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Abbey board ankles

Audit reveals an extra E1 million in debt

DUBLIN — The board of the Abbey Theater is to resign following publication of a report revealing the full extent of the theater’s debts and blaming its current state of crisis on lack of oversight and proper management.

The independent report by auditor KPMG was commissioned in May after it was revealed that an extra E1 million ($1.2 million) in debt had been incurred during the Abbey’s centenary celebrations in 2004 — in addition to previously revealed centenary losses of E900,000 ($1.09 million) — but had not been noted by anyone on the theater’s financial or management staff.

Managing director Brian Jackson and artistic director Ben Barnes both resigned at the time of the May revelations, forcing director designate Fiach MacConghail to take the theater’s reins seven months earlier than expected.

The KPMG report indicates the Abbey had an accumulated deficit of $4.1 million at the end of 2004, and sharply criticizes the theater for under-reporting of operating losses in that year and for fundamental weaknesses in corporate governance, which allowed glaring errors to be overlooked.

Among the problems believed to be documented in the report are an error that led the theater not to account in its 2004 yearly totals for the $1.03 million spent touring Barnes’ production of “The Playboy of the Western World” in Ireland; and the absence anywhere in the theater’s files of a formal budget for board member John McColgan’s staging of “The Shaughraun.” That production ended up being the centenary year’s only box office success, although it has fared less well in its London transfer, which recently posted a closing notice two months earlier than expected.

John O’Donoghue, Ireland’s minister for arts, sport and tourism, told the Irish Times on Wednesday that the Abbey’s financial management had apparently suffered from “gross incompetence.” O’Donoghue has been working toward a major restructuring of the Abbey’s management and board systems, which will be put in place in September.

The current Abbey board, chaired by Eithne Healy, said Wednesday it will step down when the new structures are enacted, but that its financial and audit subcommittee would disband immediately.

The situation has become so dire at the Abbey that it was said to be facing insolvency by the end of this week, rumors apparently confirmed by the Irish Arts Council’s announcement that it would release funds to the theater by today in order for it to meet payroll costs.

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