The new Luan Gallery.

H-Block art work raises ire of ex-Minister

Former Justice Minister Paddy Cooney has criticised a piece of artwork in the new Luan Gallery which features messages smuggled out of prison by Republican activists during the H-Block protests in Northern Ireland. "First of all, I don't think it is art and secondly, the theme is inappropriate. If it was removed I'd shed no tears," Mr Cooney said this week of the 'Fragmens sur les Institutions Republicaines IV 1993-1997,' exhibit by Longford artist Shane Cullen. The controversial installation consists of black panels on which Mr Cullen has painstakingly hand-painted messages from IRA prisoners smuggled out of jail during the H-Block protests in Northern Ireland in the 1980s. It is part of the inaugural exhibition 'Borrowed Memories' at the gallery showcasing a selection of works from the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) collection. The project is so big that only a quarter of it can be facilitated in the Luan Gallery at any one time and the 90-plus panels, created over four years, will be alternated for viewing at different times. Mr Cooney, who was Minister for Justice in the Fine Gael government between 1973 and 1977, said he was unhappy with this piece and has made that known, even though it will give it more publicity. "If art consists of creating something beautiful or imaginative, then this hardly qualifies," Mr Cooney told the Westmeath Independent. Quite a substantial number of people shared his view at the official opening of the art gallery last week, he added, and were quite shocked by inclusion of this piece featuring messages from what he described as "terrorists". Mr Cooney said he was unhappy with the exhibit and expressed his reservations to the staff on the day of the opening. He believes a lot of people share the same opinion and it would give him satisfaction to see it taken down. A recent piece in An Phoblacht reported that Mr Cooney became agitated on seeing the artwork at the official opening, demanding to see the manager to get the exhibit removed.