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    Troubled Ulster Museum given record Lottery cash grant

    Date: 18 Dec 2006 | | Views: 4275

    Five days after being criticised for poor management, the Ulster Museum in Belfast has received its largest ever grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
    Last week the Public Accounts Committee at Westminster accused the museum's officials of 'profound deficiencies in custodianship' and found 90 per cent of the museum's collection was stored out of public view. But yesterday £4,527,000 was handed over to rejuvenate one of Northern Ireland's best-known landmarks. Belfast's Botanic Gardens, where the museum is located, has been forced to shut temporarily as part of an overall £12m project to upgrade the building.

    Both Paul Mullan, the Heritage Lottery Fund manager in Northern Ireland, and Tim Cooke, the chief executive of National Museums, were reluctant to discuss the criticisms by the committee.
    Mullan said: 'The revitalisation of Ulster Museum is an important step and will undoubtedly act as a catalyst to attract new audiences and provide top of the range facilities.'

    Cooke said: 'This exciting project will contribute significantly to the rejuvenation of Northern Ireland's cultural heritage, and will provide an important boost for the local economy. As well as transforming a historically important building, this project will allow us to reach out to a broader and more diverse audience across Northern Ireland.'

    The Public Accounts Committee criticised the Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland (Magni) and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure at Stormont. Edward Leigh, the Tory chairman of the committee, said 'It is evident Magni has, over a long period of time, not addressed its responsibilities. Storage is inadequate, record-keeping fails to meet recognised and acceptable standards and computerisation of records has, despite previous undertakings, yet to be fully implemented.'

    Leigh's attack followed two previous reports by the Comptroller and Auditor General that also criticised the way Northern Ireland's premier cultural and historical learning centre had been run.

    Leigh said the Department of Culture's oversight of the museum was 'deficient', adding 'meaningful performance measures have not been set to challenge its operation and encourage improvement.

    'To compound matters, DCAL and Magni have failed, at a corporate level, to recognise the risk of damage or loss to the collection in their statements of internal control.

    'This fundamental omission is symptomatic of profound deficiencies in custodianship.'

    By Henry McDonald, The Observer (UK)

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