As Arts Minister Martin Cullen launched one Southeast town’s world-famous version yesterday at the plush new Wexford Opera House, the Chairman of Waterford’s International Festival of Light Opera has responded to criticism of this year’s Suirside ‘no show’.

Sean Dower, who initially made the announcement for the WIFLO’s forced sabbatical at the opening and closing of last year’s event, is already looking ahead to the 2009 festival, which will mark the 50th staging of the annual showpiece at a restored Theatre Royal.

“It’s unfortunate that the work at the Theatre Royal coincides with what would have been the festival’s 50th successive staging, but that’s just the way that things turned out,” he said.

“The closure of the theatre for these works has been well-known for some time now and I believe it will be closed soon, probably within the next fortnight…

“But, unlike the last time the theatre was closed for works when an archaeological dig slowed up the work being carried out there, this particular restoration is completely internal, so no such delay is anticipated this time around.”

Sean Dower was commenting in the light of remarks made by former Waterford Chamber CEO and WIFLO general secretary Frank O’Donoghue, in which the latter lamented the festival’s absence from the 2008 arts scene.

“The reason given is that the Theatre Royal, the traditional home of the festival, will be closed for alterations,” Mr O’Donoghue wrote in a letter to The Munster Express.

“But has not anybody come up with a Plan B? Faced with a similar problem, the Wexford Festival made alternative arrangements to keep their festival going during the two years in which the Theatre Royal in Wexford was not available. They used two different venues and on one of the years they moved from their traditional date.”

Mr O’Donoghue said it was ironic that such a scenario has arisen when a Waterford man occupied the Arts portfolio at the cabinet table.

Coincidentally, Martin Cullen officially launched Wexford Festival Opera this week, with the 57th staging of the region’s other musical gem to be held in the town’s new opera house for 18 nights in October.

“Could not Waterford have done something similar?” questioned Frank O’Donoghue.

Sean Dower offered the following when informed of Mr O’Donoghue’s comments. “Of course we looked at a number of options during various board meetings in which possible alternative venues, including the Forum, a marquee in the People’s Park and WIT, were all discussed,” he said.

“That we opted against staging it anywhere else was not an easy decision to come to – but when all the factors were weighed up, considering matters like backstage facilities for example, holding the festival anywhere other than the theatre was considered unviable.”

As a well-known theatre-goer and supporter of musical societies the country over, Sean Dower said the long-term future of the WIFLO looked bright, despite the current inconvenience.

“There’s been a lot of contact between the committee and many of the societies who would like to travel to Waterford and I am already aware that several of them have begun fundraising with a view to coming to the festival in 2009…

“I think for anyone to suggest that a Minister who has only been in his new department since May 7th could get this sorted out with just a few months to do so is being a little unrealistic. He simply didn’t have the time required to do this.”

So barring the discovery of a longship under the stalls of the Theatre Royal, ‘see you all in 2009′ is Sean Dower’s message. The show, it would appear, will most certainly go on at the much-loved city venue.