Thursday, 14 May 2020
Covid-19 (Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht): Statements
I welcome this opportunity to update Deputies on the impact of Covid-19 on the arts and culture sector and my Department’s response. We have been confronted with a public health emergency and have sought to slow the spread of the virus and protect the health of our people, to do what is best and seek the common good. The public health measures have had an unprecedented impact on our cultural life. Going to a concert or theatre or visiting a museum are all vital to our well-being but this has been stopped as a result of Covid-19. This reduction in the access to culture has had an enormous effect on our artists, arts practitioners and all arts and cultural workers.
Over the past ten weeks, my Department has focused on contributing to the national effortby ensuring compliance with public health measures and support for the health and well-being initiatives. We have been engaging with all stakeholders, including our national cultural institutions, artists, arts and cultural organisations, to assess and measure the impacts of Covid-19 and we have brought forward measures to ensure the continuity of cultural services. Since the publication of the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business, we have been working with stakeholders to implement the roadmap and put in place all necessary public health measures to facilitate a gradual reopening of services to the public.
I want to focus today on the impacts of the crisis on the cultural sector. On 12 March, we took the necessary decision, on the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, to close our cultural institutions to the public and to advise that gatherings of people should be restricted and physical distancing rules observed. From that date, all performances were sharply curtailed and live production of films in Ireland ceased. On 24 March, we announced that all theatres, libraries and similar venues were to close and that all indoor and outdoor events of any size were not to take place. From that date, it has not been possible to undertake any cultural activity based on the collective gathering of people and many summer festivals that have been a fixture of our national life have been postponed or cancelled.
The impact of these public health measures has been unprecedented. Many of the challenges are being addressed through economy and society-wide income support and liquidity measures, and others through actions taken by my Department. The impact on the not-for-profit cultural sector has been severe. This sector includes Arts Council funded national organisations, theatres, cultural centres, festivals and performing groups, our national cultural institutions and individual artists and cultural workers. They are our national cultural infrastructure.
The largest cultural programme affected has been Galway 2020. I acknowledge the huge amount of work undertaken by the board and team at Galway 2020, artists, cultural workers and the whole community. Unfortunately, the programme has been necessarily scaled back. I have assured Galway 2020 that remaining funding from my Department for the European Capital of Culture will be made available for projects that can be completed later this year or early next year.
This pattern is reflected across the cultural sector. Successive surveys undertaken by the Arts Council show dramatic losses in audience numbers and box office receipts following cancellations and postponements. Some 19,000 days of paid work were lost by the end of April. We estimate that 2.4 million people lost out on artistic experiences and €6.4 million in estimated income will be lost by the end of May.
We are all aware that 1.1 million people’s incomes are now supported by the State, through the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, the temporary wage subsidy scheme or payments made to those on the live register. Statistics from The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection indicate that there were 14,000 people in the arts, entertainment and recreation sector receiving the pandemic unemployment payment at the start of May. To put that in context, in 2019, some 54,000 people, on average, were recorded as employed in this sector in the Central Statistics Office's labour force survey. Covid-19 has also impacted on those working in the audiovisual sector. There are currently almost 5,200 people previously employed in film and television production, sound recording and music publishing activities who are now receiving the PUP. This is a significant proportion of those employed in that sector, according to the CSO. Clearly, this Government measure is providing vital support to our artists, arts practitioners and those working in the audiovisual sector. As we are all aware, given the nature of cultural work, the employment status of cultural and audiovisual workers can be complex. The dedicated help desk my Department has established to answer all queries from cultural workers on the available supports has been providing valuable support and advice.
My Department has worked with the Arts Council, Screen Ireland and other stakeholders on measures to sustain our cultural infrastructure, support artists and arts practitioners and ensure the ongoing provision of cultural services. I made sure that we acted early in this regard. First, following a meeting I convened on 12 March with the Arts Council, the national cultural institutions and Screen Ireland, the Arts Council announced a series of immediate measures, including an undertaking to honour all funding commitments made to organisations and allow grantees to draw down up to 90% of their funding commitment. On 18 March, Screen Ireland announced a set of measures, including provision of 90% funding on all development loans, an extension of development production loans, the provision of additional marketing and distribution support for Irish television releases, and continuing support for skills development opportunities. To facilitate this, my Department advanced payment of the annual allocation to the Arts Council. These measures were taken to ensure grantees could continue to operate and meet their financial commitments, particularly to individual artists. The measures provided much needed support to arts and cultural organisations and, more importantly, those working in the sector.
Second, I announced measures on 3 April to enable artists and cultural workers to share their work through alternative channels. The new measures included the Arts Council’s Covid-19 crisis response award, and the Ireland Performs grant from Culture Ireland and Facebook Ireland. The Covid-19 crisis response award of €3,000 per grantee supports the creation and dissemination of new artistic work for the public benefit and was jointly funded by the Arts Council and my Department. I understand the council received over 900 applications, proving the scheme's extreme popularity. In fact, it was almost three times oversubscribed.
Ireland Performs provides each artist with a grant of €1,000 to enable the live presentation of his or her work on online platforms. As of last Friday, 75 artists have performed to audiences of approximately 450,000 worldwide. I acknowledge the extraordinary standard of performances under the programme, which have been uplifting for many in recent weeks. Highlight performances of the initiative to date include Cormac Begley's performance from his vintage campervan close to his home on the Dingle Peninsula, which has garnered almost 49,000 views so far, and Aoife Scott's performance from her garden shed, which has had more than 31,000 views. Given this success, I have increased the funding available to support an extra 20 performances, with the option of extending the scheme further in the future.
My Department is continuing to partner with RTÉ, TG4 and others to bring a broad range of cultural and Irish language programming to the public. This includes the Courage project, which has been delivering performances from artists to the public since 23 April.
The Government's Creative Ireland programme is working with colleagues across Departments, including in the Healthy Ireland programme, on the #InThisTogether initiative to promote physical and mental well-being during this emergency.
As part of the initiative, my Department and RTÉ will bring Cruinniú na nÓg, the national day of free creative activities for children and young people, online for 2020.
Our national cultural institutions are providing many existing and new services online, from the creation of new online galleries to the Abbey Theatre's acclaimed Dear Ireland project. On 16 April, Screen Ireland announced further initiatives, including an expansion of the strategic slate development fund, an additional €1 million in enhanced development supports across feature film, television and animation, a new creative concept development scheme to be made available to Irish directors and writers and additional funding for skills development. These measures will ensure that skills are retained and developed and that there is a pipeline of future productions. All of these measures have supported our cultural services from within existing allocations. The Government is providing significant income and liquidity supports across all sectors, rather than directing them at any one particular sector.
I emphasise that, in respect of the roadmap, it is clear that facilities may only open if they can maintain physical distancing and these indicative dates are dependent on three-week reviews and, of course, the advice of NPHET. We know that it is hoped that museums and galleries will open in phase 4 from Monday, 20 July and theatres and cinemas will open later in phase five from Monday, 10 August. I would like to extend my appreciation to all of those working in the cultural sector during this difficult time.
I am sharing time with Deputies Jackie Cahill and Christopher O'Sullivan, who will have five minutes each.
Covid-19 has had significant ramifications for our economy and the livelihoods of every person living in the State. It is difficult to think of a sector that has been hit as quickly or as harshly as those working within the creative industries. The closure of our arts centres and exhibition spaces has meant that artists have no outlets to show or sell work. The closure of theatres has meant that actors and production staff have no income. The closure of venues has meant that musicians have no income. With the closure of cinemas, film release dates have been pushed back and regulations have stopped all productions currently in the pipeline. This is only a snapshot of the array of people and sectors impacted.
With social distancing requirements likely to be a part of life for the foreseeable future, the arts community will be one of the last to return to normal. We need to think outside the box in terms of how to support the sector. The Arts Council survey established that over the past number of months we have lost an estimated audience of 2.4 million people. Over 12,000 arts activities have been cancelled, more than 112,000 tickets have been sold for activities that will not be taking place, over €3.85 million has been invested in activities that have been cancelled and postponed and potential income of €6.4 million has been lost from activities that were cancelled.
The schemes announced by the Government aimed at supporting artists at this critical time have been, frankly, pathetic. The commitment pales in comparison to the provision made by similar sized countries for artists. During the most recent recession, we failed the arts community. We cannot allow this to happen again. The arts are critical to our well-being and economy. The sector needs to be properly resourced and supported at this time. The National Campaign for the Arts, NCFA, expressed its dismay at the lack of vision shown by the Department in regard to the arts.
The NCFA has pointed out that Arts Council England has made £160 million of emergency funding available to arts organisations and individuals who need it during this crisis. The Welsh equivalent has allocated £7 million. The German Government has announced an aid package of €50 million for the country's creative and cultural sector. It is critical that we have a co-ordinated national plan for the arts at this time. The Department must show leadership in this regard, together with supports for the Arts Council and our local authorities.
At this time of crisis we must protect our arts practitioners from an already difficult situation becoming impossible. The Covid-19 crisis response award announced by the Government has been heavily criticised as it requires artists to create new work simply to justify their applications for economic assistance during this crisis. This has not been the case in other sectors. In the words of the journalist, Una Mullally, artists are offered pocket money and treated like jesters. The feeling of hopelessness has been compounded by these paltry and insulting supports.
The response of Angela Dorgan, chair of the National Campaign for the Arts, NCFA, was that:
we are devastated as a sector. Artists are the people providing distraction, context and relief. We are all reading books, we are all watching films, we are listening to music, we are talking about how great it is that we can turn to the arts, yet the artists are once again being abandoned.
