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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 16 Dec 2021

Vol. 281 No. 9

Live Industry Supports: Statements

We now have statements on live industry supports. I know many Members have a keen interest in this area. I welcome the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, to speak to us this evening. When she took office, she did not expect to be hit with a tsunami of Covid. I compliment her on all that has been done. I must keep an independent hat on me. I call on the Minister to speak for five minutes and then I will call on Senators to make their contributions. I give the floor to the Minister.

Is cúis áthais dom í a bheith anseo sa Seanad an tráthnóna dorcha Nollaig seo chun labhairt faoi na healaíona agus faoin chultúr, go háirithe an earnáil cheol beo agus an earnáil siamsaíochta. Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis na Baill as an deis seo labhairt leo maidir leis na tacaíochtaí atá curtha i bhfeidhm agam don earnáil fíorthábhachtach seo.

I am fully aware of the severe difficulties being faced by live performers and all artists as a result of the pandemic and my Department and I have engaged extensively with stakeholders to understand these challenges and put in place supports for the sector. From 7 December, new necessary measures to protect public health were introduced and included restrictions on capacities for live indoor performance. In response to this, the Government agreed to a €25 million increase in funding, bringing the provision for the live performance sector to €50 million in 2022. In addition, I have provided €4 million for the night-time economy in 2022.

Restrictions impact very particularly on the viability of live performances and therefore, the Government has increased and expanded horizontal supports from across the Departments including the employee wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, and the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, and extended the local authority rates waiver to the end of March next year. The pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, has been amended and reopened to support people who lose their employment from 7 December as a result of the new restrictions. These areas are the responsibility of the Ministers, Deputies Donohoe, Humphreys, Darragh O'Brien and the Tánaiste, whom I have also engaged with extensively on behalf of the hard-hit sectors I represent. This evening, I intend to give the House details of the supports provided by my Department.

The epidemiological situation is such that we are not where we expected to be at this point. We as a Government have had to take the very difficult decision to introduce restrictions by limiting capacity on the live performance sector to 50% of seated capacity, as well as the closure of nightclubs. In 2020 and 2021, the live performance support scheme, LPSS, and the local live performance support scheme, LLPSS, operated by local authorities on behalf of the Department, were instrumental in making it possible for thousands of artists, crew and workers in the arts, culture, live music and entertainment sector to engage in thousands of days of paid work, when it would have not otherwise been economically viable. This support has been far-reaching across the country and across the sector. I will share some results with the House now.

The pilot live performance support scheme in 2020 provided support to 59 separate promoters and producers, totalling more than €5 million. The live performance support scheme in 2021 supported 239 promoters, venues and producers in every corner of Ireland. My officials are currently gathering information on activity generated to provide a final report. However, based on information provided today, we can say that more than 32,000 people have been employed through this scheme, with more than 53,000 employment days created. Under the local live performance support scheme, grants were awarded to all 31 local authorities. Senators will probably be aware of this scheme but may not know that it is an initiative of my Department. It has proved incredibly popular and my Department has received very positive feedback on phase 1 of the scheme and the launch of phase 2 was very much welcomed. Its popularity stems in part from the fact that it reaches local musicians, artists and performers that may not have benefited from the LPSS itself. Based on the feedback gathered so far, more than 4,000 people have been employed during phase 1, with more than 6,000 days of employment created.

Under the commercial entertainment capital grant scheme, a total of 88 grants of up to €25,000 each have been awarded to venues, performance facilities and private sector classes throughout the country for Covid adaptation improvements, including ventilation. These grants have been paid out this week and will undoubtedly be welcomed by a sector which strives to make venues and performance spaces the safest possible for audiences.

Under phases 1 and 2 of the event sector Covid support scheme, 480 grants of up to €50,000 each were awarded in 2021. This is targeted support for SMEs operating in the events sector, including event managers, service providers in lighting, sound, stage equipment, fencing equipment, security and catering. Funding for this scheme amounts to €11.5 million and was provided via transfer from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

Under the music and entertainment business assistance scheme, MEBAS, which comprised of MEBAS I, MEBAS II and MEBAS phase 2, more than 1,000 grants were approved during 2021, with amounts ranging from €1,500 to €5,000. This scheme supports sole traders, partnerships or incorporated businesses in the sector to include musicians, bands, DJs, sound, lighting, audio engineers, stage managers, and stage technicians. The sum of €1 million was allocated to the St. Patrick's Festival 2021 for arts programming, supporting more than 3,500 days of employment for performers, producers, artists, technicians, creatives and support staff.

My Department opened up stream D of the Cultural Capital Scheme 2019-2022 in July 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is open to not-for-profit arts and culture organisations. Stream D is specifically for any capital adaptations or equipment necessary to assist arts and culture organisations in reopening safely after Covid-19 and to help prevent its spread. To date, €977,000 has been allocated to 104 arts and culture organisations with €818,000 of this paid to 100 organisations.

The outdoor public space scheme was introduced to help local authorities open up and create public spaces and facilities dedicated to the arts, culture and festivals. The scheme was developed in consultation with the County and City Management Association and with input from Fáilte Ireland. Projects must demonstrate how they will support the night-time economy. Each local authority can apply for up to €250,000 under the scheme. To date, 18 local authorities have been awarded funding of more than €4.4 million under this scheme.

I also provided a very important support for well-being in the sector. There is no doubt but that the mental health of the nation is taking a battering under Covid-19. If anything, this is much more acute for artists who have a compelling need to perform their art. I provided €230,000 to Minding Creative Minds, a free counselling service available to every individual in the creative sectors.

