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Opinion: Today's announcement was a shambles - the live events sector is now on its knees

Concert promoter Shane Dunne reacts to the latest government announcement on the live events sector.

Shane Dunne

I HAD surgery last week. A very nice surgeon took a blade and cut a hole in me; the next day when the anaesthetic wore off it was sore – really, really sore – but today was worse.

It was another kick to the stomach of an entire industry that has already taken a couple of kicks too many.

In April 2020 when the commercial live music sector started talking to government about supports to get us through the pandemic, we were repeatedly told that they had already “looked after” the sector through funds given to the Arts Council.

More power to the Arts Council, but they weren’t funding us. Though we’d never asked before, so maybe they could be forgiven for not knowing who we were?

So we told them, repeatedly, how thing were affecting us. I even went in front of the Oireachtas Special Committee, for all the good that it did. We ran a huge campaign in September of 2020, wrote a pre-Budget Submission via the EPIC Working Group, we told the government that ‘This Is Who We Are’.

We thought they listened. Today proved that they didn’t.

Maybe at €3.5 billion value to the economy and 30,000 people employed in the events sector, we’re not a strong enough lobby? Maybe other groups have been around longer, asking for longer, strolling through the halls of power for longer? Maybe we’re just too many individual groups?

I can’t answer the question. What I do know is that we are last, we are the last ones left. This government has given preference to every other sector over ours. I can drive to Belfast or fly to Copenhagen and stand watching a gig with a beer, but I can’t do it here.

And here we are again, 19 October, three days to reopening and we have a vague announcement that just gives us more questions than answers. You can dance mask-less in a club but you can’t stand and watch a band – seems like guitars and drum kits attract the virus laden droplets more than the CDJs… but again I don’t know, these are answers we hoped for from government but we only got more questions.

As event professionals we know better than most about safety. It’s what we do. We know that things move fast in a pandemic, all we want is our government to do the same – move fast, be proactive to save our sector. Unfortunately what we have is a government that moves about as fast as Harry Maguire did away at Leicester last Saturday.

We were behind Europe on mask wearing, we’re behind again on antigen testing, it even seems to take NIAC an eternity to make a decision on vaccines, inevitably coming to the same decision as the EU norm only weeks later.

Seated-only shows will allow for some increased activity, but going back to the earlier point it just shows that this government hasn’t listened, they don’t know who we are or what we do.

I’m sure they know the VAT we generate, the hoops we have to jump through to get event and bar licenses as one of the most overseen industries in the country, but they don’t really know.

The industry was told only a couple of weeks ago that reopening was on track. A senior NPHET member did a press run telling us that the virus was almost suppressed – we believed them, staff were hired back, taken off a Pandemic Unemployment Payment that they can’t now get back on. Sites were built for the Spiegeltent and the Cork Jazz, millions invested and here we are, like kites in a hurricane, trying to decipher a confusing press conference, vague guidelines and why it’s ok to stand in a club but not at a gig.

There are many concerts that are are sold to full standing capacity over the coming months. Most will have to cancel if the requirement for full seating stays in place, and jobs and businesses will be lost, of this there is no doubt.

All of us in the events industry closed on 12 March 2020, before we were asked. The artists, the crew – everyone has done everything asked of them for 586 days. We’ve been allocated some grants, but not enough to cover losses or pay ourselves, and far less than other sectors who have been allowed to open.

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Where do we go from here? Well that’s another question that I don’t have an answer to. But today was a devastating day for our industry and many won’t recover, that much I do know.

Shane Dunne is an event producer and promoter from Cork and founder of the Indiependence Music & Arts Festival.

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