Other Questions

Arts Funding

Francis Noel Duffy

Question:

5. Deputy Francis Noel Duffy asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media if the arts and culture recovery task force has concluded its work; the key recommendations made; and when they will be published. [37040/20]

I congratulate the Minister on initiating and delivering the report of the arts and culture recovery task force. Arts and culture identify us as a nation. Both the Minister and I have participated in the arts and we understand its importance to those involved. Will she discuss the following key recommendations of the report: capacity building and upskilling, and a universal basic income, UBI, pilot scheme?

In line with the commitment in the programme for Government, I established the arts and culture recovery task force to develop a clear approach, informed by the view of stakeholders, to protect and sustain the arts and culture sector through the Covid-19 recovery and beyond. The negative impact of the crisis on the arts, culture and live entertainment sectors has been well established and quantified over recent months in research undertaken by the Arts Council and my Department. As an artist himself and from our numerous conversations about these matters, I know that Deputy Duffy is keenly aware of the devastating impact of the Covid-19 crisis on many of his friends and colleagues working in the sector.

The task force has issued its report and I have brought it to the attention of my Government colleagues and arranged for its publication. Under the chairmanship of Ms Clare Duignan, the members of the task force brought together a depth of knowledge and experience. They produced their report in a matter of weeks and I am grateful to all of the members for their energy, commitment and insights.

The Deputy referred to two specific recommendations in the report. The proposal for a UBI scheme is the key recommendation. There is a commitment in the programme for Government, as the Deputy noted, to request the Low Pay Commission, informed by a review of previous international pilot schemes, to examine the introduction of a pilot scheme in the lifetime of the Government. While this is a matter for the commission, once requested by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to examine the matter, I am personally very supportive of the proposal, which reflects the commitment set out in the programme for Government. I want to see the matter thoroughly examined in the context of the national economic plan. It will ultimately be a decision for the Low Pay Commission, but there are clear reasons that the arts and culture sectors are the right sectors for such a pilot scheme. There have been numerous trials of UBI in other countries, notably Finland, and even a recent call from 500 MPs, lords and local councillors for a trial in the UK. France has had a scheme in place since 1936 that supports artists.

The second recommendation the Deputy referred to is the sectoral capacity building and upskilling scheme for artists and creative workers aimed at recovery and renewal through professional development. This is a measure around learning and development. The task force recommended that a dedicated bespoke scheme of supports is required. It is another proposal that I am anxious for the oversight group to examine.

I thank the Minister for her reply. The Green Party has campaigned for the introduction of universal basic income and successfully negotiated to have it included in the programme for Government. The report sets out an initial pilot scheme for the arts and culture sector, which would be the first time the State will have such a programme. The Green Party has always advocated for the vital role our artists play in maintaining a healthy society. The €4 million capacity building and upskilling funding is welcome. From my participation in the sector as an artist, I believe artists are conduits who reflect society through their work. They often become fused into the heartbeat of their communities. This can bring various mental health issues and, in that regard, I highlight and welcome the Minding Creative Minds recommendation which aims to combat this. Will the Minister discuss the measures she intends to take on mental health arising out the report?

Under the heading Ensuring the Wellbeing of Ireland's Creative and Cultural Community, the task force report recommends the establishment of a programme to provide well-being supports to the creative sector. This is based on programmes such as Minding Creative Minds, an organisation established to offer a free 24-7 well-being and support programme for the Irish music sector. It provides access to an experienced team of trained counsellors and psychotherapists who can offer short-term intervention and advice covering practical, day-to-day issues that cause anxiety and stress.

Covid-19 is bringing a lot of stress into all of our lives. Many of us rely on arts and culture to provide some relief, but those who make the art also need support. I am very supportive of this proposal and I have asked my officials to seek to progress it as soon as possible. This issue needs to be addressed promptly. Just as we miss attending live music gigs and going to theatres, our artists are really missing performing in front of audiences. The interaction between musician and audience is a key part of maintaining positive mental health for artists. They need that support and I will look to address it.

I will end as I began by congratulating the Minister on initiating the task force to protect the arts and culture sector during and beyond the Covid-19 crisis. It is important to see the mental health of artists being supported through initiatives such as Minding Creative Minds. I know the Minister has spent a considerable amount of time pursuing mental health resourcing generally in her time in this House. Funding of our artists through upskilling and capacity building is essential for a vibrant and dynamic sector. Having received funding in the past, I know at first hand how vital it can be, not only to assist creative professionals in their endeavours but also to help us better relate to one another through appreciation of our shared culture and art.

With our colleagues in the Green Party, the Minister and I have long campaigned for the introduction of a universal basic income. It is great to see a pilot scheme of this Green Party policy being acted upon by the Government. Can the Minister give a firm timeline of when a UBI will be in place and operational?

The case for a UBI was well established long before Covid. As I said earlier, those who create artistic or creative work where it is their chief occupation often experience income insecurity and cash flow problems. That was the case pre-Covid and it will be so post Covid. That financial stress can impede creativity. A 2018 review of pay and conditions in the performing arts by Theatre Forum found that 30% of artists and practitioners earn less than the national minimum wage and the circumstances in 2020, of course, are worse. The Deputy referred to the programme for Government commitment to request the Low Pay Commission to examine that. This is a key commitment in the programme for Government.

