THE chairman of the board of Limerick City of Culture, Pat Cox, has said that the decision by three officials to quit at the dawn of the year-long event could be a "blessing in disguise".
The resignation of artistic director Karl Wallace has caused deep anxiety among members of the arts community in Limerick, who feel that the future of the programme has been severely compromised by his departure.
Mr Wallace tendered his resignation to Limerick City Council on December 30, just 24 hours before the New Year's Eve launch of the event. He resigned 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, Mr Wallace complained of staffing requests being rejected and of his team being "sidelined" in decision-making. He also claimed he had been left out of the preparations for the New Year's Eve event, which starred Dolores O'Riordan of The Cranberries.
He also claimed that there has been a breakdown in communication between his team and City of Culture chief executive Patricia Ryan.
More than 60 artists and people involved in the project attended a meeting with Mr Wallace yesterday, where he told them his position was "untenable".
But reacting to the latest controversy to shroud Ireland's first national City of Culture event, Mr Cox claimed that the resignations may in fact be a "blessing in disguise".
He said: "If you have problems of an ongoing nature, where people feel uneasy with the system or with each other, and you don't address it, the chances are you pay a bigger price later.
"At the end of the day, if people are dissatisfied, they have every right to step back. But it may in the end be a blessing in disguise, that if something needed to be dealt with, and people have dealt with it in the way they have, that the matter is behind us and that we move on to focus on the essentials."
Mr Cox, the former president of the European Parliament, added: "The central issue has been for the board to deliver the best year we can for Limerick and Ireland."
He accepted that the resignation of the artistic director was "an important matter" for Limerick City of Culture, which received €6m in funding in the October Budget.
However, Mr Cox insisted that Mr Wallace's decision was "a lot more complicated" than claims of a breakdown in communications with the board's CEO Patricia Ryan.
The appointment of Ms Ryan, who is a former advisor to Mr Cox, itself caused huge controversy after it emerged that the €120,000 18-month contract had not been advertised.
Mr Cox also also revealed yesterday, in an interview on Live95FM radio station, that the board of City of Culture had a "very lengthy meeting" in early December, during which a number of issues were raised, including a performance review of Mr Wallace's work to date.
"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... and he subsequently decided on his own part to submit a resignation.
"In light of the discussions that the board (had)... a performance review was requested and one was carried out. I am not familiar with the internal details of that, but I am aware that meetings were sought between the employer and Karl Wallace and that those meetings did not take place."
Mr Wallace invited a number of people involved in delivering projects for City of Culture to attend a meet at Limerick City Gallery of Art yesterday. He declined to speak to the media after the meeting.
But John Greenwood, one of those in attendance, said Mr Wallace's resignation had compromised the programme.
He added: "We have full confidence in the programme that Karl Wallace put together and we stand by his vision."
Writer, poet and former director of The Belltable Arts Centre, Mary Coll also expressed concern over how the programme for City of Culture would move forward for 2014 without an artistic director.
Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan said he was sorry to learn that Mr Wallace had stepped down and thanked him for his contribution to the programme.
A statement from his department said: "The minister has spoken with the local authority management to reiterate the importance of this inaugural National City of Culture Year and to stress the need for the year to be inclusive, energetic and impactful."