Self-employed artists including musicians and theatre practitioners are to become eligible for a new social welfare scheme.

The scheme was announced by Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan and Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty.

Under the scheme, artists can receive Jobseekers' Allowance and focus on their creative work for a year, without having to take part in non-artistic job seeker activities.

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The scheme has already been running on a pilot basis for writers and visual artists and will be extended to other self-employed artists from September.

More than 100 visual artists and writers availed of the pilot scheme.

Artist representative bodies have been working with the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to develop an independent validation process to certify the artists’ professional credentials.

The National Campaign for the Arts welcomed the news, saying that having time to plan and develop work without having to participate in non arts related activities will be of enormous benefit to practising artists.

Minister Madigan said artists, performers and stage designers deserve full support, particularly given the significant income challenges they can face.

Earlier this year Theatre Forum, which represents workers in the creative industries, released the results of a survey that showed that one third of artists and creative practitioners earn less than the national minimum wage, with almost three quarters relying on other sources of income.

The move has been welcomed by Irish Equity and the Musicians Union of Ireland (MUI). 

MUI Organiser, Graham Macken said: "This is a significant breakthrough for musicians. The Theatre Forum survey published earlier this year clearly demonstrated the shockingly low pay and impoverished conditions endured by artists. This is not sustainable, particularly for a country with our rich cultural contribution and history. We have to continue to fight to have our artists valued in a meaningful way

SIPTU's Arts and Culture sector organiser, Karan O'Loughlin said the new measures will provide significant social protection to professional performing artists including actors, musicians, dancers, street and circus performers.

Ms O'Loughlin added: "This is a positive step forward on the path to recognition of the professional status and value of performing artists in Ireland.  However, we also need a broader discussion about the working lives of artists and their capacity to have longevity and dignity in their careers"

The way to truly value artists is to ensure they can make a secure living from their work and that means the development of a basic income scheme for them."