Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 29 November 2014

Save your pity for Garth Brooks' fans and their unanswered prayers

Into the sunset: Garth Brooks has cancelled Croke Park gigs
Into the sunset: Garth Brooks has cancelled Croke Park gigs

So. Tomorrow isn't coming after all. The five disputed Garth Brooks concerts have been cancelled (it was all or none at all, the man himself had said), fans have been left devastated, with some considerably out of pocket, Dublin businesses have lost tens of millions in potential revenue, the city's hospitality industry says it is "reeling" and there are even claims that Brand Ireland has been damaged on the international tourism market.

Brand Brooks, you imagine, may also have taken a bit of a hit. For whoever ultimately gets the blame for this enormous fiasco, there are obviously no winners. It began as a stand-off with oddly familiar echoes. On the one hand, "concerned residents" claiming that their rights were being trampled over and that they are being kept virtual prisoners in their own homes. On the other, men in hats arguing that they were only going to follow the music and the band and get back to their traditional roots. And you thought we'd cornered the market in intransigence?

Residents from around the Croke Park stadium were vehemently opposed to any concerts by the country singer. Whatsoever.

They've already had a few nights of One Direction. They were facing almost a full week of I've Got Friends in Low Places. You could see how this would start to grate after a time. Especially since a major gripe was about music fans (not Brooks's, since they never even got to Croker) vomiting and urinating in the neighbourhood. But pity, too, the people who bought tickets. Hard-working people who shelled out a whole lot of money not just on admission to the event itself, but also, in many cases, on accommodation in the city.

Will they be reimbursed? And, if they are, who reimburses their reimbursers? Hotels, pubs, cafes, transport providers all lose out. Sums between £11m and £36m have been mentioned.

The city's Vintners' Association declares itself "appalled." A major chain store is selling specially printed, dated T-shirts (don't tell Garth) and cowboy hats. This all adds up.

The fans' understandable disappointment matters, too. Which is why there was considerable pressure on everyone concerned to come up with some sort of workable compromise. Even a mediator had been drafted in. Intensive meetings were held. They did everything short of fly all involved to St Andrews for a weekend of plenary talks.

And, okay, it's a bit of a quantum leap from our own more serious, intractable issues this side of the border – a long way from the drumbeat to Drumcondra, from GARC to Garth – but, oh, how similar the lack of compromise. Not least the immediate and instinctive digging in of spurred heels. And not much evidence of thinking outside the Stetson.

Was Garth Brooks unreasonable with his "five or none at all" ultimatum? The fans will be the final judge there. He justified it on the grounds that choosing between concert dates was like being asked "to choose one child over another". (And you thought country singers limited their schmaltz to their lyrics).

The mediator called in to help argues this wasn't actually an ultimatum as such. Garth, he says, is a country singer, not a diplomat. We've noticed.

The man I feel sorry for is the the man caught in the middle of all this, promoter Peter Aiken. Why would the promoter sell tickets for concerts when licences had not been granted?

Apparently, because that's the way it usually works. Often the licence for these events is granted just days before the concerts, when it would obviously be too late to start flogging tickets.

Dublin Council insists its hands were always tied. It could only issue licences for three shows. Councillors had voted for five. But no-can-do.

There was even discord among the residents. Some were happy to let the show go on, unlike members of the snappily-titled Stop the Croke Park Madness.

Overall victory, then, goes to intransigence. Looking on, you just think it could have, should have, been sorted somehow. I suppose that's how people look upon us, too.

How easily we forgot Nigerian schoolgirls

The 300 Nigerian schoolgirls. Whatever happened to them? You must remember them ... young girls kidnapped from their school by a murderous outfit opposed to "western education" led by a grinning, prancing thug luxuriating in his moment in the headlines. For a time the missing teens were all over Twitter thanks to a selfie awareness campaign which, a cynic might say, seemed to be more about promoting the messengers than the message. 'Bring Back Our Girls' read placards, photogenically displayed by solemn faced celebs. But the celebs have moved on, the story has been elbowed aside and now just about the only public figure still, manfully, trying to highlight the girls' plight is Gordon Brown MP. Bring back our girls.

And our compassion – and our outrage.

Small kids should stay off big bonfires

Of all the things that we get upset about seeing on bonfires – flags, emblems, election posters – the ones that worry me most are the small children. The small children you see in pictures nimbly scaling up these gargantuan and potentially unstable constructions. I know that there is an argument that children today tend to be cosseted in an entirely risk-free environment and health and safety has gone too far in curtailing their sense of adventure. But this would seem to be one area where it hasn't gone far enough. This is not to spoil anyone's fun. Yes, children have been climbing up bonfires for years. But look at the height of some of these things. The potential for tragedy just doesn't bear thinking about.

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