Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 2 July 2020
Special Committee on Covid-19 Response
Impact of Covid-19: Tourism, Arts and Entertainment Sector
I welcome our witnesses from the arts, entertainment and tourism sectors. I apologise for being out of breath. From the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht we have Ms Katherine Licken, Secretary General; Mr Conor Falvey, assistant secretary; Dr. Aodhán Mac Cormaic, director of Irish; and Ms Tania Banotti, director of the Creative Ireland programme. From Fáilte Ireland we have Mr. Paul Kelly, chief executive; Ms Jenny De Saulles, director of industry development and Mr. Caeman Wall, head of economic and industry analysis.
I advise the witnesses that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. If you are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, you are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of your evidence. You are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and you are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, you should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. We expect witnesses to answer questions asked by the committee clearly and with candour but witnesses can and should be expected to be treated fairly and with respect and consideration at all times in accordance with the witness protocol. If witnesses have any concerns in that regard, I ask that they be raised with the committee. I ask Ms Licken to give her opening statement and to please confine it to five minutes as it was circulated to members in advance. This is to allow time for questions and answers.
Ms Katherine Licken:
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach agus cuirim fáilte roimh mo chomhghleacaithe atá anseo inniu. Mr. Conor Falvey is assistant secretary in charge of the culture division of the Department, Ms Tania Banotti is director of the Creative Ireland programme and Dr. Aodhán Mac Cormaic is stiúrthóir na Gaeilge in the Department.
We very much welcome the opportunity to meet the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response. Covid-19 is having a devastating impact on the arts and culture sector. The Department has been engaged in an ongoing and wide-ranging consultation with stakeholders from across the sector since the commencement of the crisis. This engagement – with national cultural institutions, the Arts Council, Screen Ireland, advocacy bodies, resource organisations, theatre companies, and individual arts practices and artists – has been fundamental to addressing the impact of Covid-19 on the sector, and making effective interventions to help the sector. More recently, this has extended to the commercial for-profit sector, with which we are currently engaged, and from whose representatives the members heard such eloquent testimony on Tuesday.
During these difficult times, culture and art have provided a way to show a community's sense of place while allowing people to express their creativity and resilience. Bringing people together even when we have to stay apart, inspiring and sharing, are the powers of art, the importance of which has been made ever more evident during the Covid-19 crisis. It has been encouraging to see the surge of people accessing cultural content online during Covid-19 - from virtual artists to museums and galleries, streaming of films and even community arts groups via social media - showing the fundamental role that culture and the arts play as a source of resilience during difficult times and, ultimately, its ability to produce high-quality material, which connects with communities and individuals and is made available online to the public.
The Department has supported a number of initiatives to ensure that the public has access to quality cultural and creative online content. For example, Culture Ireland’s innovative Ireland Performs series involved 120 online performances, in partnership with Facebook, and was delivered in April and May to a global audience of 750,000, while the Other Voices Courage programme included a number of performances from our national cultural institutions, which reached audiences of more than 2.7 million, with 1.15 million live views. Those views were not just domestic but international, which is important from a tourism perspective. The Creative Ireland programme also delivered a number of initiatives which provided creative opportunities for the public, working with Healthy Ireland, or through local authorities in the delivery of the highly successful Cruinniú na nÓg. Critically, all of these initiatives also provided opportunities for paid work for artists and creatives when few other opportunities were available.
In terms of the challenges facing arts organisations, there were a number of immediate responses. The Arts Council quickly assured funded organisations that funding remained available in 2020 and that it could be drawn down sooner. This was intended to help tackle cash flow challenges posed by the cancellation of events and to minimise the impact on artists who might otherwise not have been paid. In terms of other supports, individual artists have access to the pandemic unemployment payment and where they struggled to access these supports, the Department provided helpdesk support to individual artists to ensure that they fully understood the supports available. This practical assistance flowed from engagement with arts organisations and proved to be of real, practical support to people in the sector who were experiencing a crisis in terms of immediate income.
While the impact of Covid-19 for some aspects of the cultural sector can be quantified in terms of the number of institutions or sites closed or the loss of revenue for cultural and creative industries, other facets of culture are harder to gauge. The Department is currently conducting a survey to evaluate the continuing impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the sectors supported by it and to better understand the ongoing experience of organisations and individuals affected by the crisis. This information will help to inform the ongoing policy response of the Department to support the sectors during the pandemic.
Officials are also analysing the recent reports from the Arts Council expert advisory group and the National Campaign for the Arts, and the recommendations outlined therein. We are pleased to report that several of these recommendations are already being implemented.
Drawing on all of the feedback received in the early phases, there was evidence that while the actions of the Arts Council had addressed the immediate impact on arts infrastructure, that is, venues and organisations, additional measures were necessary to sustain venues and organisations and to support freelance artists in the development of their work. The issue of sustainability was critical to the announcement on 16 June of an additional €25 million to support the arts and culture sector this year. This funding will include bursaries and commissions to artists and arts organisations and resources for museums and culture workers as they prepare for the reopening of society. A total of €20 million is being allocated to the Arts Council, bringing its allocation this year to €100 million. A further €5 million will be available for other measures, including securing the future of key cultural and museum spaces and facilities throughout Ireland and the production of high-quality digital art and online performances.
Outside of these sector-specific supports, cross-Government measures are also playing an important role. These include - and the committee will be very familiar with them - include the extension of the pandemic unemployment payment until 10 August 2020 and the cross-sectoral economic supports which have been put in place, such as the wage subsidy scheme, increased unemployment benefits, the State credit guarantee scheme-----
Ms Katherine Licken:
We will continue to engage with affected stakeholders, monitor the impacts of Covid-19 on the sector and seek to introduce effective and meaningful supports. The Department's key objective for the arts and culture sector has been and will continue to be to make the most effective use of available resources to sustain the sector through this challenging period. We welcome the views of the committee.
Mr. Paul Kelly:
I thank the committee for the invitation to attend. I am joined by Ms Jenny De Saulles, our director of sector development, and Caeman Wall, our head of economic research. I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, on her appointment.
I will talk briefly about the impact of Covid on tourism, the industry supports that have already been put in place by Fáilte Ireland and the challenges that lie ahead. First, it is worth reminding ourselves of the vital importance of tourism to Ireland. Tourism accounts for 260,000, or one in nine, jobs here and was previously worth almost €8 billion to the economy. In some counties along the Wild Atlantic Way, tourism accounts for more than one in five jobs. Tourism is not just about jobs and money, however, i t sustains infrastructure and businesses that are vital to the well-being of local communities, culture and environment.
Covid has been catastrophic for tourism. It dwarfs any previous crisis. Economically, tourism was hit first, hit hardest and will take longest to recover. The sector has had no revenue for four months. While revenue stopped, the costs did not. Despite the supports the Government has already put in place, our initial ballpark estimate is that tourism businesses have incurred more than €1 billion in unavoidable costs while closed.
Before we look at the future challenges it is important to look at some of the supports we have already put in place to help the industry navigate the huge challenges of the past four months. Fáilte Ireland’s response was immediate, constructive and comprehensive. In February, we established a Covid advisory group consisting of industry associations, members, agencies and Department officials. This group has met 15 times. We refunded €3 million to businesses in fees that had been paid and set up a Covid task force which has created 14 separate suites of new online business supports and training tools. These have helped businesses to manage their people, their operations and their finances when closing down, to survive while closed and to assist them during the reopening phase. These supports have been highly valued and have been accessed more than 300,000 times by the industry via our online hub. We developed eight new sets of safe reopening guidelines for specific tourism sectors. These have been viewed and downloaded more than 40,000 times.
Our response has been informed by extensive research. We have had more than 5,000 direct industry engagements and spoken to 21,000 domestic holidaymakers.
We developed and submitted two separate grant proposal schemes, one to help cover the costs incurred while closed and another to help businesses meet the costs of adapting their premises to operate safely. We also developed and submitted a proposal on tourism specific working capital loans to help get much-needed liquidity into the sector and are delighted that those proposals have been endorsed by the tourism recovery task force.
Last weekend, we launched a new heavyweight domestic marketing campaign called "Ireland, make a break for it". We also briefed industry on the Fáilte Ireland Covid-19 safety charter, designed to instil public confidence in the safety of tourism businesses. More than 700 businesses have already signed up to the charter, which we will launch to consumers this weekend. We have established 23 local destination recovery teams around the country and created a new discoverireland.iewebsite. I acknowledge all involved for their incredible work over recent months.
Looking to the future, while we are delighted that tourism is beginning to reopen, the path ahead will be extremely challenging due to a number of factors. First, businesses are now carrying a high level of unplanned debt accumulated over the past four months which will make survival extremely challenging if not addressed.
Second, revenue will be much lower due to a number of factors. There has been a complete absence of revenue from overseas visitors and this revenue will be slowly rebuilt. The blanket 14-day self-isolation requirement effectively writes off 70% of the sector's revenue. We simply must find a way to facilitate the reopening of access for overseas tourism as quickly as public health considerations can allow. In addition to the lack of overseas revenue, the capacity restrictions imposed by social distancing measures and the challenges to domestic demand created by health and economic concerns will depress revenue levels.
Thirdly, business operating costs will be higher in the Covid-19 world with increased cleaning, screens, signage, personal protective equipment, etc.
The range of intervention supports and actions urgently required are captured in the interim report of the tourism recovery task force and we believe these need to be implemented in full immediately. It will be a long hard road to recovery for tourism but we must not shy away from providing the support the industry will require to recover. To do so would be to abandon balanced regional development and self-sustaining rural communities. Following the financial crisis, the tourism industry got people back to work faster than any other sector. Tourism will recover again but to do so, it needs significant Government support now and for the next few years.
