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.

  • Pete Baker

    Ciarán

    This is not a “Ban on Irish radio outside Belfast”.

    And it’s not “going against Ofcom’s own practices in Britain.”

    The quote you, and Katie McGreal, provide from Ofcom’s ‘Notes of Guidance for Community Radio Licence Applicants and Licensees’ states, 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.”

    Raidió Fáilte broadcasts from Belfast.

    If they want to extend their commercial reach, they can apply for an appropriate licence.

  • Isn’t an FM radio strategy a little short sighted? Yes, analogue radio is going to be here for a good few years yet, but wouldn’t it be easier to reach the mass audience via the Internet?
    Even the potential reach via Internet enable ‘smartphones’ means you can overcome the FM problem in a jiffy.

  • Professor Yattle

    Ciaran,
    What support do you expect for this cause when you advance in it such patently overblown terms?
    Your claim of a “ban” is not just demonstrably untrue: it is a parody of nationalist petty-whining and dishonest, dramatic hysteria.
    A reasoned piece on the absurdities of the licensing system would be welcome and could gain Radio Failte some sympathy across the board. This just makes me laugh at the whole losing, language-lying lot of you.

  • Drumlins Rock

    MOPE ALERT !!!!!

    What tripe, got a wee bit of info for you Belfast isn’t rural! I know came a a shoch to me too.

    Going by the guidlines quoted, I guess if you were in Plumbridge say they might let you broadcast over 7-10km max in the right circumstances. But the whole of NI? your taking the piss, this the most pathetic mopery I heard in a good while.

    As they say on another site, SEND IT TO THE ZOO!

  • “Raidió Fáilte .. wants to broadcast all across the 6 counties”

    Ciarán, were there no expressions of interest from other groups to form ‘a network of Irish language community radio stations in areas throughout the north’? Ofcom stated that there were no suitable FM frequencies available in this round for Derry.

  • changeisneeded

    Ahh typical. Unionist name calling. I mean its not as if the British have a past history of discrimination of the Irish lanuage.
    I suppose youse would be happy with something newsletter style
    “Unionist fury as IRA radio station seek to expand propaganda”
    More your style lads…

  • As explained above, the real difficulty is that community licenses are location-based rather than interest-based. BFBS get around this by holding three community licences and sharing content across the three army bases.

    Raidió Fáilte might find it harder to find the funding to set up a whole network of community stations across the north to achieve the same result.

    It’s a shame that the definition of ‘community’ is so geographically focussed – something I’ve heard Fergus raise at Ofcom events over the years. It’s a pretty strong station, and as a non-Irish speaker, some of the evening music sessions are a good listen when driving home!

    I wonder if there are other examples of disparate communities around the UK that face a similar difficulty with community licensing? Cornish fishing communities spread out along the coast?

  • DT123

    More Polish/Chinese and Portugese speakers in NI I am sure and I don’t hear them whinging about it.The internet allows anyone to “broadcast” away to their hearts content ,problem solved.

  • Michael Shilliday

    Example of why the Irish language lobby doesn’t get anywhere number 5286: heroic levels of hyperbole.

  • JR

    Pete, DR,

    Read the post, Ciaran never claimed Belfast was rural. Just the spread of their listner base resembles that of a rural audience for obvious reasons.

    DT123,

    I think if you read the results of the 2001 census there are far more Irish speakers than any of those languages.

    I for one would welcome more Irish language radio in the newry and south armagh areas. Radio na gaeltachta is great for getting exposure to the different dialects of the language and experiancing the richness of the language as spoken by native speakers but has a West of Ireland focus. It would be great to have a more local feel to a station.

  • Scáth Shéamais

    There were 4,145 Chinese people living here according to the 2001 census, compared with 75,125 fluent Irish speakers. Last year’s census won’t be out until the autumn but I doubt the gap has been closed over the past decade.

    I agree with Alan that it’s a pity that Ofcom’s definition of community is limited to geographical terms of reference. Raidió Fáilte deserves to have a wider audience.

  • marksi

    I’m quite sure that if an FM frequency covering a large part of Northern Ireland was available it would have been advertised b now, and would have attracted a large number of bidders.

    This is a story about people in a huff, with no understanding of the technical issues involved.

