Wexford Festival Opera has announced that there will be 'free, unrestricted access' to the public onto the quayfront on the evening of Friday, October 19, for the official opening ceremony and fireworks display which were overshadowed by controversy last year due to a failure to apply for an event licence.
The Festival Trust came in for widespread criticism in 2017 after it was announced that the fireworks would be a ticketed event for health and safety reasons because the necessary licence had not been obtained from Wexford County Council.
Festival organisers were left with the choice of either hiring an event management company and issuing crowd-control tickets or cancelling the popular fireworks exhibition. The opening night display was subsequently postponed due to bad weather and recheduled for the final night of the festival and went ahead with no ticket enforcement in place but with a reduced crowd.
Early last summer, Wexford Festival Opera applied to the planning department of the local authority for permission to host the opening night festivities in October. Because the event attracts more than 5,000 people a licence is required and the application process takes about 16 weeks. The licence was granted to the organisers on September 19.
Announcing details of the ceremony this week, the Festival said the 'free, unrestricted public event' will kick off from 7pm on with the fireworks display beginning over Wexford Harbour at approximately 7.40pm.
The official opening of the 67th Wexford Festival Opera will be performed by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan TD. The ceremony will also be addressed by the Mayor of Wexford Cllr. Tony Dempsey and the chairman of Wexford Festival Ger Lawlor.
Traffic restrictions will be in place, with Wexford Bridge and the quays closed to traffic from 5 pm. Both areas are expected to be re-opened by 8.30 pm. There will be a designated disabled car park on Crescent Quay and gardai will be available to allow access to anyone wishing to use the facility.
As this year's festival is opening on a Friday night, a larger than usual crowd is anticipated and people attending the quayside ceremony are asked to observe the instructions of the stewards and signage. Drones are not permitted.
In granting planning permission for the official opening, Wexford County Council imposed a number of conditions including that: 'the event will have no admission charge and there will be unrestricted entry, until the capacity determined by the Event Controller of the event site, in consultation with An Garda Siochana, is reached'.
The Event Controller must be in communication with the fire authority throughout the event and a Central Control Room must be established with a direct view of the site.
All boats and fishing trawlers must be outside the 200 metre exlcusion zone 15 minutes before the fireworks display takes place.
For safety reasons, attention must be paid to wind speeds on the night and if they exceed 30km an hour, the fireworks display will have to be cancelled.
In relation to fire safety, a condition of the planning permission is that 'the safety of the public should be the primary consideration at all times. The display should be stopped immediately if safety is compromised by any unforeseen situation, for example, insufficient crowd control, people or vehicles straying into danger zones or sudden adverse weather change or change in wind direction'.
During the fireworks display, the Safety Officer must ensure that the aerial explosions are taking place over a zone which is free of people and free of all fire hazards.
Planners advised that there should be access for people with disabilities and a sign language interpretor for the speeches.
The application by David McLoughlin of the National Opera House and event organiser Mark Dunne of CCS House, Tramore, County Waterford was accompanied by an event management plan and stated that the anticipated number of people attending the official opening would approximately 10,000, based on attendances in previous years.