- 08 Aug 16
Dublin’s buskers and the residents of Temple Bar are set for confrontation, after a controversial new bill was implemented on August 1. Is this an attack on a particularly Irish art form? Kyle Mulholland investigates.
A law banning – from August 1 – amplifiers in Temple Bar, was recently passed by Dublin City Council. The controversial decision has exacerbated a long-running conflict between the city’s buskers and the residents of what is a key tourist area.
The motion to ban amplifiers was proposed by Green Party councillors during a Dublin City Council meeting in June. It was a move that took buskers – who had been campaigning, under the Dublin City Buskers umbrella, for Temple Bar Square to be designated an Amplified Busking Zone – by surprise. In response to the ban, Dublin City Buskers have mounted a boycott of the council’s current system of busking permits, currently priced at €60 per artist.
The buskers believe the new laws are far too prohibitive. “We have bent over backwards for the Council,” Dublin City Buskers’ Bobby Coyne said. “Now, in 50% of Temple Bar, busking has been banned. From McDonald’s to Fitzsimons you can’t even stand there as a statue. It’s crazy.
“We try to come across as professional as possible,” Coyne adds. “We’ve set up a constitution on our website, there’s minutes for every meeting we’ve had in 2015. We’ve had 30 public meetings discussing this issue, because we feel the issue was never really discussed properly by the Council.”
AN ATTACK ON ART
For residents such as Frank McDonald, the former Environment Editor of the Irish Times, meanwhile, the issue is clear-cut. “On a nightly basis, people who live in the area are subjected to extreme levels of noise from Temple Bar Square,” he told Hot Press. He doesn’t believe there can be any compromise between the residents of Temple Bar and the buskers that ply their trade in the city. He dismissed the boycott as ‘an act of intimidation’ “They are trying to intimidate Dublin City Councillors to reverse the ban,” he said.
For others, like Andy Kavanagh of Key West, a band who successfully used busking as a platform to drive their career, McDonald’s unsympathetic stance completely misses the point.
“This is an attack on art across the city, by a very small minority of people,” he said. “It’s a damn shame that the councillors don’t have the stones to stand up and do what’s right for the people.”
The depth of the misunderstanding is obvious. McDonald accuses groups like Key West of being commercial outfits masquerading as scrappy street artists and playing at volumes that would suit a nightclub better than a residential area.
Andy, who knows the importance of busking to the ecology of the local music scene, disagrees completely. “What we’re seeing is a campaign of misinformation from McDonald, and certain Dublin City councillors,” he says. “The amplified busking is almost all the busking there is.” He feels that an unwillingness to think about street performance and how the law will affect street performers is at the root of the problem.
For many, the decision to ban amp-based busking means Dublin City Council is plunging a stake into the heart of what makes the city a special place for so many visitors: Irish music. Kavanagh points to the current by-laws that limit amplifiers by wattage as an example of how little understanding there is. “When they first brought in the by-laws, they elected to control amplifiers by wattage,” he explains. “I had to tell them that wattage is a unit of electricity not a measurement of sound. I asked them where they got this information and they said they went into Music Maker on Wicklow Street and asked the guy behind the counter how much wattage was enough for a busker. It makes no sense.”
Buskers without amps are still allowed to busk in the area around Temple Bar Square and Fleet Street. But they simply can’t compete with the ambient street noise, rendering the whole exercise pointless. Those with amps are banned entirely.
In September Dublin City Council will discuss whether to extend the ban to other parts of the city centre. In the meantime, the campaign to preserve busking on the streets of Dublin is likely to intensify.