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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 5 May 2022

Vol. 1021 No. 5

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Arts Policy

Holly Cairns


6. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media the steps she is taking to ensure that the supports offered under the live performance support scheme 4 are being distributed as quickly as possible to prevent the permanent closure of venues. [22151/22]

The Minister is very aware of the main challenges faced by the arts, culture and live entertainment industry during the pandemic. While the live performance sector welcomes the Minister's support, a major issue has been the rate at which funds are being distributed to venues. Will the Minister of State outline the actions taken to ensure the live performance restart grant scheme is being distributed as quickly as possible to prevent the permanent closure of venues?

Throughout the pandemic we have been very cognisant of the challenges the restrictions caused for the arts, culture and live entertainment industry and the Government remains committed to the live entertainment sector as the industry recovers following the lifting of all restrictions in January. To this end, more than €50 million has been provided in a suite of supports for the live performance sector in 2022. This includes €4 million for the music and entertainment business assistance scheme, specifically to support small music and entertainment businesses which do not operate out of a rateable premises. A total of €20 million was allocated in the third strand of the live performance support scheme to support events which were due to be staged in December 2021 and January 2022 and were curtailed, cancelled or rescheduled due to the restrictions. A total of €5 million was allocated to the second strand of the live performance support scheme to support pantomime and seasonal musical theatre impacted by the Covid restrictions in place in December and January. There is €5 million for local authorities to support local artists and performances through the local live performance programming scheme. There is €5 million to continue the capital supports scheme to venues, including for ventilation upgrades and other Covid adaptations. This scheme is open for applications until 31 May 2022. There was also €1 million for the St. Patrick's Festival 2022.

A total of €15 million has been allocated for the live performance restart grant scheme. This will provide a new grant for businesses engaged in staging live events in the arts and culture live performance sector. The scheme aims to help underpin the recovery of the live performance sector by providing business restart grants to successful applicants as a support to de-risk the planning of events across spring and summer of 2022. Grants of up to €100,000 will be available to eligible businesses under the scheme. This scheme closed for application at 1 p.m. on 20 April with 210 applications submitted. Applications are being assessed and to date grants totalling €6.5 million have already been offered to 79 applicants under the scheme. Assessments are ongoing and decisions will continue to issue on a rolling basis. The payments process will commence shortly and payments will continue to issue on a weekly basis as grantees submit their documentation and payment requests.

I thank the Minister of State for the response. The specific issue is on when the much needed funding is allocated. While everyone welcomes any support for this hard-pressed sector there seems to be misalignment between the demands of the live performance sector and the manner in which the Department operates. There are many great venues in my constituency in Cork South West, such as Levis's Corner Bar in Ballydehob, De Barra's in Clonakilty and Connolly's of Leap. These types of venues need months to plan in advance to secure acts, crews and equipment. Any scheme to support spring and summer events should have been distributed months ago. It is extremely disheartening and frustrating for venues and performers because a scheme that is supposed to buffer against uncertainty and additional costs is becoming a source of uncertainty and stress. The sector needs to have this funding in bank accounts as soon as possible. Will the Minister of State please clarify whether there is a date by which these funds have to be spent? Originally this was cited as June, which is unfeasible at this stage.

I thank Deputy Cairns. I appreciate what she has outlined and the businesses that require support in her constituency in Cork South West. As I referenced in my initial response, the drawdown will happen. The payment process for the scheme will commence shortly and I appreciate the need for it. Payments will issue on a rolling basis as grantees submit their documentation. All payment requests will be dealt with without delay. I will revert to the Deputy on the question of when it needs to be paid by.

I would appreciate the Minister of State's reply and I thank him. I hope he can appreciate the frustration of the sector. Measures were first mentioned in the budget and launched separately but applications are starting months later and the funding is later again. The timely delivery of these supports would make a massive difference in ensuring the viability of so many venues. As well as the restrictions and hardships of the past two years, small and medium-sized venues are facing increased costs especially in rural areas. The cost of living crisis impacting families is also being felt by arts and hospitality businesses. In particular local employers in these sectors highlight the rise in energy and insurance expenses to me. While these issues are not directly in the Minister's portfolio, they are major concerns for all in the arts and hospitality sectors. Will the Minister of State outline the engagement of the Minister with other Ministers on insurance and energy costs?

I welcome the funding but I must agree with previous speakers. We were all delighted at Christmas when the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, announced funding for the pantomimes. Many had to be cancelled at short notice because of Covid. We have an excellent company in Carlow, Striking Productions. It had to cancel all of its shows, which had been booked out. I met the Minister. A portal was opened for the company to apply for funding. Striking Productions still has not received its funding. I am trying to contact the Department and the local authority to see who pays it. This is unacceptable. It is now May. This excellent group had sold out all of its shows. It owes a lot of money to people it had hired and cannot pay them. Will the Minister of State confirm whether the payment is through the local authority or the Department? There is confusion between the two. The group needs to be paid.

I thank the Deputies for their questions. I am taking these questions on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, this morning. I will ask her to revert on her engagement on insurance and other matters with the respective Departments. I know Deputy Murnane O'Connor's strong advocacy for Carlow and all things in many areas in Carlow. I appreciate what she has said relating to the pantomime business. The latest position is that payments will be made shortly. A total of 210 applications have been submitted. They are being assessed and to date grants totalling €6.5 million have already been offered to 79 applicants under the scheme. I will ask the Minister to revert to the Deputy on the specific local issue to make sure it is resolved.

