Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Phoenix Park a month on: the gardai vs MCD

It’s just over a month since that infamous series of gigs in the Phoenix Park and the domestic music business story of the summer just keeps on trucking. The very publication of the letter from the Garda Commissioner on their …

Wed, Aug 8, 2012, 08:53


It’s just over a month since that infamous series of gigs in the Phoenix Park and the domestic music business story of the summer just keeps on trucking. The very publication of the letter from the Garda Commissioner on their review into the shows was interesting in itself, though you could also see it as a case of getting your retaliation in first. The yelps of surprise, anger, hurt and disappointment from Park Road were a little too late on this occasion. This has turned into a bit of a PR battle and MCD were strangely caught napping in that regard.

Head to head: Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan (left) and MCD boss Denis Desmond

Those who have followed this blog’s coverage of the story will recognise many of the issues raised in Martin Callinan’s letter and review. However, it’s a letter which provokes as many additional questions as it provides recommendations. Some of these questions were previously asked here, but there are now a number of new queries and points in the mix, which we’ve outlined below under the various headings suggested by the Commish in his letter.

Selection of concert venue

The gardai say that they need to know the names of the acts booked for the event at the time of the licence application so they can make a “detailed risk assessment” based on profiling the audience which the acts will attract. In this case, they knew on March 7 last that Swedish House Mafia were one of the acts playing (indeed, if they read OTR at Garda HQ, they would have known on March 1).

Does it really take our police force four months to do a bit of Googling and realise that policing this show would be considerably different to policing the Snow Patrol or Stone Roses’ shows? The licence was granted on July 3 – with just 10 additional conditions attached – so there was plenty of time for back-and-forth about the policing requirements for the show in those pre-event planning meetings which occur on these occasions. Did the gardai not raise the issue of the Swedish House Mafia audience during these meetings? Did none of the other stakeholders in the event not mention that the three shows would attract significantly different audiences and would thus require much different policing and security plans?

The review also mentions Oxegen and alludes to that festival’s Hamsterdam effect, previously cited here. Yet surely any risk assessment carried out by the gardai would have noted that SHM were an Oxegen 2011 headliner and put two and two together to get four regarding a show which would attract a younger, more boisterous audience? While it’s always best practice to talk to police forces in other countries about their experiences with these acts and audiences, the gardai had already dealt with a SHM show in this very jurisdiction less than 12 months previously! And will the mention of Oxegen mean the gardai will take a much closer look at the application for a licence for Oxegen 2013, an event we understand that the team at Live Nation are currently involved in seeking a sponsor for?

Culture of alcohol consumption

The gardai mention pre-gig drinking by “concert patrons in the 17 to 25 age group” as a contributory factor to anti-social behaviour around the show, yet where is the mention of the equally excessive alcohol consumption at the Stone Roses’ show, for example? It’s all well and good for the garda’s big kahoona to say they are “aware” of plans by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter to bring forward plans to deal with this, but where was the garda enforcement of existing laws on the nights of these shows? Why is there nothing here about garda efforts to stop public drinking and attendant anti-social behaviour on the way to the concert site within the Park (is there nothing here because, well, nothing was done?) Remember that local residents were giving out yards about drunken, loutish behaviour on Thursday, some 48 hours before Swedish House Mafia even arrived in the city.

Event control centre

The letter refers to the gardai having only “limited access” to a control centre monitoring CCTV footage, a centre which they claim was “not fit for purpose”. Question: where was the gardai’s own CCTV and event control centre? Why were they relying on the promoter in this regard at an event which would attract 45,000 punters? Five years ago, on foot of the infamous events at Oxegen 2006, I did a behind-the-scenes story for The Ticket on Oxegen 2007. Aside from MCD’s own event control centre with its CCTV cameras covering the site (plus another set of cameras for the campsites), there was also a garda control van monitoring feeds from different cameras around Punchestown Racecourse. Why wasn’t there such a facility in the Phoenix Park? After all, they now own a couple of these boyos and some of them can be found parked up – yes, you guessed it – at Garda HQ up the road in the Phoenix Park. Why wasn’t the provision of these mobile units discussed in the pre-event planning process or the need for gardai to have access to the promoter’s control centre? Wy didn’t the gardai request sight of plans for this control centre in advance and realise that it was “not fit for purpose” at that stage? Surely, the supplying an effective, workable control centre for the gardai is a basic pre-event demand?

Security and stewarding

The gardai claim that MCD “did not have appropriate security measures in place for the Swedish House Mafia concert and the associated crowd demographic”, citing incidents at the entrance gates and breaches of the perimeter fencing. They also raise issues about intoxicated punters inside the site and questions over age IDs. The recommendation here is that security and stewards be given “specific instruction” with regard to both the removal of intoxcated punters and those who turn up intoxicated seeking admission.

