Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Ministerial Responsibilities

Éamon Ó Cuív


6. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht the steps she plans to take to ensure the long-term survival of the tourism, arts, culture and sport sectors here in view of the serious effects the Covid-19 pandemic is having on society; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26626/20]

Unfortunately, it would appear that Covid-19 is going to be with us not only for this year but probably well into next year and until we find a vaccine. This is having a significant effect on the arts, entertainment events, tourism and sport. What long-term plans are there to support these sectors? I can understand that during the early phases of the pandemic there was emergency planning, but we need a long-term plan for the tourism, sport, arts, culture and events sectors.

The tourism, arts, culture and sport are integral parts of the fabric of society, supporting economic activity and physical and societal well-being. The public facing and audience driven nature of those sectors means that each time there is an escalation for any county in the level applicable under the living with Covid plan those sectors will be hardest hit. The Government is acutely aware of these challenges.

The need for important public health measures, such as social distancing, has placed necessary limits on gatherings to protect public health. This has had a devastating impact, which the Government and I, as Minister with responsibility for tourism, culture, arts, the Gaeltacht, sports and media, have sought to address in a range of ways. Some key measures have been introduced to help support the tourism, arts, culture and sports sectors, including an additional €25 million for the Arts Council, a €5 million live events pilot grant scheme, €5 million to support national cultural institutions and nationwide arts infrastructure, the stay and spend tax credit initiative, a €26 million adaptation grant for the tourism sector, a €10 million grant for coach tourism, €40 million for the three main field sport its bodies, the GAA, IRFU and FAI, and a €15 million resilience fund for sports governance bodies and clubs.

The universal income support of PUP and the wage subsidy scheme have been key to supporting sectors through this crisis and the extension of these schemes has provided certainty for the coming months. My officials and I are in regular contact with stakeholders and representatives in all of the sectors for which I have responsibility. I have established a number of sector specific task forces. I have considered the views and recommendations of these task forces in the context of budget 2021 and the development of the national economic plan, and will review and refine existing support as required. I intend to continue this collaborative process with stakeholders in order to ensure the sectors remain viable and resilient as we continue to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.

We have become an expert in this country in setting up some type of group with a wide remit and waiting for a report if we do not want to solve a problem. While we wait for the report, nothing happens.

This is an urgent issue. The budget is only a few weeks away. Can the Minister confirm that some certainty will be brought to this wide range of sectors in the budget? Will provision be made, not just for a month or two but in the medium term, to ensure the survival of these vital parts of our society?

Anybody who owns a tourism business will tell us that international tourism has already been wiped out for 2021 because there is no certainty about how people can enter the country. There are no bookings. The new tax break that was introduced has now collapsed because under the new restrictions people are cancelling or are not making bookings. Nobody is availing of the scheme, other than those who can go to a local restaurant if it is open. At the moment, nobody is doing that even in places that have not been locked down. What has been done is okay, but we need a much bigger long-term plan.

I thank the Deputy. That is why I feel task forces are key to this. My engagement with people across my Department brief has shown me that they want to have a say. The arts task force, chaired by Claire Duignan, met for the first time last week and is due to report on 31 October which is obviously post budget. That is why in the first meeting I attended last week I asked it to give me its key priorities before the budget so that I can use that information to feed into my negotiations.

On the tourism recovery task force, that landed on my desk this week and it is key in the budget negotiations. The Government is fully aware that, given the social nature of such gatherings, tourism, arts, and culture were the sectors first affected by the pandemic and may be the last to return to normal. We must find a way to get our performers singing again and help them. Our pilot €5 million live performance support scheme assists that and has worked really well.

I am glad that the Minister has set deadlines for the report of the task force. I regret that it was not done in time for her to receive all the task force reports not just a week or two before the budget but well in advance of it. Better late than never.

I still wish to stress the fact that we are getting stopgaps, pilot schemes and so on. We need some medium-term planning and certainty for all of sectors, including sports, events, and the arts. Some are largely State funded and have funds in the kitty. Some are totally commercial and are facing catastrophic situations. I look forward with interest to the budget. I hope it delivers. We do not need sticking plasters. The budget needs to deliver medium-term planning and the finance to back that up. Can the Minister assure me that will happen?