Tourism Policy

Steven Matthews


7. Deputy Steven Matthews asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media the position regarding the Irish sea way walking trail to boost tourism along the east and south coasts as committed to in the programme for Government; the position regarding the consultation process with communities along the coastline from Carlingford Lough to Cobh; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21878/22]

There is a commitment in the programme for Government regarding an Irish sea way walking trail designed to boost tourism and slow tourism along the east and south coasts.

There was also a commitment in that to undertake a consultation process with communities along the coast from Carlingford Lough all the way down to Cobh. Could the Minister of State make a statement on the progress of this commitment?

My Department's role in relation to tourism lies primarily in the area of national tourism policy and implementation of that policy is a matter for the tourism agencies, namely, Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland, as well as certain other bodies. With specific regard to the development of tourism product offerings such as the proposed Irish Sea Way walking trail, these are operational matters for Fáilte Ireland in line with its tourism development functions.

Regarding the Irish Sea Way, I understand that Fáilte Ireland has conducted initial reviews to understand the nature and scale of any existing infrastructure that could assist in progressing an overall walking trail along the route. Over the past two years, however, given the devastating impact of Covid-19 on the tourism industry, Fáilte Ireland’s overriding focus was on supporting tourism businesses through the pandemic. Due to the fact that key human and financial resources were diverted towards Covid-related priorities and on account of Covid-related public health restrictions limiting opportunities for site visits and community engagement gatherings, it was not possible for Fáilte Ireland to advance considerations of the Irish Sea Way proposal during this time.

Now, however, I understand that work on the Irish Sea Way walking trail project has been scheduled to commence in the second half of this year. Prior to any engagement with communities, of course, an understanding of the scale and feasibility of the project will be required. Accordingly, I believe Fáilte Ireland's initial focus will be on developing a framework and roadmap to inform its approach to developing of the walking trail. This work will then inform a methodology for developing route options, a community consultation strategy and indicative costs for the infrastructural development of the trail.

As regards timeframes envisaged for the forthcoming stages in this project, I understand that Fáilte Ireland is aiming to complete by the end of quarter 3 of 2022 the procurement process to engage consultants to work with the agency on this project and it estimates that the consultancy work will take nine to 12 months. Fáilte Ireland has advised that a public consultation strategy will be developed by the consultant team and that it is aiming to conduct public consultations during 2023.

That is an interesting answer. What we are really looking at is an infrastructural piece and I am not sure this is the type of thing Fáilte Ireland could or should be involved in. I think there is a role for central government in it and there is clearly a role for local authorities. A good example of this is found in Waterford where Waterford City and County Council has worked with landowners to develop a coastal trail that runs from Dunmore through Portally as far as Ballymacaw with plans to bring it further to Tramore but that was not a Fáilte Ireland piece and was not developed at a desktop. It was developed in consultation with landowners building on a traditional trail that was already there. As an infrastructural piece, I believe there is a role for central government to bring people together on this and possibly give direction to local authorities for them to be able to engage with landowners in that meaningful way.

I will certainly relay Deputy Ó Cathasaigh's feedback. I see Deputy Calleary is present and I know that when it came to the greenway in Mayo, with which I am very familiar, a lot of local work and engagement with landowners allowed that to progress but I am sure this is something that Fáilte Ireland will engage with. It is the early iteration of this, as I referenced. It has four main funding channels for its capital investment in tourism product development to support the enhancement of tourism attractions. These are large grant schemes provided under the platforms for growth approach, small grant schemes, strategic partnerships and other collaborations. A lot of the work they are doing at this point concerns the framework for how to develop the walking trail, developing route options and community consultation, so it concerns putting that initial piece in place around what is possible. The agency hopes to commence the consultancy work and public consultation in 2023 to achieve some progress.

I am sure that if Deputy Matthews was here, he would have been referencing the Bray to Greystones route, which I have walked myself and which is beautiful. I mentioned the route from Dunmore to Ballymacaw. There is also a loop trail that is the final furlong of St. Declan's Way, which takes in the Ardmore cliff walk. Again, this was developed by the local authority and was done in a very sympathetic way that respected the surroundings. It is easy to diminish something like walking tourism but in the Scottish tourism economy, it is worth £1.26 billion per year. It is a complete counterpoint to that kind of coach tourism involving that kind of "gone in 60 seconds" whistle-stop tour. It slows tourists down. It is also obviously a local amenity. It gives people a real sense of place and allows them to engage with the culture and our food offering in a more meaningful way. It is in the programme for Government and is something I would like to see driven forward. We can already see the benefits in places like Wicklow and Waterford and it is a direction in which we should be moving.

There is ongoing collaboration on this between Fáilte Ireland and the Department of Rural and Community Development under the outdoor recreation scheme and a partnership is in place that provides funding for the development of new outdoor recreation infrastructure and the enhancement of existing outdoor infrastructure. In February 2022, a figure of €50 million was announced for the 2022 scheme, which will support dozens of outdoor projects across the country and provide a major boost to rural tourism. It will see the development of natural amenities such as our mountains, lakes, beaches, bogs, walkways, greenways and blueways to support adventure activities. There is a strategic partnership between Fáilte Ireland and key State bodies like the Office of Public Works, OPW, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Coillte, Waterways Ireland and most recently Údarás na Gaeltachta, which owns and manages many sites of vital importance to tourism. The recent announcement of the strategic partnership with Údarás na Gaeltachta will allow for collaboration across the Gaeltacht strengthening the tourism experience there. I will bring the Deputy's feedback and the need to bring about progress back to the Minister.

