Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Coláistí Samhraidh

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

49. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh den Aire Turasóireachta, Cultúir, Ealaíon, Gaeltachta, Spóirt agus Meán cén pacáiste tacaíochta a bheas ar fáil do na coláistí, do na hallaí pobail agus do na mná agus na fir tí a bheas thíos leis toisc nach mbeidh daltaí dara leibhéal in ann freastal ar choláistí samhraidh Gaeltachta arís i mbliana mar a bhíodh roimh an bpaindéim. [22312/21]

Cad é an pacáiste tacaíochta a bheas ar fáil do na coláistí samhraidh, na hallaí pobail agus na mná tí agus fir thí a bheas thíos leis toisc nach mbeidh coláistí samhraidh ag dul chun cinn i mbliana? Má théann siad chun cinn, ní bheidh siad ar an tslí a mbíodar dhá bhliain ó shin.

I gcomhthéacs an chúraim atá ar an Roinn tacú le hearnáil na gcoláistí samhraidh agus ar mhaithe le soiléiriú a dhéanamh oiread is féidir ar na bunriachtanais a chaithfí a chomhlíonadh i gcás go mbeadh cúrsaí Gaeilge in ann dul ar aghaidh an samhradh seo, scaipeadh dréacht-treoirlínte maidir le Covid-19 ar earnáil na gcoláistí Gaeilge ag tús na seachtaine seo caite. Is ar lucht stiúrtha na gcoláistí Gaeilge agus ar theaghlaigh cháilithe Ghaeltachta a chuireann lóistín ar fáil dóibh atá na treoirlínte dírithe. Ós rud é go dtagann na treoirlínte seo faoi réir pé rialacháin agus comhairle sláinte phoiblí atá i bhfeidhm ag aon am faoi leith, aithnítear go bhféadfadh athruithe teacht orthu le linn an ama. Is dréachtcháipéis bheo í dá réir.

Bhí sraith chruinnithe agam féin agus ag feidhmeannaigh na Roinne le seachtain anuas le hionadaíocht ó na teaghlaigh Ghaeltachta a chuireann lóistín ar fáil do na coláistí agus le scáthghrúpa na gcoláistí samhraidh, Comhchoiste Náisiúnta na gColáistí Samhraidh, CONCOS, tar éis na deise a bhí tugtha do gach éinne na dréacht-treoirlínte a mheas. Anuas ar an gcomhairliúchán seo, chas mé le toscaireacht ó choistí na hallaí pobail i gConamara níos túisce i mbliana chun a gcuid riachtanais a phlé. Ina theannta sin, tugadh deis do pháirtithe leasmhara a gcuid tuairimí faoi na treoirlínte réamhluaite a roinnt i scríbhinn leis an Roinn le seachtain anuas.

Is é an cuspóir atá leis an mbeart comhairliúcháin seo trí chéile ná a chur ar shúile gach éinne a bhfuil baint acu leis an earnáil cad iad na himpleachtaí a bheadh ann dóibh ó thaobh Covid-19 i gcás go bhféadfaí dul ar aghaidh le cúrsaí ar an gcéad dul síos agus deis éisteachta agus plé a bheith ag an Roinn le páirtithe leasmhara faoin ábhar. Is é an sprioc atá leis na treoirlínte agus leis an bplé seo ar fad ná féachaint an féidir cúrsaí a reáchtáil go sábháilte an samhradh seo. Agus an comhairliúchán críochnaithe anois, déanfar cinneadh maidir le cúrsaí 2021 go gairid. Tá mé thar a bheith buíoch díobh siúd ar fad a ghlac páirt sa chomhairliúchán seo le seachtain anuas. Bhí sé tábhachtach dom go mbeadh deis acu a gcuid tuairimí a léiriú agus a phlé liom. Níl aon cheist ach gurb í sláinte an phobail an rud is tábhachtaí i gcónaí dúinn ar fad agus bhí sé sin le sonrú sa phlé ar fad.

