The controversy surrounding the now cancelled Garth Brooks concerts due to be staged at Croke Park at the end of the month will strike GAA watchers as containing a couple of ironies.
Firstly the association has in the past 10 years put substantial effort into re-structuring of its rules and regulations so that they are coherent and enforceable. The establishment of the Disputes Resolution Authority has made the games and their administration accountable to a higher standard of regulation.
In the past week or so the GAA together with Aiken Promotions, 400,000 Garth Brooks enthusiasts, those residents in favour of the concerts and any beneficiaries from their sundry spin-offs have been disappointed by a ramshackle system of regulating and administering music events.
The system of licensing concerts after they’ve been organised and sold has struck nearly anyone following the whole fiasco as bizarre but apparently it’s been the way of doing such business for a long time. There’s generally no hurry with them either with licences in many cases granted only a day or two before the event.
By these standards Dublin City Council acted swiftly but given the scale of the operation required to stage the Brooks concerts and the numbers due to attend from overseas, calculated at around 70,000, three weeks' notice was plainly inadequate.
How this came about is disputed. The council maintained in a statement that it had warned about its concerns: “Dublin City Council has been consistent (since it was confirmed that tickets were sold for five concerts) in informing the promoter and his agents that its main concern was the impact that five consecutive concerts would have on the local area.”
Both Croke Park and the promoters are adamant that they had never been given the slightest inkling that the licence for five concerts would be in jeopardy.
On one hand the process requires the licence to be applied for and theoretically nothing is assured until that’s granted but precedent indicated that there was no cause for alarm. According to the city council Croke Park – or, they were fairly sure, any other venue – had never previously been refused a licence.
On the other hand, the sequence of five concerts on successive nights was similarly without precedent. Given the importance of the event to the city however, surely some early-warning system – even informally – should have been in place.
For further irony we turn to the GAA's unpublished Marketing Sub-Committee report of 2005: "There is a distinct risk that while Croke Park itself can be viewed in the public mind as exemplifying the best in a new Ireland the issues raised by ownership and access to Croke Park may portray the GAA as an association that is negative, old fashioned, political and redolent of an older Ireland."
At issue was the use of the stadium for rugby and soccer, which was actually agreed that year.
The current mess has seen different projections of Croke Park from some local residents as both overly commercialised and a bad neighbour. In other words the preoccupations of the 2005 sub-committee have been reversed and Croke Park is giving the GAA a bad name.
How fair is the labelling? Firstly it’s Croke Park’s function to generate revenue for the GAA so trying to isolate it as some sort of mutant gene in the association is far fetched. The good the association does in communities is part-funded by stadium earnings.
Secondly there’s no disputing the poor state of relations between some residents and Croke Park but LRC chair Kieran Mulvey’s mediation appeared to open the door to a stable agreement across a range of issues and was accepted by the GAA.
Speaking on RTÉ, Mulvey identified a problem underlying any potential engagement on residents' issues – a representative structure resembling the Tower of Babel.
He urged “ . . . the creation of appropriate representative groups for residents because we appear to have different residents in different sections and in different areas of the area around Croke Park speaking differently in regard to this and [they] did speak differently to me during the course of my mediation.
“That needs to be addressed as well: the residents and the ‘representivity’ of the structures within that.”
The farcical outcome and the scale of the disappointment and reputational damage caused can be partly redeemed if the Mulvey proposals can help to create a better relationship between Croke Park and its neighbouring communities and if the licensing system is rendered fit for purpose.
Given the track record of local authorities in this, it would be better if the initiative came from Government.