Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 14 July 2021
Select Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport And Media
Estimates for Public Services 2021
Vote 33 - Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media (Further Revised)
Apologies have been received from Deputies Ciarán Cannon, Alan Dillon and Christopher O'Sullivan. I take this opportunity to congratulate Deputy Dillon and his wife on the birth of their new baby. It is nice to hear some good news in Leinster House. The meeting has been convened to consider Revised Estimates for Public Service 2021: Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media - Vote 33 - programme areas A, B, D and E, which were referred to the select committee by Dáil Éireann. I welcome the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media and the Minister of State and their officials and thank them for their briefing document provided to us prior to the meeting. The opening statements and any other documents submitted to the committee may be published on the committee website after this meeting.
As the Minister and Minister of State are present, officials should not speak in public session. I remind members of the constitutional requirements that they must be physically present within the confines of Leinster House or the convention centre to attend today's public meeting. I cannot permit a member to attend when he or she does not adhere to that constitutional requirement. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I ask members to identify themselves when contributing to the debate for Debates Office staff preparing the Official Report so I ask members to mute their microphone when not contributing to reduce background noise and feedback. I also ask members to use their raise their hand button when they wish to contribute and remind all those present to ensure their mobile phones are in silent mode or better again, switched off.
To commence our discussion, I invite the Minister to make her presentation. We will suspend the meeting while we try to resolve a technical issue.
Cuirim fáilte mhór roimh an deis labhairt leis an Roghchoiste um Thurasóireacht, Cultúr, na hEalaíona, Spórt agus na Meáin agus Meastachán Athbhreithnithe breise €1.092 billiún do 2021 á mheas le haghaidh Vóta 33 do réimsí clár A, B, D agus E. Táim an-sásta glacadh leis an seans chun sonraí a sholáthar faoi na bearta suntasacha a n-éascaíonn an maoiniú méadaithe seo chun na hearnálacha a bhfuil freagracht orm ina leith a thacú agus a neartú. Cuireann sé áthas orm deis a fháil labhairt leis an gcoiste maidir le príomh-thosaíochtaí mo Roinne agus an fhís a leagan amach do na hearnálacha luachmhara fairsinge seo. Cuireann na hearnálacha seo go mór le geilleagar na tíre, agus tacaíonn siad le folláine an duine aonar agus an pobal ar fud na hÉireann chomh maith.
The diverse range of sectors served by my Department have been among those most severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Employing many hundreds of thousands right across the country, these are the sectors that thrive when people congregate to enjoy time together and when local communities and businesses flourish. All of them, however, have been dreadfully impacted by the restrictions imposed on our society during the pandemic.
Large parts of these sectors will be among the last to return to full operations as the country reopens. Our cultural institutions and theatres, tourism destinations, hospitality businesses, sporting occasions, Gaeltacht communities and local media have endured great challenges since March of last year, yet these are the very sectors that have brought us light through the dark times and it has been demonstrated that without question, they are essential for our physical, social and mental well-being.
I am deeply conscious of the effects that measures taken in the interests of public health have had on businesses, in particular the hundreds of thousands of workers whose ability to make a living has been excruciatingly curtailed and for so long. We should also recognise that these tough decisions have enabled all of us through collective action to protect the most vulnerable in our society and with the ongoing roll-out of the vaccination programme, we now find ourselves positioned where we can start to move on from the pandemic and focus our efforts on economic and social recovery. Over the coming months, as the restrictions continue to ease and the vaccine programme continues its roll-out, we will see the safe and successful reopening of our society and with it, our tourism sector, arts and culture venues and events and the eventual welcoming back of fans to our sports grounds.
The 2021 Further Revised Estimates for my Department have been informed by ongoing engagement with sectoral representatives. The additional funding is providing for a strong suite of significant measures as a robust and targeted response to this crisis. It it will support resilience and recovery and ensure that Ireland can prosper once more on the global stage in the fields of tourism, culture, sport and linguistic heritage. These sectors, individually and cumulatively, are an integral part of the fabric of our society, most particularly in rural and regional areas where they support economic activity and physical and societal well-being. Well-being is a core principle underpinning the living with Covid plan and it will be fundamental to public confidence and resilience as we emerge from and manage the crisis over the longer term.
