‘Cruel’ to publish negative reports, Abbey director says

Independent assessors critical of Dublin venue’s productions

Director of the Abbey Theatre Fiach Mac Conghail has accused The Irish Times of "cruelty" in publishing independent reports critical of the theatre's productions.

The assessments commissioned jointly by the Arts Council and the Abbey suggested the Dublin venue was struggling to meet its aim of being a world- class theatre.

Freedom of Information
The panel of assessors gave just four of 12 recent productions ratings that were either "very good" or "excellent", or very close to it. Four productions ranked as "good" and four were judged to be somewhere between "acceptable" and "good". The reports were obtained by The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1's arts show Arena last night, Mr Mac Conghail said the publication of the reports was hurtful and cruel and he was deeply upset by it. "I am deeply, deeply dismayed by this because it was a cruel action by the paper and it was insensitive of the Arts Council to release this without duty of care to the artists in question."


Mr Mac Conghail told presenter Evelyn O’Rourke he had “pleaded” with the Arts Council not to release the reports and said he had not been aware they would be subject to the FOI Act, nor, he said, had the assessors who made the comments.

He said the documents had been released before the process was completed as he had not sat down with the panel to discuss and respond to their views.“It’s like delivering a half diagnosis,” he said. He said he “fundamentally disagreed” with all their assessments of the productions.

He said he had explained to Fintan O'Toole of The Irish Times, who wrote the article, that the process was only half way through because the theatre had not given a response to the assessments. "But that wasn't heeded," he said. "The Irish Times published knowing full well that the process wasn't completed, and they should have made that comment."

Speaking later in the programme, O'Toole said he had asked Mr Mac Conghail to comment on the assessors' reports, but he had declined. The Irish Times had also offered to publish a piece written by Mr Mac Conghail, an offer which still stood, O'Toole said, but this was also declined.

'Taken aback'
O'Toole said he was "taken aback" that Mr Mac Conghail thought the reports would not be covered by the FOI Act as both the Arts Council and theatre itself are .

It was "completely unclear" when the assessment process was to be deemed concluded, he said. Part of the reason for that was that the theatre had failed to meet the assessors. The Irish Times had a "duty" to publish the material, he said, and in publishing the reports it was relaying the results of a publicly funded process.

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly is Dublin Editor of The Irish Times