MAXIMISING THE FESTIVAL YIELD

2 July 2015 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The launch last Friday of the third Monaghan Town Country Music Festival, to take place later this month, highlighted a field of activity in which the people of our county perform conspicuously well.

We have established throughout our county’s extent a formidable and varied range of community-based summer events, ranging from music performances, agricultural shows, vintage and heritage showcases and village and rural area galas, all of which enliven local life and provide a focal point and sense of purpose for our prodigious capacity for voluntary effort.

The organisation of these activities is to a uniformly high standard, exemplified by the success of the country music event in the county capital which, despite being a relative newcomer to the calendar, has won a reputation that extends nationwide and beyond and has generated a considerable amount of funding for local charities and good causes.

We can be justly proud of our altruism and volunteerism, dimensions of the Co Monaghan character that appear to have survived the privations of austerity not merely more or less intact but perhaps even enhanced by the experience of the economic downturn and the redrafting of perspective it has invited with regard to what is important and rewarding in our lives.

What we do less well, however, is to maximise the yield from our summer festivals and events – in terms of social dividend as much as their commercial and economic potential.

We have long puzzled over how to build a strong tourism industry without the advantages that accrue to coastal locations or areas with large urban centres and the many diversions for the visitor they supply. But surely the extraordinary level of activity and celebration that goes on throughout our county over the summer period possesses the founding materials for a promotion and marketing package with a distinctive Monaghan flavour.

We may not have a city, but we have five towns possessed of fascinating historical facets and a cluster of vibrant rural communities, many of them contingent to scenery and natural attractions as pleasing to the eye and as relaxing to the senses as any visitor wishing to experience Ireland’s beauty and hospitality could wish for.

If we add to these inherent merits events such as Monaghan’s country music and blues festivals, the Castleblayney and Tydavnet agricultural shows, our annual heritage week programme, and the town and community festivals staged on an annual basis, we have the building blocks of a redoubtable tourism package – but we continue to harbour it as if it were a secret rather than broadcast it cohesively as a visitor magnet.

Our retail and commercial sectors are also not as involved as they could be in extracting the maximum advantage from the festivals and attractions that are annually staged in their midst. The rewards for “buy-in” are great – but the traders of our towns are too often wont to bemoan the disruption to ordinary patterns of business such events bring with them rather than entering into the spirit of the occasions with promotions and offers that would see them share in the dividend that is available.

The recent decision by the Monaghan Municipal District to appoint a town centre co-ordinator to improve the county capital’s trading environment and bring its businesses together to work on projects to their mutual benefit will hopefully see this deficit addressed there.

And Monaghan Co Council’s efforts to evolve a distinctive county “brand” – an update on which will be provided at next week’s meeting of the authority – has the potential to bring cohesion and uniformity of approach to our tourism promotion efforts.

But these and other worthy initiatives to extract more from the riches of our county for our collective social and economic gain are doomed to failure if the public don’t become part of them.

One thing that our festivals and summer events demonstrate is that there is a recognition that their organisation is dependent on participation – and while the labourers in the vineyard are sometimes few, the success of such endeavours communicates the enormous importance of voluntary effort to making our county a better place.

An instructive example is being set – and if more of us followed it, and made the promotion and betterment of our county our business rather than someone else’s, then we would at last begin to reap the full riches of the bountiful festival dividend that is in our midst.

 

THE ILLEGAL DIESEL BATTLE

 

The introduction of a new marker for rebated diesel, a step taken some months ago in a cross-Border initiative to crack down on the production of illegal fuel, was described as a potential game-changer in the battle against this form of criminal activity at a European conference held in Belfast this week.

The intent of the new marker is to render it economically unviable for the fuel possessing it to be laundered – and, while it will certainly change the “game” in the favour of the enforcement agencies for a time, it is likely to draw a future technological riposte from those reaping considerable illicit dividend from this odious activity.

The impact of this particular form of crime has been felt severely in our own area and the surrounding Border region, not least by the local authorities who are put to considerable trouble and expense in dealing with the toxic sludge from fuel laundering plants dumped in rural areas, often in the vicinity of vulnerable watercourses.

The loss in tax revenue in this country could be in the region of €200 million annually, with the impact on legitimate fuel producers and retailers forming a threat to continued viability.

Measures to counteract the crime are therefore urgent, and if the new marker leads to an abatement of it, it will have accomplished some good.

However, despite considerable efforts at detection and prosecution by the relevant agencies on both sides of the Border, none of the leading figures involved in this sphere of organised criminality have yet been made amenable before the courts.

Some of the smaller fry engaged in what is a very sophisticated activity being conducted on a considerable scale have been brought to book, and there is no doubt that the campaign of law enforcement against the crime has severely disrupted its practice in some locations.

But until the intelligence necessary to make culpable the major players is forthcoming, efforts such as the new “marker” may change the game, but they won’t decisively win it.

And this is a battle that must eventually be won to avert major environmental damage and remove a cancer that is enfeebling the economy and the morale of our Border region.

 

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