I will start by apologising. When I was walking out, somebody said to me that I was "saved by the bell", but anyone who knows me knows this is a topic I really want to talk about and respond to. In fact, I am really pleased that the last debate to which I will contribute in this term is on the night-time economy. I thank Senator Warfield for putting forward this motion, especially given the very difficult period the night-time economy has gone through, not just over the past number of years but in particular throughout Covid-19. While I am speaking on my own behalf and as Minister for Justice, I also want to stress as a member of this Government that this Government acknowledges the significant contribution the night-time plays in our economy as well as socially and culturally and how it can bring vibrancy to our towns and cities and how important it is to each and every one of us. I particularly acknowledge those in the Visitors Gallery, the Give Us The Night campaign. There are many in this sector who have campaigned tirelessly not just for this sector to survive but to thrive and grow. I support them in ensuring we get to that point.
I will respond to the questions around the countermotion. As Minister for Justice, I can only respond on the work I am doing in my Department and the work that is ongoing in other Departments and the platforms that have been put in place to try to deal with many of the issues Senator Warfield outlined in his motion. It is not that I do not agree with them; there are many that I fully support.
Speaking on behalf of all my colleagues, I cannot commit to each individual action but what I can commit to and what I set out in our countermotion are the mechanisms and the platforms and the ways in which we can achieve so much of what the Senator has set out and much of what I know many in the Visitors Gallery want us to achieve.
I say this as someone who has worked in a family bar, in a family restaurant and in late bars and nightclubs in town, many of which are, unfortunately, closed, including the Bernard Shaw and the Twisted Pepper.
I have worked in bars and clubs abroad. A considerable complement of my friends work in this sector, own their own businesses, are promoters or DJs, or artists, manage different events, or are otherwise involved. I have also attended many events. Similar to Senator Higgins, my only exercise for approximately ten years was dancing. It is, unfortunately, not the case anymore, but I get it. I get what this sector has been, what it is now and, really, what it could be.
We need to protect and support it. I mentioned the difficult few years through which everybody has gone in this sector. I acknowledge, in particular, Covid-19, because no sector was impacted more or closed for longer. We, as a Government, tried to respond to all businesses and individuals and support in whatever way that we could, through the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS; the temporary wage subsidy scheme, TWSS; the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS payments; or direct payments to individuals, businesses and owners.
There was the removal of the sectoral employment orders, SEOs. I get how disappointing it is that they have been reinstated. The reason for that is that every emergency measure that we put in place, except what is now for long-term illness of those with Covid working in the healthcare sector, has been revoked and removed because of the situation in which we find ourselves. That is not to say that we will not find ways to support the sector in this upcoming budget, and also in other ways that I will outline.
Our programme for Government includes the establishment of a night-time economy taskforce, something that many colleagues and I fought for but, because of our engagement with Mr. Sunil Sharpe and many who are here who have campaigned for this for many years. The Minister, Deputy Martin, established this in 2020. We also have a commitment in this to modernise our alcohol and licensing laws. I was very pleased to find myself in a situation, in the Department of Justice, where I have now have an opportunity to do that. It is a major priority for me and I am absolutely committed to it.
I will respond to one of the comments by the Senators about why we were not ready to go. A considerable amount of work has happened to even get us to this point. I remember, in publishing my justice plan 2021 last year, setting out the work that we were doing in reforming licensing laws to get us to that point. The question I was asked was why I was talking about later licensing when pubs were not even open. Considerable work has been done, even through a difficult period when bars and nightclubs were closed and there were no cultural offerings for anybody.
The general scheme of the new sale of alcohol Bill, which will put in place significant reforms, will be ready for submission to Government in September. The general scheme will be brought forward in one of the first Cabinet meetings when we return in September. The intention is to move it through the various stages as quickly as possible; it can go to the Oireachtas Committee on Justice for pre-legislative scrutiny, we can get that report back as quickly as possible and I can engage, not just with colleagues here, but in the Dáil and with the sector, which has been considerably engaged to date. I look forward to that discussion.
The changes that we are proposing invigorate the night-time economy. I will briefly touch on how we have gotten to this point and will get into some other areas of work that are being done and have been committed to by other Departments. We gave approval on 15 September 2021 for the drafting of the general scheme of the sale of alcohol Bill. I am happy to say that considerable work on consolidating and reforming the licensing laws is at an advanced stage. We hope to have the general scheme in September.
