I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
At a recent Easter Rising commemoration ceremony in National University of Ireland Galway, NUIG, the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, suggested that this centenary year has led to a new cultural revival in Ireland, stating that it is a "revival that demands that we put arts and culture at the centre of public policy, in a way that, frankly, we have failed to do until now". The same Taoiseach, together with the Ministers, Deputies Humphreys and Donohoe, only last week launched a cultural Ireland initiative, a plan focused upon and emphasising the importance of arts, culture and music for the next five years, with an emphasis on children learning music from the age of five onwards notable in its objectives.
The Taoiseach reminded us in that keynote address at NUIG that many of those who sacrificed their lives to establish our political freedom were writers, poets and musicians. They were artists who were motivated as much by cultural concerns as anything else. If the Taoiseach is correct, and I believe he is dead right in this matter, then, to date, we politicians have let down the artistic community of Ireland in a big way, and none more so than the Irish musical community that we are representing today with this Bill. Why? It is because in the Ireland of 2016, 100 years after musicians like Eamonn Ceannt made the ultimate sacrifice and died for the country's cultural independence, Irish music, of all genres, is no longer deemed worthy to be played on Irish radio during daylight hours. I am here to urge the representatives of all parties to help me bring back Irish music from night-time to prime time on our airwaves from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. If we are serious about protecting our musical culture rather than paying lip-service, the only way it can be achieved is through legislation.
A common concern among the politicians who attended the musical community’s lobbying day for a music quota in this building at the end of September was that the amendment Bill that I am seeking to introduce might contravene EU competition law. However, this is not so. The EU, believe it or not, sanctioned an Irish music quota as far back as the 1990s, soon after Mr. Niall Stokes took over the chair of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI. That was at a time when, according to Mr. Stokes, "very little Irish music was being played on Irish radio and in particular on the big independent stations". He succeeded in winning the support of the board of the BAI for the introduction of a 30% Irish music quota. However, when the independent Irish radio sector got wind of Mr. Stokes's initiative, it made a complaint to the European Commission that the measure was anti-competitive. It is hard to believe that a body of Irish broadcasters would mount a campaign against their fellow citizens working in music, but it is on record that this is what happened.
In a hard-hitting article published in Hot Press magazine and covering an Independent Broadcasters of Ireland, IBI, conference that took place in 2008, Mr. Stokes outlined how he and the chief executive of the BAI, Mr. Michael O’Keeffe, who still holds that position, engaged in detailed negotiations with Brussels and prevailed on the basis of a cultural exception. Mr. Stokes wrote:
It took some persuasion, but it was accepted eventually by the EC that music was an essential part of Ireland’s culture and its national resource - and therefore that it was valid to put measures in place to protect it. And we agreed a definition with the EC of what constituted Irish music.
The acceptance by the EU of the wording that Niall Stokes, Michael O’Keeffe and EU officials hammered out for what constitutes Irish music back then demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that the EU is not opposed to the principle that Ireland is entitled to introduce legislation to protect our musical culture. Though there is no clear reason given in Mr. Stokes's Hot Press piece of 2008 for why the amendment was not implemented. The remainder of his article offers stark clues as to who may have been responsible for ensuring that the introduction of an Irish music quota back in the 1990s did not take place. Referring to a Hot Press-run Irish music seminar that took place in the RDS in October 2007, Mr. Stokes described a shocking moment when the then head of Today FM, Mr. Willie O’Reilly, pointed an accusatory finger at Niall and criticised him for seeking to introduce a 30% quota for home-grown music on Irish radio, suggesting that a far more reasonable position had been advanced by Mr. Dave Pennefather of Universal Music, who had asked that 5% of air time be devoted to Irish music. The staggeringly low value that the then head of the Irish division of one of the world’s largest international record companies put on Irish music, and the endorsement of it by the leading independent Irish radio sector boss, may explain why a little further on in the same article, Mr. Stokes wrote, "In the early 1990s, the big urban commercial radio stations were playing as little as 3% Irish music". Mr. Stokes’s condemnation of this figure is blistering, "It amounted to nothing short of a scandalous disregard for Irish music".
