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06 Jul 2022

Electric Picnic Director lambasts 'lack of political leadership' on live music events

‘The only parallel that I can think of is feeling like Shay Given did in 2009 when Thierry Henry handballed that ball and everybody knew it was wrong and yet the ref ignored it… everybody knows this is wrong’

Electric Picnic Director lambasts 'lack of political leadership' on live music events

Melvin Benn

Electric Picnic Festival Director, Melvin Benn has expressed anger at the “lack of leadership” coming from the government in relation to the full reopening of the music industry. 

Speaking to Bryan Dobson on the News At One on RTÉ Radio One on Wednesday Mr Benn said the government were not challenging NPHET, who he said had “created a culture of fear” and the music industry is in “an appalling situation”.

He said the contrast between here and the US and the UK, where he runs a number of other large-scale festivals, was “political leadership”.

“Leadership, political leadership, that’s the contrast, it’s no more than that. I mean it’s the same virus, it isn’t a different virus in Ireland that it is in UK or America. 

‘’It isn’t a different science, the science is as clear as it comes. You can put people together, particularly in outdoor spaces, and provided they’re all tested and providing they’re all fully vaccinated, there will not be a spike as a result of it. The science is there but it is not being read and adopted and the clear difference is political leadership, no more than that.”

Mr Benn said he did not expect much to come out of an upcoming meeting with Arts Minister Catherine Martin. 

‘’There’s a complete lack of leadership it seems to me, and I am just angry, really, really angry because it is unnecessary, it’s wrong. 

‘’The level of vaccination in Ireland is just incredibly high as I said before, you would win the gold medal for the speed of which it started to roll out and I am angry because it’s wrong. 

‘’It sort of feels like – I tried to think of a parallel and the only parallel that I can think of is feeling like Shay Given did in 2009 when Thierry Henry handballed that ball and everybody knew it was wrong and yet the ref ignored it and somehow, as far as I am concerned, everybody knows this is wrong. 

‘’NPHET have created a culture of fear and there is no political leadership that is challenging that or moving it on. It’s not about Laois County Council, the whole culture of fear is wrong.

‘’We have been doing test events in the UK, all the results are available. What we were talking about at the Electric Picnic was fully vaccinated people. The test event where nothing was being recorded as significant spikes, we were just doing lateral flow tests. What we were offering at the Picnic was significantly more than that and yet still nobody responded at all. I mean it is an appalling situation.

Asked about the contrast between festivals here and the UK and the States, Mr. Benn said it came down to political leadership. 

“Leadership, political leadership, that’s the contrast, it’s no more than that. I mean it’s the same virus, it isn’t a different virus in Ireland that it is in UK or America. It isn’t a different science, the science is as clear as it comes. 

“You can put people together, particularly in outdoor spaces, and provided they’re all tested and provided they’re all fully vaccinated, there will not be a spike as a result of it. The science is there but it is not being read and adopted and the clear difference is political leadership, no more than that.”

Mr Benn was also asked about the ramifications of the government going against public health advice.

He responded: “Well I think of course as public health advisors say they are there to advise they are not there to take decisions and when so much clarity is there from test events around the world and the government are not challenging the public health advice to say, ‘Why are you giving us this advice in the face of clear stuff from other places in the world?’ that’s the bit that’s missing. I don’t know if it is because it is coalition government or something, I don’t know. There is something wrong with leadership.

Mr Dobson asked him did the fact that many thousands of people are being allowed to attend sporting events, Gaelic finals and semifinals give him any hope for music events. 

“I don’t know what hope it gives me and certainly does it give me hope that they are going to reverse the decision on the Electric Picnic? Not that much. 

“And that has very clearly been my focus and I was very optimistic and wanted to be optimistic in order to force a decision. We got a decision and it’s the wrong the decision as far as I am concerned. 

“I understand why Laois County Council created it. But is there any hope? I don’t know. Without political leadership, is there any hope? No. Public health will tell you the safest event that can happen is one that doesn’t happen because nobody will get injured or get the virus from something that doesn’t happen. Is that the kind of leadership that is out in Ireland at the moment, is that the public advice that is there?”

Mr Benn concluded the interview saying  he had not given up on Electric Picnic this year. 

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