The package of supports for €50 million that I announced last week included a reactive support for events that were due to take place in December and January to minimise cancellations and to provide support where these are unavoidable. The new supports for the sector include €5 million for the seasonal musical theatre and pantomime scheme. This fund will increase from €2 million to €5 million and the turnover requirement is being reduced to €100,000 from €300,000 with applications being accepted until the end of January 2022. This scheme is now open for applications. Funding has already begun to be paid out to the successful applicants this week.

A total of €20 million has been provided for another strand of the live performance support scheme, LPSS 3, specifically to support performances in December and January which may need to be cancelled, curtailed or rescheduled. This non-competitive scheme will open for applications tomorrow, 17 December. Venues, including nightclubs that stage live performances, producers and promoters can apply for up to 50% of their eligible costs. A minimum of €14 million is being provided for another strand of the live performance support scheme, LPSS 4, to support performances being staged from February 2022 to June 2022. This scheme will open in January 2022, and gives venues and promoters some certainty that they can continue to run financially viable live performances with our support across the sector for the first half of the year. With this money, they can continue to employ musicians and the people who help behind the scenes. Further assessments will take place as we continue through to the new year.

The sum of €5 million is being provided for local authorities to support local artists and performances through the local live performance support scheme. This will include funding for community and local pantomimes. A total of €5 million is being provided to continue the capital supports scheme, the commercial entertainment capital grant scheme, CECGS, to venues, including for ventilation upgrades and other Covid adaptations. Stream D of the cultural capital scheme for not-for-profits will continue as long as the pandemic restrictions are extant. The sum of €1 million will again be provided to the Saint Patrick's Festival 2022 to employ artists and arts workers. A further extension of MEBAS, which supports businesses in the music sector, will be announced in January. The current phase 2 of this scheme has provided grant support to businesses to cover costs up to the end of December. The Minding Creative Minds well-being initiative will continue to be funded.

The rationale behind these schemes is to provide employment opportunities for artists, musicians and crew. Thousands of days of employment were generated by the schemes over the summer and autumn when other activity was restricted due to public health measures. I am confident that the new strands of the schemes will give much needed employment to musicians, artists and arts workers again, including in the nightclub sector. I am committed to supporting the live performance and the nightclub sector as it journeys through this really difficult phase. The schemes aim to be as flexible, responsive and timely as possible in that regard.

In 2021, I allocated a record €130 million to the Arts Council. The council has been doing extraordinary work in getting this funding to artists and arts organisations across the State.

It would take many hours to elaborate and itemise the interventions made by the Arts Council with this money but here is a flavour. The council provided funding for 12 organisations that protected them from closure, with €1.7 million from the emergency stability fund, with over €8 million awarded through the agility award to over 1,800 individual artists, and with €4.3 million in capacity building support scheme funding for 248 organisations. It enabled artists to better reach the public with a series of digital skills webinars and a toolkit. Maureen Gaffney chaired Surviving or Thriving well-being webinars, which was and is a particularly important intervention. The Arts Council also oversaw a 239% increase in approved bursaries and an increase of 412% in the value of the bursaries in 2021. Some 189 new schools joined the Creative Schools programme in 2021, alongside 164 schools which are continuing their second year of the programme. Over 265 creative artists, practitioners and associates are engaged in the initiative.

As a former music teacher, a singer and as someone who has busked many a time in Dublin's Grafton Street, like so many musicians and music lovers in this House, I have been distraught at the damage done to our arts during the pandemic. This is just a snapshot of the work my Department and the Arts Council have done to support the sector throughout this Covid-19 crisis. I guarantee that it is support that will continue unabated so long as the sector needs it.

I ask Members to co-operate with the speaking times so everybody can say their piece. I call Senator Garvey on behalf of the Green Party.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Tá sí chomh gnóthach. Ní fheicim í go minic. I will take the opportunity to thank the Minister. Coming from Clare, the home of music, I can talk about what I have seen first-hand in the sector in Clare. The whole pandemic has, of course, been devastating for the sector. Despite every Cabinet Minister fighting over money, the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, has done well to get a very good deal and to get as much money as she could for the entertainment sector, as well as for sports and arts. I personally have received so many emails and phone calls of thanks to be passed on to the Minister and I have not had the opportunity to do so. These came from venues, hotels, musicians and performing artists. We can always blame the Government but we did not create the Covid virus, although the Minister has been left to deal with the repercussions of it and people are starting to recognise that now. It is terrible that things have to be shut down but health advice has to be taken. The Minister has to follow it and she has to stipulate what needs to be done for the safety of all.

I want to give the Minister a flavour of the situation. This weekend, we have 48 gigs in Clare all funded through the Clare Arts Office, which got the funding from the Minister. I could go on forever. From Loop Head, over to Killaloe, up to Mountshannon and down to Ballyvaughan, there are things happening everywhere – indoors, outdoors and on the streets. We have new outdoor venues that we have never seen before, and they got funding thanks to the Minister.

She is the right woman for the job. I do not know if anybody else could have got so much in such a short time, all things considered and given the challenges. The Clare Arts Office and Clare Tourism actually struggled to spend and to deal with all the money. They got so many supports that they were completely blown away. They had not expected those sectors would receive so much. I have friends who got grants who had never got grants before in their lives. I have musician friends who got money to develop their trade and, for the first time, they had funding and they got paid to be at home, and to write, to create and to develop their craft. For years, they have just been performing. This funding the Minister has given has enabled them to nurture their own trade and to look at other skills, reach out and be more creative.

