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Covid-19 Tests

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 22 June 2021

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Questions (59)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

59. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media the reason for the last-minute decision not to use antigen testing as had previously been announced for the pilot test event at the Iveagh Gardens; if any of the pilot live test events will be used to test concert or gig conditions that can be replicated if successful at smaller venues across the State; if she will publish the minutes and research of the return to live events working group; and if lessons were taken from the pilot live test events in December 2020 to ensure the summer 2021 schedule will not be a wasted opportunity to prepare for the wider reopening of the sector. [33236/21]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Tourism)

I ask the Minister to explain the reasons for the last-minute decision not to use antigen testing, as had previously been announced, for the pilot test event in the Iveagh Gardens recently. Will any of the pilot live test events be used to test concert or gig conditions that can be replicated, if successful, at smaller venues across the State? The idea was to follow the lead of other countries in Europe which have had pilot test events.

Pilot events are necessary as proof of concept for the safe management of events while Covid-19 is still circulating in our communities and to evaluate and build confidence in the Covid-19 guidance and event management protocols developed by the culture and sports sectors. The pilot events will use a range of measures to militate against Covid-19, including reduced attendances, social distancing, mask wearing, hand sanitising, contact tracing, the careful management of ingress and egress of audiences and spectators, and appropriate ventilation for indoor events. I sought these pilot events as I am determined to see a safe reopening of our live music sector as soon as possible.

Neither my Department nor I had indicated an intention to use antigen testing at the Iveagh Gardens event, although I am aware that the National Concert Hall has employed antigen testing for staff and performers in the past. The Department has been monitoring pilot events internationally and is aware of the role that testing can play in supporting activities. As the Deputy will be aware, I announced today that antigen testing will be deployed for the forthcoming concert event at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on 3 July. Some 3,500 fans will be in attendance, 500 of whom will be healthcare workers. Some of Ireland's best talent will be performing on stage, talent we have all so greatly missed seeing live in this past year.

It should be noted that in addition to the pilot events, from 7 June numbers permitted at organised outdoor events have increased to a maximum of 100 for the majority of venues, with a maximum of 200 for outdoor stadia and venues where there is a minimum capacity of 5,000.

The measures being employed will be reviewed for their appropriateness as pilot events proceed and will be adjusted as necessary and if necessary. They will allow sports, arts, culture and entertainment organisations to test necessary control measures and other measures in venues across a range of settings and have been designed to inform the safe reopening of these sectors. They will be subject to ongoing review including with respect to the prevailing public health situation.

I have never been unwilling to publish the minutes of the meetings of the live entertainment working group and am happy to supply those to the Deputy, should he so wish.

Like the Minister, I was looking forward to live events being rolled out. I have been critical of the slow pace of the roll-out of pilot events, in particular, in comparison to other countries. We could have been further along the road with those pilot events. It is welcome that the Minister has announced the use of the antigen testing on 3 July. If it had been used in the other events, we may have been further down the road of rolling out and opening up live events, which would have been a very significant encouragement to musicians and others working in the entertainment industry who have been basically locked out of work for so long. The events, obviously, have to be assessed afterwards. There has to be a period of time to check whether there has been any spread of the virus, especially given that we are in dangerous times in respect of the Delta Indian variant, as people think. Can the Minister outline how many more test events there will be before the industry can go fully live again? What would set it back? Is it all hands on deck as soon as the industry gets the all-clear after 3 July?

There are still a number of test events to take place, as outlined last month when we announced that events would take place in various indoor and outdoor venues. Today's announcement of antigen testing and reduced social distancing shows that progress is being made. The reason this was not the case with the Iveagh Gardens event was because it was the first pilot event. As the Deputy will know from his knowledge of this sector, it is not a question of switching it on overnight. These are venues that have not been in operation for over 15 months and are now working in the context of Covid-19.

The first event was really about the logistics of simple things like staggered entrance and egress and social distancing. We learned from that and we are moving to 1 m social distancing. Progress is being made. We will complete the pilot events as set out a few weeks ago in the Government announcement. I am sure the Deputy will appreciate that in my engagement with the sector, I am determined for it to reopen. I will, of course, have to be guided by the public health guidance at that time.

We are making progress and will reopen as soon as possible.

I do not expect venues to reopen overnight, given the practical problems the Minister has outlined, but they need some indication in order that they can plan. That is why it is important that as many as possible of these test events are held in the proper manner and given the full range of supports and protections in order that lessons can be learned and processes can be set down as quickly as possible for the next series of events. In doing so, organisers will have a better idea of whether there is a need for increased social distancing, for everybody to wear masks or whatever measures may be required based on the learnings from the pilot live events as soon as they are rolled out. Those in the live industry who organise events need to know in order that they can plan for the end of July, August and September and, I hope, gain something from the summer season for live entertainment. It will allow them to look towards the rest of this year rather than have to sit back and wait until next year.

I think we are all in agreement that we want there to be a return to economically viable live performances as soon as possible, and there are many reasons to be optimistic. Even today, the hospitalisation and ICU numbers are very positive. I fully appreciate the lead-in times in planning and delivering events. However, I cannot give a definite timeframe for when this will happen. What I can give is my assurance that I will continue to work with colleagues in the Government and with the sector to bring certainty as soon as possible. I am fully aware that in the case of venues working at reduced capacity, while it is good to have a return to live music, it is not viable. That is why I secured in the national economic recovery plan a commitment that as long as venues are working with reduced capacity and social distancing due to restrictions, the many supports that have been rolled out will remain in place for the sector.

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