In the wake of what many considered to be an international country music scandal, the cancellation of the Garth Brooks concerts in the historic setting of GAA Headquarters in Croke Park “that Summer”, revealed two important issues:

  1. the Irish people’s profound love of country music; and
  2. that Irish licensing regulations needed to be revised to ensure that there was no repeat of “Garth Gate”.

Where are we one year on from the cancellation of all 5 Garth Brooks concerts?

Licence applications for concert outdoor events in Ireland are governed primarily by the Planning and Development (Licensing of Outdoor Events) Regulations, 2001 (the “2001 Regulations”) and the Planning and Development Act, 2000 (No. 30 of 2000).

The Planning and Development (Amendment) Regulations 2015 (SI 264 of 2015) (“2015 Regulations”) are due to come into effect on 1 October 2015 and will “shake-up” the manner in which applicants apply for licences for outdoor events and the manner in which local authorities grant licences for such events. The 2015 Regulations aim to prevent future economically damaging cancellations of events such as the cancellation of the Garth Brooks concerts which are estimated to have cost fifty million euro to the local economy.

Under Irish law, an application must be made, by the organiser, promoter, holder or those involved in the organisation of an event or a person who controls the land on which an event is to be held, to the local authority (of the area that will be effected by the event) for a licence to hold an event where 5,000 or more people are intended to attend the event.

The 2015 Regulations introduce a number of additional provisions to the 2001 Regulations. One of the most significant developments is that “as soon as practicable” following a written request of the applicant, a local authority is required to hold a pre-application consultation meeting with the applicant (and if necessary the owner of the venue where it is proposed that the event will take place). In addition, the relevant Chief Superintendent of An Garda Síochána and the relevant Health Board will be invited to attend the pre-application consultation meeting, who together with the local authority may advise the applicant in respect of the proposed application. The local authority is required to keep a written record of the pre-application meeting which will be made available to the public “as soon as possible” after a decision is made on an application.

The meaning of “as soon as practicable” remains unclear, however, given that: (i) the application for a licence under the 2015 Regulations must be made at least 13 weeks (reduced from 16 weeks) prior to the date of the event; and (ii) a promoter/event organiser would stand to lose considerable money if it is unable to sell tickets for the event in advance, it is likely that it is in the interests of the promoter to begin the pre-application consultation process as early as possible in order that it can proceed to sell tickets and/or advertise the event.  In light of the Garth Brooks saga whereby tickets were sold for some 5 concerts before the licencing application was even approved, perhaps the most significant development under the 2015 Regulations is that a local authority is prohibited from arranging a pre-consultation meeting with any person who has: (i) advertised the proposed event; or (ii) offered for sale tickets for the proposed event. As a result, at the very least, an event organiser/promoter will have to have started to engage with a local authority via the pre-application process prior to advertising an event or selling tickets for an event. In addition, the 2015 Regulations require that the pre-application process must have taken place in the 12 month period before the event. The 2015 Regulations also introduce a requirement that a preliminary risk assessment of the proposed event is submitted to the local authority in advance of any pre-application consultation meeting.

Do the above amendments to existing licencing application process solve the issues that surrounded the Garth Brooks saga? It remains to be seen. Whilst promoters/organisers can initiate the pre-application process, once the process has begun, promoters/organiser could potentially start to advertise and sell tickets for an event before the licence has been granted.

One issue of controversy surrounding the Garth Brooks concert was the allegation of a number of “bogus” submissions to Dublin City Council objecting to the holding of the concerts. In order to address the issue, the 2015 Regulations require, that in order to be considered by a local authority, a submission or observation must state the name of the person or organisation making the submission and a corresponding address.

Whilst it remains a requirement for a local authority to make its decision in relation to an application within 5 weeks following receipt of the application, a new provision under the 2015 Regulations is that the decision by the local authority is required no later than 4 weeks prior to the date of the proposed event.

Strict compliance with the 2015 Regulations will also be mandated, as any breach of the regulations will result in the automatic rejection of licence applications.

Conclusion

The mandatory pre-application consultation process to be introduced by the 2015 Regulations is a step in the right direction towards increasing the dialogue between local authorities and the organisers of large outdoor events. That said, the 2015 Regulations may not be enough to prevent a repeat of the events surrounding the Garth Brooks concert that left country music lovers feeling like they “had to miss the dance”. The fact that, following the initial consultation process,  tickets can be sold for events and events advertised before the licence has been granted for the event remains the crux of the issue surrounding the cancellation of the Garth Brooks concerts. Don’t expect the phrase “subject to licence” to disappear from your ticket stub just yet.