Why new attempts to curb busking amplification won’t work

‘Many students are unable to properly concentrate on their studies due to the constant excessive noise levels coming from street performers’

Olivia Kelly talks to Dublin City Councillor Mannix Flynn and Luke Clerkin of 'Save busking in Temple Bar' about their reaction to the new busking laws.

 

Some members of Dublin City Council would like us to “get with the game” by permitting heavily amplified busking all over the city centre, peddling a myth being promoted by some of the worst culprits that this type of invasive noise pollution is the norm in most other capitals.

Cllr Paul McAuliffe (FF), who represents Ballymun, wanted Dublin to follow the lead of Santa Monica in California, where amplified buskers may generate up to 107 decibels (dB) of noise – equivalent to a diesel-powered lawnmower – fading to 85dB at a distance of 25ft.

At a council meeting last Monday night, McAuliffe and party colleague Cllr David Costello (Cabra-Finglas) sought to have the Santa Monica standard incorporated into a new set of street performance bylaws, arguing the noise limit were “too low”.

Their amendment was overwhelmingly defeated, as were others seeking a ban on amplification generally and a specific prohibition on the use of amplifiers in Temple Bar – although the council did adopt a 75dB limit in this area, as proposed by Cllr Ruairi McGinley (Ind).

Most of the 80-plus submissions from the public complained about the excessive noise made by heavily amplified buskers – including a submission from TCD provost Patrick Prendergast, whose address is No 1 Grafton Street, so he knows about the racket.

“Many students are unable to properly concentrate on their studies due to the constant excessive noise levels coming from street performers positioned at the bottom end of Grafton Street who are using electronic amplifiers,” he told councillors in an email.

“The noise levels are also preventing students living in the college from using their apartments, even during the day . . . Some students have been kept awake until after 4am due to loud music, as indeed my family and I have been on many occasions.”

Driven demented

The “Save Irish Busking” campaign did themselves no favours by staging a high-octane performance in the bleak square beside City Hall throughout the council meeting, banging on until 11pm – much to the annoyance of residents of the apartments right behind it.

The World Health Organisation recognises noise pollution is “a threat to public health . . . It can disturb sleep, cause cardio-vascular and psycho-physiological effects, reduce performance and provoke annoyance responses and changes in social behaviour.”

Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe, said: “We hope that this new evidence will prompt governments and local authorities to introduce noise control policies at the national and local levels, thus protecting the health of Europeans from this growing hazard.”

Permanent damage

In Dublin’s case, even the Green Party favours regulating noise pollution rather than seeking to eliminate it. And Cllr Jim O’Callaghan (FF), a barrister himself, warned the new regulations would “create an industry for lawyers living off the backs of buskers”.

Nobody believes the claim by Labour’s Cllr Mary Freehill – chair of the committee that recommended the bylaws – that council staff “will be roving the streets all the time” to ensure buskers do not exceed the general limit of 80dB (equivalent to a dial tone in your ear).

As for other European capitals, Madrid bans the use of amplifiers and requires licensed buskers to remain at least 75m apart and to move along every two hours. There’s also a cut-off time of 10pm in winter and 11pm in summer.

Temple Bar Residents group called for a city-wide ban on amplified busking while allowing traditional buskers to continue performing in designated areas.

As things stand, however, latter-day Glen Hansards are being drowned out by the overwhelming power of amplifiers.

The bylaws adopted by Dublin City Council on Monday night are almost certainly both unworkable and unenforceable, and will need to be revisited in six months’ time when we’re promised a review. Only a total ban on amplifiers will sort out this nuisance. Frank McDonald is chair of Temple Bar Residents

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