If a one-time chairman of the board of the BAI can be outraged to this extent by the manipulating ways of the independent Irish radio sector in collusion with multinational interests, and be outwitted by them, then surely this is a clear indication that nothing short of legislative change in this area has to be implemented in order to enshrine the principle in law. lf the House does not believe that things are as bad as they are for Irish music of all the genres - including rock, pop, indie pop and everything else - then it should take what Mr. Louis Walsh, the Svengali of Irish popular music, had to say recently when he observed that it is a scandal that one of the Dublin stations to be most recently granted a licence plays no Irish music at all. The bottom line for commercial enterprises such as independent radio stations and the multinational powers that feed and shape them is monetary profit, but they cannot be allowed to run roughshod over a nation’s culture in the pursuit of high ratings and advertising revenue. That is where the Government comes in. As elected representatives, it is our duty to protect and nourish the creative spirit of our citizens. As the Taoiseach has rightly admitted, "we have utterly failed them in this regard". Even if the French had not shown us the way, and we all know what they have done, we Irish are operating at a complete disadvantage compared with all our European counterparts because radio audiences throughout Europe still have an appetite to hear a high percentage of their music in their mother tongues. This automatically translates into air time and placement on playlists for their musical communities. The most recent statistics for Ireland show that that a mere three Irish acts registered in the top 50 songs played on Irish radio in recent years.
Let us look at the Canadian system. It is one of the best regimes for promoting and supporting indigenous artists' music and recordings. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, CRTC, requirements deriving from the Broadcasting Act of Canada mean that radio and television broadcasters must air a certain percentage of content that was at least partly written, produced, presented or otherwise contributed to by a person from Canada. The percentage of air time devoted to Canadian music increased from 25% to 30% in the 1980s and to 35% in 1998. They use the MAPL system to define and identify Canadian content. Some exemptions apply in genres with a limited number of recordings, for example, jazz. We could do the same thing here. We could have a quota. If we got to 30%, we would be absolutely thrilled, but we are not getting to that. The percentages in Canada must be met between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. rather than during off-peak hours.
MAPL is an acronym for the criteria involved: "M" stands for music that must be composed entirely by a Canadian; "A" stands for artist, and the music or lyrics must be performed principally by a Canadian; "P" stands for performance, and the musical selection must consist of a performance that was recorded wholly in Canada, performed wholly in Canada or broadcast live in Canada; and "L" stands for lyrics that are written entirely by a Canadian. There are special cases in which a musical selection may qualify and they are set. The final criteria was added in 1991 to accommodate Bryan Adams's album, "Waking Up the Neighbours", which unusually did not meet the Canadian content, CanCon, standard, despite every track being co-written and performed by a Canadian artist. Adams had recorded the album mainly in England. Although some recording work was done in Canada, no track on the album qualified under the MAPL criteria. Adams also collaborated on the writing of the album with British record producer, Mr. Robert John Lange, with both being credited as co-writers of words and music of every cut on the album. As a result, no song on the album featured either music or lyrics written entirely by a Canadian. Therefore, none of the songs on the album qualified under the MAPL criteria. All of this meant that no track on the album qualified under what were the existing CanCon rules. Had Adams and Lange simply agreed to credit one party with 100% of the music and the other with 100% of the lyrics, all of their collaborations would have counted under the CanCon rules. However, the Canadians got over that and devised a solution. That is the last time what I have outlined happened. The system in question could be introduced in this country.
A nation is surely defined by its culture. It is difficult to fathom why we Irish have allowed one of our greatest cultural assets, our music and song, to be effectively banished from our prime-time radio airwaves in recent decades. It happened gradually and that is why we did not notice it, but happen it did. That is why the Irish music community has come here to support the introduction of legislation that would underpin an Irish music quota for commercial, State-owned or State-backed Irish radio. RTÉ is involved in this as well. It would bring Irish music of all genres back to our airwaves.
Let us look back to the 1960s and 1970s. We are acutely aware of the music and artists that were promulgated during those halcyon days, with a plethora of sponsored programmes including those of Val Joyce, Brendan Balfe, Harry Thuillier, The Waltons and the Top 10 Show. All of that was on our national radio. Why do we not bring back those sponsored programmes to RTÉ Radio 1? They were daily promoting and supporting the latest artists that produced Irish records of all genres, including Joe Dolan and the Drifters, Brendan Bowyer, the Dixies, The Freshmen, Big Tom, Foster and Allen, Margo, Seán Ó Sé, Fiddler's Green and many hundreds more. Their song and music was heard in every home throughout the State. Just one incident comes to mind. My late mother listened assiduously to these programmes throughout the day as she did her housework. She learned the words of one song. I remember it well. It was called "Gentle Mother". At her knee, we learnt the words of that song. That goes to show how radio can influence and disseminate music and song.
