Thursday 30 October 2014

Jackie letters weren't able to save us – college

All Hallows needed €25m

Shane Phelan, Public Affairs Editor

Published 24/05/2014 | 02:30

Jackie Kennedy
Dr Patrick McDevitt, President of All hallows College speaks to students from left, william Locke, Joseph O'Hara, Emmet Tracey and Emma Schmid Looney
Dr Patrick McDevitt, President of All hallows College speaks to students from left, william Locke, Joseph O'Hara, Emmet Tracey and Emma Schmid Looney
Letters between Jackie Kennedy and Fr Leonard.

THE sale of letters written by Jackie Kennedy to an Irish priest would not have been enough to save the cash- strapped college that put them up for auction, the Irish Independent has learned.

Although the letters could have raised up to €3m, All Hallows College has admitted it needed a short-term cash injection of €10m – and longer-term funding of €25m to keep operating.

The revelation came after the dramatic announcement by the Dublin college that it would be winding down its operations and eventually closing, with the loss of up to 100 jobs.

The president of All Hallows, Dr Patrick McDevitt (56), revealed the college had been eating into its cash reserves for the past eight to 10 years, a situation he described as "never sustainable".

Plans by the Drumcondra college to auction letters from the late US First Lady to Fr Joseph Leonard to raise much-needed funds were abandoned earlier this week amid rows over ownership and copyright.

Dr McDevitt also confirmed that the Kennedy estate had given no indication that it would be willing to make an endowment offer to the college in return for the letters.

He said this was "not on the table" after almost a week of discussions with Kennedy representatives.

The Kennedy estate has asserted copyright over the 33 letters written by Mrs Kennedy to Fr Leonard, a Vincentian priest who lived at All Hallows for 25 years until his death in 1964.

Representatives of the Kennedy family made contact with the college last Friday after copies of the letters appeared in the 'Boston Globe'.

A court has heard that Co Tipperary-based valuer Eoin Felix O'Neill had allegedly provided the newspaper with copies of the letters without authorisation.

"That was the starting point," said Dr McDevitt. "After that, things got complicated".

A further blow to the chances of a sale came over the weekend when Fr Leonard's will was found in college archives. Up to that point, All Hallows felt it was the rightful owner of the letters.

However, the will said Fr Leonard left all his worldly possessions to the Vincentian Fathers.

The discovery prompted the order to assert ownership over the letters (pictured inset) and demand the auction be abandoned.

When asked if he was upset at the actions of the Vincentians, who were aware of the college's perilous financial position, Dr McDevitt said: "That is a good question for the leadership of the Vincentian province in Ireland. I really am not in a position to answer that."

Vincentian provincial Eamon Devlin has declined to comment despite a number of requests from the Irish Independent.

The college, the order, and the Kennedy estate are expected to continue discussions in the coming days before a decision is made on what will be done with the letters.

Emotional

Meanwhile, the plan to wind down the college was announced by Dr McDevitt at a meeting with staff yesterday afternoon. A number of staff became emotional after Dr McDevitt informed them of the decision taken by the college trustees.

He did not give specific details on what period of time the wind-down would involve, but said the college, which provides degree and other adult education programmes, would be working to allow students finish their courses.

The college has 450 full-time degree students and 1,000 full- and part-time students overall.

After the meeting, he indicated that the only hope the closure decision could be staved off was if wealthy benefactors stepped in.

"If somebody can give us the capital we need to really do the work we do, we could go on for several years or more than that," he said.

Dr McDevitt continued: "It is a very sad day for All Hallows College. The college was losing money for many years and running at a deficit.

"The last three years since my tenure began, we have worked hard to put into place many activities to help raise money and to increase our offerings, as well as many efficiencies and fundraising to address the problem.

"However, we have been faced with many constraints in our development, like the (Department of Education) cap on the number of undergraduates eligible for free fees.

"Despite our best efforts, the college has reached a place of being unsustainable."

He said the trustees would not allow a situation to develop where the college became insolvent and that they wanted to uphold the institution's reputation.

"The trustees were clear. We want to do good on our debts," he said. "Our focus right now is to assure our students that we will work to facilitate them to completion in their courses and that we are in a position to look after our staff to the best of our abilities."

He said the college was still looking to sell other items of historical interest, such as books and paintings in order to help fund the wind-down.

"We are hopeful we can sell the items we have right now and have a very orderly and a very happy winddown that really celebrates the great institution this is and what it has accomplished in 172 years."

In a statement, the Department of Education said that it had not put constraints on student growth.

A spokesperson said while there was a cap on the number of undergraduate students eligible for the free fees scheme, the college had not reached that cap in the previous five years.

Irish Independent

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