I keep standing up to ask questions, forgetting that we are in committee. I welcome the presentations that we have heard. We also heard presentations on Tuesday from organisations in the arts sector, some of which are in receipt of State funding while others have never relied on such funding. They made a number of welcome suggestions.
I acknowledge the work of the Department and the Arts Council in trying to ensure that at least some of the funding that was to be available for the arts during this year was redirected in an imaginative way to try to tackle the effects of the pandemic. As our guests today mentioned, there have been a number of spectacular innovations, given the restrictions that have applied. There have been artistic and musical performances online and I congratulate all of those who have managed to reach their audiences and develop new ones. I enjoyed a lot of what has been put on in recent weeks. I managed to sit and listen to my brothers' band for longer than I normally tend to focus. However, that is not the solution for all artists and musicians. My mother, who is a sculptor, would never take to the Internet in any shape or form. She does not understand it and never bothers with it. My father is a book publisher and the same applies to him.
There is a cohort of artists and those with artistic talent who have not been able to avail of the opportunities of the Internet in this case. It is important to remember them. A lot of young artists have come to the fore and well done to them. I hope they will flourish in future. How do we reach out to those who have suffered as a consequence? I am not saying my father or mother has suffered in any shape or form. They are well and have no issue other than that my father cannot sell his books properly because he cannot have book launches. It is just that this issue is often forgotten about.
I also congratulate the national cultural institutions. Well done to those that have managed to open with changes in the way people view the collections. I hope we will see many more of the private cultural institutions opening around the country. Given that people are still only just straying from their homes, local museums and heritage sites in particular should be visited. We should take the opportunity to encourage people throughout Ireland to avail of the great resources we have. In many other countries, visits to national cultural institutions incur a cost. One thing that stands to us here is that there is no cost incurred in many of them. People can go and see material they would pay a fortune to see in other countries. I have asked before at different committees about funding to try to help local museums and cultural institutions put their collections online. Now that we seem to be coming out of the pandemic slowly, it is especially important that this work does not stop and we ensure more of the collections are online. We heard about the effects on tourism. The tourism sector has always recognised the value of the arts and has used the arts and music to attract people to Ireland. The more we put online, the more that we can attract people.
There are a number of challenges facing the arts sector, the biggest of which is that, given the nature of its audience, it will be the last sector to fully open. Several of the groups before the committee on Tuesday mentioned the changes needed to the pandemic unemployment payment to ensure that it continues for the sector and also that it is flexible enough to allow people in the sector to do a day's work here and there because their work is often precarious. Witnesses from the Event Production Industry Covid-19 Working Group, EPIC, mentioned one change which does not fall under the Department with responsibility for the arts, although it might be possible to lobby the Department of Finance on it. A change in VAT would make it a lot easier for them to be more cost effective or at least more cost attractive when setting up events in the future. Extra distancing means margins will be much tighter.
What is Ms Licken's view on setting up a full task force with all of the stakeholders to keep an eye on the arts sector in the next weeks and months and to ensure that as problems emerge they are addressed and solutions found quickly? That is the key.
Ms Katherine Licken:
I acknowledge that Deputy Ó Snodaigh and his family have a long association with the cultural and arts sector. He is right. While the online experience we had during Covid-19 has been really great, it is not for everybody or every art form. We very much acknowledge that. Part of the funding for the Arts Council and the council's response has been to repurpose its bursaries and provide more bursaries for artists, so they can continue to do work during the pandemic. That is critically important. We recognise that. Books played a significant role during the pandemic and bookshops were very innovative in delivering books to people that sustained them through the crisis.
As for the cultural institutions, we were delighted that six of our cultural institutions reopened in whole or in part on Monday, thereby opening up those treasured collections once again. They also were accessed online and there was a huge surge in people searching the National Archives during the crisis. On Monday morning, we went to the National Library, located next door, to see it reopen and it was good to see people in its reading room already.
As I said, the Arts Council is offering bursaries to develop work for the future. Screen Ireland has pivoted its funding to fund scriptwriters in order that they can develop projects for shooting in 2021 and beyond. Creative Ireland has been trialling some innovative programmes that Ms Banotti might talk about.
Ms Tania Banotti:
In response to Deputy Ó Snodaigh, this is in no way a substitution for the crisis facing the sector but he may be aware of some innovations like the Corcadorca theatre company in Cork bringing work out to housing estates, particularly in areas with a large cohort of older people. The Creative Ireland programme has a team in every local authority. It has been looking at things like Show in a Van, where three vans of performers will rock up either to one's house or one's nursing home and, effectively, do small bespoke performances. That is not in any way to claim it as a substitute but just to state we are considering ways in which artists and creative people can continue to be employed and, for those for whom online does not work, what we can do to bring it in person. As members are aware, the libraries have provided a fantastic click-and-collect service and, in the case of people cocooning, have delivered a selection of books they believe individuals will enjoy. That is the level of personal contact between local libraries and their communities.
Ms Katherine Licken:
On the question of a task force, the programme for Government commits to a task force, which we welcome. We already have a task force that has met six times on the tourism side. Yesterday, it met for the sixth time where the new Minister gave her first address. There are plenty of synergies between the challenges facing the tourism sector and those facing the culture sector. We look forward to working together to address those challenges.
Mr. Conor Falvey:
Again, the decisions taken by the Arts Council in respect of funding in the early phases of the Covid response were on sustaining venues and organisations - the infrastructure - so that when Covid passes, that infrastructure still will be there to support artists in presenting their work. More recently, the additional funding that has now become available is partly a response to the needs of the freelance sector, which perhaps were not addressed. The response to the freelance sector initially primarily was through the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP. The idea of providing additional bursaries and commissions through the Arts Council is to provide people with support to make work, rather than to leave them in a situation where they are entirely reliant on PUP.
Yes. I thank the witnesses for their presentations. I also thank them for all of the work that they have done over the past four months in a very challenging time for everyone.
In the presentation this morning, Ms Licken referred to Cruinniú na nÓg, which is the free initiative for young people. What was done in that programme aimed at young people? I ask because many young people were attracted to the scheme. While that programme was aimed at young people, those who were really affected by the lockdown were older people. Has anything been planned for the latter? This issue was referred to earlier in response to a question posed by Deputy Ó Snodaigh. Will a proactive programme be put in place for older people during the year?
I was chair of the arts committee of Cork City Council for a number of years and it always occurred to me that because there was such a large number of groups, there was never sufficient funding.
How can we use local authorities to get funding to organisations that are serving communities and providing a significant contribution to the arts? We need to work with local authorities more on that issue. What will be done in that regard?
Many arts groups that have been in contact with me are complaining about the level of bureaucracy. Ms Licken referred to a fund of €20 million. Can the bureaucracy involved in applying for grants or supports be eased? What is being planned in that regard?
Ms Katherine Licken:
I will ask my colleagues to come in on some of the matters raised by the Deputy. Cruinniú na nÓg is in its third year. Last year and the year before, we ran it as physical events in the community, working with local authorities. This year, with very little time, we pivoted to make it a digital event. I am glad that its success has been recognised. Ms Banotti will speak about it, the arts committees and the work the Creative Ireland programme has done with the creative teams in local authorities. Mr. Falvey will address our programmes for the funding of local arts groups.
On the Arts Council and the €20 million allocation, it is independent in its funding and funding decisions. We will take up the issues relating to bureaucracy, form-filling, etc., with it.
Ms Tania Banotti:
On Cruinniú na nÓg, Ireland is the only country to have a national day of free creative activities for children and young people. Although it may seem strange, the pandemic was, ironically, the making of it. Given the extraordinary success of the RTÉ Home School Hub, with 400,000 children tuning in, RTÉ, ourselves and the local authorities partnered up. It has been a very interesting process. Obviously, young people have been very affected during the pandemic and have faced particular challenges. We thought long and hard about various things we could offer to children, young people and their families.
I will provide two simple examples of how it took off like a rocket. One initiative invited people to organise céilithe in their kitchens. There were lots of videos on storytelling, tunes and learning to play the tin whistle or Irish dance. The video on how to organise a céilí in one's kitchen received 1.6 million views. Through Fighting Words, the wonderful organisation set up by Roddy Doyle, we invited children to participate in creative writing. We were taken aback by the response. There will be four publications resulting from this initiative alone. We could not believe the number of entries. We were really moved by the creativity of young people.
I know the Deputy is from County Cork. He may be aware of the tiny rural school in Cappabue which made a film about climate change that went global. The school was our ambassador this year. There is a lot of discussion on online content. The view of the Creative Ireland programme is that less is more, but the young people in that school made an extraordinary film about the creative things they were doing in County Cork and it has been incredibly popular.
I wish to send a big shout out to the local authorities that responded very imaginatively to the problems we faced. There are challenges in the context of local authorities. The groups that appeared before the committee in its most recent session expressed concern regarding the financial crisis facing them and that the local authorities may cut back on funding for arts and culture. That is certainly a worry. The Creative Ireland programme has guaranteed its funding to local authorities. The culture teams in the local authorities have been at the heart of the community call during the pandemic and they have responded very imaginatively to it. The example set by Cruinniú na nÓg gave young people an opportunity during lockdown to try things they may not have tried previously. They certainly had more time on their hands. It has been a real lesson for us. Some local authorities, particularly those in more rural parts of the country such as County Donegal, had far more participation this year than last. Hosting 500 events while under a 5 km lockdown was astonishing.
