Thursday, November 29, 2001

IMMA chairwoman defends job procedure

By Carol Coulter

Proper procedure was rigorously followed in the appointment of Dr Brian Kennedy as director of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, according to its chairwoman.

In a letter to the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands yesterday, Ms Marie Donnelly defended the appointment made at a board meeting on Monday last.

The decision led to the resignation of two board members, Mr Niall Crowley and Ms Terry Prone, on Tuesday. They criticised the process in letters to the Minister.

A spokesman for the Minister said yesterday evening Ms de Valera had not received a copy of Ms Donnelly's letter by 5.30 p.m. yesterday. It is understood that Ms Prone and Mr Crowley are meeting the Minister today.

"I believe I speak on behalf of the board in saying that proper procedure was rigorously followed in this matter," Ms Donnelly said in her letter.

"In Dr Kennedy we have found a director of exceptional abilities who appreciates and understands the enormous potential of IMMA and who is uniquely qualified to lead the Museum into the next phase of its development."

Ms Donnelly's four-page letter to Ms de Valera points out that the position, which became vacant last April following the resignation of Mr Declan McGonagle in controversial circumstances, was advertised in the most widely read international art journal, Art Newspaper.

The board nominated an interview panel consisting of the acting director of IMMA, Ms Philomena Byrne, or in her absence, the senior curator, Ms Catherine Marshall, Mr David Ross, a former director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, Mr Peter Cassells, executive chairman of the National Centre for Partnership and Performance, and Mr Eoin McGonigal SC, the artist Felim Egan and Ms Donnelly from the board. Mr McGonigal later withdrew because of pressure of work.

There were 18 applicants, of whom five were shortlisted. Two withdrew, and the remaining three were interviewed on October 16th, one of them by videolink in New York.

Ms Donnelly told Ms de Valera that Dr Kennedy was, by unanimous agreement of the panel, its candidate of choice. However, he said he required further time to consider whether he wanted to pursue his application further.

In subsequent discussions with Ms Donnelly, he made it clear he was interested in the position, and a further interview was arranged for November 19th.

It is not clear from the letter why a second interview was necessary given that he was, according to Ms Donnelly, the panel's candidate of choice.

According to the letter, "the outcome from our discussion following the \ interview was that we were not going to find unanimous agreement in the panel to recommend to the board that Dr Kennedy be offered the position immediately. . .The panel decided therefore that its recommendation to the board should be that the search be reopened and that Dr Kennedy should be asked to leave his candidacy on the table."

Further discussions took place with Mr Egan and Mr Ross, she said, during which the fear was expressed that Dr Kennedy might not keep himself available for an indefinite period.

She then convened a board meeting at which the decison was made by seven votes to two. She enclosed with her letter to the Minister a number of documents, including minutes of the board meeting on November 26th and a number of notes and memos.

"The board meeting of Monday last was conducted with complete and rigorous regard for procedure," she said.

Ms Donnelly contested the point made by Mr Crowley that the integrity of the process was undermined by the decision of the board to overturn the recommendation of the interview panel.

"The acceptance or rejection of the panel's recommendation was always, and quite properly, a matter for the board," she wrote.

She denied she "promoted" Dr Kennedy's candidacy.