to completing this work is a lack of funding. The unprecedented and ongoing Covid-19 global pandemic has been a great disaster for Ireland's arts. We need to examine ways to repair that damage to ensure that future generations get to enjoy all we have enjoyed.

Covid-19 has taken over our lives but it will not be with us forever. We need to prepare for that brighter day, the day when the children cut class for the pantomime at Christmas, the day when a new writer launches a book to a massive audience, the day local groups open the curtain on their plays on opening night and the night artists see their curated work displayed for the first time. These are times we have seen and, surely, times we will see again but they do not come free of charge. I ask the Minister to consider putting in place a funding stream for VISUAL, one of Ireland's leading contemporary arts spaces. VISUAL is an €18 million development and a joint project funded by the local authority with a grant of €3.17 million from the former Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism under the access programme. Carlow County Council and the Arts Council have provided funding over the past few years but Covid-19 has affected the resources of all local authorities and the arts.

The centre makes regular funding applications. We can support it in its work by bringing it under the aegis of the Minister's Department and provide it with an allocation from arts funding. This is important. I extend an invitation to the Minister to visit VISUAL in Carlow when the level 3 restrictions have been lifted. It is one of the most beautiful buildings in the town. The service is provides to Carlow county and town and throughout the country is unreal but it needs funding. I welcome the establishment of the task force mentioned earlier by the Minister, which is important. I also welcome the 30% increase in the Department's budget, which now stands at €239 million.

There is a particular area I am concerned about. Over the past few months, I have been contacted by many artists and musicians. I am not sure if the Minister is aware of The Backline, which featured on "Nationwide" two or three weeks ago. I met them with the Minister of State, Deputy Malcolm Noonan. These are musicians and singers based in Carlow-Kilkenny. They are fabulous and they play online to support front-line workers. The forum hosts online concerts most weeks. They are exceptional. When I raised the issue of funding for them with the Department and the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, I was told no funding stream is available to them. This has created significant issues for me in my area. These musicians and singers are very talented but they do not qualify under any specific funding scheme. I hope the Minister saw them on "Nationwide". If not, I will forward some clips to her of their online concerts. We need to see how funding can be provided for them. That is the reason I raised the issue of the task force with her. I hope that funding will be provided for musicians performing online, who range from young teenagers to members of our older population. The Backline meet all the criteria and they work with musicians from all around the country. I ask the Minister to consider the provision of funding for them.

I have also been contacted by many dance schools in my area. While schools remain open, I am concerned that music and dance schools cannot open. We must urgently review this because arts education is as important as reading, writing and arithmetic. Dance schools, including Irish dance schools, have contacted me. Again, the operators of these schools do not qualify for any funding stream while out of work other than the PUP. I ask the Minister to consider providing a once-off payment to help musicians, artists and so on. We have a great culture. Arts is our culture. We are proud of our musicians, singers and everyone else in the music business. Now, more than ever, we need to support them. We need to look after them. I know from my dealings with them that some of them have mortgages they cannot afford to pay, they have families and they are under pressure.

I thank the Minister for being present I know she will do her best in the context of the upcoming budget, but I ask her to take consider the groups that are in need of funding.

I welcome the opportunity speak about what is essentially a crisis in the arts, culture and entertainment industries. The Minister is correct that more than 35,000 people are employed across a range of professions. While much of this debate has focused on the front-of-house artists and performers, and rightly so, there is a panoply of people employed in these sectors, including producers, engineers, technicians, teachers, make-up artists, drivers, caterers, cleaners and administration staff. We should never forget that broad range of workers whose livelihoods are dependent on these industries.

There is also a lot of people who are not directly employed but whose livelihoods depends on large events, be they culture, arts, entertainment or sports. Taxi drivers are probably the most obvious that spring to mind. The €3.5 billion in revenue generated in our economy every year cannot be over-emphasised. The package of supports, particularly for certain sectors within this overall group of industries, is too small. Many of these workers are on low and average incomes. Some of the decisions, not taken by the Minister and her Department but by her colleagues, are having a disproportionate impact on these workers, including the cuts to the PUP and the wage subsidy schemes, lack of action, for example, on commercial rents or breaks for insurance policies for owners and renters of premises, stripping protections for those in the private rental sector and the failure to extend the mortgage payment holiday. These are compounding since because of the public health restrictions, necessary as they are, people cannot go to work.

