Fianna Fáil TD for Wicklow Pat Casey has called on the Government to halt the sale of its stake in Wicklow’s award-winning Ardmore Studios.
Deputy Casey made the comments after it was revealed that the prospectus for the sale places a heavy emphasis on its development potential for property developers. This is despite repeated assurances from the Government, in private and on the floor of the Dáil, that the site would be retained as a film studio and major employer in Wicklow.
“Ardmore Studios has a proud tradition of film production and is a key strategic piece of infrastructure for our film industry. It has been involved in the production of films which have gone on to win 14 Oscars and many BAFTA, Golden Globe and Emmy awards. 500 jobs are associated with Ardmore Studios when it is at full capacity,” explained Deputy Casey.
“It was announced last October that the studio was to be sold as a ‘going concern’. The decision to sell was met with widespread disbelief as the studio has been busy in recent years and looked to have a bright future. The Government, through Enterprise Ireland, has a 32% shareholding in Ardmore Studios and we have been told repeatedly over the years that the Government being a partner in the facility was a vital part of encouraging and reassuring overseas investors.
“The decision to sell the country’s stake has therefore been a source of major concern for me since it was first announced. Ardmore Studios occupies an 18 acre site and I have long suspected that the real reason for the sale is to release the short term value of the site as a potential residential property development. For this reason I have consistently sought access to the prospectus and marketing material being used in connection with the facility. However, the Government has kept this material secret despite the fact that the Irish people have a shareholding in the studio.
“I raised this issue in the Dáil on a number of occasions with Minister for Jobs Mary Mitchell O’Connor. She rejected out of hand my suggestion that the real motivation of this sale is to take short term monetary return from valuable land with development potential. She also refused to use the Governments shareholding in the studio to protect its future as a part of the film making infrastructure in this country and a major employer in Wicklow.
“However, my fears have now been confirmed as it has been revealed that the Prospectus for the sale does indeed place a heavy emphasis on the private residential development potential of the site. It is now clear that the national strategic interest in the film industry is not represented by this sale, and the secrecy surrounding the whole process is highly suspect.
“The material that has been uncovered today raises very serious questions for the Jobs Minister. She would appear to have misled the Dáil, misled the country and certainly misled the people of Wicklow. She must account for her comments to date, but in the meantime we need to see confirmation that in the light of this development, the State will retain its interest in Ardmore going forward.
“If the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation does not feel qualified to or interested in holding the asset, we should look at moving it into the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht”, concluded Deputy Casey.