Members of the arts community have watched their livelihoods being dismantled during the Covid-19 pandemic. All public gatherings have been cancelled, including festivals, exhibitions, concerts, plays and tours. All performances have been cancelled indefinitely. Public health guidance, however, encourages us to turn to the arts and culture for our mental well-being and escapism during these difficult times. Is the whole country not talking about the beautiful work of art that is "Normal People" by Sally Rooney and Lenny Abrahamson? I rest my case.
Many artists in the PAYE sector are outside of the eligibility criteria for the pandemic unemployment benefit. Many artists were not working immediately before 13 March 2020 and were not made unemployed at the time and, therefore, are disqualified. Many were due to start work shortly after that date in March or during the summer. This planned work has now disappeared as a result of the regulations put in place on the basis of public health advice. Consideration must be given to the establishment of a support fund specifically for artists. The nature of the work of those in the creative industries is such that it is not possible to meet eligibility criteria designed for standard employment contracts and arrangements. The Minister needs to commit to artists and arts workers affected by the impact of the Covid-19 crisis via the pandemic unemployment payment by extending it until the end of the year. The Government should immediately commit to releasing artist workspace grants for 2020 and increasing funds available under the scheme for 2020.
Arts and culture are the cornerstones of our society and are parts of our DNA. We need our artists and cultural institutions more than ever as a key component of rebuilding the country. It will take leadership from the Minister's Department to fight their corner. If I were to ask the Minister for one thing during this discussion, it would be for her to talk to and engage with the artists and set out a collaborative roadmap of which they are a part and which would give them some sense of the Minister's vision for their future. I ask the Minister to listen to them because they are the creators and inventors and they know what needs to be done to facilitate the restart of the creative industries. Otherwise, there is a risk of an existential threat to artists and the creative industries. Their future is in the Minister's hands.
I am going on to a different remit of the Minister's responsibilities. Thousands of jobs in the horticulture sector are under threat due to the prohibition of peat harvesting on Irish bogs which have a landmass of more than 30 hectares. While this is not just the remit of the Minister's Department, her Department does hold ultimate responsibility for the use of bogs in this country.
Peat extraction on all bogs over 30 hectares is restricted due to the striking down of legislation regulating the harvesting of peat. The result is that private companies that harvest peat for the horticultural industry are left in limbo. This is having a major impact on the mushroom-growing industry as commercial mushroom growing is primarily done on a blended layer of wet peat that stimulates the formation of mushrooms. That material is provided by the private companies to which I referred.
With almost 18,000 people employed in the sector, directly or indirectly, there is a huge problem in the industry when we are trying to reboot the economy and reopen following the complete lockdown of the last two months. The facts are that the commercial horticulture sector makes a significant contribution to our national economy, with a farmgate value of €437 million in 2018 and an employment value of €497 million in 2018.
A Government report from October 2019 reviewed the use of peat in the horticulture industry. It stated that the output value for the sectors using peat as an input in 2018 included €117 million from mushrooms, €38 million from protected fruit, €29 million from protected vegetables, €36 million from nursery stock and €19 million from protected ornamental crops. According to Growing Media Ireland, which represents most of the country's privately-owned producers of horticultural peat, this situation will also impact on the tillage sector, as 130,000 tonnes of wheat and straw go into mushroom compost each year.
This is not, therefore, a trifling matter and livelihoods are depending on the action and support of the Government. What is holding back the beginning of the 2020 harvest is a ruling that those seeking to extract peat from Irish bogs larger than 30 hectares have to acquire planning permission prior to obtaining a licence from the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. According to Growing Media Ireland, much money is being spent by companies trying to get alternatives to peat. We hope they will be successful.
In the meantime, it is up to the Government to fix this problem, initially for the 2020 harvesting season, because it is having an impact on the food supply chain. Whatever solutions are found down the road are irrelevant at present to the almost 18,000 people who depend on this industry for their livelihood today. We cannot allow the welfare of a food industry to be held to ransom now when there are scientific developments being sought to solve the problem in the near future. Therefore, I ask the Minister, with her other Government colleagues, to address this problem and allow the industry to proceed for the 2020 season.
To move to a different topic, the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business states that small weddings will be allowed to take place in phase 4. The wedding industry is a major source of employment for artists, the musicians who perform in the church and at the reception, wedding photographers and wedding videographers. The total lack of clarity as to what numbers are likely to constitute a small or large wedding has resulted in many people choosing pre-emptively to postpone their weddings to a date in 2021. Furthermore, what social distancing measures will be put in place to allow these weddings to go ahead? Will the bars be allowed to open? We are two months out from this date and it is unfair of the Government not to give some guidance to the would-be brides and grooms and those working in and relying on this industry to earn an income. The booking of venues and artists for weddings in many cases is done up to two years in advance. Therefore, we need urgency shown by the Government in laying down some clear timelines for the industry, for the artists and for the people who are planning a major day in their lives. We do not want this to be like the leaving certificate, where uncertainty prevailed for a long period of time until an exact road map was finally put in place.
I am sorry, Deputy. It was agreed at the Business Committee that we would focus on the arts here. We have four minutes only. The second speaker, with all due respect to the Deputy, raises some serious matters but it is not what we agreed. The second speaker in has spent four minutes talking about something totally separate. We probably have thousands of artists tuning in tonight who will be looking at this debate. Can we please stick to the rules here? We have a finite amount of time.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle.
I come from the arts capital of the world, which, as all Members know, is west Cork. We have a festival for every form of art that one can think of, including storytelling, poetry, jazz festivals and guitar festivals. You name it, we have it. Our traditions, gigs and festivals are under severe threat. While artists and organisers are showing a bit of innovation and they are doing Facebook live and Zoom sessions, this is not replacing the thrill of going to a physical gig or going to the theatre.
The brutal reality is that it is estimated that there is €2.9 million lost per month to the arts. A recent Arts Council survey estimated that the loss since the pandemic has been in the region of €10 million. That does not even bring into account the 23,000 artists and arts workers who are being impacted. Livelihoods are under direct and ongoing threat and although there will be a easing of restrictions, we do not know when people will feel safe to gather physically once again. Without doubt, the arts will be vital to our economic and societal recovery and we need to stand by them and support them.
Natural heritage is a big part of the Minister's portfolio. I am a birdwatcher. I am a twitcher, possibly the first twitcher ever to have been elected to the Dáil. I was appalled and devastated to see the massacre of 23 common buzzards in my own constituency of Cork South-West. These are a majestic species that had just begun to re-establish themselves in my county. They had become a firm favourite with members of the public and with farmers who enjoyed them soaring in the skies above their land. This is the largest killing of a protected species in ten years and it was done using a substance that has been banned since 2001.
What is the Department is doing to tackle the use of this lethal banned substance. The crime took place in December but it did not come to light until last weekend. The 2019 report filed under the recording and addressing persecution and threats to our raptors, RAPTOR, protocol did not include these deaths. Why is this the case? Can the Minister provide details of any investigation of the incident and any ongoing investigations? The Minister said yesterday that there have been no prosecutions under the Wildlife Act 1976 since 2016. She said that there is a wildlife crime investigation unit within her Department, but I am led to believe that is not the case; there is a wildlife investigation committee. I am asking the Minister to please establish a wildlife crime investigation unit that is properly resourced, staffed and funded so that these horrific crimes against wildlife can be stamped out.
Before other Members come in, I would like to make a point. Deputy Duncan Smith was correct in noting that a number of areas of the Minister's responsibility are up for discussion. It was decided that we would focus on the arts this evening.
It will eat into everyone else's time. There is a two-hour slot scheduled specifically for heritage either next week or the following week, if Deputy Cahill wants a longer period. If the Ceann Comhairle wants I can answer these three Deputies now.
I did not get that communication. If the focus was meant to be on the arts, I apologise for raising a heritage issue, but this is an issue in my constituency and I thought this was the opportunity to raise it with the Minister.
There is nothing unprecedented at all about Whips reporting back their parties on what business is to be transacted. In fact it is unprecedented that they would not tell their colleagues what they are supposed to be dealing with.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle. Beidh mé ag roinnt mo chuid ama leis na Teachtaí Donnelly agus Andrews.
I dtús báire ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le foireann na Ranna a thug seisiún eolais domsa agus do mo chomhghleacaí, an Seanadóir Fintan Warfield, inné. Tá sé rí-thábhachtach a bheith anseo agus muid ag déileáil le ceist na n-ealaíon agus an tionchar atá ag an ngalar Covid-19 ar an earnáil seo, dár saol agus an geilleagar sin á phlé againn. Conas atá ár n-ealaíontóirí agus iad siúd a oibríonn san earnáil seo ag déileáil leis an gcruachás ina bhfuil siad, mar aon leis an chuid eile den tír agus an domhain i gcoitinne.
As we can see every day online, this lockdown has encouraged many people's creative side. I wish to take this opportunity to encourage and praise everyone who has brightened up the dark days we are in through his or her online art, music, etc. Major congratulations are due to those who have taken to that form of expression for the first time and created works of art that we will treasure in the future. As a result of this crisis, I can see the many budding careers in the arts growing. Perhaps that is something good that will come out of it. Hopefully they will flourish as a result of their time and our time in lockdown.
This is key to our future. As an island we have a reputation for artists, musicians, playwrights, actors, directors, stagehands, dancers, poets, authors, set designers and many more creative talents that is second to none. We are known as a nation that is artistic, musical and creative and that can have the craic.
Millions come to Ireland to join with us to enjoy the fruits of those who are creative and artistic. I do not believe we have ever fully appreciated the wealth of talent we have on this island. If we had done so, we would have invested much more in helping those in the arts sector. Being an artist is precarious employment if it is one's only employment, often not knowing from where the next pay packet is coming. I welcome that many artists, like the rest of the community, are being sustained by the pandemic payments as much as they can be by such a payment. It is a pity that not all artists have been able to avail of those payments.
