A settlement in the power struggle for control of the Mullingar Arts Centre was put back again at an extraordinary general meeting in the county hall on Tuesday evening (November 8 ), after it was deemed the lack of legal clarity concerning the voting rights of members meant the meeting couldn’t proceed yet in dealing with the contentious changes proposed to the Centre’s constitution.
Chairman Bob Morrison couldn’t say exactly when the meeting would be re-scheduled as: “it depends on how quickly the written advice comes back”, but he seemed confident it would be before Christmas.
Simply, the controversy lies in the fears that some of the members, directors, and trustees of Mullingar Arts Centre have towards moves they see as being pushed by the county manager, Danny McLoughlin, to give the public a greater say in the running of the centre which, though a limited private company, is based in a publicly owned building, and receives €125,000 a year from Westmeath County Council and €50,000 from the Arts Council towards its annual running costs of €380,000.
Most of the amendments proposed relate to an update of rules and procedures governing the running of the 12-year-old Mullingar Arts Centre, and described by Bob Morrison as “just housekeeping”.
The most contentious amendment is the proposal to replace the Arts Council and Minister’s directorial nominees on the Mullingar Arts Centre’s board with the County Arts Officer, a nominee of the visual arts sector, and having the chairman nominated by Westmeath County Council.
“I wonder about the spurious pedigree of the document from which these changes arise,” mused VEC CEO and Board trustee, Gearóid O’Bradaigh.
“The general thrust of this proposal is to move the fulcrum of control away from members of the board and towards the County Manager, or County Arts Officer,” he added, before proposing the meeting be adjourned until the writtten clarifications could be sourced. He also demanded that somebody come to the next meeting with “the reason why we are making these changes”, while Angela Maher asked that the author of the amendments be present at the next meeting to explain why.
The proposed amendments have come in the wake of two confidential reports produced last year - one internal and one external - into the running of the Mullingar Arts Centre.
Despite reassurances from the centre’s secretary Sean Lynch on Tuesday that there was a proper register of both the Board of Directors and of the membership available to the meeting, the lack of written advice from both the centre’s auditor and lawyer on this issue meant that the members present deemed it imprudent to proceed without such advice on this hot potato for fear of a potential future loophole.
Former TD and Mullingar Arts Centre trustee Paul McGrath was first to ask: “Who are the decision makers in this process? This needs to be clarified immediately”, and was quickly supported by fellow founding trustees Paddy Whitelaw and Gearóid O’Bradaigh.