The biggest problem for the people in the industry with whom I have spoken is the lack of a roadmap. Everybody knows that they cannot go back to work now but this is an industry which, in the main, operates 12 months ahead of the rest of us in terms of the planning of festivals, exhibitions, theatre performances, concerts, tours, etc.. The most frustrating thing for people involved in the industry is not only the lack of income support but the not knowing where they are going to be in six months or 12 months, not having clear targets and not having clear guidelines for where they may go. While the Government has developed its living with Covid plan, people are saying it is unclear to whom they go to get clarity on when they want to organise events of certain types or at certain stages. I urge the Minister not to deflect this to the task force to grapple with but for her and the Department to give industry some certainty and a roadmap and targets for the months ahead.

It gives me no pleasure to say this, but there has been a lot of angry reaction to the Minister's claim that the €5 million performance fund has been the product of consultation. What I am hearing is that the sector does not feel it is being consulted enough. I urge her, because I know it is her style as a politician, to engage with and listen to the people who will be recipients of this fund and future funds before final decisions are made.

To conclude, the budget is coming up. I know there are many demands and that the Minister is fighting with her colleagues for ever scarcer resources, but given the scale of this industry and its importance not just to the economic life of the State but also to the cultural and emotional well-being of people, I urge her to do everything she can to ensure this industry and its workers get every possible support in the future.

The true history of the attitude of successive Irish Governments to culture, arts, music and events, and to the crews that stand behind them, is a history of lip service without tangible support. That is most obviously reflected in the fact that we spend one sixth of the average spend across Europe on funding arts and culture. The events and music sectors have never received a penny, essentially, and there was even no engagement until they began to get themselves organised in the last few months through groups such as EPIC, the event production industry Covid-19 working group.

I sought the first debate in the House on arts and culture after the pandemic, and then requested that groups such as EPIC and the National Campaign for the Arts appear before the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response. Since then, the level of lip service in the House to arts and culture has grown exponentially. There is no doubt about that. After the virtual silence about arts, culture, music and events, there has been a cacophony. The level of lip service and rhetoric that has been expended in saying how much people love the arts and music and how much they contribute to our culture and society is almost a cultural event in itself. Never have we needed them more than in the utterly grim situation we now face.

However, lip service has still not been matched by tangible support. In fact, apart from a few paltry million euro that was added to the funded sector, still bringing it nowhere near the European average expenditure on that, nothing has been given. One million euro for music is just an insult, to be honest, compared to the contribution musicians make. In fact, when one looks at the entire issue, the cuts the Government has imposed to the PUP and the wage subsidy mean it has given a little token and taken it all back. The PUP payment and the wage subsidy are the payments from the Government that reach everybody in those sectors, that is, all the crew people, the musicians, artists, performers and all the people who have lost work. It is the payment they all received. Frankly, it was not enough and it was not tailored in such a way that they could do some work on top of it, if they were lucky enough to get a little work. However, at least they all received it. That is the thing the Government has cut. All the groups representing arts, music and culture, including EPIC, the Events Industry Alliance and the National Campaign for the Arts, have asked the Government to restore and retain the PUP and income subsidy payments and, indeed, to allow people to earn a little above that. That is the key issue.

Beyond that, there is the question of whether the Minister will give grants to cover the ongoing costs of insurance, repayments and all the other ongoing costs people are still incurring even though there is no work for them. Is the Minister going to give scaffolding funding for the reduced capacities, or no capacity, in venues? That is the question. So far, it has been lip service rather than tangible commitments. Frankly, the engagements appear to be tokenistic and, according to some of the reports I am hearing, that is precisely what they are. Of course, all those connected to the industry in indirect jobs, the 35,000 jobs and others beyond that such as in the taxi industry, are all asking the same questions as to how they will be able to pay their bills and rent and whether they will be able to survive. One company involved in music wrote to me today. It gives work to 300 musicians and asked twice for the wage subsidy, but was refused twice. I do not know how it does not qualify. It is unbelievable that it does not qualify for these schemes. Let us stop the rhetoric and deliver the support.

In contrast, there is one exception to all this - the film producers. There is virtually no ongoing employment in the industry, but in the last number of years they have received €668 million in grants, tax reliefs and so forth. It dwarfs what the rest of arts and culture has received. I believe in the film industry, but that is shocking when there are no jobs. Let us support the artists, performers, crews and musicians.

