Celtic Club Melbourne

President challenged in Celtic Club election

The candidate challenging incumbent Celtic Club president Brian Shanahan in the forthcoming election has told The Irish Echo that he does not want to smear his opponent.

But Peter Donnellan, who heads up a group of concerned members dubbed ‘Dire Straits’, does believe the club is being mismanaged.

“None of our pieces of work say anything about particular individuals. None of the things that we put out say bad things about people,” he said.

Current Celtic Club President Brian Shanahan.

Current Celtic Club President Brian Shanahan.

“I think if people felt like they were included, there wouldn’t be the level of antagonism and name calling and this sort of stuff that has been going on in the place for a long time.

“If the sale [of the club’s premises] had gone according to the way sales should proceed instead of trying to bluster and force their way through it like some sort of rugby pack, you would say, ‘right, we’ll probably give it a go’.

“I think a lot of the dissension is caused by the methodology and the abuse and so forth that happens simply if you disagree. You’re perceived as an enemy by nature if you disagree. Because our team don’t agree and they put their heads above the barricades, they’re there to be knocked off. I don’t think it’s necessary and I don’t think it’s productive for the club in the long term or in the short term.”

Mr Donnellan also says his team is just looking for greater transparency within the club. Mr Donnellan says his ‘Dire Straits’ team want to open up club meetings to all members and provide information of these meetings to members who are not present. They also promise to provide regular financial statements and protect members’ rights.

“We’re pretty sure that Brian probably has the numbers and good luck to him but we have a responsibility to say, ‘this stuff can’t keep going on’.

“At the moment we can’t get a list of club members to send stuff to. That’s against the spirit of the act and it’s not within the spirit of the club rules so it’s very hard to get anything directly to members.”

In response to Mr Donnellan’s comments, Mr Shanahan insisted that material put out by the ‘Dire Straits’ team had mentioned people by name.

On the topic of getting electoral

information to members, Mr Shanahan said all candidates had the same opportunity to connect with members. “All members standing for committee are invited to provide a statement of up to 200 words and a photograph to the returning officer and it will be sent to all club members at the club’s expense,” he said.

“This is a long standing practice at the Club, and all candidates should have received this information.

“The mail out of this information would be expected to commence some days after the draw for ballot positions is undertaken by the returning officer or his representative. The ballot draw has not yet happened. The assistant returning officer. has advised that all candidates will have their 200 word statements and photographs (once provided) sent to all members in the next two weeks, as is the usual practice.”

On the suggestion there was no business plan and that members are given no indication of how the club is doing and its plans, Mr Shanahan said: “The Club has a budget for 2019/20, which is break even, or a small profit. On top of this, we have assets in excess of $18 million and no debts. After considerable efforts, we were successful in reducing our operation losses, and we are confident of a small profit in 2019/20.

“Furthermore, at the recent confidential members only meeting, attended by ‘Dire Straits’, the Celtic Club’s future strategy and business plans were discussed in detail by me and other committee of management (COM) members. Club members can be allowed to attend COM meetings if they request to do so, there is no blanket ban. Obviously there is a need for discretion as some matters are sensitive and confidential.”

Peter Donnellan is challenging for the Celtic Club presidency.

Peter Donnellan is challenging for the Celtic Club presidency.

The club’s headquarters at Queen Street were sold to Malaysian developer Beulah for $25.6 million in 2016 but the club held onto the option to return to Queen Street when it is

refurbished in two to three years’ time. In the meantime, the Celtic Club’s temporary home for functions and entertainment is at the Metropolitan Hotel, Courtney St, North Melbourne with an administration centre on William St, West Melbourne.

Mr Donnellan insisted that the members were concerned about the lease arrangement.

“We’re told the Metropolitan lease is now on a month-to-month basis whereas we thought the club had a five-year by five- year lease,” he said.

“However, if we’re on a month-to-month lease, the club has lost money on the Metropolitan. It’s not regularly open [so] why don’t we get rid of the Metropolitan and find ourselves a better venue?