Tá sé go maith go raibh na cruinnithe sin ag an Aire Stáit. Tá súil agam go raibh sé ionraic sna cruinnithe agus go ndúirt sé nár shíl seisean ná aon duine eile ag an staid seo go mbeadh coláistí samhraidh ag dul chun cinn i mbliana ar an mbealach a mbíodar á reáchtáil dhá bhliain nó trí bliana ó shin. Níl an phleanáil déanta. Ní féidir a bheith ag brath ar pháistí ná daltaí scoile díriú isteach air seo nó ag iarraidh ar na tuismitheoirí na cinntí sin a dhéanamh. B'fhéidir go mbeadh an tAire Stáit in ann smaoineamh air sa tslí atá luaite go dtí seo, ach ó thaobh airgid agus maoinithe de, measaim nach bhféadfadh aon choláiste samhraidh dul ar aghaidh má tá srian triúr curtha le líon na ndaltaí atá ag na mná tí agus má tá srianta breise ar na hallaí pobail agus na háiteanna ina mbíonn na coláistí samhraidh ag dul chun cinn. Cén uair a dhéanfar an cinneadh ionas go mbeidh a fhios ag gach duine nach bhfuil siad ag tarlú? Cén pacáiste cabhrach a bhfuil á chur i bhfeidhm ag an Aire Stáit dóibh sin?

Bhí sé thar a bheith tábhachtach agus tairbheach domsa go raibh deis agam labhairt le hionadaíocht na mná tí an tseachtain seo caite agus cloisteáil go díreach uathu sula ndéanfaidh aon chinneadh faoi seo ar fad. Maidir leis na himpleachtaí airgid i gcás nach bhfuil cúrsaí le dul ar aghaidh an samhradh seo, beidh orainn breathnú air sin ar fad agus féachaint cad is féidir a dhéanamh agus cad ba ghá a dhéanamh chun teacht i gcabhair le rudaí, mar a tharla anuraidh nuair a chur an Roinn ciste a raibh os cionn €4 milliún ann ar fáil do leas an chórais. Táimid ag dul tríd an phróisis sin anois.

Chuir gach duine fáilte roimh an bpacáiste sin anuraidh nuair a tháinig sé, mall mar a bhí sé, ach cén fáth nach bhfuil an cinneadh déanta i mbliana ag an staid seo? Cén fáth go raibh ar an Aire Stáit fanacht go dtí an staid seo chun bualadh leis na heagrais sin? De ghnáth, faoi mhí Eanáir nó mhí Feabhra, bíonn na coláistí samhraidh go huile is go hiomlán lán go doras. Bíonn na cinntí déanta ag na tuismitheoirí agus na daltaí freastail orthu. Tá an tAire Stáit a rá nach bhfuil cinneadh déanta go fóill agus go bhféadfadh na coláistí dul ar aghaidh. Is é an t-aon fháth go bhfuil sé sin ann ná nár bhuail an tAire Stáit le CONCOS ná leis na heagrais eile a mbíonn coláistí samhraidh acu go dtí le déanaí agus nach raibh an Roinn ionraic go leor le rá leo nach raibh seans ar bith ann go mbeidís in ann dul ar aghaidh i lár na pandéime. Ba chóir, ag an staid sin, go mbeadh an cinneadh déanta go mbeadh pacáiste tacaíochta ar fáil, agus bheadh gach duine i bhfad níos sásta.

Mar a dúirt mé leis an Teachta, tá próiseas ann. Bhí sé thar a bheith tábhachtach domsa agus don Roinn go mbeadh deis againn labhairt le hionadaithe na mná tí agus le CONCOS. Má leantar ar aghaidh le cúrsaí a reáchtáil faoi na treoirlínte seo, breathnóidh an Roinn ar na tacaíochtaí a theastóidh a bheith ar fáil chuige sin chun gnó a dhéanamh tarraingteach do na teaghlaigh agus do na coláistí araon. Mar a dúirt mé, táimid ag dul tríd an bpróiseas anois agus beimid i dteagmháil leis na coláistí agus na mná tí agus fir thí nuair a bheidh an próiseas seo críochnaithe.

