Clasac centre: 'virtually idle'

A traditional arts and music centre which cost the taxpayer almost €10m is standing "virtually idle" because of an internal row in the traditional music organisation, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann.

The state-of-the-art Clasac centre at Clontarf, Dublin, which includes a 250-seater auditorium, a recording studio, dance rooms and two bars, opened in October 2008 at a cost of €9.25m, funded by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism.

Gaeltacht minister Pat Carey, who also funds Comhaltas to the tune of around €2m a year, said in the Dáil last week that his department had been "engaged in discussions" with those involved to resolve the dispute. These discussions are "at a sensitive stage", he said.

Labour TD Mary Upton has called on Carey and arts minister Mary Hanafin to get directly involved in the row, regardless of sensitivities.

"It is a terrible waste of taxpayers' money to see such a centre lying effectively idle. It is also bad for the public's perception of Comhaltas," the Dublin South Central TD said.

In a statement last month, the Clontarf branch of Comhaltas, which spearheaded the Clasac project but has since been dissolved by the Comhaltas ard comhairle, said the centre "now stands virtually idle" because musicians and performers are supporting its stance against the Comhaltas governing body.

Comhaltas director general, Fianna Fáil senator Labhrás Ó Murchú, disputed such claims.

"That's not true. Clasac is up and running, fully staffed and we have plenty of traditional dance and music classes going on there," he said.

But according to the Clasac events listing for the 250-seater auditorium, just six concerts have been held at the centre since it opened in October 2008; the last was a concert in aid of St Vincent de Paul on 29 January.

Ó Murchú added that he could not comment on ongoing efforts to resolve the row with the Clontarf branch as the talks are confidential.

The row centres on an accusation by Comhaltas that the Clontarf branch mismanaged the finances during the construction of the centre.

Comhaltas said the costs reached crisis point in 2007 when the project ran up €2m worth of debts to contractors which Comhaltas had to step in and clear.

Comhaltas also claimed Clontarf had tried to reclaim Vat on the building even though the ard comhairle had already received this refund in the form of a government grant.

As a result, Comhaltas dissolved the Clontarf branch.

The Clontarf branch said these were "unfounded allegations" and added that they amounted to "malicious abuse targeted at individual members" of the branch.