DOCUMENTS released by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht show that City of Culture faced a cash crisis before it began and that the lack of confirmed State support was “hampering” the chances of the project’s success.
The documents, released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act, confirm earlier reports in the Limerick Leader that a delay by arts minister Jimmy Deenihan in confirming funding for the project put the year under huge pressure before it began.
The uncertainty in first confirming funding – announced in October’s Budget – and then releasing the money – February of this year – exacerbated the extreme pressure placed on the project’s team, already hampered by a short lead-in time.
This led at least in part to the controversy that erupted in January when artistic director Karl Wallace resigned, followed soon after by CEO Patricia Ryan, after criticism over her appointment.
The documents confirm that the project ran into “serious cash-flow problems” in early January and that none of the €6m State funding was in place by the official opening of the year of culture.
The internal correspondence further outlines that Government did not intend to award funding to the project. As late as May 2013, a department official said that the project “cannot cost anything”.
However, Minister Deenihan told this newspaper in November 2012 that “it is anticipated that some financial allocation will be made for the initiative”.
The documents show that at a meeting between city and county manager Conn Murray and Minister Deenihan in March 2013, Mr Murray expressed concern that finance was not yet in place.
He said, according to the documents, that progress was being “hampered” due to a lack of commitment in terms of State support.
“The lack of definite support is also affecting the ability to raise funds from philanthropic sources,” Mr Murray said in the March 2013 meeting.
He was told by the minister that funding would not be received until the Budget – despite the later internal correspondence that no money was apparently to be made available for the year.
Concern began to build steadily with regard to the funding in the lead up to the project’s start date, with a department official writing in an internal email in November last year that City of Culture had a “serious cash-flow problem”.
Shortly afterward, assistant secretary of the department of arts, Niall O Donnchú, who was the department’s representative on the board of the project at the time, said in an email that Mr Murray was “under huge pressure for any help we can give pre-Xmas, and scale is irrelevant”.
In a statement to the Leader in January, the department confirmed that “in terms of funding, the only mechanism that is available to the Minister to confirm funding is through the budget process” and that the €6m had been drawn from the proceeds of the sale of the National Lottery licence.
Mr Deenihan declined then to accept any personal responsibility for the crisis which had enveloped the project and did not reply when questioned if he accepted that organisers had been placed in a very difficult position due to the failure to confirm funding until October.
Mr Murray said in an interview with this newspaper in late November that concern at Government level about the quality of the application in its early stages meant “the money wasn’t coming. That’s the way it was going to be”.
Responding to questions this week, a spokesperson for the department pointed out that “in line with good practice”, the funding was grounded in a Heads of Agreement and Service Level Agreement between it and the local authority.
“Funding is now flowing to the programme, and is being released in accordance with the terms of these agreements,” said the spokesperson.
“Minister Deenihan has always paid tribute to the great vibrancy of Limerick’s arts scene, as well as the strong proposal made in favour of the 2014 designation by the Limerick Reorganisation Implementation Group chaired by Denis Brosnan.
“The Minister has attended many events which are being held as part of Limerick City of Culture 2014, and believes the programme is a very positive one that is attracting considerable local and national engagement,” added the spokesperson.