The task force has suggested that a UBI pilot scheme would cost an additional €2.5 million per annum over and above the current pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, cost per 1,000 participants. We will need to look at other UBI models, such as those in Finland, the Netherlands, Germany and California. The recommendation to undertake a pilot UBI scheme for the arts and culture community brings this debate forward. I really welcome that, as it needs to be treated with the urgency it deserves. I have started those conversations around UBI with my Cabinet colleagues. Workers in the cultural sector need ongoing support if it is to avoid depletion of talent by migration away towards other sources of income.

Radio Broadcasting

Imelda Munster

Question:

6. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media if she plans to introduce further supports for the local radio sector other than the €2.5 million made available earlier in 2020 through the sound and vision fund; if she plans to waive the broadcasting levy for the remainder of 2020 and for the first half of 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37044/20]

I want to ask the Minister whether she has any plans to introduce further supports for the local radio sector other than the €2.5 million made available earlier this year through the sound and vision fund and whether she plans to waive the broadcasting levy for the remainder of 2020 and into 2021.

I thank Deputy Munster for bringing forward this issue. I am acutely aware of the valuable source of reliable and trustworthy news that local radio offers in a time of uncertainty and with much disinformation in circulation. Local radio also plays an important role in bringing communities together, strengthening their bonds of solidarity and mutual support. I recognise the challenges faced by the sector due to Covid-19 and I am pleased the supports in 2020 have provided a valuable source of funding at this challenging time.

During 2020, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, which is statutorily independent, held two closed rounds for radio targeted at the independent commercial and community radio sectors, respectively. In June 2020, the BAI awarded €2.5 million sound and vision funding to 32 independent commercial radio stations across the country supporting public awareness and understanding of Covid-19. This was in addition to a waiver of the broadcasting levy for the independent radio sector for the first and second quarters of 2020, which saved the sector €1 million. I secured €839,000 in budget 2021 to compensate the BAI for this levy waiver.

LMFM, which the Deputy and I are familiar with, was awarded €95,000 under round 35 and a community radio station, Dundalk FM, was awarded €16,945 under round 36. In addition, the BAI distributed €750,000 in a special round for community radio that Dundalk FM benefited from.

The purpose of the sound and vision scheme is to support eligible content across the broadcasting sector as a whole, ensuring a balanced and fair approach. In light of the ongoing challenge faced by the sector, I secured an additional €2 million in Exchequer funding for the sound and vision scheme under the July stimulus package. This has greatly enhanced the funding available for the final round for the scheme this year, round 37, bringing it to a value of €4.5 million.

The BAI continues to report to me quarterly on the impact of Covid-19 on the commercial radio sector. For the Deputy's information, local radio has been included in the Government's current advertising campaign on resilience.

The BAI is currently finalising the most recent round and no decisions regarding 2021 rounds have yet been made. However, the BAI will be meeting with representatives of the commercial radio sector to discuss the approach to sound and vision in the new year. I very much welcome that. That engagement needs to happen. I will continue to work closely with the BAI to see how best we can support this sector.

We are all aware of the importance of local radio, in terms of public service and news roles and also in giving a platform for local artists and community initiatives. The fund of €2.5 million was available for Covid-related programming up until the end of the summer, but since then local radio stations have been in dire straits with a dramatic drop in revenue, and particularly under level 5 restrictions.

There are serious concerns in the sector about the additional €2 million that was allocated under the July stimulus. Is it correct to say that this funding was a separate stream for elements of the radio sector that were not eligible for the previous €2.5 million Covid round? This would mean that local radio stations are not in a position to avail of this round of funding. I wonder if the Minister could clarify this. It would mean, in fact, that they have had no additional help since the end of the summer, for this period and going into 2021. Will the Minister consider making an additional grant available to local radio stations given their dire financial predicament?

I am engaging closely and directly with the stakeholders in this sector. I met with representatives of the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland on Monday last, 16 November. We had a productive discussion on the value of the supports the sector has received during 2020 and a follow-up meeting was held yesterday at official level. I also met with the National Union of Journalists, NUJ, on Tuesday, and my officials will continue the engagement with the NUJ.

On the Deputy's question, local radio stations are in a position to avail of this round. The funding of €2 million which was secured was allocated to the fund for the latest round, round 37. This round was opened for applications on 8 September 2020, with a closing date of 7 October 2020. The BAI will make decisions on the successful applicants over the coming weeks and thereafter it will be a matter for those awarded funding under the scheme to produce the programmes being supported. The BAI will enter into contracts with successful applicants which will determine the manner in which the funds are drawn down and set out the timeline for same.

If there is anything specifically that the Deputy needs information on, I can ask the BAI to engage directly with her too if that would be helpful.

At the most recent committee meeting, the local radio sector representatives were of the opinion that they will not qualify for that grant. Maybe the Minister could clarify it for them for their own needs.

I also asked the Minister about considering an additional grant for local radio stations. Maybe she could clarify whether she intends to give that additional grant.

The BAI levy, as we heard at the committee, is a significant cost to local radio stations. They have received a waiver for the first and second quarters of this year but they are looking, given their financial predicament, to see if that can be waived again for the second part of this year and into 2021. Has the Minister any intention of doing that?