I know this is a question for the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, but the Minister, Deputy Madigan, will have to lobby on behalf of the artistic community. Will the Minister give a commitment that these payments will continue for artists? There is a need for that, given that this will be one of the last sectors to fully emerge from the clouds of Covid-19, due to venues being closed, difficulties getting insurance for displays, and the economic realities we will face as a country with the recession, depression or whatever comes as a result of this. There is also the fact that the tourism industry, on which many artists are dependent, will be severely curtailed this year.
I believe it is vital that we invest now to ensure we can lay foundations for art life with or without the virus, with segregated audiences, virtual performances and so on. One place where greater preparatory work can be done relates to the opening and closing times of venues. Will the Minister and her officials accelerate work on reform of nightlife and the night economy, especially in line with proposals regarding staggered opening and closing hours etc as is the norm in many other countries in Europe. Some of these proposals were given to us last year when I was Chair of the Committee on Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, including by Give Us The Night.
While acknowledging the work the Department, the Arts Council and Culture Ireland have done in redirecting some of the budgets to online performances in this crisis, much more can be done. Can more be done to encourage broadcasters and other media to use their airtime and online presence to increase the profile of lesser known home-grown musicians, writers, artists and such? It brings us back to the debate about how we can ensure that artists can gain payments and acknowledgement from material shared online. Kind words and online shares do not put bread on the table.
What about the reopening of the film studios and the need to ensure this can be done quickly and safely, while utilising the significant skills available in this country to lessen the tendency to bring in crews from abroad?
In the best of times, artists and the artistic community have a precarious, uncertain existence. Art, music and literature have given us all a lift in these uncertain times. The arts have lifted our collective spirits. One initiative that I have seen that has given me and everybody a lift has been the art painted by children. It is placed in windows, whether in Portobello or Pearse Street. The current crisis is an especially worrying time for artists and their dependents. We have never needed the arts more than we do now. The level of funding to assist artists announced recently is extremely disappointing and I urge a significant increase in funds for the arts community. One initiative I have seen develop is the artist support pledge. When an artist sells a piece of work for €200 or less, and then reach €1,000 in sales, that artist will commit to buying another artist's work for €200. I think this is a win-win for everybody and it will certainly encourage new artists to come forward. Will the Minister and the Department consider supporting and promoting this artist-led initiative?
I am also interested in hearing the Minister's view on the current state of Project Ireland 2040, in particular the capital investment in culture, language and heritage. The Minister will be aware that these investments are outlined in the document, Investing in Our Culture, Language and Heritage 2018-2027. Many of the national cultural institutions are in historical buildings and they also happen to be in my constituency of Dublin Bay South. We have the National Gallery, National Archives, National Concert Hall and, in Kildare Street, we have the National Library and National Museum. Will the earmarked capital investment of €460 million in the national cultural institutions go ahead as planned? What is the Minister's current expectation regarding these projects and a timeline for them? Will she consider bringing forward the €460 million investment to act as a stimulus for economic recovery? Will the Minister guarantee that any capital investment in culture, language and heritage will be climate-proofed?
As we are all aware, the arts community has been absolutely devastated since the beginning of this crisis. I thank every single one of the artists who, in a wonderful spirit of generosity and kindness, have given of their skills and talents. I think every one of us has enjoyed their contributions online. Every day somebody gives some part of their skill set for our free enjoyment.
In the new era of social distancing and risk assessment, many ask how it would work to watch a musical or a play or to listen to one's favourite band. We are deeply concerned about how arts venues, theatres and creative spaces will be able to reopen and sustain themselves economically in the coming months and even into next year if this crisis is not resolved.
In my area of Dublin West, we have several wonderful venues and creative arts spaces and a wonderful theatre, the Draíocht. This theatre and creative space hosts daily events and arts exhibitions throughout the year for adults and children, with funding coming from the Government, Fingal County Council and, importantly, its own revenue streams. Let us imagine that this Chamber is the Draíocht, with the severe physical distancing measures in place. I cannot believe that any event would be commercially viable or able to support itself in any way, shape or form. The reality for the Draíocht and many other creative spaces is that they will not be able to do so. Either we will be left with few or no events taking place or they will need substantial funding from central government. I totally understand that there are serious financial pressure due to the Covid-19 crisis. However, we cannot lose a year, or worse, lose some of these venues permanently. Are any supports, other than those already committed, being proposed to enable theatres and creative arts spaces to reopen, and to remain open, if social distancing is to be maintained late into 2020 or even into 2021?
Some artists cannot use the Internet to produce or show their work. It is vital that this section of the arts community is given support to enable these artists to work in this new environment. I am concerned that those in the arts community feel let down and, as was previously stated, it is important to emphasise what they have said.
Yet again, Ireland's place at the bottom of the pile in terms of investment in culture and arts in Europe is demonstrated. Other countries have rolled out significant supports for artists in these challenging times (e.g. Germany €50 Billion, Arts Council England £160 Million, Arts Council Wales £7 Million).
It seems that we are a long way off what is required.
It is also vital that those involved in the arts sector are given a voice in the process of developing a strategy to enable them to chart their way through this crisis. Will the Minister establish an external forum comprising representatives of the arts, culture, local authorities and others to support the development of such a strategy?
Deputy Donnelly might already be aware of the roadmap which we put forward for the sector. We are guided by NPHET advice and the Cabinet has to make the decisions in that regard. Once we have Cabinet agreement on it, we hope the first phase will commence on Monday.
The other phases will come through thereafter. The Deputy will be aware that we hope museums and galleries will reopen on 20 July but theatres will not open until 10 August. With regard to cultural spaces, it is ultimately not just about audiences viewing performances in these spaces but also is about the staff working in them. The back-to-work protocols published by the Ministers, Deputy Humphreys and Regina Doherty, will obviously have to be taken into account with regard to social distancing. It will pose a real challenge for theatres in particular, when they open in the last phase, to ensure social distancing. There will be many requirements in respect of hand sanitisation, hand washing and the possible use of face coverings. It will be up to centres such as Draíocht in Blanchardstown, which the Deputy mentioned, to meet these. It is an extremely popular centre and amazing work is done there. We really do not want to see places like that going under. We have to try to support them. We are working with these smaller and regional centres to ensure they will get up and running in the future.
At this stage, we are working with everybody and are constantly engaging and consulting with the Arts Council, the national cultural institutions, all of the regional centres and all of the Dublin centres to try to ensure that things can get back up and running. It is challenging. It has been pointed out by many Deputies today that this particular sector will be hit quite badly. That is why, from the very outset, we have put supports in place and front-loaded a lot of funding, mainly through the Arts Council, which was given €80 million this year. It was able to front-load much of the money it had to give to arts organisations which are, in turn, giving the money to the artists to support them. The artists themselves can obviously avail of all the normal social welfare supports. The Covid-19 payment the Deputy's colleague, Deputy Ó Snodaigh, mentioned is the main form of assistance. We are very conscious of the points the Deputy raised and we will be doing our utmost to address them.
I am sorry. The national cultural institutions face big challenges. I had an engagement with the Council of National Cultural Institutions at which we discussed some of the challenges they are facing. I applaud all of them. Deputy Andrews mentioned some of them including the National Gallery, the National Library, the National Concert Hall, the Chester Beatty Library and Crawford Art Gallery. They are all doing their utmost to bring some of their works online through digital media and to showcase the work they do. They are working really hard. My Department and senior officials are in constant contact with them to try to ensure they will return.
Deputy Andrews specifically asked about the €460 million under Project Ireland 2040. With regard to that capital infrastructure, there is no point having artists in a position to perform if they have no space in which to do so. We need to expand. We want all of the infrastructure for which money was allocated in Project Ireland 2040 to go ahead. At the moment, it stands.
I will be sharing time with Deputy Alan Farrell and Deputy O'Donnell. I am sure the Minister will be relieved to know that I will not be addressing the issues of bogs or turf cutting in my speech.
I will reiterate some of the key points the Minister, Deputy Madigan, made about the Government's response to the Covid-19 crisis as it relates to the arts and culture. As we all know, we are faced with an extraordinary public health emergency. We have had no option but to slow the spread of the virus and to protect the health of our people. We are all seeking the common good. Unfortunately, the public health measures have come at a great cost to Ireland's cultural life. Those who love culture and the arts and those who make a living from them continue to be dramatically affected in every corner of Ireland. Crucially, the Government's responses in assisting many of those working in the sector, the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment and the temporary wage subsidy scheme, are providing vital support for many artists, arts practitioners and others employed in the arts, culture and audiovisual sectors. As the Minister stated, more than 14,000 people in the arts, entertainment and recreation sectors were receiving the pandemic unemployment payment at the start of this month, May. One of the initiatives I want to note is Ireland Performs.
Normally Culture Ireland provides valuable support for thousands of Irish artists and performers to bring Irish culture around the globe. This has not been possible during the Covid-19 pandemic. Culture Ireland is to be commended on coming up with a timely way of promoting these performers and artists online while at the same time providing a grant of €1,000 for each performance. More than 500,000 people have tuned in around the globe to over 75 Ireland Performs performances on Facebook to date. Artists and performers from around Ireland have taken part in and benefited from Ireland Performs, including artists from Sligo and Leitrim, and I pay tribute to them this evening.
Husband and wife duo, Oisín Mac Diarmada and Samantha Harvey, performed on Tuesday, 21 April. Oisín hails from Sligo and is the founder of the Irish group, Téada. Samantha is an award-winning step dancer and pianist from California. They performed Ceol agus Coffee live from their Sligo home. Their programme of music was drawn from material recorded by Sligo fiddlers over the years and reflected Samantha's Californian roots and Oisín's special interest in the fiddle music of Sligo emigrant fiddlers of the 1920s and 1930s.
