Written answers

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht

Covid-19 Pandemic

Photo of Mark WardMark Ward (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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491. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the reason and evidence used in the decision to close gyms under level 5 restrictions. [32552/20]

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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494. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if she has given consideration to excluding gyms from restrictions in view of the important role they play in mental physical health and wellness; the reason for this decision; and the evidence for not excluding gyms. [32631/20]

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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495. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the data behind the decision to close gyms and fitness centres under level 5 restrictions; the impact of gyms on the R number; the potential reduction in the R number through the application of gym closures; the number of Covid-19 cases linked to gyms; the location of the gyms by county; and the general data which informed the decision to close down gyms. [32726/20]

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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496. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if the impact of the closure of gyms and fitness centres on mental health was considered when the decision was made to close all gyms and fitness centres under level 5 restrictions. [32727/20]

Photo of Christopher O'SullivanChristopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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498. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if gyms that provide for minimum attendees and appointment only sessions can reopen with strict social distancing and hygiene guidelines; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32749/20]

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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500. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the process by which gyms could remain open and facilitate individual training [32834/20]

Photo of Johnny GuirkeJohnny Guirke (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
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506. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the evidence and decision-making process employed when deciding to close gyms under level 5 restrictions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33019/20]

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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510. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if activities such as individual training in gyms will be reviewed under level 5 restrictions in order to allow persons to get much needed physical activity for mental health and well-being reasons; if she will be engaging with an organisation (details supplied) in respect of same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33089/20]

Photo of Catherine MartinCatherine Martin (Dublin Rathdown, Green Party)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 491, 494, 495, 496, 498, 500, 506 and 510 together.

In line with the Government-approved “Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19” gyms, fitness and leisure facilities, as with all other indoor sports facilities, must close under level 5. The only facilities not covered by this requirement are those set out in the public health regulations concerned. Given the prevailing incidence of covid in the community generally, there are no plans to alter the current Level 5 measures for these facilities.

The Framework for Restrictive Measures is a risk management strategy designed to allow individuals, families, businesses and services better understand, anticipate and prepare for the measures Government might introduce to stop escalation of the transmission of the disease.

It is framed to account for periods where there is low incidence of the disease, with isolated clusters, low community transmission, through to situations where there is high or rapidly increasing incidence, widespread community transmission and the pandemic is escalating rapidly in Ireland and globally. Notwithstanding the emergence of some encouraging trends in recent days, the latter is clearly the position currently pertaining in Ireland, in common with many other countries and relaxation of current measures is not envisaged in current circumstances.

The Government’s strategy, in line with the public health advice, is disease suppression. COVID-19 spreads when individuals and groups come into close contact with one another, enabling the virus to move from one person to another. The risk of infection spread is greater in certain environments than others e.g. uncontrolled environments, crowded and noisy places, indoor environments, poorly ventilated spaces. A range of public health measures and guidance is in place to help prevent transmission.

The framework takes account of the societal and economic impacts of the response to COVID-19. Nuanced and sectoral responses are in place to ensure the number of people impacted will be kept to the minimum necessary to control the disease given the psycho-social impacts of the disease on the population.

Given the current epidemiological situation with high incidence of disease, widespread community transmission, and growing hospitalisations and deaths, it has been necessary to put in place very significant restrictions to arrest the current trajectory of the disease and break transmission chains. This means asking people to stay at home and eliminating as much activity and contacts as is possible to ensure that opportunities for the virus to transmit are minimised, while allowing essential activities to continue. Unfortunately, this means minimising discretionary activities including the vast majority of sporting activities and the use of gyms and other leisure centres.

While the Government fully understands the benefits that facilities such as those provided in gyms, leisure centres and through exercise classes generally bring to peoples overall health and well-being, the measures in place to suppress the disease transmission are intended to minimise the risks to public health while striking the right balance in prioritising and protecting some activities over others. Such activities include health and social care services, education and other essential needs, work and economic activity, and other key societal interests such as sports and important family gatherings.

Each level of the framework contains a “basket” of measures which are intended, collectively, to contribute to lowering risk of transmission in alignment with the risk level at that time. The set of measures, individually, do not comprise a list of activities or places which are equally safe. Instead, they are “baskets” of measures which are informed by public health understanding of the disease. The measures in place for each level reflect the prevailing disease situation and recognise that we can and must prioritise some activities over others.

The Government is fully aware of the impacts that COVID-19 and the related public health measures are having on our mental health and well-being. The “Keep Well” campaign, launched on 29th October, is aimed at showing people of all ages how we can mind our own physical and mental health and wellbeing by adding healthy and helpful habits to our daily and weekly routines. It provides guidelines, information, and tips on things that will help us keep well through the coming months. Information in this regard in available on gov.ie/healthyireland.

It is also appropriate to emphasise that Sport Ireland, an agency under my Department, is leading a series of initiatives that will support people to stay active in their own local areas throughout the winter. The Local Sports Partnerships especially can play a key role in assisting local communities and groups to keep active during these challenging and difficult times. Information on contacts and the range of initiatives being pursued is available on Sport Ireland's website.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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492. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if music schools will be able to operate under the level 5 restrictions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32569/20]

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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514. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if consideration has been given to allowing individual music lessons outside of school to be held in person for levels 3 and 4; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33430/20]

Photo of Gerald NashGerald Nash (Louth, Labour)
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517. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if clarity will be provided relating to the stated concerns (details supplied) of private and community music and drama schools; his views on their request to parity relating to the Plan for Living with Covid-19; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33634/20]

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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523. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if individual dance classes can proceed under level 5. [32532/20]

