- 29 Aug 21
An advertising campaign over the past few weeks has nailed the fact that the music and events industry was "the first to close, and the last to reopen" as a result of Covid restrictions. A roadmap to rectify that is being considered by the Government – and tomorrow morning a meeting will take place at which key members of the Cabinet will hear from representatives of the industry. However, the mood now among representatives is that a drawn out process is far from what the situation requires...
On Monday morning at 10am, a crucial meeting will take place between key members of the Cabinet and a wide range of representatives of the music industry. At the meeting, those representatives will, to a man and woman, repeat the calls that have been made to the Government for weeks now – indeed for months in some instances – to re-open the live music and events industry immediately.
In particular, the call is being made to allow full capacity concerts and events to proceed, where the audience is fully vaccinated. This reflects what was offered by the organisers of Electric Picnic, Festival Republic and MCD, in their campaign to allow the Stradbally event to go ahead later on in September.
“The Event Industry is pleading with Government,” Justin Green of the Event Industry Alliance told Hot Press, "that they don’t compound the hardship that has been suffered by the sector for nearly 18 months – for 535 days – any longer.”
How best that process of lifting the hardship can be achieved will clearly be at the top of the agenda for the industry representatives at what promises to be a bruising meeting.
Certainly, the Government members who attend are likely to see first-hand the level of anger that was provoked by the scenes from Croke Park, at the All Ireland Hurling Final last weekend, with the Taoiseach Micheal Martin in attendance.
"We were delighted to see the crowds at Croke Park," Justin Green said on RTE Radio, the day after the final. "As an events sector we have been intrinsically linked with the GAA... On the other hand, we have a Taoiseach – who turned up at the match in Croke Park – that last week and previously turned down proposals to re-open our sector which has been closed for nearly 18 months now, and that supports 35,000 workers.
"We put proposals that would involve allowing our sector to return with gigs where people would be fully vaccinated. We were also going to supply contact tracing to the HSE as required – but this was turned down."
These proposals – which were also made in relation to running Electric Picnic 2021 – contrast completely with what was required for the All-Ireland final.
“There was zero testing required,” Green told RTE. "Zero proof of vaccination required. Zero contact tracing required.”
Objectively, the difference in approach smacks of a kind of sporting and musical apartheid: a 'GAA good, rock ’n’ roll bad' sort of approach on the part of the Cabinet Covid Committee, who ultimately bring Covid management proposals to the Government.
Against that deeply frustrating backdrop, the positive signals that have been coming from Government sources over the past few days have been marginally encouraging.
While NPHET recommended a slowing down of the phased re-opening of Irish society last week, there seems to be a new determination on the Government side to do what the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin has been advocating over the past few months – which is to bite the bullet and allow live events to re-open.
“The way to avoid further, unnecessary hardship,” Green told Hot Press, “is by ensuring that an early September re-opening date is implemented for those fully vaccinated to attend full capacity indoor and outdoor events.
"Events must be viable,” he added, "with food and beverage sales a key source of income for our events, which are not funded by the taxpayer.”
There are other demands on the agenda in advance of the meeting.
"Vital industry business and workers supports should remain in place,” Green said, "and they should be extended until June 2022, to help allow the sector to recover. We also want to see meaningful engagement continue with Government, including a schedule of weekly progress and review meetings.”
The call for the continuation of supports has been reiterated by the Music & Entertainment Association of Ireland (MEAI), who will also be represented at the meeting.
"MEAI, which represents 5,000 members, is warning,” a statement issued by the group today said, "that up to 30 per cent of workers in the industry will not be able to benefit from the forecasted easing of live performance restrictions when they are changed to Jobseeker’s Allowance. The proposed transition to Jobseeker’s coincides with the Pandemic Unemployment Payments cuts which are scheduled to start happening from September 7.
“While it is fine to talk about reopening the industry at some date in the future which we all want," said MEAI Spokesman, Matt McGranaghan, "the here-and-now for thousands of workers in the industry is that they could face technically being made unemployed, even though they have a job – they just can’t do it."
That call was supported last week by the Oireachtas Music & Entertainment Cross-Party Committee, which is chaired by Senator Eugene Murphy
“The Pandemic Unemployment Payment and EWSS must be continued until the music and entertainment sector is fully reopen and 100 per cent capacity is achieved,” Eugene Murphy said last week.
For fans of Electric Picnic, meanwhile, there is the question: will it be designated a "Pilot Event", which would allow the gig to go ahead without the need for another licence application and approval process? It will, without a doubt be an interesting week for hte Irish live music and events industry. Here's hoping for a few big wins...