HSE paid organisers of “Fyre Festival for kids” 14 million euro to import ventilators

Words: Eva O’Beirne

Thread: Aidan Fitzmaurice, @FancyVegasPro

Forget Tony Holohan, have you heard about this?

This is a tale of overpriced masks, Whatsapp chats and angry yummy mummies. Strap yourself in and read about how the HSE recruited the company that created a “scam” festival for families to import masks and ventilators during the PPE shortage.

Irish-based events management company, Roqu Media International Limited were recruited to import medical ventilators and other supplies for use in Irish hospitals at the very start of the pandemic. In March 2020, the HSE paid the company 14.1 million euro for ventilators from China which were never used due to “issues with the quality”.

As written by the Irish Examiner in December 2020: “It is unclear what background Roqu, a company with a track record in festival management in the Middle East, had in the procurement of medical products.”

They may not have medical experience, but in 2014 the company created what was described as “A complete shitshow” by Aidan Fitzmaurice on Twitter. His thread from January 2021 recounted his experiences of being booked for Wonderfest 2014 – so let’s dive in.

The Thread

Aidan, who looked after a STEAM workshop for Science Gallery, Trinity College Dublin was approached in early 2014 about “Wonderfest”, a festival specifically aimed at children and families based in Malahide castle and its grounds.

According to Aidan, this was three months before the festival was due to take place. His team drew up a plan and program for their workshop but the organiser refused to give them a fixed budget. But after this was done and dusted, it started to get weird.

The workshop team hadn’t heard from the organiser until three weeks before Wonderfest. According to Aidan: “Something smelled off. I discussed it with my boss and we agreed it was probably best to back out. This was confirmed when we saw he’d been advertising us with the wrong name, logo, details…..the wrong everything.”

Two weeks from the festival Aidan sent him an email saying they were pulling out.

In response, the event organiser shouted abuse down the phone at Aidan for half an hour.

The event organiser then went over Aidan’s head, straight to his boss and said he would pay upfront for the workshops. Aidan’s boss reversed the decision on this basis and Aidan decided to sit out for that weekend.

And then the festival happened.

The Festival

With most complaints and negative reviews deleted at the time this all unfolded, it was difficult to find some authentic accounts of what went down that August weekend. From various blog posts, it is clear that coordination and staffing at the event was a massive issue with check-in delays and missing tents and mattresses. Kayaking and canoeing classes were booked up weeks in advance, and complimentary transport to activities off-site never appeared.

But Aidan’s description really takes the biscuit.

The upfront payment for the workshops didn’t materialise either.

In case you were wondering, there are photos of what went down.

According to Aidan’s thread, the whole thing has basically been scrubbed from the internet and “most of the venders didn’t get paid. Families wanted refunds. The event organiser vanished.”

But he reappeared in the news cycle in 2020. For suspicious payments to the HSE.

The HSE Contract

So this same company was entrusted with a HSE contract of 14.1 million euro to acquire ventilators. And that’s not all.

Roqu set up a deal to bring 150,000 masks to Ireland from China using funds acquired by fundraising group Heroes Aid. The deal fell apart after fundraisers discovered that the 108,000 euro bill was for an Irish festival management company rather than a Chinese wholesaler.

Activists were caught off guard, having to make the decision of forgoing supplies or send over a hundred grand of public money to a company they had never heard of. What makes matters worse is that this deal was apparently arranged over Whatsapp.

Heroes Aid had initially worked with Conor McGregor to distribute €1.5 million in PPE that the MMA fighter had purchased to Irish hospitals in April 2020, at a time of a global PPE shortage.

Two weeks after the deal fell apart, Heroes Aid was provided with a cheaper alternate price per mask from an Irish supplier in Hong Kong. Roqu’s arrangement would have cost 30,000 euro more

In regards to their previous deal, it is unclear exactly how many ventilators were delivered. In April, Roqu stated that 200 machines had arrived in Ireland via four flights. 

However, in correspondence with the Irish Examiner, the president, CEO and sole employee of Roqu, Robert Quirke said that just 72 ventilators were delivered. He said that Roqu had made no profit on the deliveries and had “no intention of gaining huge profits from PPE or medical equipment”.

We don’t know what happened to the money, or even what happened next. But we can all remember the Fyre Fest for kids.

What a story.

Elsewhere on District: The 5 best Irish accents in film and TV