Arts Funding

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

50. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media the reason Covid enterprise supports have not been provided to the circus sector here. [22307/21]

Maidir leis an gceist roimhe seo, tá súil agam go mbeidh an próiseas críochnaithe faoi mhí Mheán Fómhair ar aon nós.

I wish to raise the issue of circuses. Circuses have been unfairly treated by the Department and the Arts Council. In practical terms, circuses have been singled out with regard to the lack of funding being given to them over the last year. As a result, many of them are in serious danger, will not get through this crisis and will have to fold up their tents. I ask the Minister why circuses have been singled out and treated differently by so many performance arts organisations.

Circus has a long tradition in Ireland, incorporating classical or traditional circus and contemporary circus. Both strands are valued artistically, with classical circus having a long working history in Ireland, while contemporary circus practice is relatively new. The Arts Act 2003 cites circus as one of nine art forms. As an art form, circus attracts high audience numbers each year including many rural audiences and members of new communities.

The live events sector has been impacted by Covid-19. I know there were some drive-in circuses last year, which shows once again the innovation of the arts sector. Government support for circus as an art form is channelled through the Arts Council. While there are enterprise supports available for businesses and individuals impacted by Covid-19, these are matters for my colleague, the Tánaiste, in his role as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, as are the criteria for their eligibility.

Primary support for the arts, including circus, is delivered through the Arts Council which is a statutory agency under the Arts Act 2003. Funding for the Arts Council has increased steadily in recent years, reaching a record level of €130 million this year. It is important for me to point out that under the Arts Act 2003, the Arts Council is independent in its funding decisions.

The strategic context for the council's support of circus and all other art forms is set out in Making Great Art Work: Arts Council Strategy 2016-2025.  The Arts Council supports both strands of circus and, through direct support and strategic intervention, engages with the sector to assist individuals and organisations to develop high-quality performance and participatory work.

Circus is supported by the Arts Council by way of grants under a range of categories including bursary, strategic funding, project awards and touring and dissemination awards.  There were very significant increases in supports provided for the circus in 2020 and 2021, with over €2.2 million allocated to circus, street arts and spectacle in 2021. The council makes awards to circus organisations and to individual circus artists.

In 2020, many circus artists also qualified for the council’s Covid-19 crisis response award.  Details of all grants are available on the Arts Council’s website.

With all due respect, that is an atrocious answer. Traditional circuses are not being funded. They are not getting any money from the Arts Council. I have put a dozen questions in to the Department. The Department has told me to go to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I have put questions in to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and it told me to go to the Arts Council. The Arts Council said it has no money for the likes of Duffy's Circus. It is an incredible situation that circuses are some of the most successful cultural and performance arts groups in this country. Their reach is incredible. Practically everybody in the country has a chance to access a circus. They wash their own faces financially, typically. They are even recognised by UNESCO for their heritage value. I think there is snobbery at the heart of this with regard to the fact that the Department and the Arts Council have refused point-blank to provide traditional circuses in this country with the funds to get through the pandemic. The Government has prevented them from functioning, taken their income away from them, and not supplied any supports.

With respect, I have clarified about the money that the circuses have received.

The Minister has not clarified it.

There has been a steady increase in the budgetary allocation for circus, street art and spectacle over the past three years, with more than €2.2 million allocated for 2021, representing a 40% increase on the 2020 allocations. The €2.2 million expenditure in 2021 is made up of strategic funding of €1.107 million, project and programming funding of €690,000, which covers arts grants and project funding, as well as an artist support measure of €431,000, which covers bursaries and commissions.

The Minister's answer is ignoring the actual, physical, material experience of circuses now. That information may have been gleaned through the Department or the Arts Council but the circuses are not getting the money. The Arts Council confirmed this week that it is not providing traditional circuses here with meaningful funding to counteract the devastation caused by Covid. Whatever the Minister is being told in her Department or the Arts Council, these circuses are not getting it. I ask the Minister to please meet with Duffy's Circus and the people involved in traditional circuses. There is a chasm between what the Minister just said and the experience on the ground. I have gone around in circles. We have spent at least four or five months putting questions to the Department, ringing up secretaries general, and having conversations with the Arts Council. The Arts Council said there is no money for traditional circuses.

