Calls to protect Amhrán na bhFiann as Ireland has no official rights to use its own national anthem

Calls to protect Amhrán na bhFiann as Ireland has no official rights to use its own national anthem

AN Irish senator has launched a public consultation group on the Irish national anthem in what he hopes will help protect its status as one of Ireland’s state symbols.

Mark Daley, spokesperson on Foreign Affairs for Fianna Fáil, is coordinating a consultation group in Ireland’s Seanad that will address how politicians should deal with copyright fears over the country’s national anthem, Amhrán na bhFiann.

In a strange and unknown scenario to many, the Irish state does not currently have a copyright deal in place for Amhrán na bhFiann after their last agreement expired in 2013.

This means that unlike the symbol of the harp, which is protected by trademark, Ireland has no official rights to use its own national anthem.

The anthem is also absent from Ireland's Consititution unlike its famous tricolour flag.

Speaking to The Irish Post, Senator Daly said: “When copyright for the anthem expired in 2013, there were no protections upon it meaning it can be used by anyone for an ad or commercial purposes, which in my view would be inappropriate.”

The Senator noted an incident where the Irish retailers Dunnes Stores used lyrics from Amhrán na bhFiann in an advert campaign in 2015, something that Daley storngly opposed.

Seanator Daly hopes that his consultation group will “find out the public's views on how the national anthem should be protected and what we should do in light in the loss of copyright.”

Amhrán na bhFiann - a complicated history

The anthem has experienced a complicated history that involves several copyright disputes and state misjudgements, which eventually resulted in its rights expiring four years ago.

Originally written in 1907 by Patrick Heeney and Peader Kearney, the anthem was adopted by Irish volunteers who famously sang it during their 1916 rebellion at Dublin’s General Post Office.

This led to it becoming widely known throughout the young Irish free state and its chorus was eventually adopted as Ireland’s official national anthem in 1926.

However, this was done without making any payments to its original writer Kearney and Patrick Heeney’s estate, who had taken over his rights following his death 15 years earlier in 1911.

This led to the first of many disputes during the anthem’s life, which was eventually settled in 1933 after Ireland’s Government paid for the rights of its English lyrics.

At this time the Irish language version, first composed in 1923 was beginning to replace its English counterpart and by the late 1930s its Irish chours took over.

But this change in language was never formally adopted by the Irish state leading to future confusion amognst politicians and legal representatives.

Over 30 years later in 1965, the confusions surrounding who owned Ireland’s national anthem reappeared when the country’s government realised a legal loophole that meant their ownership of rights would lapse at some point in-between 1967 and 1993.

This had been caused by a law introduced in 1959 that persevered an artist’s right to content 25 years after their death.

As Kearney died in 1943, the legal right to his ownership of the national anthem was due to end in 1968.

However, in a further twist, a legal knothole would have allowed Kearney’s representatives to benefit from his rights for another 25 years after 1967 until 1993.

To prevent this the Irish Government purchased the rights of Amhrán na bhFiann in its entirety.

However, in 1995 a further extension to the tangled copyright was introduced, which meant an artists copyright now lasted 70 years after their death meaning Ireland’s right to use their own national anthem ran out on the first of January 2013.

Unlike previous Irish Governments, the Fine Gael-lead government did not choose to re-purchase the rights of its anthem.

This has been criticised by parliamentary rivals Fianna Fáil who in 2016 launched the National Anthem Protection of Copyright and Related Rights Bill, which aimed to protect Amhrán na bhFinn until it was eventually dropped by fellow senators.