Ban on Irish radio outside Belfast

Lucht Raidió Fáilte i mbun oibre

By Katie McGreal

Raidió Fáilte, Belfast’s Irish language radio station, wants to broadcast all across the 6 counties but the independent regulation and competition authority for the UK communications industry, Ofcom, refuses to give them permission to broadcast further than the five kilometres they are currently permitted.

Ofcom say they cannot allow Raidió Fáilte broadcast further than five kilometres as they have a ‘community radio licence’ and that the broadcasting range for community radio is five kilometres – but this is going against Ofcom’s own practices in Britain.

In Ofcom’s own ‘Notes of Guidance for Community Radio Licence Applicants and Licensees’ it states that in “rural areas where there is greater availability of suitable FM frequencies (such as parts of Scotland and Wales) and a coverage radius of more than 5km is proposed (because of the dispersed population, for example), we may license such services on FM.”

The manager of Raidió Fáilte, Fergus Ó hÍr argues that the Irish speaking community in Northern Ireland is just such a dispersed population.

“If some people can get a wider broadcasting range, why can’t the Irish speaking people of the North?”

But Ofcom are not for budging on the issue : “Ofcom is aware of Ráidio Fáilte’s desire to increase its broadcast area in Belfast but under the terms of the station’s Community Radio licence, this is and will remain at the present licensed coverage area,” an Ofcom representative told Gaelscéal.

Ó hÍr is asking supporters of the station to show their support for Raidió Fáilte’s campaign by contacting Ofcom directly, and demanding to hear Raidió Fáilte across the 6 counties, not just in Belfast and surrounding areas.

Raidió Fáilte is an all-Irish, voluntary public radio station based in Belfast city. 70% of their target audience listen to the station on the radio and they have 6000 listeners from all over the world online.

The station started broadcasting in 2006 and they raised the question of increasing their broadcasting range with Ofcom in 2008, four years ago.

The Northern Ireland Culture Minister, Carál Ní Chuilín expressed her support for the campaign during a meeting with Raidió Fáilte recently. MP for West Belfast, Paul Maskey has also expressed his support.

This is a translation of a piece originally published in Irish in Gaelscéal on 15 February 2012, www.gaelsceal.ie.

Freelance journalist, working mostly in Irish.

Have my own independent news website – antuairisceoir.com – which is in constant need of material.

I am the former editor of the newspaper Gaelscéal, www.gaelsceal.ie