In relation to the levy waiver, the BAI is statutorily independent in its functions, including the levy waiver. The Deputy indicated, and I am keenly aware from my engagement with them and the ongoing direct engagement of my officials with them, that they are in dire straits. As far as I am concerned, I am looking at all the options to support them. I have committed to that. That is why I am having that direct engagement with them.

Will the Minister revert to me on the extension of the waiver?

Absolutely. The Deputy can let me know if she wants me to get the BAI to engage with her, if that helps. I can arrange that too.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

7. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media if she will provide grants and supports to the self-employed and sole traders who work in the arts, entertainment, music and event industry who continue to have work-related overheads despite having little or no work; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35170/20]

At one level the task force report on recovery in arts and culture is welcome. I refer to the proposals for a basic income pilot scheme for those working in the arts, local authority funding to be continued, a support for well-being programmes, upskilling and training, loans for small and medium-sized businesses in the events sector and other proposals such as, importantly, payment for online content. The issue is whether it will be merely an oversight committee discussing this. Will we actually see any of these measures implemented?

Sorry, has the Deputy changed the question? The question I have before me relates to providing grants and supports to the self-employed and sole traders. I have no problem answering questions about the task force. I only want to know whether the Deputy wants that information as well.

Yes. It is one of the proposals in the task force.

On supporting, what is the exact question the Deputy wants me to answer today?

It is about the income supports and other supports for people working in the arts and creative sector.

There are a wide range of supports available to the individuals and businesses whose financial circumstances have been negatively impacted by Covid-19. The particular support depends on the institutional arrangements of the individual or organisation and whether it is a sole trader or an incorporated entity.

Detailed information on all supports is provided on gov.ie and a guide to business supports booklet giving details of the key supports and resources available to help businesses is available also. Businesses may qualify for the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, which I launched earlier this month together with the Minister for Finance. It is a targeted support for businesses significantly impacted by the level 3 or higher restrictions introduced by Government. Qualifying businesses can apply to the Revenue Commissioners for a cash payment in respect of an advanced credit for trading expenses for the period of the restrictions. The scheme will operate until 31 March 2021.

In budget 2021 the Government announced the provision of a support of €50 million for the live entertainment sector after a period of engagement between it and officials from my Department. It is the first time this sector has received direct support and that tells us a lot about the impact of Covid-19. The 2021 supports for the live entertainment sector will be the subject of further consultation with stakeholders as a follow up to the €5 million pilot scheme and I have significantly increased funding to the Arts Council in 2021 from €80 million at the beginning of the year to €130 million in 2021. Since the onset of Covid-19, the Arts Council has extended its reach and in 2020 has provided grants to many individuals and organisations. On the exact proposal or recommendation with the live events and the supports needed in the task force, I am engaging with it already on the €50 million for the live entertainment sector to see how we can improve the €5 million pilot to reach out more and support more.

The CRSS will benefit some in live entertainment and music and that is to be welcomed. The report itself, however, obviously influenced by the campaigning of groups like the Events Industry Alliance and the Event Production Industry Covid-19 Working Group, EPIC, points out that huge numbers of SMEs in the music and live entertainment sector will not qualify for the CRSS because they do not have rateable or public-facing premises and so on. This, by the way, is the same point I have made about taxi drivers. They are excluded from these supports and, in fact, they are probably the people who need the most. It is all very well announcing schemes and having positive proposals from a task force but if they are not implemented it will not mean a hell of a lot to the people who are really on their knees. More widely, it is worrying that there is, from what I can see, no timeline for the universal basic income pilot and in a number of other areas, it seems we are going to follow a task force report with an oversight committee. When is it actually going to happen because it is urgent?

I am very aware there are those in the sector who cannot apply for the CRSS. We met with the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland, MEAI, last week and we have met with representatives from EPIC. We have asked them to consider what changes could be made to the €5 million pilot scheme. That is not just a scheme, we have seen it up and running. Last weekend saw the first events from that €5 million and there will be many more over the coming weeks and covering the Christmas period. These include pantomimes, live performances and musicians performing all across the State. I watched David Kitt play Mike the Pies on Tuesday and there are upcoming performances, including by Lisa Hannigan, Lantern events and the 4 of Us at the Spirit Store. There is a list of instances where we can see this money actually being used and providing a much-needed platform for performers. I am continuing the consultation with the sector to give careful consideration to how we can improve that €50 million on foot of the €5 million to help it, especially those who cannot access the CRSS.

On the UBI, I launched that report this week, only 48 hours ago. I am going to move with the oversight committee as a matter of priority. I cannot provide a timeline immediately. I want to do this properly. We have one shot at this and I want to do it the right way. I am hoping the €50 million will provide the lifeline, as will the other supports I have given throughout the year.

I requested the first debate on the impact of Covid on the arts in the House earlier this year. The central point of what I said at the time was that life, without arts, music and culture, would not be worth living. I am glad to find that sentiment has found its way into the title of the Minister's report. However, while we have all these positive proposals, what has actually happened? Many of the people who really need the help and are fighting for their lives are excluded from the CRSS.

The PUP has been cut for many of the people impacted. I would say that the Department has shelves full of reports on the need for pensions for people in the arts and all sorts of stuff that never happened. Yes, we have made progress in having a few good proposals because of the campaigning by and desperation of those in the sector, but there has to be urgency in their delivery and the idea we are going to have another report on top of the last one is pretty worrying.

