Hopes high as NI music festivals prepare for the summer as lockdown eases
Festival organisers have been emboldened for the months ahead after the communities minister said she “100%” hopes to attend a concert this summer.
Stormont minister Deirdre Hargey told the BBC a new taskforce will now consider how venues in Northern Ireland could safely welcome the return of audiences from June 21 onwards.
One of those hoping festivals will get the go-ahead this year is John Cartwright, one of the organisers of the award-winning Stendhal Festival near Limavady in Co Londonderry.
Responding to Ms Hargey’s comments, he told the News Letter: “It’s the news we have all been waiting for and we look forward to getting much more detail on what guidelines will be published in order to make this happen.”
Mr Cartwright and the rest of the team behind Stendhal have already announced their intentions to press ahead this year, providing they are allowed to do so by authorities.
Some plays, live music, performances and exhibitions resumed in England, Wales and Scotland on Monday.
Football stadiums have also begun to welcome fans back in England, while closer to home up to 1,000 will be allowed to attend the Irish Cup final this week.
A series of so-called ‘test’ events have also taken place in England, including an indoor nightclub event in Liverpool.
Mr Cartwright said: “As an outdoor venue we would think that we would be among the first to be allowed to open to some degree as obviously outdoors is safer than indoors.”
Ms Hargey, meanwhile, said: “I would hope to go to some type of concert or outdoor venue, 100%.
“I do hope through the taskforce and the work that we’ll be doing with the Executive that we can see that ray of sunshine over the summer season, and particularly during festival season.”
Mr Cartwright added: “It will be a huge relief to many, many people throughout the country, not just the venue operators or promoters but the musicians who will now finally be able to get back to work alongside the riggers, crew members, sound and light engineers, and everyone else involved in the industry.”
He said those working in music and entertainment have been the “forgotten men and women of the pandemic”.
He added: “Almost every other business has been allowed to open, at least partially, by following guidelines and restrictions handed down by government. We have not been afforded the same opportunity – bar doing Zoom and online gigs, which quite honestly, lost their appeal very early on.
“There are practical ways and means to run events, particularly outdoor camping events, utilising many of the Covid policies and mitigations that you see in the high street and other businesses.”