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Group hits out at ‘no cash’ Electric Picnic

Revellers at this year’s Electric Picnic festival will only be allowed to make card payments when the festival makes its annual return in a fortnight’s time.

The festival has said on its website that all bars, food traders and non food traders will be operating as cashless only when the event takes place from the 1st-3rd of September in Stradbally, Co Laois. 

Contactless payments were first introduced to the end-of-summer festival four years ago – with the option to use contactless payment made available at all of the festival’s bars, many of the food vendors, and at some merchandise stalls. 

The move to bring in cashless for the first time in the annual festival’s history was part of a partnership between AIB and Visa. Organisers of the festival, which was started in 2004, said it would mean less time joining long queues for ATMs. 

CEO of Festival Republic, organisers of EP, Melvin Benn, said at the time that the development was part of a desire to improve the “experience and convenience of our festival goers.”

Last year, Electric Picnic announced all bars would be operating via contactless card payments only – when the festival resumed for the first time in 2 years, having been cancelled in 2020 and 2021. In 2020, it was cancelled because of Covid restrictions, while in 2021, the festival, which has capacity for over 50,000 people, failed to secure planning permission to go ahead from Laois County Council.

The announcement that all traders will be operating on a cashless basis this year comes as Electric Playground’s sister festival – Kaleidoscope – announced it was going cashless for this summer’s festival.

The family music and arts festival, which takes place each summer in Russborough House in Wicklow, operated using card payments as well as Tappy Bank wristbands – an event-specific cashless payment method new to events in Ireland. The tappable payment wristband, which uses a RFID (radiofrequency identification) microchip, was first trialled in 2019 when 5,000 of the bands were supplied to festival goers.

Although Electric Picnic hasn’t announced any plans to use a similar in-house RFID system to Tappy, all concessions have been made cashless, and vendors have been warned not to accept cash payments.

Advocacy group Lawyers for Justice Ireland hit out at the move by the long-running festival, as it questioned whether those attending the festival, which will see the likes of Niall Horan and The Killers perform, will “comply” with the rules.

They criticised the festival enabling what they called “the drive for a surveillance CBDC cashless society by big corporations and bankers.”

They described the policy as a “testing ground for compliance” – adding that “cash is freedom, cash is privacy.”

“Imagine if even 10% of the people attending EP demanded to use cash as legal tender. It would be difficult for EP to enforce such a cashless policy if 7,000 people refused to go along with it,” the group wrote of the festival, which expects to attract crowds of over 70,000.

Radio host Niall Boylan also expressed concerns about the cashless-only festival, referring to Bank Of Ireland’s blunder earlier this week, which saw people locked out of their online banking accounts.

“After yesterday’s [BOI] disaster, do we really want a cashless society,” he tweeted. “Electric Picnic is just one of many. People need to start using cash again just to rock the boat. Cards are secure, generally safe etc but cash is important in society and we should always have a choice.”

Others pointed out that cash was legal tender, and questioned how the decision could be allowed. Some social media users, in reaction, however, argued that card was a more efficient means of payment and would cut out never-ending queues to withdraw cash at the festival. 

Electric Picnic have been contacted by Gript for comment.

Despite moves to embrace contactless payments, it is clear that many people throughout the EU still value the use of cash, with respondents to an EU consultation last year expressing concern relating to privacy and security around digital currency. Over 40% of those who responded to the consultation said privacy was their greatest concern about a digital euro, with the ongoing consultation phase into introducing a digital euro set to conclude this October.

Research from the central bank from last October found that despite a surge in digital payment methods in the aftermath of Covid, Irish consumers are returning to cash – with bigger and more frequent ATM withdrawals recorded

Moreover, following the publication of a Finance retail banking review by the Department of Finance last year, shops and cafes, and the banking sector have been warned they could be forced by law to accept cash payments. A draft bill by the Department of Finance would obligate banks to offer customers “reasonable access to cash” – while an ‘access to cash’ motion was passed by Rural Independent TDs in March, having been described by proponents of cash as a “significant victory.”

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