Willie Penrose lambasts RTÉ for ‘failing’ Irish music

Former minister says French-style quota system should be introduced by broadcaster

Willie Penrose: “The people who are tramping the highways and byways of Ireland are the people I want to be seen given an opportunity by RTÉ.” Photograph: The Irish Times

Willie Penrose: “The people who are tramping the highways and byways of Ireland are the people I want to be seen given an opportunity by RTÉ.” Photograph: The Irish Times

 

Former Labour minister of State Willie Penrose has accused RTÉ of a “massive failing” towards Irish music.

Mr Penrose said he had written to RTÉ asking them to introduce a quota system for Irish music, but had received an answer that amounted to a public relations exercise.

He maintained the music industry in Ireland was a huge industry which could employ 8,000 more people but broadcaster was not playing its role.

It was easier for a “camel to pass through the eye of a needle” than for certain Irish acts to get airplay on RTÉ, he suggested.

He evidenced the Willoughby brothers from Wicklow as an example of talented singers who did not get airplay on RTÉ.

The singer-songwriter Johnny Duhan was another one who had also campaigned on the issue, said Mr Penrose.

He also listed country artists such as Mike Denver, Jason Travers, Nathan Carter and Derek Ryan as musicians who were doing well despite and not because of the support of RTÉ.

Though not a member of the joint committee on transport and communication, Mr Penrose was allowed to address the new chairwoman designate of the RTÉ board, Moya Doherty.

‘Opportunity’

“Do you realise that 250,000 people attend the fleadh,” he told her, “U2 wouldn’t get that in the Phoenix Park. It’s (Irish music) is part of what we are. What I want to know is if RTÉ will grab the ball, change their outlook and give those people a fair chance?”

“The people who are tramping the highways and byways of Ireland are the people I want to be seen given an opportunity by RTÉ. I want to see everyone with a level playing field.”

Local radio stations such as Ireland West in Mayo plays five hours of Irish music every night and Shannonside FM also devote several hours to Irish music every night because there is a market for it, he told her.

He advocated that RTÉ should introduce a quota system as has been done in France though he said it should not include those who merely recorded in Ireland and were not Irish themselves.

Ms Doherty said she was “singing from the same hymn sheet” and had employed musicians herself as an independent producer.

She said there was a “broad church of Irish music” which should be reflected in RTÉ’s output and she would raise the issue with the new board.

The new chairman of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, Dr Pauric Travers, said local radio stations had proved there was an audience for Irish music.

However, he was not convinced that a quota system was needed. He said persuading national broadcasters may be a better way forward.