Tourism Promotion

Steven Matthews


8. Deputy Steven Matthews asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media the steps she is taking to promote slow tourism through sail-rail-trail sustainable tourism offerings; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21879/22]

This question is related to the previous one in many ways. It relates to sustainable and slow tourism. The Dubliners may have sung "Thank God We're Surrounded By Water" but certainly in terms of transport or tourism, being an island nation makes it more difficult for people to arrive here in a sustainable way. What steps are being taken to promote slow tourism through sail-rail-trail sustainable tourism offerings?

In autumn 2021, the Minister brought to Government a report developed by the sustainable tourism working group, which was established under the aegis of the Department. The report identifies a suite of actions that will promote sustainable tourism practices ahead of the development of a new national tourism policy. The successful implementation of these actions will shine a light on areas and destinations that are striving to be best in class in terms of sustainability and will provide better access to information and tools for the tourism industry and visitors to practise responsible tourism.

On foot of the suite of actions set out in an interim action plan, Fáilte Ireland will this year work with the National Transport Authority, NTA, to give appropriate consideration to linkages to ferry ports and the rail network when considering new walking trail developments and extensions to existing trails. Fáilte Ireland will also carry out a feasibility study on the infrastructure required to be able to travel and tour Ireland's experience regions by sustainable modes of transport. From a promotional perspective, Tourism Ireland will tailor our marketing programmes to focus on sustainable tourism product and work towards the longer-term goal of ensuring that we are successfully marketed as a sustainable tourism destination.

Fáilte Ireland is also involved in the development of walking, cycling and water-based trails with the tourism agency either developing best practice guidelines or supporting the Sport Ireland guidelines for trail development - all aimed at supporting trail developers, tourism businesses and local communities to harness the economic opportunities of such trails. With regard to access to the countryside, this is being addressed as part of the development of the new national outdoor recreation strategy under the remit of the Minister for Rural and Community Development.

Tourism Ireland continues to work with all ferry companies serving Ireland to promote attractive fares and to highlight travelling here by ferry. In 2022, Tourism Ireland is investing €594,000 in co-operative activity to promote ferry travel to Ireland. My Department has initiated the development of a new national tourism policy that will mainstream sustainability. This new policy will be informed by and build upon the work undertaken by the sustainable tourism working group and will promote sustainable development and management within the tourism ecosystem.

I am understandably biased but I will say that Waterford again leads the way in terms of sustainable travel.

We know for a fact that the success of the Waterford greenway has shown how good a value proposition this type of tourism is. The marketing department of Fáilte Ireland can have the following for free. I want people to see the greenway as the green way. I want tourists to be able to arrive into Rosslare Europort, step onto a train to bring them to Waterford city, unload their bicycles and go from there. That way, they can enjoy Waterford city, head to Kilmacthomas and on to Dungarvan. Hopefully, as we begin to develop the national cycling network, they will be able to go on to many of the peripheral towns throughout County Waterford. I believe, however, that we have to improve the foot passenger experience in particular, not just in Rosslare, but also in Dublin, in order that the journeys of passengers who arrive with a bike or just as foot passengers through the port and onto public transport are seamless and much more pleasant and enjoyable.

As I referenced in my initial answer, there is significant work ongoing to market this and particularly to encourage the arrival of tourists to Ireland through ferry companies. That is why €594,000 is being used to promote ferry travel to Ireland. The Deputy referenced Rosslare Europort being so close to Waterford, and the huge sustainable progress that was made there in the tourism offering. I will bring the Deputy's feedback on the necessity to link that particular marketing experience with what should visually appear as people arrive in Rosslare to both Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland.

Rosslare Europort has been a real success story over the last number of years in its freight response to things like Brexit, for example, and in terms of the passenger numbers that are arriving. People are increasingly choosing to travel by ferry. There might be a range of reasons for that. It might be that they get to bring their car. There are also a certain number of people who are choosing to fly less and use other modes of transport to arrive at their tourist destinations. However, not every service that is coming in and out of Rosslare Europort offers that foot passenger option. For example, I know that one of the routes goes to Bilbao. I would very much like to go on that ferry journey. I do not particularly want to have my car with me when I arrive there. I find having my car in Europe only adds to my stress, rather than anything else, with driving on the wrong side of the road etc. We really need to focus on that offering. We must ensure that when people arrive as foot passengers, it is a nicer place to arrive into. We must ensure that there is a seamless transport option for foot passengers to take them to the places in the country that they want to visit.

I want to support my colleague's call to develop the sail, rail and trail opportunity that Ireland has. I think it is a very significant opportunity for the whole of the country. There is a vision where we can link Rosslare to Waterford, through Tipperary and into Limerick. Some very good work is being done. The launch of the national greenway network yesterday was very positive. In time, we will see slow travel being embraced. Visitors will come from France and Germany, and northern and southern Europe. They will travel by ferry to the ports, particularly on our east coast. They will spend a week or two cycling round the country. We need to advance this as quickly as possible. I look forward to the draft of the sustainable tourism policy that is coming out. I encourage the Minister of State to engage with communities and stakeholders across the country to ensure that we have the best policy. I think it is a fantastic opportunity for all of Ireland. I welcome the Minister of State's comments.

I thank Deputies Ó Cathasaigh and Leddin for their points. I think everyone would support the development of a sail, rail and trail offering to link the regions. That is why the development of a national tourism policy will seek to mainstream sustainability. The development of the new policy will involve extensive consultation with the tourism industry, as well as our communities, to help set out a path for the coming years which will support a sustainable recovery and subsequent growth in the sector. Following the completion of an initial informal consultation and a review of the previous policy, People, Place and Policy, a formal consultation will take place with a view to publishing a new sustainable tourism policy in 2023. There will be plenty of opportunities for engagement over the coming months. I thank the Deputies for their comments.