This is an area where there are many different views. There are many different opinions throughout society. Given that his has been attempted a number of times and was introduced almost 15 years ago, we need to make sure that we take different views and perspectives on board. However, this cannot just become a debate about how late some places open, serve alcohol, or other issues around which the debate so often revolves.
Last November, I launched a wide-ranging consultation to seek the views of the public on the modernising of Ireland's licensing laws. This ran until 21 January and looked at how we could update our licensing laws in the best way possible; governing the regulation of the sale of alcohol and, above all, making sure that we provide choice, options and opportunities, not just for those working in the sector, but those who want to avail of what it has to offer.
As Senator Warfield pointed out, this probably received one of the highest numbers of submissions in terms of public consultation or engagement. We received more than 5,000 responses. That points to the fact that this is a really important issue for many people who wanted to have their say. We have taken all of those views on board. We have had to take time to go through those submissions and we have taken them into account in developing the legislation.
In March, I hosted a consultation webinar to look at the reform of licensing laws. It brought together a number of key stakeholders, some of whom are represented in the room. I will not say it was a lively debate. It was a very informative and important discussion which took on board many different views from many different people in various sectors. The discussion is now feeding into the draft legislation that we are working on and which we will have ready coming into the autumn.
There has also been intensive stakeholder engagement - and a process held by the night-time economy taskforce - with interested parties who had a significant role in the night-time economy. Some 100 stakeholders from different community organisations including businesses, industry, civic society, the cultural sector, sporting organisations and residents groups were invited to submit their views. A number of them presented their views to the taskforce in a series of meetings between December and February of this year.
Considerable work has happened to even get us to this point. While Covid was happening and it was a truly awful time for many in the sector, there was work being done to make sure, insofar as possible, that we would be making progress when we came through on the other side and would have structures in place and ideas, plans and reforms ready, or as near ready as possible, to try to support the sector to reinvigorate, re-energise, expand, grow and thrive.
The Minister, Deputy Martin, brought her report to Government in September last year and it was published pretty soon after. It pointed to a significant demand for diversity of offering and flexibility in the operating environment. It has 36 actions which look at quite a broad range of issues. It is not just about licensing. It looks at the challenges that are facing the development of a vibrant night-time culture and economy, including regulations, licensing laws, transport and the diversity of cultural activities. Most important, however, it looks at finding practical ways to try to put in place solutions to help cities, towns, villages and those working in the industry, to help our artists, entrepreneurs and young people, who are already facing multiple challenges to find and develop new opportunities. It is about supporting those in the sector, but opening up new opportunities for many others, as well.
A range of supports and measures from the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media and across other the Departments have been rolled out already for sectors which contribute to the night-time economy. The issues raised in this motion were all discussed. They were considered as part of the night-time economy taskforce. Many of these, as Senators and those in the gallery will appreciate, are complex issues. I am not saying that to say that we cannot do them, just because it is difficult - quite the opposite. Government, in working with industry, Departments and agencies, is absolutely committed to trying to deal with those issues, many of which have been outlined in Senator Warfield's motion. Those issues are part of the work of the taskforce and of other agencies, groups and bodies that have been set up to try to deliver on. We are absolutely committed to trying to deal with them.
Access to space and venues for accessing space and cultural activity at night was one of the key issues that was highlighted by the report. A number of actions have already been agreed to try to address this. The Arts Council is committed to facilitating arts and cultural event spaces to work together and to facilitate more use of publicly-owned cultural buildings and heritage sites for events and it will host a forum to encourage new initiatives and partnerships in that space.
Our national cultural institutions, NCIs, have already stepped up to the plate, on foot of the report. There are major new pilot events in the National Concert Hall, the National Museum of Ireland, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, all of which are happening this year, which will open up these spaces to alternative events and later-night activity. There is a series of later openings across a number of the NCIs, which will see them open up their space to other different types of events, into the evening time.
With regard to alcohol-free events, Senators have touched on the fact that it should not be just about venues that serve alcohol. The Minister, Deputy Martin, recently announced, as colleagues have pointed out, a night-time-economy support scheme with a fund of €2.6 million. This is not specific to venues where there is no alcohol. It is about supporting and developing a thriving night-time economy and an environment in our cities and rural towns and in licensed and unlicensed premises. It is about attracting people into our towns and cities later at night and creating a range of cultural activities in various types of venues. Strand B of the scheme includes cafes. Dry bars, local galleries and other non-licensed premises are premises that would fit into that category.
A dedicated workshop was also held on 11 May, to understand and determine the range and practical scope of planning and development-related actions that can support the night-time economy.
Again, that speaks to Senator Higgins's point.