Total 2021 funding for the sectors supported by my Department is as follows. There will be €220.9 million for tourism services, including a €55 million support fund for strategic tourism businesses and €5 million for training and digitalisation support in the sector. These measures are complementary to the employment wage subsidy scheme, the Covid restrictions support schemes and the restart scheme. Thus far, three phases of the tourism business continuity schemes have been launched aimed at improving the competitiveness and viability of businesses in the sector. I also launched a €17 million outdoor dining enhancement scheme being delivered in partnership between Fáilte Ireland and local authorities across the country. This scheme is providing funding for tourism and hospitality business to develop and increase their own outdoor seating capacity and is providing funding to local authorities to develop permanent outdoor public dining spaces in towns and urban centres similar to those that exist in various European cities. In addition, the tourism sector has been able to avail of cross-Government supports, including the reduction in the VAT rate, which was recently extended to September 2022; the Covid restrictions support scheme and the rates waiver extension, representing a significant cross-Government response to the existential impact of Covid-19.
Total funding for the arts and culture sector in 2021 is €341 million, an increase of 74% compared with the initial allocation in budget 2020. The additional funding provides for a 2021 allocation of €130 million for the Arts Council, an increase of 24% on 2020. This additional investment empowers the Arts Council to help artists, arts workers and arts organisations come through this crisis and play their part in the national recovery. Significant support is also being provided for live entertainment in the amount of €50 million. This funding has allowed for €25 million to fund a new live performance support scheme, €14 million for a new support scheme for live entertainment businesses, €5 million to support local authorities for outdoor live performances, €5 million capital supports for the live entertainment sector and €1 million to fund the St. Patrick's Festival.
There is provision for €8 million to facilitate the transfer of the National Symphony Orchestra to the National Concert Hall. This will be a significant step towards the objective of enabling the orchestra to be established as a world-class orchestra that will, with the National Concert Hall, provide a creative and imaginative programme strategy that will greatly enhance the offering of the combined organisation to the public.
The audiovisual industry was been one of the success stories of 2020, with on-screen success in the form of "Normal People" but also its track record in maintaining output in the face of Covid-19. I am, therefore, very pleased to be able to increase Screen Ireland’s funding by €6 million to €30.1 million in 2021. Funding of €280.5 million will be provided for media and broadcasting in 2021 in recognition of the critical communication role of this sector during the current crisis. An additional €3.5 million is being provided to TG4 and the transfer of the National Symphony Orchestra to the National Concert Hall outlined earlier will also have reciprocal benefits for RTÉ and is evidence of the synergies that can be brought to bear with the culture and broadcasting and media sectors now part of the same brief.
I am satisfied the increased allocation for my Department in 2021 of €1.092 billion allows for the continuation and enhancement of its very diverse but critical work programmes. As Minister, I intend to do everything possible to ensure that as we emerge from the shadow of Covid-19, we will have a world-renowned tourism industry, a vibrant arts and culture sector, a dynamic sports and media sector and a landscape in which our language and our engagement with it can continue to grow. I thank the committee and I will now hand over to my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, to speak about the Further Revised Estimate for 2021 as it relates to sport.
Cuirim fáilte mhór roimh an deis labhairt leis an gcoiste maidir le meastacháin bhreise athbhreithnithe 2021 mar go mbaineann siad le réimse freagraí maidir le seirbhísí spóirt agus fóillíochta.
I am delighted to announce a 2021 provision of €170.4 million for sports and recreational services, including €104.5 million for Sport Ireland. Within this, the 2021 provision allows for a new round of the sports capital programme. In addition, resources have been provided in 2021 to progress the first projects allocated funding under the new large-scale sport infrastructure fund. Current funding support for Sport Ireland programmes totals €91.91 million, enabling Sport Ireland to ensure our athletes are supported to achieve their potential at the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, to ensure core grant funding for our sporting bodies to sustain them through the challenging months to come and to fund Sport Ireland participation programmes.
