Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 30 March 2021
Joint Committee on Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht
Impact of Covid-19 on the Entertainment Sector: Discussion
I am delighted to welcome our guests. This meeting has been convened with members of the Irish Music Rights Organisation, IMRO, Give Us The Night and the Event Production Industry Covid-19 Working Group, EPIC, for a discussion on the impact of Covid-19 on the entertainment sector. I welcome the witnesses to the meeting, who will be joining us remotely via Microsoft Teams due to the restrictions. With us from the Irish Music Rights Organisation we have Mr. Victor Finn, chief executive officer and Mr. Keith Johnson, director of marketing and membership. We also have Mr. Sunil Sharpe, founder of Give Us The Night and his fellow Give Us The Night spokesperson, Mr. Robbie Kitt. I also welcome the members from Event Production Industry Covid-19 Working Group, namely, Mr. Liam Fitzgerald, chairperson of the Association of Irish Stage Technicians; and Ms Kim O'Callaghan, project manager and deputy event controller with MCD. The format of the meeting is such that I will invite witnesses to make opening statements, which will be followed by questions from the members of the committee. I am sure members have the speaking slots sitting in front of them so they know when and where to come in. I ask them to speak to their time slots in order to give as much time to their guests to contribute as possible. I will call each organisation to deliver their opening statements in the following order. IMRO will go first, followed by Give Us The Night and then the EPIC working group.
Before I invite the witnesses to deliver their opening statements, I want to advise them of the following in regard to parliamentary privilege. I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against any person or entity either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable, or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of that person or entity. If witnesses' statements are potentially defamatory in the context of the identification of a person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that witnesses comply with any such direction. As our witnesses today are attending from outside the precincts of the Leinster House campus, they should please note that there are some limitations on parliamentary privilege and, as such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness physically present does.
I remind members again of the constitutional requirement that they must be physically present within the confines of Leinster House to participate in this public meeting. I will not permit a member to participate where he or she is not adhering to this constitutional requirement. Any member who attempts to participate from outside the precincts will be asked to leave the meeting.
I ask members and witnesses to identify themselves when contributing to the debate for the benefit of the Debates Office staff who are preparing the Official Report. I ask members and witnesses to mute their microphones when not contributing in order to reduce background noise and feedback. I ask that they use their raise hand buttons when they wish to make a contribution. I also remind them to ensure that their mobile phones are on silent mode or switched off.
With all that housekeeping out of the way, I am delighted to get to the most important aspect of today's meeting, namely, the contributions from our witnesses. I ask Mr. Finn, CEO of IMRO, to make his opening statement.
Mr. Victor Finn:
IMRO is a membership organisation of over 14,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers. We license and collect royalties from radio, TV, online platforms, streaming services, cinema and a host of entertainment venues and we distribute this remuneration to our members monthly. The vast majority of our members are small, self-employed SMEs and sole traders, enriching Irish society and culture with their music but who earn, at the best of times, an uncertain livelihood.
At the outset, it is important to acknowledge the significant support measures established by the Government across the wider business community, including the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, and the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS. Music industry-specific measures announced by the Minister include: the live performance support scheme; the music industry stimulus package; increased funding for the Arts Council; and the increases in mental health supports. All these supports are much needed and welcomed by the entire sector.
The creative sector has taken the brunt of the effects of the pandemic. The full closure of indoor and outdoor events has severely impacted the arts, culture, live entertainment and events sectors. We know that ongoing social distancing measures will mean severe restrictions for some time to come. The livelihoods of many artists and creative workers are threatened. The October 2020 EY report for the Arts Council indicates that of the 55,000 workers in the sector, 58% are currently wholly reliant on the PUP or EWSS. The non-funded events sector accounts for 90% of the 5 million tickets sold in Ireland each year, contributing over €3.5 billion to the national economy. It is estimated that for every €1 spent on a ticket, an additional €6 is spent in the wider tourism economy. However, many companies are now in grave danger of not reopening.
The sector fully understands the measures are necessary to protect public health and fully supports public policy in this area. However, the effect on the entertainment sector will be much more prolonged than in any other area of economic activity. The projected decrease in jobs in the arts is 15.5%, much higher than the 9.7% projected for the rest of the economy. Workers in the cultural sector need to be supported if it is to avoid enormous long-term damage through a depletion of skills and talent caused by migration away from cultural work and towards more stable sources of income. Therefore, measures are needed to address income insecurity in the sector.
IMRO has identified three key policy initiatives that should be prioritised. First, there should be a roadmap for the reopening of live entertainment spaces. It is widely acknowledged that the live events industry will be among the last to open up. However, it is imperative that we use this intervening period to fully prepare for its safe reopening. We need to plan now in order to have a safe return to live events once the pandemic has passed. This means detailed planning with all the interested stakeholders in good time in order that the public can have confidence that indoor and outdoor venues are safe and suitable spaces to host live music and entertainment events again. A representative stakeholder group encompassing all available expertise across public and private participants should be established in order that cultural providers can engage with public health experts and other stakeholders to design guidance and support mechanisms for the reintroduction of safe public engagement in cultural activity, including examining the potential of vaccination passports for attending live entertainment events.
Second, we are calling for the implementation of the EU copyright directive. The move to online performances during the pandemic has further heightened the importance of copyright protection in the digital economy. In 2019, the European Parliament approved the EU directive on copyright in the Single Market. This directive seeks to close several loopholes in existing copyright legislation. Contrary to their intended purpose, the so called safe harbour provisions of existing laws create an unfair advantage for large global online platforms when negotiating with music creators. The tech platforms either do not pay at all for creative content or pay much less than the market rate in some instances.
Online content-sharing platforms obtain unreasonable value by enabling their users to share copyright content without ensuring that underlying rights holders receive a fair share of these revenues.
The EU directive's aim is to create a well-functioning marketplace for authors and performers. A key goal of the directive is reducing the "value gap" by ensuring the profits made by Internet platforms, on the one hand, and by content creators, on the other, are fairly shared, encouraging collaboration between these two groups. Artists’ earnings from digital performance would be maximised if the Government introduces the copyright directive without adjustment or dilution. This would ensure rights holders receive a fair and proportionate income linked to the economic success of their work, providing them with alternative and badly-needed income streams.
Mr. Finn's time has run out. There will be another opportunity for him to express his thoughts and views. If he does not mind, I will move on to the next group. I thank Mr. Finn for the presentation. I call Mr. Sunil Sharpe from Give Us the Night.
Mr. Sunil Sharpe:
The impact of Covid-19 has been swift and brutal on our industry. Jobs have been lost, businesses shut down and a way of life frozen until further notice. This is in marked contrast to many other industries that have continued on without too much disruption. To complicate this further, our venues are now under threat, as business owners and landlords consider more financially viable uses for these spaces, which may lead to changes of use and redevelopment.
In the absence of a clear roadmap, the Government is causing uncertainty for all types of venues and events, and the associated workforce. Next month, trial events take place in Liverpool, with a full return for all venues and nightclubs in the UK scheduled by June, and this follows a host of similar trial events around Europe and beyond. In Barcelona, a 5,000 capacity rock concert with no social distancing has just taken place, and that followed a successful 500 capacity club event in the city last December. We have been advocating since last summer that Ireland plans trial events, starts small, learns from the experience, and builds up to being ready for a workable reopening. A specific plan, including pre-event testing and the use of vaccine passports, now needs to be laid out.
We acknowledge that a full reopening cannot happen until a significant amount of the population is vaccinated, but we find it hard to understand why no specific targets, dates or guidelines have been published by the Government to indicate to the whole industry what reopening may look like. Instead, we have a roadmap from last September that even at level 1 would not be sufficient to allow most entertainment spaces to reopen and stay in business. Given the amount of international best practice information that is at our fingertips, and the knowledge that exists within our domestic entertainment industry, it is frustrating that Ireland is lagging so far behind in terms of an actual plan.