The Minister has had a very hard time. It is hard for everybody. People are getting so sick of Covid now that it is all about blaming somebody or something. I know several musicians, famous ones as well as very good traditional musicians who nobody knows about, but we have them all in Clare. Not only do we have lots of good musicians who are from Clare, but we have lots of them living in Clare as well. I have to say, with my hand on my heart, that they are deeply grateful for what the Minister has tried to do in a really challenging time. As we have the Minister in the House, I want to take the opportunity chun buíochas a ghabháil léi agus tá a lán daoine an-bhuíoch di. Bhí dúshláin mhóra roimpi. Iarraim uirthi coinneáil leis. The Minister is just getting started. If we did not have a pandemic, God knows what would have happened.

Nobody in the history of the State has ever introduced the basic income that the Minister has introduced and that she is working on. She is going to be talking to over 200 groups of artists. This is what I really like about the Minister. She is listening and engaging with people and with groups. That is how we progress as a Government and as politicians; it is when we listen to people. The pilot scheme will open for applications early in the new year. Almost 200 artists, art workers and representative bodies will be in attendance at the meetings with the Minister. That is why she has been doing so well so far. It is because she has been listening to people, artists and venues. Right from the get-go, a year and a half ago, she was straight out to create spaces outdoors so people could at least have creativity in the outdoors. I hope she gets a couple of days off over Christmas because I know she has not had a break in a year and a half, but everybody needs a break. I hope she gets a small one and I hope her children get to see her. I thank her from the bottom of my heart because those messages are straight from many musicians, performers and hotel owners, who have been ringing me and emailing me to please tell the Minister they are really grateful for what she has been trying to do for them. Go raibh míle maith agat.

I welcome the Minister to the Chamber. I want to go through some points with her that the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland has asked me to raise with her today. There is €25 million for the live entertainment sector for 2022 in the budget and an additional €25 million was secured on the announcement of the most recent restrictions, which effectively closed the sector, yet this €25 million goes only to the ticketed sector. The survey recently carried out by the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland has the following findings. Just over 70% of the workers surveyed did not receive any work through the live performance support scheme, LPSS. Over 50% did receive support through the music and entertainment business assistance scheme, MEBAS. Almost 96% have not received funding through the Arts Council since March 2020.

The Arts Council funded theatres, venues and organisations in 2020 and 2021 through the emergency stabilisation fund. What was the reason for this funding? If it was because venues were suffering loss of revenue due to being unable to stage performances, then box office takings were almost non-existent. Was this not a compensation scheme and should this have been afforded to all businesses who suffered the same?

As Minister with responsibility for the arts, Deputy Catherine Martin has stated she cannot advise the Arts Council on policy or give it any direction. On 13 October 2021, in a press briefing on budget 2022, in response to a question about the difficulty in accessing arts funding and the difficulty in the application process, a reporter asked if the Minister would like to see that simplified. The Minister replied by saying it was not for her to tell the council how to do its business, that it is separate to her and so, legally, she cannot instruct it on how to do that. On 19 November 2020, in response to a parliamentary question, the Minister responded to a question about instructing the Arts Council on policy, by saying: "While I have authority to give policy direction to the Arts Council, I am also bound to recognise the statutory independence of the Arts Council in its funding decisions". The Arts Act 2003, Part 2, section 5(3), states: "The Minister may, in relation to the performance by the Council of its functions (other than under section 24), give a direction in writing to the Council requiring it to comply with such policies of the Minister or the Government as are specified in the direction". Which is it? The Minister can instruct it or she cannot. Does she know? Why has the Minister not exercised that ability? The Arts Council received €130 million of taxpayers’ money. Does the Minister not think a publicly elected representative and a Minister of the Government should exercise her legal power over Arts Council policy, especially at a time when its funding was generously increased to €130 million for two years in a row?

With regard to the recent funding announcement of the €25 million secured in budget 2022 and the additional €25 million secured on foot of recent restrictions, when was the decision taken to allocate €34 million to the LPSS 3 and 4 schemes? On 29 November, at the live entertainment stakeholder forum, the question was directly put to the Minister’s official on the €25 million and whether the decision had been made that it would only be used for the LPSS. The answer was an emphatic "No" and it was said that the decision had not been made already and it would not be just the LPSS. However, on 24 November, at the Minister's appearance in front of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media, she stated, in reference to the €25 million fund, that there is the LPSS of €25 million for 2022. It sounds like the decision has been made yet a stakeholder forum was convened on 29 November.

Are these stakeholder funds only a box-ticking exercise? Some €44 million of this funding is being funnelled through competitive schemes, meaning that not everyone will benefit. Imagine if pubs had been supported during the pandemic by a competitive scheme under which a particular pub would receive support but the one across the road would receive nothing.

The proposal for a scheme of Covid supports for arts and art workers proposed by the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland, MEAI, was emailed to the Minister's officials on 31 August 2021. Not until 24 November, during her appearance at the Oireachtas joint committee, did MEAI discover the Minister considered the scheme not feasible. She stated that officials examined it and believed it was not feasible. On 2 November, the music and entertainment cross-party committee wrote to her to enquire in this regard.

The Minister can clearly see that these schemes are not working for the artists she is here purporting to represent. I need her to do more.

I will let Senators know when they have 30 seconds left because I want to ensure all present get five minutes to contribute.