I can assure the Deputy that my Department and I are engaging closely with the sectors and, in the context of the budget, we are very aware of the demands. Waiting for the task force report does not preclude us from taking immediate measures. For example, the live performance scheme involved an allocation of €5 million. My Department developed the conditions of the scheme in consultation with the sector, with particular assistance from EPIC. The initial closing date was 24 August and by that date more than 100 applications had been received, requesting funding of over €15 million.

The main objective of the scheme is the provision of employment for artists, creative technicians and their support. That is just one element. The task forces will also feed into the national economic plan which will come after the budget, and will in turn feed into a long-term plan. The July stimulus package was part one, and we will then have the budget and the national economic plan. Ongoing consultation and engagement is key to how we get that roadmap in place and identify the supports that are needed so that they can feed into the negotiations.

Swimming Pool Programme

Matt Carthy


7. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht her plans to reintroduce a local authority swimming pool programme. [27363/20]

The Minister will be well aware that I and many others have sought to develop a public swimming pool in Carrickmacross. We are now at the point where a former member of Carrickmacross town council is the Minister who can help us to make this happen. Will the Minister do that?

I have relations in Monaghan and the Minister, Deputy Martin, is from the county.

The local authority swimming pool programme, LASPP, provided grant aid towards the capital cost of new swimming pools or the refurbishment of existing pools. To date, 52 pools have been completed and three swimming pool projects remain in the LASPP.

Exchequer support for any new swimming pool is now being provided by the large scale sports infrastructure fund, LSSIF. It was launched in 2018 to provide Exchequer support for larger sports facility projects, including swimming pools, with at least €100 million being made available over the period to 2027. Provisional allocations totalling €77.4 million for 25 projects under stream 2 of the LSSIF were announced on 10 January 2020. On 13 January additional provisional allocations of €5 million for a further seven projects under stream 1 were announced.

Of these 32 projects, eight swimming pool projects have been awarded funding. The evaluation procedures and guidelines of this scheme provide that once provisional allocations are announced, the successful projects will undergo a further process of due diligence. This includes a further review of projects including economic appraisals and feasibility studies. This work is continuing and a priority in the short term is to advance the projects allocated funding in January. There is no process for applications in the current scheme at present. It is planned, however, to review progress of existing grants in 2021. That will decide whether we open the LSSIF in 2021 to include applications for a swimming pool, which I am sure the Deputy will be pursuing at that point in time. The decisions that are made after the review has taken place will dictate whether it is open in 2021.

I am very disappointed that the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, did not take the opportunity to come in to champion the charge of Carrickmacross. I am sure she will be doing so behind the scenes with her officials. The programme for Government rightly highlights the importance of sporting activities for people of all ages. Swimming is a unique sport because it allows essentially everybody to participate. It is the most inclusive sport that there is in many respects because people can do it as part of competition or leisure, on their own or with family. The problem is that they cannot do it if there is no swimming pool. Carrickmacross is one of many towns with younger populations that have been growing in recent years. We need to see a commitment from the Government. The difficulty with the response read out by the Minister of State is that it is the exact same as the response to a parliamentary question in this House in March. It appears that there is not the urgency or the reflection just yet to press this on. Will the Minister of State ensure that any review that takes place happens quickly, and that we see some movement in this respect as quickly as possible?

Before the Minister of State answers it would be remiss of me not to comment on Carrickmacross. When I was in primary school, which was neither today nor yesterday, I used to buy raffle tickets in the hope that we would have a swimming pool in Carrickmacross by my time in secondary school. It was Dave Phelan who championed it when I was in my secondary school days. I will keep an eye on this development. I will allow Minister of State continue now.

The Deputy has received some local knowledge there. This is a serious issue. Many funding allocations were made at the start of this year under the LSSIF and they are being fed through. We are committed to reviewing progress in 2021 with a view to potentially reopening for applications to include swimming pool projects like that in Carrickmacross, as referred to by the Deputy. We want to reconvene the sports leadership group and we will do that this month. As the Deputy has said, the programme for Government places a key emphasis on participation. The swimming pools in all of our local areas are a very important pillar of participation in that they are available to everybody. The Deputy has also referred to the importance of local authorities in this regard. We have a member of local government on the sports leadership group. When the group is reconvened, there will be discussions on whether the application process will reopen next year, pending the review I have mentioned.

