Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Dublin project 'scandal' hits Derry City of Culture guru

Dermot McLaughlin
Dermot McLaughlin

A fortnight after stepping down from his £100,000-a-year post as the head of Londonderry's UK City of Culture team, the self-styled lynchpin of the project has been embroiled in fresh controversy.

Plans for the 2013 celebrations were thrown into disarray following the departure of cultural guru Dermot McLaughlin, who cited "personal reasons" for his resignation.

Mr McLaughlin was the man behind the transformation of Dublin's tourist Mecca Temple Bar and it was hoped he could help provide a similar legacy for Derry beyond 2013.

The Derry native was seconded from his post as chief executive of Temple Bar Cultural Trust (TBCT) after being headhunted by the Strategic Investment Board Limited (SIB).

Now it has emerged the organisation is to be wound down as a result of reports which uncovered serious issues of mismanagement.

Its board of management met on Wednesday where it was agreed to dissolve the company following two critical reports of its inner workings.

There have been subsequent calls for Mr McLaughlin to step down given the financial irregularities uncovered occurred while he was in charge. They included €49,000 (£41,650) credit card spending which was unaccounted for.

Last year, the Latitude Report recommended the functions of the quango be handled by Dublin City Council, a move the report said could save up to €800,000 (£680,000) of taxpayers' money each year. A more critical internal audit carried out by the council followed.

In a statement released through the council, TBCT said responsibility for the company was being handed over to the trust's sole shareholder, John Tierney, who is also the council's city manager.

"At the request of the shareholder, the board of TBCT discussed the Latitude Report into the future of TBCT," it read.

"The board recommends to the shareholder that a process of winding down the company should be initiated."

Independent councillor Mannix Flynn was one of two directors to resign ahead of Wednesday's meeting. Mr Flynn called for Mr McLaughlin to also step down.

"It's disappointing that it had to be wound down in light of the shameful scandal and public disgrace," he said.

"The CEO, in light of what's happening here, should seriously consider his position to allow an orderly winding down of the trust."

Mr McLaughlin was unveiled as Derry City Council's City of Culture project director on October 29, 2012.

He declined to comment on his specific reasons for leaving.

A statement from Derry City Council said it "would like to thank Dermot for his significant contribution at a critical time and would like to wish him every success for the future".

Background

Dermot McLaughlin recently announced he was resigning as the head of Derry's City of Culture team. Mr McLaughlin will officially step down on April 30 – six months into his 12-month contract. He cited personal reasons and signalled an intention to resume his position with TBCT next month. People close to the city's Culture team were stunned. However, other well-placed sources said that ongoing divisions within the Culture Company, coupled with concerns over staffing and the allocation of resources, may well have influenced his decision.

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