I have to admit I'm slow sometimes, but the penny well and truly dropped for me & The Gathering with today's announcement about the G8 coming to Fermanagh.
The Gathering is a government initiative. The Government is in charge of it: setting the goals and strategies and also providing the statistical evidence that will show whether they met their goals or not. Keep that in your mind at all times.
You, me, the whole country have been led to believe that The Gathering is some form of giant family reunion, that 2013 will see Ireland overrun with the Murphys of Peoria, Illinois and the O'Connors of Perth, Western Australia and the Lynchs of Hamilton, Ontario and the Brennans of Blackburn, England. Right?
And vaguely that is the plan. HOWEVER, success will not be measured in how many of the Murphys, O'Connors, Lynchs and Brennans actually do "return" for The Gathering, but in the numbers who come through the airports and seaports to spend a bit of time in Ireland.
For the past few weeks I've been trying to figure out why is this happening in 2013. It's all so rushed. Many of those who have argued that The Gathering is a great idea have pointed to the success of the Notre Dame vs Navy game. That was a success, but you know what? That game was first announced in 2005! That's right - they allowed themselves 7 years to get the planning and promotion right so that the game was a huge success. That was one great weekend, planned over 7 years. (Yes, I was not in favor of the idea in '05, but things changed in the interim.}
To my mind, to really get The Gathering right as a massive tourism project*, the great family reunion, we should have had years of planning and promoting the idea. Why such haste?
It only occurred to me today: the EU Presidency. Ireland holds the EU Presidency in the first 6 months of 2013. Although I can't put a figure on it, I am sure that means many, many more people coming to Dublin and elsewhere for official EU business. Politicians, civil servants, journalists - they'll all be coming for the EU Presidency. I'm not saying that the EU Presidency will deliver all the promised 300,000 extra visitors, but it does provide a head start of tens of thousands of "extra" visitors.
They may only stay a day, but each of those people will arrive, be counted as a visitor and boost the chances of The Gathering being a "success" for the government. That Herr Schultz of Frankfurt and Ms Nielson of Stockholm were only here for a night for some EU-level finance meeting will not be noted in the statistics. They will officially be here for The Gathering.
Now today David Cameron has tossed a bouquet of flowers at Enda and Co because the G8 will mean many, many more people coming through the airports and seaports to the summit in Fermanagh§. What a boon to the government. They must be thrilled. More people they can count towards the success of The Gathering even though they aren't coming for the big family reunion. The stats won't be taking details on that, however.
All that matters is that the government be able to point to the "success" of their initiative. I was very much in favor of The Gathering, but now I see it as something of a sham. Not as Gabriel Bryne sees it, but one which the people of Ireland are being asked to break their hearts trying to woo the O'Connors and Lynchs and Murphys and Brennans at short notice while the government has fixed the game to ensure its success in a bid to make themselves look good.
* The Gathering should have been so, so much more. I should really just reel off a series of blogs on it.
§ I'm still not clear on how those coming and going through Belfast count or not for The Gathering. Is The Gathering an all Ireland initiative? Tourism generally is, but I'm not sure The Gathering is. Regardless, many of those coming for the G8 will come through Dublin.