Scenes from Electric Picnic last year.
easing lockdown

Outdoor gatherings of up to 5,000 people could take place from September, says Taoiseach

Cinemas could reopen in August, said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar today.

UP TO 5,000 people could meet in outdoor gatherings from September if the Covid-19 virus stays suppressed, the Taoiseach has said.

Leo Varadkar also said that cinemas could reopen in August if people practice social distancing.

Under the government’s Covid-19 restrictions, mass gatherings have been banned until 31 August.

The roadmap states that in Phase Five nightclubs, festivals, and any other social and cultural mass gatherings can take place either indoors and outdoors.

However, with the fast-tracking of the phases, the final phases are being amalgamated, and could be brought forward, if recommended by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET).

“If things continue to go in the right direction, and if the virus stays suppressed, I think we could see some small outdoor mass gatherings in September.

“Maybe outdoor cultural events of a few thousand people, maybe three or four or five thousand people, but unlikely to be more than that.

“I would envisage cinemas opening in August but socially distanced, and I am told that cinemas can operate at a profit socially distanced. That’s really hard for live performances for theatres, so that’s trickier,” he said.

“The demographic likely to attend the theatre and the opera are generally older so these are things we have to take into account but can’t rule anything out later on in the year,” added Arts Minister Josepha Madigan.

His comments come as the Taoiseach and the minister announce €25 million additional funding for the arts and culture sector, which has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 crisis.

Varadkar said the true value of culture has been seen throughout the public health emergency.

Culture has entertained us and enlightened us, said the Taoiseach, adding that it is “medicine for the mind” and helped to “lighten the load we are all carrying”.

He said the arts has also given him quotes that he has “peppered” his speeches with recently (the Taoiseach regularly quotes poets such as Seamus Heaney, and last week quoted Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings at a press conference).

Varadkar also said programmes like Normal People “had our hearts broken watching the relationship between Marianne and Connell develop”, but it allowed people to feel connected, by having something in common to discuss and talk about.

“The livelihoods of artists have been hit very hard,” he said, with many events cancelled such as the Bloomsday breakfast today, and Body and Soul Festival this weekend.

The €25 million in extra supports will include bursaries and commissions to artists and arts organisations, and resources for museums and culture workers as they prepare for the re-opening of society. The funding is in addition to funding previously allocated to the sector.

A total of €20 million will be allocated to the Arts Council bringing its allocation this year to €100 million. 

A further €5 million will be available for other measures, including securing the future of key cultural and museum spaces and facilities throughout Ireland, and the production of  digital art and on-line performances.

An extra €20 million for the Arts Council was a key demand of the National Campaign for the Arts in its 13-point plan to save the arts.

Arts Council Chair, Professor Kevin Rafter, said the additional funding will help the Arts Council protect jobs and livelihoods for individual artists and also assist key art organisations facing financial difficulty.

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