Tourism Industry

Dara Calleary


9. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media her strategy to support building the capability of employees to help businesses to bridge the skills gaps they are experiencing and to drive greater employee retention; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22101/22]

Christopher O'Sullivan


11. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media if she will outline her strategy to provide support to the tourism sector to address the immediate labour and skills supply challenges which will be critical to the short-term recovery of the sector including staff retention; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22108/22]

Bernard Durkan


41. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media the extent to which she can assist the hospitality and tourism sector towards full economic recovery in the wake of Covid-19 with particular reference to the utilisation of particular methods to ensure the availability of necessary staff; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22131/22]

Fáilte Ireland published a survey of 1,000 businesses in February 2022, and identified that 30% face closure if the current recruitment crisis within hospitality is not resolved. I ask the Minister of State to outline the strategy to assist these businesses to bridge the skills gaps that they have, to support tourism as an employer, and to encourage people to take up careers in hospitality and tourism.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9, 11 and 41 together.

Recruitment continues to be a significant challenge for the tourism sector, with up to two thirds of businesses reporting reduced capacity due to staff shortages. My Department and Fáilte Ireland have been collaborating with industry and other Departments to ensure that there is a co-ordinated approach to addressing the labour and skills shortages. In February 2022, Fáilte Ireland published its most comprehensive research to date on the tourism and hospitality labour market. This robust and wide-ranging research programme covered the views of 1,000 employers and 3,500 workers with tourism and hospitality experience, as well as international benchmarking, a review of education provision and consultation with recruitment agencies. This research is shaping Fáilte Ireland’s work programmes this year to provide support to the industry. Fáilte Ireland's work includes supporting businesses to work together to drive the long-term repositioning of the sector as an appealing and rewarding career choice and workplace, helping to build the capability of individual employees to assist businesses to bridge the skills gaps they are experiencing, as well as driving greater employee retention by improving the quality of training across the business. Fáilte Ireland also chairs the tourism and hospitality careers oversight group, which continues to work closely with industry bodies, education providers and other Government bodies to support sustainable employment in the tourism sector with an immediate focus on recruitment and retention initiatives, as well as focusing on the long-term repositioning of the industry as a career choice. My Department and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science are represented on the careers oversight group. Officials from my Department also participate in the interdepartmental group on work permits chaired by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The work of the group resulted in up to 350 work permits being granted for managerial positions in certain tourism and hospitality businesses in 2021. My Department also successfully advocated last year for the prioritisation of chef permit applications, and is currently engaging with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with regard to permits now required. My Department and Fáilte Ireland will continue to engage with and provide support to the tourism sector through these challenging times.

The Minister of State mentioned chefs. Some 88% of respondents to the survey referenced by the Minister of State said they had considerable difficulty in recruiting chefs. We must consider the fact that 42% of workers who were working in the tourism and hospitality sector pre-pandemic, and who received PUP as a consequence, did not return to the industry. There are 40,000 vacancies in the sector. We pride ourselves in being Ireland of the welcomes. Tourism is a people-focused and a people-led experience. Until we can fill that gap, that experience will be diminished. I have often made the point that there was an organisation called CERT that was specifically focused on hospitality, tourism, and training chefs and hospitality staff. We need to go back to that organisation. I must say that I commend Fáilte Ireland. The survey is an excellent piece of work and research. It highlights the challenges that we face. The survey also found that in summer 2021, one third of hospitality workers were new to the industry. That figure will probably be even higher this summer. We need a strategy in place. It is too late for summer 2022 but we need to give guarantees to employers for summer 2023.

Deputy Calleary represents an area of County Mayo that is very similar to west Cork. They are two regions that rely very heavily on tourism. One could draw many parallels between the two regions. Westport is a bustling town in County Mayo; Clonakilty is a similar town in west Cork. Belmullet in County Mayo is similar to the Beara Peninsula in west Cork. There are many similarities. The point I am trying to get at is that there are many regions around Ireland, both on the coastline and inland, that rely heavily on tourism and hospitality, from the smaller cafés and pubs, up to the larger hotels.

Regional Ireland needs the survival of hospitality and in order to do that we need staff, to be able to recruit staff and to narrow the skills gap. There is a challenge and the Department needs to do everything possible to ensure that recruitment challenge is met so that the hospitality sector can survive into the future.

I appreciate what the Deputies say about Mayo and west Cork and that is why Fáilte Ireland is working closely with the key sectoral bodies and the tourism and hospitality oversight group, which is pivoted to focus on supporting the industry in its immediate recruitment challenges. Fáilte Ireland is supporting businesses to address vacancies in several ways. Regionally, Fáilte Ireland is helping the industry to build relationships with further and higher education providers to reach students and graduates who are available to work at peak times and become a key part of the seasonal work force. As part of this, Fáilte Ireland has also linked all the local education and training boards, ETBs, with businesses that are looking to recruit students to make them aware of the range of training and the scope of upskilling courses they can provide to newcomers to the industry. Fáilte Ireland is also working with the Department of Social Protection to promote the pathways to work strategy and improve opportunities for tourism and hospitality businesses to recruit from the live register to help ensure a future pipeline of talent and inspire the future generation of tourism. Fáilte Ireland recently launched the first ever industry-wide transition year work placement programme to provide tourism and hospitality businesses with a direct link to students looking for work experience placements which can progress to become seasonal roles.