The Minister is very welcome. It is sad and unfortunate these restrictions are necessary as a result of the health situation and where we find ourselves. It was such a fantastic period when we had full auditoriums back again. At the end of November and start of December, I was lucky enough to attend three live shows with full houses over three weekends, demonstrating my wide taste in various types of music, as Senator Malcolm Byrne will attest, from our own internationally acclaimed Brian Byrne from Navan who appeared along with a host of music stars at the Solstice Arts Centre in Navan, to Gary Barlow live in the 3Arena and the "Sunday Miscellany" live Christmas performance in the National Concert Hall. The joy on people's faces at being at those live events was fantastic to see.

What is notable - I do not have to say it to the Minister or anyone else here to discuss this issue - is the massive amount of employment that is generated behind the scenes of all these live events, particularly the big live shows. Many people, not just the performers, are dependent on these events for their income. The Minister alluded to that in her speech. It is notable. I know that, with her other hat on, she is taking account of the tourism that spins off from live events, especially the big live shows in the 3Arena, for the hotel and hospitality industry. There is no doubt that, of all the Ministers, she has been faced with one of the most challenging scenarios arising from Covid and the impact on the people she represents. She has tried valiantly, such as by ensuring performances could take place in safe outdoor spaces in summer. I praise her for that and for trying to demonstrate ways the sector could still function.

The funding of €50 million announced last week is significant. The Minister referred to the broad range of associated supports. Of particular importance are the mental health supports for those impacted. I praise her for doing that.

The passion the Minister has for this was evident from her speech. Her background is clearly a factor in that regard. She mentioned that she busked on Grafton Street in years gone by. The issue of musicians who do not qualify for the schemes that have been announced is problematic. Such musicians may end up falling between two stools in this regard in that they do not perform at ticketed events but only play small gigs at clubs and so forth. We need to ensure the funding will trickle down to those who are struggling and need it the most. It is important these musicians who are passionate about their artistic performance are not squeezed as a result of not being able to qualify. Those who were previously able to eke out a living have experienced massive losses in income in the past 22 months. They are all self-employed people, and in the past 22 months there has only been a very small window when they could be operational. The Minister mentioned supports such as the music and entertainment business assistance scheme and others that were provided and are very welcome. It comes down to the qualification for those schemes and the demonstration of associated business costs. Many of these people are small self-employed people and will struggle to get the various pieces of required documentation together.

The amount of money is significant. Will it be sufficient to provide for all those who wish to qualify? The Minister has done exceptionally well to acquire that funding, but what would she like to see beyond it in terms of making sure the people she mentioned actually receive the support they require? I am sure she is aware that a lot more funding is probably needed. She mentioned in her speech and when she announced the funding last week that there are other ways in which this issue could be tackled and that she is examining how further supports can be provided to the broader events sector. In what ways could that be done? Is it a question of liaising with other Departments, such as the Department of Social Protection, to see what help they can provide? That has to be examined. I thank the Minister for being present. We wish her well in the work she is doing.

I thank Senator Cassells for his co-operation. I understand Senator Carrigy wishes to share time with Senator Currie. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The Minister is very welcome. I concur with the comments of Senator Cassells regarding the fact she has had one of the most challenging Departments in the past 18 months. I thank her for the work she has done. There are still issues outstanding but she has done a serious amount of work across a broad spectrum.

It is important to recognise that the sector has been totally devastated by Covid-19, be it as a result of social distancing, travel restrictions, closures or the 50% capacity restriction. The events sector accounts for 90% of the 5 million tickets sold in Ireland each year and contributes €3.5 billion to the economy. Every €1 spent brings an additional €6 spend in the tourism and hospitality sector.

In summer, the Oireachtas joint committee, of which I am a member, produced a report and made several proposals. It recommended that the Department engage with the stakeholders in respect of the roll-out of the MEBAS and expedite plans to develop new support schemes for artists, with meaningful engagement with representatives of the entertainment sector regarding plans to open. It called for the full rate of PUP to be maintained for workers in the entertainment sector until the industry is fully open and for it to be ensured no workers in the sector are reduced to jobseeker status in the interim period. Unfortunately, not all those proposals were taken on board. At the most recent meeting of the committee, I asked the Minister for a full report on the proposals in hospitality and entertainment to be sent to the committee.

As Senator Keogan stated, figures we got from the MEAI indicate that 70% of workers did not receive any work through the live performance support scheme, LPSS, and 50% only received support through MEBAS. Funding for the Arts Council has been doubled but a significant proportion of that funding went to theatres, venues and organisations. I welcome the fact the funding is being maintained for 2022. I have met several people in my home county who are in that sector. They have been very positive about the supports that have been put in place. Unfortunately, some people in the live entertainment sector have been left behind, as demonstrated by the figures to which I referred. The MEAI proposed a scheme but it was not accepted by the Department. To my understanding, however, the funding for the scheme was not exhausted because it was treated slightly differently. What was the basis for the requirement in respect of business costs, which ruled out many people from being able to apply? Other schemes designed to offer the same type of support did not have that requirement. I sought an update from the Department in recent days but I have not received any figures on the various schemes. I have spoken to several people in the industry, including a young lady who lost all her gigs and will travel to Dubai in the new year to make money to be able to support herself in college.

In the context of the traditional panto, I welcome the reduction to €100,000 but, unfortunately, it will not cover all the local pantos.

A separate scheme was rolled out.

I will be seeking for all pantos to be covered. I welcome any such scheme.

I am heartened by the Minister's concluding remarks, where she stated support will continue unabated. I welcome that. I am not trying to be critical of her. I welcome the work she has done and the fact she stated support will be there for the coming year.

This is the first chance I have had to engage with the Minister. It is nice to meet her here in the Seanad. I thank her for the comprehensive update. She has an incredibly challenging brief.

