Members of Mayo County Council have voted to purchase the childhood home of former president Mary Robinson in Ballina for use as Ireland's first presidential library.
Only two of the 30 councillors, Frank Durcan and Gerry Ginty (both Independents) voted against a proposal to purchase the riverside property when the issue came up for decision at the monthly meeting of the authority on Monday night.
It is understood the council agreed to pay about €510,000 for Victoria House, where Mrs Robinson grew up, and neighbouring offices, both of which were owned by her brother Adrian Bourke.
The council had negotiated down the outlay from an earlier asking price of over €650,000.
Peter Hynes, Mayo County Council chief executive, rejected claims that it represented "a vanity project", stating that the venture was "educational, an attempt to build on the legacy of someone who has made a global contribution on two areas of vital importance — climate change and women's' leadership".
Mr Hynes explained that digitising of the Robinson archive would be completed in partnership with NUI Galway.
The project — a €5.1 million venture in total — may be ready to go to tender by the end of this year or early next year, the council chief executive said.
The council has committed €1.5m to the project. A Government grant of €2m and some €1.5m from philanthropic sources are to make up the balance.
The €5.1 million covers the cost of the house and offices, their redevelopment and fit out, digitising the archive at NUIG and interpretation of an exhibition at the Ballina centre.
A detailed plan for the development of the centre is now to be drawn up.
Cllr Durcan said as far as the people of Mayo were concerned the project “is going to be a complete white elephant with 90 per cent of the Robinson archive material going to be located at NUIG”.
Cllr Ginty described the library as “a vanity project that does not have the support of anything like the majority of people in Ballina”.
Councillors argued that that the authority’s contribution should not exceed €1.5 million and that the purchase be funded centrally from capital accounts with no impact on the delivery of essential services in Ballina Municipal District.
Last April, Mrs Robinson said that criticism of her plans to house her presidential archive in the family home was a “bit painful”.
She said that such criticism came from “some” who did not realise how important it was for a town like Ballina to benefit from having a centre that could attract visitors and academics and could promote issues close to her heart such as human rights, women’s leadership and climate justice.
Late last year, the Victoria House Foundation confirmed that it was abandoning a plan to house Mrs Robinson’s archive in the proposed centre as part of a review of the project – then costed at between €6 million and €8 million.
Mrs Robinson said she would gift her archive to NUI Galway (NUIG) and would not avail of a tax credit of about €1.2 million for the donation.
Mrs Robinson explained that it became clear that there was a “difficulty” in the financial viability of building an annex alongside the family home to house the archive.
In the light of this, it seemed more appropriate and sensible to gift the entire archive to NUIG – benefiting “as much as possible” Ballina, Mayo and the west of Ireland generally.