Belfast Telegraph

'Tetchy' minister Simon Hamilton slammed over his Arts Council attack

By Noel McAdam

Stormont Finance Minister Simon Hamilton has been dubbed the "minister for tetchiness" after an attack on the Arts Council chief executive over its campaign against spending cuts.

The DUP minister said it was "absolutely disgraceful" that Roisin McDonough had used funding from the Executive to criticise the Executive.

He warned he would be raising the issue with the Sinn Fein Culture, Arts and Leisure Minister Caral Ni Chuilin.

"The campaign seems to be more about saving the Arts Council than the arts," he said.

"It is quite disgraceful that the chief executive of the Arts Council accepted and agreed on radio recently that it utilised its own communications budget, which was granted to it by the Assembly and the Executive, to campaign against the Executive."

The Arts Council hit back and criticised the minister's remarks in the Assembly as "regrettable", pointing out the total cost of the campaign - just over £6,500 - came from a fund designed to help the Arts Minister make her case for funding to the Executive.

"The 13p for the arts campaign was developed in response to a call by the Executive for the public to contribute their views on the draft budget," the council said.

"As a development agency for the arts, one of the Arts Council's primary functions is to act as an advocate for the sector and highlight the contribution the arts make to our economy and society as a whole. The fact that 23,000 people subsequently responded on arts and cultural issues speaks volumes about the weight of public opinion behind this issue.

"It is regrettable that comments made in the Assembly have distracted from the important issue at the heart of the campaign, that is, that the arts remain underfunded and undervalued; in 2015-16 the arts budget will reduce to just 11p per person per week."

Ulster Unionist arts spokesman Leslie Cree said the Finance Minister would do better to concentrate on funding the sector.

"It's grossly unfair to say to the Arts Council that they have no right to complain if arts budgets are being cut. I think that the Arts Council were merely doing their job in arguing the case.

"I think Simon Hamilton is overreacting. I think he is turning into the minister for tetchiness, and I don't think that's a good thing."

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The Belfast Telegraph has backed the Arts Council campaign aimed at holding onto its present budget.

Based around the slogan '13p for the arts', the argument has been that the cost of all kinds of arts-related projects amounts to a mere 13p per person per week - which is miniscule in public sector terms.

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