    Unless of course they know more about spectrum planning than OFCOM.

  • South Belfast Hack

    “but this is going against Ofcom’s own practices in Britain.”

    It does look like OFCOM are applying their rules correctly, what you really mean is that you think the rules ought to be changed. Why don’t you make the case for that and we’ll all consider your argument then.

  • Old Mortality

    JR
    ‘Radio na gaeltachta is great for getting exposure to the different dialects of the language and experiancing the richness of the language as spoken by native speakers but has a West of Ireland focus.’

    Perhaps, that’s because the largest genuine Irish-speaking community is there, as opposed to little groups of hobbyists here and there.
    I understand little of what is said on radio na gaeltachta but the sound is not unpleasant and for some reason the word ‘agus’ is not used relentlessly. I coudn’t say the same for the Irish language stuff on local radio. Maybe the language just isn’t suited to a Belfast accent and you should all listen to radio na gaeltachta more and learn to speak Irish like those pleasant young women from Connemara.

  • Davy McFaul

    Interesting OS. Could you give me a definition of a “genuine Irish-speaking community” and who or what defines that definition?

  • RG Cuan

    as opposed to little groups of hobbyists here and there.

    The Gaelic-speaking population outside official Gaeltacht areas are not ‘hobbyists’. We are members of an ever-increasing community who live our lives in Irish – by speaking it at home, at work, at school, in the pub, in the bedrom, by availing of Irish language media etc.

    This thread has gotten side-tracked into debating one word in the headline but is simply about how Ofcom’s current licencing protocal is not beneficial for non-geographically centered communities.

    Raidió Fáilte does broadcast 24/7 online and since DAB radio won’t probably be fully in force until 2019 I think the station’s request that their FM frequency area is extended is a very valid one.

    Tá súil agam go mbeidh mé in ann éisteacht leis sa charr is cuma cén áit a mbeidh mé, i lár Bhéal Feirste nó i lár Ard Mhacha Theas.

  • Dewi
  • sonofstrongbow

    The “North”, the “Six Counties”? What with the recent TG4 puff-piece on women terrorists, ‘Mna an IRA’, and now this classic Mopery could the Irish Language lobby be giving a subliminal genuflection to its political leanings?

  • DT123

    Scath Sheamais,

    75,125 fluent Irish speakers indeed?Where did you get this figure from?How do you define “fluent”?

    The 2001 Census said that 167,000 claimed “some knowledge” of the Irish language.Now as I could claim to have “some knowledge”of Irish ,that question meant absoloutely nothing.

  • Reader

    sonofstrongbow: could the Irish Language lobby be giving a subliminal genuflection to its political leanings?
    It was surely just a cock-up. Statistically, communiqués from the Irish language lobbies are almost certain to be prepared by republicans. There is always a risk that it will be released without being reviewed for inclusiveness, especially since it’s so difficult to find a unionist in the office.
    And in the case of this article originally written in Irish, they may never have expected a unionist to see it at all.

  • Harry Flashman

    “This thread has gotten side-tracked into debating one word in the headline”

    On the contrary the headline, thus the entire premise of the thread, is deliberately misleading trying to invoke images of anti-Irish discrimination in what is a very minor technical decision.

    If the poster wants to take down the heading and rewrite it in somewhat less histrionic terms I’m sure everyone would be happy to debate the issue.

    Or perhaps not, as it is a distinctly minority-interest issue.

  • DoppiaVu

    @ sonofstrongbow – I’m happy to believe that the majority of people that are into the Irish language stuff do it for the love of the language and have no sectarian agenda. However, your point is well made that many of its proponents do appear to have another agenda. Regarding the 6 counties reference, I wonder how you actually say “Northern Ireland” in Irish.

    @DT123 – I’ve always been sceptical about figures that get bandied about in terms of Irish language usage and fluency. After all, anyone who has been to a Catholic school in NI could claim to have some knowledge of Irish. And whilst I don’t claim that my own Catholic friends are necessarily representative, I don’t know any that are into Irish – indeed, most of them detest it for the simple reason that they were forced to learn it at school.

