Dáil debates

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Covid-19 (Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht): Statements


8:20 pm

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)

The Deputy touched briefly on culture there and obviously my Department is working very closely with all art organisations and with the Arts Council in particular to determine how we can support the sector overall. Obviously, the collective national impact of increasing access will have to be assessed and not just the safety of the individual cultural outlets. We must consider the audiences as well as the participants. This sector was one of the first to be hit and will be one of the last to get back on track. Under the road map, national museums and galleries are not due to reopen until 20 July and theatres are not due to reopen until 10 August, all things being equal.

The key word here is engagement and I and officials in my Department are in constant engagement with the sector. An expert advisory group was set up a short while ago and is due to report back in a few weeks. The group will give advice to the Arts Council on how to move forward. The Arts Council has carried out a number of different surveys in an attempt to get more information on how it can help and how people themselves feel they can be helped.

In terms of the approach in the road map, the criteria that must be taken into account include whether an activity or event is safe in terms of public health and whether it is rational in terms of its social and economic benefits. We must also consider whether the decision is evidence informed. In that context, we must use all of the data and research available to guide our thinking. Another consideration is whether it is fair, ethical and respects human dignity and whether it is open and transparent. Decisions must be clear and well communicated. Obviously we must also consider the whole of society, based on the concept of solidarity and supporting cohesion as we exit the lockdown over time. These are all extremely important considerations, as are research actions being carried out by the Arts Council. The council is engaged in forecasting based on projected figures. It estimates a loss of €2.9 million in income per month. It has also conducted a survey of 165 organisations to identify the impact on audiences, a survey of artists as well as a survey of strategically funded organisations.

My Department has a number of shovel-ready heritage projects which we hope to roll out over the coming months to try to boost the sector. I agree with Deputy Farrell's comments, having worked in this Department which has a huge width and breadth.

In each part of each sector we need to come up with innovative approaches and to have, as the Deputy said, a sort of alignment with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and other Departments, particularly around tourism. Heritage is very closely interlinked with that and we want to have that alignment in terms of moving forward because Ireland can still showcase its wonderful heritage sites. We have some incredible UNESCO heritage sites in this country and we might have more applications, given the date for applications to become a world heritage site has been extended to March 2021 to allow local authorities to nominate other areas around the country. Some of these sites help in terms of enhancing tourism and attracting tourists to this country, and heritage is very closely linked with that. I completely agree with the Deputy on that point.

We have to be open throughout as to what we are doing, and we are fully transparent in everything we are trying to do. We are working on botanical attractions as well as presentation and improvement projects, and we are talking to Fáilte Ireland, Tourism Ireland and local chambers in terms of what we can do. I know the Heritage Council does a vast amount of work in this sphere and has undertaken a number of different surveys with a view to finding out what it can do to try to assist in the sector. There has been a huge loss of revenue from cafés and franchises. Even though the national parks and reserves have stayed open continuously, and indeed the National Parks and Wildlife Service rangers have been working 24-7 since Covid arrived, the cafés and visitor sites themselves are closed. The parks and reserves remained open not from a tourism perspective but purely from a public health perspective because, obviously, it is good for people's mental health to get out and about in the fresh air. However, we are conscious that we want to get this sector and those visitor sites back up and running. For example, Muckross Park had to close completely and there will be a loss of revenue in that regard. While all 86 outdoor spaces have remained open, many seasonal jobs have been lost and we must also consider the situation of franchises and businesses like bicycle hire, small local enterprise offices and so on. We also had to close Glenveagh Castle, the archaeological sector will be quite badly affected and will have a real downturn, and there has also been huge damage to sole traders.

One positive is that under the national development plan and Project Ireland 2040, some €300 million is going into built heritage and natural heritage over the next period. That will give a boost although, again, we can have the infrastructure but not the people in it, so it only goes so far.


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