Minister defends spending of City of Culture funds

Alan Owens


Alan Owens

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys with then City of Culture director Mike Fitzpatrick on a visit to Limerick during 2014. Picture: Alan Place
ARTS minister Heather Humphreys has said she is “satisfied” with how public funds were spent during Limerick City of Culture in 2014.

ARTS minister Heather Humphreys has said she is “satisfied” with how public funds were spent during Limerick City of Culture in 2014.

The minister was responding to a question from Sinn Féin TD Sandra McLellan in the Dail this Thursday as to the reason more than €150,000 of public finances was apparently transferred from three City of Culture events to other projects, some of which were not exclusive to the year-long celebration.

Ms Humphreys said in response that she was “satisfied that the funding in question was applied in accordance with those agreements” reached between her department and the local authority.

The question came on foot of reports that €152,000 was allocated to three projects last year which did not proceed, and that the funds were moved elsewhere. The minister was also questioned about a funding shortfall of €400,000 for the year, while audited accounts for the year have yet to be filed.

City of Culture director Mike Fitzpatrick - now leading Limerick’s EU Capital of Culture 2020 bid - told his newspaper in June that audited accounts for 2014 had been signed off by the board and would be released “soon”.

Limerick council has insisted that it will not face any drain on resources from extra costs incurred during 2014, with the figure of €400,000 to “be drawn during 2015”, a spokesperson said recently.

Ms McLellan said that “the cancelled events were among 15 listed events and were funded from an initial department allocation of €6m. I asked the Minister exactly how much was allocated to the cancelled project, and why that money wasn’t recouped. Was it simply lost? It’s understood contractual payments and a booking deposit were paid in advance. LCOC has to date refused to state how much was spent on that event.

“Unfortunately, the Minster was unable to vouch for the traceability of that amount, nor was she able to inform me of a timeline for the review of LCOC. The question must be asked, where is the transparency through all of this?

“When I questioned why three scheduled events did not proceed, with funds instead being transferred to events unrelated to LCOC, the response given was that cultural programmes of events are subject to change. Is that explanation acceptable or good enough when its taxpayers’ money being used to fund those events?”

The total programme cost for the year of culture was €12m – a €7.5m investment by the State, which was €1.5m more than expected, plus €4.5m in “additional funding”.

Of this, the total direct cost to the company set up to run the year was €10.9m, plus over €1.1m in event specific expenditure, which included in-kind sponsorship and grants and was not covered by Limerick National City of Culture Ltd.

The State provided €6m to the project in funding via the 2014 Budget, and an additional €1.5m - taking its contribution to €7.5m - in December of last year, following a request by the local authority.

Of this, €1.1m has already been drawn down by the council, with the further €400,000 to be drawn down this year.

The minister said that “engagement with Limerick City of Culture about the final account for 2014 is continuing, and I anticipate that the completed account will be submitted shortly.

“Overall I consider that the Limerick City of Culture was a success, both in cultural terms and in enhancing civic participation in the city and I believe it has left a lasting and positive legacy,” she added.