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A traditional lament

Willie Penrose, a Labour member of the Irish Dáil, is singing an old song from a tradition known all over the world:

Musicians hold sing-song outside Leinster House in bid to get more radio play

LABOUR’S WILLIE PENROSE wants to get more Irish music played on the radio – and says that a proposed bill of his could save thousands of jobs in the process.

So he gathered up a group of Irish musicians and brought them for a sing-song outside the gates of Leinster House this morning, while a host of Labour TDs looked on.


Longford-Westmeath TD Penrose, who is presenting the bill to the Dáil today, said that it seeks a quota of 40% airtime for Irish music – and that this means “of all genres once it’s Irish music”.

Asked if it specifies in the bill how a song is determined to be Irish, Penrose “we’re working through that, yeah we are”.
“We are not asking for much – this has been in France for the last 20 or 30 years, 40% quota, it’s in Canada – there’s a 90% quota after being introduced in South Africa in recent weeks,” he said.

The 90% quota was brought in by national broadcaster SABC in South Africa.

Penrose said there are “8 – 10,000 jobs depending upon [the bill]“, but didn’t detail where these jobs are located within the Irish music industry.

Following the link about South Africa took me to this BBC story:

SABC radio introduces 90% South African music quota

The BBC describes the quota in lyrical terms:

South Africa’s national broadcaster SABC has brought in a new quota system, requiring 90% of the music played on its 18 radio stations to be homegrown.

SABC says the move, which has been hailed by local musicians after years of campaigning, will promote South African culture and heritage.


“We believe that is important for the people of South Africa to listen to the music that is produced for them by the musicians in South Africa,” SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago told the BBC, explaining the decision.

Jazz musician Don Laka, one of the leaders of the quota campaign, celebrated on his Facebook page, thanking SABC boss Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

“Today I am proud to be South African. This man Hlaudi made me share a tear for the first time in many years… Freedom at last!”
Local hip-hop star Slikour described it as the music industry’s version of “Nelson Mandela coming out of jail”.

The governing African National Congress also welcomed the decision, saying it will empower local artists and help spread African culture at home and throughout the world.

Many South Africans have taken to social media to celebrate the announcement, saying it will help to showcase the country’s musical diversity.

It almost seems a pity to tear oneself away from sharing these glad hosannas to look at a couple of ominous lines some grinch has inserted into the same report:

…this is just for the next three months – subject to whether the listeners want it to be a permanent move, industry insiders are hoping that it will help boost the profiles of local artists.


There is no limit to the amount of foreign music commercial stations play.

Going back to the report about Mr Penrose’s Irish Music Quota Bill in TheJournal.ie, some of the comments strike a discordant and ominous note:

“You want to kill off Irish radio entirely? Force stations to play at least 40% of Irish music.” – Peter McHugh

“And Number 1 this week is Ariana Grande’s ‘Into You’ and to comply with the Irish Music Act here it is as sung by Brush Shiels” – Daniel Patrick Carry

Unlike Mr Penrose, I am not musical, and I don’t keep up with these internet thingies the young folk use … but isn’t there a thing called “music streaming” now?

31 comments to A traditional lament

  • The sheer inanity of these people is astonishing. Yes, by all means kill off Irish radio, internet streaming will allow Irish people vote with their feet… or rather… ears.

  • Rev. Spooner

    Those behind this idea will be the same people who moan incessantly about “Nationalism”.

    I bet you a punt they are.

  • Edward

    Laws like that are the sign of a culture that’s losing.

    Imagine if, when jazz, and then rock’n’roll came along from the US, we here in Blighty had passed laws like that?

    Instead, we took those forms, added our own twist and sophistication to them, turned them around, and sent them straight back!

    “I’ll see your Muddy Waters, your Bill Haley and the Comets, and your Elvis Presley! And I’ll raise you the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and the Kinks!”

    And in response the US adopted, adapted, and fed back. And we adopted, adapted, and fed back. And we’ve been doing that ever since.

    The Anglosphere. Making things better since 927 AD. It’s what we do…

  • RRS

    We believe that is important for the people of South Africa to be treated for disorders by procedures and rituals as developed for them from the traditions and their practitioners in all government facilities in South Africa,”

  • Rob

    SABC says the move, which has been hailed by local musicians after years of campaigning, will promote South African culture and heritage.

    Can you imagine the BBC being quite so keen on a campaign insisting they had to play 90% English music, to promote English culture and heritage?

  • I think they’ve scrapped the French law. It ended up with radio stations playing this crap through the night while nobody is looking.