On the issue of an initiative for older people, the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, will be making an announcement in that regard in the coming weeks. The Creative Ireland programme is working intensively with the HSE and Healthy Ireland to roll out a specific programme of creative activities for those who are cocooning. That will cover nursing homes, hospitals, community care settings and home care settings.
We are looking at imaginatively bringing that work to people who may be cocooning, with the added benefit of paid work for artists and creative people to year end.
Reference was made to bureaucracy. That is obviously a matter for the Arts Council but the council has spoken about trying to simplify its application procedures.
The €20 million must be spent by the end of the year under the public spending code. The sheer practicalities of getting that money to people will necessitate probably a simplification of the procedures, but the council has already indicated it plans to do that.
I thank the officials for their attendance today. I have some questions for Ms Licken. Culture Ireland acts for abroad have been cancelled. How much money had been allocated for that in this year's budget? Where will that be spent now if artists abroad are not using it? I expect they are not, but Ms Licken might give us details on that.
How do we ensure the Arts Council will be able to get our money to artists who really need it? How will the council be able to distinguish between those who desperately need it to continue to survive and those who do not? I have another question but Ms Licken might answer those first.
Ms Katherine Licken:
The budget for Culture Ireland this year is €4.1 million. We can say that all the money in the budget is being repurposed to address Covid-19. We will continue, where we can continue, with things, and if we cannot continue we will repurpose it to address the crisis. For example, under the Ireland performs initiative a total of 150 artists got paid €1,000 each to go on Facebook live and perform. That is an example of innovatively pivoting the funding to a way that directly and immediately supports artists. The process of repurposing funding will continue where we can or where we need to continue it. I can say the funding remains in the culture area.
The second question related to the Arts Council. In fairness, the Arts Council responded swiftly to the crisis. One initiative was to set up an expert advisory group to advise on the best approach. Part of the consideration is how to ensure exactly that the funding the council gives out goes to artists who need it most. We expect the programmes arising out of that will reflect that. Mr. Falvey may wish to comment.
Mr. Conor Falvey:
I will come back to Culture Ireland. The expert advisory committee is examining different mechanisms to showcase Irish artists overseas. There is pivoting towards digital presentation in terms of international festivals and making material available online. There are costs associated with that. Again, support for artists for a range of measures are under consideration.
There is no question but those in the Arts Council are burning the midnight oil in Merrion Square now to put the procedures in place and to get the application process operating. The key challenge is to get this additional funding to the people in the sector who require it.
Mr. Conor Falvey:
The announcement was made about the initial funding on 16 June. Prior to that, the Arts Council had already repurposed some of its funding for various purposes and had run an additional scheme following the announcement on 3 April, shortly after the impacts of Covid-19 were felt. I can assure the Deputy that the council is are acutely aware of the pressures within the system. It is working to get those resources to affected artists as quickly as possible.
Ms Katherine Licken:
We have indicated that the budget for Galway 2020 is €15 million. We have indicated to the Galway 2020 organisation that the funding remains available. Those responsible have submitted revised proposals to us in light of the pandemic and all of the events that could not take place. They have submitted to us revised proposals on how they might go about the programme in a new format. We are reviewing this now in consultation with the Minister. We have also asked the European Commission to consider extending the programme out to 2021.
I have a question for Mr. Kelly from Fáilte Ireland. Will Mr. Kelly give us the details in factual form of the cost of the "Ireland, make a break for it" campaign? What is the cost to Fáilte Ireland of designing and implementing it? What is the cost and the aggregated expected return on that?
I thank our guests for their statements. The arts and culture sector will probably be one of the last to reopen and it has faced a number of challenges, like many other sectors. Some of the supports the sector is receiving were outlined by Ms Licken in her opening remarks. I would like to focus on the arts and crafts and cultural sectors and what supports there will be for them. I welcome the confirmation from Ms Licken of the €20 million allocated to the Arts Council, as requested by the National Campaign for the Arts, NCAF, and that recommendations have been achieved. Could she expand on what is being done in that sphere?
Ms Banotti mentioned the work and creativity of the local authorities. The work done by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, of which I was a member, on libraries and creativity in the arts was innovative. We need to see more of it and the support will be welcome. Ms Banotti stated there was funding for care homes. Will the social day care centre be included in that, if and when it is up and running? There are different settings for older people who need entertainment or require a change in their day-to-day living, and the arts are a very important aspect of that. Ms Banotti might expand on that.
I turn to Ms Licken in respect of the production and performance arts sectors. As far as I am aware, there is no clear pathway for those sectors and they are worried as of today. While the funding through the Arts Council is welcome, more clarity needs to be given to those in that sector. The crafts sector, which I mentioned earlier, also seems to have been forgotten about.
Much work has gone into Creative Ireland and the funding has been welcome. It is great that it has been repurposed so quickly but, again, there may be some questions as to how that funding will be rolled out.
On the actions recommended by the NCAF, Mr. Falvey stated the officials were analysing the reports from the Arts Council expert advisory group on the NCAF and that some recommendations have been achieved. Will he elaborate on that?
Mr. Kelly mentioned the tourism recovery task force in his opening remarks. He might comment on the implementation of the plan. Much of the discussion, even this morning on national radio, has been about holidaying at home, rightly so, and the supports for the domestic tourism sector. I welcome the advertising campaign and the quick response to the need to encourage staycations. Will Mr. Kelly expand on the capacity in the system? Summer has been truncated a little into just July and August in Ireland, and there will be challenges with accommodating everybody who wishes to stay at home this summer.
On the question on the NCFA, the expert advisory group from the Arts Council and the recommendations, a key recommendation was the funding of €20 million. We were in a position to provide that immediately. That has been a really important immediate response.
Let me take the Deputy through some of what the Arts Council has been doing for the arts and arts organisations. The funding, including the new funding, will be aimed at the organisations and venues that support artists to give them a sustainable future and it will also be aimed at bursaries, commissioning and digital online content. That is just a snapshot. Mr. Falvey can elaborate further on it.
Regarding production and performance, we are critically aware that the ideas of performance and performance spaces are particularly challenging owing to social distancing. Therefore, it is not just a matter of whether one can reopen but whether one can reopen safely. Over the past two or three months, we have had a lot of engagement with all in the sector on all the challenges it faces. Setting up a task force to deal with the whole culture sector, as outlined in the programme for Government, will be a key part of helping to address the issues that arise. Mr. Falvey might want to elaborate on this.
Mr. Conor Falvey:
Traditionally, our primary relationship with the subsidised arts sector was through the Arts Council and Screen Ireland. Given that there is now a pandemic, we have opened our doors to all callers. More recently, we have been engaged with commercial venue operators and promoters. They have issues associated with the roadmap, how this is to be addressed, and the supports they consider necessary. We received correspondence from them very recently and it is under examination.
We meet representatives of the NCFA regularly. It has fed in to the expert advisory process through the Arts Council. There is a strong overlap in the recommendations that have emerged in the work of both the expert advisory group and the NCFA. Some of these issues are political, such as the appointment of a dedicated Minister for culture. Some of the requests are for capital support for venues. This is being examined as a matter of urgency. I anticipate that we will have a proposal for a Minister extremely shortly in that regard.
Other issues relate to the European Union. It has published a draft multi-annual financial framework, which is to commence in 2021. It is subject to agreement at European Council level. There are sums of money set aside within it for SMEs. The previous Minister had sought, in the context of previous Council meetings, the ring-fencing of some of the funding for arts and culture. We will continue to examine any opportunities that might present in regard to securing funding for Irish artists and cultural entities through those channels.
We will continue to engage with the NCFA and the Arts Council on all these issues in the weeks and months ahead, both on a bilateral basis and through the task force structure, to make progress on all these issues as promptly as we can. I do not know whether the Deputy wanted more information on any individual measure.
Ms Tania Banotti:
I will take the query on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. Serendipitously, I was talking to the wonderful Ms Catherine Gallagher, the county librarian and Creative Ireland co-ordinator, only yesterday. I am not plámásing the Deputy when I say the cultural policy of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown is a beacon for the country.
Regarding the craft sector, we have been working with the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland. The council is not often mentioned, possibly because it falls under the Department responsible for business. We have been working on a campaign called Get Ireland Making, whereby the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland worked with a lot of craft makers. We offered support in learning how to produce online content. They made a series of videos and webinars and facilitated discussions through which ordinary members of the public, if we can use that dreaded term, could learn about craft skills and try out crafts for themselves, all the while using resources available at home.
The initiative for older people has not been announced yet. I was speaking to Ms Gallagher and I indicated that Dún Laoghaire is eligible. Unfortunately, the funding is not infinite and the requirement from the HSE and Healthy Ireland is that we must work with the age-friendly initiatives in the counties in question. The idea is one of trying to knit the creativity aspect with the age-friendly aspect. This may be a watershed moment for the whole area covering the arts, creativity, health and well-being. We are really hopeful that, in the new mental health strategy being prepared by the HSE, the importance of culture and creativity will be front and centre.
Mr. Paul Kelly:
I thank the Deputy for the question. There is plenty of capacity and availability for domestic holidaymakers this year. We must remember that 70% of the tourism economy and revenue is made up of overseas visitors, and as of right now there are no overseas visitors in the country. Yesterday, the Irish Hotels Federation reported that for July, 77% of hotel bedrooms in the country are still unsold. The figure is 74% for August. There is also significant capacity in guest houses and bed and breakfast accommodation. Self-catering is doing very well, with high occupancy rates across the next six or seven weeks, as is caravanning and camping. It is also important to remember that the next few weeks until August represent only part of the year and all of these businesses need to survive for the rest of the year and into the next tourism season. There are significant challenges.
