Calls for Government to provide funding to finish arthouse cinema project

Lelia Doolan, chairwoman of the Irish Film Board, adjusts a hard hat on Michael D Higgins prior to the turning the sod of the Picture Palace,

Lelia Doolan, chairwoman of the Irish Film Board, adjusts a hard hat on Michael D Higgins prior to the turning the sod of the Picture Palace,

Galway city councillors have called on the Government to release funding which will allow Galway’s arthouse cinema to finally open its doors.

At this week’s local authority meeting Lelia Doolin of Picture Palace TEO gave a presentation to councillors following calls at last month’s meeting to explain why the project is currently at a standstill. The development of a cinema which will show independent and world films has has been in the pipeline since 2004. However, it has been marred by a number of unfortunate setbacks including the original building contractor going into liquidation in 2011. Work on the site recommenced in 2012 and Phase I of the development was completed. Phase II of the work received Government approval in January of this year but the total amount of money to back this part of the project has not been secured.

Ms Doolan explained that the building on Merchants Road is now 80 per cent complete. All exterior work has been finished and €2.6 million is needed to finish work on the site; €1.5 million of which is currently available to Picture Palace. The shortfall is required from the Government to get this project over the line. Ms Doolan outlined how it was hoped that the cinema would open 30 weeks after work on the site commences, and there would be a further six weeks needed for installation of seats, screens and projectors and testing of these items. She explained that the current contractors had been very professional to deal with, but they could not be expected to begin work unless they knew all the money needed was available. It was outlined that Picture Palace board members have been invited to meet with representatives from the Department of Arts in Galway, next Wednesday.

Councillors were asked to lobby the Government to secure adequate funding. ‘’I would like to thank you for your ongoing support. Galway City Council has been the key collaborator in this project from the very beginning, giving us the site and contributing a substantial amount of money. I’m looking for your backing, and your political nous to bring this to the attention of Government on a local and national level to get this project over the line and enable us to open within the year.’’

A number of councillors spoke after the presentation and were fully supportive of the project but expressed concern about when exactly the facility will open to the public. Councillor Neil McNeilus conratulated Ms Doolin and the voluntary board for their ongoing hard work in keeping this project alive. ’’I think you are brilliant, innovative and inspiring. You have never given up on this. I don’t think the Department of Arts realises how important this sector is to our economy. I’m appealing for the Galway business community to support you. It’s always the same few businesses in this city that get behind the arts sector. I’m also appealing to all councillors here that we canvass Arts Minister Heather Humphries to get this funding. One million euro is not a massive amount.’’ Councillors were in unanimous agreement that they needed to put pressure on the Government to provide the necessary funding. A motion was proposed by Councillor McNeilus which received widespread support.

City CEO Brendan McGrath had the final word and spoke passionately about the issue. ‘’It’s a key part of the Capital of Culture bid and our recent City of Film designation. We have a robust artistic and cultural offering in this city and we want to add to that. This project has huge advantages and potential for Galway. I fully understand the frustration of councillors and the board, it was through no fault of theirs that the original contractor went out of business. It beholds us all to do whatever we can to get this project over the line. If everybody in this town pulls together, we can do it. Who wins? Galway wins. It will be a great news story for Galway if in 12 month’s time the doors are open. It will add a whole new dimension to the cultural value of our town.’’

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