I welcome the Minister of State's responses. In his final remarks, can he deal with the resistance to these types of projects from local authority officials, which is an issue that has become more prevalent? I am most aware of the case of Carrickmacross, where local elected members are united in their determination to see this project delivered. As the Minister, has rightly said, the local community has been campaigning and fundraising for a swimming pool for several decades. Every time something has been asked of the people of Carrickmacross, they have delivered. The difficulty is that many officials within the executive of the local authority are afraid that such a project, if it were to be developed, would end up becoming a drain on the local authority. Projects of this scale cannot always make a profit. It is important that the Department does not decide that this project needs to be cost-neutral. Sometimes the cost-benefit of a project does not come in euros through the door but from its societal benefit, from how it increases the attractiveness of a town for new families to move to and stay, and from the avenue it provides for young and old within the town. Can the Minister of State comment on the long-term sustainability of these projects when, hopefully, they are delivered?

We recognised the importance of swimming pools in the July stimulus. Some €2.5 million was announced to support them, to continue their operation throughout the pandemic and to provide increased capacity for such facilities. The programme for Government and the national sports policy refer specifically to the importance of facilities that are run by local authorities. The reason we have the LSSIF can be seen when one looks at this year's funding allocations. Some €4.7 million has been allocated for swimming pools specifically, with a further €4.1 million in 2021 and a projected €3.9 million in 2022. As I have said, that will be subject to review next year with a view to potentially reopening applications. We want to support local authority swimming pools.

As a former member of a local authority, I acknowledge the Deputy's point that there can be disagreement between the executive and elected members. The elected Members here, along with the personnel in the Department, recognise the importance of swimming pools in local communities and the broad participation they ensure for people who want to swim. There is also a safety aspect to this because we want to ensure we have enough people across our country who can swim. To that end, it is important that local communities have access to swimming pools. We are trying to support these projects on an operational basis and to support the provision and allocation of greater capital injection towards swimming pools. We note the Deputy's serious commitment to Carrickmacross. I know that the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, has a particular interest there as well.

Sports Capital Programme

Imelda Munster


8. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht if the sports capital grant scheme is an annual funding scheme; the reason there was no funding round in 2019; if the funding rounds will be opened in 2020 and 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27683/20]

I believe Deputy Andrews is introducing Question No. 8.

We are all aware of the importance of sports capital grants. Will the Minister of State clarify if the sports capital grant scheme is an annual funding scheme, set out why there was no funding in 2019, tell the House whether funding rounds will be opened in 2020 and 2021 and make a statement on the matter?

The sports capital programme is the primary vehicle for Government support for the development of sports and recreation facilities and the purchase of non-personal sports equipment throughout the country. Over 12,000 projects have benefited from sports capital funding since 1998, bringing the total allocation since that time to close to €1 billion. The programme has transformed the sporting landscape of Ireland, with improvements in the quality and quantity of sporting facilities in virtually every village, town and city in the country.

The programme for Government commits to continuing the sports capital programme and prioritising the investment in disadvantaged areas. The most recent round of sports capital grants in 2018 attracted a record 2,337 applications. Allocations were announced in January, May and November of last year, with a total of over €56 million awarded to 1,648 different projects. All unsuccessful applications were given the opportunity to appeal the Department’s decision. On the capital grants announced in November, a total of 122 appeals were submitted by the December deadline. The review of these appeals was completed in April with six new allocations approved. The priority in the short to medium term is to advance all of these projects to ensure the facilities are available for use and the relevant grants are drawn down. In this regard, work has been ongoing to advance previously allocated grants, with over €20 million paid out to 800 different sports clubs and groups so far this year.

To deal with the Deputy’s specific question on future rounds of the programme, a full review of the 2018 round of the sports capital programme has now been completed. The terms and conditions of the next round of the programme are being finalised based on the recommendations of the review. I expect that to open shortly. We are committed to a sports capital programme opening for applications over the coming period. The review has been completed and we are finalising the process and application criteria. There is a commitment to do that. The programme for Government is strong on the sports capital projects and their importance for all our local communities.

I thank the Minister of State. I agree that the sports capital grants scheme transforms participation in sporting clubs across the country. Due to the gap in 2019, clubs are in severe need of funding to rejuvenate their facilities. As they have no or very limited fundraising capacity but still have ongoing expenses, the clubs greatly need this injection.

In the context of pay equality and the 20x20 campaign, will the Minister of State consider weighting the sports capital grant allocation to ensure there will be greater support for female participation? That is something he might consider.

As I referred to earlier, we are committed to ensuring that we have equality action plans across all the governing bodies. The review, which is being concluded, is examining many criteria around the previous plan. That will be updated in the next round but I take the Deputy's point on that.

