Belfast Telegraph

Managers in last-ditch bid to save Northern Ireland's St Patrick Centre

By Anna Maguire

A centre celebrating the history of Ireland’s patron saint — which contributed more than £1.5m to the tourist economy last year — could close its doors next week amid funding cuts.

Local councillors and MLAs received the news last week in a briefing note from management of St Patrick’s Heritage Centre in Downpatrick.

The memo — which has been seen by the Belfast Telegraph — outlines a variety of funding challenges.

They include the removal of an overdraft facility in February, which the centre claims was put in place to pay employees’ wages.

Council funding of the centre was also cut by £20,000 to £115,000, a move the centre claims was agreed without discussions with management.

The centre’s management have said they will be forced to declare themselves unsustainable on the advice of the centre’s auditors and legal team — closing the centre’s doors from Monday, April 30.

Closure of the centre, which currently costs the local council £150,000 in running costs and wages, would mean cancelling a series of forthcoming tour operator bookings, including 252 coaches which were due to visit.

The future also remains unclear for the centre’s employees and two local charities, Down Community Arts and The Big Picture House, which both run offices within the centre.

The centre’s management, meanwhile, cite the loss of £650,000 to the local economy — and the cancellation of forthcoming VIP visits by the Cardinal Archbishop of New York and the President of Ireland.

Basil McCrea, chairman of the Assembly’s employment and learning committee, said more money, rather than less, should be invested in the centre.

He said: “It would be a tragedy... if the St Patrick’s Centre was to have to close for a few thousand pounds.

“St Patrick is a worldwide brand. We are the home of St Patrick.

“The councils are all under pressure for cash and they have been salami-slicing.”

The centre’s management will also hold a meeting with council and political representatives at the centre tomorrow evening.

Background

Management at St Patrick’s Heritage Centre say the centre’s future is unsustainable as a result of cuts to funding — which could see the Downpatrick centre closed by next week. The centre employs 16 people, as well as 18 young people with special needs who work at the centre’s cafe. Four charities are alsoaccommodated within the centre. Management say they face a series of funding challenges including the removal of an overdraft facility and a £20,000 cut in council funding.

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