Thursday, August 19, 2021

Updated at 11:17

Minister for Arts Catherine Martin’s request to attend a key meeting of political leaders to discuss reopening the arts industry has been rebuffed, although she may attend a similar meeting next week.

As The Irish Times reports, she had sought an invite to Thursday’s meeting of the Cabinet subcommittee on Covid-19, which is to be briefed by public health officials and Health Service Executive chief Paul Reid, among others.

She wanted to make representations to the committee on behalf of the arts sector, which is seeking a firm date for the reopening of the industry.

Ms Martin told a meeting of industry stakeholders on Wednesday that she tried to get the subcommittee to agree to dates for reopening at a meeting on August 6th, but it was not approved.

Government sources said it was normal practice that a line Minister would attend the subcommittee when issues relevant to their sector were being considered, and that Ms Martin may attend in this context next week.

It comes as senior officials warned the peak of the latest Covid-19 wave will come later than initially predicted, putting the reopening of the live entertainment sector in doubt.

The issue has led to clashes in the Government coalition.

In a briefing to political officials on Wednesday, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said he was “concerned” at the current trajectory of the virus.

Officials were informed that the current wave was likely to peak later than originally expected, which would have an impact on the healthcare system.

Reopening date

Minister for Culture Catherine Martin is trying to secure a reopening date for the entertainment sector, and she has told colleagues that she wants to be part of the Covid-19 Cabinet sub-committee for its meetings on Thursday and next week.

Sources told The Irish Times that Green Party leader Eamon Ryan was progressing this request and “trying to get it over the line”.

Public health officials believe the Covid-19 situation has deteriorated since senior politicians were briefed two weeks ago.

However, the impact of the vaccination programme means the overall projections are more positive.

Ministers are to be briefed on the current Covid-19 infection rate on Thursday.

There will be a full meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) next Wednesday, before advice is sent to Government on the easing of restrictions.

Government sources told The Irish Times there is a concern about the State’s high case levels and disease incidence relative to the rest of Europe.

Many in Government believe the focus will be on the return of schools and universities in the coming weeks and that while there will be a plan for other sectors which remain closed, they may have to wait a little longer.

Some Ministers are understood to be frustrated with this position.

“Our restrictions are among the toughest and our vaccination levels among the best but we aren’t seeing the benefit of it yet,” a source said.

We do feel sorry for Catherine Martin and the position she is in, but it’s just not good enough from our point of view.

Lack of progress

Meanwhile, a representative for the Event Industry Alliance has expressed deep disappointment at the lack of progress on deciding on a date for the return of the live event sector.

Dan McDonnell told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that the alliance had been “deeply disappointed” following a meeting with the Minister Martin.

“We do feel sorry for Catherine Martin and the position she is in, but it’s just not good enough from our point of view. We were deeply disappointed about how it was left yesterday and the short of it is that there is no progress being made.”

Mr McDonnell called on the Government to allow Ms Martin to sit on the Covid sub-committee when decisions were being made on the entertainment sector.

There were 35,000 people employed in the sector which was worth €3.5billion, he said.

The alliance had also been disappointed that the Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly did not participate in the virtual meeting on Wednesday, although they did send representatives, he acknowledged.

Mr McDonnell said the sector had been pushing for some time for cross departmental collaboration on a return for the sector. It was important that there be ongoing meetings and Ms Martin had agreed to meet again next week, he said.

 Additional reporting from Vivienne Clarke

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