Many Deputies feel passionately about the arts, as Deputy Boyd Barrett does. To clarify, it is not my report nor the Department's; this report belongs to those who work in the community, from screen producers to the live events industry to the artists and the cultural institutions. It is their report. These are their recommendations which they have brought to me. It was part of the programme for Government commitment to set up that task force, which I very quickly did, and to get the report in a very quick timeline of six weeks. The task force is to be commended on bringing it down to ten key proposals. What have I done in a number of months? I brought in the €29 million in the July stimulus, €130 million for the Arts Council in 2021 and €50 million for a live event entertainment consultation. The community this impacts welcomed this report. It can trust, given my track record in four months in this position, that I am serious about giving the support to this community which I, like many in this House, feel is an essential part of our identity as a nation.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Bernard Durkan

Question:

8. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media the extent to which she has engaged with all stakeholders in the areas of tourism, culture, arts, Gaeltacht, sport and media with a view to maximising the benefits of Covid-19-related assistance throughout the sectors; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37325/20]

Bernard Durkan

Question:

61. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media the extent of ongoing discussions she continues to have with the major players throughout the tourism, entertainment, sport, arts, media and culture sectors with a view to monitoring the progress to date in the alleviation of the impact of Covid-19; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37326/20]

This question seeks to ascertain the extent to which the Minister remains in contact with the various bodies referred to, with a view to monitoring the impact of Covid and keeping in mind also the potential impact of Brexit, although not mentioned in the questions.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 and 61 together.

While absolutely necessary to protect us all, the impact of the public health guidelines has been extremely challenging for the sectors supported by my Department. These sectors are integral to our society; supporting economic activity; and enhancing physical and societal well-being. The public-facing and audience-driven nature of those sectors means that each time there is an escalation in the level applicable under the Plan for Living with Covid-19, these sectors are often the hardest hit. My officials and I are acutely aware of the need to support our sectors through these challenging times and have been in regular and sustained contact with a broad range of stakeholders over the past weeks and months. In addition to bilateral engagements with a wide range of stakeholders and agencies under the aegis of the Department, a number of task forces and consultative forums have been established in relation to the particular difficulties facing these sectors. This includes the Tourism Recovery Task Force, the Tourism Hospitality Forum, the Arts and Culture Recovery Task Force, and the Sports Monitoring Group. These involve a broad range of stakeholders with experience and insight to develop sustainable road maps for the recovery of these sectors. This engagement led to the very favourable outcomes achieved for these sectors in the context of the July stimulus and budget 2021. I will continue this positive engagement with the sectors and consider the views and recommendations of these task forces and consultative forums in regard to any further necessary measures or supports required as a consequence of Covid-19. That engagement is key to informing our decisions so we do the right things.

The Deputy will be aware that I put in place substantial measures in budget 2021 to support and strengthen the sectors. This engagement with stakeholders has been key in providing a comprehensive response to the impact of Covid-19. In tandem with these support measures, consultative groups were established in both the sport and culture sectors to ensure the necessary guidance and supports are in place to comply with the requirements of the Government’s Plan for Living with Covid-19, including the Expert Group on the Return to Sport and the National Cultural Institutions Consultative Forum. I am also engaging with the stakeholders across the broadcasting and media sector and the Deputy would have heard me describing some of the meetings that have happened this week earlier in the debate. I note particularly the important advocacy role played by agencies under the aegis of my Department. Agencies, including the Arts Council, Screen Ireland, Fáilte Ireland and Sport Ireland, have worked diligently with my officials to raise awareness of the challenges facing our sectors and to identify ways to support them through this pandemic.

The need for important public health measures such as social distancing has placed necessary limits on gatherings to protect public health. Some of the key measures that have been introduced in 2020 to help the sectors within my Department's remit include and additional €25 million for the Arts Council, a €5 million live events pilot scheme, €5 million to support the national cultural institutions, NCIs, and nationwide arts infrastructure.

There is also a €5 million company stabilisation support for Gaeltacht companies, the stay and spend tax credit initiative, a €26 million adaptation grant for the tourism sector, a €10 million grant for coach tourism, €40 million for the three main field sport bodies, namely, the GAA, the IRFU and the FAI, and a €15 million fund for sport governing bodies and clubs. The universal income supports of the pandemic unemployment payment and the wage subsidy scheme have been key to supporting all sectors throughout the crisis. The extension of both of these schemes has provided some much needed certainty.

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive reply and I compliment her for the interventions that have been made and the support already offered. Has the Minister continued to monitor this, as it impacts more on some organisations than others and it impacts more on the income streams of some than others? Having monitored the situation, to what degree will the Minister be in a position to offer further measures of support if required?

I continue to monitor it through the ongoing engagement. It is absolutely critical to provide the correct supports, for example, the €50 million live events scheme, from which I hope some in the Deputy's constituency will benefit. We are tweaking what happened with the €5 million pilot scheme to find ways to reach those we did not reach.. We are looking to see how best we can implement the tourism recovery task force but the Deputy can already see that we have brought in a fund in the budget to provide support for strategic tourism businesses. The supports and engagement will change with the ever-changing nature of Covid and all Ministers in every Department will have to be cognisant of finding the right supports and we will continue with this engagement to inform it.

