Gabriel Byrne

Ireland’s Cultural Ambassador, Gabriel Byrne has vowed to support a campaign in London to save the Irish Cultural center in Hammersmith, which has been threatened with closure after the local council announced plans to sell off it’s building, once the current lease expires.

With a £130 million debt, the Conservative, which is controlled by Hammersmith and Fulham council plans to sell the building once the center’s lease expires in March 2012.

Representatives from the cultural center will appeal to councilors this Wednesday night as they urge them to extend the existing lease, or to offer them more time to raise funds to purchase the building.

In support of the campaign, actor Gabriel Byrne said: “[Its] closing would be a devastation for Irish culture in Britain. We must by all means prevent this, not only for this generation alone but for those who follow.”

Ireland’s former Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, who visited the center during his leadership said it had “done outstanding work” and that he strongly supports the calls for the organization to be given “time and space” to raise the money.

The center has been in operation since 1995 and organizers have collected more than 6,000 signatures over recent weeks in support of their campaign.

Jim O’Hara, the centers chairman will give a five-minute presentation to councilors on Wednesday.

“The board signed the lease and returned it to the council in January 2010 and nothing more was heard until the leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council, Stephen Greenhalgh, informed the Irish Ambassador to Britain, Bobby McDonagh, and Mr O’Hara in June 2010 that the council would not be proceeding with the lease after all due to financial issues,” said the center in a letter supporting the petition,

The chairman noted the center had established an international reputation as a place of excellence for arts and education, along with providing other services to the Irish community in based in London.

“The council has stated that it wishes to put people and services before buildings. The loss of this building would destroy all the many services, educational, welfare and cultural, which are provided in the centre. It would deliver a major blow to a great number of people who live and work in the borough both within the Irish and the wider communities,” said Mr O’Hara.