Garth Brooks debacle exposes Ireland’s flawed system


We have important news to discuss today. Before we start, however, there is the minor matter that last week we got a new leader of the Labor Party and the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny reshuffled his Cabinet with a refocused program for the remaining two years of this government's life, all designed to get over their midterm election disaster and give them a chance of winning the next general election.

Important stuff, of course. But let's not kid ourselves here.

The (slightly) new Cabinet may have got the media excited briefly last week. But there has really only been one story on the minds of most people here over the past two weeks.

It's the story that directly affects 400,000 people who are holding tickets for Garth Brooks, all of whom are surely crushed that the five concerts he planned at Croke Park have been canceled.

A statement from Brooks on Monday night made the announcement, although many fans are clinging to the hope that this will concentrate minds and force the authorities finally to do something about this absurd situation.

“I want to thank the Irish authorities for going the distance for all of us who wanted to share songs and dance together. I really want to thank all the people around the world that continued to think good thoughts that this would actually happen,” Brooks said.

Ticketmaster, the agency which handled the sale of the tickets for the five night series in Croke Park, was due to start refunding money on Tuesday. Prior to the Brooks announcement the reversal of credit card payments was put back to Thursday.

The situation is beyond embarrassing. It is a national humiliation, given that this was the launch pad before a world tour by Brooks, with 70,000 tickets sold outside Ireland, flights and hotels booked etc.

Making it even worse has been the fumbling, inept response from those in authority here, both in politics and administration, who have talked endlessly in the past two weeks but have actually done nothing.

Those involved have included Kenny, a minister or two, the lord mayor of Dublin, the city manager, the promoter and the senior problem solver from the Labor Relations Commission, not counting the muppets on the City Council.

Despite all these heavyweights, no resolution was found. It is just possible that a rabbit may be pulled out of the hat at the last minute and we could ask Garth to change his mind.

But at present inertia rules and an elaborate game of pass the parcel is going on. No one wants to take responsibility in case they get caught up in the disaster.

As the old saying goes, we could not organize a drinks party in a brewery. In fact the old saying puts it more graphically than that, but you get the drift.

This level of incompetence seems to be peculiar to officialdom in Ireland. Where else would you get a situation which allows a promoter to sell 400,000 tickets to a series of concerts for which he has no license?

Yet that is not only tolerated here, it is accepted as "the way things have always been done." Tickets are sold "subject to license" and the promoter applies for permission later.

As you may be aware if you have been following this story, Croke Park is limited to holding three non-sporting "special events" such as concerts at the stadium each year. It was on that basis that permission for the redevelopment of the stadium was granted in 1993.

You may also know that three such events, the One Direction concerts, have already taken place at the stadium this year. So when it agreed with the promoter to allow the five Garth Brooks concerts at the stadium, the GAA knew it was doing something that was outside the planning permission they had for the stadium. The GAA is bound by the planning laws.

The promoter, on the other hand, has to get an events license, which is not the same thing, although both are handled by officials in Dublin City Council, some of whom apparently don't talk to each other. You could not make this stuff up.

Despite his pleas that this is the way nearly all big concerts are sold here, the promoter, Peter Aitken, obviously knew that he was pushing the envelope way beyond what was reasonable. This was particularly true when the number of Brooks concerts grew from two to three and then five.

This ignored the concerns of the people who live around the stadium (Croke Park is in an area of the inner city with narrow streets of small houses which come right up to the walls of the venue).

With five concerts on the trot, residents around the stadium were going to be in lockdown for almost a week. They already put up with around 30 big match days a year.

They already had the three One Direction concerts in May this year. Another five concerts this year was too much.

The fact that the events planners in the City Council decided to limit the number of concerts to three, in retrospect, should not have been a surprise. Both the GAA and the promoter seemed to be gambling that the planners would not have the backbone to say no, given the problems it would create. They gambled and 400,000 people are the losers.