The specific circus the Deputy mentioned, Duffy's Circus, was awarded arts grant funding of €59,000 last year. Other circuses got more.

That was not-----

The Deputy stated categorically in this Chamber that no funding was going to circuses. I am saying that is incorrect. I have pointed out the exact money that has been given. I pointed out the exact money that the circus in question got too. If the Deputy wants, we can discuss this afterwards, but I am telling him that this is what I have. Some €2.2 million was given and the circus in question got funding of €59,000 last year.

Not as part of Covid supports.

Tourism Policy

Imelda Munster

Question:

51. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media her plans for tourism and hospitality for the 2021 season; the additional supports or initiatives she plans to introduce to support the sector when it reopens in the coming months; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22308/21]

I ask the Minister to outline her plans for tourism and hospitality for the 2021 season, the additional supports or initiatives she plans to introduce to support the sector when it opens in the coming weeks, and if she will make a statement and outline those supports.

I am fully aware of the impact Covid-19 has had on tourism and hospitality nationwide and I also acknowledge that public health restrictions continue to be challenging for the tourism sector.  The national vaccination programme is critical and provides hope that in 2021 we will see the beginning of the recovery for the sector but this will not happen overnight.  For now, the focus remains on helping businesses and jobs in tourism to survive the pandemic and be ready for recovery.

In line with the plan set out in The Path Ahead and after taking full account of the current status of Covid-19 in the community and the public health advice, the Government has been implementing a limited phased easing of some level 5 restrictions through the month of April.  The Government is due to make further decisions and announcements tomorrow regarding the position to apply for May and beyond, that will allow for the phased reopening of tourism and hospitality for the critical season, as the public health situation permits. While I will not pre-empt the Government's decision in this regard, I have been working closely with the sector, including meetings today, to ensure its voice is heard and perspectives understood.

The tourism recovery plan was taken into consideration for budget 2021, where substantial measures were put in place to support and strengthen the tourism sector.  There was a record level of funding for tourism overall, of just under €221 million and there have been additional measures to support tourism, such as the VAT rate reduction to 9%, as well as the €55 million tourism business continuity scheme, the Covid-19 adaptation fund and other tourism sector-specific schemes.

I am committed to continuing support for tourism through this difficult period and to working towards reopening and recovery. I am working on a survival, stabilisation and recovery programme for the sector.  As part of the national economic recovery plan, the Government will outline how it will help people to return to work and further support sectors which have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.  Along with my colleagues in government, I will consider more targeted measures to help reboot those sectors, such as tourism.

I am also aware that Fáilte Ireland, at the appropriate time, will be launching its "Keep Discovering" campaign to inspire more people to take a break in Ireland this summer and in the shoulder season. The initial campaign will include promotions for each of the regional brand areas, including Dublin, the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland's Ancient East and Ireland's Hidden Heartlands, and will be supported by substantial marketing campaigns.

The Minister did not mention the stay and spend tax incentive. I hope that is not on the cards for this season again. Last year, it was a complete flop. I think the Minister will acknowledge that herself. Just 10,000 people benefited from it. There were thousands of low earners who were excluded from benefiting from it, which was a shame. The total amount that was claimed was under €2 million and the tax expenditure recorded on the receipts was under €9.7 million. The fact that it was brought in off-season excluded families totally. What use is having an incentive for tourism if it excludes the entire school holiday period? I hope that the Minister will consider something that would benefit people more significantly than the flop that that was. Will the Minister consider the Sinn Féin proposal of the staycation voucher which would benefit every man, woman and child in the State and local economies?

