The Battle Over Busking Ends in Compromise, For Now

They tried to come for the amplifiers, but they’ve settled, it seems, for the backing tracks.

The long-running saga of the busking bye-laws, their review process and their workability, may finally be coming to an end — for now.

With further additions to the rules governing busking in Dublin, the culture’s now set to shift further.

No Easy Way

Ever since Dublin City Council introduced the Street Performance Bye-Laws in April 2015, a clatter of concerned voices has been raised about noise pollution, location, and time-limits.

Despite holding two forums with interested parties since the bye-law review in February, the one contentious issue that could not be agreed upon was the use of amplification.

Council management, in a report submitted to members ahead of Tuesday’s Arts Strategic Policy Committee meeting, wanted amplification and backing tracks banned entirely.

Making the correct decision on the matter, the report said, “is the pivotal deciding factor on whether the Street Perfomers Bye-Laws ultimately succeed or fail”.

A compromise was needed.

As such, the backing tracks of Dublin’s buskers will likely now fall silent and the council will look into restricting amplification in certain areas come September.

Tuesday’s decision was a fair solution, says city councillor Rebecca Moynihan of Labour, who is chairperson of the council’s Arts, Culture and Recreation Strategic Policy Committee.

“I think this struck a good balance for everybody,” she says. “I think [banning] the backing track will take out an awful lot of issues. This is about making sure that all street performers have an equal chance and not just the loudest.”

The Backing Ban and More

During the public consultation process 197 submissions (83 percent) were received that identified excessive noise as the main issue, according to the council.

There was some dispute over how the council had weighted submissions during the public consultation. A vast number of submissions — 6,228 in total — were sent through a Dublin City Buskers template on the organisation’s website.

In his report, council executive Brendan Kenny said it was “almost without precedent” to get submissions like that, and so council officials decided to count them all as a single submission.

The report said the Dublin City Buskers’ online form “invited responders to express support for that organisation and its aims rather than make any direct comment on the draft revised Bye-Laws”.

But there were fields in the template for people to chime in on different issues, including amplification and which activities should not count as busking.

In any case, the council pressed ahead with four options relating to amplification, which were put before members of the arts committee.

In addition, new bye-laws for visitor permits, dance troupes, and time limits were agreed.

Performers may now play in the previously prohibited space outside the GPO between 7pm and 11pm, Monday to Saturday, and 11am to 11pm on Sundays.

Dance acts and larger groups will now only be allowed perform at the St Stephen’s Green end of Grafton Street.

The “prohibited area” in Temple Bar will be expanded, but buskers won’t be kept out of it entirely now – acoustic music will be allowed back within the zone.

Life Without Backing Tracks

For buskers like Bogdan Rusin, the decision to ban backing tracks may prove problematic. A violinist, Rusin can found during the week at the Molly Malone statue on Andrew Street.

Rusin’s backing track is a single piano melody which, he says, aids him in playing classical violin. In his six years in Dublin, he never had a complaint or run-in with a city-council monitor about his backing track, he says.

While he’s pleased that certain groups, like dance troupes, will no longer be able to blare loud music on Grafton Street, the main issue wasn’t just the noise, as he sees it.

“There are too many buskers who play every day, at the same time, in the same place, with the same music,” he says. “This is the biggest problem actually.”

Rusin now reckons his busking in days in Dublin may be over.

In contrast, Grafton Street regular Jacob Koopman is not worried about the backing track ban.

“I think it’s fair,” he says. “For me it doesn’t make a difference. I’ve never had a backing track or problems so far.”

“I’ve friends who use backing tracks,” he says. “Not to be bad, I am kind of against them because they are too loud. You can play anything and still draw the crowds.”

Koopman says that as long as the decibel level isn’t brought down any further, he’s happy enough with how things stand.

The arts committee’s decision will pass to the full council to be voted on at its next meeting, on the first Monday of July.

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Cónal Thomas: Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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