Back to the Phoenix Park: MCD vs the gardai (round 2)
It’s the story which refuses to go away. Last week, concert promoters MCD issued a hefty report on what happened – and didn’t happen – before, during and after the Swedish House Mafia show in the Phoenix Park in July. …
It’s the story which refuses to go away. Last week, concert promoters MCD issued a hefty report on what happened – and didn’t happen – before, during and after the Swedish House Mafia show in the Phoenix Park in July. It’s one hell of a report, though everything bar the first 38 pages of this epic document and some to-and-fro huff-and-puff letters over the last month from solicitors to the gardai was already in the public domain (see the OTR archive on this story, for example).
But those 38 pages do contain some neatly primed hand-grenades, as Ronan McGreevey reported last Friday. This is MCD’s response to the gardai’s pre-emptive strike back in August, when garda Commish Matin Callinan wrote to the Minister of Justice Alan Shatter regarding their review into the Phoenix Park shows. Denis Desmond didn’t get any prior notification about that letter, a case of the gardai getting their retaliation in first. Indeed, as the latest report notes on page 20, the letter does not reflect what was said at the post-event briefings between the gardai, promoters and other interested parties on July 7 and 10. On those occasions, it seems, the gardai said one thing and then did something completely different. It’s a bit like getting a sly dig from a Kilkenny hurley before the ref throws in the ball.
Hands up if you want another report into the events of July 7 at the Phoenix Park?
So, MCD don’t hold anything back on this occasion and give it both barrels. You’ll find some very forensic claims here about reductions in garda numbers to police the Swedish House Mafia show (page 19; there is, however, no breakdown in terms of public duty vs non-public duty gardai for the Phoenix Park shows, though sources indicate to OTR that MCD were charged €200,000 for policing). You’ll find a claim (again, page 19) that the gardai wrote to MCD on April 16 regarding their risk assessment of the Phoenix Park shows so they were fully aware of the different audiences the shows would attract from the outset. There are also detailed rebuttals of garda claims about the event control room and use of CCTV footage (page 15, 16, 27 and 28) and claims regarding a Garda policy that arrests were to be avoided (page 24). Like we said, nothing is held back.
And yet, questions remain and, indeed, new questions are prompted by the report. A lot of these questions come down to a very simple thing: enforcement of existing laws and regulations. This is something which MCD slam the gardai about in this review – for example, they ask why didn’t the gardai clamp down on anti-social behaviour around the park on the day and “deal with individuals refused admission to the venue…who were loitering around the vicinity” (page 32)?
Yet there are other enforcement issues which are not quite addressed in such emphatic fashion by the promoter. For example, we have drawn attention here several times already to the “Duties of Security Personnel” instrictions which outline what security personnel working at the event are supposed to do, depending on where they are stationed. These duties are included on pages 142 to 145 of MCD’s report, including the instruction to stewards stationed at entrances and exit gates to “not allow patrons, in possession of alcohol or any offensive weapons or those who have consumed excessive alcohol, to enter the site” (section 2(b) on page 143).
Again, questions have to be asked regarding this: why was this instruction ignored? Was an order given to stewards to ignore this important part of their briefing? Did this instruction come from the gardai as part of their “no arrests” policy? When was it conveyed to the stewards? After all, as we know from Marlay Park, this instruction was in full effect for those much lower capacity shows.
Another enforcement issue refers to the bars on site. In the event management plan for the Phoenix Park event, there’s a section on bar facilities (page 63) which addresses how the bars will operate, including queueing procedures and dealing with intoxicated punters. One interesting observation concerns how security should work in conjunction with the gardai on site. “The bar operation is to be strictly monitored during the course of the event by the Event Safety Officer and the designated Garda Officer on site”, this section notes. “In the event of there being any concern regarding excessive drinking and consequential safety/public order risks, a strict instruction will be given to close down the bar.”
Given what we now know about the show and the post-event brouhaha which has already produced two reports, why was no instruction issued by the gardai to shut down the bar? Why did the gardai, who seem to have been over-run in every area by their lack of preperation for this show, not order the bars to be closed down because of the safety risks they could see all around them at this show? Or was a decision taken, just like the “no arrests” policy, that closing down the bars would lead to further public order risks?