I commend my colleague and friend, Bernard Flaherty, a traditional musician from Boyle in County Roscommon. He wrote the historical record, Trip to Sligo, in 1990 which highlighted the finest music of south Sligo and north Roscommon. It included Fred Finn, Peter Horan, Harry McGowan, Andrew Davey and Kathleen Morris, along with a younger group of musicians, including Tommy Finn, Pat Meehan, Colm O'Donnell and many others. I recall bringing Bernard to Shannon Airport in my van with all the hardcover books to sell in the United States. This was a major historical record. He went with dozens of books and came home with no books but loads of money. It is a great record. I pay tribute to him. We are very proud of the work he did.
Last Monday, I had a Zoom meeting with the arts community in Limerick. I met ten artists across a range of disciplines. We are very proud of our artist community based in Limerick. We have a world-renowned art college. We have theatres like the Lime Tree and Belltable and the University of Limerick, UL, with a host of companies. They have major concerns about where they stand. The Arts Council and the Theatre Forum are currently producing guidelines on social distancing. I will put it in context. The Belltable theatre is very well known. Based on current restrictions, it would operate at 16%, capacity which is 37 people in a venue that holds 220. It needs an audience of 154, approximately 70%, to be viable.
We have major issues. Looking at other countries such as South Korea, that is based on 2 m distancing. Other countries would impose 2 m distancing where it might be at low heat, whereas if there is no heat, they might bring it down to 1 m. We need to look at ways to keep our artistic community viable. The Lime Tree, which gets public funding of €340,000 and brings in €4 million into the local economy, is not operating at the moment. Can we look at the social distancing once again, at all times being publicly safe?
There is a big issue in terms of their capacity to come through the pandemic. The Minister said that they will be one of the most exposed communities of all. We need to put measures in place to bring them through. They have serious concerns about the audiences coming back. The audience must have trust in coming back as much as the performers. That is very important. There are major concerns about access to public liability insurance when they resume.
We also need to look at the funding that was allocated to various events that were to take place during the pandemic. Perhaps those funds could be redirected to retraining artists and looking at other media in which to perform, such as street theatre and performances in outside areas. They are a major part of the fabric of Limerick city and county and the wider community.
They were aware this debate would be taking place. I wish to raise their concerns. They are positive but they are extremely apprehensive about the future. How we treat our artists and arts community is a reflection of our society. Many artists have come out of a crisis, such as Seamus Heaney from the North or Seán O'Casey. I have no doubt that world-renowned artists will come out of this Covid pandemic. We must ensure they can come through it.
Given the nature of the cultural work by and employment status of individuals in the arts, it is important to note that the Covid support payments they are receiving are very welcome. However, I wish to echo the concern raised by my colleague, Deputy O'Donnell, regarding how they can come out of this, respond and get back to the valuable work they do in society. That is of paramount importance. We recognise the many positives coming out of the pandemic, particularly the videos to which the Minister referred in her opening contribution. I watched one of them and found it fascinating. The Dear Ireland project really caught my attention. I am pleased to hear that the Minister plans to support another 20 performances under the Ireland Performs programme. I would love to see more such projects in the coming months. There is significant concern in the cultural and arts world regarding facilities being opened up on a phased basis such that libraries will open in phase 2 but galleries and museums will not open until phase 4, while the performing arts must wait until phase 5. I understand that is based on the advice of our public health doctors, but there is concern regarding how the arts community can respond to it. We can take the positives from this situation, such as how the arts community will refocus and try to find a way of getting their work, which is so valuable and important to us, into the public sphere. Culture Night is probably one of the ways that could be done. I would appreciate if the Minister, in the very limited amount of time I have been given, could provide additional information on that issue.
As Deputies are aware, Culture Night usually takes place in September. This year, it is due to take place on 20 September. Proposals are being developed to deliver it online in light of the need for social distancing. It is regrettable that that is necessary but, as Deputy Farrell mentioned, there have been successful initiatives such as Dear Ireland and Ireland Performs. People will be as creative as before and we can bring it online and, it is to be hoped, create a buzz around it. In 2019, approximately 430,000 people visited national cultural institutions such as the National Museum of Ireland. It is a unique and special occasion. We wish to ensure that we recreate it in a digital way this year. Obviously, planning is under way and, in order to err on the side of caution, we will bring it online. I thank the Deputy for raising that issue.
I ask the Minister to address the redirection of funds that would have been allocated to projects that are not taking place due to the pandemic. Alternative ways of using that money to keep artists afloat should be considered.
I very much welcome the opportunity to address some of the issues arising within our arts communities due to the Covid-19 crisis. We in Waterford are very lucky to have a vibrant and thriving arts scene but, in common with the rest of the country, our venues, performance spaces and festivals have come to a dead stop. The arts community is among the sectors most acutely affected by the shutdown of our economy and those who work in the performing arts have been particularly badly hit. They have little sight of how or when their practice and profession may begin to return to whatever the new normal will look like.
We know that the arts are going to play an essential part in how as a nation we process the huge impact of the Corona virus on our society. Arts practice has always been a mirror by which we reflect on ourselves as individuals, communities and as a society. In the wake of the pandemic there will be a legacy of upheaval, of psychological strain and grief that we will need to work through as a nation. Our arts practitioners will be essential in mediating that process.
To understand the arts purely in terms of their economic function is to misunderstand the full value of their role. The straight economic assessment of the impact of Covid-19 on the sector makes for fairly sobering reading. The survey conducted by the Arts Council of its members estimates that organisations will lose approximately €2.9 million in income for each month of the shutdown. Expected losses in performances alone owing to cancellations are expected to top €5 million and this survey only captures data from Arts Council members. The wider impact through the arts community can be expected to be far greater. Yet artists will continue to create. Our poets are still writing, our painters are still painting, musicians are still planning and practising repertoire in anticipation of the reopening of our economy. Workers in the arts sector have often proved themselves both flexible and resilient. The reaction to the pandemic has been no different. Already over 65% of Arts Council organisations have initiated activities specifically in response to Covid-19 and over half have created, or are promoting, online content or services. However, these new modes of presentation represent a significant step outside the traditional funding streams. We need to make sure that artists will continue to get paid for the work they produce.
What are the Minister's plans to support the Arts Council over the coming weeks and months? I have noted that the National Campaign for the Arts, NCFA, has asked for an additional €20 million in funding for the Arts Council this year. It has asked for that to be made available to artists through the bursary system. It is also asking for a commitment that the Arts Council funding be retained at current levels in 2021 to allow them begin to plan ahead for the work in the coming year. I understand well the competing demands on the public purse at the moment but can the Minister give the NCFA some clarity on those specific asks? I welcome the establishment of the advisory group last week. While it was overdue I was glad to see some action in this regard. The membership of the group is strong and I am hopeful that good work will result from it. I would appreciate if the Minister could outline the scope of that group and say whether it is sector-wide or concentrated on specific areas. Could she briefly outline the timelines and the mechanisms for the implementation of any recommendations that advisory group produces at the end of its work?
We are all aware of the massive void that the cancellation of festivals will leave in our cultural lives and our tourism offering. Waterford, for example, is sometimes known as the city of festivals, with Spraoi, Waterford Walls, Winterval and many others punctuating our calendar year. Many, however, face cancellation but they have already committed a great deal of time and resources. Without sufficient support to help absorb those costs and manage lost revenues there is a distinct danger that many of the festivals around the country will not return in 2021. Has the Minister given any consideration to financial support that could be made available to this sector? Has she considered proposals from campaigns such as Give us the Night to use pop-up events and multipurpose spaces to help fill the void left by festivals on a smaller scale that would allow us to answer the requirements of social distancing? The arts sector has already shown its flexibility in responding to the Covid-19 crisis with many performances moving to online platforms. Has the Minister made any provision to support this move, in terms of facilitating the quality of that output by, for example, funding the upgrading of recording equipment but also allowing artists develop a revenue stream from online performance and arts practice? Many musicians are developing content online but without ensuring production values or income it is hard to see how that model can be sustainable in the long term. While none of us likes to think of opportunity coming from this health emergency perhaps there is a chance for arts organisations to use this quieter time to think through the structure and reach of their organisation to take stock, rethink and rebuild.
Arts organisations are typically busy and bustling places that often firefight on deadlines and details. With low-cost supports from the Department, now could be the time to refocus on the bigger picture so that when they eventually reopen they will have a clear idea of where they go from here to expand and develop their remit. Are there plans within the Department to facilitate and support this kind of development work within arts organisations to make best use of a quiet time?
The Arts Council has daily contact with arts organisations and artists to understand how Covid-19 is impacting the sector. It has regular updates on its website. It has conducted a good number of surveys and focus groups with funded and non-funded organisations to get feedback on how those organisations are suffering and how the Arts Council can support people going through it. It has set up an expert advisory group, including Lenny Abrahamson, Fintan O'Toole, Dr. Gabriel Scally, Anne Clarke and Angela Dorgan from the National Campaign for the Arts, and Alan Gray, an economist, will advise. They will examine how to advise the Arts Council on the impact of Covid-19. Ultimately, it is about how to support artists during this time. They will report back in about three weeks.
Some of the surveys were very interesting. A survey of 265 arts organisations took place between 23 and 27 March, and another of 1,853 individual artists took place between 3 and 13 April. These surveys showed severe disruption to the sector, with 19,000 paid days lost until the end of April and a loss of €6.4 million in income from cancelled activities until the end of May. The details are on the website. The Arts Council is undertaking much research. From my perspective, the most important thing in securing funding is that it needs to be based on data and evidence. One must show what the actual impact is in financial terms. The Arts Council is independent of my Department but is undertaking much of this work. It is forecasting, surveying and doing a great deal of work like that.
