Thursday, 18 February 2021
Covid-19 (Enterprise, Trade and Employment): Statements
Michael Lowry (Tipperary, Independent)
I would like to leave some of my four minutes so that the Tánaiste can reply. The harsh impact of Covid-19 will not vanish when we finally suppress the virus. The landscape of our lives will be forever altered by the pandemic. Not everyone will win the battle for survival and there will be casualties.
Local newspapers have been hit badly by events. The economic downturn in 2008 was the first blow, followed by advertisers switching their budgets to online platforms. Within two years, 16 local newspapers were forced to close. Newspaper titles across the country have been swallowed up in a form of centralised ownership, which has led to rationalisation. Staff have been temporarily laid off for extended periods. Others have been placed on reduced time. Those who continue to work are doing so under severe pressure as they strive to maintain quality. We must appreciate the importance of professional journalism.
Local newspapers are caught in a vicious cycle. Their primary source of income from advertising is rapidly drying up, their readership is dwindling because sports and local events are not happening, and they are struggling to hold their place against the growing popularity of the tech giants, which have increased their hold on people during the pandemic. Local radio, which provides a similar service to communities across the country, has been allocated €5 million to support Covid coverage. Local newspapers have received no direct support. They have been excluded from valuable Government Covid campaigns despite the knowledge that local newspapers are the news source of choice for the older population.
Newspapers are facing the greatest deadline in the history of print media. They need urgent financial support, but any support granted should not be used to bolster the coffers of the media corporations. It should be linked to editorial investment. It must be directed towards maintaining the position of journalists and staff. It is the staff who bring the news and the stories to the public and they need and deserve recognition. They need practical financial support to protect their futures. Without support, one of our greatest and proudest local services will disappear. I am asking for Government intervention. We cannot allow the provincial printing presses to stop.
I hope that, with the vaccination roll-out, we will be in a better position in August and September. As we all know, the tourism industry is on its knees and will not survive on staycations alone. Many in the sector have told me that staycations will not allow them to sustain their businesses for the year. Have discussions taken place on the possibility of introducing a Europe-wide Covid immunisation document, in other words, a vaccination passport? This should be considered for later in the year to help our tourism industry.