I propose to take Questions Nos. 8, 49 and 63 together.
I am critically aware of the devastating impact Covid-19 has had on all areas of the arts and cultural sector and have endeavoured to make sure the concerns of those in this sector have been understood and addressed. I have met with numerous representative organisations and officials in my Department have continued contact with these organisations and others on a regular basis, throughout the pandemic, to confirm I had the most up-to-date information to ensure appropriate supports were delivered for the sector. This includes stakeholder forums in August and September where I spoke directly to a wide range of stakeholders and heard their concerns.
With regard to the basic income guarantee pilot, the arts and culture recovery task force report, Life Worth Living, was published in November 2020 and made ten recommendations for the sector. These recommendations included a proposal to pilot a basic income scheme for a three-year period in the arts, culture, audio-visual and live performance and events sectors. The delivery of this pilot will be key to underpinning the recovery in the arts and culture sector and will provide much-needed certainty to the artists and creatives who choose to avail of the pilot scheme.
The Life Worth Living report describes a basic income as an unconditional State payment each citizen receives - in this instance, for the arts and cultural sector. The introduction of such a basic income pilot would create a more stable social protection mechanism to allow artists and workers to sustain themselves during the pandemic. It should keep the sector intact, minimising the loss of skills and contributing to its gradual regrowth, with ongoing social and economic, local and national benefits.
I fully agree the arts sector represents a very appropriate area for a basic income guarantee scheme for many reasons, including that it is often being characterised by low and precarious income; it includes a broad mix of employment types; and it has been chosen for basic income pilots in other jurisdictions, allowing for international comparisons to be drawn.
I was delighted that as part of the national economic recovery plan, I secured a commitment from Government to prioritise the development of a basic income guarantee pilot scheme for the arts and cultural sector.
As Minister with responsibility for arts and culture, I am conscious of the value this sector brings to all citizens, which was especially evident during the pandemic. The importance of Irish culture, Irish art and Irish productions as a whole cannot be understated in its impact both internationally and at home. The Government recognises that bold steps are necessary for our much-treasured arts, events and cultural community to come back stronger than ever before.
I established the oversight group in June to appraise the recommendations in the Life Worth Living
report. Although the remit of the oversight group included the examination of all recommendations in the report, I asked they prioritise the consideration of the recommendation of a basic income guarantee pilot scheme for artists and arts workers. The oversight group is chaired by my Department and joined by representatives of the Departments of Finance; Social Protection; Housing, Local Government and Heritage; Public Expenditure and Reform; and Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The directors of the Arts Council and Screen Ireland are also members, alongside a representative of the County and City Management Association.
The oversight group has met eight times over the past four months to discuss the basic income recommendation, alongside the other nine recommendations. To assist in these discussions, the oversight group established a subcommittee to focus solely on the progression of the recommendation for the basic income pilot scheme. This subcommittee met nine times over the summer months to develop a number of options that could fulfil the requirements of a pilot scheme as set out in the Life Worth Living report. The oversight group, with the research carried out by this subcommittee, has provided me with a preliminary report on the different options for a three-year pilot scheme, which I am currently considering.
A number of organisations have given presentations to the oversight committee to inform its considerations. These include the National Campaign for the Arts; Social Justice Ireland; Praxis,the artists' union; Dr. Stephen Kinsella, economist in University Limerick; and Niamh NicGhabhann and Annmarie Ryan, who have done research in the area of artist basic income. In addition, Equity, the actors' union is due to present to the group next week.
The objectives of the pilot scheme will include: minimising the ongoing loss of skills in the arts sector with regard both to artists and arts workers; contributing to the sector's post-pandemic recovery with ongoing social, economic, local and national benefits; and enabling artists to focus on their practice without having to enter into employment in other sectors to sustain themselves.
It is particularly important for this pilot scheme to also address the well-being of those in the arts and cultural sector, and to stimulate the arts sector’s recovery post-pandemic. I will be providing further detail on how this pilot scheme will operate in the near future as part of the discussions around budget 2022. Significant stakeholder engagement will take place in the coming weeks between my Department and those in the sector to ensure this pilot meets the needs of the sector alongside the objectives agreed by the oversight group. I envision that this pilot should launch in early 2022 and I believe it will bring new life and support to the arts and cultural sector, after the difficult circumstances it has endured over the last year and a half.