Back Chat: Music quotas a bum note
Labour TD Willie Penrose isn't the first politician to be troubled by the shape-throwing of Rihanna or Kylie Minogue. But he is probably the first parliamentary pop-picker to be less bothered by the raunchy pair's gyrating booties than their wandering roots. Penrose condemns what he calls the "crazy loophole" which has seen hits by both the Barbadian and the Australian classified as Irish because they were partially recorded in this country. The "nationality" of the songs becomes an issue because domestic radio stations have been making a nonsense of their own voluntary commitment to play as much Irish music as possible.
Penrose's objection to spray-on Irishness is perfectly reasonable. However, he appears to forget that this kind of cock-eyed Paddywackery is actively encouraged by the government to which he pledges allegiance. It was, after all, former Labour leader Eamon Gilmore who personally conferred Tom Cruise with his Certificate of Irishness. Labour ministers were also prominent connivers in the pretence that Barack Obama is a Mick from Moneygall.
Penrose's concern about the economic hardship facing many Irish musicians is commendable. Nevertheless, he is misguided in his call for statutory quotas, decreeing that 40pc of the music played by all radio stations be Irish.
By citing home-produced country 'n' western as the genre that most deserves more airplay, Penrose inadvertently highlights the problems of definition that would plague his proposed quota system. A few notable exceptions aside, Irish country is little more than a pale copy of the real deal. Categorising it as authentically Irish ignores the fact that many practitioners sing in clumsy approximations of American accents.
Penrose has raised an important issue but his suggested solution is unworkable. When it comes to music, no government quota will ever become a crowd-pleasing number.
Even radioactive clouds have a silver lining. Green Party leader Eamon Ryan was forthright in condemning the European Commission's approval of British plans to build a new nuclear power plant in Somerset, 240km from the Irish coast. Nevertheless, he seemed discernibly eager to find some cause for optimism even while contemplating the doomsday scenario of a Chernobyl-style meltdown. "We would survive it," Ryan told RTE last week. "(But) we might have to go indoors and shelter."