Belfast Telegraph

St Patrick Centre facing closure

Funding for tourist facility slashed as councillor brands it a ‘white elephant’

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

One of Northern Ireland’s major tourist attractions is under threat of closure because of a cut in funding, it has been claimed.

Directors at the St Patrick Centre in Downpatrick have been having crisis talks with auditors after Down District Council voted to slash its annual grant by £10,000.

Elected representatives agreed to reduce the handout from £135,000 to £125,000 and to start to claw back 10% of a £100,000 loan given to the centre when it was first opened 11 years ago.

Last year the council reduced its funding by £15,000. It is understood funding has fallen by up to 30% over the last two years.

Management at the tourist facility have reacted angrily to the cut, which they say, took place without negotiation.

“The council decision, taken without any discussion with us, has left the centre on the brink of closure.

“It is ironic that in the week that Northern Ireland is on the world stage with the opening of the Titanic centre, Down District’s only international visitor attraction is effectively being closed by Down Council,” a source told the Down Recorder newspaper.

“The St Patrick’s Centre costs the council £135,000 a year and last year attracted over 70,000 visitors to the area. The other two centres cost the ratepayers over £1m and they didn’t attract anywhere near the same numbers.”

However, DUP councillor Willie Walker has said the St Patrick Centre must do more to attract visitors — and not rely so heavily on council grants.

“I believe that they could be doing more to help themselves,” Mr Walker told the Belfast Telegraph. “Every year they come with the begging bowl. At one point the council was handing them £150,000. I believe they are not doing enough to market the centre enough to get people through the door and start making money.

“People in places like Ballynahinch, Crossgar and Saintfield — the people who I represent — are telling me ‘enough is enough, we don’t even have a community facility yet the council is able to pump hundreds of thousands of pounds into that white elephant.”

No-one from the St Patrick Centre was available for comment.

Background

The St Patrick Centre was built 11 years ago in the heart of Downpatrick, the Co Down town where St Patrick is said to be buried. It includes an interactive exhibition exploring the saint’s legacy. Visitors can also explore how his impact developed in early Christian times and examine the influence of Irish missionaries in Europe. The centre has a restaurant, conference facilities and art gallery. Down District Council has provided funding since it was built.

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