Guaranteed Irish

A new Bill is calling for a quota of Irish music on the radio - and the music industry isn't happy about it

Labour TD Willie Penrose has an amendment up for discussion this evening calling for a 40% quota of Irish music on Irish radios.

music Musicians including Phil Coulter and John Sheahan performing outside the Dáil on 28 September

Updated 14.30

A NEW BILL calling for a 40% quota of Irish music on our radios is set to go before Dáil Éireann this evening, and the Irish music industry seems less than impressed at the prospect.

The bill is the brainchild of Labour Westmeath TD Willie Penrose.

While the amendment in all likelihood won’t pass given the government is not expected to support it (it’s understood it sees the bill as being unworkable as it would be discriminatory and would be in breach of some EU regulations), its principle hasn’t gained many fans within the industry here regardless.

In advance of this evening’s debate, Penrose has called on TDs from across the board to “support Irish music”.

“It’s time Irish politicians supported Irish music and the thousands of jobs it currently supports, and the many more it could, if this bill passed,” Penrose said.

donna taggart Donna Taggart

The TD  cites the example of Tyrone singer  Donna Taggart as exemplifying the problems with Irish music radio as it stands.

“Donna Taggart’s song Jealous of the Angels received over 60 million hits on Facebook, topped the US Billboard Catalogue Chart and went to number one in Canada, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand and across the world,” he said.

Last month Warner Music International signed Donna Taggart to a worldwide recording contract, yet in her own homeland, like so many new and even well-established Irish acts, she finds it all but impossible to get air time on Irish commercial and state broadcaster radio channels.

While Penrose says that his bill covers “all genres once it’s Irish music”, the suggestion had been in place that traditional Irish music was more on the bill’s radar than contemporary.

In late September, he gathered up a group of Irish musicians and brought them for a sing-song outside the gates of Leinster House, with Phil Coulter, Johnny Duhan, John Sheahan, Sibéal Ní Chasaide, and the Doyle sisters among those to perform.

The bill, which Penrose claims is “supported by Irish musicians across the country” features only one amendment – that section 65A of the Broadcasting Act 2009 be altered “to ensure that when an Irish radio licence is awarded that a quota of Irish music must be played on the airwaves” (Penrose has since clarified that should thee bill pass it will apply to all Irish stations, not just new ones).

Such a quota itself is not without precedent. In Canada, English-language and French-language stations much ensure that at least 35% of the popular music they broadcast each week is Canadian in content, while commercial radio stations also have to make sure that at least 35% of popular music broadcast between 6am and 6pm Monday-to-Friday is Canadian. Meanwhile, a 90% quota was recently brought in by South African national broadcaster SABC.

Not happy

Be that as it may, overall reaction from industry professionals here hasn’t been universally positive, to put it mildly.

Dave O’Grady, of independent artists marketing group Gilded ALM, is scathing in his assessment of the bill.

“My worry is that this 40% nonsense, and it is absolute nonsense, will decimate the radio landscape. Does anyone really think we can support this diverse range of stations playing 40% of Irish music all day every day and still have them operate on a commercially viable basis? Never mind the fact they will become unlistenable, they are already part of a landscape that offers the listener the chance to flee to streaming sites and access international radio stations on the web,” he told

There’s plenty of bad and substandard Irish music out there, there always has been. Irish music needs to be able to compete, not given a free pass, because if it can’t compete and find a place in the home marketplace it won’t find one elsewhere.

12/5/2016 Water Issues Willie Penrose

According to O’Grady, who acknowledges that his current role is “servicing international music to radio” although he has also managed many Irish acts such as Mundy and David Kitt, the prospective bill will “cost jobs and diminish the Irish radio landscape”.

It is appallingly badly thought out and as far as I’ve heard has absolutely no support within radio or the contemporary Irish music business.

“I’ve never heard anyone involved with this bill acknowledge the wealth of radio programmes, DJs and presenters that live and breathe Irish music of all genres, that treat it with great respect and actually love playing it,” he said.

New music

Music blogger Niall Byrne has a slightly more measured take on the situation.

“What you’ll find is that the BAI monitor output as it is. People are audited, and at least 20% of output would be expected to be Irish anyway,” he says.

With this new move, it’s being pushed by what you might call the older generation. People like Phil Coulter, who are more established, and much more comfortable than newer acts.

In the case of country singer Nathan Carter, a musician previously cited by Penrose as an example of the kind of music people in Ireland have an appetite for, Byrne points out that “he’s born in Liverpool, and his parents are from Newry”.

“Does that make him Irish? He’s also very successful and makes lots of money.”

“If we really want to back Irish music, we need to play and support new Irish music, especially with the likes of (Dublin radio station) TXFM gone,” he says.

How do you support the new people so they grow and are able to sustain themselves?
The importance of introducing new music has to be emphasised. I’m happy for there to be a quota, if it’s new artists that are benefiting from it, and not just the establishment.

The Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2016 will be debated in the Dáil this evening from 5.45pm.

Read: Leaders’ Questions: ‘The government has published more reports than built houses’

Read: West Cork islanders left stranded for two days after cable car service was suspended

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