Wexford County Council’s proposed purchase of the iconic Dún Mhuire Theater for the redevelopment of South Main Street is delayed by a government request for the return of more than € 120,000 from an arts grant paid to the Wexford Parish 15 years ago for renovations to allow the building to be used for opera events during construction of the National Opera.
The parish committee made the decision in 2019 to close the building as it could no longer afford to keep it open, due to declining income, rising debts and the need for major repairs and the council County has stepped in and agreed to buy it for a large-scale redevelopment of Main Street South.
There has been no progress on the sale since then – the shutdown took place in January 2020 with disillusioned arts groups including the Wexford Pantomime Society which had performed there for many years, having to find alternative venues – and the building became more and more dilapidated.
Senior council officials recently alluded to “legal difficulties”, but it has now been confirmed that the reason for the prolonged delay is a financial request from the Minister of the Arts for a substantial payment by the Parish of Wexford under a Grant agreement signed around 2006 which stipulated that the building was to continue to be available for artistic and cultural events for 25 years and, if sold in the meantime, the money would have to be repaid.
A grant of around € 400,000 was allocated by the Department of the Arts on the occasion of the construction of the National Opera on the site of the former Royal High Street Theater, for the fitting out of the parish hall, so that she will be able to host the Opera Festival events for the 2007 season.
Now that the property has to be sold to the county council, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts is asking for the corresponding share of the sale price, based on the number of years remaining on the grant agreement.
Negotiations on the matter have taken place over the past year, with the parish committee arguing that this would leave it very little money to provide the alternative parish facilities that are needed and it is currently awaiting a response from the minister.
“The grant was given at the time to bring the church hall up to standard, for the good of the city and the opera festival,” said Father John Carroll, secretary of St Aidan’s Trust, a holding company for the diocesan and parish properties. .
He confirmed that a 25-year agreement had been put in place but said today no one would be advised to sign a pledge for such a duration and that the parish is asking for the demand for payment to be lifted.
“Regarding the sale of the building, what the parish is saying is that the initial purchase request came from County Council, to facilitate a progressive civic improvement plan for the town of Wexford and that the sale is for the greater good and is not to go to private enterprise.
Father Carroll indicated that from the proceeds of the sale, the parish will have to pay insurance and repair costs and debts on the building (which amounted to € 125,000 in January 2020) and whether it must also remit a six-figure sum to the minister, that will leave him little money for his own needs.
“The parish of Wexford needs some sort of hall. He has to ensure that he performs his own functions and a replacement building or room will have to be provided, ”he said.
“The parish does not want to be a nuisance in any way, but it must also take care of its needs. We have pleaded for the reasons why it should be deleted, ”he said.