Deenihan urged to take more hands-on role in Belltable debacle

Mike Dwane

Reporter:

Mike Dwane

The Belltable Arts Centre, O'Connell Street
FIANNA Fail’s Deputy Sean O Fearghail has questioned Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan’s “arm’s length” approach to financial problems at the Belltable Arts Centre.

FIANNA Fail’s Deputy Sean O Fearghail has questioned Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan’s “arm’s length” approach to financial problems at the Belltable Arts Centre.

Financial planning and oversight of arts centres had been raised in the Dail by Limerick’s Deputy Willie O’Dea, who was told by Minister Deenihan that his department had “no role in the management or operation” of such centres around the country.

The Belltable building at O’Connell Street is owned by Limerick City Council and was leased to the management company that went into liquidation in February with debts of over €2 million.

Arts figures in Limerick have blamed the closure of the long-established venue on the mismanagement of a €1.25 million redevelopment of the centre funded by the Department of the Arts and Limerick City Council.

Annual funding had been provided by the Arts Council, an independent state agency Minister Deenihan said he was precluded in law from intervening with in terms of grant awards.

But he added: “If some of the arts centres are funded by my Department through the ACCESS scheme or other schemes, then we would have some lean on those centres. We would have regular contact with centres to which we have provided funding because we have an obligation to ensure the taxpayers’ investment is protected as much as possible”.

The Belltable is among the venues to have drawn down this capital funding, with in excess of €800,000 granted under the ACCESS 2 programme for the redevelopment in 2010.

“We will have to agree to disagree on the issue of operating at arm’s length,” Deputy O Fearghail said.

“I am not expecting the minister to micro-manage arts centres, as he knows, but it is reasonable for the public to expect the minister responsible for the arts to have a discussion with the local authorities and the Arts Council to ensure there are proper models of financial management in place.”