Keeping in mind Brexit, which will also impact on most of the organisations concerned, does the Minister have in place a procedure that triggers alarm bells in the event of particular or specific issues arising well in advance of the need to respond?

Absolutely, and as a Minister I am keenly aware that we have to be ready if alarm bells ring. We are watching the situation and closely monitoring it. The officials are engaged, there is cross-departmental engagement and we will be ready to react if needs be. Hopefully this will not arise but we have to be ready.

I thank the Minister.

Irish Language

Violet-Anne Wynne

Question:

9. Deputy Violet-Anne Wynne asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media her views on amending section 9 of the Official Languages Act 2003 and the 2008 regulations to include a provision similar to that which exists in Wales, which would require public bodies to place the Irish language text in such a position as that it is likely to be read first. [37159/20]

Anyone who has read Brian Friel's play Translations will know an eviction of sorts took place in the 1840s, when the Royal Engineers came and changed the names of all logainmneacha throughout the country. He stated "a civilisation can be imprisoned in a linguistic contour which no longer matches the landscape of fact". I ask whether a similar situation to what is in Wales could be brought in here, whereby the signs are changed back to Irish.

The programme for Government acknowledges the importance of the Irish language as the first language of the State, as a living language and as a vital component of the heritage of this island. It commits to increasing the visibility of our native language and its daily use in the community and to a series of measures which will help to achieve these objectives. The Minister, Deputy Martin, and I are working together to achieve these important objectives.

These measures will build on existing legislation, policies and schemes in place to support the language. In relation to the specific matter raised by the Deputy, the primary objective the Official Languages Act 2003 is to ensure the improved provision of public services through the Irish language. The Act provides for the delivery of public services in Irish in three ways. These are through provisions of the Act, which are applicable to all public bodies under the Act, through regulations made by the Minister, which again are applicable to all public bodies under the Act, and through language schemes which are agreed with individual public bodies and which provide for an increase over time in the number and standard of services provided in Irish by these individual public bodies.

I welcome the Deputy’s interest in strengthening the Irish language. As the Deputy is aware, a Bill is currently before the House with a view to strengthening the 2003 Act. The Minister, Deputy Martin, and I are of the same mind that this Bill, and the amendments therein, are very important to the Irish language and that they will help to strengthen the Irish language in the State system so that high quality Irish language services will be available to the Irish speaking and Gaeltacht communities.

In relation to the specific amendment raised in the question, the measure suggested is covered by the existing provisions of SI No. 391 of 2008. Section 7(1) of this regulation provides that, in respect of stationery, the text in the Irish language shall appear first while, in respect of signage, excluding road signage which does not come within the scope of the Act, the text in the Irish language shall also appear first.

I hope this clarifies the matter. We will work constructively with every party and Member of the House. Yesterday, I spoke to the Deputy's party colleague, Deputy Ó Snodaigh, about trying to progress the official languages Bill through the House, and amendments will arise on strengthening the Bill from all Members and we will work constructively in this regard to get it right.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply. In Scotland, the decision has been delegated to local councils so if people go through Motherwell they will see Tobar na Màthar is written at the railway station. If people drive through Wales the priority is the Welsh language. People catching the ferry will see a sign for Abertawe but they might not necessarily know it is Swansea. The Minister of State referred to SI No. 391 of 2008. The difficulty with this and road signs is that the Irish language tends to be smaller and in italics, whereas the English language is in capital letters and much bigger. For example, someone driving through east Limerick sees a sign for Oola, and this spelling is ridiculous. What really should be there is the Irish language Úlla, which means apples, and this is what should be prioritised.

I share the Deputy's view on this and we have to enhance the regulations and the underpinning legislation. The Minister, Deputy Martin, and I hope to meet the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, who has a role in the legislative context, and the Minister for Transport on how guidelines are issued for road signage. It has to be a visible language in our road signage and the Deputy has identified the issues that are there plain and simple with the example of Oola in east Limerick. I share the Deputy's concerns about this. We have to strengthen it in the context of the legislation we are progressing and the responsibilities that fall throughout Government with other Ministers who have responsibility for transport and for housing, heritage and local government. We will shortly meet with both Ministers to discuss this matter and try to provide a new context and learn from examples, and the Deputy has mentioned Scotland and other places.

In politics and language visibility is very important. The regulation in Wales states that when a new sign is being erected, a sign is being renewed, or a notice is published or displayed that conveys the same information in Welsh and English, the Welsh language text must be positioned so it is likely to be read first. This is the opposite of what happens here. I am glad I can hear the enthusiasm of the Minister of State for this. In Wales, it applies to all signs. I can flesh it out during Private Members' time if the Minister of State wishes. It can quite easily be done through changing the regulations so we do not drive through west Cork and see a sign for Snave, which is Snámh in Irish. The intention of the regulations brought in was to ensure there is an understanding of what Brian Friel spoke about regarding the topography of the area. This can be easily done through prioritising Irish.

I fully share the Deputy's view on this. We need to learn from comparative examples in our close neighbours. The Deputy referenced Wales and Scotland. We will engage with other Ministers who have regulations specifically referenced in this regard. We will also engage with the committee. We should improve this and change the current context, which in my view is not satisfactory if we want to have a living language and if it is our primary language as per the Constitution.

