Blow for Northern Ireland's big events as tourism fund cut
Stormont budget crisis hits sports and arts festivals
Some of Northern Ireland's most high-profile events have been dealt a massive blow after tourist chiefs pulled funding.
The Tourism Events Fund, which pumps hundreds of thousands of pounds into showpiece events such as the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival and Culture Night Belfast, will not go ahead next year.
It leaves dozens of festivals facing shortfalls running to tens of thousands of pounds.
Last night the organisers of Culture Night Belfast warned the annual event, which draws thousands of visitors to the city every September, would not survive if the cash – a third of its budget – is pulled.
Long-term funding for major international events such as the North West 200, Ulster Grand Prix and the Milk Cup is also in doubt.
The Northern Ireland Tourist Board confirmed the fund had been cancelled for the 2015/16 financial year, saying it was the result of "ongoing budgetary pressures across government".
It is the latest indication of the massive cuts set to hit public services across Northern Ireland in the coming months.
When the announcement was made late on Friday afternoon festival organisers in Belfast called an informal get-together to discuss what they described as a "devastating" blow to their events.
Joe Nawaz has organised numerous festivals attracting thousands of people.
He said: "This will put a lot of events in real jeopardy and with it jobs and people's livelihoods.
"It's just an easy target. There is always the argument over 'operas or operations' which totally discounts the benefits the arts bring.
"That money was a godsend. It transformed the city, particularly the Cathedral Quarter, and brought thousands of people with it. This will bring back the bad old days to Belfast, except no one will be going into the town because there is nothing on."
Funding agreed for events between now and March 31 next year will not be affected.
However, the 60-plus community events, including the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, Derry's Walled City Tattoo and Belfast Restaurant Week, which receive tens of thousands of pounds annually, face having their funding for next year pulled.
It is likely to leave the future of some events in major doubt.
Funding for nine international events, including the North West 200, Belfast Festival at Queen's and Circuit of Ireland, has already been committed to for next year and will go ahead.
However, huge question marks still remain over funding for these events in future years – especially with cuts expected to increase.
It is understood long-term agreements for a number of key events including the 2015 and 2017 Irish Open, and the 2019 Open at Royal Portrush – which have already been signed off – are not affected.
According to NITB documents, the Tourism Events Fund has contributed to 76 events during the current financial year.
The total funding tops £2.4m.
It includes £30,000 to Culture Night Belfast; £27,000 to the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival; £30,000 to the St Patrick's Festival in Downpatrick and £30,000 to Derry's Walled City Tattoo.
This funding is guaranteed this financial year – until next March – but it won't be available next year.
In a statement, NITB said: "Due to ongoing budgetary pressures across government, the Tourism Events Fund for 2015/16 will not go ahead.
"To clarify, the International Tourism Events Fund will not open to new applications and the one-year Tourism Events National Sponsorship Scheme will not operate for 2015/16."
NITB falls under the remit of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.
In a statement its DUP minister Arlene Foster said: "We are facing a very difficult financial context across the Northern Ireland block and the Executive has not yet decided budgets for departments for 2015/16.
"Given these circumstances, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board Events Fund Open Call for next year will now not go ahead," the minister added.
Some of the events under threat
Belfast Film Festival: £21,000
In its 20th year in 2015 the festival hosts a range of new, short and classic films in venues not necessarily associated with the world of cinema. This year it premiered the motorcycling road racing film, Road.
Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival: £27,000
The Cathedral Quarter is transformed with a variety of events featuring live music, comedy, spoken word and visual arts. It is one of the city’s stand out events in the year.
City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival: £15,000
This year some 13,000 people took to the streets of Derry for the festival across 60 venues and hundreds of events.
Festival of Fools 2014: £30,000
Held at the beginning of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, a range of performers take to the streets for hundreds of free events for four days. This year almost 40,000 people are thought to have taken part.
Walled City Tattoo: £30,000
This year marked the return of the Tattoo and some 15,000 descended on Ebrington Square for the eclectic mix of traditional dance and music.
Northern Ireland Countryside Festival: £6,000
A host of events featuring the best of outdoor activities and rural life.
Bangor Seashore Festival: £18,000
Hosted two Tall Ships this year and features land, sea and air events.
Hughes Insurance Foyle Cup: £15,000
Across six days 674 football matches were played with 220 teams and almost 80,000 people from across Northern Ireland and the world taking part in the youth tournament.
Maiden City Festival 2014: £8,750
Derry’s biggest festival.
Ulster Rally: £15,400
Held over two days, with 70 competitors and some 20,000 spectators.
Disability Pride: £15,000
A parade through a Belfast city streets ending with a concert.
Belfast Mela 2014: £30,000
Belfast's biggest event celebrating minority ethnic communities.
Hillsborough International Oyster Festival 2014: £24,000
With an international reputation, the festival features the best in local seafood.
NI International Airshow 2014: £21,000
One of the biggest airshows attracts thousands every year with a diverse range of aircraft.
Culture Night Belfast: £30,000
Transforms the city into a stage for a host of talent for thousands.
Belfast Restaurant Week: £21,000
The city’s bars and restaurant unite for a feast.
Food and Drink Show NI: £24,000
Bringing some of the top culinary names to the King’s Hall.
Halloween Carnival Derry: £18,000
World famous and Europe’s biggest Halloween carnival.
An award winning festival that embraces film, television and digital technologies to educate and motivate young people through film screenings, industry workshops and practical masterclasses.
Out to Lunch: £18,000
Short events designed around the lunch hour to entertain the city’s workers.