While some of the recently-announced supports will benefit the entertainment and cultural sectors, it likely will not be enough to cover everyone. The live performance support scheme, LPSS, looks like it could be oversubscribed with applications, with many deserving venues and promoters that may miss out. Given the financial burden that is being imposed on the national Exchequer due to supports like this, it is vital that Ireland develops a safe but realistic reopening plan that will remove the need for much of the financial support required by the industry.
It is imperative that we see investment come back into the industry and that existing operators do not leave entirely. Community spirit has been crushed in the night-time industry in recent years and, needless to say, crippling insurance costs have been a big factor in this. Insurance for music venues and nightclubs is prohibitively expensive, far more than other industries, and some owners have described the role of running venues as feeling like they are “working for the insurance companies”.
While we value the role of festivals and large-scale events, we also measure the health of our entertainment and night-life sector by the regular weekly offering in our cities and towns, and, in particular, our venues and cultural spaces. These are the incubation spaces for communities to grow and for independent spirit to thrive, and, crucially, where performers and workers of all types can learn their trade, as well as earn a living. These venues have been mandated shut for over a year now and will struggle to get back on their feet or to return at all. All of them will need specific improvements to meet the new safety demands of Covid-19 and will quite likely have to prepare for a period of restricted numbers and small profits, if any at all. Rent arrears is a big issue for many businesses, and without sufficient reopening grants that take this into account, we may not see venues last long enough to give a return on the State’s support.
We need the Government and local authorities to recognise that without places to socialise and dance, we are removing opportunities for people to connect and further creating division in society. We also need to get serious. As our population increases and the country becomes more built-up, it is becoming more and more difficult to run events and entertainment venues for fear of local resident objections. A fresh approach to noise management, sound-proofing and mediation needs to be developed as soon as possible.
We also need to acknowledge the impact this has had on people’s social lives and mental health, and create daytime and night-time activities they can partake in. The finger-pointing needs to stop. People need to live and businesses need to reopen. There needs to be a more strategic approach to reopening this time, unlike last year. Large gatherings of people in a city or town centre will require a different level of planning, akin to large-scale event management, that could involve industry professionals working alongside local authorities and the Garda.
In addition, stakeholder forums should be set up within every local authority and should be inclusive towards all parts of the entertainment, cultural and hospitality sectors. We also believe there should be plans for staggered closing times to alleviate on-street crowding. It is a good opportunity for on-trade businesses to continue to sell food and non-alcoholic offerings, if such demand is there. There has been a general feeling since the shutdown of the industry that now is the best time to introduce a new way of experiencing our cities and towns that is less restrictive and more diverse. Given the recent announcement regarding licensing law reform, which will include extensions to trading hours, we believe these extensions should be introduced in the short term in advance of the long-term legislative changes that will take some time to be enacted. We also believe that special exemption order costs should be reduced by 75% with immediate effect and be payable online rather than in court. This would be with a view to abolishing this archaic system in the long term, and rolling out an online system for all licences and permits in the coming months.
In conclusion, we pay tribute to the young population of this country who have been among the most well-behaved of any country throughout this pandemic. We believe that local authorities should work with young cultural communities to help design and re-imagine outdoor public spaces as we enter the summer months.
I thank the Chairman and committee members for listening. Mr. Robbie Kitt and I will be happy to take any questions.
Mr. Liam Fitzgerald:
I am grateful for the opportunity to give evidence today regarding the plight of our industry. EPIC is a working group of independently elected representatives from the live production sector and is a foundation member of the wider industry grouping, the Event Industry Alliance. EPIC includes representatives from the Association of Irish Stage Technicians and the Live Venue Collective. Hence, we speak here today for a very wide range of organisations, companies and individuals throughout all facets of the live event and entertainment industry.
As the pandemic enters its second year, venues, promoters and businesses have spent their cash reserves surviving 2020, topping up salaries and meeting fixed business costs such as rent, insurance, building maintenance, security and utilities, all against a backdrop of having little or no turnover to fund such expenditure. We have seen some successes from supports, such as the LPSS, and with the extension of the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, and the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, helping to maintain as many of our workers as possible. However, there have also been large parts of our sector left behind, such as our supplier SMEs, of which only 4% are eligible to access the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS. We are at present engaging with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and hope to swiftly bring forward supports for those who have been neglected so far.
In addition to the financial effects of the past year, it has been very challenging mentally for those working in the industry. The lack of clarity about the road out of this crisis is compounding those effects on the mental health and well-being of the workers in our industry. We are grateful for the support shown to Minding Creative Minds and hope it will be long-lived.
Looking forward, there are many hurdles still to navigate as we contemplate the reopening of live events over the coming months. One of the most important concepts for us to convey is the potential for lag in our industry reopening. Over the cycle of planning, marketing, selling tickets, rehearsing and building, the time from the proverbial gates opening for our industry to meaningful income for our workers and SMEs will be between six months and year. It is vital that the planning starts in earnest as soon as possible.
It is of the highest urgency and importance to swiftly form an expert working group, as put forward in the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media task force recommendations, with key experienced stakeholders around the table, to develop the criteria, mechanisms, supports and timeframe in parallel with Government policy and the roll-out of the vaccination programme. Advancing a sector-specific, strategic roadmap, developed in partnership with the various Departments, the HSE and relevant authorities to ensure the safe reopening and operation of venues and events, will enable us to put thousands of people back to work across all levels of the sector, but we need to start the months of planning now.
We know that no one has a crystal ball and that no one can tell us right now the exact date we will be reopening again. However, we need a series of mile markers from health experts showing us, for example, that when X% of adults are vaccinated, we can do such a scale of an event, and when Y% are vaccinated, the events can advance up to another level.
To be clear, we are not looking, and never will try, to open when it is not safe to do so. Our industry's fundamental core value is taking care of our audiences and staff. Every decision we make every day when we are planning and executing an event is about safety, welfare and enjoyment of our attendees. We are looking to open when it is safe to do so but we need mile markers to allow us to build towards this so that the lag between it being possible to open and being actually able to open is as short as possible.
We are an integral part of the cultural fabric of society. The live entertainment industry is an ecosystem and all of its aspects are needed for it to survive: the talent of the artists, the venue for the promoter, and the contractors and crew to pull it all together. For every €1 spent on a ticket in Ireland, €6 is spent as a result in the wider hospitality and tourism sector. It is vital to the economy. Live events were responsible for €3.2 million bed nights in one year recently.
Without the assurance of sufficient supports until the sector fully recovers, and with the delay in activating the expert working group, some of Ireland's most iconic and live entertainment venues and promoters will be forced to implement plans to shut down entirely or for the foreseeable, long-term future, and to implement extensive lay-offs. This is an industry of entrepreneurs and businesses who have forged their own path. They are highly skilled and dedicated people who have invested their own time and money to create events and experiences to allow others to make memories that will last a lifetime. This was a thriving industry prior to Covid and it will be again. We need a hand up now, not a handout, until it is safe for the industry to open at full capacity. We need some help now so that, in turn, we can drive the rebirth of our economy by recovering the spirit and optimism of the nation. I thank members for their attention.
I thank Mr. Fitzgerald and all of our guests for their insightful presentations. I have no doubt that our members will be dying to get stuck into the nitty-gritty of this. I remind members that their speaking slots have been emailed to them. They have six minutes each. This is for their questions and the answers from guests. Perhaps the members can be mindful of this in their contributions and allow time if they want to elicit answers from our guests, otherwise we will have to move on.