I would say to anyone who is worried about capacity or space that there is plenty of both. There is great value out there and people should shop around and not believe what is posted on social media.
I thank Ms Licken and Mr. Kelly for their presentations. One of the biggest challenges we face is to create confidence in our economy and give confidence to people that they can go out and spend on recreation, the arts and entertainment. That is not going to be easy, but it is a challenge all of us in the Chamber face. In terms of the arts, the season has been almost written off for many during what is generally the busiest time of the year. Have we explored every option for further online access to exhibitions and events? Have we considered the different audiences that might not normally be considered? Have we looked at extending the season beyond what it normally would be into the winter months and having a major winter programme?
The arts sector is imaginative, innovative and resilient and there are opportunities to stretch out this season and plan for the 2021 season. Funding could be made available. The arts sector often has to deal with the unknown nature of funding, and looking for funding on a month-to-month basis creates a problem.
I refer to the Fáilte Ireland presentation. There are a lot of conflicting views on whether it is safe to travel abroad and whether we should be opening up for visitors to be able to come to Ireland. One has only to listen to what was said on radio yesterday to hear that. Are we doing enough on the safety message? Are we doing enough to encourage people to stay at home and help our tourism sector? I do not feel that the advertising campaign has been big, broad and quick enough. It has been reactive. We knew what the roadmap was and we should have been a little more proactive in planning for that. The call for people to stay at home needs to be stronger. It should be almost a call of national solidarity and action for people to stay at home and support the tourism and arts sectors in as safe a manner as possible.
Nobody is going to lose out by not going abroad this year. We need to be strong in that messaging, but are we doing enough on that issue?
Ms Katherine Licken:
If the Deputy will indulge me for a minute, I will go back to the issue of the new Department and the synergies between tourism, media, culture and sport. As our new Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, said earlier this week, if we look at sport and culture, in particular, and what they tell us about who we are and how we identify as a nation, there are huge synergies in the challenges facing those sectors in the light of the impact of Covid-19.
That feeds directly into tourism. As Mr. Kelly stated, 70% of tourism is from overseas. We saw digital programmes in the Other Voices Courage programme and the Ireland Performs series, which had enormous reach internationally. Tourism Ireland came back to us promptly to state that was having a huge impact, and we pushed it out through the embassy network. There are, therefore, huge synergies and also major synergies with broadcasting because, again, we collaborated very closely with RTÉ. Public sector broadcasting throughout the pandemic really showed its importance. That was very much the case for us in the cultural sector in pushing out content, which was widely welcomed.
Ms Banotti may wish to speak about the season in the cultural sector, but regarding funding I assure the committee that we have a long list of things we have done digitally. We pivoted how we do things to get material online and get artists paid for their work rather than doing it for free. We are also looking at having some festivals in the programme go ahead in a safe way, insofar as that is possible. Ms Banotti may wish to elaborate on that aspect.
Ms Tania Banotti:
All pots are bubbling. Regarding the Deputy's question about extending the season and online activity, it is a bit like the question of whether a tree falling in the forest makes a sound if nobody is there to hear it. Obviously, there will be a large amount of online content, but how will the public find that content and how can it be signposted if it is across a myriad of places? Having made the content, do people then know where it is? The Arts Council has been examining the idea of bringing all that content together under one website, which it would host. Those interested in seeing what artists were doing as a result of the pandemic would then have one place to go.
Deputy Matthews asked about the cost of the Fáilte Ireland campaign. Although Deputies are a sometimes little cynical, there is a need for eyeballs and to direct and tell people what is available. We must consider not only the making of the work, but also the platforming, showcasing and celebrating of that work. I know the Deputy is familiar with the Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray. All the venues are looking at different ways of opening. Members will not be surprised to hear that I believe the arts community is incredibly resourceful. There is a sense among members of the arts community that they should just get started and see what is possible. This could be on the road or by opening venues that are closed to artists to start preparing and workshopping work that the public may not see until next year. When we talk about extending the season, there is the online season, the work being made now that will be made available digitally and, where spaces cannot be opened to the public for financial reasons, the option of using those spaces creatively as a resource for artists in different ways. There is a real commitment to consult artists about how to do that better.
Mr. Paul Kelly:
I will comment on a couple of factors. The Deputy's point regarding confidence is really important. There is significant nervousness and concern about people going out to restaurants, going on holidays in Ireland and so on. To that end, we have developed the Fáilte Ireland Covid-19 Safety Charter. Under normal circumstances, this project would have taken a year or so to develop. We turned this around in about six weeks. We launched it to industry last week. By signing up for the charter, industry members are effectively declaring they will implement all the operating guidelines Fáilte Ireland has developed based on public health advice and in liaison with the various Government Departments. They are also declaring that all of their staff have received the appropriate training in infection control and under the return to work protocol, and they are committing to make themselves available for inspection and assessment.
We launched the safety charter to industry last Thursday and we already have more than 700 businesses signed up to it. As of yesterday, something like 15,000 employees have been through the free online training Fáilte Ireland has provided for those businesses. The campaign will be launched to the public this coming weekend. On top of the money we are investing in the "Ireland, make a break for it" campaign, we are investing approximately €1 million in a public information campaign explaining what the safety charter is. That campaign will be breaking this coming weekend and it is specifically designed to give people reassurance and confidence.
The "Ireland, make a break for it" campaign is a significant, heavyweight campaign. We launched it last weekend with television and radio advertisements and double spreads. We were getting a phenomenal reaction and trending in the top five on social media all weekend. It is getting an excellent public reaction. We do not know the business impact yet because it probably will be another week or so before we see the bookings data coming through, but the public reaction has been phenomenal. It is a really heavyweight campaign, and another factor is that the timing of it was very carefully done. Under the Government roadmap, tourism was not going to open until 20 July but that was brought forward, fortunately, to 29 June. Despite its being brought forward, we were ready to go. It would have been inappropriate for us to launch this campaign any earlier because we would have been conflicting with Government public health advice. We cannot have one arm of the Government saying people must stay within 20 km of their homes and another arm saying they should take holidays around the country. We had to wait until the appropriate time, in line with public advice health, to launch our campaign. As soon as the timing was okay, we were ready to go with it.
It is important to say that any good campaign has to be based on consumer insight as to what will motivate people to travel. That consumer feeling and sentiment, as we are all aware, has changed massively week by week. Doing something that was based on consumer insight five or six weeks ago would have been wrong. We had to understand where people's heads were at.
Mr. Paul Kelly:
As I said in my opening statement, over the course of the Covid period, we did research involving 21,000 potential domestic holidaymakers to make sure our insight was bang up to date with where people's heads were at. I think we have the right campaign at the right time and it is getting good traction-----
We need to move on at this stage. I do not mean to be dismissive and Mr. Kelly is dealing with a very important issue, but there is a maximum amount of time that the witnesses can spend in the committee room and we can spend in the Chamber.
I thank the witnesses for their contributions. I will be bringing Mr. Kelly back in to answer some questions. In the light of his statement to the committee and his comments here, I am interested to note a headline in The Irish Times today, "Open Ireland as soon as possible", above an article outlining what Mr. Kelly intended to tell this committee today. The article indicates that Mr. Kelly would tell us, "We simply must find a way to facilitate the planning for and the reopening of access for overseas tourism as soon and as fast as public health considerations can allow." Will Mr. Kelly elaborate on that statement and why he felt the need to make it, in the context of that headline and some of the commentary around it today?
Mr. Paul Kelly:
I think the headline is a little bit inaccurate. My statement, importantly, is that we should open up overseas tourism as fast as public health considerations allow. First and foremost, we all understand that public health comes first and it is not in the interests of any sector in Ireland for there to be any kind of resurgence of the virus. That is a really important distinction. We are saying that as fast as public considerations can allow, we need to find a way to a safe reopening. I know there are meetings ongoing on this issue at various levels. It comes back to the point that 70% of tourism revenue comes from overseas visitors and 180,000 of the jobs throughout the country that are provided by tourism are provided by the money overseas visitors bring in. If there is an opportunity for safe access to be opened up, we should look at it. If there are source markets where there are people who want to come to Ireland and where it is safe to have them come here, we need to find a way of facilitating that as quickly as we can. We also must bear in mind that this is not something one can just say today that we will do and it will happen tomorrow. Airlines have to do their scheduling and people have to be able to plan.
Whereas people plan domestic trips at a couple of weeks' notice, they tend to plan foreign trips at a couple of months notice. There is a need for us to communicate some form of roadmap to the airline industry, to overseas visitors and so on that is in line with public health considerations.
I thank Mr. Kelly. I suspect the Make a Break for It campaign will be very successful and I hope it is. He touched on the issue of the potential for price gouging and he dismissed it as a factor. However, it is a concern at the moment. What are Fáilte Ireland doing to counter any attempts at price gouging? How can we ensure that prices being charged this year to domestic customers are comparable to or cheaper than last year’s prices?
Mr. Paul Kelly:
Fáilte Ireland does not engage in conversations on pricing, other than to encourage our industry to offer good value. Good value is a combination of high quality and competitive pricing. That is all we do in that regard. I reiterate that 77% of hotel bedrooms are still unsold for the month of July. That will drive a level of price competition into the market. Different businesses will take different approaches to pricing and our message to consumers is to shop around because there is value out there, though there will be exceptions.