Photo of Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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525. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the guidelines for teaching of music within a group and individual setting respectively under level 5 restrictions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32568/20]

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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537. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if extracurricular music education classes are allowed to continue during level 5 restrictions; if she will provide details on the guidelines relating to musical education under level 5; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33190/20]

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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544. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the status of community music and drama schools under level 5 of the Plan for Living with Covid-19; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33238/20]

Photo of Michael RingMichael Ring (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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547. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the reasoning behind commercial music and drama teachers being prevented from teaching even on a one to one basis during level 5 restrictions when a person that is funded by the local authority can teach groups of up to six; if her attention has been drawn to the discrimination this creates against the commercial and private operators as compared to the publicly funded sector; if she will address the anomaly that exists in the guidelines that have issued for the performing arts education sector; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33339/20]

Photo of Michael RingMichael Ring (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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548. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the reason students cannot be taught under level 5 restrictions even though the schools are open in relation to the commercial and private teachers that teach students preparing for the music practical component of the junior cycle, music and leaving certificate music examinations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33340/20]

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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556. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the position regarding level 5 Covid-19 restrictions and music education in particular the requirement for music instruction to follow the guidelines for youth work; her views on the communication from her Department that such music instruction cannot resume under levels 3 or 4 lockdown; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that much of this instruction is conducted on a one-to-one basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33878/20]

Photo of Catherine MartinCatherine Martin (Dublin Rathdown, Green Party)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 492, 514, 517, 523, 525, 537, 544, 547, 548 and 556 together.

The Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19was published by the Government on 15 September, 2020. Until 1 December, Ireland is at Level 5 of the Plan. Under this level the public health risk means that we are all being asked to stay at home, with certain exceptions. Information on the public health measures in currently in place in relation to the different Levels can be found at

The Health Act 1947 (Section 31A-Temporary Restrictions) (COVID-19) (No.8) Regulations 2020, which give effect to the level 5 restrictions under the Plan, provide the list of essential retail and essential services which may operate under level 5 restrictions. This list does not include private or commercial music, drama or dance classes.

Education is, however, considered an essential service under the regulations.Under Part 2 of the schedule to the regulations, essential education encompasses primary and post-primary schools, and higher and further education where remote learning is not possible. Where a service provider considers that they fall into the essential education category e.g. as part of the national curriculum or as part of a specific, state-sponsored course of study, they should refer to the Department of Education’s guidance in relation to the operation of education services under Level 5 restrictions.

Separately, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has published guidance to support the funded youth work sector. Where a service provider meets the definition of youth work, as defined under Section 3 of the Youth Work Act 2001 and is part of the state funded youth work sector, they should refer to that Department’s guidance.

Photo of James LawlessJames Lawless (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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493. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if gyms and swimming pools can remain open for the duration of level 5 restrictions in view of the vital service for both mental and physical health they provide; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32586/20]

Photo of Catherine MartinCatherine Martin (Dublin Rathdown, Green Party)
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In line with the Government-approved “Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19” gyms and swimming pools, as with all other indoor sports facilities, must close under level 5. The only facilities not covered by this requirement are those set out in the public health regulations concerned.

The Government has no plans to amend the current public health regulations as suggested by the Deputy.

Given the current epidemiological situation with high incidence of disease, widespread community transmission, and growing hospitalisations and deaths, it has been necessary to put in place very significant restrictions to arrest the current trajectory of the disease and break transmission chains. This means asking people to stay at home and eliminating as much activity and contacts as is possible to ensure that opportunities for the virus to transmit are minimised, while allowing essential activities to continue. Unfortunately, this means minimising discretionary activities such as going to the gym or to swimming clubs.

The Government fully understands the benefits that such facilities provide to peoples overall health and well-being and understands how difficult the public health measures are for individuals and businesses. The measures in place to suppress the disease transmission are intended to minimise the risks to public health while striking the right balance in prioritising and protecting some activities over others. Such activities include health and social care services, education and other essential needs, work and economic activity, and other key societal interests (in so far as possible) such as sports and important family gatherings.

Each level of the framework contains a “basket” of measures which are intended, collectively, to contribute to lowering risk of transmission in alignment with the risk level at that time. The set of measures, individually, do not comprise a list of activities or places which are equally safe. Instead, they are “baskets” of measures which are informed by public health understanding of the disease. The measures in place for each level reflect the prevailing disease situation and recognise that we can and must prioritise some activities over others.

The Government is aware of the impacts COVID-19 and the related public health measures are having on our mental health and well-being. The “Keep Well” campaign, launched on 29th October, is aimed at showing people of all ages how we can mind our own physical and mental health and wellbeing by adding healthy and helpful habits to our daily and weekly routines. It provides guidelines, information, and tips on things that will help us keep well through the coming months. Relevant information is this regard is available on gov.ie/healthyireland.

Photo of Jim O'CallaghanJim O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay South, Fianna Fail)
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497. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if under level 5 restrictions a qualified strength and conditioning coach that operates a personal training facility can continue to offer personal training; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32729/20]

Photo of Catherine MartinCatherine Martin (Dublin Rathdown, Green Party)
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Under level 5 of the Government's “Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19”, only individual training outdoors is permitted. Indoor sports, gym or training facilities are not permitted to open for personal training purposes, aside from the specific exempted athletes as outlined in the public health regulations.

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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499. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the position regarding a practice (details supplied) and the current Covid-19 restrictions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32797/20]

Photo of Catherine MartinCatherine Martin (Dublin Rathdown, Green Party)
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In line with the Government-approved “Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19” only individual outdoor training is permitted under level 5. One-to-one personal exercise training is not therefore permitted either indoors or outdoors.

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