I thank the members for such good attendance. I also thank all of those who attended the private session earlier. I welcome the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, and the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers. I very much appreciate their attendance and that of their officials, who are here to help out with today's presentations. I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I also advise the witnesses that the opening statements and any other documentation they have submitted to the committee may be published on its website after this meeting. For all of our safety, I would appreciate it if members could adhere to all the Covid-19 restrictions in place and the advice given.
Key Departmental Priorities and Effects of Covid-19: Minister for Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport, Gaeltacht and Media
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gcoiste as ucht an cuireadh teacht anseo inniu. Táim thar a bheith sásta a bheith anseo chun labhairt faoi tosaíochtaí straitéiseacha na Roinne agus ár bhfreagra ar an bpaindéim Covid. I intend to address the committee on matters relating to tourism, culture, arts and media while my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, will address matters related to sport and the Gaeltacht.
The sectors under the aegis of my Department are among the most severely impacted by the global pandemic and associated public health measures. Unfortunately, as the pandemic continues, we are likely to continue to experience these significant and negative impacts.
As such, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to address the committee on the important challenges facing our sectors and to open a dialogue on the strategic priorities for the Department as we turn our faces to the future and to recovery.
Tourism, culture, arts, our language, sport and media are integral parts of the fabric of our society and our democracy, supporting a wide range of economic activity as well enhancing our physical, mental and societal well-being. Central to the operation of these sectors is the coming together of people, whether to enjoy a cultural event, watch a match or enjoy a meal or night out. The combined portfolio of tourism, culture, the arts, the Gaeltacht, sport and media speaks to who we are as a nation and how we identify ourselves.
The Covid-19 crisis has challenged all of our core presumptions and values and made us reflect critically on the importance of these sectors to our nation. It is no longer possible for us to come together for a cultural, sporting or social event. The flow of visitors we normally welcome from Europe, the US and beyond is not with us. More than ever, we require high-quality, informed and trusted sources of news and content. Our focus has been on the collective effort to protect the vulnerable in our society, on keeping our health and social care services operating and on preventing further disruption to childcare and education. All of this also reflects who we are as a people, a society which cares about its most vulnerable, and we should never lose sight of this. It has come at an enormous cost for the sectors for which I and the Minister of State have responsibility.
I will take a moment to set out the impacts of the pandemic. There has been a collapse in international tourism which the OECD estimates will be to the order of 80%. We have experienced the loss of all overseas tourism since March. The impact of social distancing measures and the limits on gatherings required to protect public health have also significantly diminished the domestic tourism and hospitality sectors. Fáilte Ireland estimates that some 40% of tourism businesses have not reopened since the first lockdown in 2020.
Cultural venues and events were among the first to be closed in our response to the pandemic and will undoubtedly be among the last to reopen. This continues to have a devastating impact on performance opportunities, displays, festivals and concerts, impacting on our opportunities to experience culture and performance as well as employment and economic activity in the sector. The impact of the pandemic on the arts sector extends well beyond artists. It has also affected crews and the wide range of people it takes to put on live performances in venues and at festivals.
Sport, which is central to the lives of many people in Ireland, has been similarly impacted with restrictions on spectators, and curtailed activity generally, severely impacting on revenues. The commercial sports and leisure sector has also seen its activity cease as we moved to level 5 of the Government’s plan for living with Covid-19.
Across the Gaeltacht, businesses and communities alike have suffered a significant reduction in economic activity, tourism and educational visitors as a consequence of Covid-19. Many are now facing the double impact of Brexit. I am very conscious that this will pose a further risk for the language as it may result in more native speakers leaving our Gaeltacht regions.
The media sector, which has played such a critical role in supporting and disseminating public messaging about the Covid-19 response, has been especially hard hit by reduced advertising revenues. It is ironic that this has come at a time when there has never been a greater need for trusted news sources.
Over recent months, I have been working with Government colleagues to ensure that we are addressing the crisis in our sectors head on and sustaining, protecting and enhancing resilience where we can. Across government, we continue to invest heavily in protecting incomes through the pandemic unemployment payment, in protecting livelihoods through the employment wage subsidy scheme and, most recently in the budget, in protecting businesses through the Covid restrictions support scheme. Given the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on our sectors, these universal supports continue to form a critical part of our response. The VAT cut, the tax debt warehousing extension and the rates waiver are also essential in helping sustain businesses across our sectors.
Engaging with our sectoral stakeholders has been an essential part of our response to the pandemic and it is critical that we, as policymakers, listen closely to the voices and experiences of artists, cultural workers, tourism businesses, sporting bodies, the media and our Gaeltacht communities.
Task forces made up of sectoral experts have been set up to direct our responses and set us on the path of recovery for the tourism and arts and culture sectors. Informed by these engagements, I have introduced a range of sector-specific measures. While it is not possible to go through them all in detail in this opening statement, I will highlight a number of very significant support measures.
The Arts Council has seen its funding allocation increase by €25 million over its initial budget allocation in 2020 and has been allocated a total funding provision of €130 million under budget 2021. This additional investment empowers the Arts Council to help artists, arts workers and arts organisations get through the crisis and ensures that they will still be there to play their part in the national recovery. This funding will help protect jobs and livelihoods, while also supporting thousands of artists in creating new work during and after the pandemic. It will focus on enhancing the resilience of the sector, while also looking to find new ways of reaching audiences in person and online.
Live entertainment has also been significantly impacted by the pandemic, as attendance at concerts, festivals and events is either severely curtailed or no longer permitted under the five levels. To that end, I am providing €50 million in funding to support live entertainment in 2021, which will include significant support measures for the commercial entertainment sector. A key pillar of this support package is the extension of the pilot live performance support scheme from the 2020 July stimulus, which will incentivise venues, producers and promoters of live performances to plan new productions and to employ workers in the cultural and creative sectors. Earlier this week, I announced the outcome of the pilot which aims to see up to 58 performances being staged over the coming months, providing much-needed work for artists, entertainers and those who work in the sector.
We are also working with our national cultural Institutions and cultural spaces across the country to ensure they can operate safely under the Government's plan for living with Covid-19. These spaces and their collections are vital for the well-being of our communities. The work of curators and cultural practitioners in bringing them to life online over the pandemic has been truly exceptional.
For tourism, my immediate focus is on helping the sector to survive the Covid crisis and the recovery plan produced by the tourism recovery task force is a valuable contribution to my thinking in this context. In response to the recommendations, I strongly advocated for additional supports as part of budget 2021 and was pleased to support the Government's announcement of a new €55 million support fund for strategic tourism businesses and €5 million for training and digitalisation support in the sector. These measures will complement the EWSS and CRSS and the restart scheme. The Government has also responded to the call from the industry and reduced the VAT rate in the sector to 9%, which will enhance viability and competitiveness. While it may take a while for the benefits of the VAT cut and the stay-and-spend tax credit to be felt, they will be important supports when we open up again. All of the budgetary measures will build on the €26 million adaptation grant for the tourism sector and the €10 million supports for international coach tourism announced in July.
Throughout the crisis, my Department has worked with the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, and media stakeholders to assess the impact of the crisis on the sector. To mitigate some of the worst effects, the BAI agreed to waive its broadcasting levy for the first half of the year for the independent radio sector and I have secured additional funding to offset this. More significantly, and in recognition of the importance of the public, commercial and community media in disseminating public health messages, additional funding has been provided for the sound and vision scheme, with an additional round valued at €2.5 million for commercial radio, a €750,000 round, and the current round that will distribute €4.5 million to the audiovisual sector, boosted by an additional €2 million in Exchequer funding under the July stimulus package.
Well-being is a core principle underpinning the living with Covid-19 plan, and it will be fundamental to public confidence and resilience as we emerge from and manage the crisis over the longer term. Well-being is also at the heart of our programme for Government and is a central pillar to my Department's policies, with the arts and culture, sport, the Irish language, the media and tourism all contributing to our national and individual well-being. From that perspective, I consider it vital that we lift our heads and proactively plan for recovery, a recovery which will come and for which I want these sectors to be in the best position they can be to resume activity.
For tourism, my overall objective is to facilitate recovery and future growth that is sustainable from an environmental, social and economic perspective. Central to this will be a three-year survival, stabilisation and recovery programme based on the recommendations of the tourism recovery task force.
Additionally, I intend to initiate the development of an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable tourism policy that will further set our direction over the coming years. We will continue to develop our national tourism product, including through strategic investments under the national development plan and for activity-based tourism, being conscious of the ancillary economic benefits from such investments in often isolated locations.
The arts and culture task force has also set the direction for recovery in that broad sector. The task force has completed its deliberations and I intend to bring its final report to the attention of Government at the earliest opportunity. I will work closely with sectoral stakeholders and colleagues in government on the implementation of its recommendations.
There are strong links between commercial and State-supported cultural activity with artists and other cultural workers often moving between both during their careers. As such, ensuring we continue to support our cultural workers ensures a vibrant commercial sector in the future. The Arts Council, which, as I mentioned earlier, has received significant additional funding for 2021, will also play a central role in ensuring that artists and arts workers will get through the crisis, will continue to create and will be in a position to return to live performance when we are again able to gather together.
An allocation of €8 million has also been made to the National Concert Hall, NCH, for 2021 to allow for the transfer of the National Symphony Orchestra from RTÉ. This will be a significant step towards the objective of enabling it to be established as a world-class orchestra which will, with the NCH, provide a creative and imaginative programme strategy that will greatly enhance the offering of the combined organisation to the public.
Our work with the live entertainment sector is also turning towards the future, and I intend to support the development of guidance for venues in how to manage the return to live performances as well as the bespoke funding scheme announced in budget 2021. The work of the night-time economy task force, due to report at the end of the year, will create a renewed vision for night-time culture, informed by the experience of the crisis but also providing a long-term perspective on what our cities and towns should offer their citizens and visitors in terms of cultural and entertainment options.
