Busking by-laws are 'vague, expensive to enforce, and quite probably illegal'

City buskers reply to claims by Galway City Business Association

Members of the Galway Buskers Community.

Members of the Galway Buskers Community.

Despite a majority of public submissions being against the Galway City Council's proposed busking by-laws last year - conservatively more than 95 per cent against - the council proceeded to vote in the new laws, only to have them revoked recently, due to a technical error on the council's part.

Instead of taking the opportunity to review what we consider to be controversial and very restrictive by-laws, the council simply re-submitted exactly the same draft for public submission. The Galway Buskers Community, an organisation of buskers living and working in Galway city, stand united in opposition to the proposed Galway City Council Busking By-Laws.

Galway is a city with a reputation of being an artistic and cultural hub. The very visible presence of Galway’s busking community - quite often the first thing visitors see and hear when they arrive in our wonderful city - has in no small way contributed to Galway’s outstanding creative reputation.

'Busking is the main source of income for many of us, and, if relegated to those two spaces, most of us would simply move to another city, and make our living and bring our art elsewhere'

Recently, the Galway City Business Association released a statement in favour of the restrictive by-laws, stating that buskers have caused "extended periods of excessive noise" and have "impacted the health and safety of their employees" and "created obstructions to their businesses".

The Galway Buskers Community takes exception to these blanket accusations, made without fair evidence to back them up. The members of our community include considerate, talented contributors to Galway’s famed artistic landscape, not to mention active members of the wider community. We live here, we shop here, we bring our music and art to the streets for all to enjoy. We do not seek, nor have we ever sought to create noise, obstructions, or to cause harm. On the contrary, the Galway Buskers’ Community is willing and ready to engage and compromise with the city council, businesses, and residents. We have been this way since our inception two years ago, and have repeatedly stated our willingness to engage.

A code of conduct is already in place

busking stock

The Galway Buskers Community is not against reasonable and fair regulation of busking, and in fact, after taking into account statements from many businesses and residents, we enacted our own voluntary code of conduct in the summer of 2017. In the time since, we can report significant adherence within our own community to our code, which advises buskers to keep their volume to a reasonable level (whether amplified or not ), to manage their audiences, and to keep the street passable, to enable access to entrances of shops, to limit performance slots to two hours maximum in any one space, and to be considerate of the residents and businesses with whom we share the public space. We have all engaged with numerous individual businesses, and encouraged open communication between us.

We have been, and will continue to, distributing our code to every new busker in Galway, explaining to each how important it is for us all to work together. We believe the buskers are in the best position to help regulate our own community.

Busking dancing

The GCBA has also demanded "designated spots" at the Spanish Arch and in Eyre Square for performers, claiming this would give buskers "more space and a safer way for the audience to enjoy the music’. The Galway Buskers’ Community submits that neither location is suitable for regular busking. As performers on the streets, we are constantly dealing with factors such as foot traffic, shelter, acoustics, etc, and from experience we know that neither Eyre Square nor Spanish Arch are suitable for busking, bar some large performances or market stages.

Busking is the main source of income for many of us, and, if relegated to those two spaces, most of us would simply move to another city, and make our living and bring our art elsewhere.

Amplification

galway buskers

Regarding amplification, the issue some have is with volume, rather than amplification. Many instruments (accordions, bagpipes, brass instruments, percussive instruments, and banjos, to name but a few ) are very loud without amplification at all, and, under the proposed by-laws, these would be allowed at all times. The by-laws, as they stand, allow for any and all amplification after 6pm, an arbitrary time that does not consider late-opening shops, nor the needs of any city residents. Under the proposed bye-laws, amplification of any magnitude is permitted throughout the streets of Galway from 6pm until the end of the night.

'The Galway Buskers’ Community asks that councillors do not vote these restrictive and discriminatory by-laws in, and instead, invites the council, residents, and businesses, to engage with our community to seek a reasonable solution'

By placing a time limit on the use of amplification, instead of a volume limit, the by-laws also directly interfere with many of our buskers' ability to make a living. In essence, it restricts their playing time to a maximum of four/five hours a day (throughout the whole of the pedestrianised streets ), and this time has to be shared with all performers that day. This simply is not viable during summer months.

The GCBA, in its statement, made no reference the other points of the proposed busking by-laws, including those that seek to impede the way buskers queue for spots; those that forbid all street theatre and circle acts before 6pm; those that force buskers to stop performing if they gather a crowd; and those that, worst of all, deny buskers their freedom of expression - right guaranteed by the Constitution.

Bye laws are 'discriminatory'

These proposed by-laws are vague, impossible, and expensive to enforce, discriminatory and quite probably illegal. The Galway Buskers’ Community asks that councillors do not vote these restrictive and discriminatory by-laws in, and instead, invites the council, residents, and businesses, to engage with our community to seek a reasonable solution, one that is fair and considerate to all concerned.

Working with the Galway Buskers Community in this way will highlight and promote Galway’s reputation as an innovative, international, arts and culture hub; one that encourages and celebrates its artistic residents as well as warmly welcoming artists and visitors from all over the world.

The draft busking by-laws are available for public submissions until tomorrow [Friday March 8] at 4 pm. There is an online submissions form at: galwaycity.ie/busking The Galway Buskers’ Community encourages everyone to read and make submissions on the by-laws before the deadline.

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