Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland arts in turmoil as half annual funding doled out and rest may never arrive

By Claire O'Boyle

Funding for more than 100 leading Northern Ireland arts organisations has been plunged into uncertainty by the Stormont power-sharing crisis, the Belfast Telegraph has learned.

Major players - such as Belfast's Grand Opera House, the Lyric Theatre, the Ulster Orchestra, the Mac and the Millennium Forum and Playhouse - are affected.

The bodies have been handed 50% of their intended allocations for the year ahead, but with a warning that the second half may never be paid, threatening some arts institutions with possible closure by the end of the summer.

That caveat - due to the absence of a Stormont budget - will inevitably take its toll on their ability to plan and organise events for the next 12 months.

The funding is earmarked to cover salaries and overheads, as well as performances.

The Belfast Telegraph has learned an email was sent to all affected groups this week from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

It stated that the 50% allocation "will enable the provision of cash for up to six months ending September 30 so that you can continue to provide services for this period".

But it added: "It must not, however, be taken to indicate that funding will continue after this date or that, if it does continue, it will do so at the same level for the remainder of this financial year."

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland last night confirmed: "In the absence of a Budget Act and consequent limited release of funds to departments, the Arts Council is at this time releasing 50% of its intended annual award allocation to each arts organisation.

"This is an interim measure designed to ensure that funds can continue to flow to maintain key public services until the necessary budget decisions can be taken by ministers.

"The total planned allocation of funding to 107 organisations may be subject to change, depending on the eventual budget allocation to the Arts Council."

The Ulster Orchestra said: "The current situation at Stormont has indeed had an impact on all arts organisations within Northern Ireland. However, as it is unfortunately out of our hands, the Ulster Orchestra is striving to manage our daily activity as best we can, given the circumstances, and look forward to a positive outcome from the talks."

Grand Opera House chief executive Ian Wilson said it will continue to work with the Arts Council to ensure that its funding is stable.

Playwright and arts commentator Martin Lynch described the latest setback to the arts as "atrocious and appalling". He said arts organisations planned for two years, but now they can't plan for six months.

"People will be tearing their hair out," he said. "A banana republic wouldn't have these sorts of problems. It's crazy."

Mr Lynch urged the politicians to sort out a deal to restore Stormont. "Northern Ireland society needs to function or things are going to grind to a halt," he said.

The lack of an Executive at Stormont means a senior civil servant is now in control of finances. David Sterling, the permanent secretary at the Department of Finance, is using emergency powers to release cash to departments to maintain public services, and in effect "keep the lights on".

Stormont sources are warning that the temporary situation will become unsustainable inside a matter of weeks.

There has been speculation Secretary of State James Brokenshire will push a Northern Ireland budget and rates order through Westminster after Easter if the DUP and Sinn Fein have not agreed a deal on saving devolution by that stage.

Belfast Telegraph

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