“There hasn’t been a business plan, not to my knowledge. There’s been nothing that says: ‘This is what we plan to do, this is what we’ve got, this is how we plan to make some money and move forward.’ The club’s capital is just disappearing. There is no allegation other than mismanagement that we’re making but we have no knowledge at all how things are going and why we’re losing money.

“The sale of the club caused a lot of anxiety within the club and a lot of fighting that probably could have been handled better by every side,” said Mr Donnellan, who served on the committee as secretary.

“I resigned over the non-implementation of governance and accountablity and financial reforms. People wanted to carry on and get things back to some sort of new normal but it didn’t work so I left. There’s a degree of disarray at the club.”

Committee elections are coming up on September 20. The new committee will then take over after the AGM, which is usually in October.

“I expect our votes to go up and from Brian’s team’s reaction, I would expect that they do feel challenged, Mr Donnellan said. “I think they’re concerned that what we’re saying is biting into their base.”

The Irish Echo reported last month that grievances against the Melbourne Celtic Club were coming from a website called The Continuity Celtic Club and that this and the ‘Dire Straits’ team were one and the same. This was incorrect. The website had just posted the ‘Dire Straits’ team’s newsletters and the ‘Dire Straits’ team has nothing to do with the website.

Celtic Club chief hits back at online 'smears'

The President of Melbourne’s Celtic Club has hit back at claims by an anonymous rebel group that has set up a website to air its grievances.

The so-called Continuity Celtic Club alleged online that the Celtic Club was in dire straits, with a declining membership, and was treating its members with contempt.

The Celtic Club’s president says the claims are unfounded smears and says the club is in the best financial position ever.

Celtic Club President Brian Shanahan.

Celtic Club President Brian Shanahan.

“They’re full of lies and madness,” Brian Shanahan told The Irish Echo.

“The reality is it’s not dire straits. As I put in the letter (to members), you could hardly describe a situation where you’ve got $18 million in assets and no debts as dire straits. It’s a better situation than any Irish club in Australia and probably most clubs.”

The club’s old headquarters at Queen Street was sold to Malaysian developers Beulah for $25.6 million in 2016 but the club held on to the option to return to Queen Street when the site is refurbished in two to three years’ time. In the meantime, the Celtic Club’s temporary home is at the Metropolitan Hotel, Courtney St, North Melbourne with an administration centre in West Melbourne.

The move to the temporary home has been beset with problems which, Mr Shanahan acknowledges, has led to financial losses for the historic club.

“Any move where you sell a property and then negotiate to go back, the change of venue costs you money and we expected to lose money the year or so after the sale. We didn’t expect to lose as much. That’s the issue.

“We have stopped the bleeding. We’re not losing money now and we’re still in a situation where we have $18 million, no debts. The options before us are to go back into prize real estate and we’ve got a temporary place to operate in. We’re renegotiating the lease there in a beneficial way to us.”

On the claim that memberships are declining, Mr Shanahan said, “renewals have to be in by August 31. ... There’s no evidence membership is declining. I think most members will rejoin. We have a steady stream of new members as well.

“Are we trending differently to last year in actual membership? The answer to that is no. We’re going through a transitional period for a year or two. Facilities aren’t what we want at the moment but they will be.

“A lot of our members will stay members because of their commitment to the traditions of the club which we try to hold fast to, promotion of Irish heritage and culture and Australian-Irish history and culture.”

The exterior of the original Celtic Club before the site was sold to developers in 2016.

The exterior of the original Celtic Club before the site was sold to developers in 2016.

Asked if members were being treated with contempt and not consulted, Mr Shanahan said: “No. Every member’s treated properly. Ten members make decisions. Members have one decision, they can vote who they want in. Tell me any club, any government, any serious organisation that, before they make an administrative decision, calls a meeting of members to do it? It doesn’t happen. There’s a reason why it doesn’t happen.

“I don’t agree but people like Dire Straits (Continuity Celtic Club) that tell lies should be treated with some contempt. I do have contempt for people that lie and they lie.”

Committee elections are coming up on September 20 and Mr Shanahan will stand again for president. The new committee will take over after the AGM in November.