  • NickM

    What Edward said. This dismal. Tell’s ya what if this ever gets traction I suggest Irish DJs play nothing but the Cranberries “Zombie” on repeat to really get into the spirit of the thing…

  • Kevin B

    Edward, we did have laws like that, or at least practices that amounted to the same thing. This was why pirate radio DJs went to sea in leaky ships and why I listened to Radio Luxembourg on my poxy little transistor radio, constantly twiddling the dial as it faded in and out.

    And Radio Caroline was started by an Irishman.

  • NickM

    Perry, Your five minute rule looks good. I think it’s a great idea to be able to go from, “I really like that!” to what you meant to type which was, “I really don’t like that”.

  • RAB

    Yes exactly what Edward said.

    I once watched 5 musicians from different parts of the world sit down to make music in Peter Gabriel’s studio in Box, just before a WOMAD festival. None could speak each others language apart from a bit of pigeon English. Then one started a rhythm, another chimed in with some chords, another a lead line… Boy you should have heard them talking then!

  • Phil B

    Are you sure it wasn’t picked up from the Waterford Whisperer?


    I dunno about South Africa. They had that situation during apartheid when there was an embargo on anything supplied to South Africa. My brother in law came back from S.A. and in his household goods had records (LP’s) produced by the Springboks covering such delights as Aneka with Japanese boy and ABBA songs all in a strong South African accent. I daresay they’d be “collectors items” nowadays (for those of a certain mindset).

    Do they REALLY want to go back to a apartheid situation against the black S.A. Government? I await exploding heads at the inherent contradictions.

  • RAB

    Two of my favorite musicians are Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand) and Hugh Masekela, both South Africans. They exported themselves because of Apartheid and only went home when it was gone. It doesn’t matter where you are from, but what you feel and do that matters.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    RAB, I’m certainly not saying anything against South African or Irish musicians. But quotas won’t do them or their music any favours in the long run.

    One of the commenters, Eamonom, in the Irish article says the following:

    “I sa[t] this as a professional musician with over 20 years experience but this is total BS. If the radio isn’t playing your stuff it’s because the product isn’t strong enough or commercial enough. More country’n’irish wouldn’t be truly representative of the tastes of the country either.

    If you would decry protectionism in material good, it’s no different here. It funny how it’s older musicians and heads who make their bones during the days of packed dance halls and paid in balls of cash that seem to be at the front of this. They don’t want to work on their product and make it more relatable and relevant they just want to have the taxpayer subsidise their lazy products.”

  • RAB

    And what I’m saying Natalie is that I heard those two musicians music BECAUSE they left not because they stayed, with all the protectionism that entails in this very stupid idea of National quotas. In fact they would have been banned, as they were against the regime, and nobody would have heard a note of their sublime music.

    Music is international. It transcends, it is borrowed, bought and stolen, like every other intellectual property, I guess. Let it be free… let it propagate, let it spread and feed back on itself. Never box it in by bloody stupid meaningless rules about ethnicity. Can Blue men sing the Whites? You bet your sweet bippy they can.

  • Laird

    I’m not entirely clear on the reach of this proposed law. Does/would it apply to commercial radio stations or only to government-owned ones? Are there any private commercial radio stations in Ireland? From the article I gleaned that the South African law only applies to the government-owned station, and frankly I think it’s perfectly proper for the playlist of such a station to be governed by political considerations. (Of course, I don’t think it’s “perfectly proper” for a government to own a radio station in the first place, but that’s a different question. Once you have such stations the rest follows.) But if this is a mandate to private as well as “public” (government-owned) stations it would bother me tremendously, and not only for the reasons Edward and RAB so eloquently expressed (with which I wholeheartedly agree).

    A quote from the article: “If they say they are playing their quotas, they have nothing to be worried about.” If that’s not the expression of a totalitarian mindset I don’t know what is. Another: “there are musicians now that can’t make a living”. Then get an honest job. I have no more sympathy for such persons than I do for so-called “visual artists” whose crap can’t even be given away without a government subsidy. If you aren’t talented enough, or sufficiently willing to develop your craft, to attract willing (read: paying) customers, you’re in the wrong line of work.

    If Penrose and others are concerned about “traditional” (whatever that means) Irish music dying out, rather than forcing his musical preferences on an unwilling public (or mulcting the taxpayers to support it) he should be out in the field recording all he can find, the way Alan Lomax did for traditional folk music in the US in the 1930s. Then it will be preserved forever.

  • Bureaucrat, airlock, space, some assembly required.