This period has been quite challenging for people who are creative and need to connect with people. That is their passion and vocation in life. As my colleague said, we have to make sure that people are not left behind. If a basic income for artists and creative people is what comes out of this, that is a good thing because creativity is part of our DNA.

I have a slightly different question. I have tried to be a voice for the wedding industry throughout the pandemic. I will make a point I have made consistently. I am not here to ask the Minister for supports for the wedding industry, but those working in it do not have a place to go to in government. They do not know where to go. I talked to members of the Wedding International Professionals Association and they do not feel they have a Ministry they can go to. They gravitate towards the Minister's Department because it covers live entertainment, tourism and, in part, business. They believe that the Minister's Department is probably the one to go to because it takes in events. The wedding industry is worth €3 billion. Its members want best practice but they need to engage and are looking for partnership. I ask the Minister to bring back to the Department that we need to be able to give them a Ministry they can come to about best practice.

Senators Warfield and Black have reversed their places. I will call Senator Black. Is that agreed? Agreed. I ask all remaining speakers to stick to their time.

I thank my colleague, Senator Warfield, for allowing me to speak next in case we run out of time. The Minister is very welcome to the Chamber. This is a critical debate. As the Minister can imagine, I am very concerned about the music industry. We need to act now to save the music and live entertainment industry in this country. Some action has to be taken.

The long and short of it is that music and live entertainment are an intrinsic part of what it means to be Irish. They are so much part of who we are and we cannot imagine life without them; I certainly could not. I do not think anybody in this Chamber could imagine life without the music industry, but we may have to if immediate action is not taken to save it and the people employed in it. We might have to say goodbye to the music industry because of the way it is going at the moment. The reality is that musicians I know are leaving the industry because they cannot survive on no money and they are not earning. When I talk about music and live entertainment, I need to be clear that I am not talking about international touring acts playing in multi-thousand seat venues in Dublin, Cork or Galway. I am talking about the music that is written, learned, performed and enjoyed on this island in pubs, bars, small theatres and venues. It is the lifeblood of Irish music and without it we do not have a music and live entertainment industry.

We need to remember that this industry is made up of people. The music is written and played by people who have dedicated their entire lives to perfecting their craft, which makes an invaluable contribution to Irish life. These are people whose livelihoods have been completely decimated over the past two years, who have families that they are struggling to provide for and who cannot afford their Santa Claus presents. I am getting upset because I have to listen to what the reality is. It is horrendous. A man sat in front of me this week who was completely and utterly broken. His gigs were all cancelled, he has no money and he cannot get the PUP. Even if he did, some people only get €200. How can anyone survive on that?

All I am asking is that the Minister listens to those in the smaller sections of the music industry. I am asking her to please listen to the musicians. The cross-party Oireachtas committee has asked for a meeting with the Minister twice. We got no response. We just want a little respect. That is all it is; respect and dignity. I have been in the music industry for years. I know what it is like to be disrespected. I have gone through it and did my apprenticeship. The Minister is a good woman and has a good heart. She knows what it is like because she is a musician. I am asking her to please listen to what musicians have to say. I ask her to please just talk to them and listen to what they are saying.

The stories people tell me speak to the reality of the experiences of those employed in the music and live entertainment industry. The Minister has worked very hard on this, but I am concerned that the supports that have been committed by her Department are somewhat misplaced. They are not getting to the heart of the problem and the suffering of people directly employed in the music and live entertainment industry. The moneys committed to the industry as a whole are welcome but they are not reaching the people they need to reach. I work with those people all the time. The LPSS is a competitive scheme targeted at venues and promoters. I am sure the funding awarded to venues and promoters under this scheme is very welcome. However, for every venue and promoter that got the funding there are likely to be twice as many that did not. Why are we relying on competitive schemes to support an industry as important to us as this? It is the lifeblood of who we are in Ireland. Imagine the uproar if, during the pandemic, support for other industries, such as hospitality, was provided through competitive schemes. Why do we not treat the music and entertainment industry with the respect it deserves?

I have so much to say but my time has run out. I am sorry we did not have much longer for this discussion. What will the Minister do for all the musicians who have no money today? They are facing into Christmas, cannot get their Santa Claus presents and cannot pay their mortgages and heating bills. What can the Minister do for them today? I would love an answer to what the Minister will do for them today and for the next month. That is all. I know that the Minister has all these schemes, and that everything is together and it has been wonderful, but it is not enough. I ask the Minister to please meet the musicians and talk to them. They want to talk to her. I understand she might be annoyed and frustrated but I am asking her to please talk to them.

I understand that because of Senator Black's involvement in the music industry her address was quite emotional. We all understand where she is coming from. I will move to Senator Wall. I ask Senators to keep to four minutes, if they can. I will get rid of my four minutes to give them the time, which is fair for me to do.

It is hard to follow those heartfelt words from Senator Black but I will try. I also welcome the Minister to the House. There can be no doubt that one of the industries hit hardest by the Covid pandemic is live music and entertainment. Once again, it is this industry that is being told it must reduce the numbers attending its venues. It is those working in this industry who are listening to the prospect of further restrictions in the venues where they perform.

I recently raised the case of a late-night venue in my hometown of Athy, whose owners reached out because of falling numbers in that venue. They were crying out for support and said that unless there was a reintroduction of previous assistance offered by the Government, they would simply have to close their doors with a loss of jobs. My colleague, Councillor Níall McNelis, has informed me of the Róisín Dubh venue in Galway. I have spoken to its owner, Simon Heaslip, who described the current situation as brutal and simply mental torture. All of his 17 sold-out performances have been cancelled, some of them for the third or fourth time. Operators must ring those who have booked tickets each time, which is three times more work for staff. As we all know, December is the most important month for all the operators of live music venues because January, February and March are traditionally the worst months of the year. Yet, in the case of the Róisín Dubh and many more venues, December is simply a write-off.