Creativity and resilience often go hand in hand and, under the Creative Ireland programme, my Department has invested significant additional funding of €3.9 million to support artistic and creative operators to produce creative content and deliver creative initiatives. More broadly, new funding has also been directed towards the creative sector in support of public resilience and well-being initiatives. For example, the rapid roll-out of the creativity in older age scheme in July has seen the deployment by national organisations and local authorities of a series of projects worth more than €500,000 by creative practitioners, supporting older people in community and healthcare settings nationwide.
The Creative Ireland programme is also currently working closely to support Healthy Ireland on the Government’s recently launched community resilience campaign, Keep Well. This will see significant additional funding provided by Government to local authorities to support creative operators in delivering a range of initiatives to support individual and community creativity in the arts, culture and heritage.
My Department is also working to enhance resilience and support the creative industries, including the audiovisual sector. We will continue to implement the audiovisual action plan over the coming years, as well as supporting Screen Ireland and its subsidiary, Screen Skills Ireland, to build and support a world-class industry in Ireland.
In terms of media, I was pleased to provide additional funding to TG4 in 2020 and 2021, as well as providing additional funding of €2 million for the sound and vision scheme in 2020. These initiatives are helping to build quality output for TV audiences in Ireland and beyond, as well as critically supporting the independent production sector. As I mentioned earlier, we were also in a position to support the broader media sector through various BAI measures, including the initial waiver on the broadcasting levy for the independent radio sector.
While addressing the immediate needs of the sector, there is important work to be done on addressing the future of media in this country. The Future of Media Commission has been established and held its inaugural meeting last week. This commission will, through engagement with key stakeholders, help inform future media policy. I will also be actively engaged in ensuring the safe passage of the online safety and media regulation Bill through the Houses of the Oireachtas over the coming months.
As Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, I am firmly committed to supporting these sectors as they navigate through the unique and difficult challenges the Covid-19 crisis presents. I will continue to do everything possible to ensure they remain viable through the crisis and resilient in recovery and to seek out new opportunities and a longer-term vision so that they can thrive once again when this crisis passes.
I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, to speak to the Irish language and sport.
Go raibh míle maith agat, a Chathaoirligh agus a Aire. Táim an-sásta bheith anseo inniu chun chur in iúl daoibh ár mbeartas in aghaidh an Chovid-19. Labhróidh mé faoi cúrsaí spóirt, an Ghaeilge agus an Ghaeltacht.
As my colleague the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, has already demonstrated, the Covid-19 pandemic and associated public health measures have had a very deep and significant impact on sports in Ireland. At level 5, we have seen the effective cessation of all sporting activity, other than at elite and professional level and in respect of small-scale training for school-aged children, with consequent impacts on the revenues of the national governing bodies of sport, on employment in the commercial gyms and leisure sector, and, most critically, on the well-being of individuals and teams across the country.
As with communities across the country, Gaeltacht communities continue to struggle with the impacts of the pandemic. Brexit, coupled with the economic impact of the pandemic, will put further pressure on Gaeltacht enterprises, which will need our continued support in the weeks and months ahead. Officials from my Department continue to work closely with Údarás na Gaeltachta to ensure that we put in place timely and appropriate measures to protect Gaeltacht economies. These communities are also struggling from the loss of vital tourism and educational visitors.
Níos túisce i mbliana, chuir mo Roinn pacáiste tacaíochta ar fiú €4.7 milliún é i bhfeidhm a bhí dírithe ar a chinntiú go ndéanfaí earnáil na gcoláistí samhraidh Gaeilge a choinneáil. Ó bunaíodh an Rialtas seo, tá an tAire, an Teachta Catherine Martin, agus mé féin ag obair gan staonadh lenár gcomhghleacaithe sa Rialtas chun an chuid is measa de thionchar Covid-19 a mhaolú. Chuige sin, i mí Iúil seo caite, d'fhógraíomar €8 milliún breise d'Údarás na Gaeltachta agus ba ionann a leithroinnt iomlán caipitil ansin agus beagnach €18 milliún. Tá an maoiniú breise sin ag tacú le réimse d'infheistíochtaí caipitiúla a fheabhsóidh cumas an Údaráis tacú le fiontair áitiúla agus tá sé sin ag cruthú 40 go 50 post nua tógála ar fud na Gaeltachta faoi láthair. Meastar go dtacóidh an infheistíocht le 320 post nua níos fadtéarmaí a chruthú i gcliantchuideachtaí de chuid Údarás na Gaeltachta.
Mar chuid dár dtacaíocht leanúnach don teanga, cuireadh maoiniú níos airde ar fáil don phróiseas pleanála teanga in 2020 agus i bpobal na Gaeltachta agus sa chlár tacaíochtaí Gaeltachta. Ina theannta sin, tá maoiniú breise €250,000 curtha ar fáil d'Ealaín na Gaeltachta chun líon suntasach sparánachtaí a chur ar fáil d'ealaíontóirí atá lonnaithe sa Ghaeltacht.
Tá sé i gceist agam an móiminteam sin a choinneáil in 2021 le soláthar an mhaoinithe bhreise shuntasaigh a cuireadh ar fáil faoi bhuiséad 2021 don Ghaeltacht agus don Ghaeilge. An chéad bhliain eile, cuirfear leithroinnt breis is €78 milliún ar fáil d'earnáil na Gaeltachta agus na Gaeilge - sin ardú €14.8 milliún ar an gcéad leithroinnt a rinneadh in 2020. Áirítear ann €31.8 milliún ar an iomlán lena chur ar chumas Údarás na Gaeltachta infheistíocht a dhéanamh i bpobail Ghaeltachta. Gheobhaidh an Foras Teanga a chéad ardú ar mhaoiniú clár den chéad uair ón mbliain 2016, chomh maith le leithroinnt bhreise €1.799 milliún arna cur ar fáil don chomhoibriú Thuaidh Theas an bhliain seo chugainn. Ní mór dom a chur in iúl chomh maith, go bhfaighidh TG4 ardú €3.5 milliún, in éineacht leis an €78 milliún a leithroinneadh faoi chláir Ghaeltachta agus Ghaeilge na Roinne, faoi chlár meán na Roinne ag tabhairt a leithroinnt don bhliain 2021 go dtí beagnach €41 milliún. Is léiriú é sin ar an méid ollmhór a chuireann TG4 le cur i bhfeidhm Straitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge.
Maidir le cúrsaí teanga lasmuigh den Ghaeltacht, tá leithroinnt bhreise €1 milliún fógartha agam chun cur le scéimeanna tacaíochta teanga na Roinne, chomh maith le hinfheistíocht €2 milliún in infheistíocht chaipitil chun an Ghaeilge agus ionaid chultúir go náisiúnta a fhorbairt.
There has been extensive engagement with the sport sector over the past number of months, which has highlighted the significant, adverse impact of Covid-19 at all levels of the Irish sporting landscape. A Covid-19 sports monitoring group, chaired at ministerial level, has been established to engage directly with the sporting bodies. An expert group on the return to sport, chaired by an official of my Department, has also been established to provide advice and guidance to sporting bodies. Sport Ireland is also directly engaging with sporting bodies on an ongoing basis.
Last Monday, the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, and I were delighted to announce the allocation of funding support of €85 million to help mitigate some of the impact Covid-19 has had on Irish sport this year. The additional funding disbursed by Sport Ireland will address the existential threat to national governing bodies and their club networks, allowing sports organisations to offset losses incurred during the pandemic. This investment will reach all levels of the sport sector with national governing bodies, local sports partnerships and thousands of grassroots clubs across Ireland set to benefit. The funding package includes support of over €30 million for Gaelic games, including a special allocation of €15 million for the 2020 championships, €18 million to support the IRFU and rugby clubs throughout the country, €13 million to support the FAI and soccer clubs nationwide, grant support of almost €15 million to other national governing bodies of sport and their affiliated clubs, as well as additional funding of over €2.4 million for the local sports partnerships and other stakeholders to support innovative projects to keep us active in these difficult times, and for local small grant schemes. The Government recognises that the current public health measures are challenging. However, the imminent disbursement of these funds will assist the sporting bodies and clubs to plan for better times next year.
Under budget 2021, we are providing a further €36 million to Sport Ireland over and above its initial 2020 allocation, bringing its 2021 allocation to almost €105 million. We have also agreed an increase of €2 million in dormant accounts funding for sport allocation, bringing it to €10 million and we will soon open a new round of the sports capital programme, which will offer important opportunities for clubs across the country to enhance their facilities.
I thank the Minister and Minister of State for their very detailed presentations and thank the departmental officials for their attendance today. Members have been given the speaking rota and I ask them, in the interests of fairness, to try to stay within the time limits outlined. I am delighted to see so many members in attendance today. Members have six minutes each and Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan is first.
I welcome the measures focused on tourism and live entertainment in particular. A range of measures has been outlined and a considerable amount of funding has been provided. At previous committee meetings and in the Dáil, we asked for a response in this regard and it is fair to say that the response outlined here is significant. I welcome that and thank the Minister and Minister of State. I wish to mention in particular the recent announcement regarding the live performance support scheme which has been broadly welcomed. It will provide a significant boost for small venues in particular which have provided us with so much joy and entertainment in the past. This pilot scheme is hugely important and in that context, I wish to mention three successful applicants from my own area of west Cork, namely, De Barra's which is a world-famous venue, Levis' Corner House and Connolly's of Leap. These are three cornerstones underpinning west Cork's reputation as a leading light in live entertainment. They all acknowledge and appreciate the funding being provided and I thank the Department for that.
