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Music in Crisis in Northern Ireland

We’re publishing an open letter in response to the recent announcement from the Northern Irish Executive that effectively bans live music in Northern Ireland.

A photograph of a closed box office, shutters are drawn.
On behalf of our members we have written an open letter in the strongest possible terms, to outline the devastating effect this move will have on musicians. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Last week the Northern Irish Executive announced new measures against rising cases of Covid-19, which effectively ban live music in Northern Ireland.

Caroline Sewell, our Regional Organiser for Scotland & Northern Ireland, responded to this news:

“The MU is deeply concerned about the effective ban on live music in Northern Ireland which was announced last week. Musicians have suffered acutely throughout this crisis with their livelihoods completely disappearing in the vast majority of cases. We are keen to hear from the Executive and to gain an understanding of the evidence which has driven this decision.”

The letter has also been signed by UK Music. Their acting CEO, Tom Kiehl explained the umbrella organisation's support:

“Live music is incredibly important to Northern Ireland. It sustains thousands of jobs and in a normal year would generate millions for the local economy. UK Music asks the Northern Ireland Executive to reconsider this ban and support actions that will aid music’s eventual recovery.”

An open letter on music in crisis in Northern Ireland

The MU represents 32,000 professional musicians who work across all areas and genres in the UK industry and far beyond. Our members compose, teach, record and perform in order to make what is usually a very modest living and the impact of Covid-19 on our members and the wider cultural industries has been nothing short of devastating.

Six months ago, their diaries were wiped clear of work for the remainder of 2020 and beyond. As the work disappeared, so did the income of thousands of musicians and it quickly became clear that very little support would be coming as 33% of our members have not been eligible for government support in the form of the Job Retention Scheme or the Self Employment Income Support Scheme.

More recent announcements on the extension of these schemes have done little to quell the fears and anxieties of our members as they fall far short of providing meaningful support that will stand any chance of alleviating the widening and deepening levels of hardship which are being faced by so many. This is a crisis.

Music forms a crucial part of the creative economy in Northern Ireland. As an industry it contributes almost £70m in annual gross value added (GVA) to the local economy, with a further £8m generated through music related tourism.

One musicians’ gig has the ability to create a positive ripple effect through the live music ecology which reaches venues, bar staff, lighting engineers, sound engineers and the wider night time economy in restaurants, bars, hotels and so it goes on.

The sheer quality and vibrancy of the world renowned Northern Irish music scene consistently punches well above its weight and is intrinsically linked to the cultural identity of Northern Ireland. This is hugely important culturally and economically, but also socially as those positive effects reverberate through our communities and in our mental health and wellbeing. This is all in jeopardy.

Through no fault of their own, one third (34%) of musicians are considering abandoning the industry completely due to the acute financial hardship they continue to face as a result of the pandemic. Nearly half of our members have been forced to seek work outside of the industry and 70% have been unable to undertake more than a quarter of their usual work.

These statistics are truly devastating and so getting musicians back to work must be of the utmost priority if we are to save our industry which contributes so significantly economically, socially and culturally and which currently faces existential crisis.

We write on behalf of our members, in the strongest possible terms, to express our deepest concern at the latest announcements from the Northern Irish Executive as regards the new restrictions now in place which effectively ban live music. This had been an area where some musicians were beginning to claw back just some of their lost work and desperately needed income.

Last week’s announcement of £29m which will now come to the Arts, Culture and Heritage Sector in Northern Ireland was very much welcome after a long and anxious wait for the news. However, it is not yet clear how these funds will be targeted and there is currently a real danger that we may reach a point of no return for the music sector in Northern Ireland unless positive action is taken to nurture and protect the sector through this crisis.

We wish to seek urgent clarity on the rationale behind this decision and to engage in urgent talks with the executive on the matter.

Take action now

Following the latest announcements from the Executive effectively banning live music, and the MU’s open letter in response, we’re calling on MU members in Northern Ireland to write to their MLAs in support of the music industry and the musicians who make it.

We’ve created a template letter you can use to write to your MLAs. Remember to include how you are affected by the coronavirus pandemic – personal stories make all the difference.

Take action now.


Published: 29/09/2020

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