Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

How I became a go-between in transatlantic negotiations

Garth Brooks gives bear hugs. Standing in a music hall in Nashville and talking to a singer who has left the Republic in a political deadlock, I say to him: "I think you'll get the five nights."

"I hope so," he answers as he squeezes me tight for a photo. He stops short and asks me: "Do you think so? Do you really think we will?"

I explain that I am in no way a politician but the will and sentiment is there.

I am meant to be in Tennessee to cover the Garth Brooks Press conference but instead I find myself being simultaneously pressed for information by music executives about what exactly is going on in Ireland and acting as an Irish diplomat.

I have now bizarrely become a go-between. I have officially become part of the negotiations. Before long, there's a Government minister on my phone and the Lord Mayor of Dublin.

My iPhone, with dwindling battery power, is taken by Garth Brooks' manager Bob Doyle as he talks to Mayor Christy Burke.

"Christy – he's a nice guy," said Bob as he returned from the venue's green room.

Next up on the blower is Irish Trade Minister Joe Costello and he and Bob have a longer chat. By all accounts Mr Costello explained the sticky situation of planning laws to the country singer's right-hand man.

"Any solution?" I ask again. His demeanour is even worse this time. Bob does not answer. He looks over towards Garth's direction and leaves it at that.

Having tried my best and conscious of a six-hour time difference and looming deadlines, I go to excuse myself from the Brooks party.

"Have you a number for Enda Kenny?" came a voice. That I do not have, I respond, as I now realise how ludicrous this situation has become.

Not only do the singer's staff now know the name of the Taoiseach, they know how many seats Sinn Fein hold in Dublin City Council and the Lord Mayor is referred to affectionately as "Christy", with a crisp 'T' pronunciation.

As we sat and waited for the Press conference to kick off, pulses and heartbeats became audible.

For some unknown reason this was a very big deal.

A journalist close to me leans in and says: "I wasn't this nervous walking down the aisle."

There are no lives being saved here, no one has discovered a cure for cancer and yet the eyes of the world are on this small venue on the outskirts of Nashville.

So much attention over something that, in the grand scheme of things, is not that significant; there is almost a sense of anti-climax as Brooks leaves the stage after nearly an hour of talking.

Just when I think the need for my mediation services has dissipated, an email pops up on my iPad. It is from Dublin City Council.

In fudged language it intimates that they will somehow give the go-ahead for five concerts. As Brooks' manager holds my iPad, it is hard to read his face. He walks off and has hushed conversations and then talks to Garth. It appears that they have been offered matinees – therefore doing the five gigs in three days.

A few minutes later, the matinee idea – just like every other one – is shot down. But still Brooks' ship, with his massive stage, is on its way to Ireland.

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