It had seemed that the Solas Art House Cinema was in trouble yet again this week after councillors expressed serious concern over a request by the Western Development Commission (WDC ) that Galway City Council funding of €200,000 be directed to it rather than the projects committee.
However following a lengthy debate at this month’s council meeting the recommendation by former acting city manager Joe O’Neill to agree to these terms was carried with 13 councillors voting in favour and two against.
At a council meeting held on May 13 last members voted to provide €200,000 in grant aid towards the cost of completing the arthouse cinema, to be paid in four annual installments of €50,000 each, subject to this being the final contribution of the council to the project, and the WDC providing a bridging loan of €200,000. However, councillors were told at last Monday’s meeting that the WDC is willing to provide this bridging finance of €200,000 to Solas Galway Picture Palace Teoranta subject to a number of terms and conditions, one of which is that the council will pay the four annual installments directly to WDC commencing on the first anniversary of drawdown (June 2014 ) and thereafter on the second, third, and fourth anniversary of such date.
Mr O’Neill said that he would be “willing to agree to the condition that the annual installment is paid directly to the WDC, but only with the consent of the elected council”. He further recommended that the council consents to the request.
However, Cllr Michael Crowe (FF ) noted: “We’re the only body funding this project that is not attaching conditions. There were a number of conditions to funding from others. I wanted a number of conditions for funding. Now Solas are back looking for us to pay the WDC directly.” Cllr Crowe then queried the current status of the €700,000 insurance bond. The councillors had been told at the May meeting that High Court proceedings have begun to recover the bond, which is linked to the original contractor, but that there was no guarantee it would succeed or how long it would take.
Cllr Donal Lyons (Ind ) also expressed concern regarding the bond. “If that doesn’t come through are they in a position to finish the project? I don’t want Solas to come back here, we already gave a substantial contribution in giving over the site,” he said.
“What is the status of the bond? Is it going to be paid? If there is an issue with that than this project is in great jeopardy and our €200,000 is gone. Is it too late to hold on and see what happens? Let’s reconsider the decision and attach conditions. I propose that we agree to the request subject to the bond,” said Cllr Crowe. A motion in relation to this was later voted on and defeated with two for, 11 against, and two abstentions.
Cllr Hildegarde Naughton (FG ) reminded the chamber that this project needs to go ahead and that Solas had already explained there are legal difficulties in relation to the bond. Cllr Niall McNelis (Lab ) also said the project needs to be “fully supported tonight”, that Galway needs it, and urged all businesses to lend their support. A number of councillors, including Cllr Catherine Connolly (Ind ) and Cllr Tom Costello (Lab ) suggested that Solas be invited back to the chamber to give an update on their situation.
Cllr Colette Connolly (Lab ) then proposed that the council grant the request to give the €200,000 directly to the WDC, on the proviso that an up-to-date written report, including details on the road closure and other outstanding works, is provided. It was also agreed that Solas be invited back to the chamber for the September meeting.