The board members who will decide on art controversy

Story by Tom Kelly

Wednesday, 9th January, 2013 12:15pm

The board members who will decide on art controversy

Labour councillor and current Mayor of Athlone, Jim Henson, is chairman of the board of Athlone Art and Heritage.

Fifteen members of the board of Athlone Art and Heritage will meet next Tuesday to discuss local councillor Mark Cooney's bid to have a controversial artwork removed from the Luan Gallery.

Athlone Art and Heritage Ltd is the company which was set up by Athlone Town Council to manage facilities such as Athlone Castle, the Luan Gallery, and the Abbey Road Artists' Studios.

Miriam Mulrennan is the manager of Athlone Art and Heritage. The chairman of the board is Labour councillor and Athlone Mayor Jim Henson, while the other current members of the board are: Michael McDonnell, Moira Hardiman, Barry Kehoe, John Walsh, Finian Corley, Catherine Kelly, Gearoid O'Brien, Cllr Kevin 'Boxer' Moran, Celine Sheridan, Cllr Sheila Buckley Byrne, Dr Harman Murtagh, Hugh O'Reilly and Marian Fitzgibbon.

Cllr Alan Shaw was a member of the board but stepped down when his term as Athlone Mayor ended last summer.

Speaking to the Westmeath Independent today (Wednesday), board member Marian Fitzgibbon, who is head of the School of Humanities at Athlone IT, said she felt it was appropriate that Athlone Town Council had referred the matter to the board for adjudication.

She said the new gallery had received an extremely positive response from the art community nationally and she was conscious of the need to maintain its funding structure and relationship with the Arts Council and other bodies.

Another board member, Michael McDonnell, said removing the artwork "would make a complete mockery of the whole thing... it would take away from the independence of the gallery and you would have to wonder where you would draw the line."

The subject of the controversy is a piece by artist Shane Cullen which is based on messages written by republican hunger strikers in Northern Ireland in 1981.

Cllr Cooney put a motion before Monday's meeting of Athlone Town Council calling for the piece to be removed from the gallery "as it is offensive to so many people."

Mr Cooney's father, the former Justice Minister Paddy Cooney, has also strongly criticised Mr Cullen's piece, and so too has David Kelly, whose father, Private Paddy Kelly, was murdered by the IRA in 1983.

On Monday, the town council members, by a 6-3 margin, opted to refer Cllr Cooney's motion to next Tuesday's board meeting of Athlone Art and Heritage. The board will then respond to the council on the issue.

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