I acknowledge the package that was recently announced by the Government. It will make some difference to those venues but, without the doors opening, their December take will be but a small fraction of what was taken in 2019. The landlords of these venues must still be paid their rent and those operating the venues must still pay the mortgages on their homes. Many people I have spoken to, such as Simon Heaslip, acknowledge the Minister's assistance with this brutal situation, as they describe it. They thank her for it, but they want more and I am sure the Minister knows that they are still suffering.

I will also mention the people Senator Black has so eloquently spoken about. Today, I took the opportunity on Second Stage of the Social Welfare Bill to raise the concerns of many performers with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys. In acknowledging the reintroduction of the PUP, I asked the Minister to look again at the rates of this payment, especially for those in the live entertainment industry. In December of last year, the Government, through the Department of Social Protection, increased the threshold for self-employed people who can now earn up to €960 over an eight-week period while retaining their PUP entitlement, which was obviously an increase. It was rightly welcomed by many at the time.

The Department of Social Protection described this as a new measure that would allow a self-employed person to take an intermittent job or a one-off gig without losing his or her entitlement. The problem now, as we all know, for many in the live music industry, and in particular those who find themselves on the lower rate of the PUP, is that they have no more one-off gigs or intermittent jobs. They have no additional income and they and their families are suffering terribly at this time.

Members have mentioned Mr. Jackie Conboy and the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland. My colleague, Senator Sherlock, continues to raise the plight of those stuck on this payment and has highlighted the many issues I have previously spoken about. I pay tribute to my colleague, Senator Black, on her contribution here tonight, which has been very important. As I am sure the Minister knows from meetings with representatives of the MEAI, many of its members are professional musicians or operate professional supports for the industry. They also own houses and have families, mortgages and other loans. They simply cannot repay them at this time because, as I said, there are no more one-off gigs or employment. I ask the Minister to reach out to the MEAI in the coming days and listen to what it has to say on behalf of its members. Please help these professionals who are calling out for so much help at this time in the run-up to Christmas.

There was also supposed to be a three-week review of the reopening after 22 October. Will the Minister let us know in her reply if it ever took place and what were the findings? I also ask about the protocol and regulations for community and social halls throughout the country. It is clear from conversations with colleagues such as Councillor John Pratt in Waterford that online booking is simply not working for them and the halls are not operating.

I will finish by thanking the Minister once again. I hope we can work towards a basic income for those in the industry so their talents, which we all enjoy and admire, can be feasible to live on.

I appreciate the Senator's co-operation. By giving my four minutes to the final three speakers, there will be 12 minutes and they might use four minutes each. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I will not take the full four minutes if it allows the Acting Chairman to make a contribution if he so wishes.

I welcome the Minister to the House and commend Senator Black on calling for the debate. I acknowledge her service to the industry and advocacy on its behalf in recent years. I also echo the request for the Minister to meet the Oireachtas group, although I am not a member of it. It has sought a meeting and Deputy Ó Snodaigh and I have also requested a meeting. We would appreciate that as well.

We have warned since the start of the pandemic about the potential impact on musicians and those impacts have been laid out here this evening and are very clear. People are struggling to pay bills and put food on the table. Their mental health is hitting rock bottom and talented artists are leaving the sector in their droves. Many cannot access the supports that are in place. I can think of big groups like Lankum and The Gloaming, whose success comes from standing on the shoulders of all those who perform in our pubs around the country. There was mention of MEBAS being introduced again in January and it seems to be the most successful scheme. It appears that will be needed far sooner in order for people to get through Christmas. People should not be in competitive or "dog eat dog" schemes, with scraps to be given by promoters, venues and producers. Many of the people in question are sole traders who rely on pubs and non-ticketed gigs, as I do on the small number of occasions I perform at this point.

I will give a minute to Senator Eugene Murphy if he wants. In the time I have left I will mention the basic income scheme. There are so many outstanding questions and I wonder what the purpose and design of the scheme will be. There is to be €25 million spent and the scheme is not means-tested and so on. Is that the best way to spend this money? I want to see some type of scheme that gives a weekly payment and we have called for a living wage pilot scheme in the past, although I am not sure about the planned scheme. I am worried it will be rushed and I am not sure the scheme that is planned is what is required. Is that the best way to spend €25 million? I am just not sure and I do not want to see a rushed scheme that ends up really dividing artists and the arts sector.

If it does not conflict with the Minister's timetable, I propose an additional ten minutes be added to the time for this debate.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I certainly echo many of the comments of my colleagues and particularly those so eloquently expressed by Senator Black. All of us in the Chamber look forward to a day when we can debate arts and culture policy without the impact of Covid-19. The Minister and her Government have had achievements, including increasing Arts Council funding to €130 million, additional supports for local authorities and the introduction of the basic income scheme. These are all positive developments but, unfortunately, we are dealing with the challenges of the here and now.