The programme for Government states that we will prioritise sports capital investment in areas of historic low levels of participation and deprivation. Where there is a participation gap on a gender basis that is an important pillar for all of us who want to fund sport. We need to see any gap in participation addressed.

Preparations are well advanced for the next round of the programme, with testing of the IT system in the new Department under way. On the guide to making an application, the terms and conditions of the programme are being finalised and will be submitted shortly. We are hopeful that the applications will open in the coming period. There will be the usual deadline and engagement around workshops with different clubs across the country but we are anxious to support sport. There is an important stimulus element of this in terms of the capital injection we provide for communities. I hope that provides an update on it.

I thank the Minister of State. I want to underline the request to have the sports capital grant scheme weighted in support of female participation, which I believe would be very welcome as it is much-needed. Is there a commitment on the 2021 sports capital grant? Will it be another gap year? There will be many clubs in need, even next year.

On the first point, having had the review we are finalising the criteria. That will be published when we finalise the weighting that will be attached to many different but important areas.

The sports capital programme, and its continuity, is committed to in the programme for Government. We are engaged in budgetary discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and we will be able to provide full details on next year in the aftermath of the budgetary process. We are anxious to see sport, and investment in sport, continue. That is specifically referenced in the programme for Government. I am aware there were previous occasions where there were large gaps between previous allocations and a new grant scheme and we have to continue to roll it over to support projects. Not every club is ready to apply right now and might not have everything ready for now. We have to give hope to communities that there will be future programmes and that is what we are anxious to do in the context of the budgetary process.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Richard Boyd Barrett


9. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht the recommendations she has made for a roadmap for the arts and live entertainment sectors to reopen safely, protecting the public and workers across arts and entertainment in addition to ensuring the survival of the sectors as Ireland moves out of Covid-19 restrictions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27483/20]

The people who work in live entertainment including music, the arts, the performers, the sound people, promoters and the crew have been crucified as a result of the pandemic and the restrictions which, with the current trajectory of infections, are set to remain so for some time. I have asked repeatedly for months, as have the people involved, and the Minister will know they have been campaigning, for real supports in terms of retaining the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, and other financial supports for reduced capacities in venues or no capacity because of the pandemic, and other supports. Will the Minister respond to their desperate pleas?

The Government published the Resilience and Recovery 2020 - 2021, the Plan for Living with COVID-19, on 15 September. This is a cross-Government approach to managing the pandemic for the coming months. This plan sets out how the balance between public health, economic and social aspects of living with Covid-19 will operate in the short to medium term.

Most of the country is now at level 2, which is based on a medium-term approach to managing risk. At all times the priority will be to keep our schools open, while keeping people safe and protecting the resilience of our economy and communities.

I am very aware of the impact of the pandemic on those working in the commercial events sector, not just in terms of performers but also the crews and the wide range of people it takes to put on a drama or a music performance. I have met the Events Industry Alliance and my Department is in regular contact with the representative groups.

The Deputy approached me informally to make sure there was a member of the events industry on the task force. In response to the Deputy's informal request, I have put two on the task force to make sure their voices are heard.

The arts and culture sectors have been severely impacted as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic; cultural venues and events were among the first to be closed in the country and they will be among the last to recover.

The Arts Council is the statutory body charged with supporting and developing the arts in Ireland and has received an additional €25 million in funding in 2020. Among the measures being introduced are new and additional bursaries and commissions from the Arts Council, including supports for freelance artists and those looking to develop projects on a collaborative basis.

The jobs stimulus package has specifically provided a wide range of supports across the culture and audio visual sectors. These include the €10 million pilot performance and production support package to support the live performance and the audiovisual production sector as well as a new €10 million culture fund.

The recently appointed task force will prepare a report including a set of recommendations on how best the arts and culture sector can adapt and recover from the unprecedented damage arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.

With the upcoming budget and the development of the national economic plan, the Government will review and refine existing supports. The programme for Government states that that task force must feed into the national economic plan but as I said earlier, I have also asked them to give me a report outlining their key priorities ahead of the budget so that I am not waiting until 31 October. It is to ensure I get their key priorities before the budget. On 31 October, after the budget, that task force will feed into the national economic plan when they present the report.

