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Nialler9: The live events industry remains in lockdown, while the government now lobbies itself

DJ and music writer Niall Byrne (Nialler9) says the music industry has been treated as an afterthought by Government.

Niall Byrne

IF IT WAS clarity the live events industry was seeking this week, the only clarity forthcoming was just how little influence the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin actually has on the government’s plans for the sector.

It was very clear from the Minister’s meeting with 15 representative groups on Wednesday that Martin can do very little to convince her government to reopen live music, clubbing, theatre, comedy and art performance, despite assurances for months.

Minister Martin told the assembled that she was unable to get a seat at the table for the Cabinet Covid sub-committee to voice her concerns to the Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, and urged the industry to lobby her own government on her behalf.

What fresh disillusionment is this for the sector? Just when you think it can’t possibly can’t any darker…

The pilot gigs have proven to be a box-ticking exercise and a PR opportunity without any meaningful testing or real-world consequence.

The roadmap?

The roadmap? Ah, the roadmap. That’s been coming since earlier this year and months later we still have no details on what it could possibly include. A roadmap, which according to yesterday’s meeting, Martin says, was presented, alongside suggested reopening dates, to the sub-committee on 6 August, but ignored.

A roadmap that no one in the industry has seen the contents of or was aware of the existence of, until Wednesday? Did no one in this department or any department actually see the refrain of  “where is the roadmap?” in recent weeks? The minister says she understands the urgency of the sector but waited two weeks to reveal the existence of a roadmap?

The meetings? The forums, task forces and working groups to date? All getting the movement about re-opening nowhere.

A reopening date? “By the end of August.”

The live industry can’t get a straight answer on anything.

All talk, no action

Yet, we’ve seen talk lead to action on Croke Park. 24,000 have already attended the GAA semi-finals while 40,000 people can go to the Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship this Sunday.

While the live industry is still being told, we’ll get something “by the end of August.” We have gone from one Minister’s “signals of intent” to a clear signal of government at large failing us.

The highest officials were invited to attend the meeting on Wednesday, but sent representatives, deeming the last remaining sector mandated to close not important enough to hop on a video call for after 500 days of closure. There’s a signal of intent for you.

The disparity between the Government’s treatment of music and sport is indicative of the wider long-standing problem of respect it shows arts and culture. There is a very clear lack of care or understanding of the value of live arts and entertainment from the government on a wider level.  Some will say ‘we told you so’.

There are 40,00 people attending a GAA match at Croke Park this Sunday which was announced with a quick turnaround like no big deal, while the live industry repeatedly met with the Minister for months to get to 200 people socially distant outdoors at a live event. No more.

The governmental decisions appear to be based on votes not science or facts or fairness across sectors. The live industry makes money – this isn’t some lark in a park we’re asking to get back to.

This is an industry that employs 35,000 people and is worth €3.5 billion to the economy. This is an industry for which every euro spent on live entertainment tickets in the State, an additional €6 is generated on hospitality and tourism.

This is an industry that doesn’t have the government’s trust when it comes to running regular live events of varying sizes in a safe manner when safety is always the first name on the call sheet.

This is an industry that scales from pub sessions to small to medium venues and theatres, to arenas to stadiums to outdoor fields, yet is continually treated with a big rigid hammer by the government. 

Inflexible.

The Live Performance Support Scheme-supported gigs happening around the country at the moment are not sustainable. We need a path to our own normality. Northern Ireland has greenlit smaller 4,000-cap festivals like Stendhal in Derry to take place while up to 10,000 gather outdoors for gigs from Irish artists like Fontaines D.C and Kodaline (with attendees showing a Covid vaccine cert or a test result), and who can’t play to more than 200 people in the Republic for the foreseeable future. 

Over 83% of the adult population is now vaccinated in Ireland and every other industry has reopened to some degree, and yet the live events industry is still being asked to lobby for the Minister who represents us, still just to plead our case?

This is desperate. We are desperate. 

Political mess

The Taoiseach Micheál Martin is being publicly lobbied by his own Minister for Culture and Arts, Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne and immunology experts like Luke O’Neill or Paul Moynagh who have advocated for reopening of the sector in recent days.

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Right now, the conversation should not still be about the possibility of the reopening, but the broad details of the stages of the reopening of the sector. 

We should be talking about ventilation, increasing use of outdoor spaces, opening small to medium indoor venues in increased numbers (not just theatre licenced venues up to 50) the use of antigen testing, removing the ban on dancing, scrapping social distancing, the expected capacities for the coming months, separating alcohol from event licensing, longer opening hours, safety, engaging our communities in the sector and looking ahead as many other countries already are. 

The live industry in Ireland is still in lockdown. This prolonged inertia makes no sense, and is damaging personally, and professionally.

It’s our livelihoods and our mental health that the government has also rejected in not letting us do our jobs. By not giving us any information to work towards, to plan, to look forward to, to programme or address, we are stuck in a state of silent alarm.

A roadmap is supposed to take us back to normality. Right now, the live events industry is questioning the existence of the very road in front of us.

Nialler9 is a music writer and DJ based in Dublin – more on Nialler9.com.

About the author:

Niall Byrne

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