No sign of €50m fund for entertainment sector five months after budget

Senators highlight mental effect of lockdown on musicians and artists unable to perform

Senator Marie Sherlock  said live entertainment businesses are hanging on by their fingertips and still have costs even though they are not operating. Photograph: iStock

Senator Marie Sherlock said live entertainment businesses are hanging on by their fingertips and still have costs even though they are not operating. Photograph: iStock

 

The live entertainment industry is still waiting for details of the €50 million fund announced for the sector in the budget five months ago, the Seanad has heard.

A series of “good and positive initiatives” were introduced by Minister for Arts Catherine Martin when the sector was first shut down a year ago, but Labour Senator Marie Sherlock said that since the fund was publicised in Budget 2021 there had been little additional detail on how it will be rolled out and who will benefit.

She accepted the Government’s strategy of taking a cautious approach but there was no excuse for a lack of information given that “the essence of a sector such as the live entertainment industry means that it needs time to plan”.

Independent Senator Frances Black also highlighted her growing concerns about the impact of the lockdown on the mental wellbeing of musicians and artists “because without the outlet and expression of live performances many of them are struggling emotionally and mentally”.

Ms Black paid tribute to musician Gareth Kane, who took his own life in October last year. A bassist with the David Keenan band, he also played with Harry Hoban and The Brothers Kane band which also included his brother Gerry.

She said his wife Caroline had spoken about the lockdown “and how it devastated his mental health, his inability to gig and express himself during the pandemic”.

The Senator said more supports are necessary to ensure those in the industry struggling with their mental health “see that there is a commitment to reopening the arts industry”.

Fianna Fáil Senator Eugene Murphy said the Taoiseach had told him progress was being made but“the money is not getting to those whose livelihoods used to be the €20,000 or €30,000 they earned from music”.

Ms Sherlock said live entertainment businesses are hanging on by their fingertips and still have costs even though they are not operating.

Rateable businesses

She also hit out at the Government’s “fixation on rateable businesses” which meant many operators cannot avail of the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS), and the Covid business aid scheme.

“In 21st century Ireland, it is not acceptable to suggest that a business has to operate from a premises with a shopfront. Thousands of businesses operate from a back room.”

Ms Sherlock acknowledged that there had to be criteria but there were alternatives and “surely VAT could be the metric, the anchor on which businesses could be targeted for support”.

Minister of State Ossian Smyth, speaking for the Minister for Arts, acknowledged the issue around rateable businesses.

He said last year the department provided grant aid to a range of programmes and initiatives for “much-needed cultural and live entertainment content”.

The €50 million funding will include live performance support, and other measures are being considered.

The department has gained valuable insights into last year’s pilot project “and will apply these learnings as soon as possible when allocating the funding this year”.

But Ms Sherlock said “we are now in 2021 and we want to hear about progress. It is about looking ahead, not looking back”.

Mr Smyth said the Minister “is very keen to deliver on her commitments” and he also pointed to the Minding Creative Minds support services which provides access for the sector to counsellors and psychotherapists, and had received €230,000 from the department.