  • john

    Northern Ireland in Irish – Tuaisceart na hÉireann or are we going to get are knickers in a twist over north of or northern.
    Regarding Raidió Fáilte Im pretty sure its one of the three or four Belfast radio stations I get on my smarttv in Greece but I need to check when I get home

  • Scáth Shéamais

    DT: 75,125 fluent Irish speakers indeed?Where did you get this figure from?How do you define “fluent”?

    It came from the census, it’s the number of people who can understand, read, write and speak Irish.

  • tacapall

    Why are Unionists/Loyalists so paranoid and afraid of the Irish language, so what if Raidió Fáilte wants a wider broadcasting range dont tune into it if you dont like it I know its hard for you to believe but people from Ireland do speak Irish.

  • Harry Flashman

    “Why are Unionists/Loyalists so paranoid and afraid of the Irish language, so what if Raidió Fáilte wants a wider broadcasting range … moan moan moan”

    See what I mean about misleading headlines and the kneejerk response they evoke?

    “Tuaisceart na hÉireann” is indeed the official term, you’ll find it on British passports if you look hard enough, don’t know it it appears on Irish government documents.

  • JR

    I suppose it helps that Tuaisceart na hÉireann translates as North of Ireland.

    Northern has to be translated as “North of…” as does Southern “South of …”, Western, Upper, lower, mid etc.

  • tacapall

    Harry Flashman

    “Why are Unionists/Loyalists so paranoid and afraid of the Irish language, so what if Raidió Fáilte wants a wider broadcasting range … moan moan moan”

    See what I mean about misleading headlines and the kneejerk response they evoke?

    And these responses are not kneejerk !

    sonofstrongbow

    “The “North”, the “Six Counties”? What with the recent TG4 puff-piece on women terrorists, ‘Mna an IRA’, and now this classic Mopery could the Irish Language lobby be giving a subliminal genuflection to its political leanings”

    Reader

    “Statistically, communiqués from the Irish language lobbies are almost certain to be prepared by republicans”

    Nothing kneejerk about these responses ? Well if you’re a Unionist/Loyalist these comments would probably be perfectly normal.

  • There’s an alternative in use on the Dáil site:

    Tairiscint maidir le Tuaisceart Éireann. Motion re Northern Ireland

  • Harry Flashman

    Tapacall I haven’t read a single “paranoid” post here about the radio station wishing to broadcast to a wider audience as you allege, truth be told no one seems to give a monkey’s.

  • tacapall

    “Tapacall I haven’t read a single “paranoid” post here”

    Obviously you dont Harry I didn’t think you would, like I said Sonofstrongbows and Readers comments are perfectly normal to you.

  • JH

    It’d be nice if Raidió Fáilte could broadcast outside of belfast. I think Irish people expect a little bit more flexibility from organisations like regulators etc than they are prepared to give. This certainly seems like an edge case, the Irish language speaking community is diffuse.

    It’s not an issue for me as I use the TuneIn app for the iFón and would recommend it to anyone!

    I’d urge some of the more smug posters here to not underestimate the size and the growth of the Irish language, particularly in Belfast. 75,000 would not surprise me anymore.

  • Reader

    tacapall: Nothing kneejerk about these responses ? Well if you’re a Unionist/Loyalist these comments would probably be perfectly normal.
    You seem to object to my remark, but you haven’t yet disagreed with it. All I said was : “Statistically, communiqués from the Irish language lobbies are almost certain to be prepared by republicans”
    Even on reflection, I believe what I said is very likely to be true. Do you disagree?

  • tacapall

    Reader I think its rather obvious I disagree with your stereotyping of any group involved in promoting the native language of Ireland. Just because it is also promoted and spoken by, god forbid other Irishmen/Women who define themselves as Republicans does not mean everyone who speaks or promotes it are Republican and have an ulterior motive for wishing to promote it.

  • JR

    I would disagree with that Reader. I have yet to recieve a Republican communiqué from an Irish language organisation. I see your comment equivalent to somone saying communiqués from hockey clubs are prepaired by Loyalists.