This is a very considerable investment in sport. The funding will allow grant funding for our sporting bodies to sustain them through this challenging period and I know clubs across the country have welcomed the sports capital programme, while the increase in dormant accounts funding will promote and sustain participation in sport and physical activity, particularly in hard to reach communities. The Minister and I will be happy to take any questions from members.
I thank the Minister and the Minister of State for their presentations. We will go through this by section and, as I alluded to earlier, there is no rota so members might indicate if they wish to speak on any of the sections. Programme A relates to tourism services.
The 2021 Estimates allocation for tourism services was €220 million, which could be broken down into €179 million in gross current expenditure and approximately €40 million in gross capital expenditure. There seems to be an increase of 20% over the allocation for tourism services last year, mainly spent in the tourism budget. How much additional funding did Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland get in 2021 in comparison with 2020? Will the Minister give a breakdown of where the additional 20% was spent?
I apologise for the interruption. Deputy Munster asked about additional funding and there is the €220.9 million for tourism services. For Fáilte Ireland there was €50 million extra and €5 million carried over. That was support for strategic tourism businesses, with €5 million for training and digitisation support for the sector.
I thank the Minister and the Minister of State for attending and for their presentations. The tourism gig is a tough one at the moment and it is a case of rather you than me. It is a very difficult time in tourism and the work being done by the Minister and Minister of State has an impact on hundreds of thousands of workers, families and households. I am sure they are under no illusion as to how important the job is and I wish them well with it.
To follow Deputy Munster's question, when international travel and tourism restarts in earnest, the market will be more competitive than ever. There will be an additional requirement for support for Tourism Ireland. I know the aviation sector is technically under the Department of Transport but the relationship between it and the Minister's sector is very important.
Is there a plan to increase supports for co-operative marketing, etc., to try to establish new routes, to support routes and to re-establish existing routes?
As the Deputy has recognised, some of those issues are for my colleague, the Minister for Transport, to address. However, he rightly pointed out the importance of marketing the establishment of connectivity to make it very clear that Ireland has reopened. We are very much moving into that space from next week. Tourism Ireland launched a new €3.5 million promotional campaign on 7 June. Phase 1 of that involves a major digital video campaign, which went live from 7 June with the slogan, "Let's get back to Ireland". That is definitely the message we want. We hope that online video will build anticipation for holidays in Ireland this summer.
From my engagement with Tourism Ireland, it is quite clear that there is pent-up demand to come here and we are tapping into that. Tourism Ireland also hopes to launch the next phase of the campaign in the coming weeks in line with Government plans for the reopening of international travel. This will deliver a very clear "book now" message to prospective international visitors and will single-mindedly drive visitor numbers back to Ireland. It is clearly stated in the national economic recovery plan that supports will remain in place for sectors as they need them. We are acutely aware that more supports will be needed after the summer period.
I thank the Minister and the Minister of State for their presentations. The €50 million in extra supports for live performance announced in budget 2021 came under subhead B6. However, that subhead increased by just €38.2 million in the Revised Estimates for 2020-21. Where was the missing €11.8 million made up? Does this mean cuts of €11.8 million to the budget? Will it mean cuts to regional museums, galleries, cultural centres and projects or did the Department make an accounting error?
The €50 million in extra supports for live performance announced in budget 2021 came under subhead B6. However, that subhead increased by just €38.2 million in the Revised Estimates for 2020-21. How was the missing €11.8 million made up? Does this mean €11.8 million in cuts to the budget for regional museums, galleries, cultural centres and projects or did the Department make an error?
There is no accounting error. That €50 million was hard fought for and I can guarantee that no sector will receive any cuts. The focus is completely on extra funding and that is what was achieved in the budget. Unprecedented funding, for the first time, of €50 million for the events and commercial music sectors brought total funding of the Arts Council to €130 million. There is no accounting error.
