Arts Council chair rejects ‘inference’ of conflict over Michael Colgan

McBride tells committee association with ex-Gate director ‘no different’ from others in arts world

Orlaith McBride, the director of the Arts Council,  has told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht that she rejects an inference of conflict of interest . File photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times.

Orlaith McBride, the director of the Arts Council, has told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht that she rejects an inference of conflict of interest . File photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times.

 

The director of the Arts Council has told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht that she rejects an inference of conflict of interest .

In a statement to the committee, the council’s director Orlaith McBride said a number of questions had been put to her personally by Sinn Féin Senator Fintan Warfield during a discussion on sexual harassment arising from recent controversy over allegations against former Gate theatre director Michael Colgan.

During the discussion on November 23rd, Mr Warfield said to Ms McBride that it had “been reported” that during her time on the board of the Arts Council she had “a friendship with Michael Colgan”.

Ms McBride was on the board of the council from 2003 to 2011, when she became its director. As director, she does not currently sit on the board.

He asked whether this represented a conflict of interest, and whether she would have removed herself from board conversations as a result.

Different line

At the time, committee chairman Peadar Tóibín (Sinn Féin) had directed Senator Warfield to pursue a different line of questioning. However, following the meeting, Arts Council legal representatives protested to the Clerk of Dáil Éireann. As a result, the committee agreed to give Ms McBride the opportunity to read her response into the record.

In her statement, Ms McBride said that at the start of the previous meeting, Mr Tóibín as chair had reminded all present to respect parliamentary practice and not to criticise or make charges against any person by name. However, she said, Mr Warfield had put a number of questions personally to her.

“These questions raised the issue of a friendship with a named third party which the Senator indicated might give rise to a conflict of interest,” she said. “The fact that the issues were raised by Senator Warfield means the inference remains on the record.”

Ms McBride said the issue of integrity and conflicts of interest was significant, because the council is in receipt of State funding, and that it had both a statutory and non-statutory framework in place to deal with any conflicts that might arise.

“At all times, whether as a council member or as director of the Arts Council, I adhered fully to these provisions and my statutory obligations,” she said. “The association between me and the third party named by him was no different to the association I had with other members of the arts community in Ireland and did not give rise to any conflict of interest.”