I think it is also important to know that these businesses have been closed with no revenue for four months. Owing to the operating guidelines and public health requirements, they are opening up with significant extra costs. They have reduced capacity because of social distancing and they have increased costs in cleaning, PPE, signage and so on. It is important that there is understanding of the financial pressures that businesses are under.
I thank Mr. Kelly.
Ms Licken mentioned in her statement the supports given to artists through the Arts Council bursary. We had great presentations from EPIC and the Event Industry Association of Ireland, EIAI, on Tuesday. How will those industries be supported now by the Department? If the pandemic unemployment payments were to subside in August when events still cannot be held, how can freelance technicians and engineers involved in the arts world benefit? Can Ms Licken suggest another way they could benefit? I understand her Department is not directly linked to this, but the arts are totally dependent on it.
Ms Katherine Licken:
I thank the Deputy. While the Department has not been traditionally directly linked with those organisations, we have now linked in with them. We met them last week and are engaging with them constantly on precisely the issues the Deputy has mentioned. We recognise they are a key part of the cultural and heritage infrastructure of the country. Ordinarily, these companies are making money and doing good things. They would not normally have recourse to the Department but we now we are engaging intensively with them. We have proposals from them. We are working through these proposals and hope to come back pretty quickly on that. Does Mr. Falvey want to elaborate?
Mr. Conor Falvey:
Yes. We only received some of these proposals yesterday. Some of the organisations are newly formed because new challenges have arisen that were not there before. There are measures out there through the Arts Council to support creative workers but a lot of people working in the sector are not directly engaged in that. These include lighting technicians, engineers, carpenters and so on. I want to say publicly that the concerns of that part of the sector are understood by the Department and we are working with commercial operators to see what measures are possible to support the resumption of activity in accordance with public health guidance. It is challenging and difficult and that is why we are engaging with them. They are at the centre of our considerations at present.
I thank the witnesses. I would like to pay tribute to the National Campaign for the Arts, NCFA, the EPIC working group, the EIAI and all the arts workers and crew who have made their voices heard. It is good that their campaigning has led to an additional €20 million in funding, although it is worth saying that is against a backdrop of historically low levels of support for culture and the arts in this country relative to our European counterparts. EPIC, the NCFA and all in the arts and entertainment sector want to know whether the other asks are being considered and whether they will be recommended to the Government.
These are Government decisions but the key is whether the Department is going to recommend them to it. They want to know if the PUP and the wage subsidy scheme will be retained. Will they get certainty on that, particularly in view of the fact that there is a very strong likelihood that they will not get back to normal levels of activity and employment and income for the foreseeable future? Is Ms Licken going to recommend that those payments be retained for them?
What does Ms Licken make of the long-standing demand - now even more important - that the national broadcaster and other broadcasters be required to produce a minimum percentage of perhaps 40% to 50% of domestic cultural output? This might be music, drama or other forms and it would be a big boost for artists and arts workers.
Workers in the sector also asked about local authority arts budgets. This is not within the Department's remit but, again, it should be recommended to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government that local authority budgets for the arts and entertainment should be ring-fenced and protected. While there may be an underspend in the context of those streams of funding this year, that should not lead to reductions in them into next year. Does Ms Licken support those demands and will she be recommending them to the Minister? I want a chance to ask another question when I hear the answers, so I ask the witnesses to keep their answers brief enough.
Ms Katherine Licken:
On local authority budgets, the Deputy is right that this matter is not within the Department 's purview. We have, however, a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage under the Creative Ireland programme which commits to funding for the culture teams that Ms Banotti leads. It commits to both Departments funding those teams over a three-year period, and we hope to build on that.
On funding for the arts, we were very glad to get that extra €20 million into the Arts Council. It brings their funding up to €100 million, which is a historic high for the council. In the past three years, its budget has increased by something of the order of 50% to 54%. It is, therefore, going in the right direction, notwithstanding the huge challenges which the whole sector faces and which we deeply recognise.
On broadcasting, the programme for Government contains a commitment regarding a commission on the future of media generally. Obviously, the question of RTÉ and the model for public sector broadcasting, the funding thereof, what it commissions and what level of commissioning it does, will be in that mix. In the audiovisual sector we have, as the Deputy knows, increased funding for Screen Ireland and there are great synergies there between the whole public sector broadcasting area and the audiovisual sector. We already worked closely with the former Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and that function is now being brought into this Department so we hope to exploit those synergies even further.
On the other asks such as the PUP, etc., there are synergies with the tourism sector in the context of seasonal workers within that sector. We will be putting together packages in the context of the economic recovery stimulus package which the Government has said it will bring forward, so we will be working on that. Perhaps Mr. Falvey-----
I have only one minute left and I want to ask one further question, if Ms Licken does not mind. It concerns the film industry, which she referred to in her answer. The Government's clearly stated policy with the wage subsidy scheme was that it wanted to maintain the relationship between workers and employers. In the film industry - which is essentially publicly-funded by means of section 481 - all of the film producers terminated the employment of every single member of their crews rather than put them on the wage subsidy scheme on 12 March. That showed direct and flagrant disregard for stated Government policy. Is Ms Licken aware of this and what does she think of it? To me, it is completely unacceptable. This seems to be another example of film producers not wanting to take responsibility for employees. Most of the time they deny that they have any employees at all. How can they draw up health and safety guidelines for the reopening of film production in the wake of Covid-19 when they have no employees to consult about those guidelines?
Mr. Conor Falvey:
I will take the Deputy's second question first. As I understand it, Screen Ireland has been liaising with Screen Producers Ireland on roadmaps but also with employee representative groups about those protocols and how they might apply.
It is not directly with individual employees but with unions and other employee representative groups. In terms of-----
Mr. Conor Falvey:
On the other issues on the wage subsidy scheme, there was an initial view in some sectors that people were not eligible for that. There was no preclusion of people from availing from either the wage subsidy scheme or the pandemic unemployment payment by virtue of whichever section they were working in. All supports were available to all sectors and we will continue to work with all of these sectors in terms of the roadmap to recovery and re-establishing activity as soon as possible. The film and audiovisual sectors are well advanced in terms of their plans for recommencing work and our primary focus remains on getting people back into work-----
Mr. Falvey should note the Abbey Theatre used the wage subsidy scheme and kept its employees. It did what the Government asked, which was to maintain the relationship between employers and employees. It is publicly funded. Why did the film producers not do the same thing?
Mr. Conor Falvey:
The Deputy is quite correct that for all arts organisations, the Government was clear on its policies on maintaining the link. At the same time, however, it is a matter for individual employers with regard to the commercial decisions they take faced with the challenges they have in respect of Covid-19. While I cannot comment on an individual organisation, the Deputy is quite right that the Government's policy on these matters was to maintain links where possible. That is why the supports were put in place, including the temporary wage subsidy scheme, which was availed of by a large number of employers over the course of the past three months.
I thank the Chairman and witnesses.
Tourism is one of the largest indigenous employers in Ireland and has been one of the worst hit in this pandemic. While I congratulate Deputy Catherine Martin on her appointment to this Ministry, it was a glaring mistake by this Fianna Fáil-led Government that it did not take the advice from me and my Independent colleagues to appoint a stand-alone Minister with responsibility for tourism.
For a number of years, I have been asking for a lowering of the VAT rate. Since Covid-19 hit, one of my first requests to the then Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, two months ago was for a 0% VAT rate. I am delighted that since this request, many of my Fianna Fáil colleagues have called for this 0% VAT rate too. I am hopeful that now they are in government, they will deliver on this measure.
Will Mr. Kelly elaborate on the three aid scheme packages that were submitted to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport a number of weeks ago? Mr. Kelly referenced the schemes in his opening statement. He said that Fáilte Ireland's response has been informed by extensive research, that it has had over 5,000 direct industry engagements and has spoken to 21,000 domestic holidaymakers. He went on to state that it has developed two separate grant proposal schemes, one to help cover costs incurred while closed, and another to help businesses meet the costs of adapting their premises to operate safely. He then stated that it also developed and submitted a proposal on tourism-specific working capital loans to help get much-needed liquidity into the sector. Will Mr. Kelly elaborate, if he does not mind?
I have a couple of other questions on tourism which perhaps will all fit into each other. Bed and breakfast accommodation and other small businesses, including tour guides and tradespeople who do not pay rates, cannot apply for the new funding scheme to help with reopening costs. Bed and Breakfast Ireland is an organisation that represents 760,000 members across the country. It states that two thirds of its members have not been able to avail of the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment because they are aged 66 or over. It believes a grant of up to €3,000 should be made available to the bed and breakfast accommodation sector to cover expenses incurred with reopening safely. Is this a possibility? Is there any chance of this happening? Mr.Kelly may be able to answer.
There are many questions to which those in the bed and breakfast accommodation sector cannot get answers. I have spoken to many of them in recent weeks and would appreciate it were Mr. Kelly to answer these two important questions. Can bed and breakfast accommodation operators be sued if someone contracts Covid-19 when staying in a guest house? Once a guest leaves a guest house, how soon can that room be reopened to a new guest? These questions are of the utmost importance to the bed and breakfast accommodation sector and may well be the difference between them reopening in west Cork and the rest of Ireland or not.
There is still much confusion among hotels and venues as to how many people can attend a wedding or function. Is the size of the hotel taken into consideration? Does Mr. Kelly think this could be made clearer to the hotel?
Mr. Paul Kelly:
I thank Deputy Michael Collins. We will try to move through those questions as quickly as possible.
