Independent review to be conducted into Abbey Theatre

Independent review to be conducted into Abbey Theatre

The Abbey Theatre. The Dublin theatre, which receives more than €7m in Arts Council funding every year, wants an independent review of the institution’s governance and policies

An independent review of governance at The Abbey Theatre is to be carried out following months of controversy over payments made to former directors.

The Dublin theatre, which receives more than €7 million in Arts Council funding every year, wants “internal policies and procedures related to governance” examined.

It also wants the review to look into internal human resources, legal and financial “controls”.

Anyone interested has until October 10 to express interest in tendering for the contract.

It is envisaged the review should be completed by January 31, 2023.

The tender notice states: “The Abbey Theatre is seeking a suitably experienced and qualified consultant (or) firm to conduct an independent review into the governance and policies of the Abbey Theatre.” 

It also states the review should include “internal policies and procedures related to governance, internal controls (HR, legal, financial), stakeholder management, and make recommendations thereon”.

A spokesperson for the theatre told the Irish Examiner: “As an organisation that receives significant public funding, the Abbey Theatre strives to continuously improve its governance structure and related policies and procedures.

“While details of any reviews conducted remain confidential due to commercial sensitivity, any relevant recommendations and learnings relating to a review process are always welcomed by the Board and Executive of the Abbey Theatre.” 

Funding conditions

In June, the Irish Times reported that Arts Council funding for the theatre was approved with conditions attached.

These are understood to have involved issues around monitoring and reporting on board appointments and what has been described as “a culture audit of the organisation”.

Those conditions themselves were off the back of an Arts Council-funded report by independent auditors Mazars into governance at the theatre.

The report was, in part, commissioned following confirmation that two former CEOs received termination settlements.

Confirmation of the payments came in Abbey Theatre financial statements for the year ended December 31, 2020, which was the final full year of the tenure of joint CEOs Graham McLaren and Neil Murray.

The accounts showed their joint remuneration was made up of €206,432 in salaries, and €16,514 in company contributions to their pensions.

A third figure of €165,256 was given for “termination amounts payable”.

Some €11,000 in “legal costs” was incurred “in relation to concluding the termination agreements”, with the CEOs, who left at the end of their agreed five-year terms as joint CEOs in mid-2021.

During 2019, the board of the theatre “worked to implement” what were then the latest governance codes issued by the Charities Regulator.

“This required additional training for board members and the senior management team and is reflected in various ways, such as improved internal reporting processes and a more rigorous approach taken to filling board vacancies in early 2020,” the theatre stated in its annual report for that year.

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