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The National Gallery of Ireland Alamy Stock Photo
National Gallery Of Ireland

Artists send open letter to National Gallery over catering contract awarded to Direct Provision operator

The National Gallery of Ireland has contracted US company Aramark to take over its catering.

AN OPEN LETTER addressed to the board of the National Gallery of Ireland has been signed by 84 artists in protest at the gallery contracting a Direct Provision operator to run its cafe.

Artists like Brian Teeling and Emma Roche, who were both shortlisted for the Zurich Portrait Prize, signed the letter and withdrew their work from the gallery over the recent development.

The Journal originally reported last week that staff at the National Gallery of Ireland (NGI) expressed “deep distress” at management of the gallery awarding a contract for catering services to Aramark Ireland Holdings Ltd, an American company which is contracted to three Direct Provision Centres.

Gallery staff had written to the NGI’s board in February to express their concern with the contract, saying that Aramark’s presence would cause “irreparable reputational damage”.

Aramark currently operates the Cork, Clare and Westmeath Direct Provision centres and also has commercial interests in the US prison system.

The new letter, signed by 84 artists and art workers, expressed solidarity with the workers who objected to Aramark taking over the running of the gallery’s cafe.

“Like the workers of the National Gallery of Ireland we are outraged that a company which profits from the Direct Provision system would be awarded a contract by one of the country’s leading cultural institutions,” reads the open letter, which was penned by Trinity College Dublin’s Dr Rory Rowan alongside Alice Rekab and Sam Keogh.

The letter says that management of the gallery is required to ensure that contractors must not damage the NGI’s “reputation” and adds that the relationship with Aramark contradicts the gallery’s own guidelines.

“The opposition to the Aramark contract, from both inside and outside the Institution provides the National Gallery of Ireland with an opportunity to show leadership in defending its values and opposing the system of Direct Provision and those that seek to profit from it.

“As such, we urge the National Gallery of Ireland to immediately revoke the contract with Aramark and to conduct a fundamental review of its management and procurement practices to include an appropriate ethical review of organisations and businesses that it hires to provide goods and services.”

The letter had also hit out on the quality of meals provided to residents, saying that they were both “nutritionally substandard and culturally insensitive”, and that residents were unable to cater for themselves.

In response, Aramark said that it “strongly rejected” the claims made in the letter.

“Aramark strongly rejects the baseless claims that meals provided are nutritionally substandard or culturally insensitive,” a spokesperson for Aramark said.

“For the last 8 years, Aramark’s sites have also held resident focus groups on menu options to ensure their meal options are culturally diverse and consider any culturally sensitivities the residents might have.”

The group also said that it does provide self-catering options for residents and that it is “proud of our work” in Direct Provision, saying that its services are accredited to international standards.

Previously, the NGI said that it is “bound by Irish and EU procurement law”when awarding contracts and that Aramark “scored the highest” during the procurement process.

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