I propose to take Questions Nos. 286 and 288 to 291, inclusive, together.
Under the current level of restrictions no organised indoor or outdoor gatherings (i.e. controlled environments with a named event organiser or owner or manager) should take place. The Government's clear message at the present time is for people to stay in their homes, unless necessary for those essential reasons set out in the public health regulations.
Last week, the Government published the COVID-19 Resilience and Recovery Plan 2021 – The Path Ahead and agreed that the public health restrictions will be subject to ongoing review taking account of the evolving epidemiological situation and available evidence in relation to vaccine deployment, uptake and effectiveness. The public health advice is that it is too early to say how and when other restrictions should be eased given current uncertainties. Government will meet in advance of the 5th of April to review the level of restrictions.
Any easing of measures should be slow and gradual with sufficient time between phases to assess impact and to respond if the epidemiological situation was to deteriorate. It will take account of emerging international and national evidence and experience and with a specific focus on supporting mental health and wellbeing. The Government has agreed that the following areas may be considered if the situation improves sufficiently:
- Some easing of restrictions on outdoor activities and meetings beyond 1 other household.
- Consideration of extending the current 5km limit.
- Staggered start of easing of other areas of activity with a focus on outdoor activities including sport and some areas of construction.
Further details of this revised plan can be accessed at the following link https://www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/resilience-recovery-2020-2021-plan-for-living-with-covid-19/ . The Government has already responded to the challenges facing the arts, and culture sector through a number of measures. Significant additional funding was announced in Budget 2021, with €130 million allocated to the Arts Council for 2021 and €50 million for supports for life performance. Many of the supports in 2021 allowed included provision for extensive online content to be generated. Supports have also been provided to those impacted in the arts, culture, performance and events sector through the pandemic unemployment scheme and various wage subsidy schemes. My Department also continues to expand the delivery of the Creative Ireland programme.
The operation of the pilot Live Performance Support Scheme clearly demonstrated the versatility of the live entertainment sectors and particularly showed that staging high quality live entertainment does not depend on an easing of Covid-19 restrictions. Since mid-November and into 2021, the scheme provided a pipeline of exceptionally high-quality live-streamed concerts, a raft of pantomimes and theatre productions which were well received in Ireland and across the world. The performances also provided a much needed wellbeing support for audiences.
My Department has also supported a range of other initiatives to ensure that there is good quality artistic and cultural content available online for the general public. These have included the Other Voices Courage programme, the Culture Ireland Performs initiative, live streamed concerts from the National Concert Hall and the Abbey Theatre’s Dear Ireland project. Creative Ireland has targeted supports at older people in long term care settings.
I recently announced the pilot Outdoor Public Space Scheme 2021 intended to fund local authorities to adapt, equip or otherwise improve public spaces for cultural and events activities, taking account of public health guidelines and of the needs of the local arts community. Outdoor public spaces that can provide year-round use can improve wellbeing and contribute positively to the public realm. The pilot scheme was developed in consultation with the local authorities County and City Management Association (CCMA), as the Local Authorities are best placed to understand the individual needs of the communities they serve.
I have also provided funding to local authorities in support of local creative and cultural activity under the Creative Communities Strand of the Creative Ireland Programme. Funding for local authorities for commemorative events under the Decade of Centenaries can be applied to appropriate cultural events under the creative imagination strand.