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Records reveal war of words over jinxed cinema project

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The company behind the city’s jinxed arthouse cinema signed a €4.1 million public works contract with a construction firm without departmental consent, placing taxpayers on the hook for a budget overrun of up to €2 million.

The project has been plagued by setbacks and controversy since work first began on a site donated by Galway City Council at Lower Merchants Road in 2009.

The development of the three-screen cultural cinema has been overseen by Solas Galway Picture Palace Limited, a private company afforded charitable status, with government funding provided through five separate public bodies.

The Galway City Tribune has obtained correspondence between Solas, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and other stakeholders under the Freedom of Information Act; providing a new insight into the chaotic events surrounding the project.

It reveals that Solas signed a binding contract for the completion of the cinema with JJ Rhatigan & Co in March 2012 without seeking the consent of the Department and without having funds in place to cover the cost.

The issue was raised in a letter from then-Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan to the Solas Chairperson Lelia Doolan on June 21, 2012.

“The Board of Solas did not have this Department’s consent to sign the contract with JJ Rhatigan & Co as it was required to and… funding has not been set aside to cover payments,” wrote Minister Deenihan.

In her response issued the following day, Ms Doolan replied: “I understand and appreciate the points you make. I would, however, wish to reiterate that we acted in good faith in the matter of issuing the binding letter of consent and in going to contract.”

Solas was advised that the Department would refuse to release additional funding of €2.1 million unless the company could demonstrate that it had sufficient resources to bring the project to completion without further recourse to public funds.

Ms Doolan wrote to public representatives in Galway two weeks later, warning them in an email on July 5, 2012 that “to discontinue now will involve the loss of over €4 million of public monies with ancillary consequences”.

The following day, Taoiseach Enda Kenny attended the construction site during a visit to Galway. Ms Doolan wrote to public representatives again later that day, advising them that she had issued a similar warning to Mr Kenny.

“We conveyed to him the urgency of the situation and our belief that . . .  were a termination to occur now, the employment, political, financial and legal consequences would be severe and far more costly than finishing the job,” she wrote.

“That €4m of public monies spent and nothing to show for it but a hole in the ground . . . is an unacceptable prospect.”

Ms Doolan noted in her email that the Taoiseach had raised the question of Solas having signed a contract with the construction firm without departmental consent during his visit.

“That canard that we had proceeded without permission may have some shaky legal legs but is morally unsound,” she stated.

Relations with Minister Deenihan appear to have deteriorated in the following months, however, as Ms Doolan described in an email to Solas Project Manager Tracy Geraghty on August 17 how he “flew into a rage” and shouted at her during a telephone conversation.

“He flew into a rage and accused me of misrepresenting him and shouted at length about wanting the work to succeed, his being good enough to take phone calls, never again meeting without an official present etc – no word in edgeways from me was possible,” she wrote.

The same email reveals that the Department had expressed a desire to impose a new project manager representing the funders as early as 2012. This was resisted by Ms Doolan, but project management was ultimately taken over by Galway City Council last year.

She stated in her email that the imposition of a project manager “would be a sticking point for us” and claimed that Solas were “being treated as though we were major transgressors”.

The matter of signing the contract with JJ Rhatigan & Co without consent again arose, with Ms Doolan observing that “they criticised us for going to contract without their approval and yet thought nothing of spending our contracted monies without notifying us”.

The budget for the development of the Picture Palace was originally set at €6.2 million, which was sourced in full from the Department, Galway City Council, the Irish Film Board, the Western Development Commission and the Arts Council.

The original contract for the building project was awarded to Cordil Construction in 2009. However, the company went into receivership in May 2011 and work on the cinema ceased.

Ms Doolan noted in correspondence with public representatives that, at this point, the site was “relatively untouched, the piling for the first stage of building scarcely begun”.

A house neighbouring the construction site was accidentally damaged during this period and Solas agreed to knock and rebuild the residence at a cost of €500,000, which was included in the contract with JJ Rhatigan & Co.

Last August, it was announced that the Department would provide an additional €735,000 for the completion of the project, along with a further investment of €232,000 by Galway City Council.

The correspondence obtained by the Galway City Tribune reveals that the departmental funding was made conditional on Galway City Council assuming responsibility for project management.

Solas indicated that it would provide a comment in relation to the correspondence two weeks ago but had not done so at the time of publication.

CITY TRIBUNE

Changes to garda structure require ‘feet on the ground’

Francis Farragher

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STRUCTURAL changes in Garda management – which will see the current Western Region merged with the Northern area – need to be backed up with ‘feet on the ground’, according to the Chairperson of the city’s Joint Policing Committee.

Cllr Niall McNelis said he also had concerns over the impact that a reduction in Garda Superintendents and Chief Superintendents could have on the management of the force across the Galway region.

“I know that the stated intention of the Commissioner [Drew Harris] is to increase the frontline presence of Gardaí but this cannot be achieved without more feet on the ground.

