Efforts will be made this week to try to resolve a growing row at Listowel Writers' Week after the voluntary committee underpinning Ireland's longest running literary festival were dismissed by their board on foot of a consultant’s report to replace them with a professional curator.
The committee which has planned the literary input to the festival over its five decades are to be replaced by a professional curator, it was relayed in September.
The row has reached the Seanad and this weekend it has emerged the festival president and writer Colm Tóibín has stepped aside in support of the community literary input.
The restructuring is on foot of an independent consultant’s report - but which the 30 or so long serving volunteers have yet to see.
Sections of the report describing "the culture" of Writers' Week as "toxic" have however been leaked to local media and have caused great offence.
The report by Dermot McLaughlin was funded, but not directly commissioned, by the Arts Council to comply with governance issues in funding applications to the council.
Its recommendations were unanimously accepted by the board, the Writers’ Week board chairperson, Catherine Moylan has explained.
Once unique, Listowel Writers' Week faces growing competition and is now one of 50 such festivals, she said.
It was committed to greater diversity and inclusivity and to having more people than ever before being involved, as volunteers, although in altered roles.
Ms Moylan said she appreciated that change "would be difficult for some to accept".
But the decision to disband the existing committee of volunteers has led to deep division and anger.
The committee has said it was taken completely by surprise by the decision to disband it and "the publication of the private and confidential report has been highly offensive to every single member".
Mr Tóibín, president of Writers’ Week and who has a long involvement with Listowel, says he has stepped down because of the decision to disband the volunteers and says he has relayed this decision to the Chair.
He said the festival depended on a widely read literary community in Listowel.
Speaking from Germany where he is attending a conference, the writer said: "Listowel Writers' Week depended on a literary community in Listowel who read deeply and widely.
"This meant that the festival had genuine roots in the town. I see this as best practice, as a model for any other literary festival."
Meanwhile, board member Jimmy Deenihan, a former Fine Gael TD and Minister for the Arts, said "the impasse" has to be resolved as the festival is too important.
Matters are now at a sensitive stage, he conceded.
Copies of the report will be sent out tomorrow to key members of the committee, Mr Deenihan said.
"This has to be resolved. The festival is too important," he added.
The appointment of the curator is also under way with interviews having already taken place.
The governance issues which threaten the 52-year-old Writers' Week are affecting other arts festivals, the senate has been told.
Issues of control were "stifling" creative spirit which comes from the local community, Listowel native and Fianna Fáil Senator Ned O'Sullivan, has said.
"Issues of governance and control that have begun to limit the creative freedom and the level of community involvement in some of these events," Mr O’Sullivan said in the Seanad.
While the changes had been necessary in recent years, there was increasing evidence that "overemphasis on governance issues is leading to a paralysis in creative thinking on many boards, particularly those in which the arts are concerned. The effect is that local endeavour is being chilled and local involvement diminished."
Elsewhere, the senator has said there is "anger and bewilderment" in the community in Listowel.