I will bring it down a notch. First, I am here to tell the Minister again what a great place west Cork is. I take every opportunity to tell her that. After listening to the other contributions, I am fully aware that west Cork is not unique in its richness of culture, music and arts, but the reason I raise it is that it is part of us. It is important to everything we do. We are not paying lip service, but genuinely and constructively are trying to contribute to and support an industry that is, undeniably, on its knees because of the global pandemic.

Only a few weeks ago the arts industry was looking at innovative ways to get back up and running again. It was considering the potential of socially distanced gigs and events. In west Cork, socially distanced events were taking place quite safely and within the restrictions. I attended a couple of them and it was amazing to hear live music being played again. We realised what we were missing. However, level 3 restrictions have come in and the industry's hopes have been absolutely dashed, as the Minister fully understands. It tried to be innovative as well by moving online, but Facebook and the big corporations changed their licensing. They make it more difficult at every corner the events industry takes in terms of trying to be innovative, change its approach and stream its music to the masses. Facebook has changed its licensing agreement and has put up obstacles and challenges. That puts extra pressure on us to intervene and give supports.

Unfortunately, last night's news came like a hammer fist to an industry that was already on its knees. People in the industry are scratching their heads as to where they will go now. That is where the Government should intervene and provide supports. I was delighted that the Taoiseach met and listened to members of the events industry in my constituency office in Clonakilty. The Minister has met members of the events industry as well, including EPIC, and has given them a good hearing. She is not just paying them lip service. She is fully aware of their concerns and what has to be done. However, we have to walk the walk.

There are supports available. The song writing and recording grant is being very well received. I spoke to a couple of engineers who are getting work on the basis of that grant. There will not be enough work to satisfy everybody, but it is a step in the right direction. I hope the Minister will listen to a couple of innovative measures which I believe could be implemented. First, as has been said, the fact that the events and music industry finds itself in such a unique position means that there should be measures or allowances whereby people in the industry can claim the PUP and take work when it becomes available. If it is put through the books and they are taxed on it, that is fine. At least, they will be able to stay in touch with the events industry and continue working. That is one measure that should be considered due to the uniqueness of the industry.

Second, there is the back to work enterprise allowance scheme. Under the scheme, people who are on social welfare and are seeking to start their own businesses can claim payments for a two-year period and also take in income from their new business. This could be applied to the events industry and allow people in the industry to take work where it arises. Those are two examples whereby I believe we can intervene, although many others have been strongly suggested.

Like many of us, I suspect, when we heard the sad news of the passing of Derek Mahon over the weekend I went to the bookshelf and pulled out a book to reacquaint myself with some of his beautiful and lyrical work. In reading "An Bonnán Buí" two lines jumped out at me:

the whole unfortunate country frozen over

and your voice stilled by enforced sobriety --

Those words really strongly resonate with the country at the minute, coming into the winter with increased Covid restrictions. Our towns and cities are increasingly locked down and quietened and how much we miss those stilled voices of our performing arts sector, who are among those most acutely affected by this pandemic and the public health measures it has necessitated. While we know that Covid-19 has had a profound impact across all of our society it is true to say that some sectors have borne the brunt of the storm while others have been relatively sheltered. Even within the arts community, there are those who have been able to continue their praxis – writers can write, painters can paint – but those within the performing arts have seen not just their income but their career progression and their artistic expression come to a dead halt. It is not just the performers who have been impacted. All the other professions that stand behind theatre, dance or live music, from sound engineers to set designers, are also at a standstill. Venues and festivals have been doing their best to push water uphill. The organisers of the Imagine Arts festival in Waterford, for example, were doing all within their power to have some live audience component in their upcoming programme, but the change this week in public health advice may well have put paid to those plans.

