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Caral Ni Chuilin hits back at 'inept' charge: Minister refutes remarks by former Arts Council chief

By Noel McAdam

Published 03/09/2014

Former Arts Council director Philip Hammond
Former Arts Council director Philip Hammond
Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin

Stormont Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin has hit back at criticism from a former Arts Council director who attacked her as "inept".

The Sinn Fein minister said she "totally refuted" the remarks of Philip Hammond which were "wide of the mark".

Composer and pianist Hammond claimed she has "absolutely no notion of what is or has been going on in the arts in Northern Ireland".

Writing on Facebook, he added: "I despair for the future of the arts in Northern Ireland if they rest in the misconceived hands of such politicians".

His comments came after the Arts Council, where he was a senior administrator for more than a decade, held a meeting to warn more than 35 organisations and festivals of budget cuts as a result of Stormont spending plans.

Mr Hammond said: "I continue to be appalled and frustrated by the lack of political awareness of the arts in Northern Ireland.

"Artists and arts organisations have bent over backwards for more than two decades to comply with what some may term the changing fads of political impositions on the arts – usually from people who have little or more likely no experience of the arts."

Mr Hammond, who is also a well-known broadcaster, said he was "outraged, shocked, disappointed, angry and incredulous that our fragile world is in the hands of a politician who clearly has absolutely no notion of what is going on in the arts in Northern Ireland, has no notion of what has been happening in the arts in Northern Ireland – and clearly has even less notion of what should be happening in the arts in Northern Ireland.

"Why is its hands tied to inept political leadership which is taking us to the very edge of disaster?" he asked.

Ms Ni Chuilin said she "totally refutes" the claims.

"While he is perfectly entitled to protect the interests of art, he is wide of the mark if he believes that the key funder should have no role in determining priorities where public money should be spent," she said.

A statement from the Culture Arts and Leisure department said Ms Ni Chuilin has also commissioned the development of the first-ever Executive strategy for arts and culture.

"This will set out the Executive's expectations for the arts. Engaging with a wide range of people from the arts and cultural sectors, including the Arts Council, lies at the heart of developing this strategy," it said.

The Department also cited the minister's support for Londonderry's City of Culture year and events linked to the World Police and Fire Games which "provided a wide range of opportunities for people to engage with the arts for the first time."

"Her overall vision for the arts is to create greater opportunities to participate, learn, find employment and improve self esteem, while securing artistic excellence," their statement added.

Story so far

The Ulster Orchestra, Grand Opera House and Belfast Festival at Queen's are among 37 venues and events that have been warned about spending cuts from Stormont, likely to total more than £4m.

The news prompted a former Arts Council director to say Minister Caral Ni Chuilin "clearly has absolutely no notion of what is going on in the arts in Northern Ireland".

However, the Council itself stressed no final decisions have been taken and it is too soon to say which venues or gatherings will face the heaviest hits.

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