  • Edward

    Laird, yes Ireland does have private radio stations. There were at least three local stations I could pick up when I lived in Limerick, in addition to the RTE (state broadcaster) ones. More if you counted the ones from Galway and Cork that you could also pick up sometimes.

    And yes, the intent is the law applies to all Irish radio stations, public and private.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    General comment: just as the effect of protectionism in manufactures is that the goods made in the protected country gradually become uncompetitive, the effect of music protectionism is to fossilize the type of music being protected. If the proposed Irish law is ever passed* and/or the SABC quota is confirmed I predict it will be profitable for the current generation of musicians in those countries but will be followed by declines in the domestic vitality and worldwide influence of those traditions in music.

    *Not very likely given that the Irish Labour Party had the worst result in its history in the general election of February 2016. I laughed out loud when I noticed that the article said “while a host of Labour TDs looked on”. What, the mighty host of all seven of them?

  • Tim Worstall

    The one great joy of these local content rules is that they create a very cute little business. Songwriters get a fee every time the radio plays a song (for Yesterday the BBC has paid out £20 million over the years. And that’s just the Beeb). OK, now mix this with local content rules. Re-record whatever the kids like with local musicians. Alter the lyrics (this obviously works well with France, just translate them) and you’ve got local content. If you’ve just altered the lyrics a bit you’ll get a share of the 50% the lyricist gets of the songwriter royalties from the radio plays. If you translate or completely change them then you’ll get that 50% in whole.

    Time to re-record with decent session musicians? An hour maybe? And those songwriter’s royalties are significant. £50 a play from BBC national radio, around and about.

    There is actually an industry that does this in France. To fill all that night-time drear in fact. And if Ireland brings in this law I strongly recommend buying the worst studio you can find in a Dublin slum and calling in a few show bands for a quick recording or two. Stick the lyrics into Erse, give the band free studio time for recording for you and Roibeard’s your uncail.

  • staghounds

    If I were a broadcaster, I’d record a spoken record of someone sayong”this is your Irish content, radio staghounds didn’t choose this. These are the TDs who are making you hear this:——” over and over for 3 minutes, and use that.

  • staghounds

    If I were a broadcaster, I’d use a bunch of Irish people to make a spoken record of insulting William Penrose over and over for 3 minutes, and use that.

  • Vinegar Joe

    I’m moving to Ireland to open a station: Radio Sinead! All Sinead all the time!

  • Paul Marks

    Mr Penrose most likely hates Donald Trump – but he is playing the same Protectionist game.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Cultural protectionism in Ireland is quite a racket. For instance, the state TV service covers Irish football league matches.

    I know this because one of the local PBS stations used to fill up late-night schedule time on one of their five channels with it.

    Here’s the really funny part: the announcing was in Erse Gaelic. Even in Ireland, hardly anyone would understand it.

  • Watchman

    I suspect someone might have to explain the interaction of physics and geography to Mr Penrose.

    In particular the effect of having a large area of Ireland, including all but one of the large towns (I believe) sitting within the broadcast range of UK radio masts. Whilst UK radio has on occasion played inexplicably large amounts of Irish material (B*witched anyone?), I still suspect that much of the Irish population might just tune to a convenient station of their choice (many do anyway – same as the Dutch and Belgians), even if they are going to ignore the internet.

  • staghounds

    B*witched, my not so secret shame.

  • Adam Maas

    CanCon (as the Canadian regulations are known colloquially) is a long-standing joke here in Canada, and has been ever since the day about 20 years ago when folks woke up and realized that Bryan Adam’s latest album was not considered CanCon when that famous Canadian, Rod Stewart, had an album out that was considered CanCon.

    Yes, that really happened (and was an artifact of the ruleset)

    There’s about one group ever whose success rode on CanCon, The Tragically Hip. Aside from that the rule’s only effect was to ensure wild overplay of Rush, The Guess Who and Neil Young.

  • Paul Marks

    A strong culture needs no help from the government – indeed government “help” corrupts and perverts culture.

  • NickM

    Slightly OT. You now have a palette of emoticons which is a bit of a drag for me because I’m somewhat vague as to that language. I remember when it was all C:> prompts and telnet and Mosaic and stuff. try telling the kids… Could you have a “hover” for the Old Skoolers who cut their teeth on a Speccy in 1983? Either that or it’ll soon all be emojis and then it might as well be cuneiform.

  • NickM, I stick to one positive and one negative emoji – which I type by hand – and try to use them only when absence might risk ambiguity.

    I’m old enough to recall when we all got “fontitis” on those old “luggable” Macs. To ward off “emoji-itis” just imagine someone replying “You keep using that emoji; I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    🙂 (by hand!)