The Deputy mentioned Waterford. All options are being considered. There is merit in some of the considerations he raised and we will certainly try to bring those forward. All the organisations, particularly the Arts Council which supports artists on the ground, have front-loaded much of their money. They will ask the expert advisory group to assess how arts organisations can emerge from the lockdown, implement hygiene and social distancing protocols and explore the safe return to public attendance. The collective national impact of increasing access and mobility will have to be assessed. It is not just a question of the safety of the individual cultural outlet. The road map will also be important in that.
I acknowledge and thank Deputy Boyd Barrett for pushing for this debate at the Business Committee and for the focus to be on the arts, which is vitally important. I cannot sing, dance or act and I could not draw a straight line with a ruler but I am lucky to have people in my family who are involved in the arts and make their primary living from being singers in bands, sound engineers, music producers or event managers, so I have seen at first hand how precarious and challenging that work can be in good times and especially now in these most uncertain times.
The Covid-19 crisis has created significant challenges for the arts and culture sector. That has been touched on already by most of the speakers in the debate thus far. We have mentioned the survey from the Arts Council of almost 300 arts organisations across the country where it is estimated that organisations will lose €2.9 million per month as a result of the shutdown. The economic impact to date is in or around €10 million. Those are rough estimates. We cannot calculate the true value yet and we may not be able to do so for a long time. By the end of April, 12,000 events throughout the country had been cancelled and 19,000 days of paid work have gone. That is just paid work that we can quantify, not the amount of work we cannot quantify that goes into preparing for events. The overall impact of that on the country's 23,000 artists and arts workers is still unknown but one figure that leaped out at me was an estimate that up to €2.5 million of artists' own money that has been pre-invested in projects is already gone. That highlights a number of issues regarding this sphere. We do not see the financial sacrifice that artists make for their own craft and the amount of money and effort they have to front-load to put on a show or a concert. That is gone. They will not get that back. That is something that highlights the precariousness of their livelihood.
Many artists and those who work directly in the arts industry are in receipt of the working family payment. Some of them have to use Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection payments in normal times. That hammers home how worrying this crisis is for them. It has been mentioned here already that the arts will be the last sector to come back. Imagine being an artist now and hearing that from politicians, the Chief Medical Officer and everybody else. They are saying what they believe, that the arts sector will be the last to come back. Artists will be wondering if they will come back at all. We have to provide confidence in this House, both in government and across the House, that they will come back and that we will be there to support them every step of the way.
We understand that in this time, the front-line workers and front-loading resources to them is important but the Government must now acknowledge that sectors such as arts require reassurance and security to keep them and their sector from financial ruin, about which I am sure many of them are worried.
I am sure that when all of us in this House, including the Minister, look into the distant future at the new normal we are all expecting but are not quite sure what it looks like, we imagine ourselves going to the cinema, the theatre, a museum, an art gallery, a comedy show, a pantomime or a battle of the bands. We have to make sure that is there for us.
My party colleague, Senator Hoey, brought to my attention indirectly through a tweet a quote from the late Eavan Boland, who once said, "It's dreadful to think of a society that doesn't sustain the artist". It is an apt quote and it is something we should all think about at this time as we go through this crisis. I take this opportunity to acknowledge Eavan Boland, who passed away on 27 April. I had the pleasure of being introduced to her poetry when studying for my leaving certificate nearly 20 years ago. In poems like "The War Horse", she was the very first poet who wrote about a world that I physically recognised and could connect to. Her work helped open up the world of poetry. An art that I, as a 17 year old boy, once thought was perhaps esoteric or unimportant suddenly became both vital and beautiful and carried a real power. She has left an artistic legacy that will endure for generations to come and her loss will be keenly felt for a long time. She was correct in how she viewed the importance of the arts. In this time of isolation, we still seek and strive for that. We only have to look at the impact of the television show, "Normal People", which Deputy Niamh Smyth mentioned also. It has become a wonderful treat and escape at this time. It is a collection of wonderful mainly Irish actors and is stunningly shot. It is based on a source novel by one of Ireland's truly great writers, Sally Rooney. "Normal People" reminds us, through the medium of television in this instance, just how vital our wider arts sector is and that our artists contribute across a wide range of areas on a 365-days-a-year basis. Their absence from work at this time has perilous consequences.
Artists and arts workers not only desire to get back to work for their own livelihood but seek to provide a necessary and welcome distraction from these very trying times for all of us. Artists are keen to memorialise the friends and neighbours we have all lost and who have suffered through Covid-19.
They want to celebrate our heroes on the front lines and those supporting our front-line workers. They want to tell the story of the Covid-19 era. We know they will; we just need to ensure there are enough supports and an industry in place to allow them to do that.
Following an online meeting of almost 400 artists and art workers, the National Campaign for the Arts has outlined the particular challenges it has collectively identified for the sector. It is offering some potential solutions in the short, medium and long terms to ensure Ireland's arts and cultural industries can remain strong and viable. I ask the Minister to take these solutions on board and provide a strong response to all of them, though she will not have time to do so during this debate. We need to establish a stabilisation fund for arts and cultural organisations in order that the sector can survive. We need an immediate commitment of an additional €20 million for the Arts Council for 2020 alone to support artists, art workers and art organisations to survive and recover. This should include considerable increases to project awards and bursaries, which have a significant impact for artists and art workers.
We need to ensure clarity and openness when engaging with the sector. That is vitally important. We need to support artists via the pandemic unemployment payment. While many artists are getting it, a number are falling through the gaps. That may be happening as, although they may not have been working at the particular time, they had work lined up later on in the month that did not come to fruition. We need some latitude from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection on that. When the next Government is formed, we need to ensure a full Ministry for culture, heritage and the Gaeltacht is retained, and the Minister must ensure artists are part of her advisory team. The rules of the Covid payment have been a little too strict for some artists. We need to get the message to our Intreo offices and push the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection in order that artists who are unable to ply their trade can avail of the pandemic unemployment payment.
We mentioned what other countries are doing at the moment and other examples. Germany and the United Kingdom are on a different scale in terms of population and the size of their economies. However, Wales, which is similar to us, has also been mentioned and Scotland, which we can have some kind of comparison with, has introduced supports amounting to €12.5 million. Compared to our €1 million it is almost embarrassing. This needs urgent attention from the Minister and her Department.
James Connolly, whose execution we remember this week, said: "The Irish people will only be free, when they own everything from the plough to the stars". The arts sector is home to both the worker and the star, and we must show them we fundamentally value them and ensure the sector which provides so much joy and entertainment to our society reaps the benefits of the profits it makes. We must not only reopen the sector in time, but ensure those working in it do not return to their previous uncertainty, working on uncertain contracts or if-and-when contracts, and not getting the hours or pay they deserve.
I also draw the Minister's attention to the fact that not only do our artists and those working in the sector contribute amazing creative output to our society, but they are often at the vanguard and forefront of bringing political causes to the attention of the wider public, something we as politicians are not always able to do to the same effect. For example, over 240 Irish and international artists came together yesterday to back Amnesty International's campaign calling for a military embargo on Israel until it fully complies with its obligations under international law and urging an end to Israel's siege of Gaza amid the Covid-19 pandemic. That is a popular cause among the Irish public and many in this House. This is an example of the very necessary contribution from those in the arts industry and what they do on top of the creative output they provide for us on an ongoing basis.
As Ireland emerges from this crisis, we are going to need our arts community more than ever. When the time comes that we can gather in groups with our friends or families it will be our artists, through their music, drama and artistic content, that will be the focal point of that much needed and much longed-for gathering. We are going to rely on our artists to help us laugh again. Undoubtedly, when the time comes that we can honour and pay homage to our front-line workers and those who have served us during this time of great need, such as retail staff, cleaners, nurses and doctors, it will be our artists who will help us fulfil that function. Most importantly, it will be our artists who will help us grieve.
Artists will help us find the manner in which to find expression for grief - grief for those we have lost or the lost time away from those we long to hold. Our artists will meet this challenge. We know this because they always have. For every occasion where difficulty has befallen this country, our artists have been there to help formulate our understanding of what is happening. Through the economic dreariness of the 1980s and early 1990s, it was the artists who brought life to the voids, quite literally in some sense. It was the artists who enlivened those spaces. They brought music. In my constituency, I am thinking about the SFX Theatre and Temple Theatre. It was the artists during those dreary times who gave a generation of Irish people a reason to stay here when no other reason really existed. Through the decadence of the Celtic tiger, it was our artists who brought much-needed ridicule to a nation that was getting ahead of itself and the politicians in this Chamber who were getting ahead of themselves. It was the artists who helped us find meaning. When the crash inevitably came and when all else deserted us, it was our artists who propped us up. It was our artists who helped us to find meaning and what it really meant to be Irish in substance rather than in what we had given over to artificial content during the Celtic tiger. When the pandemic hit us, and the pandemic has been a time when so many people stepped forward, it will be our artists who will once again help us find meaning. I am confident in the role the arts will play in the weeks and months to follow because they have done that time and time again. Throughout that process, we have talked about how great our artists are. We have built statues to the exceptional artists, had gatherings to bring people back and used the music of our artists to share meaning and summon people back but when this pandemic struck in March, what this State and Government offered to our artists was 0.11% of our GDP. This is less than half of the European average. We talk about the role our arts play - when you think about what that means in essence - you cannot put our nice words on bread. Our artists have suffered for long enough even though we need them. We constantly need them. They constantly prop us up. That is something we have to change.
My question concerns the process for re-opening. The Minister said that during phase four, galleries can re-open and in phase five, we will see theatres re-open. She said that NPHET has given those guidelines but I think we need something much stronger than that. Does the Minister have guidelines for how this re-opening would happen? I think she told my colleague from Dublin West that Draíocht would have to develop its own guidelines but I do not think that is appropriate. Will there be guidelines regarding physical distancing? I saw one estimate that if the Abbey Theatre was to re-open under social distancing guidelines, it could get 43 people in there. This will not be accessible. What are the guidelines for re-opening and when will we see them?
