I propose to take Questions Nos. 218, 223, 224, 231 and 254 together.
The Government’s medium-term Strategy Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19, sets out Ireland's approach to managing and living with COVID-19, in a range of areas, over a period of 6 – 9 months.
The Plan aims to allow society and businesses to operate as normally as possible, while protecting our key priorities of supporting and maintaining health and social care services, keeping education and childcare services open and protecting the most vulnerable members of our communities.
The Plan consists of 5 levels each with a “basket” of measures which are intended, collectively, to contribute to lowering the risk of transmission of Covid-19 in alignment with the risk level at that time. The set of measures, individually, do not comprise a list of activities or places which are equally safe, but are “baskets” of measures which are informed by public health understanding of the disease.
The number of people allowed to gather in different scenarios is based on experience and reviews of international practice and the judgment of public health experts. It seeks to balance the risks of different types of gatherings against the desire to allow normal activities to proceed insofar as possible.
Under Level 3 of the Framework, live performance in front of an audience is not permitted and theatres remain closed to the public. Therefore, it was not possible at this time to allow for live entertainment including live theatre performances to return other than in very limited circumstances outdoors.
Under the Health Act 1947 (Section 31A – Temporary Restrictions) (COVID-19) (No. 9) Regulations 2020), the filming, or other recording of performances in a theatre, concert hall, museum or art gallery, without an audience present, is permitted for the purposes of broadcasting such performances on the internet, radio or television.
The Arts Council is working with theatres and arts centres and other representative bodies to ensure that there is comprehensive guidance available to ensure compliance with the public health guidelines. It intends to continue this work over the coming months. Earlier this year, Theatre Forum produced guidelines for the safe reopening of theatres and under which, theatre operated safely and successfully during the summer months.
Live performance, with audiences and artists gathering indoors, is a complex issue and we must ensure everything is done in a safe setting. Galleries, museums and cinemas have been able to reopen after special consideration was given to those venues. The disappointment of theatre practitioners who demonstrated diligence and responsibility in their approach to the challenges posed by COVID-19 is wholly understandable. We all want to see the return of live performance as soon as possible and the Department will continue to work with the Arts Council, Theatre Forum and other stakeholders towards that objective.
I am very conscious of the importance of theatre in Ireland. It is an important source of employment for artists and arts workers, and it is an art form which engages and connects society, in addition to providing a source of well-being support.