Eamonn McCann - Direct rule at the Culture Company

Derry City Council Chief Executive and Town Clerk, Sharon O'Connor. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 28.10.11
Derry City Council Chief Executive and Town Clerk, Sharon O'Connor. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 28.10.11

A number of senior figures in the Culture Company were on the brink of resigning a fortnight ago just before city council CEO Sharon O’Connor made the foray which resulted in Marketing and Communications Director Garbhan Downey being suspended by the company and Ms. O’Connor effectively arrogating control of City of Culture to herself.

Maybe she had grounds for apprehension about the way things were going. Maybe preparations for 2013 will now proceed more smoothly under direct rule. This isn’t the way some of those most prominently involved with planning the event see it. Perhaps that’s just resentment. We shall see.

Discontent within the Culture Company had been growing for months. One source of unhappiness referenced by Garbhan Downey was the apparent determination of top council officials to gain access to money earmarked for City of Culture, for use in events supported by the council but not part of the 2013 programme. The deposed marketing chief cited the alleged diversion of City of Culture resources to meet a shortfall arising from the council’s support of the Clipper Round the World Yacht race.

The Clipper Race was not a City of Culture event. The Derry stop-over wasn’t promoted under the City of Culture banner. So was it reasonable to use of City of Culture funds to backfill a gap in the council’s promotional budget arising from subsidy of the Race? It’s open to argument, I suppose. But where’s the argument? Does any elected member of the council have a view on the topic that they’d like to share?

One council officer not directly involved in City of Culture advances the theory that, “They brought her in to wield a big stick at the workforce at a time when job losses were coming. They can hardly pull her up now.”

Once upon a time, there was discontent in Derry about decisions which didn’t reflect local feeling and weren’t open to democratic discussion being routinely made behind closed doors in the name of Derry Corporation - frequently by unelected individuals. Changed times, eh? Or not.

One difference is that in those days elected representatives complained bitterly and eventually even organised protests.

Which reminds me. That news about the possibility of a new leisure centre being built at the Complex: that was a kite-flying exercise for privatisation.

And that reminds me in turn: how come there’s been such a deathly silence about the wholesale privatisation being pushed through at Magee? Where’s the fight from within the college to save it not just from outsourcing and sell-offs but from further decline generally?