There has been no formal feedback yet. I presume we will get it. The scheme has been very well received. One positive out of all this is that the reopening of outdoor dining and activity is reimagining our cities and many areas in rural Ireland, including those the Chair represents in the Cavan-Monaghan constituency. It is breathing life into our towns and villages, which is a positive. The only feedback I have received has been through personal interaction, where the scheme has been very well received.
We will move to questions from Deputies on programme B, which is arts and culture. I compliment the Minister on the significant investment in, and advancement of, the Arts Council, which was needed prior to the pandemic. Funding increased to a historic €130 million and that has been very useful and helpful to the Arts Council in supporting artists who have seen 15 or 18 months of their work schedule wiped out. For the future, I encourage the Minister to ensure that supports not only remain but are enhanced in any way possible for organisations like the Arts Council because the artists it is supporting have no other forms of income. It is their umbrella organisation, their peace and security, their stability and their future. It is critical that the Arts Council is supported by the highest possible financial means into the future. That is more a comment than a statement. I wanted to compliment the Minister on that.
Arts Council funding has made a significant difference in helping to sustain artists and organisations. I am very conscious of that as we move into budget 2022 negotiations. I thank the Deputy and Chair for their kind words. I am very aware of the difference the funding has made as I go into these negotiations.
As I have said, the film industry that has managed to do very well under awful circumstances. In budget 2021, Screen Ireland was allocated an additional €9 million over and above its 2020 allocation. This increased funding has helped to address significant levels of feature film production delay and will assist with costs relating to the implementation of health and safety protocols. Much of the groundwork for the success of the audiovisual sector in Ireland was laid in recent years, for example through the launch of the audiovisual action plan in 2018. The budget 2021 announcements addressed two key elements of that action plan: the regional film development uplift, which will see the enhanced tax credit of 5% in place for an additional year, and the announcement that work will now commence on the development of a tax credit for the digital gaming sector. Again, I am acutely aware, but it is no harm saying it on this platform, that this funding has made a difference. I am aware of that as I go into the budget negotiations. I place a high value on both sectors.
Given that the legislation required to transfer the National Symphony Orchestra from RTÉ to the National Concert Hall has not progressed, is the true figure for the national cultural institutions under subhead B5 €15 million, with €8 million of that set to be transferred to RTÉ to fund the orchestra?
Work is ongoing on the transfer of the orchestra. Money is safely ring-fenced to facilitate that and work is ongoing for the successful transfer, which we all wish to see. It was hugely significant and important to get that funding ring-fenced.
We have a working group with RTÉ, the National Concert Hall and the Department and will bring forward legislation. That money is safe and it is for that purpose and that purpose alone.
I thank the Deputy.
I want to come back to the sum of €50 million the Minister announced for live music entertainment. The live performance support scheme was recently announced. I spoke to the Minister about the live entertainment business scheme. All of that is very welcome and very much needed. We have had numerous eyewitness accounts from organisations that have come before us to talk about the devastation for them and the uncertainty as to when they will get back to work. The scheme is welcome.
Has the Department carried out any analysis on the spread of that nationally in terms of areas that were and were not successful? I am mindful of the fact that in more urban areas, there could be a tendency to have more applications. Has there been any analysis of an even geographical spread or any feedback on that?
There were criteria for applications to be deemed successful. A total of 237 applicants received funding under the €25 million scheme. That funding ranged from small to large venues, encompassed producers and promoters and supported live events in every county, including festivals, concerts, theatre productions, comedy and outdoor events. While there appears to have been talk of disappointment from certain counties, we would have to consider how many applications we actually received from them. Every county got a grant and we will keep that under review.
Similar to tourism, I am aware of the impact that social distancing has had on this industry and its viability. In the national economic recovery plan, it is stated that the industry will remain supported. If the Chair has any specific queries, I ask her to bring them to my attention offline and I will be happy to talk to her about them.
