Minister refuses to comment on IMMA argument


The Minister for the Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Ms de Valera, has refused to comment on allegations of attempted political interference in the appointment of a new director of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA).

Fine Gael yesterday demanded a statement from Ms de Valera on "whether she deliberately misled the Dβil on December 12th when she denied any involvement in the IMMA/Brian Kennedy affair".

The party's call followed a report in yesterday's Irish Times that four approaches, including one from a very senior political figure, were made to the then chairman of IMMA, Ms Marie Donnelly. In these approaches Ms Donnelly was told that the appointment of Dr Brian Kennedy as director of the museum would be unacceptable to the Minister.

Ms Donnelly said she would tell the Minister who made these approaches, if she was asked. However, the Minister indicated yesterday that she would make no such request, with a spokeswoman saying: "The matter is closed as far as the Minister is concerned." The spokeswoman also reiterated Ms de Valera's Dβil statement that she had no legal function in the appointment, and had never expressed a view to anyone on a preferred candidate. Dr Kennedy, who is director of the National Gallery of Australia, was offered the post of director of IMMA on November 26th, but withdrew his application a few days later.

The offer of the post to Dr Kennedy prompted the resignation of two of the IMMA board on the basis that the board was not abiding by the recommendation of the interview panel. The then chairman of IMMA, Ms Marie Donnelly, maintained support for Dr Kennedy and told Ms de Valera in a letter that Dr Kennedy "was by unanimous agreement of the [interview] panel our candidate of choice".

However, this version has been strongly disputed by a member of the interview panel, Mr Peter Cassells, who said the panel had expressed serious reservations about aspects of Dr Kennedy's management style and artistic and exhibition policies.

"It was clearly agreed to recommend to the board that a wider search, using specialist recruitment consultants, should be undertaken and that Dr Kennedy could be further judged in that context," Mr Cassells said.

Fine Gael's arts and heritage spokesman, Mr Dinny McGinley, said the reports in yesterday's editions of The Irish Times "make it absolutely clear that Brian Kennedy was the victim of a political and personal campaign waged on the Minister's behalf. She must now explain her role in this scandalous interference with an independent board".

A two-year extension to Dr Kennedy's contract was announced yesterday by Australia's arts minister, Senator Richard Alston. He said Dr Kennedy had shown "great leadership and vision as director of the NGA, and the extension of his current contract will ensure continued commitment to excellence at the gallery in exhibitions and acquisitions".