Shortage of young staff to work summer festivals causing strain on arts sector

Festival organisers flying in staff from abroad to work summer jobs

Labour shortages and a number of "harsh economic realities" are putting the viability of festivals and events at risk, a representative organisation has said.

Increased insurance costs, the energy crisis, and Covid’s impact on staff in the arts sector means only about 80 per cent of the pre-pandemic level of events calendar will be able to go ahead this summer, according to the Association of Irish Festivals and Events (Aoife).

Colm Croffy, executive director of Aoife, said there is a particular difficulty in finding staff or volunteers to work during upcoming events.

“You have to understand that normal rights of summer passage for the 15 to 23 year old generation is gone because of the Covid break,” he said.

“You have kids now who are leaving cert, or pre-leaving cert, who haven’t carried a glass, washed a pot, mowed a lawn or done anything between 14 and 17 so they’re not socialised to work.”

The lack of opportunity to travel in the past two years has also driven those who previously would have worked in the sector abroad, Mr Croffy said.

“The festival and events sector, where they would have been paying for stewards, or car parking attendants or casual labour, are finding it very tough,” he added.

“There used to be a great crowd of young people who would move from one festival to the next, but they’re gone to the ski slopes or Belamedena, or doing stuff out in the Med.”

Dermot Desmond, of MCD promotions, said the increased costs to put on a show will not result in increased ticket prices this year as those productions are on sale. However, he said prices could rise moving into 2023.

"There are price increases across the board, the rises that everyone is experiencing. But in addition to that, there is a shortage of labour. A lot of people working with us, during the pandemic they found alternative employment," he told RTE Radio One's Today with Claire Byrne.

"There's a shortage of them [WORKERS]so we're having to bring them in from Europe. We're flying in labour from Germany, Budapest, Slovakia and the increased cost is the extra time, the flights and their hotels."

Lucy Medlycott, chief executive of the Irish Street Arts, Circus and Spectacle Network, which represents performers, said an abiliting to secure insurance is affecting jugglers, clowns and acrobats, meaning many are choosing not to perform.

“It’s basically stopping young people from progressing in their chosen careers and from developing future artists. You’re seeing groups not being able to teach. You’re seeing future generations not being able to access these incredible skills,” she said.

“Insurance has been an absolute nightmare. Our sector has been struggling with it for about six years.”