So many of the issues that diminish this society came to the fore at last month’s Swedish House Mafia concert in Phoenix Park.
Two young men died of suspected drug overdoses, six were stabbed, and 40 people were treated in various emergency departments. There was widespread and casual violence, spectacular drunkenness and many reports of drug misuse and dealing.
A beautiful public place was defaced and made ugly by litter, human or synthetic. Families using other facilities in the Park felt threatened and felt obliged to take refuge in the zoo.
The whole affair went out of control when it became apparent that neither the concert promoter’s security arrangements nor the gardaí on duty — or indeed a combination of both — were equal to the situation. The recriminations began almost immediately, and continued yesterday when Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan laid the blame for the dangerous fiasco at the door of promoters MCD for not having arrangements in place to deal with the serious incidents of public disorder.
He may be right about the inadequacy of the promoter’s planning, but unless things have changed dramatically, public order is still very much the responsibility of the gardaí, so Commissioner Callinan’s force must take a considerable share of the blame for allowing such a volatile situation to develop.
It may be, from his perspective, plausible to blame a private enterprise for a failure in public order just yards from garda headquarters, but in a wider perspective the public looks to the gardaí and not to concert promoters to ensure their safety at events held in public places.
Sadly, the only unique thing, from an Irish perspective, about this whole fiasco was its scale and the dangerous momentum generated by having so many out-of-control people in one place at one time. Violence and drink, and more recently violence and drug taking, are bedfellows too well acquainted with each other on an Irish night out.
As junior health minister Roisín Shortall has discovered recently, confronting our enthusiasm for excessive drinking is fraught with difficulty. The drinks industry has embedded itself so very deeply in our culture that any measures to confront below-cost selling of alcohol must take into consideration the impact any such constraints might have on arts or sports funding. This is indeed a bizarre bind bordering on blackmail.
It would be wrong, though, to blame the drinks industry — or the gardaí or concert promoters — completely for the excesses of a good number of our fellows. As anyone who cares to can see too many of us have a dysfunctional and unhappy relationship with drink. Too many of us cannot drink without challenging all sorts of limits. Indeed, if all of the alcohol-related offences were taken from the courts’ list, our honourable lordships could take most of October off as well as most of September.
A holiday weekend may not be the opportune moment to consider a new, healthier relationship with alcohol, but unless we develop one we can expect many more evenings like the frightening one in Phoenix Park last month.