I acknowledge that there is huge work under way but I am sure the Minister of State engages with and meets hospitality business owners on his travels and they are pulling their hair out to get qualified staff. I commend Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim ETB, which has commenced a programme of training for bar staff with local bars. It is a focused programme that provides skills. The level of vacancy is a threat to businesses. Some 30% of 1,000 responders to this robust survey say they face closure unless it is resolved. We are either serious about tourism as an industry or we are not. We have to put it on a proper and co-ordinated footing in terms of training. Let us build on this fantastic report. It has to wake us up to the challenge we face and we need an action plan on training and recruitment.

I want again to highlight the challenge. There was a feeling within hospitality that once the PUP was reduced recruitment and staff shortages would be less of an issue but that is not the case and unfortunately it is still a big issue. I will give the Minister of State an example of some of the issues. I spoke to one business recently that advertised for a chef position in June of last year and by October it had only received one CV, despite being quite a reputable business and that challenge is ongoing. Another business I spoke to was advertising on a monthly basis in the local newspapers to recruit in certain positions and it now has to do that on a weekly basis. It has to employ international recruitment agencies in order to try to recruit staff. There is a particular issue with chefs and visas for non-EU chefs, which needs to be expedited. On the whole we need to ensure there is an approach within the Government and the Department to ensure that hospitality and a career in it is a viable option and is attractive to young people.

Before the Minister of State comes in I wish to advise Deputy Durkan that his question is grouped in this set of questions if he wants to grasp his opportunity to come in.

Yes. There is a need to ensure every opportunity for recovery in the tourism sector, which is willing and anxious to proceed in the way already mentioned but needs that little bit extra.

We are not used to such brevity.

He was talking and walking. That was pretty impressive.

I hear what everyone is saying about Mayo, west Cork and Kildare. That is why significant work is ongoing by Fáilte Ireland with the ETBs, the Department of Social Protection on pathways to work and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment on permits and visas as was referenced. We are all aware of businesses and restaurants in our local areas and people across the hospitality and tourism industry that are struggling to meet demand and the huge difficulties there are. That is why the number one focus of the tourism and hospitality oversight group is to address the immediate recruitment challenges. As I referenced in my initial response there is cross-departmental representation on that. Work is also ongoing to develop a new and excellent employer programme to showcase good employers across the industry and to help businesses improve their employer practices and reputation so they become places that can attract and retain talent into the long term. In addition to the immediate work ongoing to address the gaps in the labour market, significant work is ongoing to develop it as a long-term and sustainable place to work.

Tourism Funding

John Lahart


10. Deputy John Lahart asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media the proportion of the annual tourism budget which is spent on research and development of the tourism product; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22112/22]

I want to ask the Minister of State the proportion of the annual tourism budget which is spent on research and development of the tourism product.

My Department's role in tourism lies primarily in the area of national tourism policy development and in securing resources to assist the tourism agencies in implementing that policy. With specific regard to research and development of our tourism product, this is an operational matter for Fáilte Ireland as the national tourism development authority. With regard to expenditure on research and development, Fáilte Ireland has advised that in 2021 it spent a total of €2.6 million on research relating to consumer planning and insights and on economic and industry analysis. Informed by the results of this research, Fáilte Ireland takes a strategic and insights-based approach to its investment in tourism product development in line with its tourism investment strategy 2016 to 2022, which sets out the overall framework for capital investment in tourism infrastructure to stimulate innovation and improve international competitiveness. This investment also aligns with the national objectives laid out in Project Ireland 2040 and the provision in the national development plan 2021 to 2030, NDP, for the delivery of enhanced amenity through capital investment in tourism product development and enhancement, with a particular focus on tourist attractions and activity-based tourism to provide the type and quality of experience that visitors are seeking.

Fáilte Ireland’s capital funding programme comprises a large grants scheme, that is now under the platforms for growth investment programme, which targets project categories that have the greatest potential to grow and support sustainable tourism. It also includes individual grant schemes, strategic partnerships with other bodies and direct investment in experience brand infrastructure. Its objective is to optimise key assets for the benefit of tourism and sustainable economic development while also increasing the geographic spread of visitors, promoting season extension and supporting sustainable growth management. At regional and local level, Fáilte Ireland develops, supports and promotes tourism in line with the relevant tourism experience brands, which provide the overarching context for related product development, marketing and enterprise supports. Looking to the future, officials in my Department have commenced the development of a new national tourism policy. This will provide an updated policy context for future tourism product development.

I remember asking this question in 2017 when I was spokesperson on Dublin. Tourism is an invisible export, which must be worth billions. It has always concerned me to think that Fáilte Ireland, the tourism agency body, spends so little on research into tourism. It spent €2.6 million in 2021, which is risible. I imagine the research budgets for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and its agencies; Enterprise Ireland; the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; and science are multiples of this and tourism is such an incredibly valuable product for Ireland. It always amazes me that so little is spent on tourism research, not just for visitors coming from Ireland but for visitors within Ireland to ask them what they want to see in their cities and towns from a tourism perspective. I want to get the Minister of State's perspective on that.

The Deputy is correct in saying that tourism is worth hundreds of millions - billions - of euro to the Irish economy and that is why I said that €2.6 million has been spent to produce those consumer planning insights and on an economic and industry analysis. The results of this research are used to inform a strategic approach to investment in tourism product development. As I have referenced previously, there is a new tourism policy development, which we launched in 2023. That will inform the prioritisation of spending lines.

