Belfast Telegraph

Concerns over £200k council funding plan for Feile festival

The crowd at the Wolfe Tones concert at Feile an phobail
The crowd at the Wolfe Tones concert at Feile an phobail
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

Concerns have been raised around a plan to award a large chunk of additional council funding to the west Belfast Feile an Phobail.

Belfast City Council recommended members approve an extra £200k funding for the event at a meeting earlier this month.

An Alliance councillor has said her concerns are not over where the money is going, but rather the process of awarding the cash.

"In in the interim none of us feel comfortable saying "just spend that money", without any justification. I wanted to know where did those figures come from, how much had we given previously, etc to see if there was a pattern," said Sian O'Neill.

Plans for Belfast's City Cultural Programme was discussed at the City Growth and Regeneration Committee on January 9.

Council is working to develop a new cultural strategy from April 2020, and are putting an interim plan in place for 2019/2010.

The funding allocation recommendations were part of a report from Festival and Events International (FEI) commissioned by council to examine the festival and events strategy.

The report identified three festivals, the Maritime Festival, Belfast International Arts Festival and the Feile and recommended they be awarded funding as having the potential to develop into "key Belfast Signature Events"

At the December meeting of the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee, members agreed to allocate an additional budget of £320,000 to help develop the events during 2019/20.

The funding was allocated from council's specified reserve in order to help in the development of a long term cultural programme.

From the budget an extra £25k will be awarded to the Belfast International Arts Festival and an extra £200,000 to the Feile.

The remaining £95k is allocated to support growth festivals around the city.

The Feile will receive another £39k from the annual budget, with the Belfast International Arts Festival receiving £39k. The £240k cost of the Maritime Festival will be entirely funded by the annual budget.

At the January meeting of the City Growth and Regeneration Committee councillors decided to defer approving the funding following a motion from Alliance Councillor Sian O'Neill, with only Sinn Fein councillors voting in favour of going ahead with the plan.

Councillors are set to receive more information on the funding at party briefings in the coming weeks, with the funding being raised again at next month's meeting of the City Growth and Regeneration issue.

Councillor O'Neill said she has concerns around the awarding of the funding, and the transparency of the application process.

Motion: Councillor Sian O’Neill
Motion: Councillor Sian O’Neill

"We are not saying these organisations or events are not deserving of the funding, but we want to see a justification for ratepayers money being spent," the Alliance councillor explained.

"Was there ever an application put forward (for funding), do we know what all that money is spent on?"

She said that there were concerns smaller events were losing out when applying for arts funding.

"We are trying to grow grassroots festivals and events within our city and I feel if you have a monopoly at the top that money isn't going to trickle down and get our other arts organisations to a point where their festivals can grow," Councillor O'Neill said.

"At the minute there's a top down approach and there's very much a monopoly on certain events.

"I believe that there needs to be a fair, open and transparent way of funding our arts, that's the only way we are going to grow our arts, from the bottom up."

Former Culture Night Belfast manager Adam Turkington said that many worthy arts and culture groups in Belfast had been overlooked by the proposal.

"I operate commercially now, because I'm so disillusioned by the whole nonsense. The Feile is worth the money, but there has got to be parity of esteem in terms of the different offerings that are out there," he said.

"Organisations across the board spend large amounts of time jumping through funding hoops, and this isn't fair."

A Belfast City Council spokesperson said the issue had been "deferred for further consideration".

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