Mr Shanahan conceded that activities at the new site have been cut back to rein in costs.

“We found costs were out of control. We tried to transfer all our activities to the Metropolitan. It didn’t work,” he said. “We ended four full-time positions. Not an easy thing to do. We’re in negotiations with the state governement on conditions of operation at the Metropolitan. If those negotiations come off and I’m confident they will, we’ll be able to open seven days a week.

“[But] it’s not as if there’s nothing happening. We have a website, we’ve got podcasts going. We’re trying to reach out to younger members.”

The Irish Echo contacted the Continuity Celtic Club for comment but received no response.

Celtic Club Melbourne open for St Patrick's Day

The Celtic Club Melbourne's new premises for the next three to four years in Courtney St, North Melbourne

The Celtic Club Melbourne's new premises for the next three to four years in Courtney St, North Melbourne

THE Celtic Club Melbourne has launched its new licensed premises in time for St Patrick’s Day. There is a full day of music and entertainment planned for March 17, culminating in the screening of the Ireland v England rugby match.

The club’s new home, named Celtic at Metropolitan, had a special gala launch attended by the Irish Ambassador Breandán Ó Caollaí on February 15. The club expects to be in its new home for three years while its former premises at Queen Street is refurbished and the club can return there.

The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charles Flanagan, visited the new club as part of his pre-St Patrick’s visit to Melbourne. While in the city, the minister attended an Enterprise Ireland lunch and visited memorials to Irish sporting heroes Jim Stynes of the AFL and Ron Delany, who won gold in the 1500 metres at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne. “With the new club, Celtic at Metropolitan, we’re able to focus on the cultural aspects,” Celtic Club Melbourne committee member James Dunne told The Irish Echo. “For the launch, we had a four-day event. We had a lot of cultural activities: we had two days of Bloomsday [and] lots of Irish music.

The 130-year-old Celtic Club Melbourne is the oldest Irish club in Australia. Located at 36-42 Courtney Street, North Melbourne, the club’s new home is part of the old Meat Market, an iconic Melbourne venue and hub for creative arts and cultural activities. It is also very close to the city and accessible by tram.

Last October The Irish Echo reported that The Celtic Club had sold its premises at 320 Queen Street. However the Celtic Club has exercised its option to buy back into Queen Street so it can return to the fully refurbished building in three to four years’ time.

The sale marked the end of another chapter in the club’s 130-year history but it put the club’s finances into the black, with more than $22 million retained after the payment of longstanding debts and taxes.

“We were there for over 50 years,” Mr Dunne said. “Luckily enough, with a lot of foresight a few years ago we negotiated air rights for 44 floors above the building and so, as a result of that, we were able to sell it for $25.5 million and that cleared the club’s debt.

“A lot of clubs, not just ethnic clubs but also RSLs and other types of clubs, find that when memberships have aged a lot of them have gone under and luckily enough, because of the foresight of some of the previous presidents, we’re able to sell the air rights and also negotiate our way back in.”

The club moved its administration and cultural activities to 420-424 William Street. Queen Street is being renovated into a prestigious, high-rise complex that will incorporate a vertical forest providing some nature in the heart of the city. The club is guaranteed 2,460 square metres and may look to lease some of this space to generate income.

The annual Melbourne Irish Festival takes place on Sunday 18 March from noon in Edinburgh Gardens. Open to all, the family fun day celebrates Irish culture and heritage and creates an opportunity to come together as a community, to reflect the true nature of a diverse and modern Irish community and its contribution to the fabric of Australian society. The family fun day will feature entertainment such as U2 tribute act Achtung Baby, a session tent for featuring more intimate acts, Irish dancing and kids activities such as fun races, GAA and Irish language events. There will be a history tent where people can ask about their ancestry or find out more about the influence of the Irish in Australia.

You can enjoy food, drink and music at Jimmy O’Neill’s, St Kilda for its St Patrick’s Weekend making it a great focus for Irish culture and history. There is entertainment all weekend and Irish dancing on Paddy’s Day.