It is clear there is a relative inferiority on road signs and that is not positive for the language. However, with cross-government engagement and engagement across the House, we can provide changes in that regard. In the first instance, we have to engage with our colleagues and then have a discussion on the regulations. I appreciate the Deputy raising the issue.

Tourism Industry

Cathal Crowe

Question:

10. Deputy Cathal Crowe asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media the supports from a tourism perspective that will be provided to a company (details supplied) in order to help it keep its key tourism sites in the mid-west open from 1 January 2021 onwards. [37157/20]

Yet again, there is huge uncertainty in the mid-west pertaining to the Shannon Heritage sites and whether they will be open or closed in the new year. I would very much like to know what proposals the Department has to engage with the Shannon Group to ensure these sites do not close and that jobs are not lost there.

The management of Shannon Heritage sites, including their opening arrangements, is an operational matter for Shannon Heritage and Shannon Group plc, which is a commercial State body under the aegis of the Department of Transport. As Shannon Group operates in both the aviation and tourism sectors, it has been severely impacted by Covid-19. With regard to tourism, budget 2021 included a number of substantial measures to support and strengthen the tourism sector and they are supplemented by the economy-wide business supports and social welfare measures. The total funding for the tourism sector will increase in 2021 by more than €59 million, or 36%, over the initial 2020 allocation in budget 2020 to €220.9 million. Combined with other measures such as the Covid resilience support scheme, CRSS, and the rates waiver, the Government is helping to sustain businesses that have been most severely affected by the necessary public health restrictions.

As part of the budget package of measures, €55 million has been provided for business continuity schemes for strategic tourism businesses to help them survive through the pandemic and be there to help drive the recovery. This funding will be administered by Fáilte Ireland and focused on those strategic businesses. Fáilte Ireland is currently engaging with those tourism sectors in the design of funding schemes, taking into account the effect of other horizontal funding measures, such as CRSS.

The VAT rate for the sector is reduced to 9%, which will improve the competitiveness and viability of businesses. Funding of €5 million has also been provided for focused upskilling training to support business survival and recovery in the sector, and for the improvement of the digital presence and e-commerce capability of tourism businesses. Investment in the tourism marketing fund has been maintained to ensure that Ireland is in a position to recover quickly, when it is safe for tourists to return from our key markets.

In response to the impacts of Covid-19, the Government has put in place a range of supports to help business and our citizens face the challenges presented by this global pandemic. I would encourage the entity responsible for the management of the sites concerned to liaise with Fáilte Ireland on what State supports might be available. Horizontal supports include the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, the rates waiver, VAT warehousing and CRSS.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The tourism recovery task force undertook a comprehensive analysis of the impact of Covid-19 on the sector and drew up a recovery plan containing more than 30 recommendations across a number of areas, designed to help the sector to survive and recover from the crisis out to 2023. Its short-term recommendations informed the sector-specific measures adopted in the budget. To help inform my ongoing response to the pandemic, I will shortly appoint an oversight group which will monitor the implementation of the recovery plan, as well as the recovery of the tourism sector in general.

It is very much a case of déjà vu or Groundhog Day, call it what one likes. Once again, the management of Shannon Group is saying that, due to the downturn in international tourism and ongoing loss-making, it will be forced to close iconic sites such as Bunratty Castle and King John's Castle from January onwards, and that these sites will remain closed until the start of the summer season. Bunratty Castle dates back to the 15th century and King John's Castle to the 13th century. The combined Shannon Heritage sites in the mid-west employ some 350 employees, with 145 of these working on a 12-month, all-year-round basis. They are of strategic importance in the mid-west region and both sites enjoyed a bumper season of domestic tourism this summer. If we close them, what chance are we giving our region? If we close them, we cause immeasurable damage to the supply chains of the hotels, restaurants and bars which are already struggling.

The Department proposes to bring forward proposals to Cabinet on how Shannon Heritage sites can be run and managed in the near future. The threat of closure gives added urgency to this, given we do not know what the future holds for Shannon Heritage. We also need to know what will happen at Craggunowen Castle, Dunguaire Castle and Knappogue Castle.

With regard to Shannon Heritage specifically, a commitment was made by the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, to provide funding to ensure that Bunratty Castle and Folk Park and King John's Castle, which were due to close at the end of August, could remain open until the end of 2020, subject to public health measures. It is open to Shannon Heritage to explore further the various support mechanisms now available to it, and I would encourage it to liaise with Fáilte Ireland on what State supports might be available.

I know this is something the Deputy raised with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, earlier this week. If there is funding available from his Department, that is a matter for him, and I know he has spoken on this issue and is aware of the challenges the company faces. As part of the budget package of measures for various strategic tourism businesses, €55 million has been provided for the business continuity scheme to help businesses survive through the pandemic and be there to help drive the recovery. I would encourage Shannon Heritage to explore further the various support mechanisms now available to it from Fáilte Ireland. However, it should be noted that as a subsidiary of a State company, this may impact on its eligibility.

