Belfast Telegraph

Derry culture staff set for merger talks

By Brendan McDaid

Martketing staff from both the Culture Company and Derry City Council are to enter talks about integrating over the coming weeks.

The move follows crunch talks between the council and the Culture Company board last night. Issues such as where staff will be located and what roles they will play in the lead-up to 2013 will be discussed.

Following a day of talks, rifts between the two organisations seemed to have now narrowed, with council chief executive Sharon O’Connor claiming the body was now “as one” with the Culture Company.

The talks at Rath Mor centre in Creggan involved Ms O’Connor, the Culture Company board, its chief executive Shona McCarthy and chairman Martin Bradley.

They came after leaked documents last week revealed the council was taking over the marketing and communications wing of the Culture Company — less than three months before Derry becomes the first UK City of Culture. In a letter written by Ms O’Connor, she stated that she had been raising concerns over the marketing performance of the company for the past eight months.

In a further twist, the head of marketing and communications at the Culture Company, Garbhan Downey, was suspended the day after he expressed his dismay at the council move and on learning that he was being excluded from the plans.

Derry City Council have to date failed to publicly explain the suspension, or its reasoning for its stance with regards Mr Downey.

The events unfolded days before the Culture Company was to unveil its marketing strategy for 2013, and a few weeks before the UK City of Culture programme is launched on October 25. Ms O’Connor and Culture Company chairman Martin Bradley last night moved to present a united front.

Independent Culture Company board member Mickey Cooper said the meeting was instrumental in ironing out a way forward. He said:”We are all committed to the programme and we are going to build on the work that

has been done so far. In terms of marketing, any gaps that exist within the structures there are just going to be strengthened.

“This is based on maximising the marketing capacity for the promotion of Derry during the City of Culture year in 2013.

“The programme launch is the key thing and it is about making sure all staff now are completely sure about what their role is and what needs to be done.”

DUP alderman and board member Gary Middleton said that the meeting had been “critical”.

“Everybody is of the one opinion now, and that is that we need just one voice.”

He said there was now a pressing issue of dealing with “logistical problems” of merging two cultural teams but that all sides were committed to sorting this.

Ms O’Connor, meanwhile, said last night that the recent upset had been “entirely avoidable”, adding that “at this point ourselves and the Culture Company are as one” going into 2013.

She repeated her position that the takeover was a “minor change”. “It was about taking the marketing up a gear, really picking up the pace now,” she said.

“It seems an appropriate time to look at the resources we needed.”

SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan said the controversy must not distract from the City of Culture year itself, adding: “We have to make sure, as well as looking after the City of Culture as a project, that there is fairness to the record and reputation of an individual who has been clearly affected by the decision taken and the way it has been taken and communicated.”

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph