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Irish music quota Bill- Willie Penrose's speech to Irish musicians

29 September 2016

Speech by Willie Penrose TD
Spokesperson on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Rural & Community Affairs

“If a nation is defined by its culture – and it is – it’s hard to grasp why we Irish have allowed one of our greatest cultural assets – our music and song – to be banished from our primetime radio airwaves during the last few decades. It happened gradually – that’s why we didn’t notice it - but happen it did.  And that’s why representatives of the Irish musical community have come here today to make a case for introducing legislation to enact an Irish music quota for Irish radio that will bring Irish music of all genres back to our airwaves.

In the past a definition for what constitutes Irish music was drawn up by our Broadcasting Authority under the chairmanship of Niall Stokes and was accepted by Brussels but rejected by the Irish radio sector, on the grounds (we presume) that the definition was too vague and archaic and could not be implemented.

 Other countries, like France and Canada and South Africa, have successfully introduced national music quotas on their broadcasters, and we can do likewise. Not only have we come up with a new, simple definition for what constitutes Irish music in 2016 that doesn’t infringe on EU laws that restrict its members from using nationality criteria to define national commodities, including artistic works, but we have alternative wording definitions in place, if the first isn’t acceptable.  And we are prepared to sit down and work out other definitions, if the Irish radio sector vetoes our new definitions. Let’s get this clear; it’s the principle of the matter that needs to be established in law. The Broadcasting Authority itself formulated the stricture that a percentage of Irish music has to be played on Irish radio, but that edict has been flouted and abused and is no longer applicable.

 Now that it has been shown to be ineffectual, the logical thing to do is to translate the principle into legislation and enshrine the principle as an amendment to the Broadcasting Act as it stands. The details of how the quota can be apportioned to the various categories of Irish music and the scheduling of time frames for the quota can be worked out at a later stage.

 The Irish musical community represented here today – old and new proponents of Irish music in different genres – will give you a sample of the type of musical riches that is no longer deemed worthy to be broadcast on primetime Irish radio in 2016.

 To accept that we Irish do not have a legal entitlement equal to the French to protect our musical culture through a radio quota is an insult not only to our musical forbears – from O’Carolan, Thomas Moore and Ó Riada to the Chieftains, Bill Whelan and The Gloaming – but also to those who sacrificed their lives to establish our cultural independence in 1916 – men like uilleann piper Éamonn Ceannt who set up the Pipers Club at a time when the music was in danger of being lost.

 We Irish appreciate the great value that mainstream popular musical culture has had worldwide in our time, and we fully realise the great bonding effect that popular musical culture has among nations throughout the world. As fully committed and substantial contributors to this global development, we affirm that the legislated enactment of an Irish musical quota will enhance rather than diminish out contribution to the vitality and purity of worldwide culture in the future. The mainstream remains pure and free flowing only when vital tributaries that feed into it have open channels.”