Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Questions from the Phoenix Park

The story rumbles on. As any long-term observer of the Irish live music industry could have predicted with ease at the weekend, the usual suspects have joined the fray and jumped on the bandwagon. We’ve also already had the hasty, …

Wed, Jul 11, 2012, 09:27


The story rumbles on. As any long-term observer of the Irish live music industry could have predicted with ease at the weekend, the usual suspects have joined the fray and jumped on the bandwagon. We’ve also already had the hasty, highly publicised post-event meetings between the promoter and the gardai (why didn’t we get access to and indepth statements about the pre-event planning meetings?). Both sides say everything that could have been done was done, but promise more meetings and reviews.

Promoter Denis Desmond after yesterday’s meeting with the gardai

Nothing new in all of this to any long-term observer. When anything goes wrong at an Irish live music event, the same hubbub ensues. Look at the stuff and nonsense when Babs visited town a few years ago. That one rumbled on for ages and that didn’t involve 45,000 young lads and lasses getting their kicks to trancey pop in the Park. Declan Bannon, a letter writer to the paper this morning, reminds us of Bob Dylan in Slane in 1984 where the Co Meath village swore “never again” after a pre-gig night of riots and trouble (“never again” may have just applied to Dylan whose music obviously has always attracted a rowdy bunch of curmudgeons).

I remember tracking down MCD boss Denis Desmond when I wrote for the NME in the early 1990s to question him about a call by an Irish bishop to ban Feile from Thurles after some trouble in the town during that event. Please note, Enda Kenny and everyone else who has trotted out this lazy line, that it’s got nowt to do with dance music. We’ve been here before. We’ll be here again. Trust me on this.

There are many sides to this story, but let’s break it down for now into a macro and a micro. The macro has to do with the big quesions about Irish society’s abusive relationship with binge drinking and drugging. Everything comes back to this, as we wrote here on Monday, and it’s interesting to see how many people, when discussing what happened in the Phoenix Park over the weekend, shy away from this one.

I can see why. It’s a massive issue which begs the question ‘where do you start?’ I’ve heard that question asked many times over the last few days on different online forums and radio shows and I’ve heard many plausible, possible answers from education to enforcement. It’s not an issue which can be addressed by one or two commentators or pundits and needs a real, society-wide will to do something about this. Does the will to do this exist? Do I really have to answer this question?

Right now, though, let’s concentrate on the micro of how the show was managed, produced and promoted. While the crazy fallout from the weekend relates directly and unquestionably to widespread societal issues, promoters MCD still have a lot of questions to answer. They don’t get a free pass just because a large number of Irish gig-going punters can’t handle their drink and drugs. Remember they’re the ones who make large amounts of cash out of putting on events which attract these punters and there is a duty-of-care elements which needs to be addressed.

Desmond keeps stressing that they had more than enough security on hand on Saturday night and I’m certainly not disagreeing with him on the numbers. The question here, though, is to do with quality not quantity. Who recruited these 511 security personnel and how was this done? How much training and instruction did they have in advance? How much screening of these security personnel is done in advance and who does it? How much experience did they have of working at a big outdoor show and dealing with a predominately young crowd? Did they have experience in dealing with people who were already very drunk and disorderly when they arrived at the venue gate? What instructions were they given about this? Was a very specific decision taken to permit inxtoxicated punters into the venue in order to prevent trouble on the outside?

This then leads to another set of questions about the admission procedures. When people turned up and were already out of their heads, were they refused admission? After all, customers are often turned away if they show up intoxicated at the front door of a pub or club. There were reports about the confiscation of various items which could have been used as weapons; were the people who thought it was a good idea to go to the Phoenix Park for a pop gig with a hammer refused admittance to the venue?

Of course, if you turned away everyone who showed up hammered or with a hammer, you’d probably have had 35,000 people outside the park and 10,000 inside. This leads to a questions about general policing and containment. In many ways, a show like Saturday is a bit like Hamsterdam in The Wire, where police major Bunny Colvin took a decision to confine the drug dealers and fiends to a few city blocks in order to clean up the rest of West Baltimore. Oxegen used to always remind me of Hamsterdam when you ensured all the madness was confined to a big field in Co Kildare. Moving Hamsterdam to the Phoenix Park, then, was never going to be pleasant.

What was the advice from the gardai on admission procedures and containment? What was their view when it came to turning away people who were obviously going to cause trouble inside? Did they want everyone inside the four walls of the venue as opposed to roaming the park all day and night? Were there enough gardai on duty? What was the breakdown in numbers between gardai who were there on public duty and non-public duty (ie the gardai MCD were paying for)?

There’s a lot of questions around the whole issue of non-public duty gardai who work at concerts. It’s an issue which MCD director Caroline Downey-Desmond raised at this year’s Music Show in Dublin earlier this year, when she said the costs involved with this were “outrageous”. She claimed that “they insist on a huge amount of guards that do nothing actually when they’re down there, because the security do the bulk of it”.

So, on the back of Downey-Desmond’s comments, here are some questions. How many gardai were on non-public duty and how many were on public duty? Who decided on the number and was there any attempt made by the promoter to cut costs (gardai are expensive, obviously) by reducing this number? How was this resolved? Did the gardai have any input into the non-gardai element of the security operation? Did they have issues about the number of non-public duty gardai being too low?

Some questions for the Office of Public Works (OPW), the public body charged with managing the Phoenix Park on our behalf. How much rent did the OPW receive from MCD for these events? Was this the going rate or was a fee agreed based on three shows? What was the OPW’s role in the running of the three shows? How did they decide to give the nod to MCD for these shows? Did they also have applications from other live music promoters for shows in the Park this summer? Why did they go with MCD rather than someone else? Was there or is there much political lobbying involved in deciding who gets to promote shows in the Park?

Earlier, I made reference to the pre-event planning meetings and this brings us to the licensing procedures around concerts of this ilk. It is impossible for me to link to the licence application which MCD made for these concerts because it is not online. I only found out about what was in the licence last year when an OTR reader brought it to my attention.

It is also impossible for me to link to or cite any issues which were raised at pre-event planning meetings or consultations with local residents because they’re also not available to the public. These procedures and the agreements which a promoter makes with the relevant authories which impact on the local residents should be made public and available to all. In fact, it’s high time that there was total transparency around the entire lifespan of these applications. Here’s an idea: how about public meetings involving the promoter and the authorities so we, the people who go to the shows or who have to live with the concerts on our doorsteps for a few nights, can find out what decisions are taken on our behalf? You could probably sell tickets for this via Ticketmaster.

A lot of questions. Perhaps it might be a good idea for all those noble citizens huffing and puffing on our behalf about what happened at a Swedish House Mafia gig (a Swedish House Mafia gig! Our kids and grandkids with roar with laughter about this happening at that gig, of all gigs, in the decades from now) on a summer night in the Phoenix Park to get answers to some of the above. If not, we can probably roll out this post again on some future occasion.