Abbey Theatre tenders for review of its governance and policies as condition of its funding

State subsidy of €7.5m remains at the same level as last year and has several conditions attached

The Abbey Theatre has tendered for a consultancy firm to conduct an independent review of its governance and policies.

The review is understood to be part of the conditions attached to the national theatre’s Arts Council funding for this year, but an Abbey spokeswoman said “details of any reviews conducted remain confidential due to commercial sensitivity”.

The spokeswoman added that any “relevant recommendations and learnings relating to a review process are always welcomed by the board and executive of the Abbey Theatre”.

The State subsidy of €7.5 million for the national theatre this year, at the same level as 2021, was announced by the Arts Council in June 2022, several months later than is usual for such funding decisions, and with several conditions attached.

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These conditions followed a review of key financial controls and governance arrangements at the Abbey. Commissioned by the Arts Council and conducted by independent auditor Mazars, the report was on foot of ongoing concern about governance at the national theatre. It came after the council’s discovery of a number of settlements by the national theatre to its former joint directors, Graham McLaren and Neil Murray.

The funding conditions seek “to safeguard the expenditure of public monies now and into the future”, the council said, including reviews of policy and procedures in procurement, HR and Behaving with Integrity, leading people, working effectively and being accountable and transparent. Other conditions included monitoring and reporting on board appointments and related processes, information on co-productions and the cost base for the Peacock Theatre, and a “culture audit” of the organisation.

The theatre’s board membership has, at times over recent years, been seriously depleted, with several appointments overdue. In September 2021 the board acknowledged to the council, in a letter obtained by The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act, that a board reappointment the previous year “amounts to an inadvertent corporate governance lapse, notwithstanding that the board considers that the draft M&AA” – memorandum and articles of association – “is a further improvement in governance standards”. The board also notified the Minister and the Charities Regulator of the lapse.

Minister for Culture Catherine Martin last month reappointed the Abbey’s chairwoman, former Economic and Social Research Institute director Dr Frances Ruane, for two further years after her term ended.

The Abbey, now led by artistic director Caitríona McLaughlin and executive director Mark O’Brien, signalled a commitment to working with the Arts Council to ensure the conditions are satisfied.

Mazars delivered its report in late March; the Arts Council has declined to publish it or make its findings known.

Those interested in tendering for the governance review are invited to submit a bid by October 10th, to be completed in January 2023. In its statement on Wednesday, the Abbey said “as an organisation that receives significant public funding, the Abbey Theatre strives to continuously improve its governance structure and related policies and procedures”.

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey is a features and arts writer at The Irish Times