I genuinely welcome the fact that the Minister responded to that informal approach, which I made on behalf of the Events Industry Alliance, to get more representation on the task force. Even since then, however, the situation has deteriorated. With more severe restrictions being imposed in Dublin, and possibly elsewhere, it is a very grim picture that is facing the events, music and arts industry. Frankly, if we compare the additional supports that have been provided with the position in New Zealand, it has given massive support to sustain these people compared to what we are giving them. We will need those music and arts people and so on in the grim period ahead we are facing, and we will need them to be around when we finally get out of this dire situation. They have made clear their demands. Critically, it is the maintenance of the PUP but for people to be allowed to take bits of work on top of that without losing their income, additional supports to cover their ongoing costs such as grants and so on and, where events can happen but on reduced capacity, that subsidies would be provided to ensure those things can happen.

That is exactly where my focus remains because from my engagement with the stakeholders, as the Deputy stated, that is what they need. I realise the situation has deteriorated. I am also very conscious of the unprecedented nature of the challenges facing live performers, promoters and producers, not least from a financial point of view. I recently announced a new fund that will assist established commercial venues and promoters to employ performers, artists, technicians and creative and performance support staff up to the end of 2020 in anticipation of the return of audiences to live performance.

An allocation of €5 million has been made under the live performance support scheme. That was a pilot scheme, which is why the amount is €5 million. It is looking at the applications and the number of applications seen helps and informs me in my negotiations on the budget because I can see how well that has been responded to. My officials engaged with the sector in designing that specific scheme because it helps de-risk the cost of preparing for new productions which may subsequently have to be postponed, cancelled or curtailed due to restrictions to safeguard public health. The main objective of the scheme is to provide employment opportunities in the ticketed performance sector, allow commercial organisers of live performance to commence preparations immediately and for productions to go ahead in the near future, while also complying with the protection measures. My focus is on getting these people performing again and getting technicians working again because, without them, we will not have any performances.

Let us be clear. With the cuts in the PUP, the retrograde decision to allow the banks end the waiver on mortgage repayments and so on, the financial pressure on the 35,000 people working in this sector will become unbearable. They then have the ongoing costs of repayments, insurance and warehousing; we can go through the list of costs. There will not be a sector unless there is a dramatic improvement in supports. Many of these people will not be able to pay their bills so the PUP issue is critical.

That has to be addressed. Equally, the ongoing costs must be covered and grants must be made available to sustain this industry through what is a very uncertain and indefinite period of shutdown, or near shutdown. It is a life-and-death matter for the 35,000 people affected and many more who are affected indirectly.

From my extensive engagement with the sector, I am conscious that the changes to the PUP and employment wage subsidy scheme affect the lives of thousands of artists and other workers across the arts, culture and live entertainment sectors in a devastating way. I understand these supports are needed now more than ever to support artists in their long-awaited return to work. I have raised these matters with my Cabinet colleagues in the context of budget 2021, recognising that there will be an extended period in which we will have to live with the virus. I am aware of the difficulties this will raise, especially in the sectors in question. My focus is firmly on the survival, sustainability and recovery of this vital industry. As the Deputy stated, there are 35,000 workers, but they bring €3.5 billion to the economy. As the Taoiseach said at the Dáil on Tuesday, the Government is considering sector-specific supports to protect the livelihoods of as many people as possible.

In the face of this pandemic, we have to be creative and innovative, and we have to think outside the box to support as many as possible. All suggestions should be considered and all should remain on the table. All schemes will be kept under review and no decision will be finalised until budget day.

Sports Funding

Pa Daly


10. Deputy Pa Daly asked the Minister for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht the supports being offered to sports organisations to ensure compliance with Covid-19 guidelines for sports spectators. [26515/20]

Thomas Gould


18. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht the funding in place to support sporting organisations in implementing Covid-19 safety regulations. [17381/20]

Cúpla seachtain ó shin, bhí na finnéithe ó na heagraíochtaí spórt sa Choiste Speisialta um Fhreagra ar Covid-19 ag caint mar gheall ar bhéim na paindéime. Go mór mór, bhí siad ag gearán mar gheall ar an easpa lucht féachana ag na cluichí agus an easpa ioncaim dá bharr. What supports have been or are being put in place given the serious lack of spectators at games? Can anything be done to bring about an improvement?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 and 18 together. I am acutely aware of the difficulties and challenges faced by sports organisations, particularly regarding the rules on spectators. Measures introduced by the Government to date that have benefited the sports sector include the temporary wage subsidy scheme.

