National Gallery defends awarding contract to direct provision caterer

Artists had criticised decision which they said ‘undermines’ institution’s good work.

The National Gallery of Ireland has defended its decision to award a catering contract to a company which provides services to direct provision centres, following criticism from some artists.

The gallery recently selected Aramark, who earn several million euro a year from contracts to cater in direct provision accommodation centres for asylum seekers, to run a cafe in the gallery.

In a recent open letter, four artists criticised the decision due to the company’s links with the direct provision system, which they called “the greatest failing of our Government today”.

The letter, signed by artists Emma Roche, Brian Teeling, Salvatore of Lucan and Jonathan Mayhew, said the gallery’s relationship with Aramark “undermines” the art institution’s good work.

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Aramark, a large US multi-national company, provides catering services to three direct provision centres, located in Athlone, Clare and Cork. The company also owns the retail and food business Avoca, which it bought in 2015.

In a statement on Monday, the National Gallery said it had awarded the catering contract to Aramark following a tender process, where companies submit bids for publicly funded contracts.

“As a public sector organisation, the Gallery is bound by Irish and EU procurement law as to how external suppliers tender for, and are awarded, contracts,” the statement said.

“Aramark was awarded the contract following the tender process, as it scored highest on the prescribed assessment criteria. The Gallery is satisfied that the evaluation process was run correctly, and the contract awarded in line with procurement rules,” it said.

The gallery said it provided programming for “many different audiences”, and ran a number of initiatives to reinforce its “inclusive approach”.

A spokesman for Aramark said the company operated to the “highest international standards,” adding policy around direct provision “is a matter for Government”.

“Aramark’s role is to support residents living in the three centres where we operate, and work diligently to uphold our commitment to treat all clients equally,” he said.

“Aramark is proud of our work and in particular our people on the frontlines of these services, providing the highest level of service to those living in the accommodation centres we operate, as well as to the State,” he said.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times