Specific decisions related to expenditure not made by the Minister or her Department are made by Fáilte Ireland as the national tourism development authority. However, research carried out with the €2.6 million provides a strategic insight and enables much of the data to be upheld on promoting tourism. That research and insight is used to promote tourism across the board.

While this is not a criticism and the Minister of State is an esteemed colleague, €2.6 million is a very small budget that would build three special needs classrooms. The Minister of State will have heard me speak about the following things before. I would love to see research into how we can replicate Culture Night in Dublin. It is one night per year and yet it absolutely transforms the city. One rarely sees families in Dublin but on Culture Night, the city is populated with families. We have many art galleries but when we look at the tradition, history and reach of Irish music internationally, we see we have no tourist offering, whether for people at home or for visitors from abroad. One of my ambitions is for a good look to be taken at the Customs House. It houses the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. It is not fit for purpose for a modern Department that preaches the climate action piece. It would make an incredible city-centre based museum as a showcase for the history of music in Ireland from O'Carolan right through to contemporary musicians. What a site and location it is and could be as a tourist attraction. We could put a bit of money into Culture Night and the Customs House in terms of research and the tourist offering in the city centre.

In 2021, 1.1% of Tourism Ireland's core budget was spent on research. In 2022, research will account for 2.52% of the core budget. I appreciate what he has outlined around certain areas that warrant research and a focus. A number of ad hoc projects in specialised areas are being undertaken to try to embrace opportunities for the tourism economy to recover first.

Tourism Ireland in 2022 continued to undertake the Covid tracker research programme to track travel behaviours and identify the potential opportunities and barriers on the road to recovery of tourism. It will undertake research on segmentation, which will allow it look again at an overseas holidaymaker segmentation model. It will carry out more research on sustainability as it implements the learnings from the 2021 sustainability research. It will also carry out brand and campaign testing through the year, as well as ad hoc projects to support the priorities of the organisation. As an example, Tourism Ireland undertook research on the UK Nationality and Borders Bill in March and April to help inform our position on the issue prior to meeting with key stakeholders such as the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. However, I will bring the Deputy's feedback on what he has referenced. I appreciate what he has outlined.

Question No. 11 answered with Question No. 9.

Departmental Reports

Jennifer Murnane O'Connor


12. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media if she will provide an update on the Future of the Media Commission report, including when it will be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22117/22]

We know the important role that an independent and well-functioning media sector plays. I ask the Minister of State for an update on the Future of the Media Commission report, including when it will be published.

The media sector in Ireland, which is a vital element of our democracy and society as a whole, is undergoing fundamental change. These changes are for the most part driven by advances in technology and the manner in which we consume media content. The Government is committed to putting in place a framework that will enable a sustainable future for a vibrant, diverse and independent media sector, encompassing print, audiovisual, radio and online.

A key element in this was the establishment of the Future of Media Commission, which was chaired by Professor Brian MacCraith. I am sure the Deputy appreciates that the commission's task was a complex one with a remit to address the many issues of concern for the entire media industry. As a result, the its report and the wide ranging recommendations it contains has required careful and detailed thought.

However, the consideration of the commission’s report cannot be carried out in isolation but must have regard to a range of other complex and interrelated issues that the Government is addressing in the wider media and digital space. These include the national digital strategy and Ireland’s approach to the implementation of the Digital Services Act, which has been recently agreed at political level in Europe. Another key element of this overall approach is the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022, which is currently on Committee Stage in the Seanad, and in particular the establishment of a new media regulator, coimisiún na meán.

An coimisiún will provide the regulatory and developmental framework to implement the report of the Future of Media Commission. The commission will comprise an executive chairperson and three additional commissioners, including a broadcasting commissioner and a media development commissioner. Both of these will have a role in ensuring the effective delivery of the report. The detailed consideration of the Future of Media Commission’s report by an Taoiseach, the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, and other key Ministers is nearing conclusion and will be brought to the Government for consideration in the coming weeks.

As we progress in our discussions on the future of media in Ireland and see progression of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022, which is absolutely vital, it is vitally important that the debate and discussions around this are open and informed. The release of the Future of Media Commission report is a central part of this. I welcome the creation of the Future of Media Commission and I recognise that it was tasked with some challenging, wide-ranging topics to consider, namely, how we can put in place a sustainable framework for the wider media sector. It is vital that we support our media sector in Ireland and encourage diverse opinion and debate and that we support a sector which is ever more inclusive and accessible to all in society. What about recruitment of staff? What is the update on that? That matter has been asked of me recently.

I have a figure to hand. Did the Deputy want to ask about the number of staff in the media commission?

We estimate that approximately 121 personnel will be required for the start-up phase of coimisiún na meán with a number of these to be hired before formal establishment. An additional 33.5 staff are sought for coimisiún na meán to deliver on the recommendations of the Future of Media Commission. In addition and as provided for in the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022, the staff of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, which currently number 25 full-time equivalent staff, will transfer to coimisiún na meán on its establishment. In the longer term, it is envisioned that coimisiún na meán will require in excess of 300 staff to fully operationalise its functions, as envisaged in the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022.