There has been extensive engagement with the sports sector over recent months, and this has highlighted the significant adverse impact of Covid-19 at all levels of the Irish sporting landscape. A Covid-19 sports management group, chaired at ministerial level, has been established to engage directly with the sports bodies. An expert group on the return to sport, chaired by an official in my Department, has been established to provide advice and guidance to sports bodies. Sport Ireland is engaging directly with sports bodies on an ongoing basis.

A funding package of €70 million has been put in place to support the sector. The funding package, which will be administered by Sport Ireland, includes funding of up to €40 million for the three main fields sport organisations, namely, the FAI, GAA and IRFU; a resilience fund of up to €10 million to support the national governing bodies of sport; a sports club resilience fund of up to €15 million to support clubs; and a sports restart and renewal fund of up to €5 million. The funding will be invested by way of new grant schemes through Sport Ireland's recognised public partners, including the national governing bodies of sport, the local sports partnerships and other funded sports organisations.

The closing date for applications to Sport Ireland under the Covid-19 grant scheme was 14 September. I understand a large number of applications was received. Thirty-nine national governing bodies applied on their own behalf and on behalf of their member clubs. Sport Ireland is currently processing and validating their applications. There is significant interest in each of the four strands of funding. The process will be complete by the end of October. An announcement of all allocations will be made at that time.

In addition to this funding, I announced a special fund of €2.5 million for the July stimulus scheme to support swimming pools and their operation. This funding will also be administered by Sport Ireland. The Deputy will note the €15 million support for the GAA, the Camogie Association and ladies' football. That is in direct recognition of the shortfall that will arise from the reduced number of spectators at all the games.

We want to ensure our all-Ireland competitions across the three codes happen this year. The reduction in spectators in stadiums and at local clubs and pitches has a direct impact on sport, and that is why we are providing the stimulus funding and buffer for all the organisations this year and why we are engaging in the budgetary process for next year. While Covid stays with us, we want to ensure sport is supported by the Government in the context of participation and continuing competition. That is why we have provided such a wide range of supports. Sports have been referred to specifically in the context of the resilience roadmap and plan. In this regard, when the pandemic worsens or improves there will be certainty for clubs and sports organisations regarding how they can plan for their matches and the impact this will have on funding.

The impact of the pandemic on finances is quite pronounced. When representatives of the IRFU were before the Covid committee, they said 80% of their organisation's revenue is generated by the senior men's team. It is now down €30 million. The FAI, which is already in a difficult position, is down €14 million, and League of Ireland clubs fear for their future. Just today, it was reported that Leinster Rugby is €18 million down. It needs spectators and it needs to get them back safely. It needs funding for alterations. Even though these organisations are experts in managing large numbers, their staff and volunteers may need extra training. Fans are returning in some other countries, as the Minister of State probably knows.

It was interesting that the Minister of State mentioned the return to sport. The GAA told us 600,000 people returned to play Gaelic games and there was not a Covid case as a result. Thousands of children returned to Cúl Camps and there was not a case as a result.

The GAA and many sports organisations have done excellent work in ensuring compliance and participation in sport. As the Deputy knows, the resilience roadmap tries to ensure that people participate in sport and are physically active. We must also consider the mental well-being of all our population, including young people, and that is why sport is being properly and directly funded by the Government in the context of the stimulus package and funding I have mentioned.

I had a meeting with the IRFU this week and I acknowledged the funding difficulties it and many other sports organisations will have next year. That is why we have an expert group on sport and a sports leadership group working directly with the organisations. In light of the roadmap, the group has plans to map out the mitigation of risk while potentially ensuring the return of some spectators to the larger stadiums. That is referenced across the levels in the roadmap. We are trying to proceed in a safe way, and we have ongoing engagement with all the sports organisations to meet their challenges.

Given the return to sport and what the Minister of State said about the mental health of returning spectators and participants, and given what he said about being supported by the Government, what does he think about introducing the 1 m rule in stadiums? In Germany, for example, a capacity rate of 20% has already been introduced. There are no away fans and no alcohol and it depends on the seven-day infection rate in the relevant city. There were 10,000 at a game recently in Dresden and 20,000 at a game in Budapest.

