£500,000 for Irish Cultural Centre in London


THE GOVERNMENT looks set to give nearly £500,000 to the Irish Cultural Centre in London to help buy its Hammersmith home. The building is being sold by the cash-strapped Conservative-controlled local council.

Under the deal, which is expected to be signed next week by Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore, the centre will be guaranteed State contribution provided that it raises the remaining £1.5 million needed before next March.

Talks have been under way for months between the Department of Foreign Affairs and the centre’s chairman, Jim O’Hara, who received strong support from Michael D Higgins before he won the presidential election.

Mr O’Hara is believed to have agreed a deal with the Shepherds Bush Housing Association under which the centre will be knocked down and rebuilt to include low-cost accommodation for nurses, police officers and other key workers (public sector employees who are deemed to provide an essential service).

The sale of the building, which has been the centre’s home since 1995, is part of Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s plan to reap £14 million by selling eight buildings in the borough, including Fulham Town Hall, to cut its £133 million debt, which is costing £5 million a year in interest.

Campaigners, including Mr O’Hara, had pleaded with the council not to sell the building and to renew its lease, which falls due in March 2012, for a further five years; or to give it a two-year extension to give it more time to raise funds.

Last night both the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Irish Cultural Centre – which has been warmly supported by leading Irish actors, including Gabriel Byrne – declined to comment on the negotiations.

Hammersmith and Fulham Council had agreed in January 2009 to give the centre a five-year lease extension, until 2017, even going so far as to send contract documents to the centre.

However, it then changed its mind and declared its intention to sell.

The centre, which was visited on a number of occasions by presidents Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese during their terms of office, has a high reputation, particularly in the teaching of Irish music and dance to adults and children.

In July the Hammersmith centre received funding of €205,650 under the Department of Foreign Affairs’ DION programme to help with its running costs.