Wednesday, 22 May 2024

RTE and miserable weather blamed for low turnout at Pope's Mass

Bad weather and RTÉ’s “comprehensive coverage” of the visit of Pope Francis have been blamed for the poor turnout at the pontiff’s Phoenix Park Mass.

A review of the visit also saw gardaí raise concerns about a “lack of experience” among volunteers at the event.

As many as 500,000 people were expected to attend the Phoenix Park Mass which was the centrepiece of Pope Francis’s historic visit.

However, attendance on Sunday, August 26, was closer to 150,000 amid miserable weather conditions.

The Department of the Taoiseach held a debriefing on the visit the following Friday and notes on what was discussed have been released to the Irish Independent.

Organisers of the World Meeting of Families are recorded as saying that overall the Pope’s visit had been a “tremendous success”.

However, their contribution also suggests reasons why the crowds were not at the level that had been expected.

“Bad weather had an impact on turnout, plus RTÉ’s comprehensive coverage meant that people would watch it from the comfort of their own homes,” the notes say.

Viewing figures released in the days before the debriefing showed that more than a million people tuned in to watch at least some of the papal Mass on RTÉ. An average of 535,000 people watched it in full on television.

Gardaí said the visit went well “from a security point of view”.

They did raise issues with the Popemobile route around the Phoenix Park and “barrier management”, saying that this was in part due to a “lack of experience” among stewards and volunteers.

It was suggested that there be greater training of such staff prior to future events “to ensure they are fully briefed on the significance of their role”.

The safety officer for the Phoenix Park event raised issues about some “unexpected vehicle movements” and the notes say that “high security (blue-light vehicle) interacting with pedestrians always pose a safety concern”.

The Office of Public Works (OPW), which is responsible for the Phoenix Park, assessed that the Pope’s visit went “extremely well” and said it had a beneficial impact on tourism. Its contribution said that late notice of road closures had “caused some upset” among residents and businesses near the park, which could have been reduced if clearer details had been released earlier.

Other documents show that Dublin Town – an organisation that represents businesses – wrote to the Taoiseach’s department claiming that the city’s experience in planning major events was not drawn upon for the Pope’s visit.

Its chief executive, Richard Guiney, said businesses reported a drop in footfall and a reduction in trade of around 30pc, with lost sales of up to €6m that weekend. He said the visit portrayed a positive image of Dublin, but also expressed the concerns of the business community, claiming planning and communication “fell short of the standards that we have come to expect”.

A response from the department said the planning involved “extensive engagement” by State agencies but promised to forward the concerns to those involved.

It said the scale of the visit was “unprecedented in recent times” and noted that the Pope’s itinerary had involved several movements across the city. The response promised to include Dublin Town in a future debriefing meeting on the visit.

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