Of course, the funding provided is not a panacea and is not all-reaching and in that context I have further questions and some suggestions to make. In terms of supports for the entertainment industry, one sector is being left behind, namely, sound and lighting engineers who may not have a fixed premises. Not having a fixed premises and therefore not paying rates means that they cannot apply for the restart-plus grant scheme although if they have a warehouse and are ratepayers, they can apply. Most importantly, one of the most positive measures in the recent budget was the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS. It now transpires that applicants for that scheme must have a fixed premises but lots of sound and lighting engineers do not have such and even their warehouses do not constitute a fixed premises. I would love to see that addressed.
There are many sound and lighting engineers and they have worked on some of the most well-known productions in the country. They are in grave danger and living off €203 or €206 per week. That situation needs to change.
I welcome the broad suite of measures in respect of tourism, including the €55 million support fund and the VAT reduction, but a number of areas have been omitted. In terms of marine-based tourism, I must declare an interest as a former whale watching guide in Courtmacsherry. Since such businesses have no fixed premises, they cannot avail of the restart grant or the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS. Their omission needs to be addressed. They provided people with considerable enjoyment when the economy opened up slightly during the summer. Being out on the ocean and watching the incredible giants of the seas was seen as a safe way of enjoying Ireland, yet the businesses are not able to avail of any of these grants.
Still on tourism and hospitality, my understanding is that a liquor licence or wine licence is needed to avail of the adaptation grant. That omits restaurants and, in particular, cafés that do not have such licences. This needs to be addressed.
I am cognisant of the need to leave as much time for a response as possible. Thankfully, the Covid numbers are going in the right direction. Let us say that we come out of level 5 by December and go to level 3. It is important that we consider a mechanism by which the hospitality sector could accommodate indoor dining under level 3 restrictions. Winter is not the time for outdoor dining.
I welcome the significant allocations to sports. The Minister has done a fantastic job in that regard, but the motor sport sector seems to have been left behind. Could some funding for it be provided?
I have a question on the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland, IBI. I will not take up more time, but I ask that the Minister meet the IBI, be it via Zoom or some other way, and listen to its concerns.
Whom do you want to hear from because you have only a minute left?
The Minister, Deputy Martin, please, on the fact that people in the live performance industry cannot avail of the CRSS and on my tourism questions.
I thank the Deputy. I am glad that the live performance support scheme has been well received. It is a pilot scheme of €5 million, with €50 million to be launched to help next year. On the Deputy's query about the CRSS, which falls under the remit of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and those who do not have fixed premises, the live performance support scheme was designed to bring them in. The scheme is designed to get those lighting and sound engineers working by providing opportunities for shows to go ahead. That is partly the reason that scheme was designed, to complement the CRSS, which provides support to venues in particular.
Was there another question the Deputy wanted answered in that time?
Regarding tourism, specifically marine-based tourism.
Again, we have the business continuity scheme, which complements the CRSS. It is something we can look at. The adaptation grant fund has been designed to mitigate the costs incurred by tourism-specific businesses. For Fáilte Ireland to identify tourism businesses in the application process, a set of eligibility criteria for each business category was developed. Under those criteria, only restaurants and cafés with a wine retailer's on-licence or special restaurant licence were eligible to apply. Many small independent cafés serving a mainly local population are not deemed, therefore, to be predominantly tourism businesses. That is the issue there. Operationally, it might be difficult to identify all businesses, such as cafés, that would be eligible. These businesses are eligible to apply for other Government-funded Covid-19 support schemes, including the restart grant plus.
Will the Minister meet the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland, IBI, in some format?
I can get my officials to arrange a meeting if the Deputy wants me to.
I thank the Minister.
I will be very brief because, my apologies, I have to dash away to what I expect to be a very riveting meeting of the Dáil reform committee. I will try to be very brief. The reason is because I have to be elsewhere.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Martin, and the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, and thank them for their work to date.
I thank them both for their work to date and, in particular, congratulate them on the recent budget and their achievements in that regard on all areas relating to their briefs. There was some very positive news in that.
I concur very much with what Deputy O'Sullivan has already referred to and I will not go over the old ground that he has already covered because he has covered it very well. If I may, I will take up the issue of the independent broadcasters. I certainly agree with Deputy O'Sullivan that it would be important for the Minister to meet with them. It is very important that they would continue to receive supports through the sound and vision programme under the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, to take them into the spring of next year. It is really important as well that the BAI levy for the second half of 2020 would not have to be paid by the independent broadcasters, given the current scenario and that we are back to level 5 and the huge drop-off that they have seen in their turnover, particularly their advertising revenue. The other thing I would ask as well is that the wage subsidisation schemes that are available would be made available to independent broadcasters as well, especially those who have seen more than 20% of a fall-off in their turnover.
Can I just stress how important a role these broadcasters play throughout the country and we are all aware of the importance of our own local stations? I can speak, I suppose, from a Kerry perspective, and from Radio Kerry's perspective, we have had a fantastic service there for more than 30 years. Particularly at this time, however, we should bear in mind that we are talking about a rural county with some very sparsely populated communities, many people living alone, and an older age demographic. Without that local radio service, the level of isolation and the sense of loneliness for people would be far greater. I am not saying that is not there at the moment - it is - but it would be far greater without having that local service. Those providing that local service deserve all the support that they can get at the moment because they are providing an enormously important service to people at this very difficult time and they will do so throughout this winter as well. I therefore urge immediate consultation and a meeting with the IBI but also I would be very supportive of strong supports for them.
I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, on the sports-related matters in the budget. I just want to get an update on the forthcoming sports capital programme, when it will open, and if he has any further details that he could provide for the committee.
Deputy Griffin, do you want comments from both the Minister and the Minister of State?
If I could, please, yes, in the three minutes remaining.
I am in the process of arranging that meeting with the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland. I believe it is in the middle of November that that meeting is actually scheduled for. I have also met in recent weeks with RTÉ, Virgin Media Ireland, TG4 and news brands.
Regarding the query about the support of local media, and the Deputy mentioned Kerry, I would know myself, and the Chair would know, from when we were growing up how the local newspaper is the newspaper that sits on the coffee table for the week. I know that local radio is the first thing that is turned on in the morning. For me growing up, it was Northern Sound, the Anglo-Celt and The Northern Standard. Such media are the linchpin of a home and are the very sources of information only that some people in communities turn to. That local print and local radio are fundamentally important to our society.
In recognition of that, the Taoiseach and I nominated to the Future of Media Commission Ms Siobhán Holliman, who has worked as deputy editor of the Tuam Herald but also has experience in Galway Bay FM and MidWest Radio. We have definitely seen through the Covid crisis how important trusted sources of media are. They are actually more important now than ever before. That is why the work of that commission is important when it looks at the funding and keeping such sources alive.
In the shorter term, the BAI waived levies for the radio sector early this year in acknowledgement of the financial crisis that we are facing. I also gave additional funding of €2 million to the BAI's sound and vision fund under the July stimulus package, which will help support local radio and television production. I am conscious that supporting local media through advertising is hugely important and it helps deliver important safety messages to people whose medium of choice is that local newspaper or the local radio station. It helps to support and sustain that vibrant local media sector.
We are hoping to open the sports capital programme this month. The review has concluded and preparation is under way to open up for applications. We intend to have the applications open for more weeks than usual to take into account Covid-19. This may be an eight to ten-week period to give clubs the time and space to submit applications and engage with the process. We will give full details to the committee on this when it opens. We are happy to support all our Oireachtas colleagues and their clubs in making applications. My thanks to Deputy Griffin for the question.
I welcome the support package for sport allocated through Sport Ireland and announced earlier this week. It is important. I was involved at the beginning of the process. It is great to see the money getting out to the front line and the provision of funding in addition to the funding secured earlier. That is very important. I hope there will be no need for a top-up in future. This funding has allowed sporting bodies throughout the country to continue operating and prepare for a recovery of sport when the time is right. I congratulate the Minister and her colleagues on the work.
At the first Question Time with the Minister, I asked a question on the Future of Media Commission. I asked whether union representatives would be included and whether unions would be allowed to have their representatives on the commission. The Minister said she would look into the issue. Will she clarify whether she has done so and whether union representatives will be included on the commission?
The commission is to be seen as an expert group rather than a representative group. Ms Siobhan Holliman is a recent appointment. She is in place in her capacity as an expert but she is also a member of the National Union of Journalists, NUJ. She is in place in her expert capacity.
The Minister is not accepting union representatives. I had thought when I raised the matter with her initially that she was would do so.
We gave the matter consideration. As I mentioned at the time, the commission is really an expert group rather than a representative group. It is about having expertise in the group on the commission.
I am sure the trade unions will be disappointed with that.
I have a question on the local radio sector. The Minister's statement notes that the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland has agreed to waive its broadcasting levy for the first half of the year. Is that the first half of 2021?
It is the first half of this year. I want to make a comment on the issue of unions. I guarantee Deputy Munster that the Future of Media Commission will consult widely with everyone, including all stakeholders.
The reason I asked was that the trade unions requested that their representatives be appointed to the new body. That is why I said they will be disappointed.
They will be consulted. On Deputy Munster's second question on the levy, it relates to the first half of 2020.
It is the first half of 2020.
We will consult the BAI on other ways of supporting the radio sector.
People in the local radio sector want the levy backdated to July 2020.
The waiver relates to the first half of 2020. We will engage with and consult the BAI about how best to support the sector.
Has the Minister asked the BAI to backdate the arrangement yet?
No, not yet.
The Minister's statement notes that additional funding has been provided for the sound and vision scheme. What period does that cover?
I will check. I want to get Deputy Munster the exact detail. The announcement will be made shortly. It is for the current period, but the announcement has not been made yet.