Two things come to me on this. The first is that in processing and comprehending the emotional impact of the pandemic; the grief of lives lost, of relationships sundered and the legacy of anxiety and isolation, it will be to the arts community that we turn. They are the lens through which we view ourselves as a society, and they are never so important as when society is in upheaval. The second is that artists want to create. While all workers should be rewarded for their work, for performing artists there is an impulse to perform that goes beyond the understanding of a traded wage economy. I would ask the Minister to consider this resource, a most human resource, that currently stands as a "country frozen over", and consider how their creative impulse can be harnessed in this changed reality. There exists a great opportunity to leverage their skills and ability by using our funding of arts and culture in the coming months to commission, to record and to archive. I refer the Minister to some of the past great projects such as the Doegen Records Web Project preserving sound recordings of native Irish dialects, or RTÉ’s "Beckett on Film" of 2001. There have been times when we have chosen to invest in the national archive and to lay down for future generations a record of the current cultural or social context of our times. The Minister should make this one of those times. She should consider investing in composers, playwrights and performers during this period. She should allow our creative artists to create and the supporting industries to support. She should allow our social historians to record those stories and voices which may be fading away on our island. She should allocate resources to the National Archives, both to organise what already exists and to add to that great store. I doubt I will be alone in quoting Derek Mahon again to close, "The sun rises in spite of everything". At some future point, we will look back on this time of Covid. With the Minister's help, and I know she has a massive interest in and deep understanding of this sector, let us hope that we will still have a functioning arts community that will help us to look back and make sense of it all.

Government politicians do not just dine out on their arts; some of them feast on them. Hardly a speech has been made by a Taoiseach or Uachtarán that has not featured lines from Yeats, Heaney or Beckett. In their quiet times away from the camera, it seems some politicians believe such artists should go out and get a real job. This is usually latent but lately it has been blatant. It is as if years of learning, practice, discipline and finally performing as a musician, dancer, comedian or actor is not work. We know it is not only work but is work that keeps the rest of us relatively sane. So many of us have that special song we go to when times are tough, or lines from a story or poem that comfort us and lift our spirits. Our arts exorcise the ghosts in our throat, to borrow from Doireann Ní Ghríofa. However, while some politicians feast on the arts our artists are facing a famine. One would think we could do better for people who are worth €3.5 billion a year to the economy.

I did not realise quite how many outstanding artists we had living in north Kildare until they started contacting me over the last few months for help to keep going. The cancellation of the Forever Young festival in Johnstown in Naas left hundreds of musicians, lighting specialists, organisers, sound engineers and caterers out of a job. The same thing happened across the State. In addition to artists, I have had countless constituents, organisers of dance schools and acting schools, and musicians all raising the sign for help. I have tried to respond to everyone who has contacted me personally because they give so much and right now they are trying to survive on so little. I have been glad to be able to tell them that Sinn Féin is to the fore in seeking the retention of the pandemic unemployment payment and that we have been calling for the reversal of the decision to scrap the temporary wage subsidy scheme and replace it, which would leave those workers, and they are workers, with €50 a week less. That is big money when one is living on the edge. I have just finished a telephone call with Celine Garvey, who manages the Moat Theatre in Naas. As it is a not-for-profit theatre, she cannot avail of grants from the Arts Council. It is such a great amenity for the town. We have had it since 1954 and cannot lose it in 2020.

Sinn Féin was out front battling for the live events and entertainment industry to be attended to by the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response. While I accept that the sector has been heard from to an extent, the vast majority in the industry still face an uncertain future. The supports that have been granted are welcome but fall far short of what is required to ensure the arts come out the other side of this. We must value them in more than words and quotes. They have given us a lot and it is time that we gave something back.

It has been a terrible year for people involved in the arts and the creative economy generally, with no end in sight to the suffering. It should have been an amazing year in Galway, showcasing the best of what the region has to offer, not just in culture and arts but in the tourism offering too. The Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture programme had been forecast to bring many tens of thousands of extra visitors and tourists from abroad to the west of Ireland and to pump many millions of extra euro into the local economy. It is a perfect example of how the creative economy is such an important part of economic success and even survival of an area. Of course, many events associated with Galway 2020 have gone ahead but in a very different way from what had been envisaged. I wish them the very best in the rest of their endeavours for the rest of the year and into the new year. I also extend good wishes to the organisers of Baboró, the wonderful international children's festival in Galway which got under way this week and runs until 18 October. It is a mix of in-person performances and online events. It has to be a struggle to put on such a festival in the middle of a pandemic but they have done a fantastic job.

