SPARKS flew and voices were raised from time to time at a fractious meeting held at Tom Steele’s bar on Monday night, as local residents received information about plans for three concerts in Tim Smythe Park this summer.
Collectively, the concerts in question make up Inis Fest 2015, which is set to take place from June 26 to 28, featuring a number of household names, including Damien Dempsey, Hermitage Green, Nathan Carter, Mundy and Finbar Furey.
While acknowledging the scale of the events are totally different, a resident compared the situation with the Garth Brooks affair at one point and the issues being raised were indeed reminiscent of those aired over a number of weeks last year.
Many of those who live around the Fair Green area are angry over a perceived lack of consultation. Also, there was scepticism about how effective the organisers’ proposals for dealing with the crowds will be, as there is expected to be up to 3,500 people a night.
The organisers of Inis Fest had a presentation that they intended to give to the residents, who numbered in the region of 35, but the structure of the meeting broke down time and again on the night, as those in attendance highlighted more issues of concern.
Mayor of Ennis Johnny Flynn, who was in attendance, was the subject of criticism on several occasions from the floor.
Close to the start of the meeting, Darren Purtill of Inis Fest 2015 began the presentation, saying that the three nights would be all ticket, with a maximum of 3,500 people per night.
He provided some information around traffic and parking arrangements but when he spoke about those behind the event knocking on doors in the area, he was met with an angry response, with several of those attending complaining that they hadn’t had a visit.
Mr Purtill said they are looking at paying overtime for six extra gardaí to patrol the area but many in the attendance claimed this was inadequate, one quipping that 106 would be more appropriate.
Mr Purtill said that alcohol would be on sale at the event, which wasn’t welcomed, while he also claimed that the event wouldn’t be viable otherwise.
“The acts don’t come cheap and we have to put in the strongest security possible and that doesn’t come cheap.”
As the details were coming out, some residents were becoming increasingly agitated. “This is all decided. This is just a courtesy meeting for us; this is going ahead. It’s just a chance to air our grievances,” one complained.
Councillor Flynn said that with the capacity of the concert set to be below 5,000, the organisers don’t have to seek licensing. He also sought to point to improvements made in the area. “Ten years ago, it was a no-go area left to drink, drugs and flashers,” he claimed.
The Fine Gael councillor said he had been involved in making improvements there since but he was met with a number of complaints about the positioning of the playground and associated issues with parking.
Mr Purtill said that at the All-Ireland homecoming in 2013, there had been no perimeter fencing but that is being proposed for this summer’s event.
Declan O’Grady, who is also involved in the organisation of the event, told the residents that if there is a feeling that more gardaí are required, that can be arranged.
He also said there will be a Garda Command Control unit there, amounting to what he called “an eye in the sky”.
Mr O’Grady said that in addition to gardaí, 35 security staff have been booked, along with 15 stewards from the Civil Defence.
A resident asked what steps would be made to deal with casual traders. “Who’s going to remove them from in front of my door?”
When Councillor Flynn started to explain bylaws, which he said prevent such trading, some residents said they believed they would have no impact at all on the given days.
Nathan Carter is set to be one of the main attractions on the middle day and residents expressed concern about what might happen with some of his fan base, claiming there had nearly been what was called “a large incident” at a previous show in Ennis. Mr O’Grady sought to provide some reassurance, saying that at a Carter show last year in Newcastle West, there had been no trouble.
However, this didn’t satisfy the residents. “We’re not getting logical answers,” one claimed.
Another said that the “eye in the sky” shows the type of element expected. Mr O’Grady responded to this saying that it showed it would be a “proper event” adding, “We will have a zero tolerance approach to public order”.
Another resident said the Fair Green is “totally unsuitable”, given that it is close to main transport arteries, while it was questioned why the Showgrounds and Lees Road weren’t chosen.
Mr Purtill said that when the council were approached, they said that the Fair Green had been earmarked as the area to host such large events.
On the same theme, Councillor Flynn said the facility is owned by all of the people of Clare and that close to €1 million has been spent on it over the last 10 years to sort it out.
“But not for people to make money out of it,” one resident retorted.
One local woman said that residents are being treated like children, while she said the plans are to have “damn all security”. She was also angry that tickets have already been sold for the event, even though a process of consultation hasn’t taken place.
Another resident claimed that with a lot of older people and people with disabilities in the vicinity, there is a cause for concern. They claimed that crowds would linger in the area for hours after the event, putting homes at risk. Mr Purtill responded to that saying that security staff wouldn’t be hurrying away after the music is over and would be there for adequate time afterwards, while he also said no-one would be allowed to bring alcohol in or out.
Several of the residents said that while they want to see Ennis have such events, proper arrangements need to be made. “It’s great for the town but you have to think of security,” said one.
Regarding access, Mr Purtill said there are plans for park and ride from a number of locations. Intriguingly, he said that one of these is from an area close to Fitzpatrick’s shop, which he called Noel Glynn’s site. While there was no mention of it on the night, it is thought there may be planning issues around this one.
Mr Purtill said there will be a tow truck in the area to bring away vehicles if they are causing obstructions. He also said there are plans to put in 36 toilets. In response to what he outlined, residents called for a power station on the site to be relocated and asked that the toilets be put on exit routes in the interests of sanitation.
There were concerns voiced about what might happen in the area later in the night and when organiser Carmen Cronin voiced her view that events at 2am would not be related to Inis Fest, which will finish at 11pm, she was met with an angry response. “Of course it is,” several people responded in unison.
One of the residents said that sleep is regularly impossible in part of her house due to anti-social behaviour.
“I’ve rang gardaí on numerous occasions to say the children’s equipment is being trashed. What’ll it be like with 3,500 there?” she asked rhetorically.
A local man asked if there is an arrangement for a contingency fund to be put aside, in the event of local damage. While he was told there was not, organisers said that it can be done.
Expressing her reservations, one woman said that at the time of the All- Ireland celebrations, three men had been stationed on the wall outside her house but unwelcome visitors still made their way inside.
While the meeting concluded after around two hours, it was clear that residents are still unhappy and another meeting was arranged. It is to take place at the same venue at 6.30pm on April 7.
By Owen Ryan