When the Minister refers to "the current period", is she talking about the period from September 2020 to February 2021? Is it next year?
It is this year. I will also be getting quarterly reports from the BAI on the radio sector. The BAI is currently running the scheme. The authority will announce results in the coming month or so. That is for the current period.
I am asking what the current period is. Will the Minister outline from what month to what month the period covers?
Is the Deputy asking about the exact months? I said in the announcement that it was the current period.
The Minister does not know. That is fine.
Many Deputies have received queries about level 5 and the restrictions announced with regard to allowing performers to perform in a venue. The arrangements would allow them to travel outside the 5 km limit for certain purposes, for example, when they are performing in theatres or RTÉ. There were queries on this. It seems an exemption is allowed under the guidelines governing information and broadcasting to permit someone to travel to record in RTÉ. There are queries on whether an exemption exists to record performances for broadcasts. Why would this not allow the same activity in recording studios? Has the Minister considered making allowances for that?
Will Deputy Munster repeat the question?
Those in the sector are saying that an exemption was made to allow performers to travel outside the 5 km limit for the purpose of recording in theatres or RTÉ. This is for broadcasting and communications. They are curious about whether an exemption can be made. Why can an exemption not be made for recordings or performances for broadcast in recording studios?
If the question relates to travel to a recording studio, that is a matter to which I can give consideration.
I ask the Minister to come back to me on that, if possible.
Maybe it is my own stupidity but one aspect of the budget is not clear to me. What additional funding did the Minister secure for the Department, other than the Covid-19 funding allocation? That was not clear. Figures of €200 million were mooted but when I examined the budget, the figure appeared to be €80 million. How much was provided in addition to the Revised Estimate? Other than the Covid allocation, what is the amount above the Revised Estimate?
Is Deputy Munster talking about the allocation of €263 million?
Not. I do not have the budget before me but the figure in the budget appeared to be about €80 million. That seemed to be the only additional allocation other than the allocation for Covid.
The Government committed additional funding of €262 million for sector support in my Department in 2021 over and above the initial 2020 allocation. Along with the additional funding of €183.445 million already provided in 2020 to support these sectors, the figure represented a total allocation of €445 million across 2020 and into 2021 to assist the sectors. They were among the first to close and the last to return. I believe it is clear that the funding shows the commitment and ongoing support for these sectors.
Yes. The question is for my sense of clarity. Is that additional funding? Is it in addition to the Covid allocation?
As well as the additional funding, €183.445 million had already been provided in 2020 to support these sectors. Additional funding of €262 million was provided for the sectors supported by my Department in 2021 over and above the initial 2020 allocation.
What was the Covid allocation for that? I ask the question for clarity.
I will have to get Deputy Munster the exact figure for the Covid allocation.
I thank the Minister and Minister of State for attending. We might go back and forth on the questions rather than having me lamping them at the Minister and Minister of State all at once. On the live support performance scheme, will the Minister elaborate on the conditions attached to the scheme? How will she ensure the grants trickle down to those who need them, namely, the workers?
The aim of the pilot live performance support scheme is to assist commercial venues, producers and promoters of live performance to provide employment to the workers in the creative industries. That is the very reason we designed it. The pilot scheme, with funding of €5 million, is to inform us on how we will then do the next one, for which I secured €50 million in the budget. 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 public health protection measures.
The Senator asked about eligibility for the scheme. To be eligible for the scheme, a promoter is required to have a proven track record of live performances undertaken in the past three years; a plan to hold a live performance event that will commence in 2020; provide three years of financial accounts; be tax compliant; not ordinarily in receipt of funding from the public sector but provide evidence of matched funding required at this stage. This pilot scheme was the first of its kind. It was developed following close consultation with the sector and it will inform future similar schemes. In helping these events to go ahead, it will help employment also.
Is there any measure to make sure the performances definitely go ahead? Is there any safety net under that to make sure that they go ahead? I am not questioning any of the people who got the grant but is there a follow-on to make sure that will happen?
That the performances and all these things go ahead.
I can guarantee to the Senator that the Department would only give out the money if the event is going ahead. We will be watching that space very carefully because it is essential that those involved in this industry get the opportunity to work again.
The Minister mentioned the task force. The interim report has been due for a while. Does she have any more clarity on when the interim report will be published? She said that-----
The Arts & Culture Recovery Task Force.
It is one report and I have received it. I will be giving it consideration this week and then bringing it to the Government. The Senator might be thinking of the statement I made at the previous committee that I had asked them to give me a list of their priorities ahead of the budget but that was not an interim report. As they had only set up at that stage I asked them to consult with me but the final report has just arrived. I will be examining it and then bringing it to the Government.
It will be soon, in the next week or two, it is hoped.
My colleague, Senator Marie Sherlock, wrote to the Minister in September about support for circuses and events like that. She is still awaiting a reply. May I ask why circuses are pointedly excluded from the Covid restrictions support scheme. I will ask my other questions together so that the Minister has time to answer them. On the stay and spend initiative, does she have an update on how well that is doing? There was talk of a cash incentive instead. Has the Department considered that and does the Minister believe a cash incentive would be better or that the stay and spend scheme is effective?
I have a brief question relating to sport. Does the Minister believe that GAA matches should be free to air given that they are going ahead, at least somewhat, to benefit the nation's mental health, yet in respect of Sky, some 50% of households will not be able to see those matches live? It seems somewhat exclusionary in terms of our national sport.
With regard to circuses, the Arts Council supports and funds them. Regarding the live entertainment, we will be seeing the invoices so that will be the proof. The stay and spend initiative will be in place until the end of spring. Being in level 5 shows the seriousness of the current health situation but we are hopeful that it will be of benefit when people come out of those restrictions. It is essential that we have the supports in place for when these businesses emerge from level 5, and part of that exit strategy is the supports that will be in place.
Given that we ended up going into level 5 somewhat unexpectedly, would the Minister consider extending it beyond spring to make up for that lost period?
It has not been considered yet. The stay and spend initiative came about in consultation with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe. It is something we can examine.
I thank the Minister.
On the question about free-to-air across many of our sports, there is a commercial contract between the GAA and the providers the Senator has referenced.
It is unfortunate that in the pandemic many people cannot see their county matches when they are held behind closed doors. That commercial contract is in place but the Senator's point is well made.
I congratulate both Ministers on their appointments. It was mentioned previously but local radio stations play a major role. For many families, especially those in rural Ireland, the only communication they have is the local radio station. Local radio stations need the Minister's help. They have been trying to contact her since last July. Their advertising revenues have decreased. Local radio stations provide a fantastic service 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I am aware the Minister has agreed to meet them in mid-November. I have been talking to my local radio station in Louth, LMFM, and they asked me to ask the Minister three questions today to give them the information that they will need for November. First, they request that the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, be provided additional sound and vision funding to the sector to cover the pay period from September 2020 to February 2021, similar to the scheme rolled out in April 2020 which covered the period May to July 2020. Second, they want an immediate suspension of the BAI levies backdated to July 2020 and the funding of the BAI from the Government Central Fund. Third, in recognition of the essential services they provide and the unique circumstances facing local radio stations, whose advertising revenue has fallen by 20% or more, they ask that they would become eligible for the employment wage subsidy scheme.
All of us, as politicians, use the local radio stations but it is not just us; it is everybody. It is about communicating. I appreciate that the Minister has given a commitment to meet the local radio stations in November but I ask her to, please, look after them.
My next question is for the Minister of State with responsibility for sport. As he knows, I am a sports person and I have to commend the job he is doing at the moment. The €85 million he has given to the sporting organisations over the past number of months is fantastic. I am a firm believer in the health and well-being of the players and the other people who are involved. During the pandemic, all those involved in local sports put their shoulders to the wheel. The amount of work they have done within the community is unbelievable. They have taken people to doctors' appointments and have done shopping for people. They have done everything they could do.
In terms of my biggest fear, and we have to make the Minister accountable, this money has to be distributed to the grassroots. I have spoken to people in soccer clubs, GAA clubs and rugby clubs and they tell me that no funding whatsoever is coming in. Whether it is from the bar, draws or whatever, nothing is happening. They have been pleading with me in that regard. If we look closely we can see that it seems to be the same clubs that get the revenue every year. There are special people in those clubs who are very good at completing application forms and so on but many clubs do not have such people yet they are bursting their backsides to make sure the local communities, especially those in rural Ireland, are looked after. Will the Minister give a commitment to provide the information the local radio stations want and that she will meet them in November?
As I said, I gave that commitment. I believe that meeting will happen on 16 November. I absolutely appreciate community radio. LMFM and the other station, Northern Sound, in Carrickmacross, are the stations one listens to. I will address a meeting of Craol, the community radio group, this Friday, so I very much appreciate the value of local and community radio.
The BAI provided €750,000 for community radio in recognition of their value. Community radio is fundamental to our local communities, especially those in rural Ireland. Turning on the local radio station was the first thing we did in the morning. It is the only one on which we rely. There have been 30 centrally co-ordinated campaigns on Covid since March. More than half of those have included local print and almost all included local radio. I intend to ask for an analysis of the advertising spread by Government in terms of Covid-related media messaging to allow us to understand more about the spread and breadth of Government advertising and how it can feed into radio.
The Deputy has given me a heads up on the questions they will be asking at that meeting on 16 November and I look forward to engaging with them.