The first member needs no introduction
I am just going to make a brief comment followed by a question. I will ask all of the groups to reply and to split the time among themselves.
I welcome all of the witnesses. I will open the discussion by asking all the groups about the night economy. Do they all agree that reform of trading hours is an essential part of the stimulus needed for the hospitality and entertainment sector when it reopens? If so, why does each organisation support this? Would our guests also acknowledge that there is a demand among people who attend the gigs created by the sector, for the kind of nightlife that our European neighbours enjoy, be it 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. opening hours?
Mr. Victor Finn:
We would support the re-examination of the night-time licensing laws. The public are demanding greater flexibility in what is open, when it is open and how they can socialise and enjoy our urban spaces. We would absolutely support that. It should also be a lot simpler to obtain extension licences for such premises. It is a very expensive process at the moment and this is an ideal opportunity to simplify that procedure. We would fully support that.
Mr. Sunil Sharpe:
Yes, absolutely. It is one of the main things we are pushing for with our campaign. Now, as the dust settles after Covid-19, there has been a lot of talk about the Roaring Twenties. Everybody probably expects that when nightlife resumes there will be a new level of engagement in the night-time economy that perhaps was not there a couple of years ago. I am not sure, however, how long that roar will last. It could die down very quickly within a couple of months. At that point we will need to allow people to decide what they want from night-time events rather than having very restrictive times imposed on them. Being able to add more flexibility to what they do and offer will be crucial for businesses.
There is a lot of talk about multipurpose spaces. We can see this in yesterday's report on rural Ireland and some of the policies that may come in there. If we are considering multipurpose spaces and different businesses sharing spaces it will be vital to have flexibility, part of which will involve the opening hours. We would absolutely be behind this, but in different parts of the State and various cities it would depend on whether there was more demand. All types of spaces should be able to operate as far as customer demand is there.
It does not all have to revolve around the sale of alcohol. There has been much discussion on alcohol and how people may react to alcohol during Covid times, which is one of the reasons we are likely to have restrictive times in the short term. Over time, however, we need to be ready to lift those restrictions and be ready to move into the future with a more open and flexible approach.
We had groups here last week, including business associations and the hotel groups, and I want to recognise the demand from those different groups for reform in this area. The Minister for Justice, Deputy Helen McEntee, has also made public comments about it. It remains to be seen what comes before the Houses. I agree with Mr. Fitzgerald that for this to work we need to bring everyone around the table. We cannot delay this forever. Ireland does not enjoy nearly the flexibility that exists in other European cities. There is certainly a demand from young people for real change in this area.
I welcome the witnesses this afternoon. I have three questions but I will leave most of my time for the witnesses to respond. I thank the group representatives for their work in the live music and events industry.
Mr. Fitzgerald referred to the contractors, the crew and the support industry, which are not spoken about enough. He also touched on the support network with the hospitality sector. The committee heard from the Irish Hotels Federation last week that 17% of the sector's trade in Dublin depends on concerts and events, which is gone at the moment. Mr. Noel Anderson of Lemon and Duke also appeared, representing the Licensed Vintners Association. He spoke of losing a number of his employees, including head chefs, who have become hauliers and carpenters and who have left the industry. Has Mr. Fitzgerald any sense of contract and support staff in the events industry who are just simply leaving? Have they communicated this to the event production industry working group? Where do we stand on this?
My next question is for Mr. Finn on live music events. In my home town of Navan, our music and theatre venue, the Solstice Arts Centre, is closed. It is only when one walks by one realises how much it is being missed by people in the town. On the issue of artists selling tickets now, events are being marketed for September, October and November. Is IMRO liaising with the management companies in how they are selling those full-capacity events, when it is possible that this is not how these events will transpire and they could suddenly be deferred until next year? Does IMRO agree with this policy of selling full-capacity events right now with the potential that this will not be the case?
Mr. Sharpe's contribution was extremely engaging. It will exercise the minds of many people around the country. Navan is one of the few towns in the country that proudly flies the purple flag for our night-time economy. We have done so consistently over the past number of years by engaging with our local nightclubs, The Palace and Fortyone, our live music venues and our food and drink and entertainment sectors. We have brought all of them together to make sure we have a safe environment.
This is an important debate and Mr. Sharpe touched on it in regard to the plan launched yesterday. Two forces are coming together. We are trying to get people to move back into town centres again and, at the same time, balance that by having a vibrant night economy. Now is the time to engage with local authorities to make sure the planning laws are addressed. I served on a local authority for many years. There is no point getting to a scenario where live music event managers find themselves in court trying to promote events if we can now get the planning laws right.
We have development plans in progress across the country at the moment. As the representative bodies and its members are now engaging with the consultation and development plans, we can address this matter. It crosses so many issues, including planning laws and An Garda Síochána, which will communicate information to us about the influx of thousands of people, because venues outside Dublin will have thousands of people piling onto the streets at 3 a.m. We also have to consider how to make sure people get home safely by liaising with the taxi industry and public transport in all the various cities and towns across the country. I ask the representatives about their engagement with the planning authorities at this moment as we go forward and, hopefully, build that economy.
Mr. Liam Fitzgerald:
I will be brief to allow others to contribute. Unfortunately, we have received quite an amount of information about substantial numbers of people leaving the industry. There is quite a specialist group of people we use to climb high places and hang structures in entertainment venues. Many of them have gone to work in steel construction and on building sites and so on. We do not know whether we will get these people back. There is a terrible risk that skills retention will become a major issue in the industry.
Mr. Victor Finn:
Just to be clear, IMRO only licenses events once they take place and collects the royalties. The Senator's question is more for the promoters and venue owners. However, throughout the pandemic, the entire industry has been extremely careful in ensuring that it constantly follows public health guidelines. Everyone in the industry is fully mindful of that. I have no doubt no events will be held that will contravene public health guidelines in any way. We totally support our colleagues in the industry on those measures.
Mr. Sunil Sharpe:
I thank the Senator for his questions. It is great to hear that there are even a few nightclubs left in Navan. It is a testament to the local area, which has been really looking after its night-time economy and nightlife. I am with the Senator on all his points. We have had some input into the Dublin City Council development plan. We have given our feedback and we are hopeful about what it might soon publish, although it will still take some time.
On planning, I will not say let us rip up the rule book but let us see more real time decision-making, particularly when it comes to the use of outdoor space. Many businesses can take control of the space near them because we will move outdoors more. The preservation of space is another matter for development plans, which is another conversation again. We need to preserve our spaces so they do not get knocked down and become something else, particularly our entertainment spaces. However, we also need to empower existing businesses now so that they can return to the industry without fear of being put under extra difficulties they should not be put under at this point.
I welcome our witnesses. I agree that when a certain percentage of our population is vaccinated, we should be in a position to start reopening events. I concur that the groups before us need to know the plan in advance, so that as we hit certain percentages we will look at opening areas, within regulation.
From the point of view of IMRO, Mr. Finn spoke about fee percentages and the advent of online platforms. What percentage reduction has there been on fees collected for members? How much does IMRO feel it is not able to access because of the current regulations relating to music on the various online platforms?
Mr. Fitzgerald mentioned there was a certain percentage not accessing funding from schemes. What areas within the industry have not been able to access any funding, payments or supports? This question may be for Mr. Fitzgerald or Mr. Sharpe: has the funding put in place for hosting online events been successful? How much participation has there been from the public in those online events?
Mr. Victor Finn:
IMRO's revenue is for writers, composers, songwriters and our music publishers. Our total revenue is down in excess of 30%. In the public performance area, which includes live events, cinema and general entertainment events, our public performance revenues are down almost 70%. It is absolutely devastating for our members' earnings from royalties.
