A Global Ireland Without Musicians?

The launch of Global Ireland

A Global Ireland Without Musicians?

The Irish Government has launched a new initiative, 'Global Ireland', with international aspirations – but what does it mean for Irish music?

This week, the Irish Government launched a new initiative called Global Ireland. In these fast-changing, often hazardous times, the Government correctly wants to make sure Ireland is visible and audible wherever major political and commercial decisions are made. Global Ireland is a 73-page document with a range of plans, all with the aim of ‘doubling Ireland’s global footprint’ by 2025. This means a wide range of international projects in education, sport, security and defence, diplomacy, communications, connectivity, and, of course, culture.

There is only one specific reference to music in Global Ireland, but ample references to culture and the arts. The heading ‘Bringing Our Culture and Heritage to the Wider World’ is accompanied by an image of musical notes because, as almost the entire world knows, Ireland means music.

Seven-year Culture Ireland plan
One of the initiatives that will directly impact musicians is increased investment for Culture Ireland, the organisation that promotes Irish arts abroad. 
Global Ireland will:

Enable Culture Ireland to implement a seven-year programme of international promotion of Irish arts and culture, including targeting growth markets for trade and tourism


Promote Culture Ireland’s GB18 programme, focused on celebrating the unique cultural relationship between Ireland and Great Britain.

Culture Ireland regularly supports the work of musicians – €165k last August – and GB18, too, presented a range of Irish musical artists this year, from Loah to the Crash Ensemble.

This new investment means that over the next seven years, more Irish musicians will be getting an invitation from colleagues, curators and promoters asking them to bring their music around the world. And they’ll take that gig, because the golden rule of gigging is that you never say no because if you do the calls stop coming. 

What’s a full-time job for an artist?
Amidst the good-news days, however, Irish musicians should be made aware of the image being presented of what Culture Ireland is doing for them.

The Global Ireland document reads:

In 2016 alone, [Culture Ireland] supported Irish artists at over 450 events in 60 countries, with over 4.5 million live audience members and an audience of 15.5 million through online, radio and television channels.

It continues:

Investment by Culture Ireland at these events generated the equivalent of 260 full-time jobs for Irish artists abroad. [my italics]

One of the pleasures of my work is the fact that I am in contact with a wide variety of musicians, and they often share with me the challenges of establishing a full-time career as a musician – and they don’t have to try hard to persuade me because I have also travelled the world playing music and I understand the challenges. I also know what a ‘full-time job’ should mean – it implies security, in that there would be a regular wage and certain protections and policies around the employment. Full-time gigging musicians and artists – apart from Irish orchestras, and we have seen the challenges there too – work under no such conditions.

Does the quote from Global Ireland above even make financial sense? 260 jobs, based on the average full-time Irish income in 2016 of €45,611 means that €11.9m went to artists to create these jobs. Culture Ireland’s entire budget in 2016 was €5m so this is impossible – unless they are better investors then all the VCs in Dublin’s Silicon Docks.

The Culture Ireland sentence is therefore entirely misleading, and one wonders how it ended up there. It appears to originate in a statement in 2016 by the then Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphreys. She said: ‘Last year, Culture Ireland-supported events reached an audience of four and a half million people, and generated 260 full-time jobs.’

So the statement refers to 2015, and it is not full-time jobs for artists, but jobs created temporarily for God-knows-who through the act of putting on events in which artists perform.

As you can see, I am slowly spelling out here what every musician, writer and artist knows only too damn well, that the big figures for culture all too rarely trickle down to the practising artist, and certainly do not create secure full-time jobs for the artist. Even when artists directly get a hold of cash, they too have to pay others.

Irish musicians have long dealt with this state of affairs, and it goes well beyond Culture Ireland, though rarely do the grumblings rise above social media. In February, the accordion player Damien Mullane bravely spoke out on Liveline about the fee of €200 for ten concerts in the UK with Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, and $200 for ten in the US, but has any public representative raised the issue since? Culture Ireland regularly financially supports Comhaltas tours.

There are other cultural industries that are partly reliant on state support and where employees are properly paid – film and television for example. They are well paid because they join together and insist on it, threatening to remove their services unless they are fairly compensated and receive security. Their work structures are always under pressure, but there are channels in which employees can fight back.

But the issue is even more serious for the next generation of musicians and artists. For things are not going to improve by themselves. The digital world and the gig economy means establishing employment structures is twice as hard now, leading to a huge inequality between the younger generation and the older. The economist Stephen Kinsella recently wrote in ‘Ireland’s Generation Divide’ in the Sunday Business Post that this generation has got to start taking this challenge seriously.

Global Ireland is about to embark on a seven-year plan for the benefit of the country. Everyone knows they can’t do it without musicians. Will Irish musicians finally take this opportunity to come together and stand up for their future?

Published on 14 June 2018

Toner Quinn is Editor of the Journal of Music. His new book, What Ireland Can Teach the World About Music, is available here.

comments powered by Disqus