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Wednesday 1 October 2014

€50m Garth Brooks fiasco has hurt our reputation: Taoiseach


* It's an embarrassment, says Minister for Arts
* City chief Keegan under fire over concerts debacle

Louise Hogan, Anne-Marie Walsh and Joyce Fegan

Published 09/07/2014 | 02:30

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Garth Brooks
Garth Brooks: will play none of his planned Croke Park concerts
Garth Brooks: will play none of his planned Croke Park concerts
Fans of Garth Brooks have been left angry and upset at the cancellation of his five Croke Park concerts

A legal challenge to the holding of three Garth Brooks concerts in Croke Park was the tipping point in the country star's shock decision to cancel all his Irish dates.

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Fans, the tourism sector and businesses were last night counting the massive cost of the complete cancellation of the series of five gigs, for which 400,000 tickets had been sold.

The country's cash-strapped businesses branded it a costly "fiasco", while Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the loss of an estimated €50m was a "shock" for the economy. And the debacle was branded an "embarrassment" for the country by Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan.

The Taoiseach said last night: "This appears to have been very badly handled all round. It is a shock to the system in terms of the economy of this city and the reputation of our country."

The country's top mediator, Kieran Mulvey, told the Irish Independent that the cancellation was a "debacle" which "will be world news".

"It will be used against us by competing tourist and concert authorities in the future. It will be spun against us," he said, adding: "We've an infinite capacity to score own goals."

As the recriminations continued, devastated promoter Peter Aiken claimed that he had been "shafted" by Dublin City Council chief executive Owen Keegan. Hotel bosses called it a "severe blow".

Over 70,000 ticketholders had planned to travel from abroad. And Ticketmaster described the scale of the operation for refunding 400,000 tickets as "unprecedented". It will take the company until today to draw up a plan for giving people their money back.

The Irish Independent has learned that the singer's decision to pull the plug on the three gigs which had been licensed came after he was informed a resident was seeking a High Court injunction to stop him performing in Croke Park. Brooks had announced the day after the council refused permission for two gigs that he would do all five concerts or none at all.

Even though it became clear that the decision of the council could not be legally reversed, fans and businesses remained hopeful that at least three of the concerts – those booked for the Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights and permitted by Dublin City Council – would go ahead.

But the revelation that even those three gigs were under threat pushed the singer into deciding to pull out of what was to be the start of his comeback tour amid concerns it would be logistically impossible to stage the mammoth show.

A cargo ship carrying 18 trucks with the customised equipment and staging – which Brooks helped select through snapping photographs of precisely where he wanted the stage to be set in Croke Park – was already on its way to Ireland, having departed from the US on July 1.

The huge show was planned by a producer who has been involved in several Super Bowls and a camera crew was to capture the entire event for a comeback documentary.

As a massive 'blame game' kicked off last night, Aiken Promoters and Dublin City Council were engaged in a war of words over the licensing of the concerts.

Mr Aiken said he was "blindsided" and told how the first time he learned only three concerts were being licensed was last Wednesday night as he left a gig. He also claimed that at one point city officials suggested that four concerts would be an option.

"In 15 minutes it went from three to four, imagine being treated like that when they based their decision on the impact of a fourth and fifth concert. It's an unbelievable way of doing business," said Mr Aiken.

The council admitted that the possibility of a fourth gig was actually raised, an admission likely to raise more questions for CEO Owen Keegan. The council said that before a decision was made on the event licence application a conversation took place between Mr Keegan and a senior representative of Aiken.

Guarantee

The chief executive advised Aiken the likelihood was that only three concerts would be permitted. And after being told that Brooks would not perform just three concerts, the chief executive offered to discuss with the decision maker in the planning department the possibility of allowing a fourth if a guarantee was given by the promoter that Brooks would fulfil the four events, the council stated.

Before any conversation took place the response was received from Aiken that unless all five concerts were permitted Brooks would not appear. Intense behind the scenes negotiations have been taking place between Aiken Promotions, the GAA, Kieran Mulvey and Lord Mayor Christy Burke, with potential options touted such as matinee shows. But Mr Keegan firmly stated at a heated council meeting that there was no way he could go back on the decision to only grant three of the five gigs.

The council last night stated it hoped that Aiken Promotions would "reconsider its decision" not to proceed with the final three concerts. Asked about the financial implications for his business, Mr Aiken replied: "It's going to be horrendous. How do you recover?"

Mr Aiken was not insured for the shows because insurance companies required a licence before providing cover. However, he was adamant that he will get over the setback. The promoter doubted there would never be another artist in his lifetime in Ireland that would sell 400,000 tickets.

Both the GAA and Croke Park, which are also set to lose out on a big payday, last night said it shared the "intense disappointment" of the 400,000 fans.

Irish Independent

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