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Dublin: 12 °C Tuesday 15 October, 2019
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Opinion: The Garth Brooks situation requires no parody – it is the definition of parody itself

The integrity of our planning process is a principle that our history demands we protect, whether Garth’s heart is breaking or not.

Jane Horgan-Jones and Rebecca Moynihan

WALL TO WALL media coverage. Diplomatic and political intervention. Mass protests. Tears on national radio. Declarations that our international reputation would never recover. And a ship fast approaching with significant cargo on board.

No, it’s not the Cuban Missile Crisis – just a decision by Dublin City Council that they would “only” allow Garth Brooks to play three consecutive sell out stadium gigs in front of a quarter of a million people.

Perspective, balance, and the bigger picture have all been sacrificed over the last few days, as one millionaire businessman tries to manipulate our media and national psyche to ensure his personal cash cow gets a final hour reprieve. And many of our politicians are shamefully trying to help him in the process.

Our history of planning 

We have a dark and sorry history on planning in this country, and particularly in Dublin. The Mahon Tribunal Report, published in March 2012, set out clearly how the planning process in Dublin in the 1980s and 1990s was undermined and corrupted by a number of developers who sought to enrich themselves and by a number of councillors who were prepared to accept bribes. The victims of that period are the people who now live in poorly planned communities. Never again, we proudly said in Dáil Éireann, would we allow a system to develop whereby our statutory and democratic planning process would play second fiddle to corporate interests.

Just two years later, we see Fianna Fáil brazenly calling for a legitimate planning decision to be overturned so that private profit can be maximised, at any social cost. This position is made all the more ludicrous by the fact that Dublin City Council have happily given permission for three concerts to be played in front of a quarter of a million people with a huge benefit accruing to the local economy as a result. But once big business cracks the whip and demands more, more, more, Fianna Fáil are again the first to jump to attention. Renewal? More like rinse, repeat.

We are facing real challenges 

This debacle has certainly become a national embarrassment, but not for the reasons originally suggested. We have seen calls for the American President Obama to intervene while his attention should be on the crisis in the Middle East. Politicians have been publicly begging Garth to reconsider his position.

As a city we are facing a housing crisis, the lockout of workers from Greyhound and a dumping crisis, all of which need national action to solve, and yet our Taoiseach has chosen the nostalgic comeback tour of a country star as the issue on which he is prepared to act.

This situation requires no parody because it is the definition of parody itself.

The promoter took a gamble

There should be no mistake about this. As a professional promoter, Peter Aiken was aware when selling tickets for five gigs that there was an agreement in place with local residents which would see only three concerts take place in Croke Park each year. He took a gamble by selling for five, presuming that Dublin City Council would have to grant him a licence in light of the huge demand. He also arrogantly didn’t lodge his plans formally until April, trying to ensure that the permission would be granted only at the last minute.

The decision the planners took, allowing Croke Park to hold six concerts this year rather than the three agreed, struck a reasonable balance between the desires of conflicting parties. If the city is now to lose out on all of the concerts, it is not the fault of responsible planning laws, but of irresponsible bullying tactics on the part of the promoter. And what is Aiken’s response? To release a cloying, PR-penned letter, putatively from Garth Brooks himself, asking if the show can still go on despite his utter mismanagement of the entire situation.

Setting a dangerous precedent 

Reversing this decision now would create a dangerous precedent. Huge developments are often refused permission by Dublin City Council’s planning department, or permission is granted with conditions that scale down the size of the proposal. What is to stop any developer launching a purely economic argument now that full permission should be granted to their development, and what is to stop massive pressure again being put on councillors and media to exert their influence on the planners to support them?

The spectacle of the City Manager and planners being summoned to a Dáil committee to account for making a reasonable, balanced planning decision shows us the danger of going back to an era of planning by pressure. We have been down that road before, and Peter Aiken is now trying to lead us on a merry Dance back down it.

The integrity of our planning process is a principle that our history demands we protect, whether Garth’s heart is breaking or not.

Cllr Jane Horgan Jones and Cllr Rebecca Monyihan.

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Jane Horgan-Jones and Rebecca Moynihan

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