  • Reader

    JR: I would disagree with that Reader. I have yet to recieve a Republican communiqué from an Irish language organisation.
    That isn’t what I said, though you may want to take that issue up with sonofstrongbow. All I said was that most communiqués from ILOs will have been written by republicans. I never imagined that would be disputed.
    JR: I see your comment equivalent to somone saying communiqués from hockey clubs are prepaired by Loyalists.
    But only a tiny fraction of the unionist electorate are loyalists, as election results show. Whereas the vast majority of northern nationalists either vote for an avowedly republican party, or are de-facto republicans but in a quiet way. Do you disagree? And is the political profile of language enthusiasts any different from that of the nationalist electorate?
    I do think it’s possible that a hockey club could also put out politically tone-deaf communications, by the way.

  • JR

    Well if by politically tone deaf you mean using a placename that you grew up with and don’t think twice about; but it’s use may grate on others then maybe.

    http://www.lancerhockey.org/FriendsofLondonderryHockey/FOLH_Home.html

  • JR

    Well I would agree that most (but definately not all) Irish language enthusiasts come from the nationalist camp but many are too young to vote, manu don’t vote, of those that do many don’t vote republican, and of those that vote republican the republican they vote for is republican lite. I think this is well off topic though.

  • ordinary joe

    At 8:28 pm is that the Londonderry that is four miles from Derry and eight miles from Manchester?

  • Harry Flashman

    “At 8:28 pm is that the Londonderry that is four miles from Derry and eight miles from Manchester?”

    Haha! Just to prove how “paranoid” them orangies are I’ll post a link to those hun bigots in, er, New Hampshire.

    Just for the record I believe Derry’s hockey club (that’s Derry at the southern end of Loch Foyle and not Stephen King’s birthplace in Maine, and of course I refer to Stephen King the American novelist and not Stephen King the prominent gay prod, sheesh this is getting long) goes by the suitably neutral name of “Foyle” and records it’s address as “Derry/Londonderry”.

    The black hearted bigots.

  • JR

    Au Contraire Harry, The link was posted to make the point that the use of a name does not make you a Bigot or mean you a political agenda. As you say yourself New hamshire Hockey club are not bigots so by your own logic neither are the Irish language lobby.

    As I have said before. This is way off topic.

  • Reader

    JR: As you say yourself New hamshire Hockey club are not bigots so by your own logic neither are the Irish language lobby.
    Um, yeah – because the Irish Language lobby wouldn’t know any better than a US ice hockey club thousands of miles away. Strangely enough, that was the basis for my defence of them too.

  • As a rural dweller it would be great to have more Irish on FM radio – mostly for the car. I agree that the internet is the way forward too. My household are all learning Irish right now and we need the Ulster dialect as everything online is Munster Irish.

    In my (small) ceantar – there are 8 adult Irish classes being run, there’s an Irish speaking mother and toddlers, a preschool, a primary school, a secondary school that has started an Irish stream to cater for the demand, and 450 members in the Comhltas.

    The classes are diverse – a long way from the GAA / Sinn Fein stereotype you may have, even a smattering of Sasanachs!

    My daughter is in the Bun Scoil and I am happy to report that it is non-denominational and the children learn basic French, Spanish and German from the age of four. They learn about all the other festivals like the Chinese New Year and Diwali.

    Without being political – it would be a welcome addition to the radio scape to have a bit more FM as gaelige.

    I don’t know why it has to be controversial. It’s a bit depressing when people look as if they are perpetual victims and others perpetual smug smart arses that really hide a sense of fear or disapproval. It’s a shame that the language got politicised in the first place. The way forward is to depoliticse it and recognise it as heritage, identity, and something to be celebrated – diversity if you will. I think this is what is happening and its interesting that with the further we travel into peace, the more people are able and willing to come closer to their roots and identity now that there is no fear that it will be hijacked by political causes.

    For those with the obvious difficulties – try not to be too close minded.

    Only downside is that I am being slagged off by my 4 year old daughter at my stilted attempts to speak with her in Irish. Does the confidence no good at all.

  • Harry Flashman

    “New hamshire Hockey club are not bigots so by your own logic neither are the Irish language lobby.”

    Please point me to where I, or anyone else for that matter, alleged Irish language activists were bigots.

  • Barry the Blender

    I’m a (hardline) unionist, and I’d support the station broadcasting Irish across the province.

    BOOM ! Aren’t I Progressive