The Minister is correct that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform awarded €2.6 million to keep the sites from closing last August. However, it subsequently transpired that the net figure in terms of meeting operational costs and averting closure from August to December was €550,000. If these sites were closed again in January, it would cost the State in the region of €1 million to keep the employees supported on unemployment payments. As the cost of keeping them open is €550,000, it does not make economic sense to close them. There should already be a pot of money available to the Government to facilitate this. The Government did the right thing to save jobs and avert closures of these iconic sites last August. I again appeal to Mary Considine and her management team at the Shannon Group to engage with the Government, as the Minister has invited them to do, and once again strike such a deal.

I will conclude by referencing the motto emblazoned across the Clare County crest - dílis dár n-oidhreachta; loyal to our heritage. For the sake of workers, for the sake of tourism and for the sake of the mid-west region and its economy, we have to be loyal to our heritage sites at a time of need.

I point out the management of Shannon Heritage sites, including their opening arrangements, is an operational matter for Shannon Heritage and the Shannon Group, which is a commercial State body under the aegis of the Department of Transport, not the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. Within my remit, I can point to the extensive supports that have been introduced economy-wide and specifically within the tourism sector to support businesses, and which Shannon Heritage can avail of. This is a very difficult time for Shannon Heritage and I am very aware of that. I will liaise with my Cabinet colleagues to see how best they will continue the engagement.

Question No. 11 replied to with Written Answers.

Irish Language

Rose Conway-Walsh

Question:

12. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media if there will be any funding difference between Scéim Pobal Gaeilge located in an area with an Irish language network or a Gaeltacht service town. [37345/20]

This question is about the language community schemes, which are essential for the promotion of the Irish language in Mayo and elsewhere. The scheme makes it possible to employ a language development officer, to provide funding to run an office and to provide activities to promote the Irish language. I ask if there will be any funding difference between language community schemes located in an area with an Irish language network or a Gaeltacht services town.

Budget 2021 provided an indicative increase of €1.779 million for cross-Border co-operation in the languages sector. This includes funding of €450,000 for commitments made by the Southern Government under New Decade, New Approach. The 2021 allocation, which is subject to further discussion with the Department for Communities in the North and the Deputy's colleague there, and to approval by the North South Ministerial Council, would allow Foras na Gaeilge, one of the agencies of An Foras Teanga, expand its language and cultural programmes to new areas and increase funding, where appropriate, for existing language groups, to include those funded under An Scéim Pobal Gaeilge, SPG.

A primary objective of the revised SPG will be to support Government policies, North and South: in the South, as set out in the Gaeltacht Act 2012 in respect of Irish language networks and Gaeltacht service towns; and in the North, as demonstrated in the strategy to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language. The new scheme, the funding levels of which are currently being finalised by Foras na Gaeilge, will be advertised in the new year. As part of a progressive approach, it is envisaged that the new scheme will be focused on the principles of language planning and that a long-term objective of the scheme would be that applicants eventually achieve recognition as an Irish language network.

My Department currently approves language plans for Irish language networks and Gaeltacht service towns which can apply for a further €80,000 per annum, through Údarás na Gaeltachta or Foras na Gaeilge, depending on their location, for the plan's implementation on top of the funding received under SPG. Due to their populations and size, the cities of Galway and Cork will be awarded an additional €100,000 in total towards the implementation of their language plans. All in all, therefore, this represents a significantly increased level of funding available to SPGs operating within Irish language networks and Gaeltacht service towns when compared to those operating outside these areas.

The Minister of State has given me an assurance that no consideration has been given to proposals that would cut funding for the language community schemes based in the towns.

I know from my constituency that there are cases where a scheme seeking to become a Gaeltacht service town are concerned that they may lose funding as a result. That would result in them being unable to continue employing an Irish language development officer. I take the Minister of State's assurance that there are no plans to cut the funding of these schemes, despite the fact that the schemes have been very successful in promoting the Irish language outside the Gaeltacht. I welcome the extra funding for Foras na Gaeilge in budget 2021. It is imperative that the additional funding ensures that no difference will be made between any scéim pobal Gaeilge, SPG, located in an area with an Irish language network or a Gaeltacht service town.

In line with the 20-year strategy for the Irish language and Foras na Gaeilge's understanding of best practice in promoting the Irish language it is recognised that there should be an emphasis on long-term, strategic language planning. Preliminary consultation meetings were held by Foras na Gaeilge, in conjunction with Conradh na Gaeilge and Glór na nGael, with stakeholders in 2019. Other preliminary meetings were held in June this year, which were attended by more than 80 people, on the recommendations of a consultation document.

The criteria of the scheme will be based on the main language planning areas and on language planning principles, including the areas criteria in use by Foras na Gaeilge for the Irish language networks in the North and by the Government in the South for the language planning process. I might go into further detail on that when I come back in but as the Deputy will know from the budgetary allocation for the entire Gaeltacht area, it is an expansionary budget to support the Irish language and the language planning officers. Fears of cuts are mislaid. I know in the Deputy's county of Mayo, where I have many family members, the importance of the language planning system. We are working to try to put a long-term framework around that through Foras na Gaeilge.

It is very welcome if the Minister of State is saying that people do not need to be concerned about any differentiation in how the money is allocated. From my engagement with the people involved I would argue that €55,000 needs to be confirmed for each scheme in the new SPG. There is a need for the Department to ensure that the increased funding in the budget is reflected in the funding that actually reaches the SPGs. I would encourage the Minister to engage further with Foras na Gaeilge to make sure that this happens. I thank him for the reassurances he has given and I take it as a commitment that there will be no differentiation between the moneys allocated.

