Wednesday 18 October 2017

Minister defends approval of €2m for Robinson centre

Artist’s impression of the centre in the Robinson family home in Ballina
Artist’s impression of the centre in the Robinson family home in Ballina
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Arts Minister Heather Humphreys has defended her Department's decision to approve €2m in funding for a controversial centre to mark former President Mary Robinson's legacy.

The original plan to house a Mary Robinson Presidential Library in her childhood home stalled after Ms Robinson decided to donate her archive to NUI Galway instead.

The Robinson family home in Ballina
The Robinson family home in Ballina

A number of other options for the project in Ballina, Co Mayo - estimated to cost up to €8m - are being considered with a decision due in March.

Ms Humphreys faced questions about her Department's plan to contribute €2m to the project during an appearance at the Oireachtas Arts and Rural Affairs committee.

Its chairman Peadar Tóibín raised a series of concerns about the Ballina project saying it had been "bogged down in difficulties" in relation to its financing.

He said there were questions regarding the proposed price of the building as well as its poor condition which would cost hundreds of thousands to renovate.

Former President Mary Robinson. Photo: Frank McGrath
Former President Mary Robinson. Photo: Frank McGrath

He claimed Mayo County Council had entered into "a blank cheque situation" and asked if Ms Humphreys' department had conducted a due diligence exercise before deciding to grant €2m to the project.

Due diligence

Ms Humphreys said the County Council is the project promoter and the department did not consider it necessary to conduct a due diligence exercise for that reason.

She said the Department assessed the project and a grant was approved under a standard set of funding conditions.

She said companies and institutions including Wexford Opera House, and applications by the Druid and Gate Theatre had been granted funding in a similar way.

Ms Humphreys said she visited Ballina and believed it was a good location for the Mary Robinson Centre and that it is an opportunity to locate such a facility outside the main cities.

Mr Tóibín remarked that he was "amazed" the department "would put up €2m for a project and not do a due diligence."

Ms Humphreys replied, saying that: "There's nothing to hide here" and that the process to decide to grant the funds was "normal".

She said that Mayo County Council will have to ensure that the plans are in compliance with spending rules set out by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

"My department will be satisfying itself that project is in compliance with the relevant requirements of the [Public Expenditure] code before releasing any funding to Mayo County Council," Ms Humphreys added.

She added that there are "checks and balances" in the Department and insisted the project "Absolutely fitted the criteria for funding".

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