In the online space, we want to see a rebalancing of the revenues under the copyright directive. The giant tech platforms have built global businesses on the back of creative content without fair sharing of that online revenue. That is what the copyright directive seeks to redress and it is why we need to implement it before the 7 June deadline this year. We want it to be implemented without any dilution whatsoever. It is really a critical juncture for us and our members in that regard.
Mr. Sunil Sharpe:
I will come in on online events. They have been a success, but the next question is how we make improvements to the venues. It does seem the venues where many of these live streams take place are under a lot of pressure and need long-term infrastructural support. One of the more positive recent supports announced was the €5 million for live-streaming set-ups within all these venues. That is very positive. More grants coming down the line, such as soundproofing grants, will also be very useful for venues.
Some people argue that a lot of work goes in to putting a live stream together and they are not always sure the feedback they get has worked all the time. Maybe that money could be just given to them. However, the online events have been useful and it is great to have had State support for them. Let us see how long they will last. I would say that, overall, they have been successful, but some people say they could be getting on with other projects if they had that money in their back pockets and did not have to do an online event.
Mr. Liam Fitzgerald:
The largest cohort of people who have not been able to effectively access any support at the moment are the supplier SMEs.
The live performance support scheme, LPSS, and the Covid-19 restrictions support scheme, CRSS, was of some degree of help to public-facing Event Industry Alliance, EIA, venues but one's premises must be public-facing and have a reduced footfall. A sound or an audiovisual supplier, the people who supply the fences, barriers, the queueing systems, the ticket checking or scanning systems and all manner of suppliers of stewarding security such as that do not have premises, and in particular, do not have public-facing premises in many cases. These are the people who have been hardest hit so far in not being able to access supports. One is talking about warehouses with millions of euros worth of lights and sound equipment, for example, and miles and miles of fencing that should normally be surrounding fields at this time of year, and it is instead gathering dust in warehouses. Clearly, rent still has to paid on those warehouses and on the insurance for that equipment. They also still have leases and loans in many cases on that equipment. We are working very hard on this at the moment, in co-operation with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, to try to come up with a scheme that specifically targets these businesses because there have been schemes that specifically targeted certain parts of the tourism industry but the supplier SMEs have been left behind somewhat at this stage. They have been shut for 12 months now because without venues being open they cannot earn a living.
I thank everyone for their presentations and I hope that all can hear me. I have three themed areas and I will run through them; our guests can come back to me with questions or answers on any of them.
Proposals have been made over the years on having a night mayor for Dublin. Said quickly this sounds like nightmare as in dreams, but I am talking of a night mayor. Do our guests believe that this would be of value to their sector and that it would be feasible to have one in smaller cities?
Second, our guests have referred to the number of people who have lost their jobs due to Covid-19’s impact on the sector and the reality of how many will possibly continue to not have a job in the future. Do our guests believe that the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, or the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, helped their employers as much as they would have liked? Are there any discussions in their sector around the need to formalise employment practices so as to protect workers? I understand the nature of the sector and how it works but there were many people who found themselves falling between the stools of being able to access supports.
Finally, there are opinions and discussions around the introduction of universal basic income, UBI, for the arts sector. Do our guests believe that something like this should be extended to skilled workers in the entertainment industry who are essential for the delivery of arts events? I understand that within the sector, having worked in it, employment is not as regular as in other sectors which is one of the reasons there is discussion around UBI. Do our guests consider that something like this should be considered or extended for skilled workers in the entertainment industry?
Mr. Victor Finn:
I thank the Senator and must confess that I have not given much thought to the concept of the night mayor issue for Dublin. I would need to see the job description or terms of reference. I do not know what our views would be on this or what the intention is there.
PUP and EWSS have helped significantly to protect some existing employment. We have welcomed that and it has been very beneficial to our industry.
Universal basic income, UBI, was a recommendation of the Arts and Culture Recovery Taskforce and was also in the programme for Government. Yes, we think it is worth examining further by extending it to a pilot scheme for a period of three years and would like to have it as inclusive as possible to allow us to look at the results of the pilot scheme in light of other international comparators in order to see how it works. It has merit and was one of the main recommendations of the task force.
Mr. Sunil Sharpe:
Yes, I will join in on the night mayor or the night-time mayor question. I am always trying to subtly change that term because it does have different meanings. I will agree with the idea and we pushed for it. The way it is going now, that role is looking like it might be something similar to a night-time economy adviser. My concern there would be that it would all be based around economy rather than culture as well. That raises the question about whether we may need a number of people involved in that or whether it is going to be a role for just one person. We have seen one person take on that role in other large cities and it has been nearly too much work for one person. One could have committees in smaller cities, towns and areas, or a commission within a city like Dublin. It has yet to be worked out. I understand that there will be pilots of this idea in different parts of the country and it is likely that an individual or some kind of group will also come together in Dublin.
The next question is who is going to pay for it and this would be a big question for many people. It should be trialled and somebody should be looking after and overseeing our economy at night.
The PUP payment has definitely helped a great deal. As to the UBI payment proposal I definitely agree with it and to ensuring that it extends out to all types of creative workers and not just to a narrow range or number of people involved in the arts.
Mr. Liam Fitzgerald:
Starting with the PUP and the EWSS, these are and have been successful. The only issue upon which we are getting feedback from our members at the moment is that we are approaching the point whereby they cannot afford to pay out the wages in the first place in order to claim them back through the EWSS. That is due to the level of fixed costs they have been dealing with without support. That has been one problem.
As to the freelance staff, the PUP has been successful in retaining as many as possible in the sector.
On UBI, it was a recommendation of the Arts and Culture Recovery Taskforce from the Department that one of our members, Mr. Pearse Doherty, sat on. He was a member of it so we would wholeheartedly support all of the recommendations in that recovery plan.
I thank the Chair. It has been very interesting to listen to our guests’ contributions and I congratulate all of them as a group for the “noise”, for want of a better term, they have made. It has been very cohesive and constructive, they have achieved a great deal and have had many wins particularly in respect of the support schemes. I was delighted to see the €25 million that was allocated for the live performance support scheme because I saw some of the beautifully produced and very creative work that was done in some of our most famous live venues. They were able to do this with €5 million so I cannot wait to see what they will do with €25 million.
Turning to Mr. Fitzgerald first and to EPIC, I am aware that the challenges that are being faced by some of the sound and light suppliers has been touched upon already. I understand that there are up to approximately 300 businesses potentially caught in that bracket where they cannot avail of the CRSS because they are not front-facing or deal with the public and because of that they cannot get Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, SPCI, loans. This has already been touched upon by him and although I do not have a particular question I express my 100% support to him on this point and I hope that discussions with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment go well and that he gets a resolution to that issue.
I have a question that I would ask him to deal with at the end on the talent loss. There was a situation where many of our most talented events professionals went to the UK because that was where the work was. We were then able to create a situation where the work was actually here in Ireland. Is there a fear now that that will flip back and we will lose all of that talent to the UK?
I thank Mr. Finn for his comments. We have spoken before about the implementation of the copyright directive and I am 100% behind him in that regard. It is galling to see the social media giants profiteering from the incredibly hard work and talent of our artists.
I wish to raise a concern expressed by some venue owners in my constituency regarding the talk of a flat-rate charge by IMRO for live streaming. I understand a public consultation process is ongoing on that issue. Can the witnesses from IMRO update us on where that consultation stands?
Will Mr. Sharpe elaborate on how a reopening might look? All the business owners, artists, engineers and others in the sector crave the certainty that is not there at the moment. Has Mr. Sharpe had any consultation with public health advisers as to what percentage of the population must be vaccinated before we can see scenes here such as those we saw in Barcelona? We are very far away from the scenes we saw in New Zealand but what is happening there and elsewhere must give us some hope and positivity that there is a future for these types of events.