The stay and spend scheme was set up late last summer to stimulate demand for accommodation and hospitality business during the off-season. It was set up by my colleague, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe. It was quite an innovative approach to incentivise spending. However, the public health conditions beyond our control have clearly prevented that incentivisation of spending because of the stop and start nature of the pandemic. The unpredictability and consequences of the pandemic have resulted in the scheme being completely underutilised. A review of the stay and spend scheme was one of the recent recommendations of the tourism recovery oversight group. I have urged Cabinet colleagues to give this and other recommendations of the report serious consideration to facilitate the reopening of the sector. It is anticipated that the Minister for Finance will then take stock and look at what additional measures might be appropriate. I am cognisant of the seasonal nature of the industry, financial challenges and the leaner shoulder and off-season months. I believe that supports will need to consider that impact on the off-season. I am open to all supports that can help the tourism sector.

Will the Minister include the summer months, if that is what the Government is going ahead with, to ensure that families could benefit from it?

She did not respond to my question regarding the Sinn Féin proposal of a voucher scheme that would benefit every man, woman and child in the country and local economies.

I also want to touch on the outdoor dining grant. As she said, it was a positive move with €12 million for local authorities to use in respect of adaptations for outdoor dining. The concern, however, is the €5 million allocated for individual businesses. She does not need me to tell her that the sector is on its knees. For the most part, and especially for June and July, it seems certain that it will be a case of outdoor dining. The sector will need every assistance to prepare for that, whether that involves weatherproofing, seaters and-or heaters. The sum of €5 million is insufficient in that regard. The sector is looking for the Minister to fight its corner. Will she insist that this allocation is increased? There are more than 10,000 premises affected between restaurants, pubs and hotels in the State. Not all of them will be able to adapt or claim the support, but-----

I call the Minister to reply.

-----under this scheme, the €5 million will only cover 1,250 businesses.

Regarding the voucher scheme, I will work with my colleagues to consider all necessary targeted measures to help reboot tourism, which we agree will face particular challenges during the recovery phase when the economy reopens. I reiterate that I am open to considering everything and anything that will help the tourism sector to reboot.

On the outdoor dining grant, we had this conversation last week. It has been very well-received by the sector. I am not hearing this cry for help from the sector that the Deputy mentioned. The grant has been well received. The applications are open. Of course, if it all dried up then we would look at it again. However, I have not received any communication from anyone in this sector who feels there is not enough money. I just want to make that point clear to the Deputy.

Tourism Industry

Michael Collins

Question:

52. Deputy Michael Collins asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media if a five-year commitment will be given to businesses in the tourism sector; and if measures such as a 9% rate of VAT, insurance reform, grants and other measures will be introduced to ensure the recovery of the sector in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, in particular in areas such as west Cork (details supplied). [22306/21]

Will a five-year commitment be given to businesses in the tourism sector? Are measures such as a 9% rate of VAT, insurance reform, grants and other measures being introduced to ensure the recovery of the sector in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly in areas such as west Cork? I met the Minister some time ago when she was on holidays down in Ballydehob, so she knows the beauty of west Cork. Hotels are under massive pressure such as the Celtic Ross Hotel in Rosscarbery, West Lodge Hotel in Bantry, West Cork Hotel in Skibbereen, Eldon Hotel in Skibbereen, the Blue Haven Hotel and Actons Hotel in Kinsale, Fernhill House Hotel in Clonakilty and Schull Harbour Hotel. These and other hotels are under serious pressure in the hospitality sector and I would appreciate the Minister's answer.

I did indeed spend a lovely holiday in west Cork with my family, where I bumped into the Deputy. It is a beautiful part of the world. The tourism sector has been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic and the necessary public health restrictions introduced to control it. Since my appointment as Minister, I have been fully engaged with stakeholders in seeking to identify and implement supports to ensure the sector’s survival and recovery. I appreciate fully the impact in an area as dependent on tourism as beautiful west Cork.

A tourism recovery task force was appointed last year to prepare a tourism recovery plan, which includes a set of recommendations on how best the domestic tourism sector can adapt and recover in a changed tourism environment as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. That task force presented its plan for 2020 to 2023 to me in September last year and it has been an important input for myself and my colleagues in government in considering the measures to assist the tourism sector. Together with horizontal measures implemented to support businesses across the economy, such as the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, and the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, the sector-specific supports I have introduced have been key in helping tourism businesses to survive and employees to remain engaged in the sector.

