Thursday 23 October 2014

Now it's time for the big question – who's responsible for this?

Published 09/07/2014 | 02:30

Garth Brooks: will play none of his planned Croke Park concerts
Garth Brooks: will play none of his planned Croke Park concerts

IT was Garth Brooks – yes, he – who once crooned that some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.

"Remember when you're talkin' to the man upstairs, that just because he doesn't answer doesn't mean he don't care," sang the country chart topper.

Yesterday the prayers of 400,000 Irish fans went unanswered when Brooks pulled the curtain on all five shows at Croke Park that were sold out long before Aiken Promotions applied for a licence.

The controversy has been spectacular on so many levels, with figures of up to €250m touted as being lost to the economy.

The original figure was €10m.

But the speculative losses soared in direct proportion to the scale of the unfolding fiasco and the hysteria that accompanied each meltdown milestone.

Fianna Fail even went so far as to suggest emergency legislation to overturn the decision of Dublin City Council.

This populist proposition placed the cancellation of two extra Garth Brooks concerts on a par with the darkest days of the Troubles, 'gangland' crime or the collapse in all but name of the Irish banking system.

There is no doubt that the biggest losers are his fans and businesses that stood to gain from the concerts.

Croke Park Residents with genuine concerns about staging five consecutive concerts have been cast as demons.

Aiken Promotions and the GAA, the latter of which stood to earn some €750,000 a night from line-dancing revellers, have been accused of being greedy and "reckless".

Brooks, who couldn't choose between his beloved "children" – by delivering a five or nothing show ultimatum – has emerged from the debacle like a stroppy diva, if a heartfelt one.

Dublin City Council (DCC), which gave its blessing to three instead of five gigs, has been excoriated as administrative amadans and economic kamikaze pilots.

And politicians have been reaching for the all-too intoxicating cry of the emergency.

All the while, the entire population has been morally blackmailed with doomsday threats of economic losses and warnings that our international reputation is sinking like a stone.

It is easy to classify the cancellation of Garth Brooks concerts as a fiasco, because it is.

But how do we apportion the blame?

Do we have an outdoor event licensing system that is drastically not fit for purpose?

Or is the reality much simpler: that Mr Brooks and his promoters left it too late?

In defence of promoters: outdoor concerts and festivals are inherently risky enterprises.

Not every artist can sell out an 80,000-capacity venue five nights in a row and estimating demand can be a chicken-and-egg process.

Almost all such events are "subject to licence", a legal term we now know is as comforting as the phrase "regulated by the Central Bank" was during the Celtic Tiger years.

Promoters, who take huge risks when operating outdoor events, sense when there is strong public interest and stoke it when they do.

Garth Brooks' Croke Park "comeback" was a one-night affair that morphed into two, then three and transformed into a consecutive five-night stomper when his fans' appetite proved insatiable.

The world and its oyster knew of the three-gig limit at Croke Park which already entertained One Direction for three concerts this year.

All those involved must have known this was an issue that had to be addressed at the earliest opportunity.

It is simply staggering, for all of the explanations offered, that a formal licence application was not lodged until April 17 last – and that plans proceeded without confirmation of a licence.

What would a prospective legislative fix look like?

We could introduce a pre-clearance/in-principle procedure into our outdoor event licensing laws, but this has proved tricky in a planning context.

We could make local authorities' decisions subject to appeal, but this could prove a double-edged sword for promoters and objectors alike.

What we should not do is insult the public by threatening to invoke emergency powers to resolve a badly handed commercial dispute.

Irish Independent

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