Penrose calls for more Irish music on radio stations

27 July 2016

Speaking in Dáil on Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2016: First Stage

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for a minimum percentage of Irish works in radio music programmes and for that purpose to amend the Broadcasting Act 2009, and to provide for related matters.

The purpose of this Bill is to introduce a quota for Irish music to be played on the Irish airwaves and, for that purpose, to amend the Broadcasting Act 2009 by the insertion therein of a new section 65A, which provides that it is a condition for the awarding of all sound and broadcasting contracts under section 65(8) that at least 45% of the aggregate amount of transmission time allocated to music content in the programmes to be provided under the contract shall be reserved for musical components that relate to some distinguished element of the culture of the island of Ireland.

I have been focused on this issue for a number of years, having had detailed discussions with numerous musicians, composers and singers, among them Stephen Travers, Danny McCarthy and the world-renowned Johnny Duhan, who has written extensively on this issue and has compellingly debunked the basis of the many and varied bureaucratic responses which were the hallmark of political and ministerial answers to this suggestion of a quota, which were cowardly. The position adopted by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources does not stand up to any independent scrutiny. The proposal has been carefully couched so as not to contravene European law. The hoary old chestnut of a reply that there is no clear definition of what constitutes contemporary Irish music in all its diversity that would convince the EU authorities that we have legitimate case for legislating for a quota in Ireland is wrong. Why was it possible for France to do it? Perhaps in the context of Brexit the European Commission will cop itself on and realise that we have some degree of independence, particularly in our culture and music.

Surely the Department is aware that the EU authorities have already sanctioned the definition of contemporary Irish music submitted by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland to the Commission in the last decade of the last century. What blocked that proposal was an objection from the independent Irish radio sector, which felt that the awarding of the quota if sanctioned by the EU might be used as a legal tool to discriminate against the predominant form of popular music that they were promoting in their stations throughout Ireland, particularly in Dublin. The quota is now down to 3%, even though the original contract provides that it should be 30%. We have sat on our hands and allowed this to happen. We have the legislative tools to deal with this issue, particularly this Bill.

This legislation is tightly framed, but there is no proposal that cannot be improved by amendment. I was careful to remain within the legal parameters of what is permissible under EU law. The definition provides: “…..the music and lyrics should be composed and performed by persons in authentic sympathy and in tune with Ireland’s unique cultural ethos”. As stated by Johnny Duhan, because our songs are now primarily written in English, it is often alleged that Irish music culture is part and parcel of a link or nexus with the UK or the US. That is not the case. We have a rich musical culture of our own, stemming from our Celtic past, which we have developed in a modern way through engagement with other national cultures.

I should point out that nowhere in the Bill is the nationality of the proponents of Irish music specified. As such, Ministers who come forward with that excuse are ill advised or do not understand what the Bill seeks to achieve. A lot of prominent Irish musicians and composers who know the situation on the ground endorse the idea of introducing a quota, including Danny McCarthy, Christy Moore, Paddy Moloney, Brendan Grehan, Paul Brady, Mary Black, Frankie Gavin, Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, Steve Wickham, Jimmy McCarthy, Sean and Delores Keane, Finbar Furey, Finbar Wright, Sean Tyrell, Máirtín O Connor, Peadar Ó Riada and Louis Walsh. I intend to hold a press launch in respect of this Bill in late September and to meet with all Deputies and Senators to discuss why it is necessary. I will hold a meeting in the AV room at the end of September for that purpose, and, perhaps, an impromptu concert as well.

I know that people were shocked by the viewing figures of over 500,000 for RTE’s “Late Late Show” country music slot. Mr. Tubridy was in awe in that regard. While he often travels beyond the Pale, he might want to travel further afield to the real country, where he will discover the importance of country and western music. Venues across the country are packed out, including in Westport, which is in the Taoiseach’s area, and in Ballinrobe. In Ballymore, which is in my own constituency, the August weekend music festival is one of the largest in the country. I invite my colleagues to attend.

Traditional céilí music and Irish dancing are flourishing. There will be more than 350,000 people in Ennis for the national fleadh next month.

John Creedon covers it in short programmes. Irish TV covers it for two or three hours every night. It is time our national broadcaster got its finger out. Folk music is similarly well acknowledged across the country.

This quota covers Irish music of all genres. Thousands of the finest Irish musicians are being excluded from our airwaves simply because we have allowed ourselves to be steered by musical trends and fashions constructed primarily in the US and Great Britain. In the context of the new make up of the Dáil, the current political dispensation and the supposed new politics, I look forward to seeing this Bill become fully fledged, important legislation on the Statute Book. It will protect our musical heritage for future generations of our citizens. They deserve nothing less.

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