Niall Tóibín – A Tribute

Niall Tóibín, Actor, Writer, Comedian, Singer, Impressionist and Presenter, was the last of a veteran group of multi-talented performers from Cork City and, perhaps had the edge in versatility. Born into an Irish speaking family, he sang in the cathedral choir as a child and in the Opera House in Cork.

In his teens, he joined a drama society attached to the Gaelic League, performing locally until 1953 when he joined the illustrious Radio Eireann Players. Niall remained there for fourteen years, honing his considerable vocal skills. He then joined the Abbey Players as guest performer, creating the role of Brendan Behan in “Borstal Boy”, a performance still unsurpassed for its uncanny accuracy.

He also found time to write scripts for RTE and for his own stage and TV shows, and wrote the lyrics for several Gael Linn records. From the 1970s he appeared in sixty-four major Film and Television productions including such iconic series as, “Minder”, “The Irish RM”, “Coronation Street”, “Brideshead Revisited” and “Ballykissangel”.

Fittingly, Niall had several honours bestowed on him. In 1973, he won a Jacob’s Award for his performance in the RTE comedy series, “If the Cap Fits” and, Best Actor at the Christian Film and Television Excellence Awards.  In 2003 the Mayor of London asked him to serve as the “Ambassador of Ireland” to their St. Patrick’s Day Festival. He also received an Honorary Doctor of Arts Degree from University College Cork, made a freeman of the city of his birth and honoured with the Irish Film and Television Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

Professional to his fingertips, dedicated to his profession, and to the support of his fellow artists, Niall was a lifelong member of Irish Equity. He was also a committed campaigner for actors’ rights and, in the nineteen sixties, was instrumental in fighting for better conditions for the Abbey Players. Through Equity, he took on Ernest Blythe (the Abbeys’ Managing Director) who had refused to implement basic contracts. Our National Theatre performers owe a great debt to Nialls’ bravery for their current conditions of employment.

A true giant, and major talent of the entertainment profession in these Islands, and beyond, for an incredible sixty-five years, he will be greatly missed by so many. Words cannot express our gratitude for this life-long dedication.

Our sincere condolences to his children, Sighle, Aisling, Fiana, Sean and Muireann.

“Go bhfaigheadh ​​Dia é i mbos a láimhe!”  “May God hold him in the palm of his hand!”

Laurence Foster
November 2019

Gay Byrne – A Tribute

Where does one begin to pay tribute to, undoubtedly, one of the finest broadcasters and presenters in the history of Radio and Television, not only in Ireland, but across Europe and beyond?

So many of us had the privilege of sharing the same corridor in the RTE Radio Centre for 25 years with Gay;  he, usually resident with his morning programme in Studio 5 and, in our case in Studio 9, with the RTE Players. Often we would be called in to read letters on air for him, or to assume alter-persona to take part in April Fool-day pranks. Afterwards, you would not get a pat on the back – it was what you were paid to do and he expected professionalism. I think that was what separated Gay from many other superb broadcasters.

He was fully focussed, so well informed and totally flexible – equally at home in heavy politics, light entertainment, music and current affairs. He was also brave! Despite resistance from many sides, he was indeed, a game changer and an incredibly influential force. In 1971, The Late Late Show” was being watched in half a million homes and, his radio show had nearly one million listeners!

Gay was a talented journalist, an actor, musician, raconteur and a showman, well able to hold audiences in the palm of his hand. In his broadcasts, he was speaking to just “you”, but also embracing thousands. His “warm-up”, to relax audiences prior to live transmissions of the “Late Late Show”, was impeccable, witty and mesmerising! 

Incredibly, he remained perpetually at the top of his profession, switching from genial host to investigative interrogator in the same programme, with consummate and confident ease. However, even though his success can now be measured by the multi talents he possessed, Gay made sure that he honed those skills to near perfection to achieve that success. He could also be professionally ruthless when he knew what elements a programme needed, or did not need, in order to retain its impact.

He was a staunch member of Irish Equity, picketing with equal vigour during union disputes and, was deservedly honoured with Life Membership of Equity. Gay also did, what Gay thought to be right and just. He was an avid theatre-goer, supporting his fellow union members, promoting performers and artists at every opportunity.

Whether one admired Gay, or took issue with him as a broadcaster, we never will see, or hear his like again. Broadcasting has changed, dedication to ones’ profession has changed, but the history and personification of his talent, that is encapsulated in recorded archive, will be a lasting testament to a genuine legend!

“That familiar voice, wearies not ever…”   –  Shelley.

Laurence Foster,
November 2019

Sexual harassment at work survey

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Choral evensong

Call on professional artists to avail of expansion of Jobseeker’s Allowance

SIPTU representatives have called on professional artists to avail of an expansion in the categories of those eligible to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance while they focus on their artistic work and to develop their portfolio.

SIPTU Services Division Organiser, Karan O Loughlin, said: “Visual artists and writers have this month been joined by artists such as screen writers, film directors and film actors in being able to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance under this scheme.

“Those eligible for the scheme also include those involved in the theatre art form, specifically actors, costume designers, theatre directors, set designers and stage designers. Musicians, dancers, choreographers, opera composers and circus and street performers complete the list of artistic disciplines who are now included in the scheme.”

