Abbey will not be relocated to GPO, says Deenihan
THE GOVERNMENT has ruled out relocating the Abbey Theatre in Dublin to the GPO and decided it cannot move from its Lower Abbey Street location in the course of the Coalition’s lifetime.
Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs Jimmy Deenihan said moving Ireland’s national theatre to O’Connell Street would cost about €293 million, and insisted the Abbey stay put.
“As far as this Government is concerned, there will be no further speculation about relocating the Abbey. It will remain at its present location during the term of this Government,” Mr Deenihan said.
The move puts the Government on a potential collision course with the Abbey’s director, Fiach Mac Conghail, who was appointed to the Seanad by Taoiseach Enda Kenny last month. He insisted yesterday the theatre needed new premises.
“We continue to work with Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs Jimmy Deenihan and the Government to find a solution to this problem, given the current Abbey Theatre building is not at all adequate, neither from a visitor’s nor an actor’s point of view,” Mr Mac Conghail said.
The previous Fianna Fáil-led government wanted to have the Abbey housed in the GPO in time for the centenary of the Easter Rising of April 1916, and commissioned an assessment of the O’Connell Street complex.
Mr Deenihan brought the resulting feasibility study to Cabinet in recent weeks and indicated the decision not to proceed with the plan was motivated primarily by cost.
“This decision was taken on the basis of the very significant potential costs involved, as well as on grounds of technical complexity, historical appropriateness, planning, conservation and heritage issues,” Mr Deenihan said.
“Other significant factors in the decision related to the tenure and relocation of existing tenants of the GPO complex, including An Post.”
An Post has its headquarters in the GPO, which was also the headquarters of those who took part in the Easter Rising.
The €293 million figure excludes An Post relocation costs which might have to be borne by the State, according to the report.
It also does not allow for any legal impediments that might arise, described in the report as “the great unknown”.
Of the €293 million, the report suggested €113 would cover buying out the 22 years remaining of An Post’s licence, while €6 million would compensate the commercial semi-State agency for the loss of rental from retail units.
The remaining €174 million would cover construction costs.
Mr Deenihan said he would “endeavour to ensure that the Abbey Theatre’s accommodation in its current location is maintained to a suitable standard”.
“The intervention made a number of years ago in the Abbey auditorium was an excellent one and ongoing investment there has addressed front-of-house, box-office, staging and mechanical issues,” he said.
The Abbey was founded in 1903 by WB Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory. The architect Michael Scott designed the current building.
Also of relevance is the fact that the GPO is a protected structure. The report noted that public opinion on relocating the Abbey to the GPO was divided, “to say the least, and judging by comments in newspaper letter columns also very emotive”.
PLOT TWISTS STORY BEHIND PLANS TO MOVE THE ABBEY
2001: Taoiseach Bertie Ahern rules out a move south of the Liffey – and out of his constituency – after the Abbey board says it favours a move to Grand Canal Dock.
2003: The government backs a €100 million redevelopment of the National Theatre “around the vicinity of the Abbey Street site”. It will occupy the first three floors of an 11-storey building.
2004: Plans to relocate to Coláiste Mhuire, Parnell Square, are dropped due to the cost of property.
2005: Then minister for arts John O’Donoghue announces plans to move the Abbey to George’s Dock.
2009: The OPW begins feasibility study into a move to the GPO on O’Connell Street.
2010: The Dáil hears that the plan has cost almost €400,000 so far and has involved five culture ministers.
June 2011: The Cabinet rules out a move during this Government’s term.