No more Garthgates?
The new event licensing regulations reveal much ado about nothing – and nothing at all about the big picture in the events sector
This week’s announcement about new event licensing regulations were greeted with the usual array of coverage, press release rewriting and gratuitous photos of an American country and western singer. Last year’s fiasco surrounding five mooted Garth Brooks’ performances at Dublin’s Croke Park was the reason why Paudie Coffey, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, was in front of the cameras in his best suit and tie (no cowboy hat, though) to talk about this one.
Indeed, as you look at the bones of the new regulations, it’s clear that Brooks has cast a long shadow because it’s all about preventing the sort of mess which unfolded like a bad panto about a year ago. As quote after quote from the great and the good put it in reports about the new regulations, it’s all about preventing anything which might be seen as “hugely embarrassing” or could damage the tourism sector.
But there’s more to Ireland’s events industry than an one-off visit from a man in a big hat, even if he was hanging around for five nights. It’s clear that there will be no repeat of last year’s shenanigans with these new regulations, yet there are events which happen every single week in this country which attract thousands of people so what do the new regulations have to say about how these are managed?
Indeed, while we’re sure he and his well-paid advisors probably didn’t realise it, the minister’s sense of timing had to be admired as there were a few stories floating around with event licence bits and bobs attached yesterday, apart from his own launch. The Electric Picnic, which has already sold every one of its 48,500 tickets for this year’s Stradbally soiree, lodged its application for an event licence for this year’s event with the good folks at Laois County Council yesterday afternoon. Meanwhile, we also have the ongoing scenario in the Kingdom where the Killarney Festival of Music and Food, which was granted a licence for its event in one location, announced that it was moving to a different site in the town with a few days to go, leaving questions over licences, site capacity, costs, production schedules, traffic, health and safety and a whole lot more besides.
In terms of event regulations, both of these events are completely and utterly in compliance with how things stand in June 2015. As a result of the new regulations, though, the only real change in the future is that the organisers of each event, like any other event which will attract an audience of 5,000 punters or more (or maybe that should be “hope to attract an audience of 5,000 punters or over”), will have to engage in “a pre-application consultation meeting with the relevant local authority” before submitting an event licence application or putting tickets on sale.
It is not known what will happen at this “pre-application consultation meeting”, if the fact of the meeting will be made public (will an act due to play Croker as part of a world tour be happy that the cat’s out of the bag before the other dates on the tour are announced?) or even if the local authority will supply tea and biscuits. It may well be a case that everyone is just happy that the meeting has been held and that boxes have been ticked, though we stand to be corrected if anyone knows exactly what this meeting will entail. There are also some changes in terms of application process timelines and public consultation periods.
But these are not major changes in terms of the big picture when it comes to the events’ industry. What the revised regulations look like are an attempted sop to concerns after last year’s gobshitery with Brooks and Croke Park and nothing more. There is nothing in the new regulations to tackle the issues which occur with Irish events with soul-destroying regularity, be it delinquent promoters who continually welch on their responsibilites to events who don’t comply with all aspects of the health and safety codes because they know they can get away with it. Such issues are not addressed here because they’re not the issues which made the headlines last summer.
It’s interesting to look through many of the submisions which were made to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government during the consulation period last year to see what was recommended or sought. Interestingly, many of these submissions address events which are currently not subject to the regulations because they’re under the 5k capacity. As the Chief Fire Officers Association point out in their submission, these events should also be subject to regulation and oversight because of the risks involved.
The letter from the fire officers also refers to indoor events and the lack to date of any indoor event licensing regulations. Is it going to take some class of accident or horrible tragedy for the minister and department to do something here? Will we see the minister in his suit the day after some indoor event or under 5,000 capacity event goes wrong promising more regulations and changes? Just why does it take something like a Garthgate or a tragedy for the lack of regulations to be noted and therefore the urgent need to do something?
For now, though, all the headlines about the revised rgulations are about one event which didn’t happen a year ago. Guess we’ll have to wait for another Garthgate before we get more regulations which again won’t deal with the bigger picture. Because, after all, dealing with the bigger picture actually requires some spadework, some sweat and some understanding that regulations are more than just about tyring to pander to all interested parties.