The arts and culture sector is likely to be among the last to recover when the coronavirus pandemic is over. That is according to a report published by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation in August. The Focus on Sectors 2020 report on the audiovisual sector highlighted the fact that efforts to get film and television production back up and running would be complicated by social distancing requirements. It also forecast a bottleneck in demand for film crews and services. A particular problem it stressed was the inability to secure vital insurance for various projects. According to the western audiovisual forum, the creative economy is estimated to be worth almost half a billion euro in counties Galway, Mayo and Roscommon. It creates more than 7,000 jobs directly and indirectly. The prediction is that losses as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic in these counties will be at least 25%. In real terms, that is up to €150 million lost to the region's economy and the jobs of up to 2,000 people lost or in serious jeopardy. A report carried out by NUI Galway for the Western Development Commission a few years ago came to similar conclusions about the value of the creative sector, including everything from craft and culture to creative industries. The report, which is published as part of a wider European study, stressed that the creative economy plays a strong role in the enhancement of the local economy in the western region. In other words, this is not just about preserving and enhancing our cultural offerings.

It is also very much about euro and cents and putting food on the table for thousands of families. The NUIG report stressed that the creative sector can generate important social and cultural impacts. These include a greater sense of community, the inclusion of marginalised groups, social interaction at creative events and regeneration of relatively deprived areas. The creative sector can also play a key role in improving the image of an area and increasing its attractiveness as a location to live, visit or set up a business.

A vital contribution to the growth of film and TV animation and creative documentary production in Ireland has been section 481, which provides a tax credit worth up to 32% of eligible Irish expenditure. An additional incentive called the regional film development uplift has been in place for such projects outside the main industry hubs in counties Dublin, Wicklow and Cork in an effort to boost industry in the regions. That provided an additional 5% credit on top of the standard rate for this year and last year. The problem is that the regional uplift is due to be reduced to 3% next year and 2% in 2022. In the dire circumstances the industry finds itself in, it is vital this regional uplift be maintained at its current 5% level. I urge the Minister and the Minister for Finance to include that adjustment in the upcoming budget and finance Bill. I hardly imagine there has been much take-up of the regional uplift or even the section 481 tax credit generally this year so such an extension will not cost the Exchequer much.

It should be stressed that such aids and incentives such as this are not a one-way benefit. There is a return for such money as was highlighted in a report commissioned by the Government two years ago entitled An Economic Analysis of the Audiovisual Sector in the Republic of Ireland. The report showed that while Government support has played an important role in assisting the audiovisual sector to grow, the film tax relief delivers value for money on both the fiscal net benefit and economic benefit basis. Every euro of section 481 outlays generated an average €2.82 in economic net benefit for the economy and it returned a minimum of €1.02 in tax revenue to the Government.

I also support the budget submission of the western AV forum calling for the allocation of €1 million for the Project Ireland 2040 national development plan in annual funding to the Western Region Audiovisual Producers Fund, WRAP. The fund helps to sustain and promote regional audiovisual development across film, television, animation and games.

As I said at the outset, it has been a terrible year for everyone involved in the arts and the creative economy but nowhere more than in County Galway, which had such a promising year in store. I am aware there is a huge demand from all sectors for a share of the limited pie of the country's finances. It is, however, an area that badly needs support and will be among the last to eventually recover as the Government has acknowledged.

I thank the Minister for the opportunity to contribute on the arts and the impact Covid-19 has had on the sector. I welcome the arts recovery task force that has been established to provide a detailed report on the issues facing arts in Ireland and wish it well in its goal of adopting a solution-focused approach. I welcome that it will seek input from across the arts community recognising the diverse range of stakeholders within this area. I hope this approach will best allow the arts sector to adapt to the environment we now find ourselves in and that no parts of the arts community will be left behind.

The arts has been an enjoyable part of my life and has added immensely to the make-up of my community. I have fond memories of learning music in my community in Youghal at our local Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann branch of Bru na Sí. Organisations such as this are an integral part of the fabric of our society and we must always look at ways to allow them to operate in a safe manner during times of Covid-19. Letting organisations such as this go will not only damage the organisations but the fabric of communities across the country.

Study after study has shown that culture has an impact on how people perform within a society. Individual cultural preferences shape how people respond to certain situations. How much trust people have in these institutions of the State, how a person views the outside world and how open he or she is to change are only a few examples of the impact culture has on society. Culture is hugely influenced by the arts and we cannot allow our society to become closed off from the rest of world or for it to be simply all work and no play. Life without any sort of pleasure and enjoyment would be a dull life indeed and if we want or people to remain dynamic, open and trusting of the State we must sure the arts can continue to as great an extent as possible. If we do not, it will make it much more difficult to be able to work together to overcome the challenges we face in light of Covid-19. We must ensure that cultural aspects of our society are not lost indefinitely because of the pandemic. The arts are an escape from the hassle of everyday life and are even more important in times of Covid-19.