“There also has to be concerns over an apparent lack of consultation on the changes with Garda Superintendents who really play a key role in managing the Garda resources at local level,” said Cllr McNelis.

He added that in the aftermath of the financial crash in Ireland, Garda resources – both in terms of personnel and equipment – had taken a huge hit, with this ‘lost ground’ still not being made up.

“The bottom line in all of this is: will we see more Gardaí on the beat; more Gardaí operating at local level and in touch with local people; and also a management structure that’s in touch with local communities?” Cllr McNelis asked.

One of the major changes announced by Commissioner Drew Harris is a reduction in the number of national Garda regions across the country from six to four, each one under the control of an Assistant Commissioner.  The Western Garda Region – that had consisted of Galway, Clare, Roscommon/Longford and Mayo – will now be merged into one region amalgamating with the North.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Traffic gridlock – specialist traffic control operator at City Hall among proposed solutions

Francis Farragher

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THE city came close to complete gridlock on last Tuesday with a combination of minor accidents, roadworks, visitor numbers, an influx of shoppers and bad weather, making it a nightmare afternoon and evening for motorists.

Eyre Square, College Road, Lough Atalia, the Moneenagheisha junction and the dual-carriageway leading up to the Briarhill traffic-lights, endured the most severe clog-ups, but commuters across the city reported long delays from lunchtime through to the later evening period.

Former Mayor of Galway and taxi-operator, Cllr Frank Fahy, told the Galway City Tribune that by early afternoon he had to abandon his efforts to continue working.

“I know that there was a huge volume of traffic in the city due to back-to-school shoppers and there were also reports of a number of minor accidents, but I still think that we can do better in terms of managing the flow of vehicles.

“The roadworks in Bohermore were no help and there were reports of a number of minor accidents but we also have real problems with parking and signage issues in the city.

“And most of all, we need a hands-on specialist traffic control operator – experienced and skilled in traffic management – in the control room at City Hall, to monitor flows at all our key junctions,” said Cllr Fahy.

Public transport also got completely bogged down in the Tuesday evening snarl-up with bus commuters from the city to Oranmore reporting a journey time of close on one hour and 20 minutes.

Buses took up to 20 minutes to make it from their stops in Eyre Square to even get onto College Road which had almost ground to a complete standstill at around 5.30pm.

Another motorist told the Galway City Tribune that his journey time from Forster Street to the Briarhill junction was one hour and 50 minutes on Tuesday evening – 4.10pm to 6pm.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

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The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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CITY TRIBUNE

2020 still far short of private funding target

Dara Bradley

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Galway 2020, the company set-up to deliver the European Capital of Culture next year, remains well behind on its target of raising €6.75 million in private funding.

Making Waves, the bid book that won Galway the designation, committed Galway 2020 to raising income totalling €6.75 million from private sponsors and philanthropists.

The bid book specified that this was income to be spent on operating expenditure for the year-long programme of events.

With less than a month to go before the official programme is unveiled, Galway 2020 declined this week to confirm how much money it has raised through sponsorship.

Galway 2020 has consistently said that it intends to raise €6.75m in sponsorship; and this figure has been quoted in several briefing documents prepared for Culture Minister Josepha Madigan, which were released to the Galway City Tribune under Freedom of Information (FOI).

A briefing note for Minister Madigan dated April 10, 2019, under the heading, ‘philanthropy’, mentioned that some €133,477 had been received in total by Galway 2020 in sponsorship and in-kind support as of December 31, 2018.

In March 2019, a financial report by Galway 2020, confirmed that the company had raised less than €30,000 in private sponsorship income last year. This suggests that some €100,000 of the total raised last year, was in-kind.

When asked to clarify how much cash it has raised from sponsorship, minus in-kind support, Galway 2020 said its “fundraising target hasn’t changed”.

“The current value of the fundraising and partnerships pipeline is €4.5m – this includes a combination of commercial as well as trusts and foundations, comprising funds already committed, proposals submitted and further partnerships that are under consideration. These proposals and agreements are a combination of cash and in-kind support,” it said.

Galway 2020 declined to elaborate on how much of this €4.5 million “pipeline” was income and how much was in-kind support. It also did not say how much of that “pipeline” is already ‘banked’, and how much was not yet collected.

Included in that €4.5 million figure was a “significant corporate partnership with Medtronic”, which has become the health partner of Galway 2020 and sponsor of its Wave Maker volunteer programme, it said. However, Galway 2020 did not elaborate on the cash value – as opposed to any in-kind value – of that agreement, which was announced a fortnight ago.

“The nature of the breakdown of partnership agreements are commercially sensitive to each of our partners,” a spokesperson said.

The sole mention of the term “in-kind” in the bid book is on page 89, where it states: “The Promotion & Marketing budget described above will be supplemented by in-kind marketing benefit from our supporters, strategic partners & producers.”

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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