I am aware that in talking to each other here today, we are, in effect, preaching to the converted. I would love to have the people here who have the answers and could potentially put the provisions in place that would help the witnesses. I would be grateful to have answers to my questions, starting with the one to Mr. Fitzgerald about talent loss.
Mr. Liam Fitzgerald:
The short answer to the Deputy's question is "Yes". Talent loss is a big concern to us. One of our main concerns centres around the lack of the clarity and certainty that would be generated by having what we would call a roadmap with mile markers on it. Our fear at the moment is that we might see both staff and artists being offered work abroad. If technicians, sound engineers and others do not have certainty in this country about when we are going to see movement towards reopening, they might hedge their bets by moving abroad and we may not get them back, as has been the case many times in the past.
Mr. Victor Finn:
In regard to any tariff that IMRO might introduce into the marketplace, we have a policy that we consult with the various industry sectors that would be affected by any such tariff. We are currently engaged in a consultation process, which we kicked off ten days ago, on the live-streaming tariff. We are consulting with venues, promoters, members, artists and writers to elicit their views, with the intention of drafting a tariff proposal that we will send out to the industry for further discussion. The consultation is open for a further three weeks and we will give ample time to discuss the tariff with the industry. That is how we deal with all tariff proposals.
Mr. Sunil Sharpe:
As far as I know, the HSE and health authorities are saying that they have the situation under control and they will look after us when the time is right. I speak to others in the events industry for whom that conversation would be more of an ongoing, everyday engagement in an effort to open up - I will not say it is a case of applying pressure - a dialogue on reopening. I do not want to say that they have not been successful but the engagement has not really got to the level or stage they would like it to have reached.
A task force is to be established to deal with the reopening of venues and events and I hope it will be inclusive. There was no mention in the reopening plan of music, late-night venues and nightclubs. They were left out of the plan. It is imperative that the proposals are inclusive and do not apply just to seated venues and places with very small capacities. We need to be inclusive and get it right in planning for what the full reopening will look like. It will involve amplified music venues and lots of people coming close together. We must get the process right and it must involve everybody.
I welcome our guests. The entertainment sector has taken the brunt of the effect of the pandemic and it is hugely important to listen to those involved and examine their experience of how the State has responded to meet the challenges. My first question is for Mr. Sharpe. What ideas does Give Us The Night have around the type of stakeholder forum that could be set up within every local authority and how that might contribute to a more inclusive approach to entertainment culture and the hospitality sector? I come from a town in the west, Castlebar, with a population of less than 10,000. In the past, we had three nightclubs and a very vibrant night-time economy, but that has shifted somewhat. I would like Mr. Sharpe's views on how large gatherings in towns like Castlebar could be put together around different scales of events based on good planning and the involvement of local industry and professionals working together.
I compliment Mr. Fitzgerald and his colleagues on EPIC's ongoing work and campaigns to date. He mentioned in his opening statement that only 4% of supplier SMEs are eligible to access the Covid restrictions support scheme. As public representatives, we have had a great deal of engagement with audiovisual event business owners who are finding the situation really frustrating. These SMEs keep rural Ireland alive and the people involved are important professionals with a particular skill set. Will Mr. Fitzgerald comment on the experience of his members in this regard and his interaction with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment?
My final question is for Mr. Finn. He mentioned that the live performance support scheme may be oversubscribed. What would he like to see included in that scheme and how should it be administered?
Mr. Sunil Sharpe:
I thank Deputy Dillon for his question. An issue I have noticed, certainly since we joined the conversation on the night-time economy and nightlife industry with local authorities, is that many of the stakeholder groups are not involved from the start. Owners of restaurants, pubs and venues are not in the conversation and they should be, instead of being seen as just another business that is taxed to the hilt. They are treated almost like an enemy and sometimes there is not the level of alliance that there should be. In fairness to local authorities, they have reacted well in terms of waiving rates and whatnot, but the alliance needs to be strengthened as we move forward. We need to have local stakeholder forums that involve others who should be in the conversations, including residents and business groups. Health officials and the Garda also need to be involved.
Local authorities are, by default, the bodies that will host these engagements and they need to step up their game in terms of their role in promoting arts, culture, hospitality and so on. Some are good and some need to step up a little more and widen the remit of what they do in the area of culture and hospitality. We all saw a lot of scenes, many of them on social media, of what was happening on certain streets and in particular locations around the country. Nobody seemed to be taking responsibility for what was happening and, invariably, it was the pubs or venues involved that got the blame for everything. We need to ensure we do not go back to that kind of situation where everyone is gone AWOL and no one is taking responsibility. Ultimately, some of those particular stakeholders got the blame for everything. Everybody needs to work together and form these types of groups sooner rather than later. I hope that answers the Deputy's question.
Mr. Liam Fitzgerald:
I thank the Deputy for his question and for his concern. I will give a sprinkling of statistics that might explain the position of many of our SMEs. About a month ago, we contacted a number of the SMEs that supply infrastructure to the industry. A total of 285 different companies responded to us. Two thirds of them were businesses and one third work sole traders. More than 50% of them do not pay their rates directly. They either pay via a rate-rent bundle with their landlord or they use premises that are shared tenancies. As a result, their names are not listed as ratepayers which is preventing them from getting certain local authority supports.
Mr. Liam Fitzgerald:
Indeed, we are meeting departmental officials this evening and hope to get to grips with that. They have taken on board that particular topic. To give an idea of the hole that some of these people are in, the average fixed costs for those 285 companies were €3,500 per week. They have been paying that for the past 52 weeks without support.
Mr. Victor Finn:
We believe the live performances support scheme should be available to as wide a cohort of venues, promoters and individual artists as possible. It should be fair and transparent. It should be available to the widest possible genres of music and entertainment. The application process should be as simple as possible. Those are our comments on that.
I thank the witnesses for their excellent presentations. I do not pretend to be an entertainer because I cannot sing and I cannot dance. It has been 12 months since live entertainment shut down. I have spoken to many artists from Dundalk and throughout County Louth, and the big disappointment is that there is no roadmap. They need clarity and I do not believe the Government helped recently by stating there is no sign of any hospitality opening until at least the middle of summer.
As someone who comes from the Border area, I am very concerned about this. The British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has stated the UK will open up and lift all Covid-19 restrictions from 21 June, which includes festivals and large events. I just hope there will not be an epidemic of people going across the Border. I have recently spoken to people in the area, including sports people who play a bit of golf and everything else, and they have already arranged to play golf in the North. It is very important for us all to work together.
Last November, there was talk of a cross-departmental stakeholders forum. It seems to be all just talk. I was hoping the Minister and all the groups would get together. Is there any update on that situation? I am very concerned. I know the Government keeps claiming the vaccine is coming. It is something we will need to look at.
I want to talk about the grant money that was recently announced. In November 2020, there was a €5 million allocation for live performance supports. Two weeks ago, the Government gave a further €50 million. I have spoken to many artists. Is that money being distributed fairly? I know there is a very high criterion to qualify for that. Is the person on the street who is doing the hard grafting getting any of that €50 million? Having spoken to a few of them, I do not believe they are. That is one of my major concerns.
I know many commercial companies are getting the wage subsidy and individuals qualify for the pandemic unemployment payment. However, I am really concerned about the artists. I have spoken to some of them who are doing online courses and are going away from the game. Ireland has a great name for entertainment and especially live entertainment. I would hate to see our people going. I believe the buzzword in future will be outdoor because I cannot see much happening indoors. Are there any plans for live entertainment in the summer? I know tickets are being sold for concerts.