I spoke in this Chamber many times about the need to protect our mental health in times of Covid-19. We need to look at the great work groups such as the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra can do to provide some uplift to people across country. Boosting morale at times like this is hugely important and ensures there is public buy-in for measures that are in place. We need to give people a sense of optimism that while today may be difficult, tomorrow will be better.

I look forward to working with the Minister and her Department in achieving these goals and congratulate her on her appointment to Cabinet with responsibility for a Department in which I have much interest. I look forward to working with her and helping people in my constituency who work and participate in the arts.

I will start with a quote from President Michael D. Higgins:

As a society we must come to recognise the arts are as important to our infrastructure as roads, hospitals and schools ... When we support the artists we support a viable democracy.

I call for the PUP to be restored to €350 per week and the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, to €410 per week until the industry reopens without social distancing; a hardship fund created jointly by Arts Council and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection funded with 5% of the overall Arts Council budget and broader criteria to ensure the commercial live music sector can avail of council funding.

I will finish with a quote from Senator Frances Black:

The Irish have always used music as an expression of joy, sadness, struggle and resistance. Live music has been shown to lower stress levels, increase social bonds and generally increase well-being.

The Minister needs to now listen to the President and people such as Senator Black and help the well-being of our country.

Arts, culture and heritage are important all over the country but in no other county are they more important, in my humble opinion, than County Kerry. We are rich in the world of arts because we have produced so many important people who have made such an impact in Ireland. I will give just one example off the top of my head of Cill Rialaig Arts Centre in Ballinskelligs. It was the brainchild of Ms Noelle Campbell-Sharp who did great work with other artists. She brought thousands of people to that area. People have gone into a village that was derelict and falling into decay. There are great people like Mr. Nicholas Brown, who is the chairperson of a local committee, and all the others who worked diligently in ensuring that excellent facility was there for past, present and future up-and-coming artists and people who need to go to a special place to use their brains in only the way they can. We must support that type of work. I compliment people such Ms Kate Kennelly, who was our arts and heritage officer in County Kerry for many years, and our local authority, Kerry County Council, for the excellent work it has done in promoting the arts.

In all parts of the county, we have produced excellent people who have made a valuable and important contribution. Even during times of difficulty, the financial recession and the present difficulties we have, it is terribly important that we continue to support artists and to remember that during the present crisis we have entertainers who used to entertain every night of the week. Now they cannot perform what they are good at and we must support those people.

I only have a short time but I could talk about this for the whole evening.

Music, song, dance and our cultural artists are so important, and they have gone through a very tough time this year in Kerry. Sliabh Luachra, Nickie McAuliffe, Derry Healy, Neily O'Connor and others play music for free at events for the elderly. I had the pleasure of playing for an elderly woman the other night, Hannah O'Shea, who is 105 years old and lives on the Lewis Road in Killarney. She was absolutely delighted.

I have seen music played for elderly people, some with Alzheimer's disease, in groups and have seen them tapping to the music. They might be elderly, sick and suffering but when someone plays them a few tunes they start tapping to the music. It really makes a difference. The psychological well-being and mental well-being of people is so important.

We must do something for the artists who are on their knees at present and have nowhere to get funding. We must open up some avenues for them and ensure they get some social welfare payment because many of them are not getting it. I could say much more about the importance of playing music, song, dance and storytelling. All that kind of thing is so important, and I hope we do not lose it because of this pandemic.

I will be sharing time. Working in the arts is probably the most precarious of precarious jobs. The sector has been extremely hard hit by the Covid-19 restrictions. The National Campaign for the Arts, NCFA, has said that 68% of its members have been relying on the pandemic unemployment payment and have been severely impacted by the reductions introduced last month and in July. Many artists and those working in the arts make a living through a combination of self-employed income and PAYE income, probably through a part-time irregular job. However, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection does not allow them to combine the self-employed and PAYE income for consideration in calculating the pandemic unemployment payment.

A number of these workers whose payment was reduced to €203 after the July reduction contacted me. They had appealed on a number of occasions to the Department dealing with the PUP rerating. One woman had been in contact about six times and she contacted me. She had included her tax returns from 2018 and 2019. On the same morning I received an email from the Department's PUP team stating that she was rerated back up to €350, she got another email from the same team stating that she was refused again. I made representations for about 12 of these workers. Every one of them got rerated back up to €350 after they had appealed about six times, which is a very high rate of cases overturned on appeal. It would normally be about one or two out of ten.

