Friday 24 May 2019

Longer lease for arts centre

Wicklow County Council meeting

The Mermaid Arts Centre
The Mermaid Arts Centre

Myles Buchanan

There were scenes of heated debate in the Council Chamber on Monday as councillors discussed extending the lease to the Mermaid Arts Centre by a further 35 years.

The elected members were asked to extend the contract for a further 15 years from the first day of September of 2037 at a rent of €200 per annum, subject to a review every five years.

Thomas Murphy, Director of Enterprise and Corporate Services, explained that the original lease was passed by Wicklow County Council in 2002 and was due to last for a period of 35 years. There were only 19 years of the contract left and for the Mermaid Arts Centre to draw down some capital funding they require a lease of at least 20 years.

'There is no change to the lease, rather than the change to the duration. The lease extension would leave the Mermaid Arts Centre in a better position fr further capital grants for improvements to services and facilities,' said Mr Murphy.

However, Cllr Joe Behan felt councillors hadn't been provided with enough information.

'I am not willing to take anything at face value, given our experiences in terms of the lack of willingness from the local authority to give us information regarding the Florentine Centre and the Barracudda. I am not prepared to accept a motion extending the lease nilly-willy. I am sick and tired of the way councillors are being treated when it comes to disposals of public property,' said Cllr Behan.

He also wanted to know if the Directors of Mermaid County Wicklow Arts Centre Ltd would receive any additional rights if the lease was extended.

Cllr Brendan Thornhill also expressed reservations, commenting: 'In my short experience with this council, disposals are just being taken for granted by certain councillors. I don't see any evaluation of this disposal'.

Cathaoirleach Cllr Pat Vance, noted that a committee had been established a year ago so councillors could request further information regarding the disposal of council assets.

'People had an opportunity to look at the lease and seek further information and no one did,' said Cllr Vance.

Cllr Grainne McLoughlin said she was a unpaid voluntary director on the Mermaid Committee and explained that the role of director only lasted for a number of years before you were asked to stand down and make way for someone else.

'The management of the Mermaid do a phenomenal job and strictly adhere to every aspect of the code of governance. The Mermaid is nationally recognised as one of the best small theatres in the country. We need more support'.

She was also surprised by Cllr Thornhill's contribution.

'You were a Director until very recently. You didn't turn up for many meetings but you were there and should know how it operates'.

Cllr John Ryan is another committee member, though it wasn't a role he sought out.

'We had a meeting in Bray Municipal District and no one else wanted the position.'

He also said he was a little taken aback to hear some of the negative comments in the chamber.

'I am blown away by the organisation of the Mermaid and the fantastic delivery of what they can do. To be honest I am a little shocked with some of the remarks here'.

Cllr Tommy Cullen asked why the lease couldn't just be extended by one year to bring it up to the required 20 to secure capital funding.

Mr Murphy replied 'Just extending it by one year wouldn't let them draw down funding the year after and the year after that. The lease is also subject to a review every five years which secures the council interests',

Before putting the matter to a vote, Cllr Vance said: 'The Mermaid is one of the best things to ever happen to Bray. It is so well managed and there has never been any problem with it'.

21 elected members voted in favour of extending the lease, four voted against and seven weren't present for the vote.

Bray People