Belfast Telegraph

Three years in job, yet Arts Minister hasn't been to see Ulster Orchestra

BY NOEL MCADAM

Arts Minister Caral Ni Chuilin is facing a crescendo of criticism after revealing she has never been to an Ulster Orchestra performance since taking up office.

Her latest admission comes just a few weeks after the Sinn Fein member revealed she has yet to attend a theatre show – almost three years after becoming Stormont Culture Minister.

Now members of the Stormont arts committee are suggesting the minister should get out more. And her confessions in Assembly answers to the committee's chair Michelle McIlveen are likely to be discussed at a future meeting.

DUP MLA Mrs 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. I am a regular attender of arts performances as committee chair. I appreciate the important role that our theatres play in society. I am sure the sector would be happier if it felt the minister did too."

The Strangford MLA argued that with Arts Council investment of £6.5m in the Ulster Orchestra in the last three years "it is hard to believe that the minister has not attended any of the performances of what is a cultural asset to Northern Ireland".

"Nor – with around £30m direct capital investment in theatre and arts venues such as the Mac, the Lyric, Grand Opera House and the Crescent Arts Centre – has she attended any of these theatres to see first-hand the impact of that significant public investment."

UUP MLA and former Culture Minister Michael McGimpsey said: "I think there is an obligation on ministers to go to see where public money is being spent. That would certainly have been my practice."

The issue was raised when Mrs McIlveen asked the minister to detail how many theatre performances she has attended.

She replied: "None."

But while she has not been to any "that have taken place specifically in theatre venues" she said she was present at events including the children's opera Noye's Fludde, the Black Box in Belfast and UK City of Culture events in Londonderry.

And Ms Ni Chuilin added: "I have not attended any performances by the Ulster Orchestra since taking up office.

"However, I have met with representatives of the orchestra on two occasions to discuss the role it plays in providing employment to musicians, contributing to the local economy, promoting the north of Ireland abroad and the education and outreach programmes it undertakes."

FACTFILE

Events attended by minister:

* Children's Opera Noye's Fludde

* Belfast Zoo culture night

* Walled City Tattoo, Ebrington

* Return of Colmcille, Londonderry

* Celebration of Irish Language, Heritage and Culture, Belfast

* Ye Banks & Braes – A Burns Night Celebration, Belfast

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