We appreciate the great value that mainstream popular music and culture has worldwide. We realise the great bonding effect that popular music and culture has had among nations throughout the world. We are strongly of the view that the legislative enactment of an Irish music quota will enhance rather than diminish our contribution to the vitality and purity of worldwide culture.
During the course of this campaign, I have been extremely lucky to make contact with hundreds of musical artists, composers and managers, many of whom were people to whom I would have listened or about whom I would have read. I include in that Steve and Joe Wall of The Stunning, an iconic rock band of some fame. A few minutes listening to them was instructive and educational. It demonstrates that our focus is on all genres and types of music.
There were various campaigns over the years to promote Irish musicians and their music but it all fell on deaf ears, apart from some great disc jockeys and shows that were committed to playing Irish music, mostly after 7 p.m. The situation has worsened. Steve Wall's words echo precisely what hundreds of other artists, many of them in the Gallery tonight, in all genres of music have relayed to me and confirmed as fact. People have told me of their experiences. I am reflecting what fellow musicians have told me, young and old, established or trying to get into the business, about how difficult it is to get out of the traps. Weasel words, half truths or downright lies should not be used to shield us from the reality.
One radio station told a member of an indie pop band that I know very well that his band would be excluded by my Bill but nothing could be further from the truth. His father rang me and was very upset but nothing could be further from the truth. That just goes to show what has been said about this legislation.
Steve Wall said that between The Stunning and The Walls, he has spent thousands of euro making records in this country. T. R. Dallas said that one would not see change from €15,000 by the time one has paid the studio, sound engineers, musicians, graphic designers, pressing plants and printers. Once a recording is made, artists usually hire the services of a public relations company to present the single to radio stations. It is at this point that artists need guts of steel. After all the money that is spent on recording and public relations, the PR company prepares and aggregates a weekly update showing the response from radio stations.
We must explain to those running radio stations that Irish musicians are spending their hard-earned money in this country and not just on all of the services listed above. They also incur considerable expenses when they go on tour. They must pay for van hire and fuel, hire a crew, pay their wages and provide food and accommodation. T.R. Dallas said that he would usually pay five or six people when he goes on tour. When the Michael English dance band goes on tour, 15 people are involved. That is 15 wage packets and 15 people with jobs. Air play is the key to putting bums on seats and enabling music venues to open on Wednesday or Thursday nights, employing additional staff. Air play creates jobs. Steve Wall explained this to one radio station executive who had never considered it before but the station still did not play his single.
Steve Wall also acknowledged that the late 1980s into the 1990s was a great time for Irish music, mainly thanks to 2FM which played copious amounts of Irish music. Indeed, 2FM was the only show in town and Irish artists were all over the airwaves. They were also all over television during that time. We must acknowledge the efforts of Niall Stokes and the compelling case he makes. However, his calls have fallen on deaf ears which is why we are here tonight. Some Irish artists are afraid to speak out for fear of burning bridges. These are the facts emanating from the mouths of Irish musicians who, by any standards, have been successful in their chosen genres. It should be acknowledged that many musicians are here tonight and many more have supported the campaign for the implementation of this legislation, including Phil Coulter, Johnny Sheahan, Mick Foster, Tony Allen, Tom Allen, Peter Mooney, Danny Mc Carthy, Johnny Duhan, Frank Kilbride, Bernard Newman, Ollie Kennedy and a host of others. They have stated that their careers are nearly behind them but they are here tonight so that young musicians will have a future. They want to see the development of the next U2, Phil Lynnott, Christy Moore, Paul Brady or the Dubliners. I see that Deputy Ciaran Cannon, another good musician, is also in the Gallery. Phil Coulter said that if he wrote "The Town I Loved So Well" or "Scorn Not His Simplicity", Paul Brady wrote "The Island" or Johnny Duhan wrote "The Voyage" today, they would not get out of the traps.
Deputies are going to vote against this legislation tonight and by doing so they will ensure that the next generation of Irish musicians will not get out of the traps. I do not want to hear their mealy mouthed weasel words, suggesting that the legislation is regressive. Why not let the Bill go forward to Committee Stage to be sorted out? They are afraid because a few radio stations contacted them. Let us be honest about it and tell the truth.
There is a particular onus on RTE, as our national broadcaster, to ensure that Irish music and artists are promoted, particularly as it is in receipt of millions of euro from the television licence fee. RTE must be included in the legislation. I will acknowledge that in the past 12 months, Ryan Tubridy has given a number of acts good exposure on "The Late Late Show". Of course, he is a quick learner. When the tribute to Big Tom was broadcast, the programme had an audience of 1 million. Likewise, 1 million people watched the All Ireland Fleadh Cheoil on television. The fleadh was held in the beautiful town of Ennis and attracted over 300,000 people. Clearly, there is an audience for these acts and events when they are televised or broadcast. RTE will be included in this legislative amendment, notwithstanding what those who are against it would say. I have a copy of the Broadcasting Act 2009 in front of me and I know the section that is relevant. If my Bill needs an amendment to ensure that RTE is included, then I will amend it.
