Councillor slams new board for excluding experts of the arts

An Athlone town councillor insists that she will fight to ensure non-council representatives are appointed to the board of the town’s new arts and tourism body.

Indepdent councillor Sheila Buckley Byrne was one of two councillors nominated at Monday’s touwn council meeting to the board of Athlone Arts and Tourism Ltd which will replace Athlone Arts and Heritage Ltd and Ecom Athlone Ltd from next month.

The other three board members will be officials at Athlone Town Council and despite the organisation’s remit there will be no practitioners or experts in arts, heritage and tourism.

Cllr Buckley Byrne’s attempts at Monday’s town council meeting to bring outside expertise to the board were resisted by her elected colleagues and the council executive, who repeated that the new board will carry the onerous legal responsibilities associated with corporate governance and company compliance.

Town clerk Pat Keating said there will be an advisory committee of practitioners, experts, and enthusiasts in the fields of arts, heritage, tourism, and culture.

He said this will relieve volunteers of legal responsibility, but Cllr Buckley Byrne expressed grave concern about the decision in the light of recent controversy about appointments as part of Limerick’s City of Culture programme.

She insisted that it is the wish of Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan, who commented on the Limerick debacle, that similar boards would have representatives of creative communities, not just officials and politicians.

Moving now to widen the board’s expertise would prevent conflict and it would be an example of best practice, she said at the meeting.

“To confine it is wrong,” she said, adding that the council’s reasons for having “no one with expertise in the area of culture” were wrong.

She said the previous board of Athlone Arts and Heritage Ltd was well balanced and while there had been spats, the board produced good plans without interfering with the running of either the Luan Gallery or Athlone Castle.

The board of Athlone Arts and Tourism Ltd as proposed is not transparent, she said, adding that it should be because it involves the management of public money.

It was confirmed at Tuesday’s budget that €310,000 has been set aside for the new company which is responsible for the day to day running of the gallery and castle.

Cllr Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran who was also appointed to the new board said he didn’t think anyone could complain about its set-up, and that they will manage far less money than Limerick’s €6m budget.

However, speaking after Tuesday’s budget meeting, Cllr Buckley Byrne said she will push to have the new Memorandum of Articles amended to co-opt people with expertise and that amalgamating the companies is a good idea, but it’s not a good idea to exclude the voluntary, community, and artistic sector.

“I was disappointed that the council are pursuing that route,” she said.

“When you bring together people who have different backgrounds, different cards that they bring to the table it allows for a good mix,” she said.


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