How a mural was lost for Belfast…

Here’s an interesting (unintended) consequence of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) picked up by the eagle eye of the Great Wee Azoo, and how a public asset inadvertently fell in to the hands of a private company. It all began when he noticed the last remaining wall of the old Millfield Tech was wrapped in a protective covering.

Under a Freedom of Information request, I contacted BIFHE to inquire after the mural and discovered that the Institute made an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund for £44,500 funding to remove the mural from the old Millfield site and donate it to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. However, according to BIFHE, the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum was unable to give any guarantees about when the mural might be placed on public display (a condition for funding imposed by the Heritage Lottery Fund) and the funding was withdrawn in February 2007.

Meanwhile, John Eastwood and Sons Ltd stepped into the picture and claimed the mural under a salvage clause in a demolition contract they had with Northwin. BIFHE initially defended Eastwood’s legal challenge. However, following protracted negotiations and legal advice the institute reluctantly conceded ownership.

The mural, once a public asset and part of Belfast’s artistic heritage, is thought to be worth around £250,000 in the right location.


  • seanzmct

    As a past student of BIFHE at Millfield, to the best of my knowledge this mural was painted by Sir John Lavery. It should indeed have remained in public ownership but the key issue here is that the management of BIFHE,under its then Director Paddy Murphy, went down the Thatcherite route of deciding that the new Millfield building would be a PFI effort. This was the legal context within which the mural was lost to private speculation.

  • TRuth

    The mural is by John Luke who taught in the old Tech.My wife attended his classes. It is a masterpiece and a National Treasure 6/26 or 32 whichever you prefer. His other major mural is in the City hall.His work is sensational. I wondered when this would hit public consciousness-it was removed years ago. No one has the right to take this out of public ownership.IT IS WORTH MILLIONS. TRY BUYING A SMALL PIECE OF ART BY jOHN LUKE. If its available at 250,000 I would like to buy it.

  • T.Ruth

    Talking of the public being ripped off-can we have the commercial history of the past twenty years of the Harbour Estate investigated?

  • Aquifer

    PFI? Is that why the new college is so ugly?

  • seanzmct


    I stand corrected; of course the mural is John Luke’s and it is extremely valuable.


    From what I hear there is much about the way BIFHE is run that is ugly. Brian Tuttle, the top “executive director” (principal?) or whatever he is called, already earns @£100,000 pa and has just wangled a huge fat cat salary hike; meanwhile staff have had no pay rise for nearly two years.

    The same gent is a notoriously anti-trade union windbag.

  • Comrade Stalin

    the key issue here is that the management of BIFHE,under its then Director Paddy Murphy, went down the Thatcherite route of deciding that the new Millfield building would be a PFI effort.

    My recollection is that PFI schemes were introduced under the Blairite Labour Party.

  • An excellent piece of investigative work on the part of said blogger. Yet again we see the incompetence that permeates the management of FE here- whether it’s the loss of this gem or the fact that lecturers have been forced to strike time and time again to get wholly deserved pay equality, something surely has to be done. Over to you, Reg!

  • seanzmct

    Comrade Stalin,

    On PFI –
    I am sure you are aware that Mr Blair is a great fan of Mrs Thatcher. PFI, which was introduced by the Tories in 1992, is classic new right conservative economic policy -taken up,and expanded by Blair governments. It is the privatisation of the public sector estate by the front door. It was also Sinn Fein policy until they caught themselves on recently.

    The fact is that the management of BIFHE under college “incorporation” (another Tory wheeze) has collaborated in the privatisation of public sector estate and in doing so has managed to gift the John Luke mural to private speculation. Disgracefully,no-one in BIFHE management has been held accountable for gross incompetence.The whole thing stinks.

    BIFHE under its current “chief executive” Brian Tuttle is continuing with this policy with regard to imminent new build schemes. God knows what else of artistic and architectural value will be gifted to private companies. Can you imagine how the Eastwood demolition firm is laughing all the way to the bank?

    I am told that Brian Tuttle has been promoted to Head of the new, apallingly-named, “Belfast Metroplitan College” – ie a merger of BIFHE and Castlereagh. Apparently Tuttle wangled it so that he did not have to apply for the post in open competition and the unions are claiming a blatant breach of equality legislation.

    Meanwhile Tuttle has received a huge pay increase taking him well over the £100,000 pa mark. This is the same fat cat who has frustrated his staff at every turn in their campaign for a pay award of any description..

    BIFHE (and the other colleges) have suffered ten one day strikes in the past year and the colleges are riven with other industrial action short of striking.I am told that industrial relations in BIFHE are at an all time low and that lecturers are on the verge of subjecting Tuttle to a no confidence vote.

    Not before time. Brian Tuttle appears to be typical of that Thatcherite breed of public sector manager who regard themselves as having a personal feifdom within which they can treat staff and public sector assets with arrogant contempt. I am told that under him, BIFHE management has increasingly operated a policy of cut backs in full-time staff and the hiring of fixed-contract part-timers,often supplied by private contractors. No doubt the more he drives out full-time jobs and drives down pay, his own enormous salary goes up even further.

    Full marks to Azoo for starting the ball rolling. It is also time that someone like the Belfast Tele’s excellent investigative journo David Gordon shone some light on the murky goings on at management level in BIFHE.

  • Thanks for the comments on my post. By the way, I’ve just put up another post on PFI giant, Northwin and its legacy in Northern Ireland’s education sector.

  • seanzmct

    TGW Azoo

    Feel free to use my post above on Brian Turtle
    and BIFHE on your site if you so wish.

  • Seanzmct
    Thanks for the offer. I’ll maybe use it in a later post, though you could add it to my site as a comment, if you so wished.