Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Ulster Orchestra fails to make it night to remember for Caral Ni Chuilin

Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin
Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin

Arts Minister Caral Ni Chuilin has attended an Ulster Orchestra performance after all – but seems to have forgotten it.

The Sinn Fein Stormont minister said she had never been to a Ulster Orchestra concert, or a theatre show, since taking up office more than three years ago.

And, as the Belfast Telegraph revealed earlier this week, members of the Stormont committee which monitors the minister urged her to get out more.

But now it turns out she attended a Burns' Night celebration called Ye Banks And Braes which was part of the Ulster Orchestra's 2012 season and featured Scots singer Eddi Reader.

"Perhaps she thought that Eddi Reader just had a very BIG backing band!," joked a woman who attended the event.

An observer added: "While I think it would be good if the minister went to as many arts events in as many different venues as possible – she has in fact heard the Ulster Orchestra in the Ulster Hall. The Banks and Braes concert (was) their contribution to Burns' Night Celebration in 2012."

Yet asked in the Assembly to detail how many theatre performances she has attended, Ms Ni Chuilin (right) said: "None" and added: "I have not attended any performances by the Ulster Orchestra since taking up office."

Yesterday the minister failed to explain how she did not realise she has seen the orchestra.

And while she refused to turn a drama into a crisis, Ms Ni Chuilin is this weekend making her own contribution to theatre as part of International Women's Day celebrations. She is introducing the drama Seven at the Great Hall in Parliament Buildings and the Guildhall in Londonderry – a performance piece which her Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure called: "An extremely significant piece of social drama."

Culture committee chair, DUP MLA Michelle McIlveen said: "I'd have expected that the minister, given her priorities of promoting social inclusion and combating deprivation, would take the lead in encouraging participation and involvement in the arts."

And UUP MLA Michael McGimpsey – a former Executive minister – argued: "I think there is an obligation on ministers to go to see where public money is being spent.

"It is very surprising that some years after her appointment the minister has not been to even one performance of the Ulster Orchestra." But a DCAL statement rejected the criticism.

It said: "The minister has a full and varied diary, including frequent attendance at arts, culture and sports events at nights and weekends. The minister personally oversees a huge range of high-profile events. These have included a year-long celebration of culture during Derry City of Culture; one of Ireland's biggest ever sporting events with the World Police and Fire Games; the launch and development across the north of an Irish language initiative and a number of high profile commemoration events as part of the decade of centenaries."

STORY SO FAR

Culture and Arts Minister Caral Ni Chuilin confessed she has not been to an Ulster Orchestra concert – or theatre performance – since taking up office almost three years ago. The admission is likely to be discussed by the Stormont committee which monitors the Sinn Fein Minister's department

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