Heavy restrictions on, and in some cases outright banning of, busking in Galway city centre, sends a message that is "damaging to our city, damaging to our reputation, and damaging to Brand Galway".
This is the view of the Mayor of Galway and Independent councillor Mike Cubbard, who was reacting to Monday's city council meeting, where elected members voted by 12 to six to implement the controversial Street Performance and Busking Bye-laws.
All five Fianna Fáil councillors; Fine Gael councillors Clodagh Higgins and Eddie Hoare; and Independent councillors Collette Connolly, Declan McDonnell, Donal Lyons, Terry O'Flaherty, and Noel Larkin, voted in favour. Voting against were Mayor Cubbard; Fine Gael councillor Frank Fahy; Labour councillor and former Mayor Niall McNelis; Green councillors Martina O'Connor and Pauline O'Reilly; and Social Democrats councillor Owen Hanley.
The bye-laws come into force in January 2020 and will affect William Street, Shop Street, Mainguard Street, and High Street. They ban all amplification before 6pm; prevent buskers from reserving spots; ban so called 'circle acts' (street performances which draw large crowds ), including children’s theatre and puppet shows, before 6pm; require buskers to stop performing if a crowd becomes too large; and require buskers aged 16 and under to have a named legal guardian present at all times.
Mayor 'disappointed' by vote
In a statement, the Mayor said he was "disappointed" by the result. "Despite our best efforts the bye laws were passed," he said. "It does not ban busking outright, but does curtail many acts who may need backing music, for example. As Mayor, I met both the business leaders and busking representatives over recent weeks to try to find a compromise but unfortunately it wasn't there."
Social Democrats Galway West candidate Niall Ó Tuathail said the new bye-laws represented "a poor day for democracy and common sense". He also criticised the wording of the laws, warning they will have the unintended consequence of placing greater restrictions on busking than were actually envisaged.
Regarding the bye-law requiring buskers to stop performing and/or move away from Shop Street if a crowd becomes too large, Mr Ó Tuathail said that while this is "designed to prevent overcrowding, it is a very clumsy text that will make any busker afraid to play, risking a fine". It has also been pointed out that the bye-laws do not define how many people constitutes a 'crowd' in such a situation.
Both Mr Ó Tuathail and Green councillor Pauline O'Reilly raised concerns about the bye-laws which requires that buskers not 'offend' anyone. Both claim this is a restriction on freedom of speech and that it is unconstitutional.
"Not only is this strange to include but will almost certainly be subject to a legal case that will force city council to spend more time and money on this when it has much bigger priorities," said Mr Ó Tuathail.
'Accordions, bagpipes, and brass and percussive instruments are very loud without amplification at all. Under the proposed bye-laws, these would be allowed at all times'
"Art can confront us but that is its function", said Cllr O'Reilly. "We need to ensure that workers and residents are protected but working with buskers would seem to be far more productive. These laws are unenforceable and therefore having an open dialogue is still required."
People Before Profit Galway representative Joe Loughnane described the councillors decision as "a vote to restrict a huge part of what gives Galway city its character". He said: "A city’s culture should be so much more than shops and hotels; it should be about the arts, performing, music, pubs, nightclubs, art spaces. Tourism is an important part of any city’s economy, but it should not come at the cost of local culture and creativity."
Buskers to 'look at every method of fighting' bye-laws
The Galway Buskers Community [members of which are pictured above] said it was "saddened" by the vote, but has pledged to "look at every method of fighting" what it called "discriminatory, vague, and possibly illegal bye-laws", and to instead see "fair and reasonable regulation" of busking in the city centre implemented.
As with Mr Ó Tuathail, the buskers drew attention to the wording of the bye-laws and their possible unintended complications. "The laws ban amplification, but the issue some have is with volume, not the actual use of amplification itself," the group said in a statement. "Accordions, bagpipes, and brass and percussive instruments are very loud without amplification at all. Under the proposed bye-laws, these would be allowed at all times."
'Busking is the main source of income for many of us. With these bye-laws, many of us will simply move to another city, to make our living and bring our art elsewhere'
The statement also noted that by placing a time limit, instead of a volume limit, on amplification, the bye-laws "restricts amplified playing time to a maximum of four/five hours a day and this time has to be shared with all other performers over three or four viable busking spots."
The buskers claim the bye-laws are creating an ‘us and them’ environment between our performers and the city, and that they will "actively enable discrimination against the busking community, enabling some to target buskers they do not like".
The buskers were also critical of councillors who claim that buskers will still be able to perform in Eyre Square or at the Spanish Arch. "Any busker knows that unless it is a brilliantly warm, sunny, not-at-all windy Saturday or holiday, and you're a huge band with a massive speaker system, and the ability to pass a bucket aggressively, there isn't enough footfall in either place to make busking workable," the buskers statement read.
"Busking is viable on pedestrianised streets with shops because people going shopping come out with change that they may toss into your case if they like you. There are no shops in Eyre Square or Spanish Arch, no spaces designated for busking in either area, and no plan to designate any before these bye-laws come in. Buskers are constantly dealing with traffic, shelter, weather, acoustics. Busking is the main source of income for many of us. With these bye-laws, many of us will simply move to another city, to make our living and bring our art elsewhere."
In 2017, buskers enacted their own voluntary Code of Conduct, which requires performers to keep volume levels at a "reasonable level"; to keep streets passable; to enable access to entrances of shops; and to limit performance slots to two hours in any one space. They claim there was a compliance rate of more than 95 per cent.