I will not go over some of the comments raised to date during this debate but I want to look beyond to some of the specific schemes and the scenario after 9 January. We cannot continue the position of opening live theatre and events and then closing them again. The supports are appreciated but it is almost like we allow them to open, we kneecap the sector and then we give people crutches. If we allow them to open again, we kneecap them again and give them crutches. That cannot continue and there must be an element of certainty. Looking beyond 9 January, the problem for theatres and live venues is they are planning a spring schedule and making financial commitments but they do not know what will be the position after 9 January. I appreciate we cannot predict the trajectory of the virus but it is important that we get decisions for all those venues before 9 January. I ask the Minister to not make announcements on 8 January about the changes that will happen as that would not be acceptable. It was tough enough to announce on a Friday specific changes that would happen on the following Tuesday. I ask the Minister to make that announcement as soon as possible.

Another point I make about January is that it might be very different. By 9 January, if the booster campaign is rolled out as quickly as it seems it might, we should see everybody over 40 and those who are vulnerable triple-vaccinated or at least given that opportunity. Theatres and live venues are safe and controlled environments. In places I have gone, I have been asked for the Covid-19 pass and identification. I have had my temperature checked going into several places. It is important for the Minister to try, if she can today, to give us some certainty about what might happen from 9 January. This is important not just for the professional sector but the amateur theatre sector. We are about to move into the three-act drama festivals taking place right around the country. Local musicals will be staged over the next number of months. All of that planning is happening now and the lack of certainty and a clear roadmap is causing a problem.

I welcome the supports. Senator Cummins and I had a Commencement matter last week that the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, took on the Minister's behalf. It concerned local pantomimes and theatres. I very much welcome that €5 million fund that will be administered through local authorities. The difficulty is we do not have details of that scheme. The problem for many pantomimes and local theatre Christmas productions, as the Minister appreciates, is they are on now or are being planned for January. Those groups are already ringing the local authorities, who do not know what will happen. It makes perfect sense to channel the money through the local authorities but we must ensure the money is there and it is a simple scheme that is easy to administer to get the money into the hands of those groups as quickly as possible.

Other than that I echo the comments of Senator Black and everyone else. In all the schemes, the most important point is getting the money into the hands of musicians and artists.

I welcome the Minister to the House and this is a debate that many of us requested last week. I thank the Minister and the Leader for facilitating statements this evening on a critical topic.

The Minister is aware the live theatre, arts and events industry has had what can only be described as a torrid 20 months.

The impact of closures, curtailments, restricted audiences, social distancing and cancellations has been devastating for lives and livelihoods. This industry adds so much to the rich cultural and social tapestry of our country but it is often misunderstood. I have purposely used the word "industry" because there is a perception that those involved in theatre, the arts, dance and other disciplines and events do it as a hobby, but the reality is that this is a valuable sector which supports many thousands of workers who have, at times, felt undervalued during the pandemic. As a result, there is a degree of scepticism out there which is hard to overcome.

Last week's swift announcement by the Minister of the €50 million support package has allayed some of those fears and demonstrated that the Government is willing to step in to support producers, organisers, groups and performers who have been financially impacted by the capacity limits placed on venues. While I do not understand the logic which says that public transport can operate at 100% while safe venues like theatres can only operate at 50%, I accept the decisions made by the Government on the basis of public health advice. However, it is difficult for us as politicians to explain to the likes of a youngster who was due to go to a pantomime why he or she cannot do so, while Broadway and the West End operate at 100% capacity. We are where we are, however.

I wrote to the Minister on this topic within a couple of hours of the announcement on 7 December and I thank her for taking on some of the suggestions I put in that letter regarding the turnover requirement in reducing the production cost. It has brought so many more people into the net and is extremely welcome. If moneys additional to the €3 million are required under that scheme, I hope they are provided.

I also thank her for taking on board the suggestions put forward by Senator Malcolm Byrne and I last week, when the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, took a Commencement matter we tabled regarding having a funding mechanism through local authorities for community and not-for-profit organisations in the process of putting on productions or midstream in terms of productions. I gave two examples of Waterford Panto Society and the producers of A Christmas Carol at Garter Lane, who made the brave decision to continue with their productions and had to face the logistical challenge of deciding what 50% would attend, and also face significant financial loss. It is important that clarity is brought to the local element of the scheme. It is right and proper that it be administered through the local authority sector because that sector knows and understands those groups best. Urgency is required in respect of this matter.

I will conclude with a general point on the administration of schemes and the at times complex nature of the application process. There is a perception that it is only certain organisations and people that get arts funding repeatedly. Much of that is down to the complex nature at times of the application process. A body of work needs to be done in the Department and the Arts Council to simplify that process and open up those funding streams so the money, as other Senators have said, gets to those who need it most. I thank the Minister and wish her continued success in her role.

I acknowledge the hard work the Minister does. She did not expect to be hit by this tsunami. When Covid first hit, we thought it would be over in a number of weeks. We see where we are now. I know the Minister understands that it has been a hard time for musicians. She might take the following point on board. When the stakeholders forum takes place, sometimes in that debate the smaller musicians and engineers are forgotten. That is not intentional but they get lost in the big debate. That is where we are coming from. There is a cohort of workers there, though not a huge number, that are in a bit of bother and I know the Minister and her officials will address that.

I thank everyone for their contributions. I understand and appreciate the passion with which each Senator spoke and acknowledge how difficult these restrictions have been and continue to be, how cruel they are and the havoc Covid-19 has wrought on the live performance sector. I want to make it clear that I have nothing but respect for the musicians of this country. I respect the passion each Senator has and their contributions, but I have nothing but passion and respect for musicians.

Unfortunately, Ireland remains vulnerable to a further deterioration in the disease profile, depending on a number of factors, including the levels of social contact in the coming weeks and over the festive period. That is why, unfortunately, we had to introduce these additional measures to protect public health.