It is important for the Minister to step in and support these workers or else they will be absolutely decimated. This will have an impact on them paying for mortgages, rent, electricity, food, etc. If we do not back these workers up now, they will not back us up in the future and they will not thank us for it. It is important for the Minister to intervene to do that.

I have received hundreds of emails from constituents across County Donegal who are involved in the arts and the associated live events industry, pleading for assistance. More importantly, they are looking for a simple recognition from the Government that their sector has been decimated. However, the Minister should dispense with the usual bland lip service. From talking to performers, I know the hardships they face in making a living in the industry at the best of times. I am sure we have all seen the emails from the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland, outlining the problems its members face. Nearly 20% of them say they are facing a decline in their mental health. Many have had to sell equipment or are in arrears with utility bills.

One of the major flaws with the Government is its over-reliance on reaction to questions and appeals from the Opposition, bombarding us with a plethora of generalised information on what it claims it is doing. Knee-jerk schemes for various things have been the order of the day. It does this without any apparent consideration as to whether these much-trumpeted schemes are properly funded to achieve the aims set. It never considers if these much-lauded schemes address the concerns or problems highlighted by the people they are meant to assist. Once the Government has created a press release, it has decided the aim from the point of view of the Government.

My message for the Minister is simple. To start with she should speak to the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to ensure the Covid payments are restored to the previous levels. Based on the NPHET advice, we are nowhere near the end of the Covid crisis. It was a mean-spirited, naïve and premature to cut the payments. If she achieves that, she will have done some good.

She should look at schemes that will allow artists to produce content and put money in their pockets without reams of red tape because that is also a killer. This should be disbursed at a national, regional and local level but we must ensure the level of funding available is tangible and the innovation of the arts sector might just surprise us all then.

I thank Deputies for their contributions to the debate. I recognise that everyone who has contributed is as passionate about the arts as I am. I looked across the House during the debate and I saw so many Deputies like me who have that background. Many Deputies are steeped in a great wealth of arts and music and I recognise the real knowledge they have.

I will try to respond to as many of the queries I can, given the time available to me. I am acutely aware of the difficulties facing the arts, culture, audiovisual, live entertainment and events sector. I have made it my business to meet the representative organisations across that sector to listen to their concerns and the proposals they have for alleviating the difficulties they face so that when we are designing schemes I am doing it having listened to the needs that are being pointed out to me. I have done it in consultation with them, which is key. There is no point in designing schemes unless consultation has happened with the musicians, performers and all those who work in the industry.

I have had several meetings with the National Campaign for the Arts, the Event Industry Alliance, the Arts Council, Screen Ireland and the national cultural institutions. Officials in my Department consult widely and continually with the sector and meet stakeholders on a regular basis. I am aware of the issues and am committed to ensuring the Government provides appropriate supports.

A number of Deputies raised the pandemic unemployment payment. I am conscious that the changes to it and to the wage subsidy scheme affect the lives of thousands of artists and workers across the arts, culture and live entertainment sector in a devastating way. I understand these supports are needed now more than ever. I have raised these matters with my Cabinet colleagues in the context of the budget, recognising that there will be a long period in which we will have to live with the virus and the difficulties that raises, especially in the arts and culture sectors.

Several Deputies mentioned the live performance scheme. As I emphasised during Question Time last week, that is a pilot scheme of €5 million to see if it would work and that would inform me in my negotiations on the budget. It certainly did work because there was an enormous response to it. That scheme was developed in consultation with the sector and with EPIC. Over 100 applications have been received requesting funding amounting to over €15 million when €5 million was provided. That really strengthens my case as I negotiate for bigger and better, and what is needed. That is why it was a pilot scheme. The main objective of the scheme was the provision of employment for the artists, the creative technicians and their support staff.

Deputy Cathal Crowe raised the issue of Irish dancing. As Minister, I have responsibility for both sport and the arts and my officials will examine the protocols for dancing. He also mentioned artists in the community. We have artists going into schools, which we called creative schools, and I agree with the Deputy that it is a wonderful initiative. That is why we have expanded it this year. It is a wonderful way of employing artists and letting them engage with and inspire children and young people. We have an additional 164 creative schools this year.

