Listowel Writers’ Week subject of growing row over proposal to disband volunteer committee

Committee to be replaced by professional curator following report members have yet to see

Martina Evans, winner of 2022 Pigott Poetry Prize at Listowel Writers' Week

Listowel’s Writers’ Week is the subject of a growing row after the voluntary committee underpinning Ireland’s longest-running literary festival were dismissed by their board on foot of a consultant’s report to replace them with a professional curator.

The committee, which has planned the literary input to the festival over its five decades, are to be replaced by a professional curator.

The row has reached the senate and this weekend it has emerged the festival president and writer Colm Tóibín has stepped aside in support of the community literary input.

The restructuring is on foot of an independent consultant’s report – but which the 30 or so long-serving volunteers have yet to see.


Selections of the report describing “the culture” of the festival as “toxic” have however been leaked to local media and have caused great offence.

The report by Dermot McLaughlin was funded, but not directly commissioned by the Arts Council to comply with governance issues in funding applications to the council and its recommendations were unanimously accepted by the board, the board’s chairwoman, Catherine Moylan has said.

Writers’ Week is facing growing competition and is now one of fifty such festivals, she said. It was committed to greater diversity and inclusivity and to having more people than before being involved, as volunteers, although in altered roles. She appreciated that change “would be difficult for some to accept”, Ms Moylan also said.

But the decision to disband the existing committee of volunteers has led to deep division and anger.

The committee has said they were taken by surprise by the decision to disband them and “the publication of the private and confidential report has been highly offensive to every single member”.

Colm Tóibín president of Writers’ Week and who has a long involvement with Listowel says he has stepped down because of the decision to disband the volunteers and says he has relayed this decision to Ms Moylan.

He said the festival depended on a widely read literary community in Listowel.

Speaking from Germany, Mr Tóibin said: “Listowel Writers’ Week depended on a literary community in Listowel who read deeply and widely. This meant that the Festival had genuine roots in the town. I see this as best practice, as a model for any other literary festival.”

Meanwhile, board member Jimmy Deenihan former Fine Gael TD and arts minister, and member of the board said the impasse has to be resolved as the festival is too important. Matters are now at a sensitive stage, he said.

Copies of the report will be sent out on Monday to key members of the committee, Mr Deenihan said.

“This has to be resolved. The festival is too important,” Mr Deenihan said.

The appointment of the curator is also under way with interviews having already taken place.

The governance issues which threaten the 52-year-old festival are affecting other arts festivals, the senate has been told.

Issues of control were stifling creative spirit which comes from the local community, Fianna Fáil senator Ned O’Sullivan, Listowel native has said.

“Issues of governance and control that have begun to limit the creative freedom and the level of community involvement in some of these events,” Mr O’Sullivan said in the senate.

While the changes had been necessary in recent years, there was increasing evidence that “overemphasis on governance issues is leading to a paralysis in creative thinking on many boards, particularly those in which the arts are concerned ...”

The senator has also said there is anger and bewilderment in the community in Listowel.