CORK County Council’s decision to cut its funding to the visual art degree programme on Sherkin Island by €10,000 could close the course.
The stark claim was made by Fine Gael councillor, John O’Sullivan at a recent meeting held in Bantry.
Cllr O’Sullivan called for standing orders to be suspended at the meeting of West Cork Municipal District because, he said, ‘the future of the course is in jeopardy.’
He said the Council’s €10,000 offer – which is down 50% on what it had originally agreed to provide – is conditional on the Department of Arts, Heritage, the Gaeltacht and the Islands, providing €40,000 towards the cost of running the course.
But Cllr O’Sullivan said the Department is now digging its heels in, saying its contribution is ‘conditional on Cork County Council upholding its end of an agreement that was made in May 2016 and the stand-off has created a crisis for the programme in the middle of the academic year.’
Prior to 2016, Cllr O’Sullivan said the funding ratio was 50:50 between the Department of Arts and Cork County Council, but that was amended following a meeting on the island in May of that year.
At that meeting, it was also agreed that a socio-economic review of the course would be carried out to assess its impact on island life.
The review, which was carried out by Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) – which runs the arts course on the island – established that it has a net annual benefit of €150,000 to the island.
According to Cllr O’Sullivan, five former students have also relocated to Sherkin and now live on the island full-time, which is significant in terms of preserving population numbers.
Cllr O’Sullivan accused Cork County Council of ‘reneging on commitments and undermining one of the most unique, one of the most successful, and one of the most innovative projects on any offshore island.’
Cllr Danny Collins (Ind) said the Council’s move was short-sighted because ‘we are trying to keep our islands vibrant.’ He asked: ‘What is €20,000 in the overall scheme of things? What is it in terms of our €320m budget?’
Cllr Mary Hegarty (FG) said: ‘The arts degree course has put Sherkin Island on the map nationally and internationally. We should continue to support it because West Cork is an artistic hub.’
Cllr Christopher O’Sullivan (FF) said the €20,000 should continue to be funded through the Council’s Economic Development Fund because of the socio-economic benefits it brings to the island, to the ferry operators, and to Baltimore.
Cllr Patrick Gerard Murphy (FF) agreed saying: ‘There is €1.1m in the Council’s Economic Development Fund and this course fits the criteria.’
Cllr Paul Hayes (SF) said: ‘The whole episode is after leaving an awful sour taste. People started the course in good faith and we should not be pulling the rug from under them.’
Cllr Joe Carroll (FF) said: ‘We have seven inhabited islands here in West Cork that we have to support. You can’t pull the plug on this.’
Mac Dara O h-Icí, a senior executive officer with Cork County Council, said the application for funding had come in through the Economic Development Fund and ‘an offer was made to the applicant.’
It is understood that a meeting between the interested parties will be held at the Kingsley Hotel in Cork on Monday next, February 12th.