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A section of the attendance at the INIS Fest public meeting. Photograph by Arthur Ellis

Residents still unhappy with festival plans

LITTLE progress was made by either side at the second public meeting between residents living in the Fair Green area of Ennis and the organisers of the three-day INISFest 2015, which is due to take place at the end of June.

At the meeting on Tuesday night at Tom Steele’s bar in Ennis, a number of residents continued to voice their concerns over having a three-day music festival on their doorsteps, citing noise and a marquee selling drink to 3,500 patrons – despite a ban on alcohol consumption in the public park – their fears of being blocked in their own homes, of their property being damaged and anti-social behaviour in the area before and after events.

The two-hour meeting, called by event organisers Impresario Events Limited, was chaired by broadcaster Ger Sweeney, who said it was important to have new events that would put Ennis on the map and would lead to people talking about the town for all the right reasons. He said he was also very keen that people living and working in close proximity to the events would be disturbed as little as possible.

Following the fractious meeting held on March 30, the organisers agreed to respond to concerns relating to security and garda numbers; measures to prevent loitering before and after the event; car parking; the siting of the power station; ‘residents areas’; ticket procedures; residents’ properties; the schedule of events and set-up and take-down procedures; alcohol policy; toilets and sanitary provision/public urination; waste management and, in addition, casual trading.

It was decided to take the matters one by one and Darren Purtill of Impresario Events Limited outlined that there will be six gardaí employed by the organisers operating inside the event perimeter and 35 to 40 private security staff. Local gardaí will deal with any issues outside the barrier. They stated that local gardaí would also undertake a risk assessment on the acts that are playing on each night to determine the numbers required.
The organisers have also agreed that the six gardaí they are employing at the event could continue their work outside for a time each night until 1am or later.

One resident from Kincora Park said her first reaction to a plan of the event was that the big top was too close to her home and she asked why INISFest 2015 couldn’t have been a one-day event to see how it worked.

“It’s not fair on people. I don’t know how you are going to get rid of 3,000 people at 11pm. It’s really unfair on the families living there and the people in the hospital,” she said, asking how many events Impresario had organised in Ennis.

Other residents immediately voiced their concerns over the possibility of their property being damaged and of anti-social behaviour and asked why a garda representative was not present at the meeting.

Declan O’Grady said the gardaí had assured Impressario that they would be patrolling the perimeter and that was their role.

“They’re quite happy with the event plan that we have put in place in relation to security and public order and they, independently of that, will secure the perimeter of the Fair Green,” he said.

One resident said there are a lot of old and sick people in the area and he was very concerned about the noise in the area during the event.

The issue of preventing loitering was raised next and the organisers said experience had shown that people are likely to park where they plan to finish their night and that gardaí had assured them there would be a zero-tolerance policy taken to anybody loitering, drinking or misbehaving in the area.

Another resident commented that experience had shown them that people are likely to park outside the residents’ homes when there is something on at the Fair Green.

“It will be choc-a-bloc over there,” one resident said, while the organisers said the festival is estimated to bring an extra 400 cars to the town each night and that there are over 3,000 parking spaces in Ennis, while many will use taxis, public transport or stay in local hotels.

The organisers also plan to put park-and-ride facilities in place, they said, from the West County Hotel but were unable to say where exactly the other facilities would be, except to say that talks are ongoing with the council on parking.

“Are we going to be fobbed off again tonight? We’re at night number two and gradually the date is approaching and it’s ‘lastminute.com’ we’re going to be looking at,” commented a resident.

Jimmy Lee addressed the residents’ concerns on the proposed traffic management plan and said they propose to close the lane between the park and the Lifford Road and they have applied for a no parking zone around the whole park, while some of the estates will have security and only residents will have access to the areas from 3pm or 4pm on the days.

Residents complained that they are still in the dark about the traffic and parking arrangements and claimed the residents had not been informed or consulted about the last meeting.

“We’re here tonight to get the results of the questions we asked but we’re not getting them. We want the answers tonight,” a resident said.

