‘Clock needs rewound’ at Plaza, court hears

Buncrana courthouse.
Buncrana courthouse.

A judge has ordered those who run the Plaza in Buncrana - which has charitable status - to “step up” and liaise with Gardai, stating he was concerned it has diverted from its original purpose.

Brian Flanagan, Ardeelin, Shore Front, Buncrana and Charlie Bradley, Clonglash, Buncrana were charged with an offence committed by the licence holder (exemption period) and aiding and abetting respectively.

These charges arose in relation to a Garda detection at the venue on 13th July, 2014, when Gardai found a number of 14-year-olds on the premises after 2am.

Sergeant Carol Doherty told the court the youths were “definitely under 18 years old and no-one could have mistaken them for any older than that.”

However, contesting the case, solicitor Cathal Quinn said the young people had entered the venue through a back, stage door. Giving evidence, Plaza duty manager Ursula McDaid said everyone who looked under 18 had been asked for ID on the night and added they were “very strict” on this policy.

The Mike Denver Band had been playing on the night and the Plaza had a special exemption as it was the Buncrana Music Festival.

Sgt Doherty said they went to the venue after reports of a noise to the rear of the Plaza. She said there were a number of people in the area and she directed some of them to leave. The back door was open and she entered through it at 2.07am.

Sgt Doherty went upstairs to a balcony area and found some people sitting there. She told the court that to her, they were “obviously under 18.” She spoke with two girls who told her they were both 14-years-old and gave their date of birth. Gda Aine Gallagher spoke with a male who said he was also 14. The court heard they confirmed they had entered via the front door and paid 20 euro entry.

Sgt Doherty then spoke to Bradley and the manager Ursula McDaid, who were downstairs. They said the believed the young people had come in the back door. Sgt Doherty said another young man “obviously under 18” then walked past and she was told he was there with his parents, which also was not allowed. Sgt Doherty confirmed she had spoken with the parents and guardians of the people who said they were 14 but they did not wish to make a statement.

Sgt Aine Gallagher said she had earlier seen two females going through the back door of the premises but they had a different hair colour to the other females they later encountered. She said it would have been “very difficult” to mistake those for any older than 14.

At this point, Mr Quinn, who said there was “no suggestion the young people had been served alcohol” applied for a number of directions in the matter, stating no evidence had been given regarding the time the exemption began or expired. He added the people spoken to were not in court to provide evidence of their ages. Inspector David Murphy replied that Gardai had given the time of detection and said Sgt Doherty had been a Gda for 16 years and indicated no-one could have mistaken the young people for any older.

Judge James Faughnan did not accede to Mr Quinn’s direction and said there was a case to answer.

The court heard evidence from Ursula McDaid who said she had been on the front door and the floor on the night. She said people who they thought to be under 18 had been turned away, with one exemption, a young man aged “around 17” who had been standing outside in the “pouring rain” waiting for his parents. She said she escorted him to his parents, who were leaving after getting a CD signed.

Mrs McDaid said the band stopped playing at 1.30am and the bar had stopped serving alcohol at around 1.20am. She added it was “impossible” for anyone to pay 20 euro as the entry fee had been 15 euro. An advertisement from a newspaper was produced in court as evidence of this. When Mr Quinn asked Ms McDaid how she believed the four had come to be on the premises, she said the “only thing” she could think of was that they had come in through the back door, via which Mike Denver’s band were taking out their stage equipment and lighting. She added there had been a “lot of young people around the street that night” and said they were “certainly not allowed in.”

Inspector David Murphy asked Ms McDaid how many security staff had been on the door on the night. She replied there had been five, as well as herself and Mr Bradley, who was not in court. She said there were also five bar staff and three floor staff on the premises.

Insp. Murphy put it to Ms McDaid that she hadn’t been at the front door for the entire duration of the night, so “can’t really tell in a continuous way what occurred at the door.” She replied she had observed people being turned away on the night.

Judge Faughnan asked who benefited from the Plaza’s charitable status and was informed by Mr Quinn it was the “young people of the town.” However, Insp Murphy said that while “this was the pitch” when the application had been made he “couldn’t say it had made a significant contribution to take young people off the street.”

Judge Faugnan said he wanted negotiations to take place between the owners of the Plaza and the Gardai. He said they were all “people of the world,” adding he had “no doubt” as to why the prosecution had been taken. “People are probably at their wit’s end,” he said, adding: “These things don’t usually come to court unless there’s something in the past.”

He said that the defence were saying the young people snuck in the back door and added that procedures needed to be put in place to ensure this did not happen. Judge Faughnan said negotiations needed to take place between the Gardai and the Plaza within four weeks and adjourned the matter for 12 months, giving the Gardai liberty to re-enter the case if they were not satisfied with what is undertaken.

He said: “What needs to be done to satisfy the State needs to be done and done now.”

He added he was “very concerned” the parents didn’t engage with Gardai and told those who run the Plaza there was to be “no messing about” and they needed to “step up.”

Judge Faughnan said the Plaza had been set up for specific purpose and he did not feel it was being run for that purpose.

“The clock needs rewound,” he said.