I thank the Deputy for his questions. He is a pursuer of peak sports, having been a former manager of his country team, and we have had discussions on sport. I agree with him that what clubs throughout the country have done during the Covid pandemic in the spring and now in the community call shows the scale of volunteerism and everything positive that happens with sport. This week we announced funding and have split it into four different pillars. Pillar schemes 1 and 2 are for the governing bodies and where there are specific Covid-related losses. Pillar 3 and scheme 3 relates to a club resilience fund. All clubs can apply through the different governing bodies if they have specific losses or exposure, which I know they do, as do their affiliated clubs. Under the restart and renewal fund, many of the local sports partnerships will be disbursing funding through Sport Ireland in the coming period and funding has been announced for those also. We focused on disability funding and sports innovation funds to allow clubs to embed different changes they want to do in a post-Covid environment. We were keen to run that across the four schemes as well as giving clubs hope for the future in a post-Covid environment. That is why we intend reopening the sports capital programme this month so that clubs can plan for the future and we will support them through that.
The personal commitment and interests of both Ministers in these very broad fields is very evident. We could pick even one of these and spend hours discussing it. I hope to put a number of groups of questions together but I will see how many I can get through in the time available. Specifically with regard to questions around the arts, culture and media, I will pose a number of direct questions. One is with regard to the Covid levels. There is the concern that at level 3 we saw theatres, galleries, museums and other venues closed. It is rather strange that one can be in a more crowded environment in a supermarket than one might be if one was in, say, the National Opera House in Wexford where up to 900 people can be seated and there might only be 50 people there. I am conscious the National Gallery will be opening a Mondrian exhibition quite soon and the Minister is due to open it. I do not see why we cannot consider opening venues under level 3 and I ask the Minister to consider reviewing that.
The Minister spoke about the arts, sports and tourism being part of our identity and that they will help us recover when we come through this difficult period. One of the challenges is how we can support the community and voluntary arts sector. I would like to hear a greater outline on that. I know there was a commitment, and perhaps the Minister would give an update on it, to funding to be made available to community and amateur theatre through the Amateur Drama Council of Ireland with the Drama League of Ireland also involved. What is the position on that specific grant?
On the question of culture and media, a concern I have is that there are vacancies on the boards of both the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and RTÉ. This committee has sought guidance on its role in filling those. We cannot move to a situation where both of those authorities are inquorate and it is important that we would get some guidance on that.
The Minister made reference to the audiovisual media services directive and how she is planning to enact the online safety and media regulation Bill. What is the timetable for that? I am particularly interested in the content levy, how it will be applied, when it will commence and what levies will be proposed as part of that. I welcome the continued extension of section 481 but are there plans to lift the cap in that area and how would she consider the expansion of the content creation industry in Ireland? I might stop on that question as I have asked quite a number.
The Senator might have to come back to me on some of them. On the national cultural institutions, it has been very difficult for them. As I said, the public health restrictions and our being in level 5 are a recognition of the crisis we are in. I would very much like to see the galleries open but it is about keeping as many essential services open as possible. That is where we are at in the current level. They have been very innovative in putting material online.
On the question on amateur drama, €250,000 is available to that sector in 2020 through the Arts Council.
There are four vacancies on the boards of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and RTÉ. Under the Broadcasting Act 2009, these vacancies fall to be filled by me but upon recommendation from this committee. The process of the appointments was delayed because of the general election and then the establishment of this committee. I intend to write to the Chairman this week inviting recommendations from this committee for those boards.
The online safety and media regulation Bill is a very large one that will require detailed consideration, particularly by this committee. Pre-legislative scrutiny of it will be essential given the fundamental issues involved. It will come before this committee. I cannot give an exact date for that but it will be in the coming months.
There is a also a plan for a digital services Act at EU level on regulating online platforms. I agree with the Minister that the scale of what we will be considering in the online safety and media regulation Bill and the other legislation will be considerable. I flag capacity concerns for Ireland Inc. regarding how will be able to address that.
Returning to the tourism sector, regarding the safe opening of the country, it is important we get clarity on that as soon as possible. We will not have international tourism until the traffic light system comes in place. There are two specific issues, one of which relates to that point. There is a recommendation for a tourism recovery oversight group. When is it proposed that will be established and up and running?
Golf is a specific but important sector. The golf tour operators bring international golf tours into Ireland. Travel agents qualify for the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, but the golf tour operators do not, which strikes me as an anomaly.
The different platforms and all those issues related to online platforms will be looked at.
I am aware of the issue concerning golf tour operators. I received communications from them. We will examine in the Department if the support scheme I announced in the context of the budget is something that can help the golf tour operators. The Senator asked another question.
I asked about the tourism recovery oversight group.
I hope to establish that in the very near future. I am currently considering its membership.
I acknowledge the excellent work both Ministers have done in the months since they have taken up their portfolios, specifically on the recent budget announcements and on funding that was allocated during the July stimulus programme.
I will start with questions to the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers. Regarding his engagement with the expert group on the return to play in sport, hopefully we will move out of level 5 restrictions as swiftly as possible. A move to level 3 restrictions would still not allow many schoolboy and underage teams to participate in sport. That would require a move to level 2 restrictions. I ask that there be proper engagement with the different sporting organisations such as the FAI, the GAA and the IRFU, to ensure young people can participate in sport once we come out of level 5 restrictions. It is crucial for their health and well-being. I would like there to be some focus on that especially on underage players.
In the context of levelling the playing field, the Women's Gaelic Players Association, WGPA, issued a report on female intercounty players in terms of ensuring best practices and it covered travel expenses and Government funding allocations.
I would like to hear what engagement we will have in future in terms of levelling the participation of females in regard to their codes and their sporting organisations.
What engagement is the Minister currently undertaking between her Department and other Departments on the implementation of the traffic light system? That is crucially important for the inbound tourism sector.
Among the recommendations of the tourism recovery task force was a call for a comprehensive rapid test, trace and isolate system to facilitate the inbound tourism sector, especially for overseas visitors. That is crucially important. We are highly dependent on overseas travel, which accounts for 75% of tourism revenue.
I welcome the staycation campaign this year. It had a major impact across the country. Mayo benefited significantly from it. I welcome that, but additional marketing and funding is needed for the domestic market to improve the offerings. We must examine how the funding trickles down to those who are at the coalface. We must have better mechanisms in play in that regard.
It would be remiss of me not to mention independent radio stations. Most committee members have been contacted by their local radio stations. From the onset of the pandemic, advertising revenues, on which stations are hugely dependent, collapsed. Independent radio stations have only maintained their current offerings due to Government subsidies. It is crucially important that the Minister meets again with members of the independent radio sector. What they are asking for is reasonable, that is, that the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, should provide additional sound and vision funding to support the sector from September 2020 until February 2021. In addition, there should be an immediate suspension of the BAI levy, which should be backdated to July 2020. In recognition of the essential services that they do provide and given that advertising turnover has fallen by more than 20%, they should be eligible to claim the employment wage subsidy scheme. Many local radio stations are just about holding on to their staff at present and without financial supports it is inevitable that there will be cuts.
I urge the Minister to take a personal interest in the matter. She knows its importance. Midwest Radio in my locality provides a fantastic service for the local community. However, it is not just that, it has provided companionship to people and familiar voices to those who are most vulnerable in recent months. The messaging around Covid and public health information has been crucial. I urge the Minister to take a personal interest.
I will try to quickly respond to the questions on sport. On the first issue the Deputy raised about level 3 and the various groups that are currently excluded, I chair a sports management group that is meeting shortly. As Deputy Dillon indicated, there is an expert group on the return to sport. This will be an issue if we are in level 3 for prolonged periods. In level 5, for instance, we ensured schoolgoing children could participate in outdoor activity either in school or outside it. I appreciate the Deputy's feedback on that. The issue will have received consideration.
The WGPA is an excellent organisation that started off in 2015 and supports the personal and playing lives of many members. It has come up with genuine policy objectives. One of the key issues in the programme for Government for us is to ensure we bridge the gender gap in sport in terms of participation and support. We are keen to ensure that happens through Sport Ireland.
I regularly engage with Mary O'Connor and the Federation of Irish Sport on the many objectives of the 20x20 campaign. It is a very legitimate and positive objective that young people, the players of tomorrow, see equality of treatment across the national games. It is a valid policy objective and we will engage with Sport Ireland and with the WGPA on it. I appreciate the Deputy raising the issue.
I thank the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, and the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, and wish them well in their new posts. They have started off on a good footing.
I welcome the supports for the live events industry and the commercial entertainment sector. They will help many venues and promoters to continue their work. How will musicians who operate as sole traders be supported? I refer to session musicians who play a gig in the pub on a Friday or Saturday night. How can they access supports and ensure they do not lose out to the larger organisations, especially the ticketed venues?
I look forward to reading the report at the end of the year on the night-time economy task force. When we hear about the night-time economy, we think of bars, night clubs and events where alcohol is being served and consumed. There is no denying that many enjoy that scene but will the task force also examine how to support night-time events where alcohol is not served? What type of events will be included in that regard?
My next question is for the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers. This is probably an issue that has been raised in many rural areas. There is much confusion currently about game hunting in rural areas following the Garda statement suggesting that all game hunting is prevented during level 5 restrictions. Most people understood that game hunting would be permissible under level 5 on the basis that individuals are on their own and within 5 km of their home. The pheasant shooting season began last Sunday. Clarification is needed in this regard. I urge the Minister of State to ensure a common-sense approach is taken.
The tourism sector was previously raised. Will the Minister consider introducing fast-tracking of testing at airports, especially for Christmas when we are encouraging people to come home?
In her introductory statement, the Minister indicated that there is a three-year survival stabilisation recovery programme. Is that the approach for all sectors? The arts sector will take at least that long to recover, as will sport and so on.
Is the Deputy referring to a three-year plan for the tourism sector?
Yes, the tourism sector.
The report is based on a three-year recovery plan.
Is that for all sectors?
That was for the tourism task force.
Yes, but I am asking if such an approach will be taken to all sectors.
Would the Deputy like that approach for all of them?