Regarding security in the area, the additional gardaí supporting the festival surroundings from 11.45pm will be advised of the key areas that residents have concerns with. Residents accessing the lane at the back of Lifford will receive access passes and gardaí will be notified of residents’ concerns regarding the lane at the back of Steele’s Terrace and Marian Avenue.

Security will be in the area from 4pm to 12am and on the Sunday from 10am to 12am.

The proposed times were deemed sufficient by the council and gardaí but residents said they want the security from 9am at least and, preferably, round the clock.

“We want to be sure that all the people that have no accommodation, that have nowhere to go, that are sleeping in their cars, puking over our walls and peeing in our gardens are going to be monitored,” a resident said.

The organisers said they had no plans to close Kincora Park to traffic but following an intervention from the meeting chairman, they said they will consider it.

Responding to a query from a resident, Councillor Johnny Flynn said the festival doesn’t come under any statutory licensing or planning process and that he had been present at meetings where solutions to the 11 points raised at the previous meeting had been outlined to the satisfaction of the council in areas such as traffic, parking, litter management, casual trading and to the gardaí, the HSE and Fire Service and to Tim Ford, the manager of the Fair Green.

He said the organisers sought expert help for the event and their obligation legally was to consult with experts and bring their plans to the independent State agencies for their scrutiny.

“Anyone who wants to object will have an opportunity at the Occasional Licence, which will have to go before the courts. The judge will have to make a balanced decision on whether the plans are appropriate or not,” he said.

Councillor Flynn said all the district councillors had the plans outlined at a meeting some months ago and although the organisers were not obliged to do so, the council had advised them to start holding public meetings to inform the residents about the event.

“They are engaging far in excess of what they are required under Irish law but I think it is a good process. I know there is a lot of anger and there are some people who just don’t want this festival to be run and that’s fair enough,” he said.

“Not when it’s in your back garden,” a resident responded.
Responding to another question, he said the festival may be subsidised with a council grant because of its value to the town and the county.

A resident claimed the council must look at potential damage that a festival such as this could cause to property and said she had taken legal advice on the matter.

Another resident asked why the residents can’t object to the council as alcohol and music will be involved on the Fair Green, which are not allowed under the bylaws.

Mayor Flynn made the point that the Fair Green is much better now than it was a decade ago but residents were quick to point out the anti-social behaviour and littering that was cleaned up at great expense after the weekend, that there was a lot of anti-social behaviour and that “everybody knows there is a heroin den in the area”, while another resident said she was awake in her bed all weekend because of the anti-social behaviour.

One resident said they were not concerned about the 3,500 people attending the event each night but were very worried about the other people who would be sitting on the walls around it.

The meeting continued to hear the plans outlined by the organisers and residents objected on further issues, including waste management and continued to voice their fears and concerns on parking, security and policing, the noise of generators and the impact of the festival on people’s lives.

One resident asked if the event could start earlier in the afternoon, as this would help mothers with children and ease the concerns of elderly and sick residents. However, Mr Purtill said the events need to be run until 11pm for financial reasons and they would be unlikely to sell the tickets if they were for afternoon times.

Mr Purtill said it is costing more than €200,000 to run the festival and it couldn’t be run as a one-night event, early afternoon or evening.

“The organisers had two weeks to prepare answers to residents’ questions and they haven’t come up with anything to address our concerns,” said a resident.

“No solutions or answers have been given to us tonight and it shows naivety on behalf of Impresario. I’m worried that Impresario are proposing to organise a three-day festival when they have never organised one before. There are lots of elderly and sick people living in the area and they deserve peace and quiet. Why is the tent sited in the top field? Surely it would be better to put it nearer the CBS, where fewer residents would be inconvenienced?” he said.

Wrapping up the meeting, Mr Sweeney said it was clear that little progress had been made and suggested that the organisers would publicise and publish the answers to the residents’ questions beforehand and then host a further meeting in a different venue.

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