On his comments with regard to the VAT rate, the tourism recovery task force has recommended that a 5% VAT rate be introduced between now and December 2021 to help the tourism industry to recover and operate competitively. Currently, the VAT rate of 13.5% places us well above the European Union average VAT rate on tourism businesses, which is between 10% and 11%.
It is our understanding from the advice we have received that the 0% VAT rate is not legally possible. It cannot come within the remit of the Irish Government to get a zero VAT rate due to European Union VAT regulations. Our advice is that 5% is the lowest the Irish Government can go under current European Union legislation, and that is what we recommend.
The Deputy asked about the three specific schemes. The first is to help businesses cover costs incurred while closed. As I indicated in my opening comments, our estimate is that businesses have lost over €1 billion due to costs incurred while closed. This varies to a large degree depending on the type of business involved. Costs like insurance, information technology, maintenance and security continued to be incurred so although the Government had fantastic supports in the form of the temporary wage subsidy scheme and the pandemic unemployment payment in tandem with the VAT holiday and loan repayment breaks from financial institutions, which have also helped businesses, there have been many other costs. The first scheme is to help those businesses. We have done an analysis of the costs by different scales of businesses in different sectors and we have developed a grant scheme proposal that has been endorsed by the tourism recovery task force. Like ourselves and everyone in tourism, we are hoping these will be approved in the July stimulus package.
The second grant scheme is to help costs around the adaptation of businesses arising from having to operate in a world with Covid-19. These relate to increased costs associated with cleaning equipment, signage and personal protective equipment. We have seen a range of costs from €20,000 to €50,000 to adapt businesses. We will not be able to support all those costs but it would be exceptionally welcome to make some contribution to those.
The third scheme we have included is a proposal for a working capital scheme. Unfortunately, despite all the hard work and great schemes out there, the drawing down on those Government-backed schemes is still very low. From the tourism industry, one would measure the drawing down on the State-backed schemes in the tens of millions of euro. In the context of €1 billion of costs incurred while businesses are closed, this is a mere drop in the ocean.
We have analysed each of those schemes, working with colleagues in our Department and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, as well as the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland etc. We have examined the schemes and understand the gaps and issues. It will take time for tourism and business to recover and the working capital schemes required by tourism businesses must have low interest rates and long repayment terms. They need to be as close to 100% of a State-backed guarantee as possible. It is the proposal we have made. Once again, we hope the funding can be covered as part of the July stimulus package. It will be required to help those businesses get up and running so that people can be brought to areas in Ireland again.
Perhaps I will hand over to my colleague to speak-----
I am afraid we are out of time but there may be time at the end to address the other matters. There are a number of speakers left from Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. I thank Mr. Kelly.
The next speaker is from Sinn Féin and I am conscious that every other speaker went over time but I kept Deputy Ó Snodaigh to his ten-minute slot. He had an additional question on VAT rates so perhaps Deputy Clarke might take some time for follow-up questions on that before she gets into her own ten-minute slot.
That would be perfect. I thank the Chairman. I refer to the question from my colleague, Deputy Ó Snodaigh, on VAT. None of the witnesses had the opportunity to address the question but perhaps they might do so now.
That is grand. I have some questions for Ms Banotti and Mr. Kelly. It is wonderful to see Creative Ireland represented at the committee.
A number of people involved in the arts, entertainment, culture and heritage in my constituency, which is Longford and Westmeath, have raised concerns about the threat to the arts and entertainment sector. If there is a loss of skills in that sector, will there be a knock-on effect on the likes of the Creative Schools and Creative Ireland programmes? I was heartened to hear Ms Banotti raise the place of libraries in this recovery and as we came through the pandemic. She is right to give them due credit for the work they have done but also from the local authority point of view outside of the much-needed, and what needs to be guaranteed, income into the arts, entertainment and culture sector.
Local authorities play another role, that is, providing space for exhibitions. In my area we have a regular turnover of some very talented people utilising that space to showcase their wares. Also, because of its close link geographically with the library, being in the same building, the first exposure to creativity for very young members of our community is often in the library, not necessarily through books but through the events that are held in the library. That sector needs to be given kudos for the work it has done.
On a side note, in my home town we had a wonderful initiative called Mullingar Rocks, which was a play on the musical achievements of Mullingar but involved people painting actual physical rocks. When restrictions were at their most severe, those rocks were left around a 2 km radius and it cheered us up. That shows the resilience, willingness and ability to change and to bring out that creative nature in people when we are facing the darkest of times. Specifically, has Ms Banotti had any feedback on the use of atriums for developing artists? Has there been any talk around the area of that being restricted, delayed or is it likely to come back as soon as we come out of any of the restrictions?
Ms Tania Banotti:
The Deputy's first question related to the Creative Schools programme. I have good news on that score. Not only is the programme continuing but because the schools were closed, additional days will be made available to the schools in the programme for those creative associates to work, and obviously it is paid work, with those schools to the end of December. There has been much talk about initiative overload in schools. I am happy to report that is not the case with Creative Schools. We extended the deadline to the end of June because of the pandemic and we have well in excess of the number of schools for the 150 places available. There is reference to a big expansion in the programme for Government so we are hopeful.
In terms of the librarians, we have a number of librarians who are the Creative Ireland co-ordinators for their local authority and they are a redoubtable group of men and women. We find, as does the Deputy, that it is about much more than the libraries themselves. They are involved in everything from the Ageing Well programme to Healthy Ireland. They are a civic amenity and they are thinking very creatively about what they are going to do.
In terms of the atrium, I am aware that the likes of Theatre Forum has been in discussion with arts centres in terms of what else they can do if they are closed or what artists feel they can do if those arts centres are not technically open to the public. I am not sure that there has been a resolution of that. I would estimate, and it is within the Arts Council's prerogative, that a significant amount of that €20 million will be going to building-based organisations for them to then be able to open the doors later. We are all thinking long and hard about atriums, how we can use the libraries and what we can do rather than what we cannot do.
I thank Ms Banotti. I have some questions for Mr. Kelly relating to tourism, and I will be somewhat parochial. My constituency of Longford and Westmeath is somewhere between Ireland's Ancient East programme and the Hidden Heartlands. Specifically, in 2017, and I am referring to Fáilte Ireland's own figures, the midlands, which would include Laois and Offaly, there were 218,000 tourists representing €85 million, and 93,000 holidaymakers representing €27 million. I cannot put this in any stronger terms. We cannot afford to lose one cent of that money in the midlands. We need every cent of it and more, particularly when we add Brexit into this conundrum as we face coming out of Covid-19.
Regarding the Hidden Heartlands programme, that is still very much in its infancy. It is only two years old.
The midlands region, including the Ireland's Hidden Heartlands region, cannot go back to being pitted against the likes of Dublin, Cork and Galway. Tourism operators in my area tell me that people are initially reluctant and hesitant. They do not know much about the centre of the country because all they see is the advertising campaigns for the larger cities, but when they do come they fall in love with the place and come back time and again. The Ireland's Hidden Heartlands programme is based on a trend of soft activities. The centre of the country is overflowing with them, including water sports, forest trails, castles, heritage parks and the River Shannon. It is very strongly linked to the arts and entertainment sectors because of the number of theatres and festivals we have. The Fleadh Cheoil was to be in Mullingar this year. The Life Festival is also held in the area. We also have the Marquee in Drumlish Festival and the Granard Harp Festival. There is a variety to choose from. Each of these is now cancelled.
Moreover, due to our geographical location, we do not have an effective rail system. Not everybody drives. What engagement has Fáilte Ireland had with coach and tour operators? What engagement has it had with the fishing and angling groups who come over at least twice a year? What specific additional advertising and marketing supports will be made available to the likes of this region?
Mr. Kelly referred to the online business supports, which are a very good initiative. What is the interest rate on the working capital loan scheme and why, in Mr. Kelly's opinion, has there been so little uptake?
On the "Ireland, make a break for it" campaign, I really dislike the word "staycation". I much prefer "laethanta here-a", based on a phrase we are all familiar with from school if that is our level of Irish. How does the "Ireland, make a break for it" campaign compare to other initiatives like that of the Italian Government promoting Venice? Is there something else we could look for later in the year?
Mr. Paul Kelly:
I thank Deputy Clarke for her range of questions. Fáilte Ireland is fully committed to Ireland's Hidden Heartlands. In the Longford-Westmeath constituency we work very closely in support of Centre Parcs, which employed 1,000 people. It is in the process of reopening and bringing back an awful lot of those staff members, which is a fantastic addition to the national tourism economy, particularly in that region. Fáilte Ireland regularly engages with all the groups the Deputy mentioned. We have a continuing commitment. Ireland's Hidden Heartlands is in its infancy, but it has met with a fantastic reaction and engagement. Before the pandemic we saw more businesses from that region than ever before attending international trade shows to build the reputation of the region internationally as well as domestically. The cancellation of festivals is a national story. Every county and every artist in the country is struggling with that. Unfortunately, that is where we are. We are committed to continuing with Ireland's Hidden Heartlands. We are engaging with all stakeholders, including angling concerns and coach operators. We are doing an awful lot of work to get those areas on to the agenda.
The Deputy referred to the "Ireland, make a break for it" campaign. We carry out extensive consumer research to find the most powerful message to encourage people to get up and go on holidays here in Ireland. Moreover, through public relations and the other mechanisms mentioned by another Deputy earlier, we are trying to spread the message that it is the right and patriotic thing to do.