Okay. The arts task force has already issued its report to me, so I cannot change it at this stage. Everyone is looking at survival and the recovery period, so we are looking beyond Covid.
Intensive stakeholder engagement is happening in the process on the night-time economy task force. We are meeting the representative group for musicians and performers early next week to get feedback on how supports can reach the exact group of musicians to whom the Deputy referred.
What is the response to the question on testing at airports at Christmas?
I am liaising with my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on that, given that it is something that impacts both Departments.
I have no statutory function regarding the pheasant hunting season. It is not something that is regulated by the Department or by Sport Ireland. I understand An Garda Síochána directed that recreational shooting is not considered a form of exercise, as provided for in the Health Act 1947 and the regulations underpinning it.
In fairness, I am aware that many rural Deputies have raised this as an issue. Broadly on level 5, the message is to stay at home. There are exemptions for certain activities such as education, a limited amount of sport is allowed, and essential work continues. I suggest Deputy Mythen engages further with the Minister for Justice as the Garda Síochána is under her jurisdiction. It is not something that I regulate or have responsibility for.
I too welcome both Ministers and wish them well with their briefs.
We, in Tipperary, have a radio station, Tipp FM, that is second to none. We also have a community radio station, Tipp Mid West. Those stations are being squeezed to death and need support. They also require a favourable wage support system, which would help SMEs such as those radio stations that employ a lot of people, including top class journalists, researchers and reporters and other ancillary staff. They are looking for the lowering of the EWSS to 20% as a matter of urgency. They need this. I am glad that the Minister will meet them on 16 November but they have been looking for this since July. They cannot hold on. They are an integral part of life in Tipperary and all over the country. I know the stations that people listen to in Monaghan because my wife is from the county. They provide a service from the cradle to the grave through birth and death announcements. Those local stations can bring messaging to homes better than RTÉ or any of the others.
Those stations are also requesting that the reimposed BAI levy be suspended. Why was it reimposed as part of the draconian measures we have at the moment? The sector is also calling for the reintroduction of the BAI sound and vision scheme to support Covid-19-related programming. The people at those stations can reach out for the Government. I am making a plea here. The meeting with the stations' representatives cannot come soon enough but it needs to be productive and things need to change.
The Minister mentioned that €8 million has been given to the national orchestra and the National Concert Hall. I am not against that but that money would go some distance to helping local musicians such as the ordinary man in the van who cannot get access to any of the schemes because he does not have a rated premises, only his van. Sound and lighting engineers are also affected, as has been mentioned. They are being left behind. Who is drawing up the guidelines? They are ridiculous. I was shocked that the Minister of State said that game shooting is not regulated at all and that the decision to restrict it came from the Garda Síochána. It is daft.
There can be 25 people at a wedding with no music. I do not know how many in this room are married but I am married a long time; I do not know about the Chairperson. A wedding without music or a tune is not a wedding at all. The first dance needs a bit of music. It is not a wedding without music. What harm would be caused by two musicians in a band playing their fabulous tunes? The Minister said that we hope to be in recovery mode but there will be nothing to recover. These people have mortgages and repayments on their equipment. Their mental health and well-being is suffering. They love to entertain and give solace to people and it is sad that they cannot do that. The effects that these issues have on radio stations and musicians are important.
I will ask the Minister about game shooting. Restrictions were announced last Thursday evening, the day before 1 November. People had their guns oiled and dogs trained, ready to go out on their own. Thirty people are allowed to play games in fields. These game shooters were going to be in ditches and fields on their own. The Minister has told me that there are no regulations and that the Minister for Justice and the Garda Síochána made the decision about game shooting. This is scandalous, shocking and should not be the case. Rural Ireland has already lost coursing. There are industries around these things and the people involved spend a lot of their own money on their dogs and guns, etc.
The Minister referred to the recovery but will the people affected be there to recover? That is the problem. The Government is biding its time but the pandemic has been going on for eight months and it beggars belief that things such as the BAI licence are being allowed to slip back in again. The demands of the BAI are punitive at the best of times. Local radio stations get little support compared to RTÉ and others.
Five county camogie teams have been stopped from playing. The Minister of State mentioned equality between the different sexes in sport. Five camogie teams have been summarily dismissed from the championship. That is unfair on those young ladies and their families. Those ladies have trained hard all year in the hope of getting back. They can see the men's championship going ahead. It was crazy to let people out like that. There are inconsistencies in the regulations and that is why the people are finding it hard. I got a report today from a friend of my daughter's whose friend went to Turkey for a funeral with their family and the plane was full of Irish people going on holidays. The Government has never dealt with the issue about the airports. I was not aware that this kind of tourism was going out. How are those people going to get back into the country? Will they have to quarantine? The Government has lost the plot and the regulations are riddled with inconsistencies.
It is extremely punitive that Ireland is one of four countries in the world, now that Wales has joined us, to have stopped worship. I know that the bishops met the Taoiseach but it did not do much good.
It is crazy, considering the size of churches. Someone mentioned the concert hall in Wexford which is a big building, and of course it is. Churches, by their nature, are quite big and airy. Surely people of every faith will be allowed to return to worship. They need it more than ever in these dark days. Their faith is very important to them. I ask the Minister to answer as many of those questions as she can.
The Minister has 30 seconds to respond.
As I said, I look forward to engaging with representatives of local radio on 16 November. The €50 million live entertainment scheme I announced in the recent budget is designed to help the exact cohort of musicians the Deputy is talking about. My aim is to support all sectors. There are musicians now reaching out for funds who have never had to do so before. That is why we made that unprecedented funding available for them, a sector that we never had to fund before.
We are currently in level 5 and that is why the restrictions are so hard. It is a reflection of the emergency that we are in. It is about providing a basket of measures to keep us safe. I have a lot of areas under my remit but churches are not one of them. I absolutely understand the need for the solace that they provide and it is something that we, as a Government, need to look at, especially as Christmas time approaches. It is not under the remit of my Department but, as a member of the Government, I will raise those concerns. I sing in my local church choir. Would it not be great to hear Christmas carols?
The Minister and the Deputy could do a duet.
I prefer to dance.
We have to do what is best for our health. It is about trying to find that balance. The numbers have been improving in recent days. We have to be guided by the experts as to what will keep our people safe.
The band who played at my wedding had 12 members so I would have been in real difficulty.
The Senator must have had an awful session.
I welcome the Minister and the Minister of State and wish them well in their roles. Deputy Munster referred earlier to the Future of Media Commission, saying that the union would be disappointed. I am still a proud member of the National Union of Journalists, NUJ, and welcome the appointment of Siobhán Holliman to the commission. It is a good move to have someone with practical regional newspaper expertise on the commission. She is also co-chair of the Irish executive council of the NUJ, a representative on the Press Council of Ireland and has expertise with the Tuam Herald. I welcome her appointment.
When the previous Government announced the previous incarnation of this commission, it said it would report by September of last year. In the event, only the chair was appointed. The broader commission met for the first time last week. At the request of the former Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, RTÉ put on hold a number of proposals aimed at reducing its debt, including a further sale of the land at Montrose, the transfer of Lyric FM from Limerick and other proposals. That was addressed in a report by the Director General of RTÉ, Ms Dee Forbes, last November. That meant crucial reorganisation was put on hold, critically the land sale. The new commission will not report until next September. It is unclear whether RTÉ is still expected to hold off on these decisions pending the report of the new commission. I ask the Minister to address that.
In her earlier remarks, the Minister alluded to the fact that she has met representatives of NewsBrands Ireland and Local Ireland. She is due to meet representatives of the NUJ. I know that the union has submitted its news recovery plan. I think everyone can agree that the print industry, in particular, is under threat and that the future of regional newspapers in particular is extremely precarious. I ask the Minister to give her views on special measures to address this. I have raised this issue before. It clearly cannot await the commission's report next year because advertising platforms have collapsed and sales have been under threat for a decade. Are there any special measures to address that? Those questions are for the Minister, Deputy Martin.
Turning to the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, I welcome the hugely significant funding provided, not just in the budget but again this week, and what that does.
The Minister and Minister of State have mentioned that the integral part sport plays in society is massive but it can be underpinned only through proper funding. They have done this and fronted up. They have met all of the organisations, not just at national level with pillar sports but also minority sports. When people drill down into the figures of €85 million this week they will see minority sports were looked after, and club resilience under pillar 3 is also crucial.
My question is on attendances at games. All of the major sporting organisations will say that while the funding is extremely welcome, their commercial model is based on getting people through the turnstiles and into our stadiums. Naturally and obviously, the advice from NPHET and the public health guidance and advice is critical but what measures can be taken in terms of assessing major stadia such as Croke Park, the Aviva Stadium and Thomond Park? In the United Kingdom, allowing a certain number of people in was trialled for certain premiership matches in stadiums such as The Amex in Brighton. Have discussions taking place with the Department and the pillar sports on the potential to get a certain number of people into the major stadiums? What were the results from that preliminary work to indicate how many a stadium such as Croke Park could handle with proper social distancing? Does this have potential for the hosting of games next summer? If not, is it a case we are looking at continued funding from the State to support these organisations in 2021?
The Future of Media Commission had its inaugural meeting last week. When it was announced by the previous Government it was a different type of commission. We have broadened it out. The previous commission was for public service only. The wider commission encompasses all media which, I am sure the Senator will agree, is vitally important because it has to be tackled because of the changing ways in which people access news and information.
I totally value local newspapers and I intend to ask for analysis of the advertising spread by the Government on Covid-related media messaging so we can understand more about it and see whether there is a way to support local newspapers. Recently, I met news brands to discuss their concerns about revenue. The NUJ recovery plan has been referred to the chair of the Future of Media Commission. With regard to RTÉ, I am liaising very closely with it and NewERA on the issue of RTÉ's finances.
