The halls of Leinster House (Irish government buildings) were infiltrated this week by the sounds of some of Ireland’s best-known performers, who staged a session-style protest against the lack of Irish music played on the country’s radio stations.
Musicians, including Phil Coulter and The Dubliners’ John Sheahan, gathered together on Wednesday, September 28, alongside Labour TD Willie Penrose to demand the government introduce a 40 percent quota for Irish music on the airwaves, a bid to promote homegrown talent in lieu of foreign music makers.
Deputy Penrose plans to introduce legislation that will implement a compulsory 40 percent quota on the number of Irish artists a station must play, similar to quotas previously introduced in Canada, France and in South Africa, where they were used to encourage and promote their respective country’s indigenous music scene. Penrose claims that there are 8,000 to 10,000 jobs depending on the implementation of such a quota.
Legendary Irish songwriter Phil Coulter was among the group that gathered to play in the session outside Leinster House, along with young singers Sibéal Ní Chasaide, the O'Neill sisters and popular Midlands group Ruaile Buaile.
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Coulter believes that the future of Irish music all depends on the support performers receive from the country’s radio stations, claiming that many of the country’s greatest talent wouldn’t have found their way into the limelight if the were forced to deal with today’s conditions.
"Put it this way - if I had written 'The Town I Loved So Well' last year, it would not have been played on radio,” he told the Irish Independent.
"If Johnny Duhan had written 'The Voyage' last year, it would not have been played on radio. If Paul Brady had written 'The Island', it would not have been played on Irish radio.
"Irish radio today is not playing Irish music, full stop.”
"For a whole new generation of talented kids in this country I despair of what's in store for them. Without support on radio the Irish music industry is already in decline and it's going to get worse unless there's some radio support", he said, adding that the amount Irish music played on some Dublin commercial stations can be currently as low as three percent because the 30 percent quota they set as a target for Irish music is going completely unpoliced.
Once the protest outside the gates had finished, the session continued inside Dáil chambers where Ruaile Buaile were joined by John Sheahan to play The Dubliners favorite “Dirty Old Town”, while Penrose attempted to sell his project to fellow politicians.
"I don't know what the basis of it is," Sheahan said.
"I think some people at the top are ashamed of their own Irish culture. Why that is, I don't know."
Deputy Penrose has advocated for an Irish music quota for many years and claims that if steps aren’t taken "there will be nothing left very soon".
The TD for Longford-Westmeath also believes that the current radio airplay doesn’t accurately reflect the popularity of a number of artists across the country, especially the likes of country singer Nathan Carter. Although country music is often outcast to regional stations or to specific off-peak shows, the country music special broadcast by popular Irish TV program “The Late Late Show” last year attracted some of its highest ratings, with 1.3 million people tuning in at some point of the show.
According to figures taken from 2013, just two or three of the top 50 songs played on Irish radio that year were from Irish performers.
Do you think radio stations should give more air time to musicians from Ireland or should the decision on what music to play be based solely on more widespread popularity? What Irish bands would you like to hear on the airwaves?