Musicians and entertainers who have spent 500 days locked out of work because of Covid-19 restrictions have been advised to expect a safe and controlled return to performing “within the coming weeks”.
Indoor dining is set to resume on Monday for those who are fully vaccinated but live gigs are not yet permitted in pubs, restaurants or hotels.
While trial events have taken place mainly outdoors, the majority of the industry has been on hiatus since shutting down in March of last year when the pandemic reached Ireland.
The Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland (MEAI), which has some 5,000 members, is calling for the Government to set out a clear plan for its members to return to work.
Matt McGranaghan, a fiddle player from Donegal, says the mental health of performers, crews and musicians has been affected by the prolonged closure.
The sector hoped live gigs would return for the summer, traditionally the busy season where most make enough money to see them through the quieter autumn and winter months. However, McGranaghan says it appears that indoor gigs are unlikely to resume before September.
“People feel like their profession is disposable... it’s back of the queue for any kind of reopening,” he says, adding that many in the industry were experiencing financial hardship.
“I was speaking to two brothers the other day, both in the music industry, both with mortgages, both struggling. They ring each other every day and they find out what they have in each other’s fridge and, from that, they try to get a lunch together.”
Mark O’Reilly, guitarist and vocalist of the Portumna-based band Hot Fuss, says the industry needs clear guidelines for reopening.
“It’s been tough since day one. We’ve been 500 days out of work,” he says.
The band has repeatedly had to reschedule wedding gigs as restrictions tightened and eased, he said.
“The administration of that alone is crazy... but there is no money coming in.”
Vincent Macklin, of Panic Sound and Lighting in Monaghan, said he knew of many performers and industry professionals having to pay for insurance and maintenance of equipment despite having no income.
“In most other countries, outdoor events are going ahead full blast... antigen testing is used in most European countries.”
Macklin said he was fortunate that he lived near the Border, as he can now get work in the North, where restrictions are less stringent.
“Next weekend we are doing an event in Derry where there will be 3,000 to 5,000 people outdoors... why can’t we do this in the Republic?”
In a statement, the Department of Culture said a number of indoor and outdoor pilot live events have taken place already.
“At present, Minister [Catherine Martin] is working with all of Government and with the Minister for Health specifically on the potential application of digital Covid certs as a means of entry to live events with reduced social distancing.
“They will also be receiving advice through the Expert Working Group on Rapid Testing, to determine if antigen testing can be used as a means of entry to live events with reduced social distancing.”
The department added that activity within the live entertainment sector should return in a safe and controlled manner “within the coming weeks”.