Angry fans slate Slane over 'chaos'

Story by Tom Kelly

Wednesday, 24th June, 2009 10:20am

A storm of complaints about poor transport arrangements leaving the site, alleged overcrowding, access to the venue, and drunkeness have emerged in the wake of Saturday"s Slane rock concert, leading to promises of a review of the organisation of the event.

The pledge came this week from promoters MCD, Slane Castle owner Henry Mountcharles, Dublin Bus, Bus Eireann, Gardai and the licensing authority, Meath County Council.

Most of the complaints centred on transport with many fans saying that there was no public transport available when they emerged from the site. Some had to walk for hours to get home and there were complaints that many did not get home until 4.30am or 5am.

Gardai said that problems had been created by two factors - the fact that 60 per cent of the concertgoers had come from the Dublin direction and that many people had decided not to come by car this year and instead used buses. Superintendent Michael Devine, Navan, said: 'Putting 80,000 into a tiny village like Slane will inevitably mean that there will be some problems.' But he professed himself satisfied that the concert had gone off without any major public order or security incidents, and without injury.

The volume and intensity of the complaints seemed to take Henry Mountcharles by surprise when he appeared on RTE"s 'Liveline" radio phone-in show on Monday. He said that he was in an 'exhausted' state after the concert but added that he would try to deal methodically with complaints as they came in. And they came in hot and heavy.

He said he had been happy about how things had gone and that the bands, including headliners Oasis, had put on a 'stunning' performance. He was, however, distressed to hear about the problems as phoned in by attendees at the concert.

A male caller to the programme said that people had been treated like 'Friesian cows'. He claimed there were more than 80,000 people present and, if that was the case, he now thought numbers should be reduced to 60,000.

Lord Mountcharles said they took on board any complaints after every show - this was an aspect of the licensing process. A review would involve complaints by members of the public.

The same caller said there was widespread drunkeness at the concert. He had come across people 'comatose in the ditches', and that people were coming into the concert 'stocious'. Lord Mountcharles agreed with him, saying: 'I"m afraid I would be in agreement that there was a lot more drunkeness than I"ve seen before. I could see that people arrived in fine fettle.'

Another caller said that he went to Slane a number of years ago and thought it was a bit packed. 'This year was a joke. Basically, we paid to queue and to walk large distances. Never again. I"m surprised there wasn"t serious riots. The atmosphere was very tense on the way in - broken bottles everywhere.'

Another caller said that people were turned away at the barriers but there was nowhere for them to go. 'The long forest walk was wedged.' He added: 'This is dangerous and it could end in tragedy at some stage.'

Linda Conway said: 'A 45-minute walk, followed by a 2.5-hour wait at the gates just to get in. Everyone was getting crushed so eventually they had to just remove the barriers and let everyone in without checking tickets or tags,' she claimed. Emma Whelan said she was beside a fence which was pushed over by the crowd and she was trampled over by people.

A male caller said that there were fights breaking out everywhere. 'It was very, very dangerous. When I got into the arena it was mayhem...There were way more than 80,000 people there. I am looking at my ticket here and it wasn"t checked.'

One of the main complaints concerned transport. Some people complained that they waited for hours to get on buses and there were reports of people sleeping on the roadsides because they could not get on a bus home. Some fans travelling in the Dublin direction had to walk to Ashbourne and then had to plead for taxis to get them back into the city.

In the aftermath of the concerts, there were explanations and apologies from a number of sources. Superintendent Devine told the Meath Chronicle that with the best will in the world 'if you put 80,000 into a little village like Slane, you have to be prepared for delays. There is no simple solution to it'. He said there was an added problem in that many people had decided to leave their cars behind and came by public transport.

There were more buses present than anyone expected, he said. 'There was never the level of public transport participation as there was on this occasion, both private and public. That added considerably to the problems encountered on the N2.'

He said that access from the Collon and Navan routes was relatively easier although there were some delays there, too.

Dealing with the drunkenness issue, he said the level of alcohol consumption by some people was 'frightening'. People were arriving carrying drink with them and some people got 'very drunk' very early in the day, he added. However, many people had had a fantastic time. There had not been one serious incident, said Supt Devine.

There were just 13 arrests for public disorder, one arrest for the possession of drugs for sale or supply, and 14 detections for 'simple possession" of drugs.

The whole event had been successful from a policing point of view, he said. There were over 300 Gardai present and the fact that there were was no serious trouble and no injuries was a matter of satisfaction to the force and he complimented his officers for their valuable work in the lead-up to and on the day of the event.

MCD said on Monday that it fully accepted that there were delays entering the venue, mainly due to the large number of fans than expected who used public transport. While this was welcomed, it did cause delays.

While bus tickets were widely available in advance of the concert, the majority of tickets - about 17,000 - were purchased on the day of the event, it said. 'It is a credit to Dublin Bus that they were able to facilitate the increased numbers, rather than having thousands of fans left stranded', MCD added.

It said that on-site bars were the same size/number as previous sell-out concerts. To encourage responsible drinking it was policy to serve only two pints of beer per person at a time 'which is welcomed by Gardai'. Lord Mountcharles said that, in his view, the problem of delays at the bars might have been caused by the fact that change had to be given out. He believed that prices may have started at €6 per pint but that this may have dropped later to €5 to eliminate the change factor.

MCD said that attendance and capacity for the event was 80,000 which had been the capacity for staging concerts at the venue for the past 20 years. Lord Mountcharles also said that 80,000 was the venue"s licensed capacity. MCD denied that capacity had been breached.

Dublin Bus said in a statement that it had carried about 20,000 people to and from Slane this year.

Some 200 buses had been parked up on the N2 south of the Boyne and over 60 more were held back in Navan to be called in if needed at the end of the concert.

The company said it had more than enough buses to cater for the nunbers who wished to travel. 'The transport arrangements for buses were deployed in line with the pre-arranged traffic management plan for the area. Some of these buses were, unfortunately, delayed en route to the city due to traffic volumes,' Dublin Bus said.

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