Tuesday 12 December 2017

'Sidelined' councillors spark new Culture row

WINDS OF CHANGE: Mike Fitzpatrick, head of the Limerick School of Art and Design, who was appointed interim head of the City of Culture. Photo: Liam Burke/Press 22
WINDS OF CHANGE: Mike Fitzpatrick, head of the Limerick School of Art and Design, who was appointed interim head of the City of Culture. Photo: Liam Burke/Press 22
Patricia Ryan
Karl Wallace. Photo: Sean Curtin.

Daniel McConnell and Sophie Gorman

THE embattled City of Culture board is locked in a fresh row after claims by local councillors that they have been "sidelined" again.

Limerick's city manager Conn Murray has been accused of "going on a solo run" by deciding without consultation that the Mayor and Cathaoirleach of Limerick City and County Council were being appointed to the board.

It was agreed after the recent controversy that two elected representatives would be added to the board -- but the selection of Limerick City Mayor Kathleen Leddin and County Cathaoirleach John Sheahan has caused a new row.

In a media statement, the board suggested that "following meetings with local representatives" it was agreed as an immediate step to appoint the Mayor and Cathaoirleach, or their representatives, of the respective authorities to the board.

But several councillors last night insisted that no meeting to agree such a matter had taken place.

The development came after the appointment of Mike Fitzpatrick as interim CEO and artistic director. He replaces Patricia Ryan and Karl Wallace.

Mr Fitzpatrick said he was intent on driving the City of Culture project forward and insisted he had no "interest in healing the past".

"I am not here as a healer. I am here to do a job and my job is running the City of Culture organisation. I'm not in that (healing) business. I think I am practical and I am a manager, and that's what I'll do and I am looking forward to it."


He will be on secondment from his role as Head of School of Limerick School of Art and Design.

He is also a Director of Eva International Biennial and has previously held the post of Director/Curator of Limerick City Gallery of Art from 2000-2009.

He was curator of the Visual Art strand at the Kilkenny Arts Festival 2005 and 2006.

The Limerick arts community regard his appointment as a safe pair of hands.

However, it is not Mr Fitzpatrick's first brush with drama in Limerick's arts scene.

Previous to this, the most prominent cultural debacle in Limerick was the city's established and respected Belltable Arts Centre going into liquidation last March, with the company owing more than €2.3m of taxpayers' money and leaving many artists and contractors unpaid; Mr Fitzpatrick was a member of the board of directors at the time.

His first task now will be to try find a resolution to the brewing row between some councillors and the city manager. Local councillor John Gilligan told the Irish Independent that he was unhappy with how the selection process for new board members was run.

"I have been at no meeting where it was decided the Mayor or the Cathaoirleach would represent us.

That decision is for us councillors to decide, no one else. Have we not learned from the mistakes.

"This must be open and transparent,

"We have been excluded and sidelined," Mr Gilligan said.

Councillors received a text message, inviting them to a "briefing" on Thursday to discuss the matter.

Labour councillor Tom Shortt said: "Councillors have been sidelined. This scandal has shown that we, as elected representatives, need to wrestle power back from Mr Murray.

The angry councillors were keen to stress that their problem was not with Ms Leddin, an Independent councillor, or Mr Sheahan of Fine Gael but with Mr Murray and the board.

Mr Murray did not respond to queries from the Irish Independent last night.

Ms Leddin said that she was "delighted" to serve on the City of Culture board.

"It is right that the Mayor and Cathoirleach be on the board.

"We should have been on the board ex-officio. None of my colleagues have expressed their unhappiness to me, I have been in meetings. But this is the right thing. We are the first citizens in both areas and it is a positive move," she said.

The board also announced yesterday that the Heads of Agreement have been signed by Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan.

This means that the €6m budget has been released and can now be put into action.

City of Culture board chairman Pat Cox said there would be a "reset meeting" on January 17 of the newly expanded board, with all the new nominees in place to discuss Mr Fitzpatrick's first review report of the state of the project and then act upon it.

Irish Independent

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