Council plays down Gavin sky garden row

CORK City Council has played down reports of a row with celebrity gardener Diarmuid Gavin over the funding of a gold medal- winning garden, which will become the focal point of a new park in the city.

Yesterday Damien O’Mahony, head of the council’s tourism, events, arts and marketing team, said they had “pulled out all the stops” to ensure Mr Gavin was reimbursed expeditiously for any personal outlay on the project. Mr Gavin’s sky garden, inspired by the film Avatar, won gold at the recent Chelsea Flower Show and will, from next spring, form part of Cork city’s tourist attractions.

Fáilte Ireland put up the bones of €2 million towards the project, which Cork City Council drew down and administered. However, Mr Gavin expressed his frustration with delays in recouping funding from the council in a letter written earlier this year to former PD minister Liz O’Donnell, the contents of which were reported in a Sunday newspaper. Mr Gavin said the council was “extremely difficult to deal with” and he wrote of sitting around in council offices for an hour- and-a-half waiting to meet with officials.

His frustration was born largely of the fact he had gone ahead with the garden having been invited to do so by William Galinsky, former chief executive of the Cork Midsummer Festival, and later, with the blessing of Fáilte Ireland and Cork City Council. He had drawn on his own resources and was aggrieved at the perceived delay in reimbursement.

Mr O’Mahony said he did not blame Mr Gavin for being annoyed at “having to jump through various accounting hoops” to recoup the money, but that the council was legally bound to follow certain procedures when dealing with taxpayers’ money.

“I can understand him [Gavin] being critical but I think it was the system rather than the council. The council is paymaster, but when you go to Fáilte Ireland for a grant, you must deliver a contract which shows that this person is going to deliver the project and the invoices must be vouched for. Even if you’re buying pencils, you’re not going to pay out until the pencils are delivered.”

Mr O’Mahony said anyone not familiar with how the systems work was likely to experience delays in having claims processed.

He said there were no concerns the project had gone over budget and that a horticulturist and senior executive officer from the council had visited the sky garden at the Chelsea flower show and had signed off on the spending. He said council representatives had spent the weekend in Chelsea arranging the dismantling of the garden for transportation to Cork, where it is hoped to put it on display in Emmet Place during the Cork Midsummer Festival, and failing that, where it will be stored in council nurseries until reassembled and put on display in a new park on the Mardyke, near the Cricket grounds, in spring 2012.

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