Arts Minister Caral Ni Chuilin pledges to unravel cracks at MAC arts building in Belfast
Arts Minister Caral Ni Chuilin has pledged to "get to the bottom" of building problems at Belfast's newest theatre, the MAC.
As the Belfast Telegraph first revealed, stonework at the entrance of the £18m award-winning Metropolitan Arts Centre has begun to crumble.
In her first comments on the controversy, Culture and Arts Minister Ms Ni Chuilin told the Assembly: "We would not expect to be running into these difficulties within three years of the building being developed.
"When you spend that amount of public money, people expect a better return, particularly in these times."
She went on: "Almost £18m was spent on building the MAC. As a result of some stones being loose in the facade, almost £8,000 was spend on netting to secure it.
"One million pounds is needed to complete that work. I will be making a bid for £1m of capital monies and £150,000 for legal and professional fees from revenue monies in the June monitoring round."
The Minister was responding to the DUP's Trevor Clarke, who asked: "Will your departmental officials pursue those involved in that contract, given that something that has only been open for three years has fallen into disrepair and that so much more was spent on it than was originally estimated?"
Ms Ni Chuilin answered: "My officials, in conjunction with the Arts Council, are working with the MAC to find out what happened, how it happened and what lessons we can learn for the future."
But the DCAL Minister also gave an assurance about public safety at the building, which is in the running for an award as Museum of the Year.
Questioned by MLAs, she said: "If the perception is that that money has been spent and the building is crumbling, I can assure (members) that, while some of the stonework has come loose, a net has been put around the whole building as a precaution to make sure that that does not happen any further.
"However, I agree that we need to get to the bottom of what happened."
A spokesman for the management of the Theatre said they did not wish to respond to the Minister's comments.
Investigations are under way into the causes and likely liability for large chunks of basalt stone tiles falling from the exterior of the six-storey arts venue, which opened in April 2012.
But the Stormont committee which monitors Ms Ni Chuilin's department has already been told that the theatre may have to close if £1m cannot be found to pay for repair work.
At a meeting of Stormont's culture, arts and leisure committee (DCAL), the SDLP's Dominic Bradley asked: "What happens if the bid for the repair of the MAC is not met?"
David Carson, DCAL's director of finance, said : "If the issues are not sorted, there will need to be an assessment done of what the consequences might be. That could lead to the closure of the building."
But a statement from the venue insisted there was "no question" of it closing.
"We are working with our funders at DCAL and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland on this issue and we are confident it will be fully and satisfactorily resolved. It is therefore our view that there is no question of the MAC closing," it said.
The venue is on the shortlist for the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year.
It was designed by Hackett Hall McKnight Architects, now known as Hall McKnight Architects, and includes two theatres, three visual art galleries, a dance studio, workshops, a cafe and a bar. In 2013 the building received a National Award from the Royal Institute of British Architects.