Then, there’s the section in the event management plan about “Emergency Procudures” which are to occur “if, for any reason, matters get out of control, or if there is any kind of panic” (pages 85 to 92). One of these instructions concerns a series of “event alerts” to be called in the case of trouble on-site. Did the trouble and “panic” not call for some of these alerts to be put into effect? Who took the decision to ignore this part of the event management plan? Were these procedures even considered on the night of the show?
Another interesting area relating to enforcement is MCD’s own list of recommendations (pages 32 to 37), especially those under the heading of “Arena Security/Stewarding”. One of the recommendations here is that “details of Security personnel including their name and address should be supplied by Security company employed to Gardai in advance as far as practicably for vetting and best practice”.
A variation on that line pops up in a letter from Chief Superintendant Micheal O’Sullivan to Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council dated March 22 regarding MCD’s application for the Marlay Park shows. The Chief Super makes a number of requests in this letter including that the “full list of security personnel (including the duties assigned to each and details of any vehicles used) to be provided to the Superintendent Tallaght not less than 14 days prior to each concert”.
Was a similar request made by the gardai regarding the Phoenix Park shows? If not, why not? Surely, the Phoenix Park shows, which were twice the capacity of the Marlay Park shows, required a higher attention to detail? Or was such a request made and not followed up on? Are such requests compulsory for these events? What do the gardai do with this info? What percentage, if any, of security personnel are questioned or highlighted by the gardai and what action is taken?
One body which is noticable by its absence from a lash of MCD’s pen are the Office of Public Works. Indeed, the silence from that body has been a major feature of this whole story. The OPW are, after all, the body who hired the hall to the promoters to put on these shows. It’s interesting to note (page 12) that a different site was originally proposed within the park for these shows, but the location was moved due to the fact that “ground conditions of the original area within the Phoenix Park…had become unsuitable to accommodate the event, due to the extreme and heavy rainfall”. However, the area where the July concerts were held was equally unsuitable and has, according to Phoenix Park sources, a long history of flooding.
Then, there are questions which the OPW itself needs to answer about their procedures for choosing promoters and shows for the venue, the level of political lobbying around the hire of the venue and the fact that the July shows went against their own terms and conditions for hiring out the venue. We’ll have to wait until the OPW report lands to find out more about this. What do you mean, the OPW won’t be doing a report? Sure, everyone is doing a report. Wait till you see the OTR report.
So, that’s that for now. The gardai have had their say, MCD have had their say, the news reports on the he-said-and-then-he-said have been filed (nothing more will appear in the media until there’s another report or review to push the story back onto the agenda) and everything will be put away until next summer. Fingers will be crossed all round that there will not be a repeat of the Swedish House Mafia story when next summer’s festivals and big outdoor shows roll around.
However, there will be little done to make real changes about the licence application process and the policing of these events. It’s interesting, for example, that MCD’s list of recommendations has nothing to say about how there should be more puchase and input from the public into the licence application process. They’ll point to the consultations with local residents – see page 14 for how they’ve liased with the locals around the Phoenix Park – but there is no mention of the public in the lengthy list of event stakeholders (page 5 to 10). The role of the public is to not complain unduly about the disruption and buy tickets when, in fact, the public are actually providing the park for the events in the first place.
But there is certainly no appetite or desire on the part of the promoter – or the other stakeholders – into making the licence application process, the pre-event planning meetings and the whole procedure more transparent and public. They will argue about confidentiality and security concerns, but the truth is that the public only get involved in these events when stuff goes awry, as it did in July. Then, the calls to Joe, the political bandwagon jumping (see Minister of State Ciaran Cannon’s grossly uninformed and ignorant tweets last week, for instance) and the fuming that Something Has To Be Done will begin in earnest again. Time for a new take on all of this or we’ll simply be repeating ourselves in due course with another band name taking the place of the poor aul’ Swedish House Mafia.