The music industry in Northern Ireland won something of a hollow victory yesterday afternoon (Friday 12 February), when it emerged that legislation banning live performances has, in fact, lapsed. However, in a Catch-22 situation, venues remain closed under continuing restrictions imposed by the Northern Ireland Executive as part of the continuing fight against COVID-19.
According to the Belfast News Letter, correspondence from the Department of Health, sent to a Belfast law firm as part of a case brought by a local musician, confirmed that legislation banning live performances at indoor licensed premises had expired on Christmas Day past and had not been renewed.
The letter, presented to a Belfast court as part of the ongoing proceedings: “There is currently no specific prohibition on live music, although the potential for live music is of course impacted, as are multiple other activities, by the more general restrictions that currently apply, including on the carrying on of certain business, the operation of certain premises and on gatherings.”
As the correspondence indicates, the lifting of the ban on live music is entirely academic, as pubs and clubs in Northern Ireland remain firmly closed, with no sign of the sector being allowed to re-open any time in the near future.
While technically the above statement would appear to open the doors for live shows when current restrictions are eased or lifted, the letter also went on to make it clear that, even when venues are allowed to start operating again, the rules on live gigs may still be subject to a renewed ban, stating: “Whether, as restrictions change in the future, any restriction on live music might be applied and, if so, on what terms, is a matter for future decision-making in the light of all relevant circumstances pertaining at that time.”
The letter did, however, provide some good news for musicians, as it revealed that “that self-employed musicians and entertainers who receive at least 50 per cent of their income from licensed premises should be eligible for grants under The Covid Restrictions Business Support Scheme”.
While very much a hollow victory, today’s news will come as a minor one for musicians who have been left in a state of limbo since last March, and were especially bemused by the fact that, during the brief period in which lockdown restrictions were lifted last summer, many venues where they normally would have played were allowed to stage stand-up comedy shows but not live music events. At the time, Über Rock asked the Northern Ireland Executive for clarification on this apparent disparity, but to date we have not received any response to our enquiries.
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