Galway city council adopted new busking bylaws for the city centre at yesterday’s council meeting in a close vote.
The new bylaws prohibit buskers from using amplification in a performance within a designated protected streetscape in the city centre before 6pm, and completely forbids the use of drum kits within the protected area.
Circle Acts, performances that reserve a specific space and require the audience to stop to watch or participate are also banned from the protected area up until 6pm.
The Protected Street Scape referred to in the bylaws covers all of Quay St, High St, Shop St, Mainguard St, Buttermilk Lane, William St, Middle St, Williamsgate St, and Abbeygate St from Shop street junction to Whitehall junction.
A group of people from the Galway busking community were present at the meeting and expressed their disappointment with the council after the vote, promising to challenge the bylaws.
A heated debate took place during this month’s council meeting on what everyone agreed was an emotive topic.
Councillors sought to balance preserving the tradition of busking which is a massive part of the city’s national and international image, and preserving the rights of local businesses which were being interfered with by excessive noise and blocked traffic.
Councillors in favour of the bylaws said they were not against busking but that it is the duty of the council to look after rate-paying businesses in the city centre.
Councillor Terry O’Flaherty said that while busking is the “life and soul” of Galway there has to be some form of regulation as the council has been dealing with ten years of complaints from local businesses.
Councillor Peter Keane, who brought the matter for a vote at this meeting, said it, “gives no-one any joy to regulate busking but the council has to legislate because the busking and business community cannot reach an agreement.”
He also pointed out that inner city businesses pay €35 million euros in rates every year, accounting for nearly 40% of the city’s budget.
Councillor Ollie Crowe agreed with the need to support businesses who have been impacted by traffic caused by busking, “The rate payers of this city are entitled to be able to get people into their shops.”
On top of this Councillors said that the regulations will only affect a small number of buskers within a limited area, and that the majority will be able to play without interference.
However Councillor Mike Cubbard said that no matter what councillors say, or what provisions are put into the bylaws to limit their adverse impact, they will do “irreparable damage” to the city’s reputation.
“The message will go out nationally and internationally that, ‘Galway stops Busking.'”
Councillor Cathal O’Conchúir said that banning the use of amplification completely will stop any dancer with a backing track or any busker with an electric guitar from performing during peak hours.
One fear expressed by several councillors was that even if the council amends these regulations after they’ve been active for several months, the damage might already by done.
“That’s the danger here, we could get rid of busking altogether.” said councillor John Walsh, “It could just get up and walk to another city.”
403 submissions were made to the city council during the public consultation process for the development of these bylaws.
Of those submission the overwhelming majority, 385 out of 403, were against the introduction of bylaws.
Amendments to original text of Busking bylaws
Several amendments were made to the proposed bylaws before the council voted on adopting them.
In their original form the bylaws would have permitted the use of battery powered portable amplification with a maximum power output of 50 watts.
However the council adopted an amendment proposed by councillor Keane which removed any mention of portable amplification along with removing permit requirements for underage performers.
Councillor Billy Cameron proposed a motion seconded by councillor Níall McNelis to designate an area in Eyre sq and Fishmarket sq each to develop for performances, which passed with 13 votes in favour.
The challenge of enforcing busking bylaws
Questions were raised at the council meeting about how it is proposed that that the city go about enforcing the new regulations.
Speaking in favour of a complete ban on the use of amplification, Councillor Collette Connelly said the Gardaí had told the Strategic Policy Committee when it was debating the proposed bylaws that attempting to measure noise levels would be an issue for a garda on patrol.
Mayor Flannery added that gardaí are not in position to measure decibel levels and need clear guidelines, “They can recognise from ten paces, that guy’s using amplification.”
Other councillors expressed skepticism of the city’s ability to enforce busking regulations under any circumstances.
Councillor Frank Fahy noted that there are existing bylaws against rickshaws and public drinking in the city but, “our streets are awash in broken bottles.”
There were also concerns about the definition of a Circle Act. The text of the bylaws states that a Circle Act is a structured performance that, “requires the reservation of a specific space and requires the audience to stop, watch and/or to participate.” and may incorporate fire, theatre, juggling dance, comedy, or acrobatics.
Councillor Mark Lohan said the wording was too widely interpretable; Councillor Conneely agreed with him saying it’s the audience that forms the circle, and therefore any busker could become a circle Act.
Speaking on behalf of city management, Acting Director of Services Gary McMahon said that the city does not currently have the resources to enforce these bylaws and suggested trialing a voluntary Code of Conduct.
However Mr. McMahon also said that gardaí had informed the city management that if they were to be involved in enforcing any regulations, they wanted a bylaw in place.
Protecting underage performers
Also adopted in the new bylaws is a requirement that performers under the age of 16 have a parent or legal guardian with them at all times while performing.
According to the original text presented to the Council, performers under the age of 16 would also have had to get a photographic performance permit from city hall.
All councilors agreed that any regulation had to protect underage performers, however it was ultimately decided that a permit system was both unreasonably onerous on performers and their families, and wouldn’t be effective in protecting young people.
Councillor Connolly described the permit system as “inoperable” and councilor Conneely remarked that, “It’d be easier to get a passport than a permit here.”
Mayor Flannery also said that he felt that a permit would do nothing to protect underage performers from being bullied out of their place, and that the crucial thing was for a parent or guardian be present.
The vote was split 9-9, with Mayor Flannery then deciding the tie break.
Councillors Collette Connolly, Mike Crowe, Ollie Crowe, Pearce Flannery, Peter Keane, Noel Larkin, Donal Lyons, Declan McDonnell, and Terry O’Flaherty.
Voting against adopting the bylaws were Councillors Billy Cameron, Cathal O’Conchúir, Pádraig Conneely, Mike Cubbard, Frank Fahy, Mairéad Farrell, Mark Lohan, Níall McNelis, and John Walsh.