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More grants bother as Arts Council department head’s mother awarded grant funds

UPDATE: The Arts Council is reviewing “conflict of interest procedures” in light of last week’s grant trouble.

The Irish Times’ Fiach Kelly on Saturday wrote an interesting news article explaining why the Arts Council are holding an internal review after it was revealed that a €16,400 grant was awarded to the mother of the department head of Traditional Arts Paul Flynn.

Paul’s mother, Patricia Flynn is a singer from Armagh who received €16,400 in Deis Traditional Music grants last year from the Louth County Council region “to create the Stray Leaf Folk Club and Sliabh Gullion Festival of Traditional Singing multimedia digital archive in collaboration with ITMA, RTÉ and the National Folklore Collection.”

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Paul Flynn, as head of traditional arts at the Arts Council is one of the people responsible for assessing grant applications under the Deis programme. He was not on the panel who awarded the grants but he did help select the panel which included Maighread Ni Dhomhnaill, Aidan O’Donnell and Fintan Vallely.

The Irish Times piece says Mr Flynn is on leave and neither of the Flynns are responding to queries but a spokesman for the Arts Council said it “is reviewing the circumstances of a Deis funding grant allocation decision made in July 2013”.

As last year’s Music Network debacle showed, there are people who are keenly watching arts and culture grant applications and their outcomes (I received an anonymous tip about this particular story) so it’s extremely troubling for yet more questions to be have to be raised around these processes. Questions like did Paul Flynn declare that his mother had applied for a grant he technically oversaw as department head? If so, at what point was it declared? Did he approve the payment once realised? Did anyone else not think this was a bad idea?

Ireland is a small country and traditional music, like classical /contemporary music has a limited active pool of people working in that field. That increases the chances that people related to each other or who work together will come in close contact regularly. But it can be avoided. Some basic principles govern simple ticket competitions along the lines of “employees or agencies of a company or their family members, or anyone else connected with the competition may not enter” so why was this not applied when it came to grants worth thousands of euro?

We don’t know for sure what exactly happened here just yet but again, like the Music Network scheme and the recent Limerick City of Culture debacle, it doesn’t exactly engender faith in the people in charge.

There’s a cultural problem that needs to be addressed, as clearly, people involved in grants awarding have shown they think it’s either a) fine to have ties to someone who you are assessing giving money to b) fine to give money to a relative or colleague as long as no-one notices c) fine to have ties to someone who you are assessing giving money to AS LONG AS YOU LEAVE THE ROOM IN THE JUDGING PROCESS.

One thing you can be sure of if recent developments are anything to go by, there are definitely people paying attention and those willing to apply the required scrutiny if the people in charge do not.

In light of this, The Arts Council last week announced a strategic review of 2014 which is to be welcomed.

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