I am not claiming that the Bill is foolproof or perfect. I accept that agreeing a definition of Irish music presents a challenge but that challenge could be met in committee. This Bill should be referred to committee but cowardice prevails and bureaucrats are winning the day. That issue and others could be addressed by the collective wisdom of all our legislators. The people in the Gallery this evening are very disappointed. I am of the view that the Minister would like to support this Bill but he has been stymied. To say that I am disappointed is an understatement. However, my disappointment pales into insignificance when compared to the level of disappointment among musicians and artists at the attitude that has been displayed by the Government and by Fianna Fáil. If Fianna Fáil Deputies look at the Gallery tonight, they will see a number of their own loyal supporters, top class musicians who are shocked. They cannot believe that Fianna Fáil will not support this Bill.
I acknowledge that some of the regional radio stations are working hard and playing a pivotal role in the promotion of Irish music. Indeed, I have no doubt that for every hour of music they play, at least 20 to 25 minute is devoted to Irish acts. As Tom Allen said to me, out of every ten records, they should play three or four that are Irish. I must pay credit to Tommy Marren, Paul Claffey and Gerry Lennon from Midwest Radio, Albert Fitzgerald, Will Faulkner, Joe Cooney and Paddy Duffy from Midlands Radio and Joe Finnegan, Frank Kilbride and Martin Donohoe of Shannonside Northern Sound. I am of the view that the implementation of a quota would present no difficulty for those radio stations. I spoke to some of the aforementioned presenters who wrote letters to various Deputies.
There are also excellent broadcasters in our national radio station, including Fiachna Ó Braonáin from the Hot House Flowers, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of music, and John Creedon, but their shows are on too late at night. The music must be played between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. or between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. That is what is done in every other country but we are too cowardly. It is a shame. The prime time hours between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. is the right time to broadcast programmes that boost Irish artists across all of the genres.
Many independent radio stations contacted me about the fact that RTE is not included in the Bill. In my view, RTE is clearly caught by the legislation which only amends the principal Act of 2009 and section 114, subsection 2(a) is instructive in this regard. That said, I am prepared to amend the Bill so as to put the issue beyond doubt.
The disappointment among musicians is palpable. These people are going out and creating employment. At least 15 wage packets are generated by the likes of Nathan Carter, Michael English, Foster and Allen and others. It is a big industry. Stephen Travers, a former member of the Miami Showband, told me that there are 8,000 to 10,000 jobs involved here. Do Deputies have any concept of what is involved? Bands like the Miami Showband burst onto the scene because we had a radio station promoting them in the 1960s and the 1970s. There was "Spotlight" magazine and all sorts of avenues for promotion which I recall very well. We must give Irish musicians a chance again. I urge the Minister to allow the Bill to go forward to Committee Stage. We can deal with any issues that arise there. The Minister can bring forward amendments, get the advice of the Attorney General or of senior counsel if he likes. Deputy James Browne is an eminent barrister and he knows this can be done. I am surprised that he is here tonight to argue against it because he knows it is possible. He comes from a county with a great musical and cultural tradition and that is what this Bill is about.
These musicians will be in demand. When Deputies want to organise a charity event, the very first port of call are these Irish musicians and they respond. If a place has gone on fire or a building needs to be restored, they are there. When there are Christmas parties for the elderly in hospital, they are there. They are not looking for any money. They do it because they love it. They do it for the love of the music.
I appeal to the House to allow the Bill to proceed to Committee Stage. Let us work on it together. I am not omnipotent and do not have any divine right, to be straight. The Minister, Deputy Naughten, comes from a great area and Brendan Shine, who is next door to the Minister's own bailiwick, is behind this legislation. If the Minister looks at the back of SHIP magazine he will see who is supporting this Bill. There are 10,000 people affected by this.
The Minister should give them a chance.
Every independent radio station gets a licence and the aspiration is that it would play 30% of Irish music. How many of them play the required 30% of Irish music? How is that measured? The 30% could be played at 3 o'clock in the morning. We all know it is a joke. We should correct the anomalies and amend the legislation to make sure it is better legislation. I propose the Bill to the House.