It’s been a hell of a year for Dublin Pride, and the festival hasn’t even started yet. Brian Finnegan quizzes commitee chair, Jason Flynn, about coming up with the new parade route, changes to the Merrion Square after-party, and whether a new precedent has been set.
There was controversy last June over allocated speech time at the post-parade event in Merrion Square. How is Pride moving beyond that this year?
We’re trying to get the direction right by liaising with the people that we’re supposed to represent – the likes of the other community groups: Noise, TENI, Glen, Marriage Equality, and so on, which I think Pride had fallen down a little bit on in the past and we saw the results of that last year.
It’s not up to us to solely make decisions as to what Pride does, because if we’re going to be a platform for the community, it makes sense to reach out to that community and find out what they want, what their needs are, and get their feedback before we implement any major decisions.
So far it’s gone well as regards to this year’s festival. The process of speaking to people has opened up a wealth of input and experience we wouldn’t have had, and I hope it has led to a greater buy-in to Dublin Pride.
What’s the message you want to get out about what Pride is this year?
We’ve been in joined consultation with Dublin City Council (DCC), An Garda Siochána, the Fire Brigade, and various other stakeholders, and it can’t be overstated that safety has to be the number one priority. That’s something that DCC have been trying to get across, and something we’ve been very cognisant of too.
If people cast their minds to what happened outside Copperface Jack’s towards the end of last year, where there was a huge crush – if something like that happened at Pride, where someone was injured or worse, we wouldn’t get a license to hold the event again for another ten years, and it would take a lot of work to fix the damage that would do to our reputation.
There has been much speculation about the route the Parade is taking this year; given that there will be Luas works in the city. How have negotiations with DCC been around this?
We’re running a festival and we come to DCC with a list of things we would like, which we’re trying to negotiate, but they run a whole city, and while it’s nice to think that the whole city would come to a standstill for us, it’s not realistic. DCC can only do the best that they can without risking a backlash from people, if the whole streets are to be clogged up. It’s a practical thing, not a homophobic thing.
Dublin is a functioning city and it’s a busy time of year. But I have really found that DCC is hugely supportive and they know exactly where we are coming from. Any concerns that they’ve had have been purely about safety, and drink awareness, that it’s not portrayed as this big piss up. They really get and understand that it’s of a political origin and that we at Pride are trying to keep touching base as to why Pride started.
Talk me through this year’s route.
The route was always going to be contentious anyway because of the Luas works happening in the city. For a while it looked as if everything was going against us, but we’ve worked very closely with our city partners and we’re happy to report that we’ve got a route that’s the best we could have possibly hoped for in the circumstances.
We succeeded in getting one that ticks all the boxes in terms of visibility, which is the big issue. We didn’t want to be shunted down back alleyways because that would give the message that the city wanted to keep us hidden, which is not the case. We also wanted a route that was as direct from A to Z as possible. It did pose a certain amount of challenges.
It will start out at the Garden of Remembrance as usual, and go down O’Connell Street, which it really has to, for historic, cultural and psychological reasons. Instead of going across O’Connell Bridge as usual, it will turn left and go down the quays to Customs House Bridge, to cross the river there. It’s still a very visible central area and then it will take as direct a route as possible to Merrion Square.
Is this setting a precedent for future Pride Parades through the city?
I want to make it absolutely clear that the whole format of this year’s festival is not intended to create a precedent. It’s very much an interim measure to cope with a situation we’ve been presented with and a certain set of circumstances, and trying to meet as many of the requirements we have as possible. I think we’ve succeeded in doing that as well as we possibly could have, but for Pride 2015 and beyond it’s going to be a whole different story.
One thing I’m really happy with that’s come out of this year’s negotiations is that we’ve really managed to forge stronger links with DCC. They believe in Pride, they’ve acknowledged that it’s going to happen every year now, that it’s part of the city’s social calendar, and we’re going to have regular and more frequent meetings that will be built into both of our schedules from now on.
Hopefully in the future we won’t be landed with the surprise we were this year.
Because of the numbers expected this year, it is not feasible to host the Pride Village at Merrion Square, which means there’ll be no bar. What does this mean for the festival?
This is a big year for our message about Marriage Equality and the referendum, and getting our friends and families on board, to go out. Next year it will be too late. There should be marriage equality, and gender recognition legislation, and family legislation that recognises same-sex parents, and that’s what we’re all fighting for.
Because there is no bar this year, it’s a good thing in that we’re trying to get a serious message across with the parade through the streets and the speeches that will be made when it culminates. That will happen and then people will go and party wherever they choose to do so, and as we know there’s no shortage of focal points from then onwards.