The Minister of State spoke about Carlow and I met a representative of my local radio station last week as Mr. John Purcell was here in Leinster House to visit the Dáil.. One thing that was highlighted was the funding. The Minister of State is aware that local media are vital in rural Ireland. They provide real information in real time and do a great job of fighting wrong information. What are the supports for Carlow and Kilkenny's KCLR station? It is important for the future. Throughout Covid, we all saw how important local radio was to inform and let people know such as elderly people. My mother listened to it every day. She was able to tell me everything that was happening. Even though it covers local radio, it covers many national issues, which is also very important for people today. Funding is of utmost importance. KCLR has been operating for 18 years this week. I wish it the best. I was delighted to be on the station yesterday to wish it well. I hope it will see another 50 years.

I wish KCLR well. We all understand and know the importance of local radio. The Government is putting in place a framework which will enable a sustainable future for a vibrant, diverse and independent media sector to encompass print, audiovisual, radio and online media. The media sector is a vital part of our democracy and our society as a whole that is also undergoing many changes, for the most part driven by advances in technology and the manner in which we consume media content. The report of the Future of Media Commission continues to undergo detailed consideration. The Taoiseach, the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, and other Ministers are working through that and hope to bring it to Government for consideration in the coming weeks.

The next few weeks are very important. When the report is published we will have to look at the next steps in terms of actions on its recommendations including a framework. It is very important. We all know now, especially as politicians, that media play a significant role within our own lives and in how we communicate to the public and how our information is received.

We are working from different clocks but the Deputy has already spoken twice.

I thought I could come back in. I will never not take an opportunity.

Swimming Pools

David Stanton


14. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media the way her Department supports public swimming pools in order to assist them in remaining financially viable; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22089/22]

Neale Richmond


15. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media the steps she is taking to develop and support local swimming pools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22138/22]

We all do our best to support sport and sports facilities in our communities. One sport that is not just an activity but a life skill is swimming. I ask the Minister of State to update the House on supports for the development of new and existing swimming pools.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 14 and 15 together.

In response to the fallout caused by Covid-19, my Department provided funding of €2.5 million in 2020 to support those responsible for publicly accessible swimming pools in responding to the challenge associated with maintaining such pools and the effort to reopen within Covid-19 safety protocols. An additional €3.2 million was also provided in 2021 for this purpose, which is a further acknowledgement of the importance of the sector and the impact swimming has on the nation’s health. The funding was administered by Ireland Active on behalf of Sport Ireland and it supported 280 pools throughout the country. The day-to-day financial management of these public utilities is normally a matter for the operators of the facilities themselves. Capital funding for new swimming pools or the refurbishment of existing pools was previously provided through the local authority swimming pool programme, LASPP. A total of 52 pools have been completed under the LASPP. Three swimming pool projects, namely, those in Lucan, Buncrana and Edenderry, remain in the programme, with the Lucan project currently under construction.

My Department's capital support for new swimming pools is now being provided through the large scale sport infrastructure fund, LSSIF. The national development plan provided a capital allocation of at least €100 million for the fund to 2027. The first call for proposals under the fund was made in 2019, with applications confined to local authorities and sports national governing bodies. All applications were assessed in accordance with the evaluation procedures. Thus far, €86.4 million has been awarded to 33 projects. These initial allocations include funding for eight swimming pool projects. The priority in the short term is to advance all these projects, including the swimming pools, to construction stage.

Regarding future capital funding for pools, we are undertaking a review of progress on all existing LSSIF grants. As part of this review, my Department is also considering the timing of any new call for proposals. Turning to future policy, the national sports policy commits to the development of a national swimming strategy. As part of this, there will be a review of swimming pool provision to identify where gaps exist and how these can be addressed. Furthermore, the Sports Action Plan 2021-2023, which I published last November, contains an action to develop and implement a national swimming strategy to provide additional swimming opportunities indoors and outdoors. Initial preparatory planning work has been undertaken by my Department in this regard. It is intended to establish a working group in the near future to advance the detailed work of preparing a national swimming strategy, with a view to its completion and publication later this year.

I appreciate the Minister of State's reply and acknowledge the good work that has been done. He will accept, however, that while excellent calls have been published and funding has been drawn down, several projects are still simply caught in the process. I have deep knowledge of two such local projects in my constituency, including one of the pools in which I learned to swim. That was the infamous Glenalbyn swimming pool in Stillorgan, which has still not been redeveloped. The finance is in place and planning permission has been secured but agreement has not been reached between the local authority and the GAA. I call on the Minister of State to use his offices to intervene to get this situation resolved speedily. Generations of young children in that area have not had access to learn to swim in a public facility. The situation is the same just up the road in the Samuel Beckett Civic Campus. Planning permission has been obtained for the swimming pool and funding has been secured, but the project has still not gone to tender and construction has not started. The knock-on effect is that I and many dozens of other parents will spend three or four hours queueing to sign our children up for swimming lessons when those become available.

I thank the Deputy. Perhaps I can revert to him regarding the progress being made on these specific projects. I do know the Samuel Beckett Civic Campus project has an allocation of €5 million. We can provide an update on that project directly to Deputy Richmond. I agree, though, that there is a broader demand which must be met. Part of the national swimming strategy and our work with Swim Ireland will involve determining how we can identify new ways to develop facilities and infrastructure in communities. We can continue to build projects that cost tens of millions of euro, such as many of the projects listed under the auspices of the LSSIF. New ways of building infrastructure, however, can also deliver outcomes in respect of providing swimming lessons and facilities to local communities. There are new and innovative ways to provide more facilities in communities at a lower cost. We are working this approach through in the national swimming strategy and exploring new and innovative ways to deliver more swimming pool infrastructure. That is the work we are doing this year.