Deputy Gannon raised the Arts Council. He is not here but he may appreciate that I am not privy to operational matters. I give him a commitment that I will get back to him if he wishes to contact me or give the details to my officials.

Deputy Grealish mentioned the regional uplift. While budget 2021 is a matter for the Minister for Finance, I will take every opportunity at Cabinet to highlight the importance and value of the cultural and audiovisual sectors and the benefits of increasing investment in them.

Deputy Guirke raised musicians and we are looking at a number of initiatives to support them especially. I have met members of MEAI, and my officials are in ongoing engagement with them.

I assure Deputy Boyd Barrett that I am far from silent on this issue and I think my Cabinet colleagues will attest to that. We had a conversation last week about how passionate I am and I share the passion of so many Deputies who come from this background. We are fortunate to have a world-class animation sector. Due to the nature of the work, animation has largely been able to continue through the crisis by means of remote working. Earlier this year, in response to measures introduced to curb the spread of the virus live action production was suspended. This also has an impact on post-production and visual effects providers but since the end of June, this has started to recommence and I am pleased to note that within the period three productions successfully resumed and were completed. The audiovisual sector provides important employment and training opportunities and, therefore, it is of significant importance to the economy, to those working in the industry and indeed to audiences that productions return.

I will definitely look into Deputy Ó Cathasaigh's suggestion to commission, record and archive.

I completely agree with Deputy Ó Broin's analysis of the events industry. In particular, in my opening remarks I stated that it is worth €3.5 billion and it is very difficult for this sector which has never had to engage with Government previously. We are continuing that engagement and since he queried it, my officials did consult EPIC on the live performance scheme. Some of the arrangements of the scheme were suggested by EPIC.

Regarding the points made by Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, the dementia-inclusive live azure tours are delivered via Zoom and are available to people living with dementia, their families, friends and professional carers. They are provided on a scheduled, monthly basis for individuals and are bookable on demand for nursing home groups. The programme aims to make art galleries and museums around Ireland dementia-friendly spaces and the tours will be delivered in collaboration with the Alzheimer's Society of Ireland and promoted through the HSE Dementia: Understand Together network. We know of the love both Deputies Healy-Rae have for music as they have brought it to the gates of Leinster House to celebrate their election. As an island, we will not take one county dominating in our arts and music as all 32 counties can claim their artists, their musicians and their actors. We are a country rich in such people and every county can claim greatness when it comes to that. It is the beauty of our nation and one of the reasons we need to protect it.

Deputy Boyd Barrett referred to a legacy of lip service being paid to the arts, musicians and actors. We had this debate last week and I fully agree with him on that. It is time to back that up with the supports that are needed right here and now. We have felt their value through the very tough times but it is much more than that as jobs are on the line and I am very conscious of that. As I said, there is no silence from me at the Cabinet table.

I agree with Deputy O'Connor on the make-up of the task force. I have appointed arts practitioners to the task force, including musicians such Mr. Martin Hayes, Ms Denise Chaila, Ms Eleanor McEvoy and Mr. Pearse Doherty. All members will be consulted widely.

I hope I have addressed all of the questions. If there are outstanding issues, Members should contact me or my officials and we will definitely follow up on them. I will conclude by referring to an interview with the assistant rector at Berlin State Opera, who is an Irishwoman. In a recent interview she was quoted as saying that the arts are seen in Ireland as a luxury whereas in Germany they are seen as a necessity. I have always believed that the arts are a necessity and always have done. During some of our darkest and longest days in the early months of the lockdown, the arts rescued many people from depression and despair. Many more of us were comforted, consoled and cheered by the inspiring performances from Irish artists, actors, singers, poets and songwriters. It is time for us to now rescue them. We cannot constantly have this one-way relationship with this community; they are much more valuable than that. They are invaluable to us and our very heritage. We need the arts like never before. Arts and culture define us as a people. They are at the heart of who we are as a nation. That relationship has to change so it is not one way. Supports are needed now not just to sustain it but to ensure it thrives. That is the determination I am bringing to this portfolio. It is the most challenging of times to be the Minister with responsibility for arts and culture but it is the right time to be here because I am acutely aware of the supports they need and I am determined to get those supports to them.

Tuigeann gach duine san Rialtas go bhfuil na healaíona riachtanach agus tá sé mar dhualgas orm a chinntiú go ndéanfar beart de réir briathar ó thaobh tacaíochta de.