I know of the Senator's interest in sport and we have had many engagements on it. With regard to the return of spectators to stadiums, in the road map and framework we have set out, particularly in levels 1 and 2, that stadiums with a capacity of fewer than 5,000 would be permitted a maximum of 200 people. There is ongoing work on stadiums with a capacity of in excess of 5,000. We have had extensive engagement with all of the national governing bodies to try to work through it. We have been open-ended in the plan, particularly for levels 1 and 2, on how we can do this in a collaborative way to try to ensure stadia in as safe a way as possible can facilitate the return of spectators. A report is being produced and it is intended to assist NPHET and the Government in proposing plans for the opening of sports grounds for spectators in as safe a way as possible. At level 5 it will not happen. We must think not only about the stadia but broader stakeholder engagement, such as with the NTA on transport capacity for a match and how we engage with the Garda Síochána to ensure safe physical distancing outside of stadia. There are specific logistics within a stadium but also how entry and exit is managed and how events would be ticketed. A lot of work is going on in this regard and an extensive report is being prepared.
When is it due?
It is due shortly. Obviously, there has not been the same impetus at level 5 to conclude it.
We have been looking at Six Nations games and Dundalk games in the Europa League next year. We could potentially use bigger stadiums. The aim will be to trial this at the bigger stadiums and see how it goes so we can broaden it out. At level 5 in our current epidemiological position, there will not be fans at games but the intention is for levels 1 and 2 to trial and test it and then get stakeholder feedback. Other countries in Europe have done this.
With regard to the question on funding, spectators are a necessity for the funding models of many of the national governing bodies. We have provided historic levels of support for them into next year. The Government is hopeful that we will have a vaccine at some stage next year. As the Minister, Deputy Martin, said earlier, unfortunately every sector in the Department is among the most exposed and they will not fully return until we see a better health position. We have been clear in our intentions that we are there to support the sectors through this.
Is the Six Nations a possibility?
Yes. If we are in a better epidemiological position in the spring, we will have guidance out and we will try to pick particular matches to trial a limited number of spectators in our bigger stadiums.
I thank the Minister, Deputy Martin, and the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, for their very helpful input and the extensive support they have offered to their respective sectors. That support is built on very important engagement with people in those sectors. As a musician and somebody who has a lot of friends in the world of music, I am also engaging actively, almost daily, with many friends in arts and culture, particularly those involved in the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland.
I am concerned there is a particular cohort of people who, I argue, could end up in limbo because, despite the best intentions of everybody, including the Minister and the departmental officials, the supports put in place by the Department and other Departments may not trickle down to those particular practitioners. I am speaking about those mentioned by Deputy McGrath and others who are session musicians, lighting technicians and sound technicians operating in a very precarious situation, as they have done for many years outside of Covid. They make a living from Ireland's entertainment industry. They feed their families and pay their mortgages through work in the entertainment sector.
I am deeply concerned that other than the pandemic unemployment payment, which is applicable to people in many sectors, many of the supports we are putting in place as they are currently framed cannot reach people in this unique sector. I refer in particular to the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS. It is beyond the remit of the Department but I would be very grateful if the Minister would interact with the Ministers for Finance and Business, Enterprise and Employment to reshape the CRSS so it does not apply solely to people who operate out of premises. This is absolutely crucial. There are many independent people in the entertainment industry, be they performers or technicians, who do not have a premises but are still incurring significant ongoing costs associated with their businesses. The idea of the CRSS is that we support these businesses through these most challenging of times. I agree with the Minister wholeheartedly that these will be the last people to recover from the Covid shutdown. We have supported those in our hospitality sector with premises. We have supported our theatres, pubs and performance venues. Equally, we need to support, through the CRSS, the performers and technicians who make the show happen week in week out. They are equally important, if not integral, parts of the sector but they do not have access to the CRSS.
At this point, it is a fait accompli for level 5 but as we will return very shortly down through the various levels, from level 4 onwards, I hope those involved in music tuition can see their music tuition and practice reinstated. The Minister quite rightly pointed out that our culture, music and art are central to the well-being of our people.
I would argue it is particularly central to the well-being of our children. We have, quite rightly, conceded at level 5 that children need to retain access to participation in sport in pods of up to 15. I had one Last Friday night, a woman rang me to say her 15-year-old son had been told he could no longer attend his guitar lessons, which are very important to him, yet on Saturday morning he could head down to his local rugby club and jump around in the mud with 14 other young people for a long period. He cannot, however, have access to that one-to-one music tuition. There is also an issue with an inequity beginning to creep into the music tuition sector, whereby those who are involved in tuition under the auspices of the education and training boards, ETBs, seem to be continuing to provide that tuition, which I am glad is the case, but others who are outside the ETB sector are denied that opportunity. If we want to support musicians for whom music tuition is a critically important part of their income and if we want to support young people for whom musical tuition is a particularly important part of their well-being, I ask that we find some way of including music tuition within the guidelines, from level 4 downwards.
I want to make the case that has been made by many others that we need to look to support local radio and those involved in local radio and local broadcasting. As I said, I am delighted to see Ms Siobhan Holliman appointed to the Future of Media Commission. Ms Holliman has extensive knowledge of both local radio and local print media. It is an excellent appointment. From my experience of listening to and interacting with my local radio station, Galway Bay FM, the station, like many others, is going through the most difficult time in its long 30-year history. Local radio stations' advertising revenues have plummeted and they urgently need support to continue to survive through this pandemic and emerge relatively unscathed at the end. What they are specifically asking for is that additional sound and vision funding be provided up to February 2021, immediate suspension of the Broadcast Authority of Ireland, BAI, levy, and that those whose advertising turnover has fallen by 20% or more become eligible for the employment wage support scheme, EWSS. Our local radio stations have provided critically important support for individuals, households and communities. They have served to build the kind of solidarity we have seen built across Ireland, particularly in rural areas, in facing up to and supporting one another during this pandemic. It is critically important to have them operating successfully in the future.
On the session musicians to whom the Deputy referred, I will meet the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland, MEAI, again next week. I will also meet sound technicians and others who work behind the scenes to make a performance happen. The purpose of the pilot scheme I initiated with €5 million was to reach those musicians, get them working again and provide supports for the crews as well as the artists. The scheme is for artists and arts workers. I am trying to engage as extensively as possible to reach them all. There are people seeking support who never thought they would have to do so. My goal is to reach as many of them as possible. It is through the extensive engagement that we will find ways to do that. As the Deputy can appreciate, the development of the pilot scheme of €5 million into a €50 million scheme for next year presents great opportunities to give support. The Covid response support scheme, CRSS, is a complementary scheme and these schemes work hand in hand. I hope I will be able to cover any areas that are not covered by the CRSS. As I say, it is about reaching as many people as possible to make sure we can put on the great performances again that we all love.
On music tuition and the comparison with sport, the latter takes place outdoors whereas music tuition is held indoors. My children are doing piano lessons by Zoom. It is something they missed in the first lockdown but tuition is happening now. We are engaging with the Department of Education to ensure there is greater clarity. I do not have any specific role in this area but I am involved in cross-departmental work to see if we can get clarity on it.
On local media, as I have stated previously, I recognise the value of and need for supports for the local media and I will meet the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland, IBI, in November.
We will move on as I am mindful that there is only ten minutes left.
I will be as quick as possible.
I welcome the Minister to the committee and publicly congratulate her on her appointment. Rather than go through the live entertainment €50 million, I ask that the Department would give a briefing document to the committee which would then be on the public record because, as the Minister alluded to, there is no template from the past for this €50 million for live entertainment directly from the Department. It would be helpful. I have many questions about it. I am unsure about how the funding stream will operate. It would be good if a detailed document were provided to the committee.
I welcome the increase to the Arts Council. Many previous Ministers would have dreamed of giving that increase to the arts. I have spoken to a number of artists who have been knocking on the door of the Arts Council for years and have now finally got what I think they deserve. It could not come at a more important time. There can be no going back to previous Arts Council allocations.
With respect to the Arts Act and the arm's length principle, did Deputy Catherine Martin, as Minister, have any policy preference for where that funding would be spent?
That is an issue for the Arts Council to decide. As I have said here, the Arts Council has said that people are seeking funding and applying for bursaries who never had to previously. It is similar with the live performance support scheme. As we said at the budget, it is a sector that we never had to engage with. It is a first for us and it is a first for them. That is why that live performance support scheme is something new for the sector. The Arts Council itself will conduct that engagement.
Would the Minister be willing to provide the committee with a briefing document about the live performance scheme?
On the template and the criteria, yes.
I thank the Minister. The creative schools programme is one of the most important of the Creative Ireland programmes. I do not need to talk about the importance of embedding creativity and the arts in schools, particularly now. I have raised it with the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, as well. I believe that the creative schools programme should be extended to every school in the State, both primary and secondary. It would take a significant amount of funding, approximately €6 million. Is creative schools a Department of Education fund for the Arts Council or is the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, involved in it?
We are engaged in it as well. For example, I asked that DEIS schools be very much considered in the programme since I came in because I want those in disadvantaged schools to be looked after. There is an increase in that as well. Creative schools is funded by us and matched by funding from the Department of Education.
I welcome the increase to TG4, particularly as it goes into its twenty-fifth year. It will not only allow TG4 to recognise its contribution to Ireland over the 25 years but allow it to evolve as well. There should be parity in funding between TG4 and RTÉ television.
In terms of RTÉ, its representatives will be here at the committee next week. They sought emergency funding in April. Have they met with the Minister about emergency funding since then or since the Minister took office?
I have met them twice since I took office. I am waiting for the NewERA report. I need to see the NewERA in relation to RTÉ funding and that is what I have said to them. The report is due shortly.