She added: “This development should greatly benefit artists, many of whom are in precarious working positions and due to the nature of their work have periods when a lack of earnings is a serious problem. That the Government has recognised that specific and special measures are needed to assist these workers is positive.

“It should also mark a step forward on the path to recognition of the professional status and value of performing artists in Ireland. However, we also need a broader discussion about the working lives of artists and their capacity to have longevity and dignity in their careers. The way to truly value artists is to ensure they can make a secure living from their work and that means the development of a basic income scheme for them.”

In order to qualify for the scheme, professional artists must apply for and satisfy the qualifying conditions for Jobseeker’s Allowance including a means test.  They must be unemployed, capable of, available for and actively seeking work. 

Applicants are also required to provide a certificate/declaration from their professional body as to their status as a professional artist. They must be registered as self-employed with the Office of the Revenue Commissioners and at least 50% of their income should be derived from their art in the previous year. Participants on the scheme can, on a voluntary basis, continue to avail of the supports of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection’s Public Employment Service.

Public Liability insurance in the Arts industry – have your say!

Do you use Public Liability Insurance? Is it too Expensive? The union is endeavoring to understand the requirement for public liability insurance for people who work in the arts industry. Can you take 60 seconds to answer these few short questions so we can establish if the union is in a position to provide this insurance to you at a lower cost. Fill in the survey!

Dermot Doolan – RIP

Irish Equity are sorry to announce the death of Dermot Doolan over the weekend. Dermot, was a founder member and former Secretary of Irish Actors’ Equity Association. Dermot was also the first Secretary of the ITGWU Cultural Division and is pictured here receiving Honorary Lifetime Membership of the union in honour of his work and commitment to the union.  Dermot gave long and valuable service to the union, working tirelessly over the years for better conditions for actors in both the live performance sector and the audio-visual sector.

Dermot also represented the union at European and International level within the International Federation of Actors (FIA) and the European Federation of Actors (EuroFIA). Dermot was instrumental in organising the holding of the first ever EuroFIA meeting in Dublin. Dermot was the beloved husband of his late wife Eta and loving father to Jean, Mimi, Mark, Adrienne and Ōrla. Dermot will be sadly missed by his loving family, grandchildren, great grandchild, sons-in-law, daughter-in-law, nieces, nephews, extended family and friends. Funeral arrangements for Dermot are as follows: Reposing at the Kirwan Funeral Home, Ballygall Road West on Monday 26th August between 5.30 p.m. and 8.00 p.m. Removal on Tuesday 27th August to St. Canice’s Church, Finglas Village, arriving for 10 o’clock Requiem Mass followed by funeral to Glasnevin Crematorium. Family flowers only, please. Donations, if desired, to the Society of St. Vincent De Paul.

Irish Equity meet Arts Council

Irish Equity Executive delegation met with the Arts Council on Friday 26th July re maximising affordable performance and rehearsal spaces. Photo from left to right: Irish Equity Executive members Pádraig Murray (President), Ann Russell and Gerry Lee.

Extension of protection scheme for performing artists welcomed

Following a review of the pilot social protection scheme for writers and visual artists, the Government has announced its extension to professional performing artists. The extension of the scheme will now see the inclusion of actors, musicians, street performers, dancers and other artists whose professional status will be designated by the fact that a minimum of 50%
of their income is generated through their professional work. For the first time these earnings can also include teaching within their profession.

Irish Equity supports this initiative as a positive step forward on the path to recognition of the professional status and value of performing artists in Ireland. However, a broader discussion about the working lives of artists and their capacity to have longevity and dignity in their careers is now needed. The way to truly value artists is to ensure they can make a secure living from their work and that means the development of a basic income scheme for these professionals.

Photo from left to right: Stephen Spence, Equity UK with Padraig Murray and Karan OLoughlin, Irish Equity and Louis Rolston, Equity UK (right), outside Liberty Hall for the recent Equity Ireland/ Equity UK Action Group meeting.

Equity members mourn Karl Shiels

Irish Equity members are saddened to hear of the untimely passing of actor, Karl Shiels.

Born in Dublin, Karl was well known in theatre and TV circles having made many appearances at the Abbey, the Gate and many other venues.

As a founding member and Artistic Director of Theatre Upstairs, Karl was keenly aware of the need to create an independent theatre where self-producing artists could realise their full, creative ambition. As a freelance actor and director, he has worked extensively on stage and screen both nationally and internationally for almost two decades. He was given a Best Actor Award at the Dublin Theatre Festival for his role in Comedians in 1999 and received a nomination for a Best Actor Award at the Irish Times Theatre Awards in 2011 and in the 2010 Stage Awards.

Karl has stared in many TV productions over the years, including the Tudors, Peaky Blinders and he has, of course, been a regular feature in Carrickstown in RTE’s Fair City.

Karl is survived by his partner Laura Honan, his twin daughters and their mother Dearbhla, his father Harry, stepmother Irene, brother Jason, sisters Lisa and Lianne, stepbrother Justin, aunt Nan, uncles John and Jimmy, nephews and nieces. Karl will be sadly missed by all his relatives and a very large circle of friends, within the acting community and beyond.