Yet, per the licence application approved by Dublin City Council and all interested bodies including the gardai, such an instruction was supposed to be given by the promoter to security and stewards. This is the stewards’ briefing which MCD included with their licence application, the briefing which instructs stewards to refuse entry to those who were intoxicated or in possession of alcohol and/or offensive weapons.

Was a decision to ignore this instruction and, if so, who took it? Why and when was this decision taken? Was this decision taken to ensure that the intoxicated punters would be in Hamsterdam, as was, rather than randomly roaming the Park annoying the locals and the deer? Why have the gardai not called shenanigans on this? Surely, it’s a significant breach of the licence conditions?

By the way, such an instruction can also be found in the successful application by MCD for the three shows in Marlay Park later this month. Can MCD let punters know in advance if they’ll actually enforce this instruction or is it just there for effect? I can imagine it being a problem for tanked-up Kasabian and Noel Gallagher fans rolling up to the south county Dublin park in what is Minister for Justice Alan Shatter’s constituency.

Public order unit

The garda letters states that two public order units were assigned for the Swedish House Mafia show and were “very effective”. Were these units also in place for the other two shows? If not, why were they only deployed for the SHM show when gardai have previously stated in this letter that they hadn’t realised this show was going to be trouble? Just how much due diligence was actually done in advance for these shows? Or is it the case that some Garda sections were properly prepared and briefed in advance and some, well, weren’t?

Other outstanding issues

(1) It strikes me from the garda letter and MCD’s response that neither are prepared to address the issue of the licence application process and how this is now seen by all sides as simply routine. An application is presented to the relevant local authority, which is followed by a period of well-documented back-and-forth communications between the authority and all interested parties. Oservations are made during this process and conditions regarding everything from noise limits to opening times are attached to the licence before the application is approved anything from a few months out (in the case of the Marlay Park shows) to a few weeks (the Electric Picnic’s licence was granted last week subject to 40 conditions) to a few days, in the case of the Phoenix Park shows). Such is the routine nature of these applications that there are boilerplate sections of text which appear to be cut and pasted from application to application; for instance, there are huge passages of the same text, for example, which turn up in MCD’s licence applications for the Phoenix Park, Marlay Park and Madonna at the Aviva Stadium shows.

Yet when you have a situation where conditions attached to the licence are not enforced – for example, the briefing to security and stewards – where’s the censure? Why is this not enforced? Why does the process of vetting a licence application for a largescale event like this not take the promoter’s prior history with contentious events into account? For example, there’s a lot of talk about the expected audience for the David Guetta show in Marlay Park in a few weeks. Yet one of the acts playing one of the other shows is Noel Gallagher and we all remember the problems when his band Oasis played Slane in 2009.

(2) The boys and girls from the Office of Public Works are staying very quiet, aren’t they? They’re sitting there, crossing their fingers and hoping all of this stuff will go away or, at least, not draw them into the post-event hubbub. But given that the concert site in the Phoenix Park is, as of last night, still fenced off and the ground inside in a terrible state, questions need to be asked about the OPW’s role in selecting promoters to use publicly owned venues such as the Phoenix Park and the post-event clear-up. As stated in the terms and conditions for the hire of the Phoenix Park for events, “a minimum of one month is recommended between major events to permit recovery of the grass”. Why, therefore, were three big-capacity shows allowed to take place in the Park over the course of four consecutive nights? Given that the conditions of hire incoude the prvosion of “a refundable bond in respect of damage to the Property”, has this been cashed in or refunded? What’s the cost of reseeding or resodding the site and has this been charged to the promoter? And who actually owns the large green steel fence still in situ and are they getting paid for rental of this?

(3) Finally for now, where does leave relations between the biggest promoter in country and the gardai? After all, they need to work together on many levels for many different shows, from the forthcoming series in Marlay Park to the normal run-of-the-mill shows in venues like The O2 or Olympia. Will the gardai be taking a long, hard look at future applications by MCD for event licences? Will they begin to object to such applications based on what happened in the Phoenix Park last month? Will they insist on bigger deployments of non-public duty gardai, an issue which MCD director Caroline Downey-Desmond has already publicly objected to in strident terms? And will this entire brouhaha damage MCD’s brand and attractiveness to potential buyers? After all, rumours have been rekindled this summer about the long-in-the-works mooted takeover of the Dun Laoghaire-based company by Live Nation. You get the sense that this story still has some way to run.