Many Senators raised issues relating to the PUP and they have also been raised by the stakeholders I have engaged with. My Department officials have in turn flagged them with the Department of Social Protection. In the Dáil earlier, the Tánaiste said he would engage directly with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, today, which I welcome, to see if there could be flexibility. We do not want to see people facing this at Christmastime. I welcome that recognition from the Tánaiste and, if Senator Black was not already aware of it, I am sure she will too.

Senator Malcolm Byrne spoke about planning for what will happen after 9 January. That was on my mind when that restriction was put in place until 9 January and that is why I have said the money for the cancelling and curtailing of events goes through to the end of January. I signal now that there will be a minimum of €14 million so people can plan right through to June. There is a Covid contingency fund which, with the help of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, I have tapped into to get this extra money. I will not be found wanting and will look for more money if the industry needs it. It is so the industry can plan, if there are restrictions. Please God there will not be. I keep hoping the industry will open, our theatres will be full and we will all enjoy music in every corner of Ireland. However, if we cannot, I am saying they should plan because we will help them. My Department will make it viable for them to plan until June so I urge them to plan and employ musicians. We are stepping in. That is critical to the next phase after 9 January.

I and my Department will continue to engage meaningfully with stakeholders. The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, and I met with the live performance stakeholders last week. Senator Murphy referred to people being left behind but we are strict that every one gets the same time. No one gets to speak for ten minutes while others speak for two. It is timed so each is treated with equality. We met them all and stakeholder engagement has been at the heart of everything I have done as a Minister. As recently as Monday, my officials and advisers met with representatives of the music and live entertainment sector again. Yesterday, we hosted a historic engagement with over 150 artists, arts workers and representative bodies because it is important that they shape the basic income for the arts pilot.

Senator Warfield asked if are we doing the right thing here. I am following what artists asked for. This was the number one recommendation from them. I thought it was important that they shape it. Nothing is set in stone yet because I want the artists to shape this basic income. This is their demand to me through the arts and culture recovery task force and I am responding because it is about time we started valuing the arts by giving them this basic income.

Many speakers referenced the MEAI. My Department has had consistent engagement with that group. I have engaged with it on eight separate occasions since the pandemic began and there have been 21 departmental engagements on top of that.

That is not to mention the numerous phone calls and messages that take place out of hours and over the weekends. To say that I am not listening or not engaging is simply incorrect. I am fiercely supportive of musicians, local artists and arts workers. Their sector is large and there are many representative groups with which I frequently engage to hear their feedback first hand. That includes the MEAI, the Live Venue Collective, the Events Industry Alliance, the Large Venue Association, the National Campaign for the Arts, the Independent Producers Forum, EPIC, and the Wedding Bands Association which Senator Currie mentioned. We have engaged with them and they received money from the live performance support scheme, LPSS. They were quick to say thank you. We have engaged with the Wedding Bands Association and continue to do so.

The music and entertainment business assistance scheme, MEBAS, was developed in close consultation with the MEAI because it said it needed it to reach its members. It was launched in June 2021. Initially €14 million was reserved to deliver the scheme. That was over-estimated by those involved. I am grateful for the advocacy groups such as MEAI which endeavour to represent workers in its sector. More than 1,000 recipients have received €3 million in business supports through each of the three variations of the MEBAS initiative. Since its launch 628 freelancers, sole traders, musicians, businesses, bands and crew were awarded the business expense support grants ranging from €2,500 to €5,000. The scheme, in consultation after meeting with the MEAI, was adjusted again in August at its request to allow for businesses with a turnover of €15,000 to €20,000 to come within the threshold. That allowed an additional 74 businesses and sole traders to meet the limits. No demonstration of costs was required. They just had to say that they had costs to get the MEBAS grant. That was following consultation with the MEAI.

I recognise that even this lower level intervention is important for musicians survival to meet their business costs. Some 386 grants have been awarded in the latest phase. That covers business costs up to the end of December. Payments are continuing. I am delighted to confirm that another round will be delivered in January 2022.

The LPSS announced last week is a non-competitive scheme. The previous LPSS supported more than 50,000 musicians. It is not the case that the supports I announced last week are all for ticketed events. They cover non-ticketed events too. We are clear that the Government introducing these restrictions in the run up to Christmas, the most economically important time of the year for live performance and pantomime, is disappointing. It is beyond a bitter disappointment that we have arrived again at this point. This industry has been asked countless times to shoulder the burden of protecting society and those around them to the detriment of their livelihoods and mental health. At all times I am trying to support them in every possible way through engaging with them. I am profoundly grateful to their sacrifice. We are thankful for the joy that they bring to our lives and their incredible work. I want them back singing again. With every scheme we devise, we in the Department ask ourselves, "How can we help them and how can we help them get the money?" I am constantly thinking about the musicians, their livelihoods and putting food on the table.

We had hoped not to take the backwards step in the lengthy process of reopening all parts of society and the economy but the path of the pandemic has not proved to be predictably linear and that is why the €50 million was announced last week.

As I said, a Covid contingency fund of €4 billion is there. That is where I got the extra €25 million from last week. If necessary, we will return to that fund if our musicians and artists need it. The fund is to provide certainty and flexibility for the public finances should the situation around the virus deteriorate further. If further funding is required, I will seek additional support from the fund and the sector can be certain that we will not be found wanting.

I hope I have reassured Senators of the vast depth of support, respect and commitment that I have for the arts, culture, music and entertainment sector. That goes to the core of everything I do.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.25 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Friday, 17 December 2021.
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