Galway City Council has deferred a decision on whether to allocate an additional €2.5 million to the European Capital of Culture project.
A special meeting of the local authority today heard heated exchanges over why the extra funding was required; how it would be spent and who would benefit from such an allocation.
The meeting was called after the City Manager proposed that the Council provide €1.25 million from its 2021 budget, and a further €1.25 million from the 2022 budget, to support "additional programme elements" and "the development of legacy initiatives". The funds would be provided through staged payments over the course of this year.
Councillors were also asked to bring forward the payment dates for funding already earmarked for the Galway 2020 company this year.
The discussions took place less than a fortnight before the formal launch of the city's designation as European Capital of Culture.
The City Council has already sanctioned a total of €6 million for the project. Galway County Council is providing a further €4 million and the Department of Culture has committed €15 million towards the events.
That combined total of €25 million in taxpayer funding is almost €15 million short of the projected overall cost of staging the year long celebration of culture.
The CEO of Galway 2020, Patricia Philbin, told Councillors today that €480,000 had been secured in cash sponsorship from the private sector to date. That figure forms part of a total three quarters of a million euro committed for the programme of events, as a result of fundraising activities. A further €1.3 million has been committed in "in kind" sponsorship. This is well short of the €7 million targeted by organisers from the private sector.
Ms. Philbin said €1.7 million in support had been pledged by a range of State agencies and institutions in the west, including TG4, the Western Development Commission, local authorities and NUI Galway.
European funding stands at €2.56 million, with a further €5.5 million being generated as a result of agreements with RTÉ, Tourism Ireland and Failte Ireland. Much of this is defined as "in kind" sponsorship, with supports provided, written off against their market value.
Ms Philbin said it was hoped remaining €4.39 million to cover the overall project costs would be raised through private sponsorship, ticket sales and merchandise.
City Manager Brendan McGrath said that budgets were in place for all planned events and that the additional funding being sought from the City Council would go towards additional activities. During the course of the meeting it emerged that €600,000 of the €2.5 million would be used to pay the salaries of Council staff seconded to Galway 2020.
A number of Councillors, including Independents Declan McDonnell, Noel Larkin and Terry O'Flaherty, spoke in favour of the proposal. They cited the international exposure that would result as a consequence of the Capital of Culture events and said the local authority should be fully behind the effort.
But many others were damning in their criticism of the move to provide additional funding. Independent Colette Connolly said that Councillors were being asked to approve the payment without any detailed breakdown or costings being given to them in advance. Fianna Fail's Michael Crowe said information was being provided in a piecemeal fashion and that members were in the dark as to what the funding would be used for.
Others expressed concern that further funding shortfalls would have to be made up from the local authority budget.
After more than two hours of discussions, a motion from Green Party Councillor Pauline O'Reilly that any decision be deferred until full information was provided was passed by 14 votes to 1. Three members were not present for the vote.
The matter will be back before the council at the next monthly meeting in February.