Mr. Paul Kelly:
Our new Keep Discovering campaign launched a number of weeks before the pandemic broke but we obviously had to stall that campaign. The campaign is ready to go again and covers all of the country. It is not right to use the campaign at the moment but we will come back to it in autumn, probably late September or early October, because that will be the right time to get that message out again. Keep Discovering is the largest campaign in which Fáilte Ireland has ever invested. The creative and media aspects of the campaign will be ready to go in the autumn. We have a programme of marketing campaigns ready to go now and in the next couple of years. Those campaigns will cover Ireland's Hidden Heartlands.
Mr. Paul Kelly:
The working capital that I spoke to is a proposal that has been submitted to the Department and the Government. We are hoping to get funding but that initiative does not exist at the moment. There are a range of working capital loans available on which the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland and Microfinance Ireland have worked. Those loans are available at varying levels of interest rates.
Enterprise Ireland also offers working loan schemes for its client companies. There are a range of options at interest rates that vary from zero to 5%, 6% and 7%. There are issues for businesses in the tourism sector that want to access those loans. That is why we need something specific that works for the needs of the tourism business. The interest rate for a loan scheme specific to the sector will need to be as close to zero as possible to be sustainable.
I welcome our guests before the committee. I get a sense of vibrancy and commitment from all of them. I appreciate that tourism is important for our economy and, as other speakers have said, unless we can recover and think in new ways with new ideas, we will have further problems and will perhaps face job losses.
I support what Deputy Clarke said about people who drive buses for a living. Someone in my constituency has five buses that are sitting idle. That person has a considerable amount of capital investment tied up in that respect and is getting hassle from the banks. That person wants to continue in business. I would welcome any continued support from the Government, the Department and Fáilte Ireland. People such as the one I mentioned need interest-free loans and significant support because if they do not get it, their businesses will be gone forever. In many cases, the more successful a business has been, the more damaging the effects of the pandemic have been because of high levels of capital investment. It is sad.
I welcome what Mr. Kelly is doing and appreciate his knowledge and frankness. I was a little late to the meeting but I was interested in some things said by our other guests, particularly the proposal to extend arts activities to people in congregated settings. Unfortunately, a relative of mine is in a nursing home and most of the residents of nursing homes are staring into empty space without intellectual stimulation. There is often no energy in rooms in nursing homes other than the energy of caregivers. Anything that can be done to give new experiences to people in nursing homes should be welcomed. Something like 70% of nursing home residents suffer from dementia.
It is a huge issue. It is a great initiative which I hope becomes really big and I hope it works. I hope it does not cost the residents in these nursing homes who often pay up to €50,000 or €60,000 a year for their care.
I agree with Deputy Boyd Barrett on a lot of the points he made about communities, supporting artists and making sure they are treated respectfully, appropriately, properly and professionally. I have met lots of people in the arts who make only a part-time living or one that does not give them a great income but keeps bread on the table. Any new initiatives we can have to give them sustainable employment must be welcome. I welcome the initiatives the Department is talking about.
When I look at places like Galway and see the dynamic they have there with the parades every year, I wonder if we can use this pandemic within our local authorities and throughout the country to start new initiatives, particularly in working-class areas. Many of our working-class areas are concrete jungles infested with drug dealers, drug barons, intimidation and strife. The energy that people have in those communities goes into protecting themselves and keeping themselves safe and trying to keep away from these people who are around them. I refer to taking young schoolgoing children and getting an art project going in their community, involving residents' associations. There are lots of wonderful ideas in these communities. I came across a gentleman who was an artist. He was painting his environment where he lived. He loved where he lived even though it was a concrete jungle and still remains so. I also note good initiatives from the north inner city drugs and alcohol task force.
If we are to hold on to our young people, especially those who are in difficult circumstances economically and socially, the arts can be a great driving force for them. Many people love their arts and love to engage. They just need to be valued more and feel they are valued more. The respect they need is what we are talking about. I have met Ms Banotti before and I think I met Ms Licken also in another life when I was in her Department as a Minister. I wish them well. I recognise their good intentions. I ask them to tell me I am right in what I am saying.
I ask the witnesses to limit themselves to four and a half minutes in telling Deputy O'Dowd that he is right in what he says. We have gone over time up to now and we are going to have to get in a couple of speakers.
Ms Tania Banotti:
I do not wish to pre-empt the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin's, announcement but the Deputy asked about the scale of this initiative to the end of the year. I would say it is modest at about half a million euro. It is no secret that the idea of creativity and culture in nursing home settings has been the Cinderella of the whole piece. It is something that we really believe needs looking at. If there is going to be a reset, now is the time to think about that. I would also say that to do things properly takes time. We need to work with the staff in the care home. It needs to be ready to receive the artist. It takes time and we want that artist to have time and repeated visits. If we are going to do something, we are going to do it right. There is no question that it will spill over into 2021 and beyond. It is absolutely critical. We can do better and want to do better in that area.
On young people and particularly areas of deprivation where arts, culture and creativity may be seen as something, as it were, not for us, that is at the heart of the Creative Communities programme. It is at the heart of Louth County Council consulting those groups on what young people say they want to do and want for themselves. That is at the heart of the message of the Creative Ireland programme. It is about putting creativity and culture at the centre of people's lives.
Ms Katherine Licken:
On the programme, the pandemic has taught every one of us, if we needed to be taught it, the importance of artistic content and what it does to enrich our lives and give us resilience, but also our own creativity individually and how important that is. This pandemic has really shone a powerful light on that. It has given us a great impetus as a Department to move forward with many more creative new initiatives.
I wish to mention, because I know the Deputy is an advocate for the Irish language, and our Stiúrthóir na Gaeilge, Aodhán Mac Cormaic, is here, that in terms of disadvantaged schools, we introduced last year - I know the coláistí samhraidh could not go ahead this year - an initiative in the form of scholarships to bring DEIS school students to the Gaeltacht, which we think is important too.
Dr. AodhÃ¡n Mac Cormaic:
Last year, as Katherine said, we introduced this initiative of scholarships worth €850 for 50 students from DEIS schools to bring them to the Gaeltacht. We had a full uptake last year. Unfortunately, we were not in a position to award them this year due to the cancellation of the colleges. It is something we really want to do more of to try to encourage kids from lesser advantaged schools to learn the language and have access to it. It has been very much welcomed.
I thank the witnesses for attending this morning. I support everything that my colleagues have said. I am saying that so that I can focus on a couple of issues. They have mentioned issues such as, for example, bus drivers and coach companies. I would like to add to that the chauffeur companies. They have invested massively in their fleet of vehicles that have sat idle. These are the guys and girls who collect customers from the airport, bring VIPs into the city and assist the Government around events and conferences. We sat for the last few days as a Dáil in the National Convention Centre. A point I made there is that it seats 2,000 people, but with physical distancing it accommodated 160 Deputies. That is the scale of the challenge that faces events, inward tourism and conference organisation. Clearly, this is going to go on for some time. I would just like the thoughts of the witnesses on that.
The key words that strike me are support, support, support. I am very taken with the passion and understanding that all of the witnesses have about the various sectors impacted by Covid. I was also very taken with what Professor Luke O'Neill said when he was asked about the particular areas that would be most vulnerable in a return to business. Choirs stood out, pubs where there would be loud talking, shouting, fun and laughter, any kind of singing. These are very vulnerable areas. I want to highlight something to the witnesses. They need to step into the shoes of one or two of these professionals who are involved in the performance area, and it is related to that issue of support. An email I got from a musician involved says:
I am a professional musician, some would say a “Jobbing” musician, whose sole income is derived from 3 or 4 appearances every week - it’s my job!! On 12th March this year, I had a full diary for 2020 - my bit of security, the fact that I was busy. On the next day I had nothing and like thousands of others stopped completely due to the virus. There is a massive section of the entertainment industry that is not formally represented by anyone and therefore gets overlooked and that is those of us who play the pub, club and hotel scene every week.
The directive that there should be no music in the pubs has been another nail in our coffin since the re-opening. When The Arts are mentioned the entertainers who I count myself one of, are completely ignored and have no voice. I appeal that you consider the mass of us (some estimate over 20,000) who contribute in this area, that we be eligible for further Covid payments, until we are allowed to resume work, when it is considered safe enough to do so. We know that we make a huge contribution to the entertainment business, but it largely goes unnoticed as it is constant and “just there”. At the moment many people are seeking extended help - allied to what we [as musicians] do, there are equipment companies who hire gear, there are road crew [there are] riggers, there are the agents who book [the] work – [my agent has] done nothing, just like me since the beginning of March - this is and continues to be devastating, with currently, no end in sight. I would therefore please ask you to consider that, if music is your sole source of income [and clearly this gentleman’s is], to keep the Covid payment in place until we are allowed to operate again.
I ask the witnesses to comment on the issues raised in that email.
Mr. Paul Kelly:
On the Deputy's point regarding chauffeurs, the Convention Centre, etc., business tourism is a very important part of the overall tourism economy. The business tourism that Fáilte Ireland, working with the business tourism working group, brings into the economy is worth €750 million per year. It involves conferences, corporate meetings, incentive trips and so on. It is the lifeblood of the chauffeur business, as well as the operations of many other self-employed workers and SMEs. It is also very important to large hotels, conference centres, etc. Business tourism operates with a very long lead time. We are bidding for conferences and incentive trips to come to Ireland every year from 2021 to 2029. It is not just located in Dublin because a significant amount of incentive business happens in the south west and the west, as well as conferences in counties Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Galway and so on.
