Byrne wants to save Irish cultural centre in London


ACTOR GABRIEL Byrne has expressed support for a campaign in London to save the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith, which is threatened by the plans of the local council to sell off its building.

Faced with a £130 million (€150 million) debt, the Conservative-controlled Hammersmith and Fulham council wants to sell the building once the centre’s lease expires in March 2012.

Representatives from the centre will make a presentation to councillors on Wednesday night, urging them to extend an existing lease, or to offer time for the centre to raise the funds to buy the building.

Supporting the case, the New York-based Byrne, who is Ireland’s Ambassador for Culture, said: “[Its] closing would be a devastation for Irish culture in Britain. We must by all means prevent this, not only for this generation alone but for those who follow.”

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who visited the centre during his time in office, said it had “done outstanding work” and he strongly supported the calls for it to be given “time and space” to raise the money.

More than 6,000 people have signed a petition over recent weeks to support the campaign.

Jim O’Hara, the centre’s chairman, will make a five-minute presentation to councillors on Wednesday, which is expected to be attended by scores of supporters.

Hammersmith and Fulham had been in talks with the centre, which has operated from Black’s Road since 1995, about extending its lease and had sent lease documents offering a tenancy until 2017.

“The board signed the lease and returned it to the council in January 2010 and nothing more was heard until the leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council, Stephen Greenhalgh, informed the Irish Ambassador to Britain, Bobby McDonagh, and Mr O’Hara in June 2010 that the council would not be proceeding with the lease after all due to financial issues,” said the centre. In a letter supporting the petition, Mr O’Hara said the centre had built up an international reputation as a place of excellence for arts and education, along with providing other services to the Irish community in London.

“The council has stated that it wishes to put people and services before buildings. The loss of this building would destroy all the many services, educational, welfare and cultural, which are provided in the centre. It would deliver a major blow to a great number of people who live and work in the borough both within the Irish and the wider communities,” said Mr O’Hara.

The centre’s storyteller-in-residence, Kate Corkery, said: “The Irish Cultural Centre has been home to the ancient tradition of storytelling for the last 11 years, and its award-winning club has hosted some of the finest storytellers from around the world. It would be an international tragedy if this well-established cultural centre were to be closed.

“The sincere and heartfelt effort put in by so many wonderful people from the Irish and wider communities has been truly overwhelming and has further reinforced our motivation to do all we can to preserve this significant and unique centre, which really does make a difference in people’s lives.”