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22 Jan 2022

Dundalk's live performance industry calls for quicker reopening as govt prepares to end Covid-19 restrictions

Dundalk's live performance industry calls for quicker reopening as govt prepares to end Covid-19 restrictions

Mark Dearey, owner of the Spirit Store

There have been calls from the live performance industry in Dundalk for a quicker return for live events, as the government prepares to announce a roadmap for removing remaining Covid-19 restrictions.

The roadmap, which is expected to allow for more capacity for live entertainment like live music and theatre, will likely be signed off in a full cabinet meeting on Tuesday August 31st.

Mark Dearey, owner of the Spirit Store venue in Dundalk, says that he is now more optimistic for the return to live events in the near future.

Speaking to the Democrat, Mr Dearey says that it is now looking more likely that there will be a relaxation of restrictions on capacities for theatres, as well as the opening of music venues in the coming weeks.

“I’m more optimistic than I was following on from the weekend,” said Mr Dearey, who has said that the events industry needs certainty and a plan to move their businesses back to commercial viability in a way that’s safe for staff, musicians and customers.”

“Hopefully by the end of September we’ll be able to run shows that will pay for themselves and do so in a safe way that doesn’t endanger staff or customers or the musicians who are in front of them,” said Mr Dearey.

Paul Hayes, Director of An Táin Arts Centre, says that currently the info being released to the arts industry is not helpful, due to lack of clarity on maximum capacities.

“So far, the information we have received is not particularly helpful… They haven’t mentioned what the capacity is going to be,” said Mr Hayes.

Currently, theatres are only able to operate with a maximum capacity of 50 people in the audience, while An Táin has a 355-seat venue.

Another issue for Mr Hayes is that events like live theatre are much more difficult to set up compared to live music events, due to the preparation time required for both professional and amateur events.

Mr Hayes says that if the industry does receive a date where they can return to higher capacities, they will have to tack on an additional two months to get acts up and running.

“It takes a long time to put a live show together,” said Mr Hayes.

“It’s not like saying they give us a date saying the 20th of September you can have full capacity, there’s not going to be any shows ready for the 20th of September.

“You can add on another two months to that.”

For Mr Dearey, he says that after the recent All Ireland Hurling Final and the Football Semi-Final, there was pressure placed on the government to allow for more outdoor and indoor music events.

“Once sport was given the go-ahead for outdoor with 25,000, 40,000 it really was very difficult to sustain an argument against large outdoor festivals and even limited indoor events.”

“I think that’s now recognised.”

He also says that it would be possible for him to quickly scale up and get bands in to play gigs as soon as he gets the go-ahead.

Event Industry Alliance (EIV) have criticized the government after meeting with Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Arts Minister Catherine Martin on Monday August 30th, saying that they are frustrated with their “lack of urgency”.

“We continue to be disappointed and frustrated at the total lack of urgency on the part of Government for the reopening of the Event Industry, which represents 35,000 people and is worth €3.5 billion to the Irish economy,” said the EIV in a statement.

“This is despite being the only sector mandated to remain closed for nearly 18 months, far beyond any other industry or sector within Ireland.”

However, the National Campaign for the Arts said that they received “positive engagement” from the government ministers at the meeting, and that they are looking forward to moving on with a “nuanced” approach to reopening arts and live events.

Dan MacDonnell of the EIV called on the government to continue business and worker supports for the arts sector until at least June 2022.

Mr Dearey echoed Mr MacDonnell’s comments, saying that targeted supports like the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) should be continued to support venues and those who work in them.

He also said that it was important that the government address the financial difficulties of workers in the arts sector, like musicians and technicians.

“It’s time for government to move on to our sector now and address the financial difficulties that are there for people,” said Mr Dearey, referencing musicians, technicians and other support industries who haven’t received direct assistance.

“It’s for people who don’t own property and couldn’t avail of [live performance support scheme], performers, technicians and a whole host of support industries.”

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