There are some National League games coming up. Would the Government consider allowing the GAA to self-regulate, as it does in the Six Counties, and nominate a different number of spectators per ground to give it some flexibility? There could be oversight by a fire officer, for example, allowing for a higher percentage. Given what the Minister of State said about mental health and the importance of getting spectators back into stadiums, and acknowledging, as we must, the expert capacity of the GAA and other sports bodies to deal with large crowds, I ask the Minister of State to address this, particularly in respect of the GAA's upcoming National League games.

Spectator attendance at large purpose-built event facilities is being considered.

Specific guidance is being developed with the relevant organisations and sectors to take account of the size and differing conditions for events such as large national and international sporting events. I understand that the expert group on the return to sport is considering comprehensive proposals in that regard. As Ministers, we do not make the decision regarding the 1 m or 0.5 m rule, we have to take the advice from public health experts and experts around event management on how we mitigate risk across the events sector be that in sport or in other areas. What we want to do over the next six to nine months is, as referenced in the resilience roadmap, ensure the safe return of spectators, particularly to larger venues. There is flexibility within the resilience roadmap for the return of spectators to larger stadia. We have not set a number on those larger stadia. The expert group, with the sporting organisations, has the authority to develop specific spectator attendances.

When will the report be published?

It is being worked on. I understand that work is nearing conclusion. There is ongoing engagement with the sporting organisations around how we mitigate risk and ensure the safe return of spectators. I am confident that the group will allow for the return of spectators, particularly at larger sporting venues, while ensuring public health advice is maintained.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Richard Boyd Barrett


11. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht her plans to expand the more than €5 million pilot performance programme from the recently activated July stimulus to the live entertainment and event sector; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27482/20]

Brendan Smith


13. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht if specific funding will be provided for the events and entertainment industry due to the ongoing and adverse impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the sector and the resultant loss of employment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27422/20]

We covered some of this ground in a previous question. The €5 million announced in the July stimulus for 35,000 people is a pittance. The Minister says this is just a pilot, but a pilot is not good enough for the dire situation that faces those 35,000 people. The Minister will know that the EPIC working group, The Events Industry Alliance, the National Campaign for the Arts and the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland, MEAI, representing musicians and so on, are looking for a hell of a lot more. What they want to know is what the Minister is recommending to the Government in advance of the budget to ensure that happens and that they can survive?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 and 13 together.

I am pleased to inform Deputies Boyd Barrett and Brendan Smith that earlier this month I launched a number of new music and performance schemes, totalling €6 million, to aid employment in the creative industries. The music stimulus package involves three funding schemes designed to help sustain the popular commercial music sector across all music genres, including rock, pop, hip hop, indie, jazz, country and traditional folk. Under this package, a fund of €1 million has been put in place to stimulate areas of work which artists would usually fund with income from own sources, including live event fees. These schemes are targeted at professional musicians and their teams and will support song writing camps, recording and album releases. The aim is to ensure that Irish musicians, engineers, PR, media, agents, labels and publishers can continue to develop and insure their work in the context of Covid restrictions. The music stimulus package schemes are being managed on behalf of the Department by First Music Contact and will be subject to peer panel assessment.

Under the live performance supports pilot scheme, a further allocation of €5 million is being made available, which aims to assist commercial venues, producers, promoters of live performances and provide employment to workers in creative industries. My Department developed the conditions of this scheme in consultation with the sector, with particular assistance from EPIC. By the initial closing date, more than 100 applications had been received, requesting funding of over €15 million. That is why it is a pilot scheme. We will engage with the stakeholders to see what would work best before we consider anything further. The Deputy will be aware that I cannot have the negotiations for the budget on the floor of the House and that that is work I will be doing with my Cabinet colleagues.

Deputies Boyd Barrett and Brendan Smith will also be aware that I recently appointed the arts and culture recovery task force, which is being chaired by Clare Duignan. The membership of that task force includes representatives from the Events Industry Alliance. Taken as a starting point, the research and evidence of the devastating impact of the pandemic on the sector compiled by the Department, the Arts Council and other stakeholders, the task force will prepare a report setting out recommendations on how best the arts and culture sector can adapt and recover from the unprecedented damage arising from the pandemic.

The sector includes culture, the arts, the audio-visual industry and the live entertainment industry. The task force has already met twice. Its proceedings will be conducted in a transparent manner and all correspondence will be published in due course. I will consider the findings of the task force, as well as the experience of new schemes which were launched last month, in framing any further responses to the crisis.

