Senator calls lack of clarity on reopening dance and drama classes ‘unacceptable’

No recognition of creative arts as vital part of young people’s education, says Marie Sherlock

The Government’s failure to give guidance for when in-person music, dance and drama classes can recommence has been criticised as “unacceptable”, more than seven months after they were suspended.

As significant easing of restrictions gets under way, Labour spokeswoman on arts and culture Marie Sherlock said children, teenagers and young adults have been waiting since their State-wide suspension in October.

“I am conscious the Government needs to be cautious about easing restrictions, but we still have no guidance as to when music, dance and drama classes can recommence,” she said.

Raising the issue in the Seanad, Ms Sherlock said “I am struck that we in this country have a very narrow perspective of what education means.

“There has been no recognition that engagement with the creative arts is also a part of [young people’s] education and, for many, an essential part of it.”

All the focus “has been on getting children back into the classroom in their primary or secondary schools”.

In early December, following protests outside Leinster House, Minister for Culture Catherine Martin said one-to-one dance instruction would be permitted under Level 3 restrictions but all group dance and exercise classes would remain suspended. One-to-one classes were suspended again, however, in the third wave of the pandemic after Christmas.

Teachers have spoken of their frustration about the investments they have made in perspex and socially-distanced ballet bars and other equipment in dance studios and community halls, in efforts to ensure safe in-person classes, Ms Sherlock said.

“They are worried because there has been a fall-off in numbers as some children have not been able to access classes via Zoom” and so are concerned about whether pupils will return in numbers.

The National Campaign for the Arts has been engaging with the Department of Culture with regard to reopening guidance for the arts sector as a whole.


But calling for clarity for the dance, music and drama sector Ms Sherlock said: “I don’t think it’s acceptable that on May 10th, as the economy and society reopen, we do not have guidance on the reopening of a service that is a vital part of the education, development and wellbeing of children and young adults.”

Minister of State Frankie Feighan said, however, that the easing of restrictions "is dependent on whether the transmission of the virus reaches acceptable levels, the vaccination programme progresses as planned and [as] public health advice allows".

Outdoor training in pods of 15 or fewer has been allowed for sports and dance since April 26th.

Mr Feighan, replying for Minister for Culture Catherine Martin, said guidelines for children and young people’s arts and cultural activities was published on the department’s website last week.

“This guidance is a living document, which means that as Government restrictions and public health guidelines evolve, this document will also evolve to reflect new Government advice and changes to protocols as they emerge,” he said.

He said the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team is based on a “cautious and gradual phased reopening over May and June, with an emphasis on outdoor activity and a moderate increase in social contact”.