I would appreciate that involvement because there are so many swimming pools. Considering population growth, especially in my community, and factoring in the number of planning permission applications approved in the context of that expected growth, we can see there is going to be increased demand for what is an already oversubscribed swimming pool system. We not only need the two pools I mentioned to be refurbished and the new pool, but also more pools to service the community.

More pertinently, regarding the development of existing swimming pools, I must raise a matter about which concern has been expressed several times to my office. Following the Covid-19 pandemic, the reopening of our pools and the restructuring of lessons, there has been a slip-up in providing swimming facilities for those with additional needs. That is particularly the case for younger people with special needs in respect of having access to swimming pools for particular lessons and swimming and pool therapies. This is an issue that should shape the Swim Ireland strategy. We should be ensuring that learning to swim and to use the water correctly and enjoying that is something for all in our society.

I agree. Part of what we fund every year, through funds from dormant accounts, and what we are trying to do in the context of our Sport for All approach is ensure that there is inclusion across all sports, including swimming. All providers should be continuing or strengthening what they were doing prior to the onset of Covid-19, especially for people with disabilities. They should be ensuring that all activities are provided in an inclusive way. A key part of the national sports policy and the sports action plan, as I said, is to develop a new swimming strategy. As Deputy Richmond said, swimming is a vital life skill and one we have an increasing demand for in the context of the younger demographics of our population. It is a life skill that allows people to participate and be active in an activity from a young age all the way through to and then during retirement. We are cognisant of the need to ensure we have ongoing development of swimming pool infrastructure, as well as ensuring that is provided in an inclusive and affordable way. We will work this through with the Deputy and others. We are keen to ensure that we deliver a national swimming strategy this year and we are working that through with Swim Ireland.

Regulatory Bodies

James O'Connor


13. Deputy James O'Connor asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media the status of the establishment of the media commission, including recruitment of staff; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22110/22]

I wish to ask about the work the Government is undertaking on the establishment of the media commission, including the recruitment of staff. I would appreciate if the Minister of State could give the House some information on this important topic.

The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022 will, when enacted, formally dissolve the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, and establish a new regulator, Coimisiún na Meán, which will be responsible for overseeing the regulation of broadcasting and video on-demand services and the new regulatory framework for online safety. Coimisiún na Meán will also have functions relating to the promotion of an open, trusted and pluralistic media and online environment, including research, education, media literacy, the protection of children and journalistic and creative supports. Given that infringement proceedings have been launched against Ireland for the delay in the transposition of the revised audiovisual media services directive, which will be given direct effect in Irish law by the Bill, we are keen to see the legislation enacted by the summer recess. This would pave the way for formal establishment of an coimisiún by ministerial commencement order in the second half of this year.

The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022 was initiated in the Seanad on 25 January last and moved to Second Stage on 22 February. Committee Stage of the Bill in the Seanad commenced on 26 April and continued on 28 April and yesterday, 4 May. The next Committee Stage session is scheduled for 10 May. Given the importance of an coimisiún, the Government has approved its establishment on an administrative basis prior to the enactment of the Bill. While an coimisiún will, as set out in the legislation, ultimately be funded through levies on regulated services, €5.5 million was secured in the 2022 budget to provide start-up funds to resource the establishment process.

A programme of work is now under way to secure the recruitment of key staff with the relevant skills and expertise to establish and lead an coimisiún and to lay the groundwork for the commencement of its regulatory functions. This includes managing the transition of BAI staff and functions to an coimisiún, while also ensuring the continuity of existing broadcasting regulation set out under the Broadcasting Act 2009.

The recruitment of the senior staff who will lead and manage an coimisiún is a priority.

Work is currently under way between my officials and officials from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Public Appointments Service to secure the recruitment of those staff, including the executive chairperson and online safety commissioner, through open, transparent and effective public competitions. In light of the international reach of an coimisiún's remit, the recruitment process will commence with an executive search by the Public Appointments Service, to raise the profile and awareness of these critical posts. I expect that this process will commence in the current quarter.

I thank the Minister of State for his informed response. I welcome that the legislation will provide for the establishment of a multi-person media commission. It is important that we realise we are living in an extraordinarily different time in terms of how people consume media and information. It is timely and perhaps a little bit behind time that the State is starting a body of work in this area. Urgency must be shown in this regard. Unfortunately, many younger people are susceptible to potential misinformation through forms of social media. It is quite concerning. We need to bring in regulations and safety mechanisms and put an individual in place to examine that work and issues that may arise.

Could the Minister of State give us a little bit more information about the hiring process? Is anything available to the House in that regard in the context of where we are after coming though a very difficult two years? I urge the Minister of State to get down to the body of work that it is ahead of him, because it is important that it happens.

I thank the Deputy for his questions. I have made reference to the executive search process and the work ongoing between the Public Appointments Service and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. That is expected to happen in this quarter. We estimate that approximately 121 personnel will be required for the start-up phase of Coimisiún na Meán with a number of these to be hired before formal establishment. An additional 33.5 staff are being sought for the commission to deliver on the recommendations of the Future of Media Commission. In addition, as provided for by the Bill, the staff of the BAI, who currently number 35 full-time equivalents, will transfer over to Coimisiún na Meán on its establishment. In the longer term it is envisaged that Coimisiún na Meán will require in excess of 300 staff to fully operationalise its functions as envisaged in the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022.

I appreciate the responses the Minister of State has given me today and the reassurance that this work is being undertaken by the Minister and the Department. I thank the Minister of State for his ongoing engagement. He has referred many times to the sports capital grant programme. We all look forward to those appeals being finalised. I look forward to further discussion with him in that regard.