I thank the Minister. I want to compliment the Minister and the work she has done on having those events that have taken place outdoors. It has been great to see them. I did not get to attend anything yet but there have been concert events in the Phoenix Park and Kilmainham. I have listened to a lot of commentators and observations since that. Huge kudos to the Minister for getting trial events up and running.
The question will be whether it is sustainable financially in terms of the cost of running events like that and the extra layers of costs due to social distancing and health and other guidelines that have to be adhered to. Has the Department carried out any analysis of the sustainability and extra cost output that it will create for live events across the country if they are to proceed in that manner?
At the moment, these pilot events are essential as part of the roadmap to full reopening. For example, the event in Iveagh Gardens was the first ever event after a period of complete closure. Even that was about the logistics of entry and exit, managing social distancing and how we are living with Covid. Things started at that basic level. As the Chair can see, things are moving further and further. It is essential that we have these events.
A range of indoor and outdoor events are taking place across the country. Consideration is being given to further pilot events but the key factor in determining these events will be the need to generate data and the operational guidance to support the resumption of financially viable live performances. It is likely that live performance support scheme, LPSS, supported events may be considered for future pilot events in the coming weeks, as well as further events supported by the Arts Council.
Like the Chair and every member of the committee, we all want a return to an economically viable live performance as soon as possible. There are many reasons to be optimistic. The roll-out of the vaccination programme is the most important factor underpinning our hopes of what may be possible. This week at Cabinet, I notified my colleagues that I want further detailed advice on how we can get a return to live music at outdoor licensed premises and indoor licensed premises. I want that return to happen as soon as possible and notified my Cabinet colleagues of that. I am writing to seek that advice.
In terms of what it will take to reopen things safely, I want to know that and plan for and do it as soon as possible. Lead-in times are required. It is not as simple as pressing an on or off button and suddenly opening doors, as the Chair will know from her involvement in this sector. We are working on it.
I thank the Minister of State for joining us and for his presentation. I want to congratulate him on the progress he has made to date on a number of important issues, in particular the issue of ladies Gaelic players, as well as a number of other issues.
I want to ask about the new local round of sports capital funding. I am not sure how familiar the Minister of State is with the New Testament but the loaves and fishes come to mind when one considers the €200 million ask and the €40 million budget available. Given the level of funding and demand there is bound to be disappointment unless additional funding is secured for the programme. Is the Minister of State working on trying to secure additional funding? How is that looking? Is funding for the new round of sports capital allocations likely to be increased?
I thank Deputy Griffin and appreciate his remarks. As he said, we have had a record number of applications. Over 3,000 applications have sought over €200 million. As he said, the allocation currently apportioned is about €40 million. There are two parts to this process, as the Deputy knows from his previous role. There is the equipment-only part first, which we hope to process pretty quickly. We hope to announce equipment-only grants in the next couple of weeks. They are currently being finalised.
The sports capital or mixed applications we hope to have ready in mid to late autumn. Between now and then we will seek to increase funding to ensure delivery to many communities and have appropriate allocations that go above the €40 million figure. We will engage with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The national development plan process is ongoing and is due to conclude in quarter 3. Between our direct discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the national development plan, we will look to increase that beyond the €40 million allocation.
I thank the Minister of State. Following on from Deputy Griffin's analysis of the situation, we all know that capital grants are very important. Very often they involve all-weather pitches, which are invaluable in our climate. An increase in funding is needed. As the Minister of State is aware, these are very good projects. In my area, a new hockey pitch is being developed. There are some great hockey players in the area, who have played in all-Ireland competitions, have won medals and so forth. What is the possibility of there being an increase in funding?
I am confident the level of funding will increase. Obviously to what extent that will happen is still to be determined, as the Deputy knows. The dual process involves the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the national development plan.
