A Government department has been accused of “the most appalling waste of public funds” after it was criticised for ploughing more than €8m into an arts cinema paying rent of just €1 a year for the next 25 years.
Members of the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) made the claim against the Department of Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht during a detailed discussion over Galway arts cinema, the Pálás.
Speaking during the latest meeting of the PAC, the department secretary general, Katherine Licken, said the arts cinema has been vital to widening the type of films shown in Galway and giving creative space for those in the sector.
However, she was quickly criticised by PAC members over the amount of public money spent on the project in recent years.
Under questioning from unaligned Independent TD Catherine Connolly about the project, Ms Licken said the cinema has received €8.4m in taxpayers’ money in recent years but remains a for-profit organisation.
Asked how much the owners of the project pay in rent to the department, she said due to the creative focus of the cinema the current price is just €1 a year for the next 25 years.
The revelation was heavily criticised by Fianna Fáil TD, Marc MacSharry, who said the lack of a clear and immediate financial return for the public is “the most appalling waste of public funds” he has seen since joining the PAC.
Mr MacSharry also questioned how the cinema can be classed as an arts project when it also shows blockbusters, has a bar and a restaurant and is owned by a private firm.
Further concerns were raised by Sinn Féin TD, Jonathan O’Brien, who said while the cinema is of value there are questions about the amount of public money it receives.
The PAC meeting also heard confirmation from Ms Licken that a number of expensive museum paintings reported stolen in 2012 have yet to be recovered.
Ms Licken said the gardaí opened an investigation into the case at the time, and that while a number of the paintings have been found others remain missing.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved