An Oireachtas committee has been told there is a "climate of fear" in the arts in Ireland with people afraid of losing work or facing legal action if they speak out about issues of discrimination and sexual harassment.

Jessica Traynor of SAOI - Safe Arts of Ireland - was speaking at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media.

She said in other workplaces, if a person feels inappropriate sexual advances have been made or they are being harassed or discriminated against, there is a HR system through which complaints can be made, but no such structure exists for freelance artists.

Speaking about the comedy sector, Ciara Lynch of SAOI said female comedians are treated as 'other' or seen as alternative or that they do not fit in.

She said she herself had been groped on stage by an MC in front of an audience and experienced "countless" examples of harassment.

Ms Lynch said that there is a sense that if you are a woman in comedy you "have to put up with it".

She said she knew countless other people who have had worse experiences, including rape or sexual assault, and they have just left comedy behind because they are not supported.

Ms Lynch said that at the moment female comedians are relying on a "whisper network" where people tell each other about unsafe situations.

Freelance artists feel most disempowered

The meeting was also addressed by Siobhan Burke and Jane Daly of The Irish Theatre Institute, which published its study 'Speak Up and Call It Out' last October.

The study found that the majority of those surveyed had experienced harmful behaviour in the arts workplace. They said today that since the study was published there have not been changes "from the ground up".

They said freelance artists feel most disempowered and that these are people who keep their heads down for fear of losing employment.

They called for leadership and cross-agency, cross-departmental action on the issue.

Jane Daly said there is a commitment to change but it is going to take time.

They also praised the proposed basic income for artists, which they said would give people a sense of security and enable them to turn down work if there is someone involved with whom they had a harmful experience.

Director of the Arts Council Marueen Kennelly told the meeting that, for Arts Council funded organisations, it is a condition of funding that necessary action has to be taken to address allegations.

She said as a major funder of the arts, the Arts Council is committed to using its position to influence change and that all recipients of Arts Council funding must adhere to best practices in the areas of employment and governance and all legal requirements.