I don’t see the appeal of standing in a crowd of thousands of people at a sporting or music event while we’re still in COVID-19 times- that absolutely terrifies me. Regardless, I do find the disparity between the government’s treatment of the GAA and the arts and music scene to be incredibly unfair.
On Sunday, the 22nd of August 2021, 40,000 people attended the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final in Croke Park, the largest organised gathering since March 2020. More than a month later the Electric Picnic (EP) festival was set to be held but was cancelled by Laois County Council due to concerns over public health.
The EP organisers were more than willing to put strict COVID guidelines in place, including a ban on non-vaccinated festival-goers, unlike the All Ireland Hurling Final organisers who never put such a ban in place. While Croke Park did encourage social distancing and mask-wearing, pictures of the event showed thousands of fans unmasked and not practising social distancing.
Considering that both the Gaelic Games and the Irish music scene are often cited as fundamental institutions of Irish culture, it is disappointing that one is being favoured over the other.
So how come the Government gives the GAA such special treatment? Speaking on RTÉ Radio One before the All Ireland Final, Minister Simon Coveney said that there was a “big difference” between GAA events and music events, saying that “it’s outside, it’s structured, it’s in a very large stadium. People will be apart in terms of social distancing and wearing masks.”
How is that any different than the potential outdoor, structured music events that were scheduled to be held this year? Days later, after facing backlash for his statements, Coveney clarified, saying that the difference was that the Government had months to prepare for the All Ireland Final. This still doesn’t make any sense, as EP was set to be held in late September, giving the Government months to prepare for the event from the time of their application.
Campaigners such as ‘The National Campaign for the Arts’ (NCFA) and ‘Give Us The Night’ believe that the Arts industry is being treated as an afterthought by the Government, and it is difficult to disagree with them. Many popular Irish artists feel incredibly disheartened by the Government’s treatment of the Arts sector, including country singer Nathan Carter and Alsan frontman Christy Dignam. Both singers have publicly criticised the lack of clarity given by the government in recent times, while Carter specifically hit out at the GAA, asking why GAA events can go ahead but outdoor concerts cannot.
The Government’s treatment of the Arts sector in recent times just shows the lack of regard that they have for this incredibly important sector. Not only is this unfair and discouraging to those involved, but it is also very damaging to those in the sector as if COVID itself wasn’t damaging enough.
Orla Slattery – Music Writer