Galway 2020: McGrath’s greatest success – and his biggest failure


From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

Galway 2020: McGrath’s greatest success – and his biggest failure Galway 2020: McGrath’s greatest success – and his biggest failure

Bradley Bytes – a sort of political column with Dara Bradley

Brendan McGrath’s greatest achievement in Galway was also his biggest failure.

When assessing the legacy of the Chief Executive of Galway City Council’s 10-year tenure, it is impossible to ignore Galway 2020.

Without McGrath, Galway would not have been European Capital of Culture. Of that there is no doubt. But the buck stops with him too, when assessing what contributed to the failures of the project.

Months after becoming City Manager in 2013, the Tipperary native convened a working group.

It contained key personnel on his management team and others with experience of Galway’s arts scene. He set an ambitious target: secure the prestigious status of European Capital of Culture in 2020.

This was the sort of vision Galway had long yearned for from civil servants at City Hall. He had confidence, too, to match the idea.

In a Tribune interview in February 2014, McGrath said he was “not contemplating failure” in his bid to win the designation, dubbed “Galway’s Olympics”.

This was big stuff; a bold, ambitious statement from the top of Galway City Council, an organisation that had suffered low morale due to various scandals, including the Eyre Square revamp debacle.

McGrath expended much sweat to win the accolade. He put in the hours, burning the midnight oil to prepare a bid book, or application, to host the year-long event.

Galway was up against Limerick, Dublin, and the ‘Three Sisters’ of the South-East, a joint bid by Waterford, Kilkenny and Wexford.

During this competitive phase, when European judges assessed applications, a sort of omertà operated in Galway whereby criticism, no matter how constructive, was frowned upon.

At that stage, it mattered not. Galway won the designation. And the outpouring of joy and relief on the city’s streets when it was announced was genuine.

But the omertà, the ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ approach, continued when it did matter. A policy of ignoring or attacking detractors meant that valid points about shortcomings of the organisation in the lead-in to 2020 were not addressed, or were acknowledged too late.

In short, they believed their own bullsh*t. They adopted a siege mentality. Not all of that was McGrath’s fault. But it was his baby; he had the ability to influence that attitude.

A benign assessment of his contribution to the Galway 2020 disaster was that he had too much vision.

A more critical evaluation suggests the bid book he signed off on was never achievable in the first place; it was packed with promises that could not be delivered and, inevitably, the final product was destined to disappoint. And disappoint it did.

The project wasn’t helped by Covid-19, or weather disruptions to the opening ceremony at The Swamp, as Cllr Terry O’Flaherty (Ind) pointed out at McGrath’s final Council meeting as CE.

That nobody else – not even the man himself – even mentioned Galway 2020 during farewell speeches, speaks volumes about McGrath’s biggest feat and failure.
This is a shortened preview version of this column. For more Bradley Bytes, see the June 2 edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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