THREE senior organisers of Limerick's tenure as National City of Culture have sensationally quit on its first day of the year-long festival.
Artistic director Karl Wallace last night announced his resignation saying that he can: "no longer stand over a project that I have concerns about".
Mr Wallace stepped down along with two key senior members of his team, international programmer Jo Mangan and Commissioning and legacy programmer Maeve McGrath.
Speaking exclusively to the Irish Independent, he has complained of staffing requests being rejected, of his team being "sidelined" in decision-making and of being left out of the preparations for the New Year's Eve event which kicked off the festival.
He also claimed that there has been a breakdown in communication between his team and City of Culture chief executive Patricia Ryan.
Commenting on the resignation of Mr Wallace on Limerick’s 95FM, Pat Cox, chairman of Limerick City of Culture, said: "It certainly is an important matter for City of Culture and I don't underestimate it".
He added that the board had had a "very lengthy meeting" in early December, during which various issues were raised including a performance review of Karl Wallace's work to date.
"The board asked that Limerick Corporation, as the employer of the artistic director, because Karl Wallace is an employee of City Hall, would undertake a performance review of the artistic director and his work over the period, and that that performance review would then be discussed with the artistic director.
"Such a review was undertaken. For a combination of reasons, to do with holiday leave and sick leave, the artistic director was not in a position to make himself available through the month of December when these issues were raised with him to discuss any of the matters, with any of the personnel who would be relevant to such discussions, and he subsequently decided on his own part to submit a resignation. I think it's dated December 30, submitted to Limerick Corporation.”
Limerick's year of culture has been beset by controversy in recent weeks surrounding the process used in Ms Ryan's appointment.
Her appointment was criticised by former Mayor of Limerick John Gilligan when he raised questions about the contract not being advertised and no interviews being held.
Ms Ryan previously worked for Limerick City of Culture board chairman Pat Cox when he was a member of the European Parliament.
Limerick city and county manager Conn Murray has previously defended Ms Ryan's appointment, saying he "personally identified a number of potential candidates", including Ms Ryan, and engaged with them in confidence, setting out the terms of reference for the post.
Mr Murray accepted criticism over the process used to appoint Ms Ryan but insists the time constraints imposed on him resulted in a different process being adopted.
In a radio interview in November after her appointment, Ms Ryan said that she has no experience of cultural management or working within the arts industry.
She also said that she would be relying on Mr Wallace and significant proven track record in the arts. Ms Ryan did not respond to attempts to contact her last night.
Announcing his resignation, Mr Wallace said: "While I regret making an early departure, I can no longer stand over a project that I have concerns about, concerns that have been repeatedly aired but not addressed.
"From May onwards, I outlined the necessary staffing structure to deliver the programme including positions such as a technical manager, education and outreach advisor, operations manager.
"As we progressed, it was very clear that those requests were not going to be honoured and also that there was a lack of basic understanding and arts expertise of the structure that is required to make a project like this work.
"On a number of occasions, my team and I sent details of the delivery mechanisms we required for each individual project and event in the programme to management, but these were not acted on.
"There were also requests for resources, expertise and a clear workable structure to be in place before the start of the new year, which has not happened. Because of these factors,as artistic director I felt my position was entirely untenable and I had no alternative other than to resign."
He said of his team: "We are experts in our fields, we manage budgets, we manage artistic structures, we know what we are doing. My concern was that the programme team was being sidelined in key decisions about how the programme should be delivered."
He said an example of this was the New Year's Eve concert featuring Dolores O'Riordan, saying: "The event was nothing to do with me, it was given to an events management company.
"I was not consulted at all," he added.