My main concerns relate to the North reopening on 21 June and whether the money the Government is giving is going to the right people.
Mr. Liam Fitzgerald:
I thank the Deputy for his questions. Regarding the distribution, I believe the Deputy is mainly talking about the LPSS. We certainly felt the LPSS was a very successful scheme. In fairness, the previous scheme was a pilot with limited resources. The new scheme is ten times bigger. Some people did not get to apply the last time which was due to its size and scale. We felt that what was given out was very effectively used. Hundreds of hours of work were given to technical staff and artists. We expect that to be ten times bigger this time.
Mr. Victor Finn:
As Mr. Fitzgerald just said, the previous scheme was just a pilot. I repeat what I said already. It is important it is perceived to be fair and that everybody who is entitled to receive support from the scheme has a fair chance of getting it. That perception needs to be reflected in practice. It also needs to be available across the board to all genres. I reiterate what I said that it needs to involve a simple application process without undue bureaucracy.
Mr. Robbie Kitt:
I apologise. I had some technical difficulties the last time I was called. I want to respond to the concerns about people travelling to the North. I believe that is a very valid concern and it emphasises why we need this roadmap for reopening as another part of mitigating the effect of the virus. It should be regarded as a priority because things are starting to happen up North. From our conversations with operators up there, there are plans to have full festivals operating by September of this year. Tickets are already on sale for those types of events. This is a concern.
As the Deputy has said, outdoor events are the priority here. Sports and outdoor exercise activities are already seen as necessary for people's mental health. In the same way, it could be said that entertainment and cultural activity outdoors that are properly organised could be just as safe. I agree with the Deputy on that. Regarding the concern about people travelling up North, people are desperate to socialise. This is something that is coming down the tracks and needs to be addressed.
I thank all the witnesses for attending the session. I also wish Pauline O'Neill all the best in her future position.
Most of the questions have already been asked. What needs to happen now on the copyright legislation? The opening statement indicated that IMRO supports educational workshops. Do people in the sector have any specific training needs as we come out of the pandemic? Is consideration being given to drive-in concerts and drive-in cinemas? How do the witnesses feel that pre-event testing would work here? I agree with some of my colleagues' suggestions. We have a bit of a problem with the British opening up in June, which means that highly skilled workers who need to feed their families will just go. That is a major problem.
I have a question for the representative of Give Us The Night. Should there be a central insurance regulator? How should local authorities engage with cultural communities regarding outdoor spaces and, obviously, trading hours?
Mr. Victor Finn:
The next milestone on the copyright directive is the implementation deadline of 7 June 2021.
If Ireland does not implement by that date, we run the danger of fines from the European Commission. It is imperative, therefore, that we get legislation in place by 7 June and that, as I said, it does not dilute in any way the spirit and text of the directive as it stands. I will hand over to Mr. Johnson, my colleague, on education initiatives he may have on the future.
EPIC is probably in a better position to comment on the point on pre-event testing, but it sounds to me that pre-event testing could be problematic in terms of the time it would take to do pre-tests. However, I think that is better left to the health authorities and the concert organisers and should be an item that is dealt with by a stakeholder group, as I said in my opening statement.
Mr. Sunil Sharpe:
There were a couple of things there. It is my view that we should try to nationalise insurance. Having a central insurance regulator has to be the way forward. We talk a lot about entertainment spaces. I refer to anywhere that will open at night and involve dancing. I mentioned this earlier, and even Noel Anderson mentioned it last week. The reason he got out of the late-night game was that his premium went from €7,000 to €49,000 or something like that in a very short number of years. We argue a lot about the licensing costs, but the insurance costs are an even bigger issue for a lot of venues. That has to be sorted out and venues have to be part of that conversation.
As for pre-event testing, we have seen a number of examples from abroad that have been forensic in their analysis, including their post-event analysis. We can learn from those experiences and be ready to make a couple of mistakes here and there as well. It is not all going to run perfectly at the first attempt. One thing about pre-event testing is that it is not the most pleasant of experiences for people. Also, the price for it would need to be worked out. It might work for larger events, but how will that work for our weekly venue circuit, regular events or even venues one does not pay into? Who will pay for it? Can it be subsidised in some way? Will we need to put in very large orders in order to bring the price of that down around the country? These are all questions to be asked, but I hope that conversation will start and gather momentum soon.
Ms Kim O'Callaghan:
I thank Deputy Mythen for his questions. There were a lot of them. The key point to get across is that the health and safety of the public is always at the forefront of everything we do. A major issue for us, which has already been raised, has been the requirement to implement a working group with experienced personnel within the industry who can sit down and look clearly at what the requirements are in working with the HSE and all the relevant authorities. The HSE and the Garda will need to work with all the stakeholders that will look internationally at what is happening and look at all the experience we have. We have some of the top-level people worldwide within the industry in Ireland, and we need to take that into account. From where we are sitting, we have no mile markers or roadmap. If we could urgently get this working group in place, we could sit down and start addressing all the ideas that have been raised and all the topics and options. We will always keep the health and safety of the public at the forefront of everything we do.
I thank everybody for their presentations. I was struck, when my colleague, Senator Cassells, started talking about the vibrant nightlife in Navan, by how fortunate I am to be from Gorey, where we have a great night-time economy. It is exactly as the Senator said: it is only when we lose it and do not see it that we appreciate how much we have missed.
Many of the issues have been touched on, but one point, on which some of the witnesses might respond, is that when we recover from all this we will have to look at brand Ireland. We really appreciate how important our cultural identity is, and I think our nightlife and music will play a big part in that. What should we be doing to build that brand? We talked about the licensing laws. How can we be seen as the global venue for the night-time economy? Do the witnesses have specific thoughts on that? I am conscious that the skills shortage issue was mentioned. Are there specific areas in our education and training systems where we need to address the skills shortages and look at specific programmes as to where the industry is developing?
I have a very specific question for Mr. Finn. I agree with him on the copyright directive. As to how musicians and artists can generate income, has he given much thought to the growth area of non-fungible tokens, NFTs, and does he feel that will be a way for musicians and artists to generate more income?
I was struck by what Mr. Sharpe said about learning from experiences and we will make mistakes and so on. Given the outdoor and indoor events that have taken place in Barcelona and Israel, what are the lessons from those for us?
Mr. Victor Finn:
I will deal with just the NFTs because the other questions, I think, are for the live events representatives. NFTs are a really interesting development in the digital delivery of any creative assets. We are examining internally how NFTs could be extended to the IMRO membership and how we could facilitate that for members who want to use this really new technology to deliver value. Initially, it looks like it could have potential for protecting creative works in the online environment and could be a very seamless and transparent way of receiving payment. As the Senator will be aware, it is a very hot topic at the moment and still very new, but we are looking at it. I thank the Senator for the question.
Mr. Sunil Sharpe:
I thank Senator Byrne for the questions. As to how we change brand Ireland, we just need to get more of our creative communities properly involved, allow promoters and collectives to become more involved, give them access to spaces, give them venues and make them part of the team. They cannot always be on the outside. Of course, when they are a success we look to claim them as successful artists and musicians, quite often when they have left the country. In addition, we need to empower younger people, particularly the working classes. There is more and more of a divide and it is widening all the time. What we saw a lot last year was that the blame was levelled at many younger people, whether at house parties or congregating outdoors. Rather than trying to help them, we try to blame them. The thing is that many of those people are the creative future of our country. We really need to be serious about that and recognise it, rather than try to brush problems under the carpet. We need to involve everyone. A lot of the cultural richness of so many countries, including our own, comes from the working classes and from areas where many people live in poverty. They tell it how it is from the streets, from their areas. We really need to be serious about that and not push perhaps just one or two success stories but really get serious on a local level and ask them what they want and what kinds of spaces they want and not just supply what suits us. When I say "us", I mean those in authority, whether local authorities or older generations. We need to listen. Finally, on that, it is one thing being a little older and being young-minded as well. Older generations need to remember what it was like to be young to help support our younger communities and our creative forces of the future.