We have the roadmap in terms of the five different phases. All things being equal and depending on advice from NPHET, which the Government will take into account, we will proceed to each phase consecutively. Obviously, some of those phases may be accelerated if things go better and, again, they may regress if things do not go as well. I am not sure if the Deputy is talking about a specific arts centre or whether he is talking in general terms about national cultural institutions. To reassure the Deputy, there is a significant amount of engagement between, first, the Arts Council and its arts organisations and between my Department and primarily the national cultural institutions but also other arts organisations about how they are going to re-open. Obviously, they are working themselves in terms of proposals and delivering on those so we are in constant contact with them. I do understand the challenges that exist.
We have the Return to Work Safely Protocol, which is separate to public health. That clearly sets out measures that need to be taken into account. These are guidelines for working environments. At the end of the day, all of these national cultural institutions and spaces are working environments. We must ensure that the audiences are safe as well as the people working there.
We are taking all of those factors into account and my Department and its senior officials are working extremely hard in engaging with every type of arts organisation in the country on that matter.
I feel that we will need some physical guidelines from the Department on how theatres can open.
I will move on to artists' payments. We have accepted that €203 in unemployment benefit is not enough for a person to live off. We have already crossed that Rubicon. According to the 2016 census, some 23,000 people make their living from art, including artists and the freelance technicians associated with them. They will be one of the last groups of people to come back to normality and yet there will be an expectation for them to live off €203 when the Covid-19 payment subsides. Could the Minister clarify whether the Government can extend the Covid payment for artists? What is the process by which that can be made that happen? Many artists will not be able to live off €203 a week and others will not be able to apply for the Facebook grant. The fact that the arts bursary was oversubscribed is not because it was so great but because the need was greater. Artists understand what it means to be hungry and they are terrified about what will happen when the payment subsides.
As I outlined earlier, approximately 14,000 people within this sector are availing of the Covid-19 unemployment payment but it cannot continue indefinitely. That was never intended. Maintaining that payment would be divisive and create two different forms of unemployment payment. We do not think that is fair or sustainable in the long term. Ultimately, it will have to be reformed by the new Government.
There have been comparisons made with the UK and Germany. I have not had the opportunity to answer many of the questions that have been raised by many of the Deputies here. I do not want the narrative of comparisons to get out because it is misleading. For example, the €50 billion package that has been rolled out in Germany is for all self-employed people and microenterprises. Ireland has similar packages for businesses. The Covid-19 payment is important and it is a lifeline for artists at the moment but it will be tapered at some point in the near future.
The money that is being used in the UK comes from the reallocation of moneys. It is not moneys that are going specifically to artists. Just because the UK puts out a figure for a certain amount, it sounds a lot more appetising than it is in reality.
Does the Department envision providing capital grants that will enable artistic spaces to open? I am thinking particularly of community spaces which will not be able to fund many of the requirements to enhance safe social distancing measures.
Project 2040 deals with infrastructure. Grants and schemes are available in the Department anyway. I hope they will be continued but we must remember that we are living in an environment where there is projected to be a deficit of €30 billion this year and €14 billion next year. We must have a bit of realism about what we are going to be able to achieve. I never make a promise that I cannot keep and I will not do that. Obviously, I have been fighting as hard as I can for this sector and will continue to do that for as long as I am in this role, as I hope the next Minister will as well. Every Minister fights for his or her sector. There are competing priorities and, obviously, the overriding one is public health.
I take on board everything the Deputy said. A total of 1.1 million people are availing of social welfare benefits in this country at the moment. I hope that payments continue is all I can say to the Deputy at the moment.
I will be sharing time with Deputy Paul Murphy.
As the person who asked for it, I thank the Ceann Comhairle and the Business Committee for agreeing to have this debate on the arts. I ask the Minister to imagine at the best of times what it would be like if we had no music, comedy, film, theatre or art.
Imagine going through the past two months if we had none of those things. It is too awful even to contemplate. The United Nations is talking about a mental health crisis. Imagine how bad that crisis would be without our artists, musicians, poets and writers, as well as the crew - I really want to emphasise this - which includes the technicians, drivers and all the other people who make it happen. Life would not be worth living and we all know it. We only have to think for one minute what the past few months would have been like in that scenario. It would not be worth living in those circumstances and that is how important the arts are.
However, the sort of support we give to our arts workers, performers and artists is insulting. It was insulting before the Covid-19 crisis that in a country whose reputation is built on the arts, we spend less than almost anybody else in Europe in supporting arts, the artists and the crew. Then the crisis comes and €1 million is given to support artists. I have in my hand a rejection letter that was sent to an applicant to one of the schemes the Minister is claiming as a success. I will not say the name of the artist who received this rejection letter but the person is a household name. Two thirds of those who applied for this pretty miserable grant were refused and given a grade on the artistic merit of their application. It is utterly insulting. As I said, this particular rejected applicant is a household name who has given service to the State, as have all of these people. They are treated with no respect, except when people want to jump into a camera shot with them to get a bit of credibility or kudos out of the artists' work and creativity. This insulting approach to our artists has to end and we should realise, now more than ever, how important they are.
I have a few specific issues to raise. The Minister should commit to the demand of the National Campaign for the Arts for an additional €20 million in funding for this year and next year - frankly, it should be more - to fund arts and arts organisations. She should offer a commitment that the Covid-19 payment will be given to everybody, not just those who happened to be working on 13 March. Many people in the arts would have been working the following week or the week after, but they are being denied payment. The payment should be guaranteed until we at least get back to a situation where live performances and the arts are back up and running. In fact, if we genuinely want to support them, such a payment should be given out on a permanent basis to our artists, as I have suggested before, by way of some sort of public works programme. As Deputy Gannon said, theatres and people in the music business need clarity about the guidelines for a partial reopening. When or if that partial reopening happens, services are going to be chronically underfunded because the revenue streams just will not be there if social distancing is implemented.
The last point I want to make is on my oft-repeated theme of the film industry. Why are we giving out supports to film producers who have just sacked all their crew? The staff at Ardmore Studios and elsewhere were not put on the wage subsidy by the producers who get €70 million or €80 million a year but do not actually have any employees, apparently, because they do not recognise those employees as such and sacked them as soon as the crisis hit. Do those people have to go on the Covid-19 payment or are they supposed to apply for jobseeker's alliance? It is absolutely outrageous. These producers continue to look for and get supports but when their workers say, "I am your employee", the producers reply, "We do not have any employees". Let us start supporting the workers, the crew and the artists. We should be putting the money into supporting the people who actually make the art and the work happen.
I have several questions for the Minister, so I will ask a question followed by an answer and the same again, if possible. It is a bit frustrating listening to the Minister and some of the other Fine Gael Deputies, whose contributions have involved giving lip service to the idea of the importance of the arts, combined with a certain supposed realism about what can be done in terms of funding. It is the same approach that existed before the crisis but repackaged for the crisis.
It is precisely that lip service, combined with a significant absence of support, including low levels of public support compared to the European average, for example, that have left the arts sector in the state it is in and particularly vulnerable to this crisis. In reality, the Government now appears to be doubling down on that.
One very concrete question has been asked, but I will leave time for the Minister to answer. I refer to the situation facing arts workers who have not only lost all of their income but who, in many cases, have been left out of pocket because they have invested in projects which had to be cancelled. Some are still renting studios and other spaces even though they are unable to use them. Some are unable to access even the pandemic unemployment payment because of the precarious nature of their job. Does the Minister support the demands of the #artsblackout campaign to streamline access and accept a letter of reference from any Irish cultural organisation? That would mean that those who work in the arts could access this payment.
From what she said earlier, I get the impression that the Minister does not agree that supports must be continued at the same level until, at the very least, the ban on mass gatherings and events is lifted. Afterwards, we should not go back to the old, inadequate payments. The Minister says we cannot have inequity, but why are we levelling down? Why are we not levelling up? Why are we not reviewing all of the payments and, as part of that, ensuring that arts workers have stable incomes, the bottom floor of which is the basic minimum the Government has effectively accepted people need to survive on, namely the €350 weekly payment?
I will start with Deputy Paul Murphy's questions. If I leave any answers out, he can remind me.
The Deputy talked about income supports in general. From a reality check perspective, I mentioned earlier that 1.1 million people in the country are in receipt of social welfare benefits and 212,000 people are receiving €203 a week. At the end of April, there were 213,000 people on the live register. The amount of people receiving the pandemic unemployment payment in Ireland at the moment is 585,000, at a cost of €206 million.
So far, the State has spent €908 million on the wage subsidy scheme. Some 53,600 employers and 460,000 employees have availed of that scheme. Of the total number in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment, 14,000 people from the arts sector have availed of it according to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. Those working in the arts are getting the supports required from the Government. After workers from the accommodation, construction, administration and retail sectors, the arts has the highest share of people claiming the pandemic unemployment payment. It is a higher level of support than in Northern Ireland, where the payment is only €100 per week. Our payment is significantly higher.
As I said earlier, we are broadly in line with the European average. We are spending more than the UK and Germany. The UK has reallocated national lottery project grants from a development fund. The reality is that most of the money it is spending has been repurposed and was already in the 2020 budget. In Ireland, €25 million in funding was made available in March to the Arts Council to ensure that funding would get to artists affected by Covid-19. That is significant. As mentioned earlier, there is a huge deficit.
My Department's Vote has increased by 23% since 2017. I have significantly increased funding for the arts since I took office two and a half years ago. If I have the opportunity to remain in this office, I will continue to do that and will fight hard for the sector. Deputy Boyd Barrett is right. The world would not have been a good place over the past number of weeks if we did not have music, the arts and everything else to sustain us. If anything, that will give a loud signal to everybody. I am pleased that people can at least avail of the supports that are in place.
