Oireachtas committee to hold hearing on Mary Robinson Centre

Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín says cost of €8.6m project a ‘serious concern’ to politicians

Oireachtas members have agreed unanimously to hold a hearing on the prosed €8.6 million Mary Robinson Centre which is to house Ireland’s first presidential library.   Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times.

Oireachtas members have agreed unanimously to hold a hearing on the prosed €8.6 million Mary Robinson Centre which is to house Ireland’s first presidential library. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times.

 

Oireachtas members have agreed unanimously to hold a hearing on the prosed €8.6 million Mary Robinson Centre which is to house Ireland’s first presidential library.

Members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Arts and Heritage have written to the Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys, Mayo County Council and NUI Galway requesting their attendance.

Committee chairman Peadar Tóibín said its members were concerned about the potential cost of the project and seeking transparency on the matter.

They are also seeking to avoid a repeat of the Galway art house cinema project which involved significant cost overruns and has still not opened seven years after it was first proposed.

The Mary Robinson Centre has been pledged €2 million from the Department of Arts and Heritage and €1.5 million from Mayo County Council. A further €2 million is potentially available through tax breaks for the donation of Mrs Robinson’s archive, which has been valued at €2.5 million.

It is proposed that centre would hold her archive and be located in her old family home at Victoria House in Ballina. However, the sale of the property, which is owned by Mrs Robinson’s brother Adrian Bourke, has not yet been finalised.

Take stock

Mr Tóibín said it was time to take stock of the project before it goes any further. “The great cost to the State of the proposed project and the method in which decisions have been made are of serious concern to our committee,” he said.

“It is unclear who first approved of the decision to initiate the project and by which process were decisions over funding allocation made. It is unclear what role the Taoiseach had in that decision-making proposal.”

In a statement, the Mary Robinson Centre said the hearings will “provide a good opportunity to set out to the committee the work that the Centre has been doing as well as the plans for the future.”

There has been strong defence of the project in Ballina. Terry Reilly, a former Western People editor and a member of the fundraising committee for the centre, said it was a pity the project was being used as a “political/academic punchbag”. He criticised suggestions that it was a “vanity project”.

“Sure Dublin would love to have it…and would find the money from State coffers to house, archive and staff it. The west has been denuded of opportunity over the years,” he told the Mayo News.

“We have to trek to Dublin for everything and pay top whack when we get there. Ballina is not in outer Mongolia. Ballina is the same distance to Dublin as Dublin is to Ballina.”

Mr Tóibín said he was fully behind the proposal to locate the project in Ballina, but it did not preclude politicians from asking questions about the State money which will be committed to the project.