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Nialler9 'We need a live events roadmap now - our futures and livelihoods depend on it'

DJ and music writer Niall Byrne (Nialler9) says a roadmap for live music is badly needed – to give people work, and hope.

ON FRIDAY, THE Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht Sport and Media Catherine Martin TD made a statement that was supposed to provide hope for the live music industry sector – but actually dashed mine, and made my heart sink lower than I thought.

Martin “signalled her intention to work closely with Government colleagues towards developing a re-opening plan for the sector” while extending the deadline for the use of funds for the Live Performance Support Scheme (LPSS) until the end of October and lowering the criteria for Music and Entertainment Business Support Scheme (MEBAS).

Oh great, another signal of intent.

500 days of closure

Like many involved in the Irish music industry, I have been waiting with bated breath for over 500 days, 16-plus months, to get back to live events, to putting on gigs and club nights – to make a normal income.

An industry who has never had to ask for anything, grouped together and made their case, and eventually funding and supports came to the tune of €61.5m, and are appreciated by those who can access them, but the uncertainty for the future has gone on long enough.

We are still left wondering about the answer to one fundamental question, which remains no clearer than summer 2020. If anything, less so.

We need a roadmap for live music now

Where is the roadmap?

How many times do we have to ask for a live music roadmap?

How many times do we have to jump through hoops?

To put on socially-distant, reduced capacity “pilot” events that don’t test anything meaningful, or point to a realistic way forward? Those events gave people hope, and some people work, but it there has been no roadmap and actual details been absolutely stagnant since. In May, the government kicked the can down the road to July, while other countries put plans in place.

Last week, because of how our archaic laws bind licensed premises to music, a statutory instrument (page 4 of this PDF) introduced for the indoor dining bill, has actually made the performance of live music indoors a criminal offence, while dancing is banned.

Dancing indoors is banned.

Live music indoors is a criminal offence.

We have actually gone backwards, while we watch Irish musicians go to England to perform at festivals already with no restrictions.

How ludicrous is this going to get? The can has been kicked down the road, and into a landfill site. At the end of July, all we got from the Minister was more signalling.

This is not good enough 16 months after the pandemic started.

We are in a worse position now than we were in August 2020. A year ago.

We can’t wait until the end of August 2021

The extension of the LPSS until the end of October is simply another dagger to the heart of the hopeful, extended only because the Taoiseach Micheal Martin announced yesterday that there would be no further lifting of restrictions until September. The lowering of criteria of the MEBAS was necessary as it excluded many people who want to access it, but we need now to actually get back to work.

Why are restrictions still placed on live music sector, while Croke Park hosts thousands? Why can 24,000 people go to the All-Ireland semi-final next week but the best we can get for a gig is a socially distant pod of four, in a field at 200 capacity?

I understand a seated stadium is different than a standing or seated crowd at a live music event, theatre, or comedy event – but why the massive discrepancy?

These decisions are no longer rooted in reality, in what’s happening right now.

It seems that not even the big boys, Festival Republic or MCD can get a clear answer about Electric Picnic as a letter to show how that festival could work as a “pilot event,” is seemingly leaked to the media.

If people are vaccinated, then why keep restrictions?

As the vaccination programme reaches 71% of people fully vaccinated, and 86% partially vaccinated, the government has no excuse left for letting the industry get back to doing and putting on gigs.

If they continue to place restrictions on live music and performances when say, 85% of the population are double vaccinated, what is the point of the vaccination programme? We need some basic information so we can plan.

We need to know if we can put on events with Digital Covid Certificates, PCR and antigen testing. We need dancing and live performances indoors not to be a criminal offence.

We need indoor gigs to be allowed once vaccination reaches a certain percent.

We need to know when social distancing is going to go. We need to know when full capacity gigs are able to be put on. We need to know when nightclubs can reopen. We need to plan.

We need to work. It can’t just be government-funded events until October.

These events only give most people working at them a few days pay. It’s not enough.

What will happen to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment for those people?

Catherine Martin, the mental health of an entire industry lies in your hands now. For some, it’s too late. We hear a lot of rhetoric but no roadmap.

Popular Irish artists need to speak up

Minister Martin knows all this I’d wager, but still nothing is done. We keep hearing about the engagement with the sector, the understanding, and yet, inaction.

Now, the live music industry needs to speak up. The Dáil is off on holidays again, and we are being left in the lurch, just like last year. We cannot wait until the end of August to see a roadmap.

As I’m sure the stakeholders Martin has talked to have communicated to her over the last 16 months, through a recovery Taskforce, or the many meetings with representatives, it takes time to plan gigs, festivals, events.

We need the voices of big Irish artists to demand action from Catherine Martin and the government at large.

We need artists of all ages, of all genres, who have clout, and people listen to, to say something NOW.

We need Irish musicians and artists of international renown to shame the government into action. NOW.

We those who are suffering in the theatre industry, who have household names, to speak out. We need more than another commitment from the Minister, as her statement puts it, “that the Government will be in a position to give a clear signal on a reopening plan by the end of August”, we need action now.

The end of August is too late.

We need a roadmap now.

Stop telling us about what could happen in the future, and make the present relevant.

Our lives, and our livelihoods depend on it.

Nialler9 is a music writer and DJ based in Dublin – this piece was originally published on his website 

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