While we are here again this evening, I acknowledge that families are bereaved and family members are suffering. We again thank our healthcare workers who are doing so much during these very difficult times.
When we talk of the arts in Ireland, we are speaking of some of the central foundations of our culture, our Irishness, and the historic and contemporary creative spirit that has fuelled our Celtic identity and moulded the diverse society that is Ireland in 2020. For many years, our country has strode the world stage in theatre, drama, dance, film and music. Our literary contributions are without international peer. Our cities and regional landscapes boast historical and modern architecture of cultural significance, design and ingenuity. Our rich visual arts heritage, traditional arts, street arts and spectacles we have developed in recent years have placed Ireland as a must-visit destination, which is exemplified by attracting 11.2 million visitors to these shores in 2019.
How do we value this rich tapestry of lived experience and economic benefit in these present and challenging times? We are facing into unparalleled economic upheaval. The fallout of Covid-19 and the future implications of dealing with the requirements of social distancing have made the resumption of normal activity impossible for many of our traditional artists, performers and artistic promoters.
For many in the artistic community, finances can be precarious at the best of times. It is no exaggeration to state that for many people involved in the arts, personal and community finances are now perched on a knife-edge. Our theatres and indoor and outdoor venues have been closed since March. The majority of artistic community income has stopped completely without an answer as to how it can return. How is it possible to produce new theatre and drama work in this new reality of social distancing? In 2019, the Abbey Theatre in Dublin scheduled 30 different productions to a nightly audience of 500 people. The new live audience restriction with social distancing requirements is 52. How can arts centres open their doors to an available 10% of their previous footfall while continuing to pay 100% of their previous operating costs?
The National Campaign for the Arts has stated that an additional €20 million is needed for venues and artists to survive. I applaud the council for swiftly releasing virtually all available 2020 funding to artists and art organisations. What about next year, however, when even more funding will be needed? What priority will the Government place on supporting the arts in any future recovery plan? Where and in what quantity will funding for the arts be provided in this new reality? For indoor and outdoor venues, where social distancing must be observed, what innovations can be encouraged and developed? What supports can be provided to ensure not alone that must the show go on, but that it can do so viably and into the future?
The priority, scale and support the Government demonstrates to secure our future arts sector will signal whether our economic drivers are actively engaged or are absent or asleep at the wheel. Perhaps our thought leaders might reflect on the activity of the German Government, which recently announced a sweeping aid package for that country's creative and cultural sectors. The German culture minister, Monika Grütters, was quoted as saying "we know the hardships, we know the desperation". She continued by stating the German Government knew the importance of the creative industries' sector and the problems with livelihood. She further stated that help was being provided and "that help is coming as quickly and with as little bureaucracy as possible". Can we also extend the lofty gaze of the Minister's Department and senior officials to such high ambitions?
I will reflect experience from my city of Waterford. Our Theatre Royal and our Garter Lane Arts Centre are to remain closed and will be unviable for many months, and possibly years, to come. For a generation in Waterford, there has not been an August bank holiday weekend - there has simply been the Spraoi weekend. This year Waterford will not rhyme and chime in August to the rhythms of the Spraoi international street arts festival. Instead, our 28 year old street festival has been stopped in its tracks. Honouring Government directives on large-scale outdoor events this summer, Spraoi organisers and our artists, musicians, volunteers, funders and partners have decided that staging Spraoi is neither feasible nor appropriate.
Like so many other national cultural events, however, Spraoi remains committed to its artists and its audience. Our national artists have served this State well. They give voice to our spirits as a nation and develop our culture. In so doing, for those reasons in particular, they have helped to develop a vibrant tourist economy. The artists in my city and county are everyday people who enliven our lives and our souls with the gift of music, imagery, dance, storytelling and entertainment and in so doing provide to our region an economic engine.
Spraoi's passion for the people, the streets, the squares, the lanes and the quays of Waterford remains undented. The company is purposeful and currently active in exploring ways to return, with an adapted experience in September and with the resilience to ignite support in local communities. Like many other artistic endeavours, the Spraoi festival will require funding - not token funding as an act of charity but rather strategic funding advanced as a pragmatic investment in Ireland, in the hearts and minds of our people, and in the future economic recovery of our regions.
Covid-19 is causing our artistic sectors to face into a period of intense introspection but the questions being asked are largely commercial in nature. We may have a formula to estimate the economic value of our arts and cultural heritage in Ireland, but how do we measure the intrinsic value of the arts to our society and what funding mechanism can be put in place to see it fairly supported? This is my overarching question. What value and what future supports will the Department provide for the cultural and artistic sectors in Ireland? What funding parameters will be put in place to secure jobs and expertise in artistic imagination and expression? Given the recent announcements of capital required as called for in the small business recovery plan, the local jobs alliance report and the IBEC Reboot and Reimagine report, a figure of €15 billion has been identified as the funding requirement to refloat our national economy in the coming months. It would appear the arts and cultural portfolio will require significant and additional resourcing from such investment this year and for years to come. I am joined by many in our arts and cultural communities and in our wider tourism sector who sincerely hope this significant economic driver will receive now the immediate support it needs to problem-solve, innovate, adapt and survive. Many of us await a comprehensive and extensive investment plan from the Department and the Government. We hope to see the sector secured so that it can thrive into the future. We hope, too, that the breadth of ambition to be deployed in the Department is adequate to the challenge awaiting.
I thank Deputy Shanahan for his contribution.
In case I did not mention it earlier in the Dáil, as the Deputy mentioned social welfare supports, there is a dedicated help desk in my Department for anybody to call. If anybody is listening in, I ask him or her to avail of it if there are concerns.
On the stabilisation fund, the Deputy sort of alluded to the fact that he wants to ensure there is funding for the arts. Recovery is dependant on the rate at which the level of restrictions on economic activity can be varied in accordance with the prevailing public health guidance but my priority is to ensure optimal use is made of available resources to sustain the sector through this challenging period. We continue to consult, as I said, with the cultural organisations.
Deputy Shanahan mentioned the Spraoi festival in Waterford. There was €295,000 - quite a bit of money - given towards that. In any event, it is not yet cancelled but, obviously, it is an issue for them in terms of gatherings outside. It can be looked at. Certainly, if the Deputy needs any assistance, our Department will help him in any way we can.
Members will be aware, as the Ceann Comhairle is, that I have a grá for Irish culture and arts and I set-dance every so often. The impact the restrictions continue to have on this sector is frightening. While health and economic impacts are obvious, the reality of the situation extends way beyond and affects social and mental health and engagement between our Irish artists and culture.
I noted in her opening statement the Minister stated that 14,000 people in the cultural sector have applied for the pandemic unemployment payment. While I acknowledge that, many people in the sector are unable to get that payment because they may have another income from a daytime or part-time job. Of course, those over 66 are being denied everything everywhere, and many of them go into their late 80s and 90s in this situation with their grá for the teanga, rince, na ceolteoirí agus a leithéid. By its nature, many artists, music teachers and dance teachers might have a second, day-time job. As I said, that should be acknowledged and they should get some kind of payment.
The arts, music and dance offer an outlet for so many young people to express themselves and to flourish on a social level and the abrupt stop to all of this has had many impacts.
Social media has been a brilliant help in this regard, as has local radio. As other Deputies have mentioned, the online concerts and creations that have been published in the last few weeks have been uplifting. Many of them have raised funds for many good causes. One was a GoFundMe for the St. Mary's Choral Society in Clonmel, a wonderful society whose members do not know how it will survive. This group still has bills to pay every day for utilities, electricity, heat, light and everything else. How will it operate? Will funds be available for it?
Only as we approach our summer season will we truly realise the total decimation of our arts industry and events. I refer to the necessary but sad cancellation of festivals, exhibitions, shows and of course the fleadh season, which was due to begin with the local rounds, continue with the county and regional events and culminate in the massive international Fleadh Cheoil in late August. Ireland attracts tens of thousands of tourists from all over the world to witness our live music and cultural activities. Places like Brú Ború Heritage Centre in Cashel are famous, as is Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann with its summer seisiún shows. I refer also to GAA's Scór competition and An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha, which were unable to go ahead this year. I must also mention places like Jim O' the Mill, a renowned old public house in Upperchurch in Tipperary which only opens gach oíche Déardaoin. It hosts fabulous sessions, attracting queues that go out the door, entertained by Mr. Jim Ryan and his family. They have many visitors. One can see the awe in the tourists' eyes when they go to places like that. We used to have the same thing in the Thatch, a pub which is no longer with us. We are losing many of those, so we need to support them, because ní neart go cur le chéile.
Last month the 50th annual World Irish Dancing Championships were due to take place in Dublin, with an anticipated €10 million benefit to the economy of Dublin city and its surrounds. The Fleadh Cheoil season, including county and national events, is cancelled. I must declare an interest here. My own niece, Ms Kathy McGrath, runs the McGrath School of Irish Dance based in Caisleán Nua na Siúire. Some of the Minister's own family are from the wider south Tipperary and west Waterford area. It is her heritage as well. Like many others, my niece has done her best to provide virtual classes online, but I am sure the challenges that surround this are fairly obvious. The lack of physical engagement makes any practice much more difficult. The same goes for music lessons. It is hard to perform "The Siege of Ennis", "The Walls of Limerick", the old-time waltz or rudaí mar sin virtually. I will not say anything about the foxtrot for the moment.
Irish music and dancing is an industry in itself. Musicians, audiovisual providers, vendors, organisers and teachers are all affected. An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha has responded to this abrupt halt in activity by setting up a worldwide committee to deal with this unprecedented challenge to Irish dancing. It is not possible simply to start up where we left off on 12 March. That is the problem. The lack of extra cash that families will have to put into these activities when things reopen will be a huge issue. I appreciate the money that the Minister is committing to the Arts Council of Ireland, but we need to ensure that all these supports come through to the artists on the ground. This needs to happen and often it does not. Late last year we had problems with the Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and money connected to it. We were not too pleased with what happened but it got back on track, thank God.
