Irish Centre Issues Angry Response to Council's Sale

Hammersmith buildings among eight included in sell off

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The Irish Cultural Centre has issued an angry response to Hammersmith and Fulham Council following its decision, taken at a cabinet meeting on Monday night, to put the centre up for sale along with seven other buildings in the borough.

The centre's statement says:

" On Monday night, Hammersmith and Fulham’s cabinet held a public meeting at the town hall.  The Irish Cultural Centre’s representative, Hilda McCafferty, was allowed 5 mins to address the council. 

" Ms McCafferty reiterated the petition plea which had previously been brought before a full council meeting on the 26th January by the Centre’s Chairman, Jim O’Hara, asking that the council revoke their decision not to renew the Centre’s lease and honour their original agreement to grant the Centre a lease extension to March 2017 thus providing a realistic time frame for funds to be raised to purchase the building.

"  Ms McCafferty also pointed out to the Cabinet that, the Centre had, as requested by the Geoff Alltimes, CEO of Hammersmith and Fulham council, had an official valuation carried out.  However, as yet, the council appear not to have conducted their own independent valuation despite the fact that the Centre had requested that they do so.

" Without the council’s independent valuation, price negotiations relating to a potential purchase cannot commence causing further delays.

" Once all speakers had made their presentation in support of the buildings proposed for disposal, Counciller Stephen Greenhalgh, who chaired the meeting, indicated that the cabinet would take questions from the public and opposition.  With over 300 people in attendance, many questions were put to the council, the majority coming from supporters of the Irish Cultural Centre and members of the opposition.

" Responses from the cabinet failed to properly address the concerns of those in attendance and were vague with significant detail being blatantly glossed over.  When the leader of the opposition Councillor Stephen Cowan, attempted to extract specific answers to questions, Councillor Greenhalgh was dismissive and seemed to show a disregard for the right of the public to demand detailed answers. 

" As many members of the public, stood and shouted their disapproval at his failure to answer direct questions, Councillor Greenhalgh abruptly announced that the proposal to dispose of the buildings was now passed and appeared to suggest that the council would work with the existing tenants to find ways to achieve their objectives.

" There was much confusion as  very few in the large audience had been able to hear or follow the last few crucial minutes of the meeting due to the level of noise nor did Councillor Greenhalgh take any action to restore order. 

" The Irish Cultural Centre London is, therefore, now officially ‘For Sale’.  The board and management are fully committed to the fight to save the Centre which has a reputation that reaches through London, the UK, Ireland and beyond. 

" David Cameron may have launched the concept of the ‘Big Society’ during his election campaign.  The board, management, staff, volunteers and users of the Irish Cultural Centre would argue that they have been practicing the principles of the ‘big society’ long before the phrase was ever coined. "

Liam NeesonMeanwhile Irish actor Liam Neeson, OBE has added his voice to the campaign.  He says: "News of the proposed sale of the Irish Cultural Centre in London by the local council has come as a shock to the global Irish community, particularly, as the centre enjoys an international reputation and has for many years been a showcase for the best of Ireland's arts. At a time when relations between Britain and Ireland are at their closest, it would be a tragedy if the UK's only centre devoted to the promotion of Irish culture was forced to shut its doors, I therefore wholeheartedly support its continuation.’

February 9, 2011