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Galway City of Culture beset by ‘bad luck and self-inflicted wounds’


From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

Galway City of Culture beset by ‘bad luck and self-inflicted wounds’

From this week’s Galway City Tribune – It took more 20 months after the close of Galway’s extended year as European Capital of Culture for the official post-mortem from city councillors to take place.

And when it came, at a two-and-a-half hour debate at Galway City Council’s meeting in the Ardilaun Hotel last Monday, the results were inconclusive.

There were varying diagnoses of the problems that beset the company tasked to deliver a programme of events with €23.1 million provided by taxpayers and ratepayers.

But there was consensus, too, among councillors probing the Galway 2020 corpse that the project was struck by terrible bad luck, and it was responsible for self-inflicted wounds.

Elected members learned that technically, the Galway 2020 entity is not dead yet. Far from it. Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath confirmed it was still operating and had refocused on other European and cross-border funding streams.

Councillors can revisit that again in May 2024, by which time Mr McGrath reckoned the company will have been ‘very successful’ in drawing down money for local arts groups.

On other legacy, he was less assured. He re-iterated a commitment by Government, previously revealed in this newspaper, that a payment of €1m from the Department of Culture would go toward legacy.

When Councillor John Connolly (FF) asked about the actual legacy, and what physical infrastructure would be delivered, Mr McGrath said the Galway 2020 company and programme was never about physical arts and cultural infrastructure.

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But when Cllr Connolly quoted the organisation’s own documents about legacy back at him, which included physical infrastructure as legacy, among them an artistic space for children, Mr McGrath replied that initiatives such as that may happen within the next five years.

Cllr Connolly said Galway 2020 officially ended in April 2021, and debate was long overdue.

He said it was correct to bid for the designation, and Galway was recognised as the unofficial capital of culture in Ireland before this designation, but because of Covid “we will never know” if it would have delivered on its promise.

Cllr Connolly highlighted how ‘digital’ was trumpeted in 2017/18 as being key to the Galway 2020 project, but when Covid came “there was a scramble to produce digital content”.

Cllr Declan McDonnell (Ind) was worried that raking over the coals, publicly, could create negativity and jeopardise any potential future bid for the designation in 20 years.

He pointed out, however, that from the outset, there was a lack of information forthcoming from the Council about Galway 2020 being a limited company, which caused frustration later when councillors tried to get answers.

Cllr Collette Connolly (Ind) said it was a mistake to infer that asking questions about how millions of euro of taxpayers’ money was spent was negative.

But Cllr Niall McNelis (Lab), a former ex-officio board member of Galway 2020 during his year as mayor, said it was time to “stop flogging a dead horse”.

He suggested the amount of material available on Galway 2020’s website would be enough “to do a PHD” on how to organise an event of this scale.

“There’s nothing hidden . . . go through FOI (Freedom of Information) if you want to know more,” he said.

Cllr Niall Murphy (Green) agreed that it had encountered bad luck including weather woes, which caused the cancelation of the opening ceremony at The Swamp in Claddagh in February 2020, but overall “it was an opportunity missed”.

Cllr Donal Lyons (Ind) said “a lot of organisations got a lot of funding from Galway 2020”, amounting to just shy of €15m. “That should not be overlooked,” he said.

Cllr McNelis said €1.7m went to Macnas, and yet he claimed Galway 2020 was credited with a ‘tiny logo’ in that organisation’s promotional material, as it tried to distance itself from the ECOC company.

Cllr Frank Fahy (FG) praised staff and volunteers for their “huge effort”.

Independent councillor Terry O’Flaherty queried whether there was a need for senior Council staff to remain seconded during Covid when there was “very little happening” on the project.

Fianna Fáil’s Alan Cheevers predicted the legacy of Galway 2020, “would fit on the back of a postage stamp”, and he insisted it was important to get transparency on how it spent public money.

His party colleague Imelda Byrne said despite all the documents and reports, she could not find a total budget spend. “What is the legacy?” she asked.

Cllr Eddie Hoare (FG) said aspects were good but overall it was a disappointment and he suggested “maybe Covid saved it”.

Mayor of Galway, Clodagh Higgins (FG), said everyone remembered the hype when Galway won the bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2016.

“It was sad to see it turn sour,” she added.

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