The recovery oversight group I appointed last December is keeping me informed of progress on the implementation of the recovery plan and developments in the tourism sector more generally. As part of the national economic recovery plan, the Government will also outline how it will help people return to work and further support sectors such as tourism.  We will consider more targeted measures to help with the reboot in that sector. In line with our programme for Government commitments, the development of a new national tourism policy, which will have sustainability at its core, will commence later this year when the sector begins to recover from the Covid-19 crisis.

The advent of the Covid-19 crisis meant that the work of the sustainable tourism working group was temporarily suspended but it was re-established early this year to complete its work in identifying the steps that can be taken to promote sustainable tourism practices which can be implemented from 2021 to 2023.  Tourism has proven itself resilient before, and I am confident that with the key support of the Government it will recover from this crisis and thrive again.

Hotels and tourism businesses flagged that tourism is one of the major employers in rural regions such as west Cork. It has been one of the sectors hardest hit during the pandemic. Many businesses are making decisions about whether they can survive, and if they can, they are cutting back on services and operating hours. We need a commitment for a minimum of five years to make these SMEs, restaurants, tourism attractions, pubs and shops feel that it is worth trading for the hours that will ensure visitors have things to see and do when the recovery happens. A VAT rate of 9%, insurance reform, grants and more such measures are needed to stem the rising costs of doing business. Otherwise, these SMEs will not be able to realise a living from what they do.

We need a plan regarding when music venues, arenas, etc., will be allowed to open so we will have an offering that will continue to attract people and support jobs and spending in our local economies. Many of these music venues, pubs and GAA, soccer and rugby matches are attractions in their own right and part of the fabric of Irish life. Cork Airport is estimating that it will take four to five years for passenger numbers to recover. Therefore, that length of time needs to be mirrored in targeted supports. Hotels are negotiating rates with tour operators and businesses for 2023. Can the Minister give us up-to-date information regarding what the Government has planned for the hospitality and tourism sector for the coming four to five years?

The focus is on supporting tourism now to ensure the sector reopens safely and as soon as possible, as the vaccination roll-out continues. There is a €55 million tourism business continuity scheme and phase 1 was announced on 1 February. In Cork, we can look at some of the benefits in respect of the supports being put in place. A wide variety of businesses in west Cork will be eligible to apply for assistance from Fáilte Ireland's tourism business continuity scheme.

In response to Covid-19 as well, Fáilte Ireland, in collaboration with local authorities, established a destination recovery task force. In respect of strategic tourism locations across the country, it will bring together stakeholders to form a co-ordinated and sustained collective response. Among those responses, I am sure the Deputy will be aware of the West Cork Calling tourism network, which oversees the implementation of two destination experience development plans that are being developed for west Cork for the long term. Those visitor experience plans are the west Cork coast, including Kinsale and Ballydehob, and The Three Peninsulas - West Cork and Kerry, and it will be ensured that the plans are aligned and that tourism and hospitality providers across both geographies work together.

After many good years of Fáilte Ireland supporting regionality and seasonality, the winters will now see businesses going back to shutting up shop to preserve money. Hospitality will have nothing to entertain and attract guests off-season and people will be out of work again for the four to five autumn and winter months. Employees in the sector must also be supported and incentivised to stay in this wonderful business.

Currently, many of these employees are laid off and-or are on reduced hours. They face prejudice when seeking loans or mortgages, even when in full employment. They have had a tough time. They are representing Ireland and supporting the economy in this important industry. Yet, they are out of pocket and at a disadvantage. Their skills are being lost to the industry, and when we are recovering we may not have the resources to deliver. What plans are being put in place to protect the employees of the hospitality sector?

I have only seven seconds left, but the Minister is most welcome to west Cork again this year. Please God, she will again come down to see the beauty of the region. Regarding the tourism task force, I am just disappointed that no one from west Cork was on it. I am talking about one of the biggest and strongest tourism areas in Ireland, and perhaps in the world. It was a major disappointment to us that did not happen.

From my engagement with the sector, I am acutely aware of the retention of skills being an issue. That is why we have invested money from the budget in this endeavour and that is why Government work is going on in this area. The work being done in apprenticeships by the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, is evident. Two such programmes launched recently in collaboration with the Irish Hotels Federation.

