IT IS QUITE astonishing that in the midst of the worst recession ever, we are still talking about the possibility of building the Culture Centre that would cost in excess of €100 million. A vanity project such as this could be undertaken in a time of affluence, but in a recession it should be out of the question, because it would be a provocation.
It is a luxury we cannot afford. A society struggling to feed all its members cannot be seen to be wasting money on an ostentatious building that is not needed. The money would be better spent on building hostels offering shelter to people that could become homeless over the next year or two; it could be distributed among charities that are offering monthly food supplies to rising numbers of poor families; it could be used to provide support to pensioners living below the poverty line.
Wasting money on a vanity project, at a time when there is no money for society’s much more pressing needs is completely wrong. Nor are claims that the money for the centre would come from EU funds a convincing argument in favour. The taxpayer would still have to cover part of the cost (as much as 40 per cent according to the Auditor-General’s estimate), from funds that do not exist and could have been put to much better use if they existed.
Cancelling the project, plans for which began eight years ago, would still have a substantial cost, the House watchdog committee was told this week. The government would have to pay off architects and other contractors who had already produced work under contract, or risk being taken to arbitration and paying bigger compensation. How many millions would have to be forked out as compensation, nobody could say.
It suffices to say that so far, this Culture Centre has cost the taxpayer more than €15 million since 2005 in staff salaries and other expenses. The compensation for the cancellation of the contracts might cost even more than this, but it would still be less money than we would have to pay if the project went ahead, not to mention an annual maintenance cost of several millions. And for what, so we could have a state of the art concert hall plus small auditoriums that would be used a few days each year?
In more affluent times an unnecessary vanity project such as the Centre may have been justified, but in times of poverty and social deprivation spending in excess of €100 million on a concert hall, is indefensible.