We do have a serious message to get across, and I think this year’s format will help that.
What are your projections for the increased numbers at this year’s Pride based on?
We have certain key indicators that we use every year that have given us a good indicator of what we can expect. Our social media reach has grown exponentially. We’ve had huge traffic on our website, particularly on the section dealing with parade day and the route. There’s a big spike in applicants to have floats etc. in the parade itself, and there are more volunteers than ever before coming forward. All of these indicators show that interest in Pride has spiked.
The other thing is that we’ve been trying to get the message out there that Pride is an inclusive event. We want people to bring their parents, their friends, their families, their neighbours, and their children, to get the message out there that the issues that affect our community don’t just stop there. Society is either free and equal or it isn’t.
What’s the theme this year?
The theme is ‘Freedom’. It’s short and sweet. In this particular year, with reference to the forthcoming referendum, and also with what happened with the Pantigate issue whereby for the first time ever we found ourselves in this national dialogue about homophobia is and what constitutes it. We wanted a theme that encapsulated all of those things. Also, having Colm O’Gorman as Grand Marshal, with his work for Amnesty International, highlights the fact that while Ireland might not be perfect, we do have the freedom to have Pride Parades, that we can have this huge parade through the capital city and the police won’t shut it down and we won’t be stoned to death.
He’s really highlighting those Pride parades that can’t happen elsewhere. We saw the pictures of what happened in St Petersburg a while ago, which was horrifying and angering, and so that one little word – Freedom – encapsulates so much.
Is it true that you were offered the Phoenix Park instead of Merrion Square this year for the post-parade party?
They didn’t actually offer it. It was suggested and it was a possibility, but that would come with its own set of caveats. The Phoenix Park is five kilometers out of town and then the site we would be able to use is the same site that Bloom happens in, which is a long walk beyond the gates of the park. It’s something we may need to consider for later, and that would necessitate a change in the format of Pride, but that’s a discussion we would need to have once Pride 2014 is over and done with.
There are other options such as a kind of multi-site festival, or a very heavily programmed campus style chain of events, where you follow the programme from venue to venue around the city. I know that in Brussels they do something very similar to that, because they’re a small city too.
There are several options, but the one thing I can assure people of is that we will seek inputs and work with our community partners as well as our city partners. We want to hear people’s views about what they want, and we won’t make any decisions without being as fully informed as possible.
The question for Pride going forward, I think, is how do you put on an event that’s a community-based, yet caters to a vastly growing number of people? What happened in Merrion Square last year was that the majority who stayed in the drinking area were a bit divorced from the community and political speeches and performances on the stage.
I noticed that myself, there was very much a place where people gathered and they didn’t go any further. But I think it can be a balance between the two things. This year because of the change in format, it will focus people’s attention much more on what we want people to focus on. It will open much more of Merrion Square and we have a public address system that will deal with the numbers there, rather than a small area right in front of the stage.
But for the future I think we can balance the frivolity of it with the political side of it, and hopefully next year we’ll have a lot to celebrate after the same-sex marriage referendum.
What’s different in terms of the way Pride is internally working this year?
One of the things we’ve done is change the way Pride internally operates. So instead of being very task driven, with board members being involved in executive tasks – for instance, I was HR Manager, we had a Marketing Director etc. – we have a board who are now concerned with the overall corporate structure and the governance of Pride.
We have very strong skill set on the committee, a group that combines very strong commercial and business acumen with legal knowledge, and also cultural knowledge and sensitivity, and awareness of the community. It’s a difficult thing to balance, but I think the group we have formed now are very effective.
One of the problems Pride has is that people who have build up experience of the event move on and new teams with less experience have to take up where they left off. How is this being tackled?
I’ve really tried to work hard to instill in people that we would like them to stay on board for two or three years at least, by giving them as broad a preview and expectation as possible, letting them know what they’re getting in to, in terms of time commitments and what they’re expected to do. So far, I think everybody is happy enough.
Are you enjoying your chairmanship?
It has to be enjoyable for you to do it. It’s been a lot of fun and a lot of politics, but at the same time I think if you are open with people and you’re up-front, people appreciate it. We have no illusions that Pride is this group of people sitting in a boardroom making decisions. That’s not good enough. It’s a platform for the whole community and beyond, so it’s up to us to make sure that we represent them properly.
Dublin Pride runs from June 14 to 29. Keep up to date with what’s happening at www.dublinpride.ie or by following @dublinpride on Twitter.
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