The owners of Ardmore Studios in Bray, Co Wicklow have moved to dampen speculation that the studios, which are up for sale, will end up in the hands of a property developer.
On Wednesday more than 400 people - many of whom earn their living through the studios – gathered in the town’s Royal Hotel to express concern for the future of film-making in Bray, which has attracted stars from Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton to Mel Gibson and Sean Penn.
Concern has also been sparked by confirmation from Ardmore that businessmen Ossie Kilkenny and Paul McGuinness, who are selling up, intend to remain in the business elsewhere. Mr Kilkenny is a director of Troy Studios in Limerick and Mr Mc Guinness was said to be making a series for Sky television. Chief executive of Ardmore Siún Ní Raghallaigh is also a director of Troy Studios.
Mr Kilkenny and Mr McGuinness own 68 per cent of Ardmore Studios. The State through Enterprise Ireland holds the other 32 per cent.
Locals and local public representatives said they are worried the sale of the studios could mean a loss of interest in film making at Ardmore, and the end of a significant employer and a glamorous association for the town stretching back to 1958.
Sorces close to Ardmore Studios said “Ardmore and Troy are not in conflict” with the Limerick facility going after “a type of production that Ireland hasn’t been able to attract previously” due to its large stages which have extensive height.
In a statement, Ardmore said it was operating at up to 90 per cent capacity and the possibility of synergies with larger studios positioned the country “on the international stage” for business from bigger productions.
The Irish Times reported last year that relations between Mr Kilkenny and Mr McGuinness were strained with the men “at odds”. A press release announcing the sale dated last October said both men would continue to explore other individual business interests.
Ardmore’s recent success has been largely credited to the arrival of Ms Ní Raghallaigh who oversaw a rationalisation and €2 million investment programme leading to order books which are up to 90 per cent full.
In 2014 Ms Ní Raghallaigh expressed concern that Ireland was losing out on interest from very big budget productions – fuelled by the State’s generous Section 481 tax allowances – because of a lack of studio space at the largest end of the scale.
The development of Troy Studios in Limerick and Ashford Studios in Co Wicklow and the Titanic Studios in Belfast, where Game of Thrones is shot, are in answer to that need.
However Ardmore insists that its business is not in direct competition with the bigger studios. Many television series are shot in Ardmore including the screening live of the opening episode of the recent RTÉ hit series Dancing With The Stars Ireland .
The owners said they “have continually stated that it is their ambition and objective to sell the studios as a going concern”.
Any change of use of any of the zonings to facilitate housing development would require “an application and subsequent approval by the council members of Wicklow County Council”, said the statement.
Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys said she cannot intervene in a commercial sale, but “ would certainly wish to see Ardmore continue to operate as a film studio”.
She said she has visited Ardmore and views it as very important film infrastructure, “especially considering the relatively limited amount of studio space in Ireland”.
Minister for Jobs Mary Mitchell O’Connor told the Dáil on Thursday she believed the zoning of the studios for film making would offer protection for the studios into the future.