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Council resists ‘rush’ to buy Robinson house

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Chief Executive denies ‘railroading’ the purchase of Mary Robinson’s childhood home

Anton McNulty

The Executive of Mayo County Council has been accused of trying to push through a decision on purchasing the childhood home of former Irish President Mary Robinson in Ballina with ‘unseemly haste’.
The decision on whether to go ahead with the purchase of Victoria House came before the monthly meeting of Mayo County Council yesterday (Monday). Peter Hynes, the Chief Executive of Mayo County Council, recommended to the councillors that they make the final decision at the meeting. However, the councillors decided instead to defer the decision until later in the month, with a view to formally ratifying that decision in September.
The document on buying the former home of Mary Robinson for €550,000 had only been presented to councillors yesterday morning, with some claiming they had not received it. While the majority of councillors were in favour of the proposal, Ballina-based councillor Gerry Ginty accused the executive of rushing it through without allowing members to digest it.
“If I believed in conspiracies I’d think it was done deliberately,” the Independent councillor told the meeting. “If this project was as strong as the Chief Executive makes it out to be, and as viable as it is, why then the unseemly haste to rush this through?” he asked, pointing out that the transaction was ‘not even an item on the agenda’.  
“If you think what you propose to do is right and decent, give the members a chance to go and reflect on it. Why do you need to twist their arms and push them into it with this lovely prize of €2 million from the Government. Lovely, soft money.
“You are giving RTÉ more ammunition today by brushing this through without giving the councillors a chance to digest … I think that’s shameful,” he concluded.
The item appeared before the Council under the Chief Executive’s report, and former Cathaoirleach of Mayo County, Cllr Al McDonnell said he did not think this was right. He then proposed that any decision should be made at the next meeting in September.
“We need to get this right, and secondly, we need to do it right. Cllr Ginty made a very important point: Is this matter properly before us? I would have to conclude that it is not, given that it is not an item on our agenda. I think we have no option but to defer it until it is a specific item on the agenda in September,” he said.
He was supported by his fellow Fianna Fáil councillor, Damien Ryan, who suggested that the item be put on the agenda of the July meeting of the Ballina Municipal District.
Mr Hynes said he would accept the decision of the Council, and while he denied trying to push through the purchase, he stressed that the project was under severe time pressure.
“The report was circulated this morning. I am not suggesting that everyone got it, but it was circulated. We do need to go to procurement; we need to get this project on site by the end of this year. This is not an attempt by management to railroad anything. It is most definitely not,” he said, adding that he was happy to have the item put formally on the agenda for  Ballina Municipal District and be guided by the decision taken at that time, whatever it is.
The project is a scaled back version of what is originally planned. The envisaged total cost of the Mary Robinson Centre will be €5.01 million, with Mayo County Council to contribute €1.5 million. A government grant of €2 million has been made available while €1.5 million will be available from philanthropic funding.
The former president’s archive will be retained by NUI Galway, but the digitised version will be available to view at the centre. It is hoped that the centre will be open by the second quarter of 2019.
The original proposal to purchase Victoria House was supported by Fine Gael councillor John O’Hara, who said the project will attract people to Ballina. Fellow Ballina councillors Annie Mae Reape and Michael Loftus also supported the project, but Sinn Féin councillor Gerry Murray said he did not believe it was viable and would be voting against it.

 

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