Deputy Griffin was Minister of State previously. It obviously increased from the baseline closer to when the allocations were made. As Deputy Mythen said, there are many good projects across communities that need State backing. With a demand of €200 million and a current allocation of €40 million, we will be looking to increase that. We will be able to give certainty on that in the autumn, closer to when the allocations and announcements will be made. That will be mid to late autumn, so there is some time yet to work through that with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. However, the broader position of this Government on capital, as part of the recovery, is focused on regional employment, getting people back to work and promoting recovery. The capital is very important. Sports capital hits every community in every corner of the country and has positive regional employment benefits as well as long-term benefits around participation in sport. That has to be underpinned with backing, and we will be seeking to increase it beyond the €40 million baseline so more projects will be captured in the coming years.
There was €61 million in gross capital expenditure under the sport and recreation heading. I was going to ask if this was predominantly taken up with the sports allocation grants, but the Minister of State said there is €40 million for that. He also acknowledged that there is a record number of applications. As Deputy Griffin knows, there is a record number of applications year on year and many do not qualify. I am curious. The Minister of State said he intends to do it, but I would imagine he would have put a little more focus on it at this stage and be able to give us the figure, given that he already knows there is a record number of applications and the number of clubs and sporting organisations the length and breadth of the State that are waiting on this funding and, more importantly, depending on it.
There will be. The applications only closed in March, and we extended it to facilitate as many clubs as possible to apply. What we are doing currently is working through the equipment-only part of the application process. I am confident when that is announced the Deputy will see a very generous allocation on the equipment side. A massive amount of clubs across the country will benefit from that. That is one side of the scheme, and that will be positively responded to by both me and the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin.
On the sports capital side, we have had engagement and direct conversations with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and his Department on the sports capital allocation generally. As there are more than 3,000 applications, we are working through that assessment process. We have a broader national development plan review as well, which will set the trajectory of capital over the coming years. However, we are all on the one page as regards trying to back as many good projects across our communities as possible, and I am confident there will be a significant increase on the current baseline. That is obviously subject to finalisation through the NDP and ongoing discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, but these applications still have to be assessed. It will be mid to late autumn before we will be announcing anything anyway, so there is a little space. I am not going to mislead the committee and give a projected figure until that is finalised and decided. I will just say I am confident it will increase beyond the current baseline.
All my colleagues have made their contributions. I thank the Minister of State for his Trojan efforts to bring equality in male and female Gaelic games, his injection of funding towards that and his €4 million investment for women in sport funding as well. That is all very welcome and moving in the right direction. As a committee, we believe there is much more work to be done to bring about equality for women in sports. We look forward to working with the Minister of State on that in the future.
I will progress to programme E on broadcasting. Do members wish to comment on that section?
Okay. Could the Minister break down the funding under the licence fee? How much was collected in total once An Post was paid its collection fees? Could she give us a breakdown of how it was spent? How much was given to RTÉ, TG4 and the sound and vision fund?
I have a quick question for the Minister. Since 2017, the arts and culture budget was increased by €124.5 million while the Gaeltacht budget was only increased by €16.5 million in the same period. As a result, bodies such as Foras na Gaeilge and Údarás na Gaeltachta are being further disadvantaged compared to their English-language counterparts in culture promotion and regional development. Will the Minister attempt to address this inequality in future budgets?
I can respond briefly to that. The Estimates for the Gaeltacht are now taken by a separate committee chaired by the Deputy's colleague, Deputy Ó Snodaigh. We dealt with the Estimates for the Gaeltacht. We have a new strategy for Údarás na Gaeltachta and there were significant increases in funding for Údarás na Gaeltachta over the last 24 months, particularly in respect of the impact of Brexit and Covid-19. The new strategy for Údarás na Gaeltachta is about trying to give the prospect of regional employment for young people and backing enterprises across Gaeltacht areas. We can send the committee details on that. However, if one looks at the comparative breakdown, Údarás na Gaeltachta has received significant support. I outlined that in the Estimates process for that committee when I appeared before it in the last week or so.
As everybody has asked their questions, that concludes our consideration of programmes A, B, D and E of Vote 33 - Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media (Further Revised Estimates). I thank the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, and their officials for their assistance to the select committee.