Theatre gets another €250k public bailout

A THEATRE which got a €1 million loan from the taxpayer this summer was thrown another €250,000 lifeline last night.

Despite concerns from some Cork city councillors about the amount of public money which has been poured into Cork Opera House, the council agreed to extend to €1.25m the €1m interest-free loan it sanctioned for the venue in June.

It is the latest form of financial support provided by the city, including:

* The writing off of an €800,000 loan, which was converted to grant aid.

* The guaranteeing of a €1.5m bank loan.

The loan extension comes just days after the theatre’s board announced a €286,346 loss for the financial year ended last March.

It will help theatre bosses meet “exceptional one-off costs” associated with its financial restructuring agreed as part of a strategic review which was conducted during its enforced summer closure.

City manager Tim Lucey said he is satisfied that the increase is justified given the progress the board has made on the strategic review.

And he said it will help secure the theatre’s future, the jobs, and the council’s own investment in the venue.

However, Cllr Kenneth O’Flynn (FF) said he could not agree to hand over more public money without seeing the theatre’s new business plan.

“If somebody walked in to a bank and said: ‘I need an additional €250,000’, the manager would ask for a business plan,” he said.

“We have to know what’s going on in there in the Opera House. And to date, we don’t know what’s going on.”

Cllr Emmet O’Halloran (FG) called for guarantees that this would be the last time the theatre comes to the city looking for public money.

But Cllr Jim Corr (FG), one of five councillors on the board, said the loan extension will help kickstart the business plan.

“Due to the lack of public subvention, the Opera House has lurched from one financial crisis to another,” he said.

“It would have been closed long ago were it not for the intervention of Cork City Council.”

Fellow board members, Sean Martin (FF) and Denis O’Flynn (Lab), said the board is working hard to secure the future of the venue, which delivers huge economic benefits to the city.

Following assurances from Mr Lucey, councillors agreed to extend the loan.

Meanwhile, Cork county manager Martin Riordan has said he is prepared in principle to offer the Opera House a cash injection.

Ten years ago the county council gave the theatre a one-off €500,000 grant to help it with refurbishment.

Mr Riordan told councillors yesterday that once he receives its new business plan, he will ask the council’s head of finance to examine it.

He will inform councillors next month of what amount of money, if any, he is prepared to provide.

Cork City Council is the theatre’s largest shareholder with a 39% stake.

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