Before I finish I want to pay tribute to groups in my constituency that are keeping us entertained online during this lockdown. I refer to groups like Cahir Comhaltas, Ballycommon Comhaltas, the In Tune for Life Orchestra in Ballycommon, Mr. Aidan O'Donnell and Music Generation in Tipperary, Mr. Paul Lafford and the famous Ms Louise Morrissey who sings in nursing homes, organised as I noted earlier by Mr. Paddy Doheny. I also thank Mr. Paddy Doheny himself and Mr. John Allen for making the bookings. I refer to Garda Superintendent Eddie Golden, Mr. Ned Lonergan and many others. They give of their time out of the goodness of their hearts, with no calls for encores. This is their culture and heritage and they espouse it for all of us to see and enjoy. I really thank them and I hope the Minister will ensure that the funding trickles down to the ordinary people on the ground, na daoine beaga.
While so much of the State's focus has been on saving the bodily physical health of our people, we must remember that protecting the soul of our State is also extremely important. Ensuring that the arts and our culture survive and thrive is just one way that we can make this happen. The Irish spirit is creative and artistic and has shown itself to be resilient during this crisis. We need to do what we can to make sure that the cultural and artistic capacity of communities and volunteer groups is strengthened.
They should be directly supported, given that they, like so many others, have suffered a crippling loss of revenue.
How theatres and community presentations come through this will require real imagination and practical insight, and, of course, a strong commitment. Many theatres across this State were adversely impacted due to the Covid-19 pandemic. A well-known theatre in my own constituency, Birr Theatre and Arts Centre, had just commenced an impressive and moving musical production, called "The Hired Man", before the onset of the pandemic. I had the pleasure of attending one of the first nights of this production, which I have to say was absolutely breathtaking. The production showcased the amazing talent of many participants from the small rural town of Birr, a town of great character and spirit where the arts flourish. Will theatres such as Birr Theatre and Arts Centre be provided with grants to offset some of the losses that they have incurred during this pandemic? I am urgently calling for grants to be made available to ensure that the arts continue to flourish in all parts of this State. Is there a breakdown of finance to be directed to theatres available yet? Will the Minister please ensure that grants are available urgently to ensure the survival of our theatres in the future?
I thank the Deputies. In response to Deputy Mattie McGrath, my Department provides significant support to Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and will continue to do so. We support the sector but we also have to maintain our focus on protecting public health. Deputy Nolan mentioned the Birr theatre. There are already schemes within the Department and one would hope that they will continue. The Arts Council is honouring all existing funding arrangements and it asks regularly-funded arts organisations to prioritise their own payments to artists in turn. Since 12 March, it has fast-tracked the payment of up to 90% of funding to organisations and individuals. It may well be that we have to constantly review this because nobody knows how long this Covid-19 emergency will last, or even the shape of it, especially in theatres. I acknowledge the difficulties that they face in particular. The bigger theatres such as the Abbey Theatre and Gaiety Theatre are scheduled to reopen in phase 5, the last phase. Some Deputies have mentioned regional theatres and they are very important for well-being, as Deputy Nolan touched upon. We are very conscious of this and will do all that we can to support them.
We are in the middle of a decade of commemorations. It is important to remember and commemorate the role of artists and culture in that, in affirming Irish Independence and even justifying Irish Independence in a certain way. Why are we an independent State? What makes us different? What was the impetus to become an independent State? It very much related to culture and cultural nationalism, in which artists played a significant role.
I represent the constituency of Clare and, like every single constituency and as said by every Deputy who spoke here, there are a number of festivals that I wish to mention which are not going ahead and which make our summer something to celebrate, even if the weather is not as good as we would like. Three are supported by the Arts Council. There is the Feakle Festival. Martin Hayes is a proponent of that and comes from that tradition, which is unique to east Clare. There is the Willie Clancy Festival in Milton Malbay. There is also the Killaloe Chamber Music Festival. They all receive Arts Council funding. The Scariff Harbour Festival is part of a North-South initiative and celebrates our waterways. It is sponsored by Waterways Ireland. One of those festivals which gets an Arts Council grant has determined that it will keep the grant. It states that it is a grant to support the arts and it will keep it to pay the artists.
The other festival organisers to whom I have spoken are not sure if they can do that. I ask the Minister to confirm whether they can. I am not saying they would use the money to support administration, but they could keep the Arts Council grant to give to the artists who otherwise would not have a source of income. In the case of Waterways Ireland, which supports the Scariff Harbour festival, it is not a grant, it is sponsorship and it is more difficult to sponsor an event that is not taking place. Nevertheless, a number of artists were engaged to participate in that festival and because it has been cancelled many of the artists have returned the deposits, without question. This is not about people greedily trying to hold on to money but I wonder whether there is a way we can pay people at a time when they desperately need that money. Very few people get rich out of the arts or culture in Ireland and this is a particular time of need for them. I ask the Minister if she could clarify the position with Arts Council grants and if she could see fit, even Waterways Ireland sponsorship.
The festivals are encouraged to do that. We have no difficulty with that at all. The Deputy mentioned a few festivals in Clare, such as Consairtín. That has been cancelled. Funding of €4,000 was provided to it. The Killaloe Chamber Music festival was granted funding of €16,000. The Ennis Book Club festival commenced. It received a grant of €27,000. Deputy McNamara also mentioned the Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy and the Iniscealtra Festival of Arts. As yet, neither of those has been cancelled. The Corofin Traditional festival took place already, as did the Shannonside Winter Music Festival. There are a number of festivals. County Clare is a very busy place for festivals.
The summer festivals have been especially affected by the impact of Covid-19. As Deputies may be aware, the main funding provided for festivals across the country is from my Department's small-scale local festivals and summer schools scheme and the Arts Council festivals investment scheme which is also for larger festivals such as the Galway Arts Festival, in addition to the Arts Council's strategic funding stream. The applications have recently closed so my Department has not yet assessed some of the applications but the details I have outlined might be sufficient to respond to Deputy McNamara's questions.
Regarding commemorations, on 2 January 2020 when I was in Cork City Hall we announced a significant decade of centenaries programme. This Sunday, I have the National Famine Commemoration Day, which will take place in St. Stephen's Green this year. It was in Sligo last year. We are doing as much as we can in terms of commemorations. It is a real shame for Cork in particular because it had a great programme of events lined up. There is a series of events commemorating the assassination of the Lord Mayor, Tomás Mac Curtain, and the election of Terence MacSwiney as the new Lord Mayor. We are doing everything we can. We are talking to the county councils in Cork about those, but Deputy McNamara is probably more interested in Clare.
I was going to ask the Minister a number of questions but perhaps I will just make a number of comments. As I listened to her and previous Governments, the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance comes to mind. I refer to the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs or attitudes especially in relation to behaviour. We treasure the arts on a national and international basis but then practically we give them very little. I think cognitive dissonance absolutely captures that.
I have to hand a speech from the Minister's colleague, her predecessor as Minister, Deputy Humphreys, from almost four years ago. She stated, "...we state clearly that supporting culture and creativity is vital if we want to create both a fairer society and a thriving economy." She went on to say something which I am sure the Minister would endorse tonight. She stated, "The arts are absolutely essential to the wellbeing of the Irish people and there is no doubt that a thriving arts and culture sector makes a hugely positive contribution."
Yet, when we look at the proportion of our GDP, it is 0.1%. I welcome the Covid payments and the other wage subsidy payments to the extent that the artists can benefit from that. The Minister took exception to the countries mentioned, so I will mention Scotland.
Scotland announced three funds comprising £12.5 million for its population of just under 6 million. That works out at £2.29 per head of population. Ireland announced €1 million, 50% of which was already committed. That works out at 20 cents a head. The Minister could make a comparison between the two.
Will the Minister commit to meeting with the National Campaign for the Arts if she has not already done so? It has seven very practical points. It is asking for €20 million, recognition of the crisis and a long-term plan.
To go back to cognitive dissonance, I took part in a debate today in which the figure of €12 billion for small businesses was mentioned by the same Minister. I fully endorse that. Such businesses are the backbone of our society. The document produced by John Moran, of the Land Development Agency fame, talks about €15 billion and says that, while it is very expensive, we cannot afford not to do it. Yet we look at the arts and talk about a tiny amount of money. We are not giving recognition to the importance of arts to the economy, not to mention anything else. It is ironic that one of the bestsellers at the moment is The Plagueby Albert Camus from 1947. That tells us something, does it not? It is a bestseller at the moment. We resort to art, including literature and music, all of the time. This has all been said.
My difficulty is that I am really tired of spin. I understand the Minister has a job to do but, at some stage, we must make language mean something. I have made this point numerous times in my short time here in the Dáil. If we value the arts and realise how important they are to us - and we certainly have in recent months - we must put an economic value on that and put forward a long-term plan that ensures the viability of the sector.
I have many documents in front of me but I will refer to one, which is titled "Review of Arts Centres and Venues", published last year. It is a very practical document for local authorities. It pointed out the good points but also pointed out what was missing. The National Campaign for the Arts has also done this. It made it very simple for us as regards Galway. It made five points about providing a space to perform, a space to learn and a space to share. It also made a few other points in that regard. In a very practical and simple way, it told us what was necessary.
Will the Minister please meet with the campaign? It represents many organisations on the ground and approximately 23,000 artists. It is not looking for charity or even for a handout. These artists are looking to survive so that we can continue to thrive because of our artists. That is all I am asking of the Minister tonight. Can we please stop with the spin? I thank her for her contribution as regards what has been given so far but it is not being done in context because they will not survive unless urgent action is taken.