Two senior directors of the Abbey Theatre have resigned after it emerged that the company has recorded a deficit double the figure that had been forecast.

The theatre's Managing Director, Brian Jackson, has resigned and the Artistic Director, Ben Barnes, has stepped aside.

The announcement that the two top directors at the National Theatre have resigned came unexpectedly yesterday after a meeting of the Abbey board. 

Jackson and Barnes took the decision to go after a mistake was discovered during the preparation of draft accounts for 2004. 

The error was in the company's financial reporting system, which was under-reporting the deficit in the books.

Now that the mistake has come to light, it seems that the Abbey's finances are much worse than had been thought, with a deficit for last year of €1.85m.

The Abbey Board has now decided to commission an independent consultant to review the theatre's accounting and financial control systems.

In order to fill the management vacuum at the theatre, the new Director Designate, Fiach Mac Conghail, will bring forward his start date and take over the running of the theatre with immediate effect.

The Chairperson of the Arts Council, Olive Braiden, said the Council was deeply concerned at last night's announcement by the Abbey Theatre.

Ms Braiden said the Council had been advised of the developments at a meeting with the Chairperson of the Abbey on Wednesday, and was now awaiting an urgent financial report on the situation. 

In the meantime, she said the Council was in ongoing discussions with the Abbey.