Arts sector in North gets €11 million more in Covid-19 supports than community in south

Galway 2020 awaiting EU Commission approval to extend programme into next year

The arts sector in Northern Ireland will receive over €11 million more in Covid-19 funding from the UK authorities than the Irish Government is providing to the industry in the south, the Dáil has been told.

Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon welcomed the €25 million in funding support announced in June by the last government but he compared it to the stimulus package of billions provided by the British government to the sector in the UK.

He said it meant that “the North of Ireland got €36.7 million for the arts there, despite having a smaller population and a smaller cohort of artists.

“While our artists and artistic community welcome the €25 million, although it is not enough, can we guarantee that it will be committed to for next year and possibly extended?”


Minister for Arts Catherine Martin said that "making comparisons across different countries is difficult for many reasons, including population size and the nature of the arts and entertainment sectors".

She said the UK had a very large commercial theatre sector and pointed out that according to the EU Ireland’s expenditure on arts and culture in recent years “has been broadly in line with the EU average”.

Ms Martin was speaking during a debate on revised estimates of €379.6 million for the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in 2020 including €25 million in additional Covid-19 supports.

The €25 million to the sector, including the €20 million to the Arts Council, “was a direct response to the need identified by that expert advisory group. It is also very much in line with the recommendations of the National Campaign for the Arts,” the Minister said.

She also confirmed to Independent TD Catherine Connolly that Galway 2020 had applied to the European Commission to extend its cultural programme until April next year, in the face of the pandemic, and "a response is awaited".

Designated as the European City of Culture for this year Galway 2020 has been embroiled in controversy from the outset around funding and event organisation, and its programme has been severely affected because of the Covid-19 crisis.

Galway 2020

The Minister said the Government is the sole remaining funder and she will make a decision “shortly” on Galway 2020’s application to continue funding for a “re-purposed” programme.

The organisers have proposed 27 events from the original schedule but based on current social distancing guidelines and including “limited access physical performance, exhibition installations and a significant element of digital delivery”.

One cultural partner has indicated that it will not be possible to deliver its proposed events by the end of March 2021. A request for the prolongation of the cultural programme to April 2021 has been sent to the European Commission to allow time for delivery in changed circumstances and a response is awaited.

The unspent elements of committed local authority funding is no longer guaranteed and there is no expectation of further private sponsorship, leaving the Government as the sole funder.

“As I said, I have received a request from Galway 2020 to continue funding for a repurposed programme and I hope to make a decision on this shortly,” the Minister said.

TDs also raised concerns about the pandemic payment and temporary wage subsidy scheme. Mr Gannon said this funding was helping vulnerable artists to “feed themselves” and these payments needed to be continued until the artistic community could access their workplace in the manner that they did before the pandemic.

But People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said thousands of arts workers had their payments cut this week. The pandemic payment is €350 while jobseekers allowance is set at €203.

“That is really kicking people when they are down rather than supporting them when they need it,” he said and the cut “failed to take into account the episodic and precarious nature of the employment of many in the arts, culture and entertainment sector”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times