Festival Republic director Melvin Benn was on RTÉ Radio One’s News At One with Bryan Dobson today an hour before live event stakeholders were due to meet Minister Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin at 2pm today to yet again, discuss the plans for the sector (even though articles already suggest they have made up their minds)
Benn sounds a lot more dejected than he did last summer, and why wouldn’t he? After 500 daysplus of no gigs, and even less information to be able to plan events in the near or far future in Ireland and the news that Laois County Council refused the licence for Electric Picnic, the man contrasts the UK and Ireland in terms of its “political leadership”:
“Leadership, political leadership, that’s the contrast, it’s no more than that. I mean it’s the same virus, it isn’t a different virus in Ireland that it is in UK or America. It isn’t a different science, the science is as clear as it comes. You can put people together, particularly in outdoor spaces, and provided they’re all tested and providing they’re all fully vaccinated, there will not be a spike as a result of it. The science is there but it is not being read and adopted and the clear difference is political leadership, no more than that.”
Benn also compares the government’s treatment of the sector to:
‘The only parallel that I can think of is feeling like Shay Given did in 2009 when Thierry Henry handballed that ball and everybody knew it was wrong and yet the ref ignored it… everybody knows this is wrong.
In response to Dobson’s question about whether he has given up on Electric Picnic this year, Benn replies “I never give up.”
You can listen to the full interview or read the transcript below.
Bryan Dobson (BD): What are you hoping at the very least what will come out of this meeting with Minister Catherine Martin?
Melvin Benn (MB): I think like many people not very much at all, I’m afraid. There’s a complete lack of leadership it seems to me, and I am just angry, really, really angry because it is unnecessary, it’s wrong. The level of vaccination in Ireland is just incredibly high as I said before, you would win the gold medal for the speed of which it started to roll out and I am angry because it’s wrong. It sort of feels like – I tried to think of a parallel and the only parallel that I can think of is feeling like Shay Given did in 2009 when Thierry Henry handballed that ball and everybody knew it was wrong and yet the ref ignored it and somehow, as far as I am concerned, everybody knows this is wrong. NPHET have created a culture of fear and there is no political leadership that is challenging that or moving it on. It’s not about Laois County Council, the whole culture of fear is wrong. We have been doing test events in the UK, all the results are available. What we were talking about at the Electric Picnic was fully vaccinated people. The test event where nothing was being recorded as significant spikes, we were just doing lateral flow tests. What we were offering at the Picnic was significantly more than that and yet still nobody responding at all. I mean it is an appalling situation.
BD: Tell us about the contrast, because you run festivals in the UK and the states between here and those countries, what’s happening there:
MB: Leadership, political leadership, that’s the contrast, it’s no more than that. I mean it’s the same virus, it isn’t a different virus in Ireland that it is in UK or America. It isn’t a different science, the science is as clear as it comes. You can put people together, particularly in outdoor spaces, and provided they’re all tested and providing they’re all fully vaccinated, there will not be a spike as a result of it. The science is there but it is not being read and adopted and the clear difference is political leadership, no more than that.
BD: Is it not also the case that the government is acting on the basis of public health advice and to go against that public health advice would be quite a serious step – not to say it hasn’t happened here in the past, but it would be quite a significant step here for a government to take?
MB: Well I think of course as public health advisors say they are there to advise they are not there to take decisions and when so much clarity is there from test events around the world and the government are not challenging the public health advice to say, ‘Why are you giving us this advice in the face of clear stuff from other places in the world?’ that’s the bit that’s missing. I don’t know if it is because it is coalition government or something, I don’t know. There is something wrong with leadership.
BD: Many thousands of people are being allowed attend sporting events, Gaelic finals and semi finals which have taken place and are coming up. Would that give you hope that if they go off well that it could clear the way for music events as well?
MB: I don’t know what hope it gives me and certainly does it give me hope that they are going to reverse the decision on the Electric Picnic? Not that much. And that has very clearly been my focus and I was very optimistic and wanted to be optimistic in order to force a decision. We got a decision and it’s the wrong the decision as far as I am concerned. I understand it why LCC created it. But is there any hope? I don’t know. Without political leadership, is there any hope? No. Public health will tell you the safest event that can happen is one that doesn’t happen because nobody will get injured or get the virus from something that doesn’t happen. Is that the kind of leadership that is out in Ireland at the moment, is that the public advice that is there?
BD: Have you given up on Electric Picnic this year?
MB: I never give up.