This is the media committee. When we are talking about community media, we should not interchangeably use the terms community media and local media, or community radio and community radio. They are distinct things separate from each others with separate purposes and structures. Public service media, community media and local media or commercial media are important distinctions to make for all of us.
I welcome both the Minister and the Minister of State and wish them well in their respective Departments. I will keep it tight as we are tight on time.
I welcome the unprecedented funding across all parts of the Department. It is probably the busiest Department and it is fantastic to see the support levels on offer.
Local radio was alluded to by a number of members. I was also contacted by my local radio station, Shannonside Northern Sound, which provides a fantastic service throughout the midlands and into the west. I am delighted the Minister will meet IBI in November and I support the things that are looked for, namely, the sound and vision funding, the BAI levy and the EWSS. I compliment the work local radio has done throughout the country during this pandemic. For many elderly people cocooned at home especially, it is the local radio to which they listen in order to get local news. They provide a fantastic service and deserve support.
I have been involved in Longford Tourism for a number of years to improve our tourism offering. I am familiar with the area and have a couple of questions. Is it being proposed to extend the stay-and-spend scheme? It is due to finish at the end of April but, at the moment, it is not being utilised. If, over the winter, people looking at booking something for next year knew there was an extended deadline, it might encourage bookings for tourism facilities. In the report produced by the task force, a monitoring committee was mentioned. When is that proposed to start up to monitor the proposals that were put forward? I compliment Fáilte Ireland on the media promotion done in respect of the stay-and-spend initiative. In all the counties, everyone is getting their share. They are promoting all 26 counties, which is fantastic. I look forward to seeing that across the four brands.
On sport, I am a former member of the GAA's ard chomhairle so I fully support, despite a lot of negative media, the championships going ahead. I support the GAA, which provides fantastic entertainment and will continue to do so over these long winter months. I compliment the players going out training. Some of them are driving 300 miles on their own to go to games. They deserve to be complimented on the entertainment they have provided and will provide. On the point made by Senator Hoey, all these games are available on GAAGO, which charges only a €5 administration fee. The ones not on RTÉ are not all on Sky, etc., but they are available to watch for a minimal administration fee.
I welcome the sports capital programme. Is it proposed to increase the percentage funding? Some of the recent ones were 30% to 40%. Clubs will find it difficult to come up with the rest. The large scale infrastructure fund is due to be reviewed next year. Will the Minister and Minister of State look at the possibility of opening it up? It is closed for the next number of years for any local authority that missed out the last time. There is no opportunity to apply. In my country of Longford, we were not in a position to apply. We are in a position now, but we cannot apply. I ask that that be opened up for use. I concur with Deputy Dillon on the Women's Gaelic Players Association, WGPA. I served on the Gaelic Players' Association, GPA, for the GAA.
Swimming lessons need to be looked at. One-to-one lessons provide a good deal of income for our community pools.
On the monitoring group relating to the tourism recovery task force, I hope to establish it shortly. I am currently looking at the membership of it. The stay-and-spend scheme comes under the remit of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, but I will consult him on that because it has an impact on the sector I represent.
Like Senator Carrigy, I commend the players who are providing the nation with such positive activity on Saturdays and Sundays. It is excellent to see all our teams out in the county colours across GAA, camogie and ladies' football.
In answer to the Senator's specific questions, we are currently preparing the criteria for the new sports capital programme and that will be reopened. It depended on where the particular application landed.
Some were funded up to a threshold where they received nearly all the funding, while others received a small percentage of it. I appreciate the Senator's feedback on that. It will be more difficult for clubs to raise the balance and that has to be a consideration. As I said, the criteria will be set out when we announce the programme.
On the large-scale infrastructure fund, the purpose of reviewing it is to test exactly where all the applications are, how they are synchronising and what the timelines were. The programme for Government is clear about supporting not only the sports capital programme but also large-scale sport infrastructure. That is important and we have seen throughout our communities that, where investment was provided, we saw participation. The review will recommend a future decision of Government but the Minister and I are anxious to ensure that if there are further opportunities around large-scale sports infrastructure, they will be funded. That will be subject to a Government decision after the review.
We received considerable feedback on swimming lessons and we have engaged with Swim Ireland and Ireland Active, which represents the leisure sector. The expert group on sport will engage further with both bodies on the issue. Swimming is an important physical activity and life skill and we cannot have swimming lessons interrupted for long periods. I acknowledge the Senator's feedback on that.
I have a couple of questions and observations for the Minister and Minister of State. I compliment them both on their time in office so far. The word "delivery" will certainly be part of their legacy when they are finished in their portfolios. That has been widely acknowledged in both spheres of their Department. As Senator Warfield said, I am sure many previous Ministers for the arts would have loved to have been able to dish out the kind of funding the Arts Council has received from the Minister. I agree that it sets a benchmark that we cannot go back from. We have to build on it, as all members who have spoken will agree.
I had not heard of the creativity in older age scheme before. If we have a minute at the end, perhaps the Minister will expand on that. Is it a local authority programme? Will the Minister enlighten us on that?
Regarding Creative Ireland, in my previous term, I always advocated rolling out the creative schools programme to all schools. I have argued that the functional way of doing that is through the education and training boards, ETBs. Creative Ireland, the Department and the Department of Education have arts education officers in place. There may be three or four such posts across the country. We have 16 ETBs and they are our go-to in terms of having access to our schools, teaching expertise and bringing artists and creative expertise into our schools. I ask the Minister, as I asked the previous Minister, to consider having arts education officers appointed to the ETBs and giving them a budget to deliver arts education and the creative schools programme in all schools.
The Minister addressed the appointments to RTÉ and the BAI. The joint committee wrote to the Department about that some weeks ago and I am anxious that we get a thorough briefing from the Department on it before we make those appointments. This has to be expedited as much as possible because RTÉ and the BAI are under extreme pressure in terms of numbers.
It would be remiss of me not to mention Northern Sound today, since Senator Carrigy has mentioned Shannonside Northern Sound. I cannot overemphasise the impact local radio stations have had on our communities and a particular demographic, namely, those who are most at risk of being isolated, those who live alone and older members of the community. I have tuned in to my local radio stations much more recently. It is always on in my office in Cavan-Monaghan. Local radio is so informative. We recognise the presenters' voices and they have given company to local people through the pandemic.
They must be supported. I ask the Minister to consider the three requests that have been alluded to a number of times and to ensure that IBI gets the support it needs because we need its members to keep delivering to our communities, as they have done up to this point, particularly during the pandemic.
I know that the Minister of State with responsibility for sports, Deputy Chambers, is very familiar with the Bailieborough leisure centre and swimming pool project. Like a lot of community swimming pools throughout the country, its doors have been closed since last March and it has not had the cushion of the local authority or any umbrella organisations. This is a community facility that was built by the people and for the people and has been run by community groups. We had the very welcome news this week of Covid-19 stability funding of €100,000 for the swimming pool. This will mean that it will, I hope, be able to open its doors very shortly. Like a lot of sporting organisations, however, it has been facing considerable costs, paying fees and haemorrhaging significant funds, which has almost finished it off. Keeping closed has cost it money. I urge the Minister of State, and I know that he is doing this through Sport Ireland and Swim Ireland, to ensure that these kinds of facilities, which do not have the mechanisms, support or cushion of local authorities or other sporting organisations and which are doing things on their own, get the support from the Government to continue. We cannot afford to lose such facilities. Now more than ever they are needed absolutely for our communities right across the country.
I will not ask the Minister of State to respond. We are delighted to have a visitor, Deputy Andrews, with us. I will give the Minister and the Minister of State a couple of minutes at the end to finish up.
I have a question for the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers. I wish both the Minister and the Minister of State well in their roles. As has been said, they have certainly delivered early on.
I refer to the expert group. As we are going and will perhaps continue to go up and down the levels of restrictions, there are different interpretations and there seems to be a lot of confusion about to who is and is not able to play. Will the Minister of State consider increasing the membership of the expert group to include representatives for non-contact sports? There are the big three - the GAA, rugby and soccer - but there are other, non-contact sports. As I said, there is a lot of confusion. The Minister of State might consider increasing the membership of the expert group. I know that yesterday the Taoiseach said this was up to Sport Ireland, but my understanding is that the Department chairs the expert group. Perhaps the Minister of State would consider ensuring that in future, as we may or may not go up and down the levels of restrictions, there is more clarity and better engagement with the various groups.
I know that the Deputy raised this with the Taoiseach yesterday. The return to sport expert group is very much an open forum and engages with and receives feedback from lots of different groups and associations. The levels of restrictions as they relate to sport and the criteria according to which various sports operate across level 3, 5 or 1 involve very much a whole-of-government approach across all the various sectors, sport included. I am happy to engage with Deputy Andrews separately on this if he has specific ideas he wishes to raise. My view of the return to sport expert group is that it has been really effective in ensuring in level 5, for example, in the current lockdown, when we are telling people to stay at home, that all our elite athletes are able to train, which did not happen last spring, that our school-age children are able to play outdoors to a maximum of 15, and that many of our elite and professional athletes are participating. If the epidemiological situation improves, there will be greater and more open capacity within the sporting sector to have all the events and participation we want to see. If Deputy Andrews has any specific ideas in this regard, I am happy to discuss them with him.
I thank the Minister and the Minister of State for their very insightful presentations, which have been hugely helpful to the committee in its endeavours to examine the Department's broad remit.
Our meeting is now adjourned until Wednesday, 11 November. At 1 p.m. we will meet in private session and at 2 p.m., we will commence public session to meet representatives of RTÉ, the National Union of Journalists, NUJ, and the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland, IBI, to discuss the impact of Covid-19.