Wednesday 22 November 2017

Call on State to retain 32pc stake in Ardmore

The Entrance to Ardmore Studios
The Entrance to Ardmore Studios
Mel Gibson in Braveheart, a movie produced by Ardmore Studios
Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan

The proposed sale of Ardmore Studios is facing a potential complication following a decision by Wicklow County Council to appeal to Enterprise Ireland and to Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Mary Mitchell O'Connor to retain the State's 32pc share in the historic facility.

Concerns were expressed at a meeting of Wicklow County Council last week that the sale of the studios - home to TV and movie hits such as Penny Dreadful, the Tudors, Braveheart and Excalibur - could be unconditional, leaving it open to its future owners to cease its operations and put its land to an alternative use.

But those concerns at least appear to have been addressed by jobs minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor. Responding to questions from Fianna Fail TD for Wicklow Pat Casey on November 3 last, she noted there were planning restrictions on the Ardmore site, which she said "safeguard its use as a film making studio into the future".

Addressing the matter of Enterprise Ireland's share in Ardmore Studios, Ms O'Connor said the agency was a "passive investor" and was not involved in the "day-to-day business" of running its business. She further noted the Wicklow studio was being sold as a going concern.

Referring to the question of Enterprise Ireland's 32pc share in Ardmore Studios, the minister said a decision on its sale would be made at the "appropriate time" and would be "reviewed by Enrterprise Ireland from a commercial and legal perspective to ensure receipt of fair market value and return for the taxpayer".

Majority-owned by former U2 manager Paul McGuinness and the band's one-time accountant Ossie Kilkenny, Ardmore Studios is being sold as it faces the prospect of increasing competition from rivals.

Earlier this year, Ashford Studios, also in Co. Wicklow, finalised plans for a €90m expansion that would see four new film studios opened at its base. The studio has already served as a base for the hugely-successful TV series Vikings.

In Limerick, Troy Studios has opened a new multi-million euro facility on the site of a former Dell building.

The directors of Troy Studios include Ossie Killkenny and Ardmore Studios chief executive and chairwoman of TG4, Siun Ni Raghallaigh. Mr McGuinness is not involved in that project.

Ardmore is based on 18 acres in Bray, and offers a full suite of production services. Productions currently underway there include The Professor and the Madman, starring Sean Penn and Mel Gibson.

In its heyday, the studio hosted numerous of Hollywood's legendary stars including James Cagney, Fred Astaire, Julie Andrews, Richard Burton and Sean Connery.

While Ardmore Studios made a profit of €1.3m last year, it very nearly collapsed during the recession due to a huge debt pile.

It's been owned for the last 30 years by Mr Kilkenny and Mr McGuinness, along with Enterprise Ireland.

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