In my previous answer I gave clarity on that. There will be ongoing engagement with Foras na Gaeilge in the long-term planning process. As I said, the Department is providing separate support for Scéim Pobal Gaeilge. We are being thorough around that. We have to align it to the 20-year language planning process but in the context of workers and language planning officers, we are trying to retain, enhance and expand that concept across the country, particularly in Gaeltacht areas, some of which are in the Deputy's constituency where there is a strong essence of the language. I hope that provides clarity. I am happy to engage with the Deputy separately on it. We are agreeing the Foras na Gaeilge funding through the North-South process. We will have a meeting on that in the next couple of weeks when I hope we can get the budget agreed and ensure certainty for next year.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Imelda Munster

Question:

13. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media if she will consider the creation of a Covid-19 media task force to address the ongoing crisis in the sector in the short term as a result of the pandemic; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37042/20]

I ask if the Minister will consider the creation of a Covid-19 media task force to address the ongoing crisis in the sector in the short term as a result of the pandemic, and if she will make a statement on the matter.

I thank Deputy Munster for her question. The Government is critically aware of the importance of a vibrant, diverse and independent media, which is essential to our democracy and to our cultural development. The sector is undergoing fundamental change which extends well beyond the current Covid difficulties and there are significant and complex challenges to be faced to ensure a sustainable future for our local, regional and national media. That is why the programme for Government committed to a Future of Media Commission and brought policy responsibility for media functions under the remit of my Department.

The Government has moved quickly to establish the Future of Media Commission under the chairmanship of Professor Brian MacCraith. The commission has already commenced its work and will examine all of these issues and consult widely with the sector.  I look forward to receiving the commission's report next year.

In parallel to this development, I have been meeting the sector to discuss the longer-term issues impacting on its sustainability, as well as the more immediate challenges relating to Covid-19.

A number of measures have already been put in place to support the sector. In addition to the general Covid supports available to all businesses such as the employment wage subsidy scheme, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, waived the broadcasting levy for the independent radio sector for quarters 1 and 2 of 2020 saving the sector €1 million, and I secured funding in budget 2021 to recoup the BAI for this waiver.  A special sound and vision funding round of €2.5 million was provided to the commercial sector over the summer months.  There was also a special sound and vision round of €750,000 for the community radio sector.  I have also provided  an additional €2 million for sound and vision under the July stimulus package. 

The BAI is reporting to me quarterly on the impacts on the commercial radio sector and these reviews will help to inform what, if any, additional measures may need to be taken in that sector. 

I am currently considering what further measures might be appropriate to support the sector through the Covid-19 pandemic and while task forces have been used across sectors such as tourism and culture, this would not necessarily be the most effective means to address the media sector, particularly when the Future of Media Commission has already commenced its work and is due to report within nine months.  I intend, however, to continue to engage closely with the sector to ensure that it is sustained through this challenging period.

The Future of Media Commission is up and running and it will examine a wide range of issues but the question relates to concerns within the sector in terms of the length of time it will take to report. Does the Minister have a particular date in mind because there are concerns that it will go right into 2022, which is a long time to wait for a sector that has been severely affected by the Covid-19 crisis? The Minister stated that she had set up other Covid-19 task forces on tourism, etc., in her Department but it is something to consider given the serious issues facing the media. We are talking about a short-term task force, literally to address their financial straits. We had spoken earlier about the financial situation local radio is in given the dramatic loss in revenue. We spoke also about the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland's request to have the levy extended for the second half of this year and into next year, again due to its dire financial circumstances. Would the Minister consider it given what I have outlined?

The Future of Media Commission has already been established. It has met twice since its establishment. It has a strategic role in regard to the future vision, structuring and funding of media. On when it will report, it is due to report within nine months. That was announced on the date the commission was established. That is an ambitious timescale given the complexity of the issues relating to the future of media but I have full confidence in the commission under the chairmanship of Professor Brian MacCraith.

My approach to this sector is to engage directly with its representatives in bodies across the sector. I met the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland representatives on Monday. We had a productive discussion on the value of the supports to the sector received through 2020 and they outlined their proposals for additional supports for the sector. I asked for the engagement to continue in recognition of the urgency of the situation and a follow-up meeting was held yesterday at official level. I met also the National Union of Journalists on Tuesday of this week and my officials will also have a follow-up meeting with them. I am undertaking to continue this close engagement to ensure the appropriate measures are put in place to support the sector through the crisis.

I thank the Minster but as she is aware, I am talking about the short-term media Covid task force. It would address the Covid-specific issues I have outlined, which have literally turned the sector upside down over the past nine months and which, unfortunately, will be with us for the foreseeable future. The Minister said the commission will address the issues into the future in a long-term way but I am sure she has been lobbied by various stakeholders offering ideas and solutions and airing their problems and concerns that have yet to be addressed. We had the media representatives before the Joint Committee on Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht and they echoed similar concerns. As I said, they are concerned that there is no end date in terms of the report of the Future of Media Commission.

They specifically expressed the need for something in the short term to deal with Covid-specific issues. Would it be something the Minister would consider given the dire financial circumstances they are in?

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.