The National Gallery has defended a €40,000 top-up payment made to its director which is funded through its earnings from the royalties of George Bernard Shaw.
The playwright bequeathed one third of his royalties to the gallery in the 1950s, which became a significant source of funding, particularly from the play Pygmalion which was turned into the cinema production My Fair Lady.
This money is being used to fund the €40,000 top-up to Sean Rainbird — who was appointed in Nov 2009 — on top of his €99,236 salary.
The top-up was grossed to €87,000 by the gallery, in order to ensure tax laws were complied with, while allowing Mr Rainbird to continue to accept €40,000.
It follows the controversy over top-up payments made to bosses of state-funded voluntary hospitals, using private sources of income.
The exchequer provided €1m to the running of the National Gallery last year, and the remainder of its money comes from private sources, including gifts from donors and royalties.
Its website says it will continue to benefit from the Bernard Shaw royalties until 2020. It says that My Fair Lady has “translated into substantial sums of money that would place the gallery in an entirely new league in terms of its purchasing power for works of art”.
The chairwoman of the National Gallery board, Dr Olive Braiden, defended the payment to Mr Rainbird, saying it was used to fund his trips back home to London to visit his family.
“We are very fortunate to have someone who is able to go over and back to visit his family, and at the same time carry out a very important job for the people of Ireland,” she said.
The payment is made up for each year for “ease of administration” that would be involved in booking him a flight each time he wanted to travel home, she said.
It is calculated based on 40 trips to London a year, at €200 each time, but he does not have to return any money not used for this purpose, Dr Braiden told the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee.
She said it is not a top-up or extra payment but rather “funds for visiting his family” and “the simplest way to ensure that a candidate from abroad would not be any worse off than a candidate that got the job in Ireland”.
Independent TD Shane Ross said: “I’m sure Bernard Shaw wouldn’t like to think he is paying for air flights from Britain to Ireland.”
Dr Braiden replied: “I think Bernard Shaw would be very happy to pay for the director of the gallery, who is an exceptional person, to return to visit his family.”
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