Minister sings the same old song over the crisis facing Irish music
Only a radio quota can save our musical heritage from the influence of the UK and America writes Johnny Duhan
At a meeting with Minister for Communications Alex White at the end of last year to discuss the possible introduction of an Irish radio music quota, the minister emphasised that the stumbling block to achieving this was a clear definition of what constitutes contemporary Irish music in all its diversity that would convince EU authorities that we have a legitimate case for legislating for a quota in Ireland.
The EU authorities had already sanctioned a definition of contemporary Irish music that the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland had submitted to the EU in the last decade of the last century. What blocked that proposal was an objection made by the Independent Irish Radio sector who felt that the wording of the quota provision accepted by the EU might be used as a legal tool to discriminate against the predominant form of popular music that the independent radio sector were promoting on stations throughout Ireland and primarily in Dublin.
Minister White made a solemn declaration that, if our delegation could come up with a convincing argument and a clear definition of what constitutes Irish music in all its strands in the 21st Century, then he would do all in his power to push it into legislation. I spent a month condensing research I had published in three Sunday Independent articles on the subject into the document that Minister White asked for. The nub of the proposal ran as follows: Existing as we do at the backdoor of the UK and with the US nearer to us linguistically than to any other EU country, we are more exposed than any of our EU partners to the cultural influence of England and America. Because the hegemony of these two cultural giants between them control the power wheels of the popular music industry, we in Ireland are at risk of losing our unique cultural identity in the years ahead.
Our EU musical counterparts have a clear advantage over us by the fact that they sing primarily in their own languages because radio audiences throughout Europe still have an appetite to hear a high proportion of their songs in their mother tongues.
Because our songs are primarily written in English, it may be perceived that Irish musical culture is not only inextricably linked to the cultures of the UK and the US but is part and parcel of a UK/US nexus, but this is not the case.
Ireland has a rich musical culture of its own, not just stemming from our Celtic past but developed in a modern way through engagement with other national cultures.
We were careful to remain within the legal boundaries of what was permissible under EU law by stipulating as a definition, that the music and lyrics should be composed and performed by persons in authentic sympathy and in tune with Ireland’s unique cultural ethos.
A list of prominent Irish musicians and composers endorsed the proposal, including Bill Whelan, Christy Moore, Paddy Maloney, Brendan Graham (founding chairman of IMRO), Peadar O Riada, Mary Black, Louis Walsh, Paul Brady, Moya Brennan, John Sheahan, Colm Wilkinson, Michael O Suilleabhain, Finbar Furey, Finbar Wright, Sean Tyrrell, Mairtin O’Connor and many others.
Minister White rejected the proposal outright in an email that said: “I believe a central obstacle to the introduction of a quota for music performed or written by Irish persons remains that it would not be in accordance with the principles of EU law.” But nowhere in our proposal had we specified the nationality of the proponents of Irish music. So this obstacle is a red herring.
Since I started writing on this issue last year, it has come to be accepted, even within the radio sector, that Irish radio is in crisis from the perspective of artists and composers.
A chairman of the IRTC is on record as stating that the percentage of Irish music played in some independent Dublin stations plummeted to as low as 3pc at one stage. And a mere three or four Irish acts now manage to make it into the PPI’s compiled top 50 songs played on radio.
The fact that all of these acts sing with American accents isn’t a big issue, but, with the centenary of our national year of independence looming and a general election earmarked for the beginning of 2016, to say nothing of the European Year of Culture in 2018, maybe the Minister should admit that Irish radio has descended into a money-making business that excludes thousands of Irish musicians from its crude remit and stop pretending that it has anything to do with culture.
A quota needs to be introduced as a mark of urgency, to protect our musical heritage for future generations.