- 13 Oct 20
In a budget that will have proponents of 'fiscal rectitude' calling for the smelling salts, the Minister for Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport, Gaeltacht and the Media, Catherine Martin, is in a position to announce huge increases in funding, that will be spread across an industry that has been savaged by Covid-19, and the accompanying restrictions that have been championed by the health authorities...
In what is perhaps the most extraordinary budget ever in the history of the State, the coalition government of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party has announced massive borrowing plans, to fund a wide range of supportive measures required across Irish society as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Whether the Budget plans go far enough or target the most needy will be a matter for debate over the coming weeks. However, there is at least some good news for the hard-hit live music and entertainment sector – and indeed for the wider hospitality industry – in that a specific set of measures have been targeted at what is one of the most brutally devastated areas of the economy.
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe went in at 8am, October 13, along with the Minister for Public Expenditure, Michael McGrath, to sign off on the current government's first budget, which is designed to respond to both the Covid-19 crisis and the possibility of a 'no deal' Brexit.
A huge amount of lobbying has been going on – and the live music sector has done its fair share. And the government has responded now with a suite of measures, which will certainly provide some comfort for practitioners in the field.
There are many who will feel that the Minister for Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport, Gaeltacht and the Media, Catherine Martin – who is the deputy leader of the Green Party – has done well at the budget negotiating table.
"It helps that the Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe, is a big music fan," one insider told Hot Press. "As a frequent gig-goer, he knows what it is all about. He understands how important music is here in Ireland. And he also knows how much the venues and the support crews are suffering. A different Minister for Finance might have looked at all of that with much less understanding or sympathy. But Catherine Martin has battled hard on behalf of the arts. She is a good operator."
As readers of Hot Press and hotpress.com will know well from our ongoing coverage of the issue, live music has, in effect, been put on indefinite hold since March 12, and over 35,000 workers who are dependent on this vital commercial sector have experienced devastating losses and financial hardships. According to the Music & Entertainment Association of Ireland (MEAI), almost 70 per cent of its members depend on the music and entertainment sector for their income, and 11.5 per cent have utility bills in arrears, while one in ten of members are now having to sell essential equipment to cover household expenses, and 17.4 per cent are dealing with mental health worries as a result of financial stress.
As per the details of the budget, it has been announced that there will be a significant investment of €50 million in live entertainment funding, and €130 million to the Arts Council, which will offer huge relief for many artists and members of the greater arts community, who have been faced with slashed income and mounting uncertainty in the months since the coronavirus pandemic lockdown began. A scheme of up to €5000 a week will go to businesses, such as pubs, forced to close temporarily because of Level 3 Covid restrictions or higher, starting from today.
Responding to the news, EPIC (Events Production Industry Covid-19 Working Group), who have been highly critical of the response of the State to date, said on Twitter: "This is the first time that we know of where the commercial sector has been recognised in a budget speech."
Minister @mmcgrathtd has just announced a €50M fund for the commercial live entertainment sector and funding increased to €130M for The Arts Council. This is the first time that we know of where the commercial sector has been recognised in a budget speech.
— EPIC WORKING GROUP (@Epic2020_Group) October 13, 2020
Since their formation, EPIC – alongside Arts and Entertainment industry professionals from across the board have been calling on the Government to invest in the live events industry, to ensure that the sectoral knowledge and skills can be retained during the unprecedented predicament in which industry professionals find themselves.
Key actions proposed by EPIC in a submission made in advance of the budget included: an extension of the Covid Payment and Wage Subsidy Scheme for live events and arts workers, until the mass gathering band and social distancing restrictions are lifted; an extension of bank loan and lease payment breaks until mass gatherings return; the development of a business grant support of 20% of 2018 turnover for SMEs in the events sector; for insurance companies to re-evaluate insurance policies to reflect reduced risk in public liability, event liability and vehicle insurance; a reduction of the VAT rate to 9% for the event sector for three years; and the removal of commercial rates for empty places of entertainment and the warehousing of event equipment.
Elsewhere in the budget, further cash supports for businesses forced to close during the pandemic have been introduced. Meanwhile funding will go to the Department of Health, in response to the additional expenditure required as a result of Covid-19. Additionally, €€38 million will go toward mental health under Sharing the Vision, the Government's national mental health strategy, while €500 million is being made available to “facilitate the construction of 9,500 new social housing units in 2021,” as per Minister McGrath's statement.
- This is an ongoing story.