Government must be hands-on over Abbey - O'Donoghue

 

The Government must take a more hands-on approach to address the financial crisis threatening the future of the Abbey Theatre, it was claimed today.

With losses reaching €1.85 million for 2004, the Minister for the Arts John O'Donoghue claimed direct funding could safeguard its survival.

"There is no question that the Government is going to have to take more direct control in relation to monitoring finances at the Abbey," he said.

The annual returns came as a massive shock to the century-old theatre after an account review showed last year's losses stood at €1.85 million. The theatre had forecast debts for 2004 - its centenary year - at €900,000 euro.

Mr O'Donoghue described the current corporate management structure as arcane and Victorian and said legislation would be brought forward to change it.

"We need to bring business acumen and skills on to the board of the Abbey and in doing that we need to change the relationship which exists between Government and the Abbey board itself. If this means direct funding then this is what will happen," he said.

"It is important that we recognise that a resource such as this be adequately funded."

Mr O'Donoghue hinted at a much more reduced role for the Arts Council in funding the Abbey but warned careful consideration would be given to how money was allocated.

"My own personal view is that it would be preferable if the Department of Finance and the Minister for Finance of the day gave the Department of Arts a specific grant to enable it to allow the national theatre to get on with its extremely important work," he told RTE Radio.

"The facts of the matter are that it really is important from my department's perspective, and from the Government's perspective through my department, that we have a hands-on approach in relation to the Abbey."

It emerged at a board meeting of the theatre earlier this week that its financial report system was under-recording the deficit for 2004. News that the debt stood at around €1.85m led to the managing director Brian Jackson tendering his resignation and artistic director Ben Barnes stepping aside from his post with just seven months left on his contract.

But while the Minister said he did not want to apportion blame for the losses at the Abbey he said changes in management would mean the majority of the current board members would have no place on the new board. Mr O'Donoghue also confirmed a site in the city's docklands area was being assessed for a new home for the national theatre.

PA