Belfast Telegraph

Monday 30 May 2016

Ignorance is not bliss concerning censorship

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 25/01/2014

This has not been a good week for the Democratic Unionist Party. Their former leader the Reverend Dr Ian Paisley washed more dirty linen in public, and some of their MLAs and councillors also waded in to controversy about the arts, which they clearly know nothing about.

The Newtownabbey Borough Council's ban on the Reduced Shakespeare Company's comedy on the Bible has offended fair-minded people everywhere, and even made more bad headlines for Northern Ireland on the BBC national news.

The DUP's North Belfast MLA William Humphrey has claimed that working-class Protestants in Belfast do not "buy into the arts at any great level", and there were further claims that theatres like the Lyric and the MAC have little to offer people living in Ballygomartin, Ballymurphy or Ballymacarret.

Now the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee at Stormont has decided to hold an inquiry into these claims. This would be comical if it were not so depressing, especially as one MLA who raised the issue a while back could not even remember anything he had seen in the recent past.

These latest moves by DUP members are blatantly political, and they totally fail to understand that drama, and the arts in general, are not something that can be merely a tick-box exercise.

The arts cover a vast area, and people make their choices about what they do in their free time. Some would never dream of entering a theatre, just as there are others who would not go into a football stadium.

There is a need for the widening of minds all round, so instead of not booking for a play like King Lear, education projects should encourage as wide an audience as possible to learn to appreciate Shakespeare, and the theatre in general.

Significantly however, not a single DUP councillor in Newtownabbey has the courage to explain why he or she voted to ban the Bible comedy from their beautiful Theatre at the Mill. Our advice to such politicians is simple – if you don't understand the arts world, stay out of it.

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