Ms Kim O'Callaghan:
I will try to sum up quickly. We have done such a phenomenal job to date with brand Ireland. Recent statistics from prior to Covid show that over 500,000 people have travelled into Ireland for events. It is huge internationally to be getting those people coming into the country. It is essential to maintain that going forward with a view to improvements. More can obviously be done but, again, it comes back to the point that we need to move forward now. It has been over 12 months. There is no roadmap and no milestones. We need to start planning so that, internationally, people can start planning to come to Ireland to see the phenomenal events we put on.
I am going to fly through my questions because we could spend hours talking about this fascinating subject. I thank each of the witnesses for the work they do every day to support our cultural and creative economy and I thank them for joining us today.
I agree with expanding the night-time economy and with every word of what Mr. Sharpe said five minutes ago. We urgently need to look at this. Thankfully, the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, and others in Cabinet are now taking this challenge very seriously. We promote ourselves worldwide, quite rightly, as one of the world's leading lights and as a beacon of cultural creativity and fun due to our famous - or infamous, whichever way one looks at it - craic. All of that stops at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., 365 days of the year. That has never made sense to me. In European cities such as Brussels, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and so on, people are allowed the liberty and freedom of engaging in cultural creativity and cultural activity 24-7, which is the way it should be. Let us make that happen to ensure we can see the kind of new ideas and new innovation emerging from people whose function it is to create new ideas and innovation.
Mr. Fitzgerald referred to supplier SMEs. I have consistently made the case to the Tánaiste and the Minister of State, Deputy English, that there is one final cohort of people within this sector that has not been supported. I have been advised very well by the Music & Entertainment Association of Ireland, which has been an excellent advocate for those people, including our musicians and suppliers, who are yet to receive some sort of compensation for their accumulating costs and lack of income. Hopefully, we will see something emerging on that issue quite soon.
I have a few quick questions for IMRO. Again, this is an issue we could discuss for hours. In a world where content creators have a direct line to content consumers and record labels are no longer a necessary intermediary between the two, has any country successfully created an independent streaming platform for its own content creators that effectively channels revenue and income directly to the songwriters who create the content? Has anybody done that successfully and if so, is that something we can emulate? What are the most pressing and necessary reforms of Ireland's copyright legislation that would yield direct and immediate benefits for our songwriters right now? How IMRO charges venues must be examined. The Valuation Office recently re-examined how it approaches the valuation proposition for venues up and down the country. Rather than basing the valuation on a very primitive and, frankly, inaccurate measure of square metres or square footage, it will now base it on the income or turnover of each venue, which is much more fair and sustainable. Those are my questions for IMRO.
I have one question for EPIC. The entertainment sector is now receiving significant funding. How do we ensure that a very large part of that funding trickles down to the content creators, including the musicians and actors who grace the stage and the playwrights who make amazing things happen? How do we ensure that all the supports that have been put in place by the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, who has done an excellent job, trickle down eventually to the people who make things happen in the first place?
Mr. Victor Finn:
First, streaming platforms tend, in the main, to be private or public companies. They do not tend to be run on a national basis. However, if the Deputy is talking about streaming and audiovisual video on demand services, one of the most successful global services is the BBC iPlayer. We should be providing RTÉ with the investment to develop its own online presence to a much greater degree, including a global presence. It could be a portal for Irish culture and creative content. We are missing a huge opportunity, although in fairness to RTÉ it needs funding to do that. That would be a real window to the world for Irish creativity and it is an opportunity we are currently missing.
I am very interested in the valuation proposition. We are always looking for simpler ways to apply our licensing. Believe me, we want the simplest way possible to apply a reasonable and fair tariff to all our customers who use music in whatever way they do. We would be very interested if the valuation proposal were published or made available to interested parties in order that we could rely on that valuation. I thank the Deputy for bringing that to our attention.
The most pressing copyright reform needed is in the context of the copyright directive. We need to get real value from the online environment and from the very large tech companies that have built huge global businesses on the back of creativity. The creative sector simply has not shared in that large revenue stream.
Mr. Liam Fitzgerald:
I will try my best. With regard to the LPSS, as I said, the pilot seemed to have a lot of success before Christmas and quite a few hundred artists were involved in the various types. Hopefully there will be more rounds of the scheme but the way this particular round of it can be best implemented in terms of spreading the love, so to speak, is to embrace as many different types of entertainment as possible within it. Many sectors managed to move quite quickly the last time. Live music was quite well represented but other sectors of entertainment and art did not get off the mark quite as quickly and areas like electronic dance music and so on were not represented the last time. We will probably see more submissions on the likes of that this time. Opening it to as many different facets of the industry as possible will be the key to getting as much of the funding to trickle down to as wide a footprint as possible.
I thank the Chairman and pay tribute to her own role in this because I know she takes a very keen interest and is concerned for many of the artists up and down the country. I do not want Mr. Fitzgerald, Mr. Finn or Mr. Sharpe to take what I am going to say as criticism because it is not. As the Chairman said, I have much experience from radio, some TV work and promoting artists in the past. I have a fair bit of experience. It is sometimes interesting to sit back and listen to a debate and the one thing I felt was coming through today was talk of revitalising the businesses, theatres and outdoor venues. However, the reality for the majority of musicians is that their working environment is in pubs and function rooms. While that was briefly mentioned, little was said about it. That is the backbone of much of the revenue that comes out of this business. Mr. Finn and others have made very important points but IMRO collects royalties and I would like to see more input from musicians and bands.
Deputy Cannon and others have mentioned that the money is not trickling down to some of our smaller artists. Many performers, engineers and musicians are not in a good situation financially. Those people do not really get anything out of royalties because royalties go to composers and arrangers. Roosky is a small village not far from where I live. If a local singer in Roosky performs "Sweet Caroline", for example, and submits his live playlist, it will be Neil Diamond who gets the royalty and not the performer.
Perhaps today is not the day to discuss it, but some day I would like to hear Mr. Finn explain the royalty process for both recorded and live performances because we have to look at all of these issues now due to what Covid has done. We must look at things completely differently.
I do not wish to take from the good contributions that have been made here and the good work that has been done. In many respects the Minister has given support. Mr. Finn was involved in distributing a grant for IMRO previously. First Music Contact, FMC, distributed the grant. Is there any intention to deliver another form of that grant? Is that possible? I would welcome his comments on that.
In general, it has been a good debate and discussion. I would like to see more engagement with the musicians on the ground. Let us not forget that while it is important to talk about theatres, it is also important to talk about live music, which will be very important because of Covid. I believe Covid will be here for a long time. We must address the issue of where the bulk of the musicians are coming from and their work environment, which is the pub and other places such as ballrooms. It is a huge factor financially on all of those.
Mr. Victor Finn:
I thank Senator Murphy for his comments. I want to be clear: IMRO only represents songwriters and the owners of the underlying copyright. We do not represent artists unless it is in their capacity as a songwriter. Anything IMRO collects relates to the royalties from writing and composing the song. That is the first thing. There are other organisations which manage artists' royalties such as Recording Artists Actors Performers, RAAP, and artists also receive income from record labels. If they have a record label, they receive artists' royalties from it also.
We announced an emergency fund for the music industry that we funded in partnership with the record industry and Spotify also contributed. It was open to other contributions as well. It was administered by FMC at the time. Unfortunately, we only had a limited amount of funds available to put into that. It was limited to €750 at the time. As I explained earlier, our income has suffered hugely. We have had to be very careful in terms of what we spend on members' royalties going forward also. I hope I have answered the questions.
