The opening ceremony for Galway’s 2020 European Capital of Culture will not be held until next February. 

Galway City Council was told yesterday that a decision had been taken to use the "celtic calendar" for event planning and that this would give the opening ceremony "more of a Celtic feel".

It means that instead of an anticipated marquee launch in early January, the project will not be officially launched until around mid-February.

Galway 2020 said that while the Capital of Culture designation commences on 1 January, it was never the intention to have a big launch on that date.

The company said that events will run throughout the first month of 2020 but details of these will not be announced until later in the year. 

CEO Patricia Philbin said the opening ceremony was still a "work in progress" but that it would be a major outdoor event.

She said an exact date for this had yet to be identified.

Ms Philbin said the opening ceremony had to happen at least a week after the other 2020 Capital of Culture, Rijeka in Croatia, had its launch. This is to allow EU representatives to attend both events.

When Cork was the European Capital of Culture in 2005, the opening ceremony was held on 8 January. In 2008, Liverpool launched its celebrations on 11 January, while one of this year’s capitals, Matera in Italy, formally launched its event on 18 January last.

Ms Philbin said preparations for 27 dedicated Capital of Culture productions were under way and that some of the organisations involved were "upscaling" their operations, as a direct result of the Galway 2020 investment. 

In subsequent questioning at Galway City Council yesterday, she said nine of these projects were at "final negotiation stage" and that additional information was being sought in relation to a further six projects.

A number of arts organisations in the city have expressed concern about project funding in recent months and there have been delays in several contract negotiations.

Last year, the Druid Theatre company withdrew plans for one of the flagship 2020 events, ‘Middle Island’, citing budget cuts, delays and communication issues. 

Ms Philbin said the theatre company had proposed two alternative projects and that these were being discussed at present.

She said a full programme of events would be announced in September and that plans were progressing on the basis of funding already secured.

This amounts to €23 million: €15 million from the Department of Arts; €6 million from Galway City Council and €2 million from Galway County Council.

Last year the operating budget was revised downwards from €46m to €39m with a chunk of that total made up from "in kind" support.

In effect, this means that sponsorship, volunteer activity and any commercial agreements will have a value allocated to them and this will be factored into the overall budget calculation.

Organisers have set a goal of €7 million in additional private sector funding to assist with running costs. 

While she refused to be drawn on specifics when it came to these funding negotiations, Ms Philbin said €30,000 had been received last year, with a further €100,000 of "in kind" sponsorship.

Ms Philbin said efforts were continuing to secure more funding from Galway County Council and she said that a meeting with the Western Development Commission was scheduled, to examine if it could provide financial assistance for the endeavour.

In addition, financial support is being sought from a number of other agencies, including the British Council and the Ireland Funds.

The local authority was told the majority of events during the 2020 celebrations would be free to attend and that work was ongoing to address issues with the availability of suitably sized venues across the city.

Councillors had mixed views on the progress to date. Fine Gael’s Padraig Conneely said millions of euro in funding targets had not been met and claimed that Galway 2020 was like a runaway train, with no driver on board.

Labour Councillor Billy Cameron said confidence in the event was lacking and that he was not getting a "wow factor" about it.

Others, including Independent Cllr Declan McDonnell and Sinn Féin’s Cathal Ó Conchúir, said there had been an improvement in communication in recent months and that there was evidence of improved structures in place.

Galway City Manager Brendan McGrath, told councillors that 2020 would "be a wow year, full of wow events, that will blow this city and county out of the water". 

He said amazing work was under way behind the scenes and again emphasised that he had full confidence in the way in which the preparations were advancing.

He said it was wrong to suggest that the project was not being managed properly and expressed confidence that funding targets would be met. He claimed that a deal in "the order of half a million euro had been nailed down in the last fortnight".

As part of a volunteer recruitment scheme, 1,000 people are being sought to work across all aspects of the Galway 2020 programme. Their involvement will be counted among "in kind" costings, when it comes to calculating the overall project cost. 

Ms Philbin said additional projects were being developed with a number of artists across Europe and she said that additional outdoor events were being planned across the city and county.