Work is set to get underway on the long-planned Mary Robinson Centre – Ireland’s First Presidential Library – in Ballina, this November following an agreement in relation to the purchase of the former President of Ireland’s childhood home, Victoria House, by Mayo Co Council last Friday.
The ambitious proposal will see Victoria House – which is located on Emmet St on the banks of the River Moy – transformed into a €5m world-class educational facility where Mrs Robinson’s legacy in terms of her legal career, her advocacy for gender quality, her Presidency and her subsequent work for the UN in the areas of human rights and climate justice will be used to inspire and foster personal leadership.
The project was first unveiled with an estimated price tag of €8.5m at the Ballina launch of Mrs Robinson’s memoirs, “Everybody Matters, in 2012 and saw the initiation of the high profile annual Mary Robinson Centre International Human Rights Lecture that attracted such world leaders as Hina Jilani, Graça Machel , Professor Muhammad Yunus and George Mitchell to speak in Ballina in the ensuing years.
But the proposals were thrown into controversy in October 2016 when they were the subject of an RTE Prime Time special that questioned the funding arrangements.
The project partners, include Mayo Co Council and the National University of Ireland, Galway, and operate as the Victoria House Foundation.
It announced a review of the plans shortly after the Prime Time broadcast and it was subsequently clarified that Mrs Robinson would not be accepting any tax break in respect of donating her archive to become the centre piece of the centre and the decision that the archive would be gifted to NUI, Galway instead of Ballina.
The project cost was also revised down to €5m.
There has been little to no update on the proposal in the last two years and last week’s confirmation of the council’s agreement to purchase Victoria House from Mrs Robinson’s brother, Adrian Bourke, took many by surprise.
Council cathaoirleach, Cllr Brendan Mulroy, hailed the agreement as a great step forward for what will be a major project for the county.
Funding of €3.5m has been committed to and confirmed for the project by Mayo Co Council (€1.5m) and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (€2m) and Cllr Mulroy stressed that significant community support will be key to the centre’s success.
Council chief executive, Mr Peter Hynes, said the local authority hopes the development will provide a national model for honoring and building on the contribution of significant civic figures.
Chairperson of the Victoria House Foundation, Ms Emer Gilvary, said the board and its partners look forward to developing a world-class centre for human rights, gender equality and climate change, exploring the life’s work and legacy of Mary Robinson in her childhood home in Ballina.
Further details in relation to the project will be published in the coming weeks.