Let us make a comparison. The Minister might not give me the exact figures that she is recommending in the negotiations but in New Zealand, the package for arts, music and live entertainment is €175 million. This dwarfs what is being given to, let us remember, a live music and events sector that has never received a cent from Government, and never asked for it, and an arts sector which is one of the most poorly funded in western Europe. We have taken our arts workers, musicians, crew and live entertainment people for granted. We now realise, or should realise, how badly we need these people and how much they contribute to our mental well-being, our welfare and our future in these grim times. The additional money that has been put forward is really a pittance when divided among the 35,000 people who work in music, live entertainment, the arts and so on. It is not enough. We need much more.

I welcome that I had an opportunity to discuss some of these issues with the Minister previously and I welcome her statement that she will work in the budgetary context on the key recommendations of the task force and that the entertainment and events sector is represented on that task force. The Minister also said that this was the first sector to close. We know it is facing unprecedented and ongoing challenges and given all the medical evidence those challenges and difficulties will be with us for some time.

As stated by Deputy Boyd Barrett, we do not want to lose this sector or the professionals involved in it who are across many different trades, professions and disciplines. We need a comprehensive package in the budget to assist live performers, producers, artists, musicians and others. When assistance and a programme is being put in place it is important that emerging talent and small bands are recognised as well. We are all aware that we need the emerging talent and they may not be very well organised. In many instances, they bring our music, song and dance to other continents. They are great ambassadors for our country. In any scheme of assistance, which is needed for the entire sector and for all disciplines within the sector, it is important that emerging and new talent is recognised as well and given adequate assistance.

Both Deputies will be aware that it is not possible to anticipate the budget. I am very familiar with the pre-budget submissions of the Events Industry Alliance and everyone involved in this sector. I acknowledge the Deputies' interest in these matters and I can assure them that I will be doing my best for the sector in the budget and subsequently.

For information, the total funding for the arts in Ireland this year is €338 million. That has increased by more than 30% this year. I would never have suggested - this is the reason I continually emphasise the word "pilot" - that €5 million was enough. It is a start. I come from this background myself. There are many Deputies here who have family or friends in this sector. I am acutely aware of not just the needs and livelihoods of the performers who are front and centre stage but those who enable to go on stage.

On the international comparison, I know some people look to approaches taken in other countries but it can be very difficult to make those comparisons. Population differences mean that supports are not directly comparable. We need to focus on what is in Ireland. For example, in the UK there is a very large commercial theatre sector that does not exist here to the same extent. We need to focus on the measures that are needed here. My focus will be on the report of the task force, which will consult widely to develop a clear approach which, in turn, will inform not only the budget but the national economic plan.

Let us be clear. At the best of times many people who worked in the arts were in borderline poverty situations. Cuts to the pandemic unemployment payment and the employment wage subsidy scheme will, potentially, drive thousands of people into poverty. Without sufficient grants to cover insurance costs, warehouse costs, debt repayments and other ongoing payments, people are going to go under and they are going to go under soon. Historically, we have undervalued, in terms of the support provided by Government, the arts, music and live entertainment sectors, although we trade internationally on their reputation and they contribute so much to our society. They are the glue that makes us a culture and a society.

There must be a seismic shift in the mentality of the Government regarding the importance of this sector to us as a people and a society, particularly in these difficult times.

I repeat that we often underrate the huge employment in our creative industries. It is spread throughout the regions. The industries are not just good employers but are also important for the well-being of our society. It is important to put in place robust measures to provide adequate support for all the artists and their support personnel, to ensure we do not lose these key artists and this sector. They are very important for this country and for the reputation of this country abroad. They bring a good and positive message from this country to other continents in normal times.

I guarantee that I do not want to lose this sector either. I am very conscious of the emerging artists. For example, we ran a programme online with Hot Press for young and emerging artists earlier this year. I also guarantee that I have never undervalued music and the arts. That is the background I come from; it is what I studied. That is where all my friends and family are. I place an immense value on the sector. It is a privilege to be the Minister with responsibility for culture and arts at this most challenging time. I have a keen eye on doing what is best for this sector, to support it not just to survive but to thrive at the other end of Covid. That is why I am engaging extensively with the sector. I have heard people's concerns and I will bring those to the negotiations, but I cannot have the negotiations on the floor of the House. However, I can guarantee my commitment to this sector and how much I value it. It is the beating heart of our nation, as far as I am concerned. It is our identity. We have to stop talking about and praising it without placing a value on it by supporting it.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.