The Chief Executive of Galway City Council has stoutly defended the management and operation of the 2020 European Capital of Culture designation.

Brendan McGrath was responding to councillors during a debate on the matter at this evening's meeting of the local authority.

The Galway 2020 project was mired in controversy during the planning stages and then severely impacted by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ultimately, it was staged in a dramatically scaled back form with some flagship events presented after lockdown restrictions were lifted last year.

Mr McGrath said there were no outstanding bills, that every cent had been accounted for and that the entire undertaking had been managed to the highest governance standards.

But he said it was clear that the Galway 2020 communications strategy was "badly offside" and had contributed to perceived problems both before and during the formal designation.

This "did not serve the entity well" and meant criticism was not properly answered in the lead up to the formal launch.

Mr McGrath said the pandemic had an enormous impact on the planned programme.

It resulted in the cancellation of the vast majority of physical events, with many having to be instead presented online.

There was also an impact in projected ancillary revenue for the city due to a major shortfall in projected visitor numbers.

However, the meeting heard that a total of 1,285 events and activities took place over the course of the 15-month designation.

Mr McGrath said he strongly rebutted the suggestion that anything was being hidden.

He said the foundations laid by the project would continue to yield both financial and artistic benefits for years to come.

After detailing a total of €14.8m in funding provided to local arts organisations, Mr McGrath said he wished they might have acknowledged more, the support and assistance they had received from Galway 2020.

He said this money was especially vital in light of the pressures brought as a result of the pandemic.

The Chief Executive told councillors that a final €1m in State funding would be provided in 2023 to assist with a legacy programme.

This will be distributed to arts organisations and will bring to €15m the total amount provided from central Government for the project.

Separately, Galway City and County Councils provided a further €6.6m to Galway 2020.

Following Mr McGrath's 45-minute presentation to the meeting, a number of councillors expressed ongoing concerns about the way the project was managed.

Independent Councillor Colette Connolly said it was astounding that confidentiality agreements were in place regarding severance payments and legal settlements made to a number of people over the lifetime of Galway 2020, particularly given the fact that these entailed the use of public funds.

Fianna Fáil Councillor Alan Cheevers said it was very important that there was full transparency regarding the spending of such monies.

However, he said the legacy of the designation would "fit on the back of a postage stamp" and there were still a number of outstanding questions.

Earlier, other elected representatives expressed a view that the controversy be put to bed for fear of the reputational damage it could cause in the future.

Fine Gael Councillor Frank Fahy said there was no point "crying over spilt milk", while Labour’s Niall McNelis questioned the merit of "flogging a dead horse".

He said the Macnas performance company had tried to distance itself from Galway 2020 despite having received €1.7m in funding for the Giglamesh project.

Cllr McNelis said it was regrettable that some organisations were not more upfront about how the European Capital of Culture designation had benefited them.

Mayor Clodagh Higgins concurred, saying it was important that local people were fully aware of the support the Council was providing to a range of activities around the city.

Fianna Fáil Councillor John Connolly sought further detail about the appointment of a number of external companies to manage different stages of the project and was given assurances by the Chief Executive that these would be provided.