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Sinn Fein minister Ni Chuilin accused of pouring funds into festival whose four directors are members of her party

By Noel McAdam

Published 23/10/2015

Caral Ni Chuilin has been accused of disproportionately allocating funds in favour of events with a nationalist hue, like the West Belfast Festival
Caral Ni Chuilin has been accused of disproportionately allocating funds in favour of events with a nationalist hue, like the West Belfast Festival

A Sinn Fein minister has been summoned by Stormont's arts committee following claims of favouritism in festival funding.

Culture, Arts and Leisure Minister Caral Ni Chuilin will face questions from the scrutiny committee chaired by the DUP's Nelson McCausland after allegations money was "poured" into the West Belfast Festival.

It hit the headlines earlier this year when controversial comedian Frankie Boyle was booked to perform, sparking protests by some parents of children with Down's syndrome.

Mr McCausland said it appeared there had been a "political decision" by the Sinn Fein minister to direct money from a cultural fund into a festival whose directors are members of the same party.

"A quarter of a million goes to the West Belfast Festival; the group in north Belfast that gets it is the McCracken Cultural Society - an Irish language centre - and the third group is the Belfast Film Festival which used to be the West Belfast Film Festival," he explained.

His charge came after his DUP colleague William Humphrey told the committee yesterday that the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure handed over half a million pounds to the West Belfast Festival yet "we're told these festivals don't make money".

And he asked: "Where is the half a million pounds going into a festival in south Belfast, in north Belfast and east Belfast?"

The North Belfast MLA described funding for festivals in the east of the city as "piecemeal" and "paltry".

And he added: "Don't come here and tell us there is parity and equity when there clearly isn't."

But a senior DCAL official countered the claims and said that EastSide Arts is "now an annually funded client of the Arts Council".

EastSide Arts runs a festival in east Belfast recently headlined by Van Morrison's landmark concerts in Cyprus Avenue.

Sinn Fein MLA Rosie McCorley said it was premature to describe the situation as unfair.

"At this point nobody is in a position to say something isn't fair," she said.

"A lot of hard work goes into festivals. They don't make money. They are there to provide for communities."

Mr McCausland, however, said: "When the arts community ask where the money is going, the answer is everyone else is being stripped and robbed in order to pour money into a programme which is directed at one particular organisation and a few others around it.

"I think today has uncovered something which I didn't know and I doubt if many other people knew.

"This was a political decision, by a Sinn Fein minister, to direct money to certain organisations, the main one of which has four directors, all of whom are senior members of Sinn Fein.

"Now that is a scandal and I think it's important that we get to the bottom of it.

"Effectively all of the money that came out of this cultural fund was directed to north Belfast and west Belfast, or the bulk of it was. That's interesting because the community in north Belfast that I come from didn't see a penny of it."

The committee heard that in 2013/14, the West Belfast Festival, the Belfast Film Festival and McCracken Cultural Society benefited from the cultural fund, followed the next year 2014/15 by the West Belfast Festival, the Arts Spectrum Centre, the Belfast Film Festival and Duncairn Arts.

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