Regarding the Deputy's concerns about approaching the winter season, that is why I am looking at more targeted approaches to support the industry during that off-peak season. We are entering the peak season for the domestic industry now, but I am concerned about that shoulder season. We should invite people to go to west Cork, like I did, in that shoulder season as well. Therefore, we are continuing the supports and we are very aware of the retention of skills issue and that is why we are investing in upskilling, training and the digitalisation of the industry.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Marian Harkin

Question:

53. Deputy Marian Harkin asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media if she will put supports in place as a matter of urgency to support the local print media sector. [22310/21]

I want to ask the Minister if, even now, she will put in place Covid-specific supports for the local print media sector.

The Government rightly put Covid supports in place for the local radio sector. It was badly needed and it has made a real difference. Why has a similar Covid-specific fund not been put in place for local newspapers, many of which are hanging on by their fingernails?

A strong and independent media sector is central to our parliamentary democracy, freedom of speech and to the provision of quality and impartial information, particularly in the context of Covid-19. I recognise the essential role that the print media plays in this regard and the particular value of local and regional newspapers in bringing communities together and sharing reliable and relevant local news.

In terms of specific supports for the local print sector, it is of particular importance regarding media organisations to avoid any perception of undue Government interference or influence and the funding of newspapers is therefore a complex issue. I am, however, cognisant of the importance of this sector, and the financial issues which it currently faces.

This is a sector which has been in decline over the last number of years and is undergoing fundamental changes due to new patterns in the consumption of media and a shift to online advertising. In recognition of these longer term challenges, the programme for Government provided for the establishment of the Future of Media Commission to consider the future of print, broadcast and online media in a platform-agnostic fashion. While the commission is not a representative body, the Taoiseach and I were pleased to be in a position to appoint a member of the commission who has a strong background in local print and radio. In addition, at the commission’s invitation, the representative group, Local Ireland, has participated in two panel discussions with commission members and the public as part of the commission’s series of thematic dialogues. The commission has therefore been extensively briefed on issues facing the local print sector. I look forward to receiving the commission's report in the summer. The print sector has participated in the commission’s consultations and will be part of the recommendations.

The sector has suffered losses from Covid-19 and is receiving Government supports such as the temporary wage subsidy scheme and the employment wage subsidy scheme. In the shorter term, the loss of advertising the sector has suffered from the impact of the restrictions has been helped by the public health advertising placed by the Government. I understand that in the region of €4.4 million has been expended on regional print advertising form March 2020 to date.

The Minister and I do not disagree on the value of the local print media. It provides independent and quality journalism, but we are in danger of losing it. The Minister spoke of the need to avoid the perception of interference by Government that would result if it were to fund the local print media. That is an excuse; it is not a reason. The Government helped to fund local radio, and rightly so. Nobody is accusing the Government of trying to interfere, editorially or otherwise, as far as local radio is concerned. The explanation given by the Minister is an excuse, not a reason.

I am sure that it is not beyond the bounds of the Minister's Department to find an arms-length scheme or way of helping local newspapers to provide a sustainable future.

As to the comparison with the radio sector, the Covid-19 related measures put in place for the radio sector were provided through specific funding rounds of the existing sound and vision scheme. The current scheme in place to support radio is a statutory scheme provided for under Part 10 of the Broadcasting Act 2009 and largely funded by the television licence. It is limited by statute to audiovisual and sound media and is independently administered by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI.

There is no equivalent statutory framework for the print sector. The BAI has no function in funding the print sector. Given that the Future of Media Commission is due to report in the next few months, it is best to wait for its recommendations.

My officials and I have had engagement with the sector and continue to do so. From the examinations undertaken by my officials, the sector is availing of horizontal supports to business put in place by the Government. As I have said, it has benefitted from public health advertising. I am aware that there will be more campaigns that will help the print sector. However, I want to look at what is appropriate for the long-term survival and development of the sector. I will give serious consideration to the recommendations from the future of media commission.