Mr. Sunil Sharpe:
Yes, absolutely. It is a subject very close to my heart and to our campaign. In terms of pubs and ballrooms, pubs are the long-term home of music of any existing industry that we have at the moment so they must be part of this conversation. The next conversation that needs to open is how we develop a new strategy for music, recognising traditional music, modern music, and everything in between. We have a rich musical heritage in Ireland, and we need to celebrate it, from the past into the future. In our campaign we look back to the dance hall era. We are inspired by the showband era because it shows what one can do by opening up a whole country to musicians. We should have a venue circuit with a register because we do not have enough. So many venues have shut, but we have many existing spaces, including pubs. As Senator Murphy said, there are function rooms. We know that many spaces are now being used for weddings and there are many spaces we would love to get our hands on for events but we must look at what we have. We have arts centres, theatres, and pubs, and many of them do not have enough business and they need to be used as music spaces. Music is mentioned less and less. It is part of the arts, but it needs its own recognition. It falls through the cracks. I do not know if Senator Murphy looked at the rural report yesterday. Did he see how many times music was mentioned in that? It was mentioned once in 128 pages. The only time it was mentioned was in terms of the tourism strategy. I am with Senator Murphy on that. We need more spaces and we need to put the spaces that we have to better use, and we need to reimagine other spaces. Hopefully, one day we might even build venues again. I am with Senator Murphy on all of that. Music has to be part of culture.
Ms Kim O'Callaghan:
I thank Senator Murphy for the question and for referencing the artists. I assure him that all levels of artist are always at the forefront of everything we are looking at as well. We completely understand and appreciate the importance of small clubs in fostering the next generation of talent. My own sister is a musician and I am very aware of what is involved as I watch her create her career. I have very close friends who are musicians. We are by no means just looking at a certain area of the industry. We are very conscious across the board.
In EPIC we have included within our working group members of the live venue collective. They are on the committee with us and we get feedback from them on trying to address the lack of venues across the entire country. They represent venues all around the country and not just in Dublin. We are very keen on looking at all levels and we did not mean it to come across that they are being excluded in any way because they are definitely not.
I thank Ms O'Callaghan very much. That draws the slot to a conclusion. I thank Senator Murphy. We can certainly feel his passion and experience in his contribution.
I also have Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh online. He wants to speak with the witnesses and hear from them today. I am sorry. We thought we had Deputy Ó Snodaigh, but we do not.
The final speaking slot falls to me. I begin by thanking all of our contributors here today. Their passion for what they do and who they represent is palpable. Having listened to the debate and discussion, I acknowledge that many pubs, ballrooms at the back of hotels and nightclubs seemed to come to the end of their era before Covid ever happened. The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, recently made a major announcement on the regeneration of towns, villages and city centres around the country through the urban regeneration and development fund. That money is going directly to local authorities. Cavan County Council, for example, has received more than €14 million for the Abbeylands project and Monaghan County Council has received more than €30 million for its Dublin Street project. From what I have heard today and from what I know, the music industry and the night-time economy should be playing a big part in regeneration, opening up the main streets and reimagining and repurposing towns and cities right across the country. Perhaps I am overstating it, but I get a sense from what Mr. Sharpe said today that there is a further opportunity and platform for an input from the night-time economy and businesses in the entertainment sector to make to local authorities in reimagining town cores.
I invite all the organisations - Ms O'Callaghan, Mr. Kitt and Mr. Johnson - to wrap up and sum up everything we have discussed today. I call on the witnesses to focus their ask into three tangible measures that the committee could recommend to the Government in its report to reignite, reimagine and repurpose towns and villages to bring about the reopening of pubs and clubs, many of which have really gone out on a limb in terms of the massive mortgages they have taken out to keep them open. I know from business people that it takes constant reinvestment to do that, to keep young people on the streets and to open up the night-time economy. I seek three tangible measures that we could ask of the Government to ensure the reopening of the country and of towns and cities post Covid. I really want to get to the crux of the matter in terms of the responsibility of local authorities in all of this. I feel there is an element of them and us in the discussion and perhaps that has been the case traditionally. We must have a collective, cohesive response to all of this. From what has been said today, I think there is a real opportunity to do that. What more can we do with the investment that is being made in local authorities?
What are the three asks of each of the organisations in terms of what needs to be brought forward by Government to ensure the most positive reopening of the night-time economy, artists, musicians, pubs and clubs? I invite Mr. Finn to respond first.
Mr. Victor Finn:
In regard to the night-time economy, we need a more simplified licensing process and an easing of restrictions on closing. The second ask is more resources for local authorities to develop public spaces that they own as safe locations for entertainment to take place. For IMRO, the third ask is an update of the legislation on copyright.
Mr. Sunil Sharpe:
First, we need to protect spaces and venues. Development is going to happen very quickly and we are going to lose many more spaces. We need a cultural clause to guide developers. We need to ensure that within all of the development currently under way there will be cultural spaces. It is not good enough to allow developers to do what they like with these spaces. They are privileged to be given the opportunity to take over vast swathes of our cities and towns and they must provided something in the way of cultural amenities. That is top of the list.
Second, we need flexibility in terms of regulations. There needs to be a transparent online system for licensing and permits that is quicker and ensures everybody knows what is going on. Ultimately, that will be cheaper as well.
Third, we need to be inclusive of all creative communities and provide the necessary supports. As I said earlier, it is important that all in the sector, including those in entertainment, culture and hospitality, are listened to.
Mr. Liam Fitzgerald:
We need the expert group established as soon as possible. We need SME supports and we need event insurance guarantee schemes such as those coming across the line in Holland and Denmark. If I could sneak in a fourth ask, there is need for support from local authorities and State agencies such as An Garda Síochána and the HSE in terms of developing, with the expert group, the protocols and making the planning processes as efficient as possible for the next year at least, if not longer.
Mr. Keith Johnson:
I agree with previous speakers' comments regarding additional supports. We need long-term support for music education in general. Professional development is critical for us longer term. The issues around brain drain and professionals going overseas were mentioned earlier. We want to avoid that. We want to ensure that the next round of professionals coming through are world-class.
Mr. Robbie Kitt:
There is no way to transplant a successful cultural community. It is all about building up the sector. The small incubator venues are important to the health system of the entertainment industry. As mentioned in terms of the damage that has been done and compounded by the pandemic, historically social activity has been categorised in the past by its anti-social qualities. It is important that into the future its importance in terms of our psychological lives is recognised. As important as lockdown measures have been in terms of controlling the virus, I do not think anybody has experienced as much anti-social experience as we all have over the last few years. Going forward, we need to re-frame out entertainment activity in more positive terms.
Ms Kim O'Callaghan:
Mr. Fitzgerald hit the nail on the head in terms of the three asks for EPIC, namely, the expert working group, the additional SME supports and the events insurance guarantee scheme. We need to be forward-looking in rebuilding the sector. That is our objective. As an industry, we work extremely well and we are very creative. We want to continue to do that going forward. We are seeing shining lights of hope internationally as events are starting to happen. In terms of the industry as a whole and the public, everybody wants to get back out there and to have the events that we have all come to know and love so well.
I thank Mr. Finn, Mr. Sharpe and Mr. Fitzgerald for their very passionate representation on behalf of IMRO, EPIC and Give Us the Night. I also thank Mr. Kitt and Ms O'Callaghan for attending and I thank members for their insightful questioning. We have a great deal of information to assist us in putting together a comprehensive report on the sector. I again thank the witnesses for their attendance. This meeting has been most helpful. I hope they share that view.