Galway 2020 project in turmoil as chief executive departs

Departure of Hannah Kiely comes just months after project lost creative director

Galway's European Capital of Culture 2020 project is in further turmoil over the loss of its chief executive, Hannah Kiely.

The development comes just over three months after the project lost its creative director, Chris Baldwin.

Galway 2020 chairwoman Aideen McGinley announced on Monday that Ms Kiely was stepping down, and two new appointments have been made.

Galway city council senior executive Mark O'Donnell has been appointed chief operations officer, and event manager Pearse Doherty, a former member of the Saw Doctors, had been appointed head of production.


Mr Baldwin's departure in late May of this year, and controversy over the handling of a business engagement director post, prompted a number of city councillors, led by former Fine Gael mayor Padraig Conneely, to express concern about the €46 million project which is already running into funding shortfalls.

British arts consultant Steve Green, who was chair of the panel which selected Galway as European Capital of Culture for 2020 two years ago, said last month an EU monitoring report had raised "very serious concerns" about the city's progress.

The report warned Galway was in “danger of losing track with the project and incurring further delays”, and identified the need to appoint a new cultural leader in the wake of Mr Baldwin’s resignation less than a year into his contract.

The EU panel’s report made 15 recommendations, including defining and integrating a new cultural leadership plan “as soon as possible”, and clarifying the “roles, hierarchies and relationships” of the team.

It sought a further update in November .

Cllr Conneely raised the issue at a Galway City Council meeting on Monday night and asked if Ms Kiely had resigned, and the reasons why. He also asked if there is a legally binding clause and if compensation was made to Ms Kiely.

He said he had been “castigated” in the chamber when he first raised the issue, and felt he had been “vindicated”.

He said while he supported Galway 2020, he did not support the governance and current management and commended the media for raising the issue, and criticised the Galway 2020 board for complaining to the Connacht Tribune about its coverage.

Cllr Pearce Flannery (FG), a former 2020 board member in his role as mayor, said Cllr Conneely's comments were "disgraceful" and accused him of "bullying", and said he was "not representing the interests of 2020...but trying to get headlines".

Galway city chief executive Brendan McGrath paid tribute to Ms Kiely and said he had no doubt Galway 2020 would be “superlative”.

Galway secured the 2020 European Capital of Culture designation in mid-2016, against competition from Limerick and the "three sisters" of Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny. The 2020 title is also held by Rijeka in Croatia.

Galway’s budget is almost €46 million, but the 2020 project has recently indicated this might be cut to €39 million.

Separately, Galway City Council agreed to seek €6 million in funding from Fáilte Ireland towards an €8.4 million project to expand Galway City Museum.

The museum on the banks of the Corrib is one of the top non-ticket paying visitor attractions outside of Dublin.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times