We do not yet have a roadmap for reopening those businesses and that sector. That is costing us money. For example, there are the social distancing issues to which the Deputy referred in the context of the number of people the Convention Centre is currently allowed to hold. We need to work with the public health and other officials to get that roadmap in place because the bids are still happening internationally. The spend of €750 million per year works out at €15 million per week. We are missing out on that as other countries are now bidding for those conferences but we are unable to take part because we do not have a roadmap in place. We need to address that as a matter of urgency in order that we can have that future pipeline of business.
We recognise that bed and breakfast accommodation, tour guides, chauffeurs and others in the self-employed sector of the tourism and hospitality industry have not benefited from measures such as the PUP and the wage subsidy scheme in the same way as those in some other sectors. We are very conscious of that and have discussed at the tourism recovery task force the need for support of those sectors and individuals.
Mr. Conor Falvey:
We are mindful that there are people in the broader cultural sector who did not traditionally rely on public subsidy for support. People such as musicians and others who play live performances are very much to the fore in our thinking. The Arts Council is considering how it might reach other sectors in the context of the additional funding it has been allocated. The other area on which we are working is around the commercial operators, such as venue operators, in order to get people back to work as soon as possible in a manner consistent with public health guidance. We will remain focused on that issue.
On the PUP and similar payments and their extension, the former Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, stated that one of the principles was that they would be available for as long as people had no opportunity to return to work. Obviously, that is subject to ongoing review. The Department participates in senior officials groups on Covid and economic recovery and will continue to feed in the concerns and desires of the sectors with regard to supports that are or might be made available.
A special case can be made for any sector. That said, unlike other sectors of the arts, this sector is particularly vulnerable because it involves performance. It is important that the Department keeps it to the forefront in its considerations.
Will the officials keep the people in this sector to the forefront when it comes to reviewing the Covid-19 pandemic payment? Will they make the case for those affected, as it has been made here today eloquently, not by me but by the musician who emailed me? Can the officials keep the committee updated on any progress that is being made in that regard?
I have some questions. I will try to keep them short. I hope the answers can be relatively short too.
Representatives from the national campaign for the arts were before the committee. They told us that performing artists were losing €2.9 million per month. Does the Department accept that figure? That is the first question.
Mr. Kelly said that 70% of our tourism spend and tourists come to Ireland from abroad in a typical year. What figure does he anticipate this year? Even if we have the same number of Irish tourists - I think the number will be greatly in excess of the number we usually have - no one is coming in from abroad. Will the figure be more than 70%? Does Mr. Kelly think our tourism season will be extended this year? Typically, it covers May, June, July and August. What is the typical tourist season for the domestic tourist? Will it spill over into September or early October for people who perhaps were unable to go on holidays in May or June? I realise he cannot look into a crystal ball, but what does Mr. Kelly expect?
The regulations introduced by the Minister were published on Wednesday. They purported to come into effect some time earlier but at the least they were not enforceable before they were published. They provide that a customer must have a substantial meal. Does Mr. Kelly believe it will come as a surprise to tourists who come from abroad - I am referring to the few who will make it here - that a substantial meal will somehow protect them from Covid-19? Is there is a risk that they might believe they are coming onto the set of "Darby O'Gill and the Little People" or something like that?
The legal regulations do not say anything about live music. Can a pub legally have live music as long as a substantial meal is being served? What are the recommendations around live music? When will live music be allowed in bars? If musicians are spaced as far apart as the four Deputies in the Chamber, how on earth do they pose a particular threat? Is there a fear that people will lunge at them? How are they a threat to health?
Either one or the other. It has been a while since anyone lunged at me, but who knows what the next five years will bring for any of us? It is a serious question. When is the whole thing about the substantial meal anticipated to change?
It is not a penal provision. It is difficult to see what role, if any, An Garda Síochána might play. I have no idea what role the force will play. It has been suggested that Fáilte Ireland will monitor that. How many monitors does the tourism authority have operating? What exact role will the authority play with regard to monitoring the substantial meal? Is there a danger that one person's substantial meal might not be substantial to another? A diner could go to a really expensive Michelin three-star restaurant and get what might not be regarded as a substantial meal by the mart-goers who were in Ennis this morning where, up to now, they have served substantial meals.
Mr. Paul Kelly:
I will pick off some of those. Then I will bring in my colleague, Jenny De Saulles, whose team has headed up the operational guidelines.
First of all, we estimate the overseas tourism revenue for this year will be less than €1 billion. That compares with €5 billion last year. That is really because January and February were in the bag before this happened. There is no overseas tourism at the moment. I hope we will get something back before the end of the year but because of the lead-in times involved we do not imagine it will be significant. We hope to have something in.
The Chairman asked about the domestic tourism season. Importantly, domestic tourism makes up of approximately 30% of tourism revenue.
Irish people tend to take short breaks in Ireland throughout the year. People who are not tied in to the school calendar, whether it is before or after the time they might have school-age children, are waiting until September. We will, I hope, see a stronger September from the domestic tourism market.
With regard to restaurants, pubs, substantial meals and so on, it is important to say that, currently, pubs are not allowed to open. What is allowed to open are pubs that are food-serving, because of the blurred distinction between a restaurant and a pub. The requirement for a substantial meal, and the minimum cost of €9 as set in legislation, both of which apply per person, is an indicator that the pub is acting like a restaurant and serving food like a restaurant. That is in place until 20 July. Ms De Saulles might expand on that.
Our guests might clarify whether Fáilte Ireland is "policing" - in inverted commas - this requirement to serve a substantial meal and what is regarded as a substantial meal. I appreciate there is not much time and every one of Fáilte Ireland's inspectors-----
Ms Jenny De Saulles:
The guidelines issued by the Department of Health are being assessed by a group of agencies. The Health and Safety Authority, the HSE through its environmental health officers and Fáilte Ireland all assess businesses within the tourism industry. It is a combination of all three. What we are looking for is compliance-----
Ms Jenny De Saulles:
They are coming together to inspect premises against the health and safety guidelines. As for the definition of a substantial meal, to return to Mr. Kelly's point, it was about defining a gastropub, that is, a pub that serves food. The definition was determined as a meal of about €9. It was intended to be a meal as opposed to a bag of crisps and a pint. As Mr. Kelly stated, for this phase it is only restaurants that are open, not pubs.
Mr. Paul Kelly:
As the economy has reopened, there has been very high compliance with the public health advice. We have expected that and we are seeing it. The two criteria are that it is a substantial meal and that it costs €9 or more. The €9 requirement is set out in legislation, which is where the number comes from. If a pub is serving a packet of crisps or a tiny bit of caviar for €9, it is not being compliant. This is about creating a safe environment for people to be able to go out and-----
Mr. Paul Kelly:
That is, fundamentally, a public health question that can be addressed. From my conversations with the public, I know that it is not the presence of musicians or any other profession that makes it less safe. It is about how the crowd reacts and how the line is drawn around that. It is quite clear that somebody-----
I will ask a different question. Mr. Kelly expects the domestic tourism season to extend into September. There are a number of tourism sites right across the entire mid-west, not just Clare, that will not open at all this year. They include Dunguaire Castle, Craggaunowen and Knappogue Castle. Bunratty Castle and King John’s Castle in Limerick are going to close at the end of August. Does Mr. Kelly view that as an opportunity forgone to attract tourists to the sites and the region in which they offer an attraction?
Mr. Paul Kelly:
The Chairman has made an important point and identified a challenge on which we need to continue to work, namely, that visitor attractions, more than the general tourism economy, really rely on overseas visitors. Overseas visitors keep visitor attractions going, yet visitor attractions are really important in attracting domestic visitors to areas. Therefore, we really want to do what we can to help visitor attractions to stay open through the winter. It is not just about September because the year goes on. We absolutely want to do what we can to help the visitor attractions to stay open throughout the winter because they are really important to the domestic economy, but they really rely on the overseas visitors, from whom they are not going to get revenue. Not only do overseas visitors pay the admission fee but they also pay money into retail and catering at the attractions. We really want to keep as many of those visitor attractions open as possible but it is incredibly challenging for them. We are considering what supports we could make available to help them to stay open through the winter so they will be able to attract domestic visitors to the regions. It is a real problem, and we have not squared that circle yet.
Will that help also be available to Shannon Heritage to open some of the sites that are not opening, such as Craggaunowen, Dunguaire and Knappogue, and extend the season for sites that say they are going to close at the end of August?
Can bed and breakfast accommodation operators be sued if somebody contracts Covid-19 when staying at their premises? Once a guest leaves bed and breakfast accommodation, when can the room be reopened for a new guest?
Ms Jenny De Saulles:
There is no requirement for bed and breakfast accommodation, guest houses or hotels to take rooms out of stock after they have been used. The operational guidelines we have developed are very detailed. After thorough cleaning has been done, it is fine for the rooms to be let again.
On the question of whether a business can be sued, it is really a legal question so it may not be appropriate for me to answer it. We have, however, sought clarity on it. The key point is for businesses to minimise the risk. It is really about applying the operational guidelines developed and ensuring the risk of contamination to any guest or employee is minimised.
This is just a proposal, Chairman, which maybe the panel will comment on or they will pass it up the line. This is a serious proposal. We have four fewer bank holidays than is the average in Europe. I suggest it might be a good boost, particularly at the moment, although at any time, for both culture and tourism, and indeed for workers generally, but especially in the context of Covid if we are talking about re-energising those specific sectors, to have additional bank holidays and bring us up to the level of the average number of European bank holidays.
It is a good proposal. Ultimately, the decision will fall to Government and none of the witnesses here will be able to declare a day as a bank holiday. I thank them for attending and answering all of our questions, and for staying a bit longer than anticipated. We will now suspend until 12 noon.