One of the issues examined was noise management, how to mitigate adverse effects on local residents. There were also discussions within the group on development of clusters or districts of night-time economy activities, and potential changes and opportunities associated with this. A report from that workshop is being prepared and will be submitted to the night-time economy implementation group, and will be considered after that. The National Transport Authority and the Department of Transport were also key members of the task force. In their actions and proposals they have committed to support different types of transport offering, where possible on a 24-hour basis, or expanding where transport is not available and making sure we have it not just in our capital city but in our rural towns and villages. As someone who comes from a rural area, I know that trying to get home from Kells at 2 a.m. is next to impossible. It is really important that this is not only about our major towns and cities but that it is also about our rural towns as well.
We need to improve safety. That is not just about transport although making sure people can get home safely is a huge part of it. We need to make sure that it is safe for audiences, venues, performers and staff. I refer to creating safe spaces in which people feel welcome first and foremost and where they are respected and comfortable, while also promoting our culture and what Ireland has to offer not just nationally but also on the international stage. This is a personal priority for me and something I have identified and included in a number of actions, having just brought forward the third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. Separate to that, we have a task force implementation group which recently invited the HSE's national social inclusion office to present on its harm reduction strategies in the night-time economy. There are further plans for practical collaboration, including in respect of specific events. Electric Picnic has been identified as one of these, but this is something that would then expand into other events and areas. In addition to this, we have over 380 venues across all sectors of the night-time economy that have registered their staff for vulnerability training this year, which is very welcome. This was supported by the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, and her Department. It is also supported by industry, local authorities, An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice.
As I mentioned, we launched the Zero Tolerance strategy, our third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. This is about making safe spaces for people as well as making sure that as a society, we do not tolerate any type of sexual, domestic or gender-based violence in any shape or form, be it at home, in the workplace or on a night out. The strategy commits to the development and resourcing of safety audits and action plans in line with the night-time economy task force. The intention here is to have safety audits embedded in the planning process and rules within our local authorities in the same way age-friendly plans are embedded in local authority plans for developing our towns and cities. This will most likely be done in partnership with the local community safety partnerships which we are developing and piloting. Assessment would be done by local authorities in consultation with industry and local communities to identify the need and implement what is needed. That would be decided locally. In addition, the strategy commits to continue to take steps to increase the availability of public transport, again linking up with the commitment through the night-time economy task force. This means more taxis and making travel at night safer and more accessible to women but also to people who are potentially vulnerable later at night.
The Department of Justice is also developing a night-time economy charter. This is building on work that has already been done in Cork and other areas, committing industry to ensure they protect not just their staff but freelancers, volunteers, artists and patrons, making sure people are aware of the issues and know where to go and how to get help, and ensuring there is support for people who would potentially be vulnerable. This is a snapshot of the work that is being done at the moment. As others have mentioned, we have our night-time advisers. We have work being put in place through the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media to support artists specifically.
One of our Senators mentioned insurance. I have been developing amendments to the civil liability Bill to make sure there is an onus on individuals to take responsibility for anything that may happen to them on a premises so that the burden is not placed solely on the proprietor or business owner. That is very important for hospitality sector businesses. I have been given support by Government to progress that. I hope to have the Bill enacted by the end of the year.
There is a lot more we need to do. This is just the start although it is building on so much work that has happened in collaboration with many individuals in the sector. They do not just see this as their livelihood but as a way of life. This is a passion for so many people. It is really important that we do everything we can as a Government to make sure the supports and resources are there, and that we create an environment in which this can flourish and grow and we will one again see, whether it is three nightclubs in our rural towns or whatever it is, that the option is there for people to have those type of venues if that is what our entrepreneurs and younger people wish for, and that there are spaces for our artists to play and for people to dance, to offer those various experiences.
I thank those in the Visitors Gallery for their campaigning and the work they have done over many years. I thank those who are not here and those who have committed their lives and livelihoods in providing that option for people. I also thank those who have provided so many memories for so many people. I would be here all night if I was to outline my memories not just from working in the hospitality sector but at the various events and festivals. It is extremely important that we do not just see this from an economic perspective but also from a social and cultural perspective, which is important to so many of us.
Returning to the issue of licensing, I have not outlined the detail of what is in it as some Senators may have expected. It is important given that we have so many stakeholders involved that the matter is brought before Government first and published. I absolutely commit to bringing forward this legislation in the autumn and to moving it as quickly as possible through the Houses to make sure the legislation is reforming and that it helps the sector not just to survive but to thrive.