Bitter backlash over plans for London’s Irish Centre

TRUSTEES of the London Irish Centre in Camden are facing a bitter backlash after announcing that a corporate events company will run the centre from July instead of a community stalwart.

For the past 10 years, Terry McEneaney has been the bedrock and Irish face of the centre, which is also a charity.

Since 1955, the centre in Camden Square has provided a “home away from home”, welfare advice, accommodation, training and education facilities, and a range of cultural experiences for successive generations of Irish people.

It funds the charitable side of its work by hosting corporate events, weddings, funerals and cultural events at the centre.

Neighbours who live near the centre and its users have credited Mr McEneaney with turning its fortunes around and transforming it from a run down, “disorganised shambles” into a vibrant community hub.

They were furious to recently find out from bar staff that the eight trustees of the centre have ruled against renewing Mr McEneaney’s contract to operate the venue’s bar and catering facilities.

Instead they have awarded it to Off to Work, a large events and hospitality company with offices in London, Birmingham and Manchester.

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Annie Mullins, 50, is a Camden Mews resident and of Irish descent. She said: “There are major questions about who and what the new trustees are representing. Are the interests of the Irish Community really at the forefront of their minds in making this decision?

“The London Irish Centre is after all a charity and they should represent and respond to the community for whom the message is very clear – Terry should stay.”

Ms Mullins said that scores of residents and users have now launched a campaign to force the trustees to review their decision and explain how they reached it.

“This is about the Irish community and its neighbours feeling they’ve got an understanding of what’s going on at the centre because it has a major impact on our lives,” she said.

Catherine Hays is chairwoman of the Camden Square Neighbourhood Association. She said that before Mr McEneaney ran the London Irish Centre neighbours frequently suffered disturbances.

“Terry has been amazing over the past 10 years by managing the centre and all the events in a responsible way. He’s also a delightful man,” she added.

Ms Hays, 50, said that while she understood that the centre had to make decisions which made financial sense, neighbours and users of the centre were aggrieved at the lack of consultation.

“We were very upset because the first time we heard about it was from bar staff and we’ve been very happy about Terry’s performance.”

However, Se�n Kennedy chairman of Trustees at the London Irish Centre said the trustees decided to award the contract to Off to Work because it provided the best financial option for the centre.

He added: “The trustees have acted at all times to fulfil our charitable objectives and in accordance with mandatory responsibilities set by the Charity Commission.

“Funding for our charity is under threat. The premises is our main asset but is an old building and hugely expensive to run, we had to act to obtain the best deal possible in order to ensure that we can keep the centre open.

“The current operator has done a great job over the last 10 years and is highly respected and regarded by all trustees, however that contract expires on June 30.

“The process to award a new contract has taken 13 months to date, and over 450 hours of time. The opportunity was widely advertised in the local and national media.”